Motivating the Aspect Ratio (and the Subconscious Art of Pan-and-Scanning)

NOTE: Some web-browsers will blank-out the YouTube screens because of the number of them that exist on the page. If you are not seeing the screens, click here.

Before I begin the article proper, I would like to thank fellow blogger Chris Cagle at the Category D blog for sending me the screen-captures I requested for this entry, and friend Sunrise Tippeconnie for inspiring the section that discusses the sub-conscious art of pan-and-scan.

I remember a film professor saying in my first year of college, “If ever you want to be able to watch a film like a normal viewer again, leave film-school here, now, and leave it real quick…because I’ll tell you plain that you won’t even be able to watch a Pauly Shore movie again without looking at how it’s all lit or deducing what film-stock was used, and all manner of stuff no average Joe would even think or care to consider.” Granted, I was already a hardened cinephile before going off to study film at school, but I never had the urge to deliberate in any depth about filmmaking technicality or practical technique. Nevertheless, at the time, I took the warning with a grain of salt.

I thought of my old professor’s warning again recently when stopping off at a local video-store on my way back home one night and finding myself scouring the shelves compulsively looking at aspect ratios listed on the back of the video-covers there, hypothesizing in the split-second between picking one up and finding the place on the back-cover where aspect ratio was (hopefully) listed in its exactitude. This isn’t the first time I had done this. In all honestly, in the last three months, this habit has become a compulsion…an obsession within my obsession. But there is a reason behind this obsession, and I feel an important one: What compels a given filmmaker to shoot a given film in a given aspect ratio (beyond any obvious reasons, like equating the word “epic” with wide Scope aspect ratios), and can you properly motivate an aspect ratio choice in a strictly aesthetic sense? Can it be a really qualify as a full-fledged tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal? After all, with a simple change of aspect ratio, your whole perspective on the material can change. Thus, when I say that I “hypothesized” before picking up these covers in the video store, it was me deducing the frame-size for each individual title based on possible motivations.

In the midst of my prepping a feature-length project entitled Permanent Arrangements which I am writing and directing next year, the aspect ratio question became one that quickly plagued me. “What should I use…and, most importantly, why should I use it?” I began a process of finding interesting cases of aspect ratio uses, such examples being Robert Altman’s 2.35:1 lensing in Images (1972) and 3 Women (1977). Permanent Arrangements is ostensibly a film on an intimate scale, but ultimately and despite an initial bit of “intimate = 1.85, 1.66 or 1.33” equation-making, I was facing the idea of my personally using the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time in my own work. In my past work, this prospect never once entered my mind, so I attempted to analyze possible motivations involving case studies of films with puzzling, noteworthy aspect ratio choices.

Faces vs. Spaces

Let us start simple. What is the function of an aspect ratio? Easy! To establish the wideness of the frame. Okay. But also, in taking it to the next level, to define the overall sense of screen space, and to frame the intricacies of a film’s mise-en-scene in degrees of wideness. So, back to the question that plagues me and this article: Can you motivate it, in the way that you can properly motivate lighting and performance? For filmmakers, there would seem to be two implied equations. Epic = panorama and spaces, thus 2.00, 2.20, 2.35, et al. Small and intimate = close-ups, thus 1.85, 1.78, 1.66, 1.33 (full-frame). Often, these two equations govern filmmaker choice. What happens in the anomalous cases when the equations are reversed, hence when “epic = close-up” and “intimate = space and Scope”. The frequency with which Robert Altman has used 2.35 throughout his career is striking, as he has used it in the two titles mentioned above and other cases when such a choice would not be motivated in any traditional sense. It is understandable in films like Nashville and Short Cuts, in which he uses a meaningful and motivated 2.35 in an effort to define a “social space”. However, Images and 3 Women are two films that are neither about using the wide-frame as a stage for the social space, nor to function in evoking tableau, which Altman proved to be fond of throughout his career.

Steven Soderbergh's recent feature, the "intimate" The Girlfriend Experience , was shot with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and uses voided space and shallow depth-of-field in close-ups.

In the two Altman films, the use of screen-space is very deliberate and constantly motivated. Seeing these films again and reassessing them in these new terms was the original impetus behind my pondering (and ultimately deciding in favor of) shooting my upcoming film on 2.35. For instance, in the case of Images, a so-called “puzzle film” and a character piece ostensibly about an isolated (and possibly schizophrenic) woman’s complex string of hallucinations and fantasies, the wide 2.35 space addresses the character’s uncertainty about what lurks often stealthily within her environment and the spaces she inhabits—the insidious visions of a past that villainously haunts her can occur a number of places in the frame, much more so than if Altman has chosen a less “ambitious” aspect ratio. The character's visions can present themselves in more places throughout the frame, with more spatial options. So, when all is said and done, Altman hereby uses the wide frame to open up the film’s spaces to depict the uncertain psychological landscape of his lead character, all with aspect ratio! In the case of my own project, a similar narrative situation presents itself, i.e. an uncertainty about the spaces that surround the two primary characters, so I would intend to use the widened frame to evoke that lack of an overall feeling of safety and control in both the audience and the characters. This is not just a cerebral exercise, as some may feel it is. Choice of an aspect ratio, in my mind, can convey just as much as lighting, mood, performance and the other elements of the medium.

I feel there is a common misconception about the role and presentation of the close-up in the anamorphic frame. In the words of another teacher, a skeptic about anamorphic aspect ratios I might add, “Ahhh, close-ups in anamorphic! You’ve got the face on one side, and you gotta put a lamp or something on the other side.” I always thought was rather facile. Look at the case of George Cukor’s A Star is Born (1954). The CinemaScope camera navigates the spaces of the story so fascinatingly and effortlessly (e.g. the “Man That Got Away” sequence), yet we feel so very in touch emotionally with the characters on display in moments of close-up, perhaps even as a result of seeing how the characters fall within these spatial navigations. A Star is Born is an extraordinary film when we consider the idea of space—its faces and spaces.

Early Spielberg demonstrates mastery of what I’ll call “the intimate Scope," often with the use of triangular compositions (see above), where our attention is drawn to three components onscreen. In The Sugarland Express (1974), for a large part of the film, we are looking at and listening to three characters traveling in a car. Likewise is the case with Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). The respective cinematographers’ uses of the 2.35 frame contribute to the films’ compelling visual qualities. Space is usually occupied and is rarely ever idle. Spielberg and Hellman motivate their spatial framing choices by using the wider aspect ratio. The domestic scenes in both Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind also demonstrate Spielberg’s control of the intimate Scope. Spielberg is very affectively able to use split diopter shots (i.e. a shot in which two distinct fields of focus are both made sharp and in-focus through the use of the bifocal lens) because of the wide frame. Brian De Palma was also fond of using split-diopter shots in films like Dressed to Kill and Blow-Out, as was Wim Wenders in Paris, Texas. The opportunity for novel use of the split-diopter shot is greater in a Scope aspect ratio. See below.

A Dying Compromise

It is most fair to assume that the days of pan-and-scanning are well over and that they died along with the popular use of the VHS videocassette. Directors like Kubrick and Sidney Lumet were never keen on shooting anamorphic. Kubrick shot his films in matted 1.85 (cropped 1.33) following A Clockwork Orange and Lumet never shot a film in 2.35 in his entire career (perhaps due to his background in directing television in the 1950's). Rightfully, directors were frightened of a compromised frame when their films were prepared for television showings. More, of course, would be lost in the Scope frame rather than in other aspect ratios. For fun, I used the Zoom function on my DVD player to have a look at what two of my films would look like pan-and-scanned, and I was horrified, counting my lucky stars that I am coming of age as a filmmaker when the rule of preserving aspect ratios for the home-theater market has been upheld. I still, however, often use the Zoom function whenever I’m curious to how my experience of viewing a cropped version of a film greatly differs from the “uncompromised” film. These days, I do this whenever a new DVD goes in the tray.

I have an unbelievably vast and mountainous collection of VHS tapes and, within this collection, I can point to many examples of pan-and-scan in all its glory. For instance, I have a pan-and-scan of Ben-Hur (imagine for a moment a 2.76 frame cropped to 1.33) in which the famous and beloved chariot sequence becomes a fast-and-furious blur of disembodied arms and horses’ heads. In this recent examination of aspect ratio as an aesthetic choice, I also came to realize that every studio and home-entertainment company had their own pan-and-scan aesthetic. I own a double-tape VHS copy of Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce released by the very first home-video company in history, Magnetic Video Corporation. This copy of the film was put out in the days when you could not record a movie running more than 128 minutes onto a single tape. There were many points in this video version of the film when, it would seem, the pan-and-scan fellow evidently fell asleep at the wheel.

Okay, so the pan-and-scanner fell asleep at the wheel. Now what have we got? Above me, you will see two screen captures from Irma La Douce (1963) and below them various permutations of cropping and p&s-ing. This is an effort to prove pan-and-scan as a sort of revisionist art (think of the subconscious art of graffiti removal, a la Matt McCormick's amusing short film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal). Using the logic of sequencing and the meaning we can get from sequence, let's see what happens for a few sequences of these two shoots put together when visual information is lost.

1A: We see the selzer-shooter in the first shot so we know where the seltzer is coming from, and we see the person getting hit directly with it in the next shot, our main character (Jack Lemmon) has been cropped out.
2A: "Wuh??? Hey, where's dat seltzer comin' from???"
2B: "What's that thing over Lemmon's head?"
3C: "What, is that guy in the hat conjuring and projecting the seltzer over Lemmon's head using telekinesis or something?"
1C: Perhaps the best of the combinations, despite the visual information being lost, but hark, where's that line coming from spoken after the seltzer flow stops?

I have a vague memory of a shot in my Magnetic Video pan-and-scan with Lemmon on the left side of the screen and Lou Jacobi (the selzer-shooting, tale-spinning bartender) on the right side of the screen, and the image cropped to show neither Lemmon nor Jacobi but the seltzer-stream in center-screen. In a VHS I own of Otto Preminger's Rosebud (1975), Peter O'Toole on screen-right and Claude Dauphin on screen-left have both been cropped out to reveal (get this) the empty middle of the frame! The pan-and-scanner either liked the color of the wall or was catching Z's for what was probably his umpteenth cropping job of the day. Not only this, but as I mentioned, different video companies had very distinctive pan-and-scanner styles. MGM/UA physically panned the wide-frame the most (a pan-and-scan of Victor/Victoria I recently purchased for $1 is a fascinating case-in-point), Paramount tried to pack as much information as they could into the frame (e.g. an early Catch-22 pan-and-scan). And Columbia in the 90's...don't watch those VHSs if you get motion-sickness easily.

I also researched extensively rare and seldom-used aspect ratios (e.g. the use of the 2.76 MGM Camera 65 and Cinerama processes in Ben-Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told, and the use of 2.55 in Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty). And last but not least, I researched fascinating cases of early video pan-and-scanning of super-wide aspect ratios. Honestly, my film study the last few months has been almost completely about motivating the aspect ratio. Often, I feel, young filmmakers (read: peers) shoot in 2.35 because it demonstrates certain ambition and a sense of professionalism and awareness, but never is a motivation considered. I hope I am broaching the possibility of shooting a film in 2.35 with being fully capable of explaining the choice.

To access a fairly comprehensive list of American films shot anamorphically, click here. Below is Turner Classic Movies' little promo about letterboxing, no doubt created to field skeptic's complaints in the 90's when the movie network started.

POST SCRIPTUM: I recently considered the fact that John Landis' The Blues Brothers was shot in standard 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I realized that by changing the film's aspect ratio to 2.35 or 2.20, the film assumes a different role and a different way of functioning entirely. That particular film becomes more of a spectacle than it already is simply by enhancing the wideness of the frame, and becomes a different kind of genre piece entirely (despite the fact that the film meshes a good many genres). Consider this concept. I would like to hear your thoughts on this particular matter.

Guest Writers Coming Soon to the ConFluence Film Blog!

It's a great time to keep on checking back at the ConFluence blog, readers! A lot of great things are lining up for the ConFluence blog, including the introduction of The Guest-Writer Series! We will be featuring guest-writers Aaron Hollander (who will be discussing his exploration of director Joseph Losey's entire body-of-work) and Sunrise Tippeconnie (who will be writing about a topic to be decided and announced). A blog article about the subconscious art of pan-and-scanning is forthcoming as well.

Also, the ConFluence blog has a roster of other interviews lined up, including New German Cinema director Peter Lilienthal (1979's Berlin Film Festival winner David and 1982's Dear Mr. Wonderful) who will be interviewed on the topic of rendering and marketing Jewish themes in cinema (also, that interview will be specifically looking at and considering the viability of niche markets in the film distribution world) and, hopefully, actor Elliott Gould.

Also, a friend of the ConFluence blog, Jon Poritsky at the Candler Blog, has double-posted the recent Henry Jaglom interview/article there. Jon is a truly excellent film-writer and an old friend, and I check his blog on a regular basis. I recommend doing the same! And while you're at it, have a look at the other blog-links on the right. Tons of good film-reading there!

Two Well-Oiled Machines: An Exclusive Interview With Filmmaker Henry Jaglom on Editing and the Digital Revolution

Once upon a time, long long ago—but, on the other hand, not really long ago at all—there existed an extraordinary, well-oiled machine. Created by the finest hands in all the land of Germany and ultimately an invention of great luster and beauty, the wondrous well-oiled machine was dubbed the Keller-Elektro-Mechanik Flatbed, and those who grew to know it and love it called it the Kem. This well-oiled machine turned a world on its ear and made the lives of those who used it all the easier. It swept all lands, impressing artisans known and unknown with the exhilarating quality of its facility. One day, however, great wizards from the yonderland of the Valley of Silicon fashioned a grease-lightning fast well-oiled machine that began sweeping the land, usurping the quickness, luster and beauty of the once-great Kem. Once again, the world was turned on its ear.

Okay, so not so much of a fairy-tale. My apologies for the botched conceit. Nevertheless, the truth of the matter at hand is still in there. The Kem, this so-called well-oiled machine, really did turn the world of film editing on its ear when filmmakers began using it in the late 1960's in larger and larger volume. The Kem one-upped the Moviola, more or less trumping all other editing methods with the facility of its use—and when computer software became increasingly sophisticated, the well-oiled machine that was once so super-sophisticated went the way of the dodo. Despite this, there were still those who remained admirably committed, contriving to hang on for as long as they feasibly could. One of these filmmakers, and perhaps the last one to completely let go, is the one who many cineastes would call the independent’s independent, writer-director Henry Jaglom, who is very much like a well-oiled machine himself (considering the fact that he is working on five projects simultaneously).

Prodigious and prolific are two words that leap to mind when you consider Henry, and these are two of the qualities I personally admire most about him. He is currently hard at work promoting his latest release Irene in Time, editing his upcoming film Queen of the Lot (a sequel to 2006’s Hollywood Dreams), producing and seeing to the editing of the filmed version of his play Always But Not Forever (adapted from his 1985 film), writing and re-writing a new play entitled Just 45 Minutes from Broadway and planning to shoot his next feature film. Each of these projects star actress Tanna Frederick, who made her debut in his Hollywood Dreams.

I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Henry personally in 2006 and, even prior to that, we had been e-mail pen pals (beginning in 2004-ish), writing back and forth about films old, new, domestic, foreign, you name it…and, of course, about filmmaking as well. We have continued our correspondence and have known each other for these years now. In the summer of 2008, I was given the unique opportunity in being invited into Henry’s editing room to watch him work on his latest film. Immediately, what struck me as I entered the editing room was, “Okay, where ya hidin’ the computer here, Henry?” Even though I was aware he still edited on a flatbed, it didn’t really hit me until I walked into an editing room furnished with several celluloid-filled bins and, of course, the well-oiled Kem, complete with pieces of memorabilia hanging on the wall. He switched on his 8-plate Kem and started working diligently on the ending of his film. For a reasonable portion of the day, I watched him physically splice, cut, paste, wind, rewind and do all manner of things to his 35mm film elements—in a sense, watching both well-oiled machines at work. He would present me his guest, and his assistant editor Simone Boudriot with options and versions of the ending, only to, like a brim-hatted jack-rabbit, reposition those elements yet again in an almost lightning-fast way to present us with another version. This was a true sight to see.

Once a close personal friend of Orson Welles, and the last one to hear from him the night before the morning the movie legend died, Henry has carved a more than respectable existence for himself being the independent’s independent. He has never willfully directed a film for the studio system and helms films made his way and his way only. His distribution process is another fascinating aspect of his operation, also running like a well-oiled machine—all in all, a practical (and inspirational) business model for independent filmmaking. His company, Rainbow International Releasing, distributes the Monty Python films here in the United States.

Henry with co-editor Ron Vignone, photo credit: Tanna Frederick

The Jaglom way of working is a very singular way of working in that, ostensibly much the way Cassavetes made films, everything is written in detail beforehand and then, when shooting, the actors will take the reins and fulfill the intentions of the written scenes without adhering so strictly to anything written prior. He then, alone as writer, director and editor, finds the film in the editing room. It was with this knowledge that I was curious to see how Henry coped with having to switch to editing on a computer after decades of working on a flatbed and being initially resistant to the prospect of working any other way. Also, for the first time ever, he is working on Final Cut Pro not just with himself but also with a co-editor, filmmaker Ron Vignone (director of Say I Do and the upcoming documentary The Back Nine).

When I asked Vignone recently how Henry was enjoying working for the first time on Final Cut Pro, his response was simply, "Dan, he's loving it! He's having a blast!" Needless to say, I was quite surprised and started asking Ron more questions. So, eventually, I decided to schedule an interview with Henry to explore this subject. I found myself quite curious to hear what he had to say about the digital revolution and how it has affected his workflow as someone long-acclimated to a certain way of working.


DK: Let’s start simple and point-blank. It would seem you’ve been resistant to personally using computer editing systems since their inception. What ultimately led to the decision to change over?

HJ: You know, I remember when I was in London shooting Déjà Vu, [Monty Python alumnus] Terry Jones took me in to edit something with him. He showed me how computer editing was done and assured me that I'd love it. My feeling then was that I never would, because I couldn't learn the technology and would somehow miss my whole laborious process—and I am amazed in working with Ron Vignone to say that this is not at all the case. Watching Ron edit a movie version of what he filmed of my play Always But Not Forever was really revelatory. I know it wouldn't have worked without someone who can do it as amazingly well as Ron can, who is wonderfully skilled and inventive and who has very similar tastes to my own, which is easy for me. And you know personally how difficult I can be on occasion and to be around all the time, particularly in the editing room. Ron is quite simply, really brilliant as an editor, yet open to my needs and my specific, idiosyncratic creative energy. So far I haven't been tempted to edit a single thing on my own though I had an important and complex dinner scene transferred to 35mm so that I could work on it while he was doing other stuff yet haven't ever sat down at my editing table where the spools are still left on it to do a single cut myself. I thought this would be a big adjustment, but it really wasn’t. I now wish I had actually listened to Terry Jones back in — what was it — '95 maybe.

DK: Can you talk about having been among the first filmmakers to have used the Kem for editing?

HJ: Orson absolutely insisted that I use it. He told me then that editors would resist the Kem because it was so simple to use that filmmakers would learn how to do it themselves and would not want the editors to come in and edit in their place, and he was right. He always said, and I agree, that filmmakers and directors should edit their films themselves. You really and truly gain an intimacy with the material that you almost always lose when someone else comes in to do it in your place. To me, it's like a painter calling someone in and telling him what colors to use on the canvas. In 1971, on my first film, when the editor assigned to me by BBS Productions for my film A Safe Place [with Tuesday Weld, Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles] fell asleep one day under some drug influence, I took over and found that I really loved editing and that it was essential for me, and no one else, to do it in the future.

DK: So this guy who they hired to edit really fell asleep under the influence while at the actual editing table? Doesn’t sound like a very productive working relationship.

HJ: I remember his name was Howard Awk or Alk, he was famous at the time in certain hip circles for having made or edited a film with Bob Dylan. He was a friend of Dylan's, a graduate of the Second City and had been hired by Bert, from whom I had gotten the Kem. He got high, it seemed, a lot. So it was just when this guy fell asleep at the Kem a couple of times that I decided that he was no-go, and then somehow I convinced Bert [Schneider] to let edit it myself, and so I hand-edited my next—what was it?—14 or 15 films.
And it seemed to me that, with my way of working and not having each scene shot over and over again with different coverage and different angles and whatnot, and with so much improvisation, no one else could possibly put it together except me. In all reality, I write my films in the editing room. I always go into a project with a script, but it is never ever used verbatim, so the actors fulfill the intentions of the written scene without my imposing any rigid directions on them. Then, later in the editing room, I in a sense rewrite the scene with the emotional reality that the actors give me. So with that in mind, the fact that I am finding the movie in the editing process is the reason that I was the only one who could edit my films.

DK: I agree. It is your process, and that's just it.

HJ: I also remember when I was directing A Safe Place, we were shooting a scene and I was telling them what shot I wanted, and everyone in the camera department and continuity kept on telling me, "You can't do that! It's not gonna cut!" And I kept trying to convince them that it would, and it got to the point where I became so frustrated, I went over to Orson, kvetched a bit and asked his advice. He told me, "Tell them it's a dream sequence." At first, I was confused because it wasn't a dream sequence, but he told me that if you told people you were shooting a dream sequence, they would put aside any resistance towards your wishes and that they would do whatever you want. So I went back and told the cameraman that it was a dream sequence we were shooting, and he told me, "Well, why didn't you say so? I can put the camera over here and do all kinds of crazy things." [laughing] So, basically, no one else could see the vision I had for the edited product, so that was just more evidence that I was the only one who could do it.

DK: You’re working very closely with a co-editor, Ron Vignone, for the first time. How would you describe that working dynamic, considering the fact that you edited your own films by yourself from the beginning of your career?

HJ: It’s been easy and terrific! Ron knows all my work and my taste so well. He was always at my side during the writing of Queen of the Lot and during the whole shooting of it as well. Seeing Ron do what he did on Always convinced me to try this new system out, and working with him on that scene at the end of Irene in Time further convinced me, and now I am completely sold and spoiled, letting him do all the complex first roughs while I finish re-writes on my new play and work on my Jewish history book. If it weren't for Ron, I'd be sitting at my Kem for endless hours, going over to the shelves to take out reel after endless reel, putting each one on my flatbed and looking, cutting, rewinding, looking, cutting, rewinding, looking, cutting...for hundreds of hours.

DK: What have you learned about yourself and about your process as a result of this shift, and your adoption of using new filmmaking technology, if anything? Have you also learned anything about your process from working with a co-editor for the first time? Did anything surprise you?

HJ: I really haven’t learned much directly as a result of the change of process. I was definitely quite surprised at how much faster it is, and how much easier.

DK: I recall years ago now how you marveled at watching a two-minute short film of mine online, and your telling me how lucky I was to be coming of age as a filmmaker in the age of the Internet, when distribution was easy and turnaround time was so fast. Do you wish that you yourself had come of age as a filmmaker during the digital filmmaking revolution considering its advantages in the realm of production and distribution?

HJ: No, not at all. I like everything having been exactly as it was, and I've never wished retroactively for things to have been different. That is science fiction and it doesn't interest me, nor do I find it constructive to think about how things could have been different, because each film I have made is a perfect representation of who I was at the time it was made. So how could I possibly want it to be any other way?

DK: On a very general basis, what do you think of the phenomenon—that Joe Schmo from Oatmeal, Nebraska can access a digital camera very easily, pick it up and make a film on his own with very little resources and very little money? The digital revolution has furthered opened the door to regional filmmaking, which excites me as a filmmaker. However, do you think this new accessibility has opened the flood-gates for products of a decidedly lesser quality? How does that make you feel as a filmmaker?

HJ: I am happy for everyone who now gets a chance who wouldn't have in the past. I think this is really and truly great. It’s the best thing that could have happened, and I am not really at all concerned with a perceived loss of collective quality of work.

DK: Were you initially amazed at the immediate results inherent in computer editing (e.g. that you can color correct without going to a chemical color-timer or that you can fade, mix audio, dissolve or superimpose titles onto images without optical printing)? Were there any other surprising revelations that you discovered when you chose to adapt to the new technology?

HJ: No real surprise there. I did know all this, but who doesn’t know this? It’s so out there now, it seems like. That's what is so amazing!

DK: Considering the way you work and your artistic process, have you found it easier or more difficult to edit improvised scenes with the new system?

HJ: Both really. I remember Orson watching me edit improvisational acting one day when I was putting together Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?, him sitting behind me and smoking his Monte Cristo and being utterly fascinated as I made it up as I went along, amazed when I took a bit of someone's dialogue out of one mouth and put it in another, or taking just syllables here and words there and as a result re-writing whole scenes, changing whole sentences and making several actors look as if they were saying things that they never actually said. But I am enjoying watching Ron edit the scenes and then showing it to me and then working on it with him, and so on, like I guess more traditional directors do, and the speed with which all this can be done amazes and delights me, what would have taken me weeks can be done in one sitting. It's liberating.

DK: To quote your mentor Orson Welles, “I believe it is possible to spoil a young filmmaker with too much privilege, too much money and too much comfort so that he does not learn one of the main arts of directing, which is the ability to walk away from something.” Do you think that it is in turn possible to spoil young filmmakers with the advantages of the digital format?

HJ: I don't know where you got this quote, but Orson said thousands of things, whatever came to his mind at the moment he said, and never seriously thought about this. Don't take what you read seriously, people say all sorts of things. And I don't believe something like this can spoil a young filmmaker. Quite the contrary, it opens up the form for people. I have always encouraged the growth of digital filmmaking for all it allows young and beginning filmmakers, but have just never been interested in working within it myself, until now.

DK: I know a few people who feel that way, that computer editing spoils you to the point where you can't think and consider fully what you're doing because it is so fast that you want to do it and the next minute, it's extended thought process that one would get from winding, cutting, splicing, watching.

HJ: I do understand what you're saying. I just think that the more open the medium and the form is, the more interesting the results are ultimately going to be.

DK: In any case, do you see your beginning to use editing software as a gateway for you to in the future shoot digitally on HD, or are you faithfully committed in sickness or health to shooting in 35mm?

HJ: I really have no commitment to anything like that now. But who knows? It could go either way, I don't know yet. At various points throughout my editing process, I screen the films in rough cut form. I would always have to take the work-print to the lab and get it transferred at various stages to a DVD. Another perk is that this new process cuts down on that expense as well, and you can make DVDs at various points without that hassle. So the more I am seeing the various perks of doing things digitally, the more I become open to further changes.

DK: Does 35mm editing still have any advantages over digital editing?

HJ: One thing I can say is that I no longer feel like an artisan, like I used to—the feeling of what it is to work with your hands. One of the best things about working in film on a Kem and on any flatbed is feeling the film between your fingers on the editing table and watching light pass through the actual elements when you’re editing. There’s just nothing like it. So, if there is anything I miss, it is that. I am not so sure you can feel anything even akin to that when you edit on a computer. It's just very different.

DK: On a lighter note, I remember you saying that you intended to make a film for every letter of the alphabet (i.e. A for Always But Not Forever, B for Babyfever, C for Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? , D for Déjà Vu, E for Eating, F for Festival in Cannes, etc). Is this still a goal and do you think the quickness of computer editing can facilitate that goal?

HJ: [laughing] Yes, it’s still a goal…if I live long enough to see to it. Editing on a computer is quick, so we shall see.

DK: A great teacher of mine once said, “If one studies history, one should begin at the beginning. Therefore, filmmakers just starting out should learn how to shoot on film elements before moving onto video in order to understand the roots of filmmaking.” Do you think fledgling filmmakers should first, or at some point, learn how to shoot and edit on film with a flatbed to understand from hence and whence we came?

HJ: There are no rules, and I believe anyone who preaches rules is missing something really valuable. Everyone is different and should approach making films in any way he or she thinks is best, most importantly no one should listen to anyone else who tells them that there is a right and wrong way to do things....just do them and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. That is the best advice I can not let anyone tell you, "No, you can't." And the digital age makes that more possible for people, in my belief. I've made a career out of telling people, "Yes I can!" If I can make that "Yes I can" happen from editing on 35mm, they can make it happen with the new ways made available!

IRENE IN TIME is playing at Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theater in Los Angeles. Henry's play JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY premieres at Edgemar Center on October 1.