What's the deal with the film The Village and the boom mics?
August 3, 2004 10:07 PM   Subscribe

What's the deal with The Village and the boom mics? People are quick to call it a projectionist problem, but reports of seeing them seem way more common than they are for any other movie.
posted by reklaw to Media & Arts (38 answers total)
linky-links, plz?
posted by mwhybark at 10:12 PM on August 3, 2004

This is what Roger Ebert has to say about the "seeing boom mikes" problem:

Many projectionists lack the skill or the equipment to properly frame movies in their original aspect ratios. This problem is more common than you might think. When you see a boom microphone dipping down from the top of the screen, especially more than one in the same picture, the odds are overwhelming that the fault lies not with the filmmakers, but with the projectionist right there in your theater, who is showing the film in the wrong aspect ratio and allowing you to see more than the intended visible picture area.

The whole article (which explains the aspect ratios, widescreening, letterboxing, etc.,) is here, though it's a Salon link and you'll have to get a daypass to read it. (It's the 9/11/01 article, in case you have to navigate on your own.)
posted by headspace at 10:22 PM on August 3, 2004

Response by poster: Well, I got this from three people saying it to me over IM... but this thread and this thread at imdb's forums seem to confirm it, without offering any definite answer as to what happened.

I know about the Ebert thing, but it seems a bit of a coincidence for me to have never heard of this and then suddenly hear of it happening so much in this one film.
posted by reklaw at 10:27 PM on August 3, 2004

Response by poster: Also, this random person's blog entry.
posted by reklaw at 10:29 PM on August 3, 2004

As a former projectionist, Ebert is right. Could be that M Night cut it a bit close? Not sure. I went to see it, and I didn't notice any mics (I am fairly sensitive to them as well).

On a side note - IMDB forums are freaking funny to read. So much HATE!!!1!!11
posted by Quartermass at 10:55 PM on August 3, 2004

What's the deal with The Village and the boom mics?

More importantly, what's the deal with The Village and the sucking?
posted by majcher at 11:23 PM on August 3, 2004

IMDB forums are freaking funny to read. So much HATE!!!1!!11

posted by mr.marx at 11:57 PM on August 3, 2004

I saw a boom mike appearing a couple of times in Lost In Translation.

Now Ebert might say that this is the projectionist's fault for allowing more of the screen than usual to appear - but let's not forget that we're living in the 21st Century now.

In an age when even the most meagre of directors can CGI in the colour of an actor's toenails, it's not too much to expect that the framing of a shot might be properly handled during the editing stage.

I think the truth is that the filmmakers didn't notice the boom mikes creeping in - and if they had, they should / would have edited them out.
posted by skylar at 1:31 AM on August 4, 2004

Next time this happens in a theater, go complain

There is a mask to prevent this. In film, you want the mike to be as close as possible - you don't want to fix it in an ADR session. You don't want to cut a great performance because a guy is handling a 15' boom and his arms are tired (and they get freaking tired!) You want to know you have good audio.

You have a wonderful set of lines in both your video assist monitor and the eyepiece of the 35mm camera to tell you what is (and what isn't) going to be visible when projected/put on tv.

You don't add a mask to the film itself (cost, technical headaches), because you know every projector can put a $5 piece of metal that displays your aspect ratio correctly.

This mistake is most commonly made when films are shown on a college campus. Back at mine, they lost these masks - great films would be shown....and you'd always see the mike.

It's not a question of the filmmakers fault - it's completely in the projection. Go complain.
posted by filmgeek at 3:33 AM on August 4, 2004

reklaw, skylar -- you're missing the point. Just because a movie image might be shaped like this


doesn't mean that Kodak is going to make film that size. Film is always shaped liked this


both when it's in the camera *and* projector. The viewfinder used while shooting is specially designed to highlight the "widescreen" portion of the image, but that doesn't stop it from exposing the rest of that frame of film to light. Likewise if you don't put a mask (basically the shape of a slide with the slide poked out) between the film and the projector lens so that it looks like this


where 0 is blackness imposed by the mask, then you're going to get the full image. I don't know why, exactly, Hollywood simply doesn't add a matte during the duping process that results in a film image that looks like the above illustation. But even today there are three or so commonly used aspect ratios, each requiring a different mask from the projector to be correctly framed.

Believe me -- Shymalan is too much of a control freak *not* to notice "boom mikes creeping in" his frame.
posted by blueshammer at 4:05 AM on August 4, 2004

Response by poster: All that makes sense (although I sure as heck don't see why they don't black out all the bits that are supposed to be invisible before they send the films out to cinemas -- it can't be that much trouble, and it'd stop bad projectionists from messing it up), but it doesn't answer the question of why it happened so much with The Village. Anywhere this movie is being discussed (seriously, look around at any movie forums you know of), people are mentioning the boom mics issue. Something must have screwed up somewhere -- I mean, how likely is it that it was a whole load of projectionists all screwing up at the same time? Not that likely.
posted by reklaw at 4:22 AM on August 4, 2004

I saw boom mikes in Signs too. Freakin' amateurs.
posted by bshort at 4:50 AM on August 4, 2004

Related question: I was planning to go see The Village tonight. I'm anal, and boom mic's can ruin a movie for me. Has anyone seen it in an NYC theatre WITHOUT boom sightings? If so, I'd love to know the theatre. Thanks.
posted by grumblebee at 5:05 AM on August 4, 2004

I saw boom mikes in Signs too. Freakin' amateurs. - bshort

Those weren't boom mikes bshort, they were the shadows of the Gods of Coherent Narrative, looming over the movie in frustrated rage.
I haven't seen The Village, but the same may be true there.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:10 AM on August 4, 2004

I worked in a movie theatre for a time. The mask would adjust along with the aspect ratio of the movie (which, if in the wrong setting, looks extremely stretched, so you'll have more problems than just boom mikes), so I don't see how this is the fault of the projectionist. I never saw any boom mics when I was working, so maybe our effecting viewing area was small. It's been a while (a couple of years), though, so I could very well be wrong. I say it's the director's fault (which doesn't suprise me, because he sucks).
posted by angry modem at 5:53 AM on August 4, 2004

Maybe they sent out the wrong mask format with the movie. If the distributor said it should be displayed at 16:9 and the movie was made for letterbox that could cause it.
posted by sebas at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2004

I do understand the issue here, but seriously, when they make prints of the film, why the hell do they not mask it then? 1 mask can make a million prints instead of 1 million projectionists putting on 1 mask each. It's bullshit.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:08 AM on August 4, 2004

I'm not a projectionist, but maybe it is because the aspect ratio is different then most movies. A quick glance on IMDB brought up the following movies shot at 2.35:1 (Alamo, Spiderman 2, Club Dread, the latest Harry Potter movie, the Jesus movie, 50 First Dates, etc.). Both the Village and Signs were shot at 1.85:1; Lost in Translation was shot at 1.66:1.

I'm not saying the ratio is to blame, but some of the things said here (it happens at college campuses alot) lead me to believe that not all projectionists have the 'talent' or the equipment to handle uncommon aspect ratios.
posted by sleslie at 6:18 AM on August 4, 2004

Given that theatres do not even yet know how to handle Fandango, expecting them to do anything beyond load film is hopeless.
posted by mischief at 6:22 AM on August 4, 2004


The boom mikes are really secret clues, showing us that there is something much scarier than red monsters outside the village...
posted by mecran01 at 6:25 AM on August 4, 2004

(Well that's pretty annoying.)

sleslie, 1.85:1 is not unusual or uncommon at all. It's the ratio used for most comedies and romances. Something like 50 First Dates or Club Dread being in 2.35:1 is what's unusual. I think the directors are just getting addicted to widescreen.
posted by smackfu at 6:29 AM on August 4, 2004

Why don't they mask the film? It's horribly expensive to do. You can't just paint film frames. You'd end up having to create an optical duplicate (expensive) or painting electronically on every frame (really expensive)
posted by filmgeek at 7:01 AM on August 4, 2004

Has anyone seen it in an NYC theatre WITHOUT boom sightings?

Cobble Hill Cinema on Court Street in Brooklyn.

Not to be confused with the UA monstrosity down the street.
posted by swift at 7:04 AM on August 4, 2004

1.85 is more common... I probably should have spent more time looking through IMDB. I looked at the top films of 2004 and went to the technical details section. Anyways, this seems to be relavant...
posted by sleslie at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2004

[Kind of off-topic, but I'm also surprised that store photo-printers can't yet provide 4:3 aspect ratio paper for digital prints, and will crop image files to fit 6x4 or 5x7. I know you can fix your own aspect ratios, but all the printers around here says it causes no end of problems when people get prints back with the top of Uncle Fred's head cut off ... ]
posted by carter at 7:55 AM on August 4, 2004

I didn't notice any boom mikes in the showing I went to in Richmond. But then again I was too busy trying to figure out what was up with all of the lingering shots on the damn chairs.
posted by emelenjr at 9:04 AM on August 4, 2004

I reckon any theaters employing union projectionists won't have this problem. I understand that these folks really are a cut above the kids working at the Megaplex.
posted by Eamon at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2004

I didn't see any boom mikes at the Loews on 80something and Broadway. The film they have did have these occassional yellow circles on the right hand side, and a few scratches. So maybe you could try a different Loews.
posted by riffola at 9:35 AM on August 4, 2004

luriete - what you posted just doesn't make sense. why do you not address adjusting projectors at all, when it's been mentioned several times above? why change theatres if projectors are adjustable? and how is choosing the wrong theatre solely the fault of director and editor?
posted by andrew cooke at 11:02 AM on August 4, 2004

Yeah, luriete, I'm not a former union projectionist, but I don't know what you're talking about.

A famous example of what I was referring to above is one of the kitchen scenes from Raging Bull; the fully exposed frame shows a mike up top, as can be seen on some improperly formatted TV or video version in which the mask was left off.* But Scorsese wasn't shooting at that full (1.33:1) aspect ratio; he was shooting 1.85:1, and when properly presented, you can't see the mike. If I'm not mistaken, film reels come to to theater at 1.33:1 and a projector has to be equipped with the right mask/lens combo for the intended information to be presented.

* The way that a fullscreen version of a widescreen movie is typically prepared for broadcast/video is to crop it further, not to remove its masks. James Cameron famously composed True Lies in exactly the opposite way, such that there's actually more "director-approved" (or whatever) information in the fullscreen presentation. (I believe they call this process Super 35, and I believe that even the fullscreen image in this case was smaller than the total area of film exposed.)
posted by blueshammer at 11:26 AM on August 4, 2004

By the way, what's with all the Shyamalan hating? I hated the Village myself, but regardless of what you think of him as a writer/director, do you honestly think he was careless enough to let the mics in so many shots?

For what it's worth, there were none to be seen in the showing I attended.

And thanks for the in-depth explanation blueshammer (and others). I had no idea it worked like that -- now I'm itching to get my hands on uncropped versions of major films so I can scope out what's lurking outside the visible frame...
posted by rafter at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2004

My uncle used to be the projectionist at the largest theatre in Toronto. This was back in the day when one had to apprentice to get the job. Today, the job is often done by trained monkeys who make $8 an hour.

There's no way MNS could have fucked up this bad. What aspect ratio is the film shot in? If it's not common, perhaps that's why the theatres are messing it up.
posted by dobbs at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2004

I think dobbs has struck upon the problem: I checked it out and it turns out the aspect ratio is 2p/e¹.

(Sorry, but I don't know enough HTML to put the above in a different font so that pi looks more like pi.)
posted by blueshammer at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2004

Well, and it was the Greek character pi in preview, not just "p."
posted by blueshammer at 12:39 PM on August 4, 2004

And guess who's next movie is called Life of Pi...
posted by sleslie at 1:08 PM on August 4, 2004

Another problem with applying a mask on the film is a minor defect like slight scratches would be really noticeable and distracting.
posted by Mitheral at 3:19 PM on August 4, 2004

I also saw several mics in Lost in Translation. Went to see it a second time and the mics were gone.
posted by jragon at 4:26 PM on August 4, 2004

Holy shit! When I read the Life of Pi I thought, "M. Night should direct this."

I really should've written it down so I could trumpet it around everywhere.
posted by ODiV at 7:14 AM on August 5, 2004

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