Filmmaker Ang Lee Wants to Bring Audiences Closer to Reality

Filmmaker Ang Lee Wants to Bring Audiences Closer to Reality
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What you need to know

The Taiwanese director's latest film 'Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk' will be the first in the world to be screened in a new format using 3D at a resolution of 4,000 pixels and 120 frames-per-second.

Three-time Oscar award-winning director Ang Lee (李安) is taking the technical limits of filmmaking to a new level in his latest film.

The Taiwan-born Lee spoke in Taipei on Oct. 1 about bringing the audience closer to reality through the groundbreaking technology used in “Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," which will hit theaters this fall.

The film will be the first in the world to be screened in a new format using 3D at a resolution of 4,000 pixels and 120 frames-per-second. Most films are shot at 24 frames-per-second.

“It’s amazing to watch. I can give a lot of reasons why [I choose to use the new technology], but I just wanted to see it happen,” Lee said to a packed audience. “I used to defend [shooting movies with] film to the death, and I still do, but I feel like I should do something more now that movies can be shot in digital.”

“To put it simply, it’s like Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’; I hope every time I make a film it’s as if it happened the first time. But it’s getting harder.”

Lee was speaking at an event attended by The News Lens International.

After shooting “Life of Pi” (2012) – the first film he shot in digital format – at 24 frames-per-second, Lee said had doubts about using the new technology.

“I knew there was nothing good about 24 frames, just that it was the cheapest [format to shoot in],” he said. “Twenty-four frames is like a fence in paradise to me, and it’s as if people don’t know what to do once they go beyond that fence. I’m not aiming to tear down that fence. I just want to push it a bit further out.”

After “Life of Pi,” the director experimented shooting at 60 frames-per-second. He said that as the human eye takes in possibly 800-900 frames-per-second, if a movie is shot at over 60 frames-per-second, it does not feel like a film anymore.

It is as if you are directly seeing something with your eyes, he says.

For Lee, this changed both how a movie delivers its message and the way the audience engages with the film. Still, he spent longer than one year contemplating whether or not he wanted to shoot at over 60 frames-per-second.

“But I wanted a realistic, first-person narrative movie that had a sense of participation,” Lee said. “This changes the relationship between the audience and films, because it’s not just listening to a story, but experiencing a setting and the narrative of a movie.”

Ang Lee_李安
李安。Photo Credit: AP/達志影像
Director Ang Lee poses for photographs at a press conference to promote "Life of Pi" in Tokyo, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Shooting at such a high format means visual detail is greatly enhanced, which is what Lee wanted to see, but this also created many challenges.

“What’s most important in our lives is reading each other’s faces,” Lee said. “You don’t need the actor to act something out for you to feel what he or she feels, so no make-up was used in this film. I can see through each actor, which is what I think is most valuable in this movie.”

But with more intense close-ups, Lee had to make many adjustments, from lighting to the way the actors acted.

“Everything was off,” he said.

Given that no one had shot in this format previously, the lack of equipment was also another obstacle.

“I actually know nothing about computers, and all I did was constantly make demands,” Lee said. “If a computer couldn’t do the job, then we would build a new computer. We didn’t have a projector [to screen the new technology during production], so we remodeled one ourselves.”

While there were numerous technical difficulties in making “Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk,” Lee spent even more time working with his crew to take on the challenge.

“My crew had many doubts because this was something new. There is a limit to coaxing them, but I did keep making demands,” he said. “I also spent a lot of time telling them ‘you’re not good enough, and I’m not good enough, because this is something new and we need to work together.'”

With all the challenges Lee has gone through in making his latest film, the director ultimately hopes to bring audiences back into theaters and show that making a film in such a high format is possible.

“I believe in the cinema so much, and we need this kind of congregation,” he said. “People need to pretend to enter a fantasy to verify their lives and find a kind of spiritual life.”

“You don’t have to like my films, but if you don’t, then criticize me and not the medium,” Lee said. “The medium is innocent, and it’s something we have just started picking up. I hope when the audience watches this movie they will think that this is doable and is something worth pursuing. This way, all the effort [put into this film] would have been worth it.”

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” premieres on Oct. 14 at the New York Film Festival.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole