Ask a random person to photograph or film you, and you’re likely going to get a vertical shot.
Hey, it’s a comfortable way to hold a phone, and platforms like Instagram Stories, Snapchat and TikTok have largely made it the default for homemade content.
But vertical has remained a polarizing format for video professionals and many agency veterans, who continue to see landscape as the only valid format for high-caliber storytelling.
“Vertical Cinema” from agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab is a 9-minute reimagining of Hollywood history, showing how multiple popular genres might have looked in, or even been improved by, vertical framing.
The short was directed by Oscar winner Damien Chazelle, who wrote and directed 2016’s La La Land.
“Vertical Cinema” is essentially a dream sequence of sorts, with the story kicking off in the modern day with a stunt man who appears to be falling to his death after a parachute fails to deploy.
The stunt man then finds himself dropped into a silent film, an action-adventure serial, a Western, a Hitchcockian thriller and more. Throughout, we see a romance growing through fleeting moments with an actress, though he’s always pulled away at the last second so that a star can claim the kiss.
Luckily, for both his survival and romantic aspirations, everything works out in the end.
What’s most impressive about the spot is not that it tells a consistent and visually dynamic story through vertical video, but how it highlights the subtle ways in which vertical would have changed the framing of shots in genre films like Westerns.
The video shows how vertical is better for framing faces (closeups being notoriously, uncomfortably close in traditional horizontal shooting) and for conveying the layered visual potential of being able to see what’s above and below a character.
And, of course, it’s a great ad for the iPhone 11 by showing the dramatic and visual potential of what it can shoot.
In the behind-the-scenes video below, Chazelle said the process gave him a far deeper appreciation for the phone and for the largely untapped potential of vertical video.
“There’s the accessibility of the phone,” the director said, “that hopefully a little movie like this throws a few ideas out there that people can then play with literally on their own or at home or in their backyards.”