What Is Open Matte in Film? Exploring Aspect Ratios

Open matte is a filming technique where the movie is shot in a way that provides more vertical image area than what’s typically shown in theaters.

This method captures footage with an aspect ratio of roughly 1.

33:1, which closely resembles the traditional television screen size of 4:3.

When we talk about open matte, we’re delving into behind-the-scenes decisions that significantly impact how viewers experience a film on various formats.

Filmmakers opt for open matte to ensure their work can be adapted without pan and scan cropping when it’s transferred to video or broadcast TV.

It allows for flexibility in framing and ensures important visual information isn’t lost during the transition from theatrical release to home viewing.

By understanding open matte, we gain insight into the intricate process of preserving a film’s original vision across different viewing platforms.

What Is Open Matte?

Open matte is a filmmaking technique we see with certain movies, where the film is shot in a way that includes more of the image above and below what’s seen in the widescreen release.

It’s not to be confused with full screen, as open matte can provide additional visual information without distorting the original aspect ratio.

This method was more common during the transition from standard television formats to widescreen variants.

Many enthusiasts find open matte versions particularly interesting because they reveal parts of the scene originally hidden from audiences.

For example, The Matrix has an open matte version that shows more of the dystopian world than its theatrical counterpart.

With this technique, films are often shot using 4-perforation 35mm film which captures a taller image compared to what’s intended for theaters.

Modern times have seen less use of open matte due to digital filming methods and changing distribution practices.


Yet it remains a topic of discussion among cinephiles who appreciate seeing movies in different ways.

Films like Jurassic Park and Titanic released on DVD sometimes include these alternate versions, offering fans a new perspective on familiar scenes.

When comparing open matte to other formats –

  • Widescreen crops top and bottom parts,
  • Pan-and-scan might crop sides or zoom into preserve screen space,
  • Open matte maintains original height but may show more than directors intended.

We must remember that while some argue open matte offers a ‘fuller’ picture, it may also expose boom mics or set edges unintentionally captured during filming.

So it’s always fascinating when directors approve these versions for home video releases; it suggests there’s merit beyond just fitting older TV screens.

The Difference Between Open Matte And Full Screen

Diving into the world of aspect ratios, we find that open matte and full screen serve different viewing experiences.

Open matte is a technique used during the film’s transfer to video format where the top and bottom of the frame are opened up to show more image than would be visible in widescreen.

Full screen adaptations often crop the original widescreen image.

This process can lead to what’s known as “pan and scan,” where parts of the scene are cut off from view.

Full screen was once a common practice when adapting films for traditional 4:3 television screens.

  • Open Matte:,
  • Full Screen (Pan and Scan):.

Consider Jurassic Park, initially shot in widescreen, but its open matte version reveals more of the dinosaurs towering over characters, providing a new perspective.

Conversely, some argue full screen versions distort cinematic intention by trimming pivotal scenes or altering composition.

Film enthusiasts favor open matte for preserving film integrity while offering additional visual content.

However, with modern displays adopting wider aspect ratios, full screen’s relevance has waned; movie lovers now crave complete images as filmmakers intended.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Open Matte

Open matte offers a more immersive viewing experience by filling up the entire screen without any letterboxing.


Films like Jurassic Park utilized this format for their standard-definition releases, providing audiences with a full-frame picture that could be especially appealing on televisions that predate widescreen formats.

Yet, open matte can reveal visual elements not intended to be seen by the audience.

For example, in some scenes of Titanic, equipment and crew members accidentally captured in the frame became visible when shown in open matte format, which can detract from the cinematic illusion.

The flexibility of framing is one key advantage – filmmakers can shoot with open matte in mind, knowing they’ll have options during post-production.

This ensures the final product can be easily adapted for different aspect ratios across various distribution channels.

One considerable drawback lies in image quality – opening up the frame often means revealing parts of the image originally protected or masked out for compositional purposes.

The result might include less-than-perfect visuals at the top and bottom edges of the screen.

Here’s a brief rundown of pros and cons:

  • Pros:,
  • Cons:.

Popular Films That Used Open Matte

Open matte is a technique that filmmakers have used for years to enhance the viewing experience.

One of the most notable examples is The Matrix.


Fans were treated to more vertical image information in certain home video releases, offering a different perspective on the iconic action sequences.

Jurassic Park also took advantage of open matte during its telecast and home video formats.

This allowed viewers to see more of the dinosaurs and landscapes, which added depth to the already thrilling visuals.

Several scenes in Titanic were presented in open matte on standard-definition DVDs.

The extra headroom and foot room provided audiences with a grander scale of the ship’s opulence and the impending disaster.

Blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone utilized open matte for various TV broadcasts.

This gave fans an expanded look at Hogwarts School, revealing more magical details within each frame.

While not every film uses this format, those that do often find it enhances storytelling by showing more on-screen real estate:

  • More immersive action sequences,
  • A better sense of scale and setting,
  • Additional visual elements contributing to story depth.

The Future Of Open Matte In Film Production

Understanding the evolution of aspect ratios and viewer preferences gives us insight into the future of open matte.

It’s a technique that has seen its share of both prominence and decline.

With the rise of streaming platforms, there’s been a renewed interest in open matte versions of films.

These platforms often offer multiple aspect ratios to cater to different devices, indicating potential growth for open matte.

But it’s not just about screen compatibility.

Filmmakers are exploring open matte for artistic reasons, too.

They’re recognizing how crucial framing is to storytelling and opting for formats that provide creative flexibility.

Some directors prefer open matte because it allows them to reframe shots during post-production without degrading image quality.

Advancements in technology also play a pivotal role –

  • High-resolution cameras make it easier to shoot with an open matte approach,
  • Visual effects workflows adapt seamlessly with different aspect ratios,
  • Post-production tools have advanced, enabling better cropping options.

The industry’s push towards original content creation might see more films shot specifically for open matte releases.

As home theaters become increasingly popular, audiences seek cinematic experiences outside traditional venues.

This trend could lead filmmakers to consider open matte as a way to enhance home viewing experiences.

While some purists argue against altering original compositions, others champion the extra visual information an open matte provides.

It’s a debate that’ll likely continue as we move forward but one thing remains clear: Open matte has its place in film production’s future landscape, both as a nostalgic nod and as a tool for modern filmmaking innovation.

What Is Open Matte In Film? Exploring Aspect Ratios – Wrap Up

Understanding open matte is essential for filmmakers and cinephiles alike.

It reveals the thoughtful decisions made behind the camera to enhance storytelling.

We’ve explored how open matte can affect a film’s visual narrative, offering flexibility in framing and composition that can be adapted for various display formats.

Let’s recap some of the key takeaways:

  • Open matte provides an alternative to traditional widescreen formats.
  • It can reveal more vertical image information which was originally protected during filming.
  • Directors and cinematographers must consider open matte during production to ensure integrity of the final product.

In our discussion, we’ve seen that while open matte isn’t universally used, it has its place, especially in broadcasting and home video releases where aspect ratios differ from theaters.

Remember that every artistic choice like this impacts how audiences experience a film.

Our journey through understanding open matte underscores its role as a valuable tool in a filmmaker’s toolkit.

Finally, as technology evolves with new display standards and viewing platforms, filmmakers will continue to weigh the benefits of shooting with an open matte versus other aspect ratios.

It’s about preserving creative intent and ensuring that viewers get the most immersive experience possible, no matter where or how they’re watching.

At Filmmaking Lifestyle, we remain committed to sharing insights that help you appreciate the nuances of cinematic techniques.

Keep exploring these facets – they’re what make filmmaking such a dynamic and fascinating art form!