Does the average TV viewer actually get the “film look”?

So I have just watched a TV commercial that I assume would have had a pretty big budget (it was shot on film) on the TV. If you are in the UK it’s the new John Lewis Insurance ad.

You can watch it here on YouTube.

Now when I first saw the add it immediately looked washed out and the blacks looked really milky, at first I thought there was something wrong with the encoding. But now I’ve seen it a few times in a few different places, in reality it’s meant to look like that, it’s obviously a creative look or style.

Frankly I don’t get it and I’m not sure many normal viewers appreciate the flat look and in some of the shots in this ad the blacks really are washed out. We have spent decades trying to figure out how to accurately capture deep shadows and display them convincingly. We are told how expensive OLED TV’s are so much better than LCD TV’s because they can show true deep blacks. People spend lots of money creating a home cinema with the right low light levels. Most modern TV’s include some kind of automatic contrast boosting mechanism. But at the same time it has become fashionable to show flat, low contrast, almost log like pictures on TV and online. Pictures that to me look like the pedestal/black level has been incorrectly set.

I guess here’s the thing: Shooting with log is in. Shooting with log is cool, shooting with log is the new fangled way to shoot. Producers, directors, creative people are being told that log is the best thing since sliced bread and from a capture point of view it does have some real benefits. The problem is that it appears that these people also believe that the normal viewing public also thinks that flat, log like pictures are cool. I’m not so sure that they do. Even though this was a film shoot it’s likely that the telecine would have used Cineon which is also a log curve, so the rushes would have looked very flat before grading.

Does grandma at home appreciate that a flat picture means a picture with a high dynamic range? Does Joe public think a flat washed out picture is special? Do they get the trendy flat creative style. Maybe they do, perhaps I’ve got it wrong, but to me it just looks all wrong. I’d much rather see a nice striking, contrasty image with rich colors and blacks that really are black. I think that sometimes creative people forget that outside of the industry peoples views on what looks good can be very different to the views of those of us that work in TV and film production.

5 thoughts on “Does the average TV viewer actually get the “film look”?”

  1. Seems like the usual ‘pushing the boundaries’ John Lewis thing. For sure it stands out as being different, but I don’t think many viewers will get that the blacks aren’t robust and the highlights aren’t punchy.
    We in the industry can pick bits out of it, as that’s what we’ve had our knuckles rapped with a rule for, while learning our trade. But I think Joe public doesn’t even realise that efforts are made to make a show look the best it can. And I’m pretty confident they don’t analyse what’s on screen in the same way as we would. (admit it, how many times have you live rewound when you’ve seen the shooter hunting for focus or have been appalled when ND is introduced mid shot!). In truth few viewers sit down and say ‘do you know, that episode of ‘East Enders’ was shot beautifully’!
    So in the end, I don’t think the viewer gets ‘any’ look, filmic or otherwise. I just hope we don’t get an ‘Emperors new clothes’ situation where this becomes the fashionable norm.

  2. I agree with a lot of what Drew says.. most people would have no idea that wasn’t a real house and that it took god knows how many days or hours to shoot.. and how much it cost !.. but compared to the tv ads where I live.. this would be up there with Citizen Kane level.. A bit spoilt in the UK I think ..
    I think the important part is the idea behind it.. rather than an ex pro sports star walking around a set in a jacket and chino,s .. talking from auto que.. about the joys of insurance .. here is a very clever idea.. a song a lot of people who have houses like that will remember fondly and an actress who doesnt look like she’s from some awful reality dance school program… I would remember it for the concept and the song.. re the look.. who knows either the director has enough clout to say I want this look.. or some suits got in the mix and didnt want another thing to look too “dark” we have all had that chestnut from management ..

  3. I don’t belive any viewer of TV or Movies cares or has any interest in how a film was shot or what type of equipment was used, that really is the domain of the filmmakers and the equipment manufactures.. Viewers are there for the story and the entertainment value. 4K,2K,1080P etc is of no value or relevance to them as well it should be, all that technical mumbo jumbo is only there to make us the filmmakers think we need to buy new epuipment or new software. If you can’t see any difference than what is the point other than bloggers have something new to write about….All the different styles used to make films or movies only leave the viewer saying that was cool or not!!!

  4. Whilst I see what you’re saying, I don’t think this “cool look” is limited to the creatives who are making it. With generation instagram, most filters seem to create these milky raised black looks and people seem to like them and use them by the millions. Based on that alone, John Lewis have definitely tapped into a trend in order to differ themselves from the rest and sell a product. Personally I also feel this look they have created only adds to the day dreaming airy world the girl is in during the ad. I’m sure this is probably just another passing trend through introduced primarily from digital film with clients sitting in on grades and seeing a log image for a little longer than needed and liking it… but perhaps it’s here to stay. Time will tell. Cinema is certainly an art form though and it doesn’t have to be one particular thing. Ads often just tap into popular culture.

    1. WE see these flat milky images all the time because that’s the industry we work in and often the industry those around us work in. But if you look at the wider world of photography in particular, flat images are really the exception. You can have dreamy looking sequences without high black levels. My parents think it looks odd, most of my non industry friends, when I show them two films, one with a flat look, one with normal contrast almost always prefer the normal contrast.

      It’s a look, as style, that’s fine, that’s OK. Perhaps it’s just a fad that will die a rapid death when more people start to see HDR screens and realise what a large dynamic range image really looks like.

      I can’t argue with the simple fact that if that’s the look the director wanted, then that is his/her prerogative, it’s his/her production and if every film, ad and TV show looked the same it would be boring………. But hang on….. that’s where we seem to be headed, everything done with a flat look.

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