Check Out This 15-Minute History Lesson on Frame Rates

Jean-Luc Godard’s (justly) famous quote, “Film is truth, 24 times a second,” refers to both the aesthetic “truth” of film as medium, as well as a simple, technical truth.

A film is comprised of what are, essentially, thousands of photographs (or their digital equivalent), which, when presented sequentially and at a constant speed (the theatrical standard for 35mm being 24 frames per second), provide the illusion of movement (an irony I’m sure M. Godard is aware of).

This illusion of continual motion by speed (the same principle can be seen at work in flip books) is often referred to as “persistence of vision,” though this is a somewhat contentious term, as since 1912 the so-called “phi phenomenon” (which is also the name of a Tom Clancy novel I just made up) has been posited as the reason for why movies, for lack of a better term, “work.” But the 24 frame standard is only one in the history of motion pictures, and may even be on the way out.

This video, from Filmmaker IQ, lays out the history of frame rate in film and provides an essential lesson on what is one of the most elementary and crucial elements of cinema to understand. Because no matter the speed at which an object is photographed (or scanned, or whatever) all of the technology at a filmmaker’s disposal doesn’t exist for its own sake, but is the servant of story, of art, of a striving for connection with an audience, no matter how large or small. The most advanced cinematic system in the world is useless if it fails to communicate, and yet film would be unable to communicate without technological systems. And, to editorialize for a moment (which I never do, ever), a filmmaker, and especially an indie filmmaker (who, by necessity, has to be a jack of all trades) would be remiss if they didn’t have at least some knowledge of every aspect of their craft.




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