Q: When is 24 not 24?
A: When it’s actually 23.976; a piece of the most irritating kind of Final Cut Pro fuck-offery that has cost me half a weekend. And the sunny half to boot.
Frames per second – the number of different pictures that get flashed up in front of the audience’s eyes every second. European TV and DVDs do it 25 times (well, they do half of a picture 50 times a second); go see a film in the cinema and you’ll be presented with 24; and Peter Jackson has been known to go as high as 48.
And the Americans? 29.97 frames per second. Not 30; 29.97. Who the hell ever thought that was a sensible idea?
Again, probably not best to start with the rant before setting the context. You may have recently noticed some new pictures and links appearing on the Charmed website, directing the more forward-thinking business users towards our Sales Agents, Moviehouse Entertainment, proudly carrying the banner for Zombie Resurrection in its onwards march into DVD emporia near you. The contacts are signed, a skip-load of DVDs passed across to them to hand out at Cannes, and the extraordinary list of must-have deliverables bartered down to the absolute necessities.
Gone are the expensive HDCAMs and DigiBetas, to be replaced by a single full-fat ProRes file delivered on a hard disk.
At 24 frames per second.
And while this was cause for some jubilation in Charmed Central, it did raise one important issue. We didn’t shoot the film at 24 frames per second. Like all good Europhiles, we went for 25.
This was, I should point out, not an arbitrary choice on our part. If you start to read the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook it’s written there on one of the commandment stones. On page 7. Even before you make it to the Contents pages, the decision has been take out of your hands: “Thou shalt shoot, while living in PAL land, at 25 fps on film, or 25p on HD, irrespective of what the other soothsayers advise. They be-eth wrong!”
But thinking about it, it does make sense. Outside of the festival circuit, Zombie Resurrection was never intended for a cinematic release. It’s a low-budget zombie film that doesn’t have Brad Pitt in it; if our core audience can’t get loaded while they watch it, why would they bother?
And so we plan for the DVD. 25 frames per second. Done.
So the question before us now is: “how do we make a 25 fps film into a 24 fps film?”. And the easiest answer is just to slow the whole lot down by 4%. No one outside of the production team will ever notice, we are reliably assured. Oh, and the actors, who will all wonder which slightly-more-baritone replacements came in and dubbed all their lines.
Simple. On paper this should be a stroll through the roses. Conform the video footage to 24 fps in After Effects, slow down and re-sample the audio track, introduce them to each other again in the editing software, et voila.
Except Final Cut Pro was written by Americans. Americans with their bloody NTSC TVs and ridiculous sample rates.
It is, apparently, far, far easier to convert the bugger into an American DVD if your frame rate isn’t quite 24 frames per second. No, no - 23.976 works so much nicer. But, hey, it’s close enough to 24 that we can probably name all the software templates 24 fps. Round it up, why don’t we? Don’t want to confuse the punters.
And so somewhere in sunny Hampshire, a lonely vitamin-D deficient film producer gazes sadly out of his window at all the other kids playing in the street, wondering why by the end of his film everybody’s dialogue is just a tiny bit out.
So endeth the rant; I’m off to the pub. Spent.