Buena Vista, Colorado
February 14, 2015
Copyright © 2015 Walrus & Carpenter Productions LLC
Last year the authors surveyed the state of vertically framed moving imagery in conjunction with a workshop that we conducted called Vertical Media. In July author Miriam Ross published a treatise on vertical framing accompanied by a video essay. That work focuses on the academic aspects of the vertical "revolution" if you will. Here we will attempt a broader survey, mostly sans critique, of what was screened, published and said about vertical formats in the year 2014.
As we mentioned last year, one of the first "festival" type screenings of vertically framed moving imagery was titled Vertical Cinema and featured ten commissioned works which were produced on film in 35mm and shown with specially adapted projection equipment. The premiere screening of these works was held in October 2013 in Austria at the Kontraste Dark As Light Festival 2013. Subsequent to the original screening these works were screened again in 2014: in Rotterdam on January 24, 2014 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and again in Amsterdam at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam on February 20-23, 2014. An additional screening was held in Leeds, UK in conjunction with the Leeds International Film Festival in November. The films can be viewed on Vimeo.
In addition to the screenings, four academic talks were presented at Stedelijk, by Philippe-Alain Michaud, film curator at the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris; Noam M. Elcott, Columbia University, NY; Erica Balsom, lecturer in Film Studies King’s College London; and Bart Rutten, fine arts conservator and collection curator Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Videos of the talks by Michaud and Rutten (in Dutch) have been uploaded. Although we could not get any additional information or links from the other two speakers, there is an interview with Erica Balsom posted which hints at her views.
At Rotterdam, Professor Erkki Huhtamo of UCLA presented a lecture “Up and Down the Shaft of Time: An Archeology of Verticality”. We were not able to get any additional information about this talk.
On the other side of the world, in Adelaide Australia, another set of seven commissioned works were screened in February at an event titled 9:16 Film Festival 2014 in conjunction with the Adelaide Film Festival. The inaugural Port Door prize, presented by Adelaide Film Festival CEO Amanda Duthie, was won by: Door: Over the Threshold created by Matthew Gray. The commissioned films can be viewed on this YouTube channel.
Finally, in October also in Australia, a screening called the 1st Vertical Film Festival was held. This was the first festival where the films shown were not commissioned, but were selected from those responding to an open invitation. Twenty-one short films were screened, many developed specifically for the festival. Although this festival was somewhat oriented to mountaineering and was held concurrently with the Australian Climbing Festival, only eight of the films were climbing related. Some were among those that we discussed last year. Both authors had films represented in this festival. Most of the films can be viewed on vimeo. (An exception is The Numberlys—see below—which has not yet been released for general distribution.)
This festival awarded a prize: 1st prize, ⇧THIS WAY UP⇧ Competition to the film Girl and Fish created by Ana María Méndez Salgado & Carlos Manrique Clavijo (Karu Karu Studio, Adelaide AU) which was commissioned for and screened in the 9:16 Film Festival described above.
Not all of the films screened were entered in the competiton, which was meant to be for entries of three minutes or less produced expressly for the festival.
Here is a copy of the programme for the festival:
The Numberlys, an eleven and one-half minute film in vertical aspect ratio, directed by Brandon Oldenberg and William Joyce—two award winning film and video creators, is based on the video game of the same name. On November 5, 2014 it was included in the list of semi-finalists for the 87th Annual Oscar for Animated Shorts. (It did not make the short list.) It was screened at several US film festivals throughout 2014. It was also featured at the 1st Vertical Film Festival described above. US screenings (and associated awards) included:
Although not quite vertical (it is framed in a true square 1:1 aspect ratio), the film Mommy by the young filmaker Xavier Dolan won an award at the Cannes film festival and was screened at Teluride and Toronto as well. The trailer can be seen on YouTube.
Announced in December 2014, Todas las Estrellas Están Muertas produced and directed by Argentinian filmmakers Gonzalo Moiguer and Rodrigo Melendez, may well be the first feature length, live-action film to be screened in vertical orientation. In an interview in Gizmodo Moiguer states: "It's a way to go against people saying it's wrong, that there should be only one way to make films. If we don't question the way we produce, then the art form is dead." A teaser can be viewed on Vimeo.
As in previous years, YouTube has been the major outlet for vertically framed videos again this year. As Miriam points out in her article, YouTube is the main forum for amateur filmmakers, many of whom create vertically framed pieces on their phones, often accidentally. However, some are well framed vertically (although many are not!) and they can also be quite popular.
Among the most popular vertical videos of 2014 was a monologue by Marty Cobb, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. It is a caracature of the tedious "in-flight safety" sermon. In addition to gathering millions of views (over 19 million as of December 2014), this piece was also screened on the "Ellen Show" and Ms. Cobb was awarded US$10,000 by Shutterfly, one of Ellen's sponsors (probably far and away the most money that a vertical piece has generated to date!) The screening on Ellen's show also exemplifies the trend of "professional" video shops to create a non-black (non-pillor-box), moving framing around the original vertically framed piece when shown in a conventional horizontal format as on a TV show. These images are often a zoomed version of the original, as was done here.
Another highly viewed vertical, with over 20 million views in 2014, was of a baby listening to a Katy Perry tune.
A number of videos responding to the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" were framed vertically, paradoxically many of them created by celebrities and/or film actors.
As we noted in Vertical Media, vertical framing tends to generate intense pushback. The year 2014 was no less of an example, with a number of "don't film vertically" video essays being produced. Perhaps the most interesting example was created in a newsroom: Fox17: Save Civilization: Stop Vertical Video. The reason this piece was interesting is that the staff obviously understood that the vertical frame is just one of many possibilites, and they played with the framing quite effectively, in spite of the "don't do it" tone of the essay.
On the somewhat darker side was the video "Turn Your Phone 90 Degrees (if you don't I'll break your knees)" by a Canadian group called "IFHT" (If*inghatethat). These filmmakers have produced numerous parodies. The singer in this video makes good on the promise to "break your knees" by shooting the person doing vertical filming.
One final piece from the naysayers, this one animated was: Flip it Parody: Spin your phone right round and avoid vertical video syndrome by a group called "Taiwanese Animators."
Produced by Zoe Beloff, Glass House is a vertically framed, black-and-white short video based on Sergei Eisenstein's 1930 notes for a science fiction film. The original was proposed to Paramount Pictures but was never produced. This film is slated to be screened in Rotterdam in conjunction with the International Film Festival in January 2015. An excerpt can be seen on Vimeo.
This work is a "publicity video" for a neighborhood in New York. Created by Dan Toth, it features three independent but related vertically framed moving images put together into a horizontal "triptych" format.
As part of the 2014 "48 hours New Zealand Film Festival" author Miriam Ross produced Waiting for Morgan, a film not vertically framed but instead about vertical framing. Echoing the frustration that many of us feel about the slow moving and/or lack of "acceptance" of the vertical framed film, the protagonist James waits futally for Morgan to bring his dreams of vertical video to life. Miriam discusses this film and other aspects of the vertical on her blog.
In April in London at Goldsmiths as part of the "Radical Media Forum," Gabriel Menotti, a lecturer in Multimedia at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (Brazil), presented a talk entitled: "Negotiations of medium specificity: discourses about vertical videos." We have not been able to obtain further information about this talk.
As Miriam pointed out in her treatise, one of the most prominent professional uses of vertical video is in the advertising industry. Due to the increasing use of vertically oriented screens in public places such as malls, train/subway stations, and airports advertisers are sometimes forced into using a vertical frame. Paul Sahner, Senior Motion Designer, Adspace defended this use in the Adspace blog.
Much of the discussion about vertical video is predicated on the accidental or inadvertant production due to the vagaries of smartphone design. Several developers have capitalized on this "problem" by designing apps that compensate for this engineering phenomonon. Here are two.
First released for the iPhone in January 2014, the Horizon app uses the gyroscopic information from the iPhone to always create a level horizontal video, independent of the orientation of the phone. Horizon went through a number of upgrades this year and was also released for Android phones.
Google took a different approach. In it's official Android camera app, released in April 2014, Google puts a reminder up if the camera is not horizontally oriented. Perhaps more subtle, unlike Horizon, this app still alows vertical framing.
In a nod to vertical videos, the Livestream service announced support for vertical format in August 2014. Recognizing the fact that many users capture video vertically, this upgrade allows broadcasting from phones of videos produced in portrait orientation.
Cover photos: Top photo, from the screening of "Vertical Cinema" at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Photo Pieter Kers I Beeld.nu
Bottom photo: from the screening of "Alicewinks" at the 1st Vertical Film Festival. Photo Adam Sébire.
Revised March 12, 2016 to fix broken hyperlink