Do Higher Frame Rates Tell Better Stories, or Just Disconnect Audiences? Maybe it Depends
Does better technology mean better storytelling? The answer, of course, is yes. And no. And anywhere in between, depending who you ask. The Hobbit's use of 48fps has joined up with other recently adopted and revisited technologies (like 3D) in what could be considered the "resolution wars". The desire to better our storytelling tools is an honorable one, but that same question remains: What does it mean for storytelling itself? Are audiences more drawn in or engaged by HFR than traditional frame rates? A young filmmaker from New Zealand is asking such questions, and has actually shot a side-by-side comparison to investigate viewers' responses -- based on a shot-for-shot recreation of the opening of Brick.
Matt Fannin is that film student, and given the difficulties inherent to such a test, I think he's on to something very interesting. Having guest posted over at Red Shark based on the work on his own site. He poses the question, "What do frame rates have to do with telling stories?" He pushes the question a little further, asking if HFR images change an audience's experience. His original description of the project is as follows:
I decided to put together a test comparing two different frame rates for people to watch and get feedback from. I used a pre-existing story sequence and attempted to match it as identically as possible in both formats... [also creating] a good control to compare them based on connection and engagement with a story, rather than simply observing how 'smooth' or 'not smooth' the motion is. The frame rates used are 25p and 50p (very slightly different from the 24 and 48 standards) with a 180 degree shutter angle.
Matt did encounter some issues displaying the higher frame rate perfectly on an HDTV, but regardless gathered interesting feedback -- even from a modest sample size. Preference was almost evenly matched, with 25p just barely "winning". Some comments regarding distaste for 50p included an "unnatural" or "playing too fast" feeling. This is something filmmakers might expect, but it isn't necessarily obvious or intuitive to the untrained eye. I recommend checking out Matt's posts on Red Shark and his own site to see for yourself!
A question this difficult isn't easily answered, but I was pleased to read about Matt's work. His approach gauges what value HFR may have as a tool in the filmmaker's bag of tricks, versus adopting or condemning it outright without further discussion. I think he deserves recognition for even attempting to treat the subject in a way beyond the binary arguments we're used to hearing. Simply saying "it looks like [garbage], so [flush] it," may not be the most constructive way to think of a potential tool, even though that's something I've admittedly said of it myself plenty of times before. I'm still not convinced about HFR either way, but why limit the options available to filmmakers? It certainly seems too early to call the discussion closed.
What are your thoughts? Is HFR a technique that can be used to the advantage of filmmakers? How can tests like Matt's continue to illustrate when we should -- or maybe shouldn't -- employ its effects?