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Shift Your Orientation: Vertical Cinema Is Changing How We Approach Shooting Video

Rebel Staff,

A long time ago, in the ancient world of the early 2010s, the rule of thumb for taking video on your smartphone was this: always shoot in landscape! In fact, if you shot video vertically, you ran the risk of comments and snide remarks from your fellow amateur videographers.

A lot has changed since then. As we spend more time on our phones, content creators have realized the value in directing and shooting videos meant for vertical consumption. This was the thought process that led to Quibi, which, despite being hampered by COVID, was at the forefront of the burgeoning focus on vertical cinema. 

Rebel assistant videographer & editor Josh Wagner agrees that vertical cinema offers filmmakers and videographers a new opportunity to flex their creative muscles. 

“It’s not about how big the screen is,” Josh said. “It’s about how you use the screen space to create the verisimilitude of your story.”

Need proof? Apple recently teamed up with Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) and presented him with a challenge: shoot a short film entirely using an iPhone. The result? “The Stunt Man,” a 9-minute, genre-bending film. 

Josh says that while the method might be different, many of the principles are the same. 

“There is still a rule of thirds here, but it’s the top, middle, and bottom of the screen,” Josh says. “So although there is less to focus on because the screen is thinner, the vertical axis still creates the opportunity for depth, as well as showing intentions.”

One such example is in the segment “Guns of Sedona.” An overhead shot of two combatants in a duel. I’ll let Josh explain why it works. 

“From this angle, the shadow is laid out on the ground in such a way that it looks like the antagonist would have to walk up a flight of steps to reach the cross that’s near our protagonist.” Josh continues: “So though we are looking at a technical wide shot, seeing it from a vertical perspective creates an illusion of a vertical landscape while also showing their intention of who is good and who is evil throughout the entire frame. “

Vertical cinema certainly presents unique and compelling opportunities for cinematographers and directors, but what about for marketers? An estimated 85% of businesses use video as a marketing tool. Does shooting compelling vertical video become a necessity for businesses? Considering how much time consumers spend on their phone, shooting video so that it provides a seamless user experience is crucial. 

What’s most important is to shoot video in the orientation best suited for the platform on which it’s going to be shared. Videos shared on YouTube or Vimeo would be filmed horizontally, but  video posted to TikTok and Instagram stories should be filmed vertically.

“There’s something to say about viewing on a smartphone and having to turn it over to view it sideways — even though that takes a half-second — in my opinion it takes away from your suspension of disbelief in terms of watching content,” Josh said.  “It goes for businesses too — it only takes a second to turn to view sideways, yet people hesitate when it’s worth valuable time. If it’s a vertical video, it’s like opening up a text- Instantaneous, and accessible.’”

Not only does vertical cinema provide businesses with the opportunity to provide a better viewing experience for potential customers, but it also affords the ability to be more creative with their editing choices. 

“It would open up the door to more interesting and more intuitive editing. I wouldn’t want to watch somebody’s vertical commercial for a product where they’re only standing and talking to me,” Josh said. “But if I was seeing cuts where I was engaged with top-middle-bottom rule of thirds using text, or by showing three shots for a product at once, that would be a lot more intuitive for the idea.”

Is vertical cinema the future of the medium? It’s hard to say, but as Josh points out it provides more room to use creative editing techniques and makes it easier to reach people on their mobile devices.

At the very least, the maxim of “always shoot in landscape” is a thing of the past.