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The vertical era - how smartphones shape the way we consume video

Since the beginning of film projection onto a screen, we have been accustomed to view film and later video horizontally. It has been a standard throughout the whole of the 20th century as cinemas and televisions were dictating our experience of moving images. Of course this made complete sense as the cinemas are basically modern theaters, therefore a horizontal plane of view is logical, in fact even necessary. A lot has changed over the last twenty years. Digital content on social media is replacing television and people are switching to platforms such as Netflix as their main source of cinema experience. When Facebook and Instagram introduced vertical video, you could probably have heard filmmakers complaining from the other side of the solar system. Just like Eastman Kodak failed to recognize the potential of the digital camera (their own creation!), diehard cinephiles have refused to work in the vertical format. Fast-forward a couple of years and even Arri - one of the leading film equipment companies - has now released vertical format adapters for their cinema cameras. 

The demand for video designed to be viewed on social media is growing. Our mobile phones are slowly replacing televisions and monitors as the way people digest short form video content. We see it first hand as a production company specialising in short form content. Normally, we do adjustments in the post production to change the aspect ratio etc. to fit to the designated social media platform. This time we had to plan and execute with the end product in mind. It was an interesting wake up call to what the future holds for companies such as ours. 

For one of our latest projects we used an Arri Alexa Mini with a Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9. As most of the delivery files were destined for Instagram and Facebook, we decided to flip the camera on its side to make sure we were using all of the resolution possible to get that natural, Alexa image (as well as a potential safety net for digital repositioning in post-production). Usually, the camera would be kept in a horizontal position and the frame guidelines would be added on the monitor (by either sticking gaffer tape on it or pre-installing frame lines - we used the Arri frame lines composer) to make sure that the framing is safeguarded for various formats, whether that’s 1:1, 9:16, or the main 16:9. However, shooting this way doesn’t take into account the fact that every single format requires different framing. 

For this campaign, the traditional 16:9 version was secondary to the digital-first formats of 9:16 and 1:1. As such, we chose to set our frame lines as in this picture (see right):

1:1 [the big square]

1:1 (in 1920x1080) [the small square]

16:9 [horizontal frame]

The benefit of shooting this way is that we did not compromise the quality of the recorded footage, as might happen by shooting the standard way. We adapted our shooting style not to tradition, but to the final delivery: we broke the rules. At first, even the client was questioning our approach, because they have never seen someone shooting this way. But at the end, they were very pleased and grateful to be able to see the results straight away on the set. 

Vertical video orientation isn’t the only way social media platforms have changed how we perceive videos. Fewer and fewer people choose to listen to the sound of short clips, as they watch them while commuting or being in a busy office. That means that filmmakers not only have to flip their cameras on their side; they have to become more creative to stay relevant in a world ruled by 15-second videos with no sound. We have to start thinking: how else can we adapt?

Write by Philip

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