The Wire in HD (updated with video clips)

03 Dec
December 3, 2014

This tale begins and ends with a fellow named Bob Colesberry, who taught me as much as he could about filmmaking in the three or four years I was privileged to work with him. To those who knew Bob, it will provoke warm memories to say that he was not a language guy; he understood image, and story, and the delicate way in which those elements should meet.

Bob spent a too-short lifetime on film sets, working beside real filmmakers – Scorsese, Bertolucci, Pakula, Levinson, Ang Lee – helping to shepherd the ideas of many great directors and eschewing the limelight altogether for the chance. But, hey, if you don’t believe me about how substantial his resume was, go to imdb right now and trace the arc of his career. That he ended up tethered to some ex-police reporter in Baltimore was pure forbearance on his part; for my part, I can just say I got very lucky.

It is no exaggeration that Bob had to explain “crossing the line” to me a dozen times, often twice in the same day, before my brain could grasp a concept that first-year film students everywhere take for granted. If you go to the fourth episode of the first season of The Wire, and watch the camerawork on that long scene with Freamon and McNulty in the bar, you’ll be a bystander to the moment when the linear word-brain that I drag to set every day was finally allowed a few rays of cinematic light, courtesy of a patient mentor.

“See what happens when we cross over and everything flips?” he explained for the thirteenth time. “If you see the move happen, you aren’t disoriented, but if we were to cut that moment and then suddenly be on the other side…”

He paused, looked at me. Nothing. Dead crickets.

“So…the dialogue that they’re saying when we cross the line and reverse on them – those words –we can’t cut those. You good with that?”

“Yeah, I get it now.”

“Right. Then we’re good.”

Huh. The next day, I sauntered up to Bob at the video monitors and, in my best deadpan, asked him yet again to explain crossing the line. He looked on me sadly as a terminal case, until I started laughing. No, I had finally learned something about the camera and the credit was his. I just couldn’t resist pulling the man’s coat one more time.

In telling that story on myself, I’m trying to make clear that while I might have learned to put film in the can in a basic way before the marriage to Mr. Colesberry, I had no claim to anything remotely resembling a film auteur. It was Bob who created the visual template for The Corner and The Wire both, and having died suddenly after the latter drama’s second season, it is Bob who is remembered wistfully every time we begin to construct the visuals for some fresh narrative world. He would have reveled in Generation Kill, and knowing what I do about the visual palate that New Orleans offers the world, I am unsure that Bob Colesberry could have ever been pried from that city had he gone down there for Treme.

As devoted as he was to imagery and story, language was always a lesser currency in Bob’s life; he often made his arguments elliptically, curling in sentence-fragment circles until he got to where he needed to go. You had to lean in and listen a little harder, but it was always worthwhile and he was usually correct when he got to his point. Once, at a TCA panel on The Wire, Bob answered a reporter’s question in vague terms and at length. To lighten the moment, I tossed off a joke: “Now you can see why Bob’s in command of the visuals.” It was teasing and steeped in affection, but I regretted the remark as soon as I uttered it. Bob’s contributions to the storytelling were profound, and though he laughed it off, I had been heedless. His claim on The Wire and what it was trying to do was genuine and elemental; for years, before and after his death, I wanted that moment back to exalt my friend and colleague.

So when HBO sent out some promo ads about a conversion of The Wire to HD and a 16:9 ratio a few months ago, I reacted not merely as David Simon, showrunner and ink-stained scribbler, but as David Simon, the medium for Robert Colesberry, professional filmmaker. WWBD. What would Bob do?

*          *          *

Well, for one thing, he would make sure to be included in the process.

Nina Noble and I were told a year ago that HBO wanted to experiment with taking The Wire, filmed in standard definition and a 4:3 ratio, to the new industry standards. We endorsed the effort, but after we last spoke to folks on the production side, we had expected to be shown some work recast in high definition and wider screen and to begin discussions at that point. Instead, we heard nothing until on-air promos for The Wire in HD began to be broadcast and packaging material for a fresh release of the drama was forwarded to us in Yonkers, where we are shooting our current HBO project.

No offense was taken, particularly when the production people explained that the transfer to HD had been laborious and ornate, and it was simply assumed that we were too busy with current production to dive into the process in detail. And, too, there was a further assumption at HBO that as a transfer to HD could provide a fresh audience for the drama, there was no real disincentive to an HD transfer of The Wire on any terms; if it could be done, they reasoned, it should be done.

And yet, I still had Bob Colesberry in my ear. Moreover, Bob’s history with HD and a 16:9 ratio in regard to The Wire was a tortured one. His intentions, the limitations imposed on our production, and his resulting template for the drama were known to me, if not to the folks presently struggling with a retroactive transfer to HD and widescreen.

In fact, Bob had asked before filming The Wire pilot in late 2001 for a widescreen aspect ratio. He correctly saw television screens growing wider and 16:9 ratio becoming industry standard, and coming from the feature world, it was his inclination to be as filmic as possible. But, to be honest, The Wire was at its inception a bit of shoestring affair and expectations for the drama at HBO were certainly modest. Filming in letter-box was more expensive at the time, and we were told, despite Bob’s earnest appeals, that we should shoot the pilot and the ensuing season in 4:3.

At which point, Bob set about to work with 4:3 as the given. And while we were filming in 35mm and could have ostensibly “protected” ourselves by adopting wider shot composition in the event of some future change of heart by HBO, the problem with doing so is obvious: If you compose a shot for a wider 16:9 screen, then you are, by definition, failing to optimize the composition of the 4:3 image. Choose to serve one construct and at times you must impair the other.

Because we knew the show would be broadcast in 4:3, Bob chose to maximize the storytelling within that construct. As full wide shots in 4:3 rendered protagonists smaller, they couldn’t be sustained for quite as long as in a feature film, but neither did we go running too quickly to close-ups as a consequence. Instead, mid-shots became an essential weapon for Bob, and on those rare occasions when he was obliged to leave the set, he would remind me to ensure that the director covered scenes with mid-sized shots that allowed us to effectively keep the story in the wider world, and to resist playing too much of the story in close shots.

Similarly, Bob further embraced the 4:3 limitation by favoring gentle camera movements and a combination of track shots and hand-held work, implying a documentarian construct. If we weren’t going to be panoramic and omniscient in 4:3, then we were going to approach scenes with a camera that was intelligent and observant, but intimate. Crane shots didn’t often help, and anticipating a movement or a line of dialogue often revealed the filmmaking artifice. Better to have the camera react and acquire, coming late on a line now and then. Better to have the camera in the flow of a housing-project courtyard or squad room, calling less attention to itself as it nonetheless acquired the tale.

In the beginning, we tried to protect for letterbox, but by the end of the second season, our eyes were focused on the story that could be told using 4:3, and we composed our shots to maximize a film style that suggested not the vistas of feature cinematography, but the capture and delicacy of documentarian camerawork. We got fancy at points, and whatever rules we had, we broke them now and again; sometimes the results were a delight, sometimes less so. But by and large, Bob had shaped a template that worked for the dystopian universe of The Wire, a world in which the environment was formidable and constricting, and the field of vision for so many of our characters was limited and even contradictory.

Bob Colesberry died during surgery while we were prepping season three of the drama. A short time later, HBO came to us with news that the world was going to HD and 16:9, as Bob had anticipated. We could, if we wanted, film the remaining seasons of  The Wire in HD and widescreen. But at that point a collective decision then was made to complete the project using the template that we had honed, the construct that we felt we had used to good effect to make the story feel more stolen than shaped, and to imply a more journalistic rendering of Baltimore than a filmic one.

Just as important, we had conceived of The Wire as a single story that could stand on its own across the five seasons. To deliver the first two seasons in one template and then to switch-up and provide the remaining seasons in another format would undercut our purpose tremendously, simply by calling attention to the manipulation of the form itself. The whole story would become less real, and more obviously, a film that was suddenly being delivered in an altered aesthetic state. And story, to us, is more important than aesthetics.

We stayed put and honored what we had already created. As I believe Bob would have, at that late point, stayed put.

*          *         *

And now comes HBO with the opportunity to deliver the story to a new audience.

To their great credit, once we alerted HBO production executives to our absolute interest in the matter, they halted the fall HD release and allowed us to engage in detail. And over the past several months, looking at some of what the widescreen format offered, three things became entirely clear: First, there were many scenes in which the shot composition is not impaired by the transfer to 16:9, and there are a notable number of scenes that acquire real benefit from playing wide. An example of a scene that benefits would be this one, from the final episode of season two, when an apostolic semicircle of longshoremen forms around the body of Frank Sobotka:

Fine as far as it goes, but the dockworkers are all that much more vulnerable, and that much more isolated by the death of their leader when we have the ability to go wider in that rare crane shot:

 

But there are other scenes, composed for 4:3, that lose some of their purpose and power, to be sure. An early example that caught my eye is a scene from the pilot episode, carefully composed by Bob, in which Wee Bey delivers to D’Angelo a homily on established Barksdale crew tactics. “Don’t talk in the car,” D’Angelo reluctantly offers to Wee Bey, who stands below a neon sign that declares, “burgers” while D’Angelo, less certain in his standing and performance within the gang, stands beneath a neon label of “chicken.”

That shot composition was purposed, and clever, and it works better in the 4:3 version than when the screen is suddenly widened to pick up additional neon to the left of Bey:

In such a case, the new aspect ratio’s ability to acquire more of the world actually detracts from the intention of the scene and the composition of the shot. For that reason, we elected in the new version to go tighter on the key two-shot of Bey and D’Angelo in order to maintain some of the previous composition, albeit while coming closer to our backlit characters than the scene requires:

 

It is, indeed, an arguable trade-off, but one that reveals the cost of taking something made in one construct and recasting it for another format. And this scene isn’t unique; there are a good number of similar losses in the transfer, as could be expected.

More fundamentally, there were still, upon our review, a good hundred or so scenes in which the widening revealed sync problems with actors who would otherwise have remained offscreen, or even the presence of crew or film equipment. These scenes, still evident in the version that HBO originally intended to broadcast several months ago, required redress. The high-definition transfer also made things such as Bubbles’ dental work, or certain computer-generated images vulnerable; other stuff held up pretty well in the transfer.

This is no poor reflection on HBO’s initial efforts. In traversing 60 hours of film, the HBO production team had done a metric ton of work painting out C-stands and production assistants, as well as solving a good many sync problems. They felt they had protected sufficiently to air the drama in HD and widescreen several months ago. However, for myself and Nina – examining even a small portion of the whole and finding light flares and sync issues that could be better corrected – we were confirmed in our need to slow the process and take a last, careful look.

Unfortunately, as we have spent the fall in production for HBO, there was no chance we could find time enough to attend to a complete review of the entire series. That fell to a film editor in whom we place great trust and who knows the The Wire well from his service to it over the years. Matthew Booras took the notes and concerns of the surviving filmmakers into an editing suite and began making hard decisions about what we might live with, what we might improve, and which choice did the least violence to the story when a scene became vulnerable. Narrowing the workload for Nina and myself, he made it possible for us to focus on the handful of essential problems in every episode. The hard work here on our part should actually be credited to him.

At HBO, Rosalie Camarda managed the synthesis of our late notes with the film edit, and long before Matthew weighed in on the remaining problems, Laurel Warbrick capably performed the lion’s share of the transfer, going scene by scene through the cuts and resizing and painting away problems throughout. The two then worked with Matthew, Nina and myself on the remaining issues, and we are grateful for their patience and commitment to the process.

At the last, I’m satisfied what while this new version of The Wire is not, in some specific ways, the film we first made, it has sufficient merit to exist as an alternate version. There are scenes that clearly improve in HD and in the widescreen format. But there are things that are not improved. And even with our best resizing, touchups and maneuver, there are some things that are simply not as good. That’s the inevitability: This new version, after all, exists in an aspect ratio that simply wasn’t intended or serviced by the filmmakers when the camera was rolling and the shot was framed.

Still, being equally honest here, there can be no denying that an ever-greater portion of the television audience has HD widescreen televisions staring at them from across the living room, and that they feel notably oppressed if all of their entertainments do not advantage themselves of the new hardware. It vexes them in the same way that many with color television sets were long ago bothered by the anachronism of black-and-white films, even carefully conceived black-and-white films. For them, The Wire seems frustrating or inaccessible – even more so than we intended it. And, hey, we are always in it to tell people a story, first and foremost. If a new format brings a few more thirsty critters to the water’s edge, then so be it.

Personally, I’m going to choose to believe that Bob Colesberry would forgive this trespass on what he built, and that he, too, would be more delighted at the notion of more folks seeing his film than distressed at the imprecisions and compromises required. If there is an afterlife, though, I may hear a good deal about this later. And in consideration of that possibility, I’m going to ask anyone who enjoys this new version of The Wire to join me in sending five or ten or twenty dollars to the following address:

The Robert F. Colesberry Scholarship

Tisch School For The Arts

New York University

721 Broadway, 12th Floor

New York, N.Y. 10003

As I’ve made clear, I’ve messed with a Bob Colesberry template here, and the man, when passionate, spoke in long coils, building slowly and inexorably to a summation. And yes, eternity is a long fucking time. So if you’ve long wanted The Wire in HD, unass a bit of coin for a scholarship that honors Bob and supports future filmmakers in his name. You’ll be doing me a small, karmic solid.

David Simon

Baltimore, Md.

December 1, 2014

329 replies
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  1. CXP says:

    I have been watching the HD remasters lately and I was curious about a few scenes, and whether the frame wasn’t expanded but compressed so it looks like a super wide lens was used. I’m on season 2 now but I noticed at the end of season 1 when they’re having the parking garage meet with Levy and again in early season 2 when Wee Bey is meeting Avon while he’s eating KFC in his cell, some of the shots look fisheye, like the middle of the screen is closer to the camera than the outer edges. Was this another technique used by HBO to fill the 16:9 frame or was it chosen during shooting?

    Reply
  2. stylinred says:

    wow…thank you Mr. Simon for this post, the love, work, and care that you and your team have poured into this series and the HD version has alleviated my hesitation of acquiring the Blu-Ray…I’m still hoping for a 4:3 format Blu-Ray of the show though

    Reply
  3. Kevin Eslinger says:

    Everyone kept telling me “watch The Wire””You have to see The Wire” or asking me “why haven’t you watched it yet?” So I did… and… Wow!!

    Just finished watching The Wire last week and was completely blown away by the storytelling and characters. As for the 4:3 vs 16:9 thing… never gave it a thought. Didn’t even know it was originally 4:3. It was just amazing TV and I would like to thank you David for giving a good ol’ boy from Idaho… a different perspective on the world.

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  4. Jayneel Ramjee says:

    I’d never even heard of The Wire when it was originally screened but a few years ago, I kept noticing people repeatedly bringing it up in Breaking Bad forums, particularly in the sense of which was the superior show. As a massive Breaking Bad fan, I vowed to watch The Wire as soon as it was available in HD.

    I binge watched all 5 seasons over the last 2 weeks and transfer-wise, I found it to be nothing short of flawless. In all honesty, I’m actually happy I waited this long. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it just fine on my 48cm set back in the early 2000s but it would have also meant depriving myself of the gorgeous cinematic aesthetic that comes with modern day high-definition television. And brother, for a decade old show, it looks just as good as, if not better, than many current day offerings.

    Regarding the quality of the show itself, in my 38 years of existing as little more than a couch potato, I have never seen multi-layered storytelling of this caliber. The characters, the writing, the stories, the dialogue…My God! I am absolutely OBSESSED with The Wire. I name it almost everyday in passing. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for this addiction.

    Mr Simon, you have created a monster. As a Wire newbie, I thank you from the bottom of my heart not just for creating the show but also for making it accessible to us new age techno snobs. This is the best gift you could have given us.

    Can’t wait for the BluRay & 4K transfers. Ok maybe that’s pushing my luck 😉

    PS. Much, MUCH better than Breaking Bad.

    Reply
  5. Lauri Kuti says:

    I had reservations about if I wanted to watch The Wire in 16:9 HD. Considering how much I appreciated the “documentary/rough” look 4:3 imposes on the material. Glad to know you were involved in the process of reshaping The Wire for HD widescreen standards.

    I’ve seen the series multiple times, as probably has everyone who comments here. And never did I feel the need for high definition. But I know plenty of people who seem to have become intolerant of everything SD.
    It may be superficial modern day stand, but widely held. Now that The Wire is in HD, I can pretty much finally force them to watch it. Well, heavily recommend them to check it out.
    My point being; Excited to know The Wire gets some deserved new audience.
    And pretty darn good reason to watch it again.

    Thank you for The Wire and your stance on the 16:9 conversion.

    Reply
  6. John Rasfig says:

    Hi, Any idea why it’s not available on iTunes France? Is someone remastering the subtitles or something? Lol.

    Reply
  7. lorenzi logan says:

    There’s been such a progression in these comments here. It is quite remarkable. But let us not lose sight of the fact that NONE of this would be happening if Mr. Simon had not detailed his own apprehension, conflict and worry about this process and transformation. This is what started our own concern about the high quality preservation of this show. And as the details of what needed to be done to the original images becomes more and more clear, more and more outrage is being expressed. There are some that are baffled by the outrage, and some that share it. But it has gone beyond what Mr. Simon initially called us out on; this is no longer about us asserting a higher value to one aspect of the HD transfer over another. This is about protesting out-and-out botch work that is tainting the release as a whole. And, frankly, it was uncalled for. But if HBO wanted to fit THE WIRE so badly into a rectangle shape that they would stretch it, zoom into it, pan around in it, manipulate it, God knows they ain’t gonna go back to it’s original shape. So is all of this talk on here futile? In a way, yes. But people still don’t fully understand it all yet, so maybe these discussions have some value. Regardless, perhaps folks need to stop saying stuff like “no one will notice”. I mean, really? How far can we go down that ‘they won’t notice’ road?

    Someone on here said something that needs to be said again — this wasn’t just any show, this was THE show. HBO didn’t see the worth in preserving THE show correctly (or at least non-distorted-ly) and that is a shame. What could be done now? I don’t know. WWCBD? (what would Chris Albrecht do?)

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Hold on now. What would Chris Albrecht do? He would tell us not to shoot 16:9 in the first place, but to keep it 4:3. And we would follow his direction and do essentially that, while doing some protecting — but no composing — for widescreen adaptation in the future.

      I think, perhaps, you’re not really acknowledging what it means to go from 4:3 to the wider screen in practical reality. In about half the shots, there is no problem going wider on both sides and using all of the remaining negative — albeit many of those shots add nothing but unnecessary space and do no justice to the original shot composition, while some actually improve the shot. In the other half of the shots, one side or the other (or both) may be impaired by something that we don’t intend to be in shot — another actor or fixture that is out of sync with a previous or ensuing shot, crew members, light flares, equipment, or simply film damage to one side of the negative. Being unable to use all of the extra material, we use what we can — sometimes rescuing a portion of the frame using CGI — but are then are obliged to blow up the shot at the cost of some portion of the top or bottom of the frame. In each shot, these are decisions that are made carefully by film editors, going shot to shot and looking at each problem and each solution. Were you under the impression that simply because this was 35mm film, all we had to do was just open up to widescreen and all the additional material would be there, fully functional and properly edited within the existing cuts? That’s crazy. Are you aware of how film is actually edited together? Do you understand how many times an actor will appear in the margins of one shot doing something inconsistent with the very next shot? Do you not understand that there is no “pure” expansion of the finished film as you imagine it, that offering that to get to 16:9 would be disastrous and incompetent?

      This process was carefully handled and we did the best we could, shot to shot, with the existing film, with the plausible options, and with an eye toward doing the minimum damage. And now there is a 16:9 HD version if people want it. If you don’t want it, great. There are DVDs. But you are lost on a jeremiad that actually has very little to do with how a film is actually put together and what is necessary when the film format changes. What you seem to be seeking would not be pure in any sense. It would be, in a word, a mess.

      Reply
      • lorenzi logan says:

        David,
        Let’s not rehash old things we’ve already worked through. We know, thanks to your generosity with the information, what it took to turn this 4:3 SD ‘master’ into 16:9 HD; that it wasn’t just taking what was on the film negative as is. But, your initial comments implied that all that work was ONLY done on those newly view-able edges of the frame. But now you’re saying there is all this reshaping and recompositioning (through zooming and pan-and-scan )of the scenes (HALF THE SHOTS in fact) that were done when possible to avoid CG work on those sides. So, in fact, these technicians were valuing certain aspects of what the show actually “is” over others. They thought it was within the bounds to totally recomposition, stretch, pan, zoom in on shots to fit this new shape. And why wouldn’t they? The creator doesn’t really care one way or the other anyway because once they took it out of being SD it was already LESS than his original intention. Messing with it any way at all is just one value over another, right? But It all makes it feel like this isn’t “The Wire” anymore, it’s “The Re-Wired”. They should have thrown up their hands and said “This is too much work JUST to make this 16:9. Let’s keep it 4:3 like so many remastered shows on HD.” But they didn’t. And it’s over. And so, I thank you kindly for letting us at least express our frustrations here on your blog.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Okay, this has officially gotten ridiculous.

          Now you are putting words in my mouth. This creator cares very much that this version be as viable as it can be. As he will with all versions.

          By far, the most significant problem when going from 4:3 to 16:9 is that in many cut scenes, characters will be revealed to be out of sync when the edited scene goes wide — meaning a character otherwise out of frame will be suddenly in frame with his lips flapping or arm moving, repeating a gesture from a contiguous shot. This is not “valuing” one thing over another. This is a film that No Longer Makes Sense unless it is reshaped for the new format.

          No one who understands how film is edited into narrative can believe that the solution for such a problem can be merely leaving what was originally in frame as sancrosanct and then simply applying CGI. Not if you understand what CGI can and can’t practically do. The solution is to use the excess of the negative on the safe side of the film and to blow up the viable imagery to achieve the remainder. If you think there has ever been a transfer from 4:3 to 16:9 that has not required some amendment to the original frame, I would like to hear of it.

          We did not throw up our hands. The charge was not to make a version that Mr. Logan desired or valued, the charge was to make a 16:9 version. We went scene by scene and served each shot with all available resource inherent in the film and available editing enhancements. The result has faired rather well in general reaction to its broadcast, to my understanding. You are unhappy.

          But that is no reason to come here and lecture me on what you believe I don’t care about, particularly when it is becoming increasingly clear that you haven’t given very much thought to the reality of what bringing a cut scene from 4:3 to 16:9 actually involves, and which might be more problematic — shaving an inch off a character’s hat or shins, or dropping some CGI bush or brick wall in front of Lester Freamon so that he isn’t repeating the same gesture that he did in the two-shot. I’m sorry, but your argument here — while notably incessant — is actually quite without aesthetic value when it comes down to any actual edit of actual film.

          Tellingly, until I told you that there had been repositioning in half the shots, you didn’t notice, complaining only of the stretching on the surveillance material which had no margin for adjustment at all. Now you are in wonder that this could have happened and would be “revealed” by a producer to you after the broadcast. That’s because real thought was given to the means by which each shot could be best brought to 16:9 using all available methodology, and because the finished product, while different from the shot composition of the 4:3 SD original — remember, we said this was so from jump — reflects great care and effort on the part of the people involved. And not just some arbitrary philosophy of film in which CGI amendments are somehow pure and a size-up of the original frame is sin. That’s damned silly. Sorry.

          Reply
          • lorenzi logan says:

            …and yet, if someone asked you to point them to the definitive version of this show, you would steer them away from this version, right? That’s not lamentable?

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              The original was definitive for me. It always will be.

              This version is preferable for those who value a full, widescreen viewing experience. For those viewers, we have done the best we could using ALL the resources available to us, judiciously, on a shot to shot basis. Holding the existing 4:3 frame sacrosanct in the pursuit of those solutions — as you argue ought to be done — would in fact yield much worse results and produce a much less coherent film narrative.

              Having done our best to meet HBO’s charge of creating a 16:9 version of the narrative, it is my hope that more people will find the story of The Wire and discuss the implications and purposes of that story.

              Reply
    • Dale Hewlett says:

      I believe that your reference to others stating “People will not notice” was based, at least in part, on what I have said. If so, that is the definition of straw man argument. I have stated I noticed imperfections, I even anticipated them. What I have also stated is that most people DON’T CARE. There is a huge difference. As Mr. simon has pointed out relentlessly, there is no way do adapt it to widescreen without imperfections. Can you simply just admit you want a 4:3 HD, and stop the criticism of the widescreen

      Reply
  8. Alibi Pierce says:

    I just want to give you kudos, David. I’ve watched all of season one and ten episodes of season two in the reformatted/HD version and have no complaints at all. I’m admittedly no cinephile (I STILL don’t understand the 180-degree rule). Also, I’m one of those folks–frequently referred to as “morons” in the comments here–who HATES the black bars that surround 4:3 ratio programs on my HD set. They prevent me from getting lost in whatever I’m watching and also, oddly enough, literally give me a headache.

    That said, I’m a huge fan of The Wire. The way it was filmed. The way you intended it. Not counting this most recent HD viewing, I’ve watched the entire series at least five times. I’ve read about the techniques you guys used to create depth and substance in the square format. And I won’t lie; I was worried. But after viewing the first two seasons in 16:9 HD, I have to say that I’m a happy customer. The original 4:3 shots verged on perfection so of course some of the claustrophobia that made them effective gets lost in the reedits. There are some shots that–to me–don’t work as well as they did in the original broadcasts. But I really don’t think a casual/first-time viewer will know the difference. I don’t think that I would notice. It’s only through repeated exposure that I am able to recognize those little things.

    As a matter of fact, I think that widening the shots adds more than it takes away. Especially the scene-setters: The lowrises, the cityscape, the dock shots–the 16:9 ratio pulls the viewer in. I am also able to appreciate more of the camera techniques used–the pans and the shifts (remember: layman here) that I never noticed in five SD viewings of the series. Maybe some of that has to do with the “pan and scan” stuff you mentioned and wasn’t in the original–idk.

    So while a handful of very vocal aspect ratio experts rail against what you’ve obviously made better (HBO’s original upgrade attempt), just know that there are true fans–fans of the story, the actors, the message, the cinematography, the city–who appreciate what’s been done here. And while it must have been painful to go backwards in order to move forward thanks to HBO’s early erroneous decision not to film in 16:9, you have absolutely taken Rhonda Pearlman’s advice and “made lemonade.”

    There are some things–the makeup looks rough here and there, the surveillance shots are stretchy, but the first season of The Wire is almost FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. That shit’s gonna happen no matter what. Things will look dated. If the stated mission was to appeal to a new audience, one that expects even their gritty film to look gorgeous and shiny, then I think you’ve hit gold. I’m the old audience and I still love it.

    Also, it’s been amazing watching you take on the rabid 16:9 attack squad here personally and with just the right amount of animosity. Good work. As you’ve said multiple times throughout this conversation, they should feel free to keep their DVDs. That SD ain’t going anywhere.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      The right amount of animosity? Nah. I feel no animus. Animosity is a big word for this stuff.

      Reply
      • Alibi Pierce says:

        Yes, animosity was the wrong word. Fervor is probably what I should have said. Animosity is what I felt you were responding to. Sorry about that, and thanks for the reply.

        Reply
  9. Jamie says:

    I really enjoyed reading this piece and learning a bit in the process. I took a few TV productions courses in high school but of course it was never in depth. However I wanted to say that when The Wire aired I was in undergrad (in Baltimore County) and didn’t have HBO but I caught the remastered version last week and I loved every minute. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the series. Mr. Simon, I know you hoped that this version would create a new audience and it did! So much so that within my public library system, every season of The Wire has been checked out and there are none available! Awesome job!

    Reply
  10. Matt Williams says:

    Hi David,

    I am sure that this is a very naive question, but I was curious all the same…

    When stretching of the frame was inevitable (I hope you’ll forgive me for not knowing the proper technical terms here) was any form of “smart” stretching used in any instances, or considered? By that I mean non-uniform stretching, where the center of the frame is stretched less, and the edges of the frame are stretched more. Many TVs offer such a “smart stretching” option, and sometimes it produces seemingly pleasant results.

    This is what I’m referring to…

    By the way, I look forward to viewing The Wire in HD. From the clips presented, it looks utterly fantastic. I appreciate that the remastering project was under real world constraints. Thanks for taking the time to explain that to us fans!

    Reply
  11. Dale Hewlett says:

    This discussion has devolved into some sort of circular philosophical debate, where a serious minority of consumers are insistent on HBO delivering them something different than they have made. I have watched The Wire in SD at least 3 times, usually with subtitles. Every time I feel I am gleaning more and more of the story, and making connections I missed earlier. I just watched season one in HD. I appreciate quality, and am probably considered a snob by many people I know. I felt the new presentation was fantastic, and honestly I think I enjoyed it more than any other previous viewings. I even thought the dialogue was more intelligible. The criticisms in this thread may have some valid justifications in a perfect world, but as Mr. Simon has repeated several times, the widescreen format makes the series far more accessible to the majority of consumers. If any industry whose bottom line is profit were to adjust their product for the less than one percent of true aficionados, well, that whole idea is simply ludicrous. Clearly everyone can not be satisfied by one thing. I bet some of these die hard complainers are the types who demand their food ordered in a restaurant has to be 100% of their expectations, or they send it back.

    Reply
    • Thomas says:

      Most of the recent discussion is not about “sd vs hd” but about “if you do it in hd pls do it right”

      *_*

      btw another point (if someone from HBO is reading this) .. nice IF you could watch the old DVDs with proper subtitles…

      the DVDs/Boxes produced for German/French market (which added – for those who really want to go down that road – French and German synced audio) DID NOT include any SubTitles in English .. for those like me who cannot watch/listen to a movie in English AND reading subs in (my native) German a no-go, we (the nitpicking one percent aficionados …) had to fall back on the UK-DVD-Boxes (if you are interessted in spending money that is)

      So HBO .. please for the upcoming BluRay-Relase: make sure EVERY release does include English subs (best have both English for Hearing Impaired AND English spoken only) .. i think this time there is enough space on the medium … you might loose a few customers

      cheers
      Thomas

      Reply
    • Dale Hewlett says:

      Thomas said, “Most of the recent discussion is not about “sd vs hd” but about “if you do it in hd pls do it right”

      *_*
      I don’t see how that is relevant to my comment. I never stated anything about SD VS HD. I was commenting on how it WAS done, and a very minor amount of people, will never be satisfied unless it is done exactly how they want it, regardless of what is the most marketable.

      Reply
      • Lorenzi Logan says:

        You guys are doing a great job of explaining this. It is appreciated. This is not about purists or about video snobs anymore. If a shot is STRETCHED it is a botch job. Period. This is shameful. And David, this is not a ‘some things are going to be better and some things are going to be worse’ kind of thing. Stretching to fill the frame should be off the table. They probably thought it was acceptable because, content-wise, it is supposed to be ‘low quality’ surveillance video. But that is no excuse. And it’s not something that is just a bad decision that has to be lived with, it is a bad decision that needs to be fixed. Usually those are called “mistakes”. And if they did this to every frame of surveillance video….oy. *head hits table*

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Sorry. 16:9 is 16:9. Done is done.

          Reply
          • Lorenzi Logan says:

            David, in your own words, “eternity is a long fucking time.”
            People have expressed worries about stuff being stretched in this very comment thread. You assured them that wouldn’t be happening. it happened. You didn’t know. They can fix it. The end.

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              I don’t mean to be rude, but “the end” is, in some respects, exactly that.

              But the charge here was to produce a 16:9 version of “The Wire” in HD. It wasn’t to make a 16:9 version of all the best shots for 16:9 and then revert to 4:3 for that which would suffer. Just as it wasn’t to make an HD version but then revert to SD for all the shots that would suffer from the transition to HD. It was not designed to make “The Wire” an a la carte experience for Mr. Lorenzi Logan or anyone else. And if you see no damage to the viewing experience that might occur from the abrupt change from widescreen to 4:3 — that the very act itself would take viewers out of moment to an equivalent or more significant degree than doing damage to several seconds of surveillance footage — then it is no wonder that you feel so put upon.

              I made no claim that some shots would not be rendered poorer in these columns. In fact, I said exactly the opposite. I have described the process as one of inevitable compromise, and problematic at points. I am entirely aware that many of our shots — surveillance and otherwise — did not have sufficient extra margin material to avoid some pan-and-scan and, in the case of the surveillance material, some stretch.

              If this flusters you, the option is to remain committed to the original work. It is available in DVD. But this format is 16:9. That is the premise and purpose, and it cannot be mitigated where you believe it ought to be mitigated.

              The end.

              Reply
              • Thomas says:

                So you are saying you are happy with this final result (altough maybe it wasnt your decision in the end how to render the CCTV-shots)?

                in the end it comes to this:

                – risk to have people complaining about black bars once in a while (but leaving the aspect ratio of those scenes intact), because it “takes them out of the moment” (which is okay.. as these shorts are b/w and low-res already, as erveryone expected them to be.. this are cctv-footage…)

                – dont put black bars on the side of those shots, and have total “16:9 experience” without black bars thruout the episode, leaving those morons who would have complained about black bars happy

                i think the average The Wire fan is more intelligent as some guys at HBO-Management think they are.

                Why is it all to often that a final product has to be tuned/produced with the average/most dumbest customer in mind?

                Lets hope for the community to fix this (sorry), its easy and just a few minutes work plus a few hours rendertime (per episode) to put those cctv-footage back in 4:3 and render a proper 1080p (including english sub-titles in case they are again missing) out of the Bluray-relase

                btw: besides those fk-up cctv footage i am very happy with the hd-conversion .. GREAT colours (lots of shades of brown…) and for me 90% of the scenes work better now (in some close-ups you can see now that faces are out-of-focus, but that was the way it was filmed), plus the advantage of making those idiots happy who give The Wire one-star-out-of-five in amazon-reviews because the dvds are in 4:3

                … and of course with BluRay you have the option of a way better audio.. looseless dts-hd comes to mind

                cheers
                Thomas
                (a reasonable man .. very reasonable)

                Reply
                • David Simon says:

                  I signed off on 16:9 throughout and 16:9 is what this is. I know there would be some resizing, some panning, and on the surveillance stuff some reshape. I’m not going through it on a scene by scene basis evaluating where the worst compromises argue for a return to 4:3. A hybrid version that switches back and forth is, to me, the worst of all possible worlds, calling more attention to the dynamic and the format and pulling everyone out of story.

                  If you want the shots as they were originally intended and composed, I know where you can find such. If you require a 16:9 version I know where one now exists.

                  That’s it. Done is done.

                  Reply
              • Lorenzi Logan says:

                David, you just wrote: “I am entirely aware that many of our shots — surveillance and otherwise — did not have sufficient extra margin material to avoid some pan-and-scan and, in the case of the surveillance material, some stretch.”
                I did not know that ‘pan and scan’ and ‘stretching’ were possible tools or processes that were going to be applied in getting “The Wire” to HD. I have to tell you that I am a little stunned by this (maybe others are?). I just thought, based on your article, that the scenes lacking sufficient extra margin material were digitally “cleaned up” (things were digitally erased, darkened, etc), and that that process was taking a lot of time and they were doing the best they could. Resorting to stretching some scenes, to you, is no different that any other alteration that is done? As soon as it STOPS being SD, it’s all ‘outside what you originally intended’ and therefor getting upset about one thing over the other is silly to you, right? I mean, even at this point, with stretching on the table (or maybe it always was?) do you see this all as just arguing, in circles, with snobs?
                Then, perhaps this can be filmed, a la Seinfeld’s latest show? Call it “Arguing in circles with snobs”
                Yeah, you’re right, it’s over. Here come those words…i’m typing them out now…The End.

                Reply
                • David Simon says:

                  Nope. We had to enlarge stuff in cases where margins could not be cleaned or were otherwise damaged, or where CGI paint would be too expensive to be viable. That was a trick in the bag like any other. Optimally, we tried to avoid it, but not every situation is optimal.

                  Again, we shot this in 4:3 SD. People wanted 16:9 HD and HBO is servicing that demand. We did the best we could to achieve that format.

                  Reply
                • Dale Hewlett says:

                  Plain fact. What you are talking about is probably less than .001% of 60 hours. For the uninitiated, which is the marketing strategy behind the HD widescreen adaptation, what you are suggesting may be more noticeable and inconsistent to the new viewers, and a bigger priority for HBO, than irritating you. Follow the money.

                  Reply
                  • David Simon says:

                    To be fair, we had to alter the framing at least somewhat in perhaps half of the shots. Not wholesale pan-and-scan, or CGI paint, but usually modest sizing increases in the frame, sometimes coupled with a push to left or right of center.

                    Reply
                    • Lorenzi Logan says:

                      I guess this isn’t ‘the end’ because it just keeps getting crazier. And, unless I am mistaken, you never mentioned this in all these comments on here, so let me ask something for clarity’s sake– when you say “modest sizing increases in the frame” you’re talking about ZOOMING (perhaps there’s a better word) into the frame, thereby allowing the possibility for re-framing, correct? If so, you have successfully removed the worry of those stretched images from my mind, because this is so much worse than that.

                      And this changes another thing — In the back of my mind, i was thinking that some extreme fanboy could come along and just mat out the left and right sides, to create a nice 4:3 image from these HD shows, or i could mat my TV if I wanted to get really nutty. But from what you’re saying that woudn’t work because in HALF the shots the framing is altered, offset from the original. So this is not, and never was, just about being loyal to that original framing while figuring out what to do with this extra the stuff in the left and right of the frame, this was a NO OPTION OFF THE TABLE, reworking, re-sizing, reshaping of these shots to get them to fit my tv. This was very unclear to me all this time.

                      You’re doing a fine job of selling those SD DVDs sir.

                    • David Simon says:

                      Nothing I’ve written here is inconsistent with any of this. We went through every shot. We evaluated each one. And I wrote
                      before that at least half the shots required alteration before we could go wide and avoid sync issues, or crew or equipment or other extraneous stuff.

                      We used all tools to do the best we could. The show was framed for 4:3. Did you really think that protecting for 16:9 — which we only did in the early years — is the same as composing for 16:9? It is not. Do you think we successfully composed for 4:3 and then protected in the best way for 16:9? Impossible.

                      Did you think I was kidding when I said Some Scenes Would Be Worse?

              • Karen says:

                “If this flusters you, the option is to remain committed to the original work. It is available in DVD.”

                . . . except that complaints about the quality of the DVD release are legion, i.e. defective disks, blank disks, disks that look fine but won’t play . . . you get the point. Unless Amazon was, for some inexplicable reason, targeted for a run of defective product?

                Reply
            • kt says:

              Wait, how are they supposed to “fix” it? Go back in time and stop the stretching of a few seconds of scenes, before this release happened?

              Brother, the 16:9 HD version has already aired on HBO. It’s available on digital purchase today. You’re arguing just to argue. Grade-A trolling but I don’t know what you’re actually trying to accomplish here other than rubbing salt in the wound.

              Reply
              • Simplex says:

                So what, once it’s already aired it becomes set in stone, forever immutable? I don’t think so.
                Provided there’s will on HBO part, they could change it at any time and replace the files on the server.
                They could also fix it for the upcoming BD release (summer 2015).
                The fact that it aired in this state has nothing to do with the fact that it can be fixed at any time (again: provided the owner is wiling to do that).

                Reply
                • kt says:

                  I doubt there is time or will to fix something that amounts to a few seconds of screentime, and which would cost a lot of money (CGI being the only fix that I know of to create extra framing material that does not currently exist), but you are certainly welcome to lodge your complaints with HBO.

                  Reply
                • lorenzi logan says:

                  “Trolling”? Really? It’s come to this? Come on.

                  Lots of potential customers for this collection are having second thoughts based on what is being discussed here. Lots (thousands?) of people will consider this set tainted due to words like “stretching” “pan and scan” etc. HBO would be just silly to ignore this. But, then again, they were silly to oversee it in this way to begin with. To be clear: all of these choices were acceptable approaches –making it 16:9 even thought the original is 4:3, digitally ‘fixing’ the sides of the frame, etc — BUT NOT stretching and pan and scan. These are RED FLAG, TAINTING words of description that will drive away thousands of potential customers, so long as there is hope for a corrected version (and you’re probably right — there is no hope for that). But the price tag is too large to grab it when it is released on blu ray in this condition.

                  Reply
                  • David Simon says:

                    Yes, those people might prefer the DVDs. Others will be happy with the Blu-Ray.

                    And some people will just not be happy regardless.

                    Reply
                  • Dale Hewlett says:

                    “Thousands” of people will refuse to buy it on blu ray because of a few seconds of distortion you feel could be avoided? Holy shit.
                    That is beyond absurd. It is projecting your delusional obsession on the general public.

                    Reply
                    • lorenzi logan says:

                      Yeah, you’re probably right. Guess that’s an exaggeration. Ok. Hundreds? Is that more reasonable? Hundreds for sure will not buy a +$100 box set that the creator says is riddled (did he say half the shots? i think so) with “modest” pan and scan of images.

                    • dale Hewlett says:

                      Hundreds? Maybe. Most people simply will not care, regardless of whatever David Simon posted somewhere on the internet that they will never see.

          • Dale Hewlett says:

            Exactly! I noticed a few things. If 2 seconds of a video surveillance ruins your experience, and you can not accept the fact that the creator has limited influence in the remastering, then I don’t know what can be said that is not sarcastic, insulting, or both.

            Reply
          • Dale Hewlett says:

            Shameful? That is simply ridiculous. If you can’t handle 2 to 3 seconds periodically, that the vast majority of watchers don’t even notice, then maybe this issue is about you. Maybe you hit your head on the table before posting. I feel embarrassed that David Simon has to keep responding to the same complaints that he has already addressed perfectly clear. That is shameful.

            Reply
  12. Thomas says:

    Hi there . just went thru a rewatch of at least the first season in HD

    imho the b/w videos from surveillance-cameras (D’ and some other throwing stones at a camera, the copper-shop, mortuary ..) also some scenes where you get shown b/w images of taken photos (Bubbles doing his thing, watching the phones) are just stretched to 16:9 . which looks bad, even if the scenes takes only a few sec. it would have been better to leave that scenes/images in its OAR (4:3 or 5:4 not sure) and have some black bars on the sides then. everyone knows that surveillance-cams (at that time) and their old photo-cameras dont make 16:9 images ..

    *_*

    maybe sth to rethink for a final Bluray-Relase?

    “Sometimes things just got to play hard.”

    thanks
    Thomas

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Maybe you could watch it simultaneously on two separate screens, pivoting back and forth to the most preferable presentation on a scene-by-scene basis. Seriously, I don’t know how much more explicit I can be: It was shot for 4:3 and SD, this is an alternate version utilizing the additional content on either side of the negative, to the extent possible. Sometimes that improves the image, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it harms it. Some people want to fill their screens and see everything clearer, regardless of the intentions and production of the filmmakers.

      We did a pretty good job protecting for 16:9 as a possible future. But protecting a shot isn’t the same as composing a shot.

      It’s over. Watch one or the other.

      Reply
      • Simplex says:

        Sorry, David, but he is actually right – the specific scenes he mentions (e.g. CCTV footage) is in fact STRETCHED, not “utilizing the additional content on either side of the negative” as you wrote in your reply.

        Here’s proof:
        http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/106691
        Which version looks better, in your opinion?

        Stretching a 4:3 image into 16:9 (making everyone look either fat or short) is just wrong. 4:3 CCTV images should have been either left intact with black bars on the side (noone expects CCTV to be widescreen, I hope), or additional content on the sides should be added. Maybe it was not available, but in such case black bars should have been added, instead of stretching the frame and ruining the proportions of the image. Hopefully this evident mistake will be fixed on the Bluray version.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          I know they are stretched. There is no additional material in those shots.

          There is no remedy for this format. THey were prepared for 4:3.

          I’ll say it yet again. Some of it got better, some of it stayed about the same, some of it got worse. But I am not going a la carte on this nonsense to the point where I am bouncing between formats in presentation. At that point, I might as well start re-editing the film. And at that point….no.

          Reply
          • Simplex says:

            If there is no additional material in those shots and they were prepared for 4:3 then they should have stayed in 4:3, simple as that. But that was probably out of your hands, and HBO made a (bad, in my opinion) decision to stretch it indiscriminately causing distortion, ruining the proportions.
            I think no sane viewer would be offended by a few seconds of black bars on CCTV footage. I still hope HBO will come to their senses and fix it in the bluray release.

            I am not a widescreen hater, nor a 4:3 purst . I think The Wire looks great in 16:9, I understand that some compromises must inevitably be made during the SD->HD, 4:3->16:9 conversions – but I still think that stretching a 4:3 image to 16:9 (and distorting it in the process) is a mistake.

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              Maybe so. They were committed to delivering a 16:9 product. Compromises ensued.

              Reply
              • Thomas says:

                there are only 3 compromisses in this cases:

                1) stretch the 4:3 source-material to 16:9 (bad bad bad)

                2) cut top and bottom of the 4:3 material / eg reframe it to 16:9 (which looks just stupid with low-res CCTV footage, and ruins the authenticity of the material/scene)

                3) leave the content in its orignal aspect-ratio and add black bars to the left and right

                only option 3 is the right way to do it – and i think/hope those scenes will be returned back to 4:3 in the Bluray-Remaster ..

                there are a lot of CCTV-scenes in later Episodes, most of them are part to the story, and for my eyes it just hurts to see those scenes stretched because the tech-guy wasnt aware of what he was doing at that time

                i know a lot people will never see what we are talking about here – even friends of mine are just happy stretching an old 4:3 dvd-video to 16:9 without even noticing anything weird

                cheers and all to you a good start into the new Year

                Thomas

                Reply
  13. Richie says:

    After reading (a lot) on the subject of 4:3 Vs 16:9 here i decided i would watch The Wire again in HD 16:9
    It’s brilliant!
    Simple as that. The work put in is almost flawless. Did i watch it thinking “This should be 4:3” (like i thought i would) Nope! Not for a single second. It looks like it was made for widescreen.

    Iv’e watched many films and TV shows that were originally in 4:3 but were transferred to 16:9 and iv’e never liked them and could easily notice that what i was viewing wasn’t what was originally intended.
    The Wire in HD i don’t notice that it was for 4:3
    Well done all involved and thank you David.

    *To all those complaining, try watching it before criticizing*

    Reply
  14. Joe Szilagyi says:

    If it’s helpful for your post, there’s a site called Youtube Doubler that lets you play clips “side by side” for comparison (or to blend a scene with different music for fun, or other purposes). Here’s the Port scene SD vs HD, side by side:

    http://youtubedoubler.com/?video1=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DE4lHoko7iiY&start1=&video2=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DB0KQ2t5FErM&start2=&authorName=The+Wire+SD+HD+compare

    Reply
  15. Paul Losada says:

    Hey David–started watching the first episode of the Wire in HD and was wondering–is that an Olympia SM9 on McNulty’s desk? If so, please do tell if there’s a story behind that piece of set decoration. I know it’s a popular typewriter amongst many authors; I even bought one myself after being impressed by its engineering.

    Best,
    Paul (A fellow Baltimorean)

    Reply
  16. John Rasfig says:

    Hi David and thank you very much for the time you give here and gave in the editing room so that we can further extend our relationship with your wonderful 60 hours long film.
    I apologize in advance for my relatively poor english, I’m french.
    Speaking of editing, I admit that when I’ve watched that “new version” of the pilot… when d’Angelo is at William’s Gant crime scene… I suddenly found myself praying that the flashback of Gant in the courtroom had been cut off. I think I’ve read somewhere that this was a a little stone in your shoe for the initial broadcast, so I’m wondering if it was ever considered to do such a thing for this release?
    Also, in the recent PaleyFest panel I seem to remember you and Nina not being against a release of the script on book. I’m wondering whose decision would that be and if we can expect something like this for example in a deluxe Blu ray box set?
    Thanks again.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Thought about it. But we didn’t want to cross the line and begin re-editing rather than reformating. It is what it is.

      Reply
      • John Rasfig says:

        Thanks. In the end, I’m glad you thought about it and I’m equally glad you didn’t touch it. It is what it is, as you say. A lesson I learnt from reading your blog is that whatever goal you have, you need to be realistic enough to deal with the rules of the world you live in. We fans tend to fantasize about some genius in his ivory tower creating masterpieces. I’m not even sure it ever worked for books.
        As for the humility lessons taught by life… I’ve watched a couple of episodes dubbed in french… “Sur Ecoute” as they call it. It’s probably like listening to Tom Wait’s “Way down in the hole” sung by Celine Dion but hey… you get the general idea.
        I think you’re right to take the humble way of “as long as many people as possible get to be touched by the story”. Once your work is out in the wilderness, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Musicians deal with it every day too…. crafting their sound to have a certain color on expensive audio gear while most people will listen to it on a $5 Made-in-Slaveland earbud, and compressed for streaming on a shitty 3G network. Perfection is not of this world.

        Reply
  17. Kevin says:

    I hope this isnt a silly question. When someone is credited as a director of an episode of The Wire or Treme, what does that entail? Are they actually directing each scene of that particular episode or is it more of an editing/curating thing, choosing what appears in that episode? Thank you

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      The director is in charge of the episode for which he is credited. He is given a script and he oversees production of that episode, directing performances and guiding the filming from shot to shot. On a television drama, he is of course constrained to the existing template of the show, for which the Director of Photography provides some basic framework of style and continuity. The director then makes the first cut of the episode, delivering it to the producers, who in television, have control over the final cut of the episode.

      Reply
      • Kevin says:

        Thank you for the clarification. Because of the continuity of your shows, in particularly how it’s shot/director of photography, it was kinda hard to figure outthe role of director. But with 60 min episodes thats practically a movie, thus having multiple directors and writers i can see why that is needed. I know its your job, but any particular challenges in ensuring the delivery of such seemless continuity. Thanks again

        Reply
  18. fung0 says:

    There’s nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with the 4:3 aspect ratio – Stanley Kubrick actually preferred it. Clearly, the right way to update The Wire would have been an HD 4:3 release. Classic 4:3 material is routinely handled in this way – everything from Citizen Kane to Star Trek The Next Generation.

    True, with material originally shown in SDTV, even a subtle change in resolution can present significant compromises (as you’ve noted, regarding dental work). But at least HD 4:3 brings viewers closer to the material as originally shot, and remains respectful of it, rather than creating an entirely new – and essentially spurious – experience.

    Bottom line, I have no more interest in a widescreen revision of The Wire than I do in a widescreen treatment, no matter how ‘respectful,’ of Citizen Kane, or The Wizard of Oz. (Please don’t bother with 3D, either.)

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      You might want to read the back and forth in the comments before you try to argue convincingly that HD is inherently more correct an improvement than 16:9. If something was shot for SD, then decisions were made about what that image would show and not show based on SD. Your preferences are your perferences, but they are only that.

      Reply
  19. Allan Labana says:

    Mr. Simon, if you read this comment, I congratulate you for the masterpiece that is The Wire. The Season 4 is my favorite and I congratulate and the entire team of the series (writers, actors, directors) for doing that work of art of the education that has inspired me to be a writer. I have a question: The Season 4 looks excellent or good in HD? I ask because it is a season that visually looks very different to the rest. Anyway, just buy it out where I live. I hope the change will not affect my view of the series. Thank you for the show.

    Reply
  20. Stuart Walker says:

    David, thanks for your thoughts on this webpage. I look forward to buying the Wire Blu-ray. Although I would have been happier with 4:3, seeing your discussion on the effort made on the 16:9 version has put to rest any fears I had that the conversion would limit my enjoyment of the purchase. Reading this thread did make me think of a related question. Do you have any thoughts on if Homicide will ever made it to HD? I don’t know whether it was filmed or taped. Watching Homicide is what got me to buy HBO to watch the Wire.

    Reply
  21. David Simon says:

    Homicide was shot 16mm. I think it would be problematic.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] HBO got a ton of negative press when they did this last year with The Wire, apparently (at least initially) against the wishes of series creator David Simon. But – and I say this as a devout format […]

  2. […] can jump in anywhere you want with the remastered version thanks to HBO Go, although series creator David Simon points to the 4×3 DVD release as the best way to see the show as originally intended. This week […]

  3. […] producer David Simon has chimed in about what we can expect to see this time around. Surprisingly, according to his blog post he hadn't even seen the reformatted version until after the promo started running in September. […]

  4. […] David Simon, “The Wire in HD (updated with video clips),” The Audacity of Despair (blog), 3 December 2014, http://davidsimon.com/the-wire-hd-with-videos/ […]

  5. […] 16:9 in FullHD 1080p ho?e HBO privabiti mlajše gledalce. 4:3 in SD pa? ni in. Simon je v svojem blogu pojasnil, da so s predelavo na žalost izgubili nekaj pik v višini, s prehodom na HD pa razkrili […]

  6. […] interesting opinions about the newly remastered HD version and shares his thoughts on an extensive blog post on his website about the differences in framing etc. by switching from 4:3 to […]

  7. […] as integral a part of a movie or television show’s identity as any other element — see David Simon’s comments on HBO’s planned HD conversion of[5] The Wire[6]. In a lot of cases, “upgrading” a show to widescreen in the belief that […]

  8. […] irgendwann Mitte 2015. Hier mal ein wirklich sehr guter Blogbeitrag von David Simon zu dem Thema: David Simon | The Wire in HD (updated with video clips) Interessant ist, dass er nachwievor zu der 4:3-SD-Variante steht, da diese den eigentlichen […]

  9. […] however, at least brought the series’ creator, David Simon, on board as a consultant. He wrote at length about the agonies of changing aspect ratios, and how doing so can make a work of art lesser, even […]

  10. […] is your day and no one can take that away from you, not even David Simon, creator of The Wire, who is decidedly ambivalent about the remastered HD version of The Wire that is now available for your streaming pleasure on […]

  11. […] me a convenient excuse to spend time watching some of the newly remastered widescreen Wire episodes recently released by HBO. The show’s visuals look great in HD, but the switch to a 16:9 widescreen image messes with […]

  12. […] producer David Simon has chimed in about what we can expect to see this time around. Surprisingly, according to his blog post he hadn’t even seen the reformatted version until after the promo started running in […]

  13. […] Sonja Sohn, Idris Elba and Wood Harris pictured below, but all deserve a shout out. Here’s a link to creator David Simon’s thoughts on the new HD […]

  14. […] it looks wrong. I kept instinctively searching for a remote control to resize the picture. Sure, David Simon helped supervise the reformatting, so it’s unlikely you’ll suddenly see lighting rigs and crew members cluttering up the edges of […]

  15. […] it looks wrong. I kept instinctively searching for a remote control to resize the picture. Sure, David Simon helped supervise the reformatting, so it’s unlikely you’ll suddenly see lighting rigs and crew members cluttering up the […]

  16. […] at noon and continuing throughout the day; they have, famously, remastered the series in HD (somewhat controversially, but the intent was theoretically to make it more appealing to current audiences, I guess). […]

  17. […] out to explain how the wire in HD is cinematically different from the version on TV. Full details: David Simon | The Wire in HD (updated with video clips) tl;dr version is, HBO screwed up the conversion; David Simon got somebody he trusted to do […]

  18. […] can jump in anywhere you want with the remastered version thanks to HBO Go, although series creator David Simon points to the 4×3 DVD release as the best way to see the show as originally intended. This […]

  19. […] In a lengthy (and highly informative) conversation with a commenter on his blog, he explains that the added resolution of HD brings clarity to objects in the frame that the filmmakers never intended to be seen. “Film is artifice. We are lying at every fucking moment, trying to conjure fictional imagery and suspend disbelief, and we are doing so with finite time and resources,” writes Simon. Since The Wire was created for standard definition, the show was made with its limitations in mind. According to Simon, The Wire in HD is no more authentic than The Wire in 16:9. One adds extra imagery to the left and right of the frame, while another adds depth to the image that wasn’t there in the original. Some may prefer the new version ? and he’s glad for it ? but his masterpiece has only a singular definitive version. And that’s the original. […]

  20. […] Simon explains on his blog that HBO worked extensively on its own to complete the necessary work for the HD transfer. Its work included painting out crew and gear, as well as performing additional CGI to mask “mistakes” that are only visible at higher resolutions, and the company planned to release the new version this fall with essentially no input from Simon or the show’s other creators. After he and others behind the show expressed their desire to be involved, however, HBO halted its planned fall released and “allowed us to engage in detail,” writes Simon. […]

  21. […] In a lengthy (and highly informative) conversation with a commenter on his blog, he explains that the added resolution of HD brings clarity to objects in the frame that the filmmakers never intended to be seen. “Film is artifice. We are lying at every fucking moment, trying to conjure fictional imagery and suspend disbelief, and we are doing so with finite time and resources,” writes Simon. Since The Wire was created for standard definition, the show was made with its limitations in mind. According to Simon, The Wire in HD is no more authentic than The Wire in 16:9. One adds extra imagery to the left and right of the frame, while another adds depth to the image that wasn’t there in the original. Some may prefer the new version — and he’s glad for it — but his masterpiece has only a singular definitive version. And that’s the original. […]

  22. […] interesting opinions about the newly remastered HD version and shares his thoughts on an extensive blog post on his website about the differences in framing etc. by switching from 4:3 to […]

  23. […] Simon explains on his blog that HBO worked extensively on its own to complete the necessary work for the HD transfer. Its work included painting out crew and gear, as well as performing additional CGI to mask “mistakes” that are only visible at higher resolutions, and the company planned to release the new version this fall with essentially no input from Simon or the show’s other creators. After he and others behind the show expressed their desire to be involved, however, HBO halted its planned fall released and “allowed us to engage in detail,” writes Simon. […]

  24. […] that now fit our 16:9 televisions and phones. David Simon, who created the show “The Wire,” has his critique of the re-alignment effort with videos comparing the 4:3 original and new 16:9 crop, presumably to sell a new Blu-ray edition. […]

  25. […] The process of converting the entire series from its original aspect ratio of 4:3 to the now common-to-TV 16:9 ratio raised some flags with creator and persistent show-runner David Simon. He broke down the entire process of the conversion and his initial apprehension in a lengthy blog post. […]

  26. […] The process of converting the entire series from its original aspect ratio of 4:3 to the now common-to-TV 16:9 ratio raised some flags with creator and persistent show-runner David Simon. He broke down the entire process of the conversion and his initial apprehension in a lengthy blog post. […]

  27. […] looked at extrapolated art should consider themselves fortunate that David Simon became invested in the process of transferring the series to high-definition video. By considering the possibility of a strictly algorithm-based expansion of the frame and […]

  28. […] however, at least brought the series’ creator, David Simon, on board as a consultant. He wrote at length about the agonies of changing aspect ratios, and how doing so can make a work of art lesser, even […]

  29. […] producer David Simon has chimed in about what we can expect to see this time around. Surprisingly, according to his blog post he hadn’t even seen the reformatted version until after the promo started running in […]

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