Back to IndieWire

Terrence Malick Wrote A Letter Of Instruction To Every Projectionist Showing ‘The Tree of Life’

Terrence Malick Wrote A Letter Of Instruction To Every Projectionist Showing 'The Tree of Life'

Plus Experimental Filmmaker Whose Work Malick Samples Talks

So, after years and years of waiting, Terrence Malick‘s long-delayed “The Tree of Life” is finally in theaters. Like, right now. In fact, today sees it expand beyond New York and L.A. to Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Austin and Dallas, among others, so more and more of you will get the chance to check out a film that, while not the second coming of cinema that some were hoping for, is undoubtedly a must-see. And with that expansion underway, it seems that the typically meticulous Malick has been getting personally involved to make sure that you see it in the way he intended.

The San Diego Reader reports that Malick has written a letter — or as the writer calls it “a fraternal salute” — for the attention of every projectionist who’ll show “The Tree of Life,” asking them to take certain things into account. As he says, “Proper theatre projection is fast becoming a forgotten art.” Check Malick’s requests out after the jump.

1. Project the film in 1.85:1 aspect ratio
2. Set the fader on Dolby and DTS systems to 7.5 or 7.7 (higher than the standard setting of 7)
3. With no opening credits, he asks that the “lights down cue is well before the opening frame of reel 1.”
4. Projection lamps should be at “Proper standard (5400 Kelvin)” and that the “foot Lambert level is at Standard 14.” No, we don’t understand either.

The attention to detail here is wonderful, and we imagine that at this stage of release, Malick’s instructions will be followed, but we’re not sure the director’s romantic idea of every projectionist being like Alfredo from “Cinema Paradiso” will quite carry across to the reality of bored, badly-paid poorly-trained teenagers in multiplexes across the country, should the film end up going that wide.

In other “Tree of LIfe” news, Fandor talked to experimental filmmaker Scott Nyerges, whose short “Autumnal” had twelve seconds worth of footage sampled by Malick for his latest, with permission, obviously — the image above, featured on the film’s poster, is part of his work. Nyerges isn’t used to the limelight, saying “Experimental filmmakers have a tacit understanding, that if you do this you’re not going to see your name in lights.”

The experimental director isn’t convinced that he and his cohorts, whose work are also included in Malick’s film, have received the credit they deserve in the press so far, saying that, “In the media coverage on this film no one’s really mentioned that they used the work of experimental filmmakers in these sequences. This kind of filmmaking has influenced everything from commercials to music videos to movies. And now you can buy iMovie, punch a button and get an effect that took avant garde filmmakers years to develop.”

But he certainly doesn’t blame Malick, and calls “The Tree of LIfe” “an ambitious, lyrical, visually beautiful work. I give Malick credit for doing something very brave – essentially dropping a 20-minute experimental film in the middle of the narrative. The techniques and tropes he incorporates call to mind the work of Jordan Belson, the cinematography of ‘Koyaanisqatsi‘ and the telescopic images of the Hubble Telescope. And I confess to the thrill of watching and waiting to see if… yes! no! wait… yes!… I could spot my small contribution to this film.” Watch ‘Autumnal’ below, and catch ‘The Tree of Life’ in theaters right now.

This Article is related to: Uncategorized and tagged , ,


Mark Cummins

It’s too bad the Arclight in Hollywood didn’t seem to get the letter. I went to see this yesterday morning, and their projector wasn’t functioning properly. When I told them there was a problem, they told me they were waiting on a part. They knew there was a problem and were showing it anyway. All for the low-low price of $18 including parking.


I don’t know anything about projection or aspects, but I agree about the follow-up by the filmmaker, FG. luckily the images are strong in this movie, because there was a raggedy, spotty right side through the entire thing. is that a bad film or a bad projector? would it be improved in digital? very disappointing to have such a dismal presentation of such a visually stunning movie.

Charles Everett

Only 2 theaters within 75 miles of my home have “The Tree of Life” in digital projection. I was in one of those theaters yesterday and it screwed the movie up big-time. The screen was fixed in “scope” ratio (2.35:1), the previews were “windowboxed” and nobody bothered to correct anything. Not to mention there was no “in case of emergency” notice required by state law.


Actually none of those shots were in the movie. / Sure you’re not mistaken?

THIS JUST IN: Malick To Shoot Next Feature….Without Cameras.

Fredrik Gustafsson

This is not that uncommon though. I’ve worked as a projectionist, and as one example I’ve once got a letter from Robert Redford about the proper way of showing “The Horse Whisperer” . George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick are two other filmmakers that have done this. Ingmar Bergman was fuzzy about screenings too. But any projetionist that doesn’t know in which aspect ratio a given film is to be shown (even without a letter from the director) should be fired on the spot… Having said that, any filmmakers that take pride in their work should follow up on the way the films are being projected, and most would get depressed if they attended the screenings.

Foot lambert is the amount of light emitted from a source. The amount of light has an impact upon the quality and visibility of the images projected on the screen.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *