Vertical Cinema: New Digital Possibilities

Miriam Ross and Maddy Glen


In 2012, a short film called "Vertical Video Syndrome – A PSA" [1] quickly gained high exposure through placement on YouTube and circulation through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Its premise was that a new generation of clumsy amateur filmmakers were shooting from their mobile phones without concern for the traditional horizontal format, resulting in a number of films shot in vertical format, "looking like crap" (Glove and Boots 2012b). Although playful, the film explicitly called for an end to the vertical filmmaking practice and was permeated with the assumption that there are correct, aesthetically grounded reasons for shooting and displaying content in a horizontal mode. This article will question these assumptions in a two-fold manner: firstly, by providing a historical context for the development of horizontal and vertical filmmaking; secondly, by describing our own video response that incorporates mobile media technology. In doing so, we ask why traditional regimes of taste are favored and what implications they have for mobile media's "own aesthetic quality" (Baker, Schleser, and Molga 2009).


[1] Since the beginning of the twenty-first century there has been an exponential growth in the use of digital technology across all aspects of film production and through a range of film types from YouTube videos to Hollywood blockbusters. While many celebratory accounts of digital cinema have emerged, there have been an equal number of negative appraisals bemoaning the loss of quality cinematic traditions. At the forefront of the expansion of digital media has been an increase in user-generated content, supported by Internet platforms for exhibition and distribution. Sites such as YouTube allow mass participation in audio-visual communication in ways hitherto unimagined. The democratic potential for this type of content is often overshadowed by fear of its unregulated and unruly assault on traditional media practice. As Jean Burgess and Joshua Green (2009) point out, the recurrent positioning of YouTube

as an amateur "free-for-all" rather than a place for community or artistic experimentation [...] situates it as a space where the public or the masses are rising up from the bottom, so that the matters of concern around it have to do with lawlessness, the crisis of expertise, and the collapse of cultural value. (6)

While issues of copyright violation, piracy and exposure to obscene content have been well documented (Burgess and Green 2009; McDonald 2009) it is also necessary to consider fears around taste and why notions of "cultural value" remain so important. Within this domain, it is worth examining the ways in which suggestions for best practice and high quality content are often bound to old uses of media instead of embracing the new possibilities offered by the digital era.

[2] One area that has only been explored in a limited fashion is the way digital media is able to shift the framing of images. [2] Thus far, the focus on digital audio-visual works has often been concerned with the quality of images (resolution, color depth, dynamic range) and the type of content that is being showcased. In order to expand work in this area we will argue that consideration needs to be given to the way digital devices, particularly mobile media devices that film and display content, have the potential to reconfigure traditional framing modes. By drawing upon the video work we undertook in our Vertical Cinema project in 2012, we suggest that it is possible to dispense with the horizontally rectangular format that has dominated moving image production. During our project we filmed and edited footage for a YouTube video with the aim of challenging the enduring hierarchy of taste attached to the horizontal format. Our project drew upon analysis of the various framing formats used in moving image history to ask how new digital technologies can be used to expand the notion of the frame in contemporary moving image culture.

Vertical Video Syndrome

[3] The initial entry point to this project was the discovery of a YouTube video entitled "Vertical Video Syndrome – A PSA"(Glove and Boots 2012b). Produced by the Glove and Boots Company and posted in June 2012, the video (VVS) laments the use of portrait framing that occurs when a mobile phone is held vertically during shooting. Using four puppets (Fafa the Groundhog, Mario the Monster, a vertically-eyed creature and Gorilla) VVS parodies a North American style public service announcement to tell viewers why it is wrong to shoot vertically rather than horizontally. It quickly gained high exposure through its placement on YouTube and circulation through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. VVS's 3.3 million plus views doubled the views Glove and Boots received for their previously successful videos "Evolution of the Hipster" in 2011 (1.4 million views) and "Meh Me Meh Me" in 2012 (1.1 million views). It is an entertaining video and does not ask to be taken too seriously, but its suggestion, that by shooting in vertical "your video will end up looking like crap" (Glove and Boots 2012b), alludes to a number of concerns in our contemporary context surrounding the ways mobile phone users are filming content in previously unprecedented ways. VVS's call for an end to vertical filmmaking practices indicates the widely held belief that there are correct, aesthetically grounded reasons for not only shooting but displaying content in a horizontal or landscape mode. Many of the comments posted below VVS's YouTube video confirmed this perception with statements such as "good those videos are crappy" (user dominic wright) and "i understand.... i will never shoot a video vertical anymore..." (user Rob Schaap). Other commentators suggested that they frequently came across examples of the "bad" vertical format and used VVS as a tool to educate filmmakers as to why they should return to horizontal framing: "I had to link here twice today!.... WHEN WILL IT STOP!!!" (user MagLight84) and "Oh how I wish there was a button to post this as a video response every time I stumble on a vertical video" (user Alexander Atkin).

[4] At the time of writing, none of the hundred plus comments had seriously questioned why films should not be shot in vertical, nor asked what types of new composition and framing could arise from using a different alignment. Rather than adding our own comments to the lengthy list, we wanted to offer a rebuttal through the form of a response video. [3] The video that we created, the "Vertical Cinema Manifesto," [4] had two aims. The first was to interrogate some of the issues raised in VVS and ask what they mean for a contemporary understanding of mobile media's "own aesthetic quality" (Baker, Schleser, and Molga 2009, 107). The second was to offer a glimpse into the possibilities offered by vertical framing, how this can alter composition and what type of content this might suit. In order to fulfill these aims, we felt that it would be useful to highlight the extreme nature of the "anti-vertical" views posited in the original video by conceiving our own extreme counter-view in the form of parodic hyperbole. By creating a video manifesto, that stated all cinema should be shot vertically, we did not intend for this statement to be taken seriously but rather, through a dialectical strategy, sought to encourage viewers to critically interrogate the positions of both videos. Our hope was that viewers would ultimately arrive at a nuanced appreciation of the possibilities available for both horizontal and vertical framing. Through our playful response we wanted to signal our background concerns that question the historical context for framing; how standardization of the horizontal format took place; and how other framing has been implemented, thus questioning whether there is a natural or inherent imperative for horizontal modes.

Historical Filmmaking Formats and Display Techniques

[5] When questioning where the notion of "correct" formatting comes from, we take into account the tendency towards and the departure from the presentation of moving images on a rectangular horizontal screen. As Thompson and Bordwell (2010) note, "we are so accustomed to the frame as a rectangle that we should remember that it need not be one. In paintings and photography, of course, images have frames of various sizes and shapes: narrow rectangles, ovals, vertical panels, even triangles and parallelograms. In cinema the choice has been more limited" (227). While movie theatres have retained a rectangular format to the present day, moving images have frequently been presented in other configuration across different media devices. Television and computer screens are not, and have not, always been horizontal. Some examples of different screen shapes include the 1950s Zenith Porthole television with its circular screen and the 1950s Philco Predicta television with its curved edges. For a number of decades, computer hardware manufacturers such as Dell and Acer have produced monitors that can be set up in a vertical manner and, more recently, the introduction of smart phones and tablets produce mobile displays that can interchange rapidly between horizontal and vertical modes.

[6] During the consolidation of cinema at the beginning of the twentieth century, standardization of the technological interface was necessary so that the same film could be shown to a range of audiences. With the development of other moving image technologies such as television, shared protocols for image formats were also put into place. [5] Nonetheless, the adherence to one particular format type has often been overstated in the historical context. It is true that the adoption of the rectangular 35mm format across global industries helped cinema achieve a degree of regularization. However, the standardization of a 4:3 aspect ratio and its "assumed status" as the end product of "natural selection," did not occur "organically" (Belton 1992, 18). As Leo Enticknap (2005) notes, the 35mm standard only became the norm "as a result of aggressive marketing, trade wars, political issues and other factors which had a greater influence on the history of media economics than many would readily admit" (30).

[7] While the 35mm/4:3 ratio was the direct result of W. K. L Dickson and Thomas Edison's early investigations and trials, Dickson also experimented with both circular and square formats (Belton 1992). However, as Belton (1992) points out, "for more than sixty years, the American film industry regarded 35mm film and the 4:3 aspect ratio as basic rather than optional technology, marginalizing all deviations from these norms" (16-17). As the standardization of aspect ratios developed, there were those that disagreed with the proposed rectangular frame. Filmmaker and film theorist Sergei Eisenstein (1970) proffered strong opinions during debates in 1930. Championing the square image format, Eisenstein said "I must point out that, in proposing these proportions for discussion, we only underline the fact that for thirty years we have been content to see excluded 50 per cent of compositional possibilities, in consequence of the horizontal shape of the frame" (49, emphasis original). He continued by stating,

By the word "exclude" I refer to all the possibilities of vertical, upright composition. And instead of using the opportunity afforded by the advent of wide film to break that loathsome upper part of the frame, which for thirty years – me personally for six years – has bent and bound us to a passive horizontalism, we are on the point of emphasizing this horizontalism still more.

In his writing on this subject Eisenstein presented various historical and social contexts to help him argue against the presentation of cinema in a horizontal mode.

[8] In light of these contexts, and the historical departures from the horizontal format, VVS's claims seem overtly exaggerated when they state "motion pictures have always been horizontal. Televisions are horizontal. Computer screens are horizontal. People's eyes are horizontal. We aren't built to watch vertical video" (Glove and Boots 2012b). Nonetheless, public perception is attuned to watching moving images horizontally and it is easy to dismiss the variations in aspect ratios and framing types that have occurred throughout history.

New Technologies

[9] It is telling that Eisenstein's call for a different alignment has been overlooked and further debate on this topic was not taken up until the twenty-first century when technology fell into the hands of amateur users, those who were not confined to working within established industries. The education imperative of VVS asks for all films, even those made for YouTube, to conform to Hollywood's now standard framing format. This dogmatic approach seems reductive when considering that the digital era provides a new opportunity to revaluate this existing and long-standing tradition, and that sites such as YouTube (the host for VVS) offer users the chance to experiment and fundamentally reconfigure moving image content. In particular, the move away from seeing the movie theatre as the primary site of exhibition shifts a conceptualization of what can be produced and where the limits of this production are. On the one hand, this can lead to a radical shift in the duration of cinematic works as the one and a half to two hour traditional film length no longer needs to be adhered to. [6] On the other hand, the borders of the cinematic frame, established by the material configurations of the movie theatre, can now be changed. Gabriele Pedullà (2012), in his attention to the way in which the architecture of the movie theatre has had a lasting impact on how cinema has been conceived and created, predicts that the diminishing importance of the theatrical site will change the way in which moving images are produced. He suggests,

[W]ithout the movie house – without its architecture, its symbols, its behavioural codes, its rituals – the history of the seventh art would not be the one we know. But this means above all that, following the auditorium's decline, the style of film will change as well, and with it possibly the type of pleasure and aesthetic experience sought from moving images. Divested of the big screen, cinema of the future will inevitably be different from what we have had until now. (6)

It is within this context that VVS appears confined to maintaining the traditional modes that Pedullà suggests will disappear. Rather than seeing the new options offered by digital media to expand framing options they say that users, "just don't understand that while you can turn a picture, you can't really turn a video" (Glove and Boots 2012b). Their point is proven untrue when we consider the technological interfaces that can now rotate to allow both vertical and horizontal alignments. In our current era where portable devices contain both filmmaking technology and a playback medium, there is no reason why they cannot be turned on their side, upside-down, back to front and made to display their content in diverse configurations. This is equally true of digital projectors (increasingly available in the home) that have offered various screen permutations for the gallery film and outdoor audio-visual displays. Similarly, monitors show audio-visual content in a variety of configurations in different public spaces. In the UK, for example, there are numerous vertically aligned electronic displays in underground stations and at airports which display short animated and filmed moving image advertisements. Their content suggests there are a number of filmmakers, working for advertising agencies, who are growing accustomed to creating material in a portrait format.

[10] By contrast, one of the underlying assumptions surrounding vertical videos, confirmed in VVS, is that shooting in a vertical format is the result of inexperienced amateur users: those who do not have the skill-set necessary to operate in the same way as professional filmmakers. Whilst failing to take into account the diverse practitioners working with different framing configurations, this opinion also overvalues the traditional skill-set and its imagined association with professionals. The accessibility of mobile devices means that there is a wide pool of budding filmmakers emerging from different backgrounds with different expertise. As Daniel Palmer (2011) notes, "just as no phone is complete today without a camera, more phone cameras are sold today than any other kind of camera" (22). He also points out, "these days most of us in the developed world carry at least one camera at all times, capable not only of recording and displaying images but also instantly sharing them, via the Internet or messaging services" (20). As the access to mobile devices grows, mobile filmmaking is becoming increasingly widespread. This, in turn, expands the number of people who are able to make cinema. Although it is true that this technology is more easily available to persons with high-income levels, an example of expanded practice in New Zealand is the HONO project which equips rangatahi Māori with the knowledge of and access to mobile filming devices that they might not otherwise have had. [7] Further afield, Anne Clinio and Liliane Leroux's (2012) project, entitled "Aesthetic disruptions - mobile audiovisual experiences from urban slums and peripheries of Rio de Janeiro," focuses on the "dissemination of audio-visual mobile technologies, and the ways they incorporate—through "do it yourself" practices—in the daily life of individuals and groups previously excluded from broader cultural consumption/production." Similarly, Max Schleser's (2012) video project—or "mobile-mentary (mobile documentary)"—"E Vaine Toa," was edited and filmed on location in Rarotonga with a mobile filmmaking crew from New Zealand's Massey University who worked in collaboration with the Cook Islands National Council of Woman. The project worked to capture "the voice of women in the Cook Islands" and to encourage "their participation in governance and leadership" (Schleser 2012).

[11] This widespread access to mobile filmmaking devices has obvious ramifications in term of journalism and worldwide communications, or "on-the-spot participatory 'citizen' photojournalism" (Palmer 2011, 20), but also filters down to other filmmakers working with a range of different footage. On the one hand, this user-generated content has the ability to allow more avant-garde filmmaking to emerge: "Online cinema resumes all of the experimental and amateur film movements, and their plans for politicizing art; it produces avant-gardes everywhere, since there is no first or last, no beginning or end on noded screens" (Holl 2012, 152). On the other hand, the proliferation of film genres, styles and themes presented in mobile film festivals such as the iPhone Film Festival and Mobil Film Festival make it clear that a wide range of material is incorporated into the expanding body of mobile film works. [8]

[12] Although these contexts demonstrate the multiplicity of content and plurality of creators contributing to a new moving image database, there is often resistance to the somewhat anarchic "free-for-all" these possibilities represent. VVS's dedication to notions of correct cultural production works to strengthen rather than remove the dichotomy between amateur and professional content that Holl and Palmer suggest is breaking down. On YouTube, Glove and Boots' content is displayed alongside more 'amateur' content (often in the 'recommended videos' tab that runs down the right side of the screen) yet VVS suggests that a hierarchy remains between professional filmmaker/artists operating in these new sites and the unskilled amateurs who also share their spaces. This is made particularly evident when Mario belittles those who shoot in the vertical format, saying, "[I]f you see someone doing it say you're not shooting that right, dummy" (Glove and Boots 2012b). The company is able to set itself above other users because, even though it may use internet sites as the basis for its production and distribution, the way in which it produces content (including animation, live-action and music) demands a high skill set; their videos attract large audiences; and they have a networked fan base across different social media platforms. These factors clearly distinguish them from the unedited, speedily filmed content that makes up much of the uploaded footage on the Internet. However, we would argue that maintaining a hierarchical approach ultimately foreshortens the possibilities of what digital media can offer.

[13] The Internet has undoubtedly created new types of cinematic experiences that blur where cinema ends and amateur filmmaking begins. The relatively new experience of watching cinema on the Internet has "changed many aspects of how cinema is perceived" (Holl 2012, 150). In this context, we argue that it is not possible to apply the same limitations and rules to Internet filmmaking that have been applied to films made in a more traditional mode. As Holl (2012) points out, "the aesthetics of cinema on the internet cannot simply be compared with or adapted to the models and terminology of traditional cinema perception" (150). While Holl refers mainly to content that has been produced for an initial theatrical release and finds a secondary life online, she also takes into account filmmaking modes that see the Internet as the primary site of distribution. Within these contexts new possibilities for digital media are evident yet there remain doubts concerning the extent to which familiar modes will be left behind. Bordwell and Thompson (2010) speak to these doubts when they state that "as new digital devices emerge, we suspect that they too will adjust themselves to the cinematic traditions that have developed over 110 years" (730).

Video Response

[14] While these debates have yet to be fully worked out, we did want to make use of the current environment in order to investigate further the way new media modes are integrated and challenged. The purpose of our "Vertical Cinema Manifesto" response was to create dialogue around this topic by asking whether cinema should be confined to its old modes of operation or whether new technological possibilities can be incorporated. As mentioned previously, we wanted to create a dialectical response by positing an extreme argument in order to prompt discussion that would return viewers to a consideration of the way that new technologies have the opportunity to not only change the way we watch films, but also alter the way we make them. This in turn led to our decision to create a manifesto film which, like the public service announcement format used by VVS, has recognizable tropes and conventions such as direct address to the viewer, the use of a commanding voice over, and didactic commentary. [9]

[15] In order to construct our video, we considered what type of content might work best in a vertical format. The vertical alignment of human bodies emerged as our initial starting point, prompting ideas about how human subjects have traditionally been framed. Just like VVS, we wanted to keep our film playful, creating a satirical reply that would, nonetheless, raise significant questions about the consequences of maintaining classical filmmaking norms. With this in mind, we decided to present a feminist argument that would link the patriarchal forces of Hollywood's widescreen format to the objectification of the female body. Although there has been a wide range of feminist filmmaking and feminist criticism, with diverse and heterogeneous articulations of the female body on screen, the more polemical arguments, particularly simplistic statements about the objectification of women, are the most commonly repeated. As an example of this, Laura Mulvey's seminal essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975), during which she aligns the spectator with an objectifying male gaze directed towards the passive female on screen, is repeatedly taught (and simplified thus) even though numerous feminist critics and Mulvey herself have reworked, complicated and updated these claims (Mulvey 1981; Studlar 1988). This context provided us with the basis for an extreme version of feminist film criticism that we incorporated into the video in two different ways: through the use of a female voice-over making strong didactic statements; and through a character directly quoting from "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema."

[16] Although this articulation of a feminist dialogue was posited as hyperbolic and extreme, it was not intended to negate the need for understanding how new technologies can impact upon gender representation. Rather, we planned, playfully, to create a dialectical tension that would encourage viewers to actively reconsider this issue. In this way, we were not denying the legitimacy of a lengthy history of feminist film criticism but were thinking about how to re-engage it within the parameters of our concern with didactic arguments being made against the possibilities of new technologies. The grounds for incorporating issues of gender representation and new technology into our video were reinforced during the film's production. During this time news outlets were pointing to continuing sexist representations of women, in both new and old media, which acted as a reminder of patriarchal structures currently permeating social and political spheres. In our local context, the bra company Pleasure State drew criticism in New Zealand and Australia for posting misogynistic imagery as targeted marketing on Facebook pages. [10] Further afield, feminists in the UK staged protests against the Sun's Page 3, remonstrating forty-two years of exploitative sexual representations of women in the paper. [11] There was also an emphasis on the political sphere in France as coverage of Justice Minister Rachida Dati's paternity case highlighted the ongoing sexist culture in the government and the media. [12]

[17] Our decision to forge a link between female oppression and the horizontal format was intended to be satirical from the outset and thus made use of the somewhat didactic manifesto format. However, the video was also able to touch on genuine concerns that representations of women are bound to old modes of signification and, in this way, re-engaged some of Mulvey's initial concerns. For this reason, the last segment of our video takes on a different tone. The near final images of women waving at the camera are (due to the music soundtrack) still audibly contained within the manifesto of the video but the voice-over is momentarily left behind as the women face the camera and address the viewer. Although, as Tom Brown (2012) notes, direct address is often used in political films (such as those by Jean-Luc Godard) in order to confront the audience, yet it can also be used with gentler, affective intent in order to create intimacy between on-screen figures and viewers. It is this quality that we draw on in our use of a direct look at the camera in this sequence. Through an active presence, determined by the women's control of their wave at the camera, they are able to avoid the presence of the female star that Mulvey claims "holds the look, plays to, and signifies male desire" (1975, 11). Instead, there is a complex two-way relationship of looks instigated between the women in our film and the audience that watches them. On the one hand, the vertical framing draws attention to the way in which portrait composition can elucidate their presence in certain ways. For example, women represented as whole bodies in comparison to the fragmented female body of Hollywood cinema that Mulvey critiques (1975, 14). On the other hand, the return to the dogmatic voice-over at the end of this sequence is a return to satire and play that should act as a reminder that it is ultimately the viewer, rather than the film that decides how to negotiate new framing possibilities and new representations of the female body.

[18] Whilst utilizing manifesto tropes, we also wanted to make full use of the technological tools available to low budget and non-professional filmmakers in order to highlight the possibility for new framing modes to emerge. By using a mobile phone to complete our initial filming stage we were able to align ourselves with the multiple users who shoot and capture images on their phones or other mobile devices. The HTC smart phone that we used had the capacity to store high definition footage and could easily upload it to a number of sites or to a computer for editing. Nonetheless, it came with the same limitations as other mobile media devices, namely that the sound quality was poor and the HTC attempts an automatic focus that can create a flicker effect in certain types of light. Rather than considering these aspects shortcomings or deficiencies, we worked with them to create footage that retained a strong visual impact. The sound quality encouraged us to limit the use of synchronized sound, and design at least half of our footage to be visual images that worked effectively without dialogue. We also thought about how to use lighting productively and maintain relatively static composition so that the automatic focus on the phone's camera could be optimized. Moreover, the mobility of the phone became an essential factor for capturing intimate footage and completing production quickly in a way that would have been difficult with traditional cameras. Even though we used a tripod to add stability, we were still able to set up and film in a very short amount of time, and in small spaces. Capturing footage outside was made easy and because of the unassuming small camera we were able to film subjects in an unobtrusive and unimposing manner.

[19] Most importantly, the HTC allowed us to record and playback in a vertical mode. In a similar way to other smart phones and portable media devices, the HTC can be rotated and content will automatically adjust to fit into the new configuration of the screen. This meant that when we filmed footage on the phone, we could compose subjects in a vertical frame and review the material to see the way in which this type of arrangement reconfigured our subjects. Editing tests revealed that the footage could be edited on a home computer (in this case using Final Cut X software although other free-to-use or cheaper software were also compatible) and then exported onto YouTube where it would retain its vertical format. When played back on a media device such as a smart phone or tablet, the content can be viewed in its original frame. Within the "Vertical Cinema Manifesto" we highlighted this point by portraying a female subject rotating first a tablet and then a smartphone, showing that the devices displayed the image both vertically and horizontally. In this way, we were able to counterpose VVS's point that display devices have "always been horizontal" (Glove and Boots 2012b).

[20] In order to fully link our points to the original VVS claims we wanted to incorporate footage from this video into our manifesto. This was very much in the style of other cinematic manifestos such as "La hora de los hornos" (1968), a film that includes media content from other sources in order to argue against it. By doing so, it meant including landscape format images that widened the overall frame of our video. While this meant that we were unable to presented a purely vertical piece, it did allow us to create a hybrid work of mixed material that was in line with the many "trending" videos on YouTube and elsewhere, videos that operate as "mash-ups" of multiple images and videos (Horwatt 2009). It also allowed a framework for introducing other horizontally formatted media such as clips from Hollywood films and still images of famous actresses reclining. These clips and images were chosen because they displayed female bodies in a horizontal fashion that correlated with the extreme feminist argument that we were positing in the manifesto. We were able to juxtapose these landscape formats with portrait images from the suffragist movement and influential female artists. Together, the contrast between horizontal and vertical, particularly in time to the chosen female punk soundtrack, produced a dynamic interplay that highlighted and drew attention to the different framing devices at work and the aesthetic possibilities they offer. While the direct binary between patriarchal horizontal images and vertical feminist images was purposefully simplistic, it was useful as a tool to force through a consideration of what different framing techniques might signify. This allowed us to operate within a political framework but it did not negate the projects larger concerns that aimed to identify other uses of vertical framing.

[21] Thus far creators of vertical videos on the Internet have tended to make use of vertical framing without explicit explanations for their choice to use a portrait rather than landscape format. [13] Our aim in the video was to call attention to the possibility of making informed decisions to shoot with a vertical frame but our wider project also wanted to celebrate the existent videos that are already working in this manner. A popular YouTube video, "Puppy teaching Puppy to go down stairs! SO cute!"(Doucette 2012), was one such example that drew negative comments such as "there's this thing called rotation. When you make a video without doing it, the video is stupid. I don't care if it's a video of Jesus Christ, it's stupid. Please, for the love of Jesus Christ, rotate your phone" (user Kev50027). Nonetheless, the video had at the time of writing gained popular attention with over 3.8 million views and, on inspection of the content, there are clear reasons why the vertical framing was effective for this video. Beyond the light-heartedness of the subject matter, the image gains effective composition from the decision to film the action vertically. The video shows two dogs descending from the top of a staircase to the bottom. Within the tight confines of the hallway where the video is shot, due to the relatively short length of the staircase, and taking into consideration the movement of the dogs, a horizontal framing would have shifted the composition of the shot and most likely affected the sense of duration in the dogs' movement. Although viewers watching the video on a horizontal computer screen will see masked areas to the side of the images, those watching the video on a tablet or smart phone will be able to view it in its full vertical frame. With this video we can see that, although perhaps not an entirely informed decision, the filmmaker has chosen to utilize a vertical composition in order to meet their subject's needs. Like most filmmakers they have attempted to position their moving images in order to capture their full potential.

[22] While much of VVS video is concerned with display, it also signals unease with the embodied interaction that new digital filmmaking modes offer the user-creator. It tells us, "Vertical videos happen when you hold your camera the wrong way" (Glove and Boots 2012b), suggesting that filmmaking should be carefully regulated regarding the way we touch and embrace our media devices. If we consider where the vertical filmmaking mode comes from then it seems obvious that familiarity with portraiture stills shooting and familiarity with the vertical format of the mobile phone drives users to position the camera in ways that are familiar to them. There is an embodied muscular and sensory habitus at work here that is configured differently from traditional motion picture filmmaking but nonetheless remains a valid part of contemporary, embodied uses of new technology.


[23] Perhaps the most significant aspect surrounding cinematic framing is that there have been experiments with a variety of formats for a number of years. In the field of video art (for example, the various configurations of the screen in work by well-known artists such as Tony Oursler and Gary Hill) and marketing campaigns (consider the numerous outdoor displays or content on public transport that show moving images in multiple configurations) there have long been opportunities to exhibit content in diverse ways. However, digital cinema has been slow to take up the possibilities that exist beyond the horizontal tradition. In the history of moving images, standardized and consistent frame formats have only occupied a relatively small role, consigned to specific cinema and television practices. Now that emerging digital distribution platforms are open to new technological configurations, horizontal viewing may not continue to dominate. As Pedullà (2012) notes,

[T]his is the happily anarchic world we live in: the world of thousands of different devices for image-reproduction, where there is no hierarchy of viewing styles nor any "correct" way of making use of moving-image systems, and so films prosper at once on the big, small and very small screens. (70)

The "Vertical Cinema Manifesto" was designed in order to point to this anarchic world and ultimately suggest that hierarchies of taste surrounding best practice need to be reconsidered in an era in which user generated content has the potential to produce new and dynamic modes for moving image content. Although our video satirizes didactic claims that favor shooting in vertical over horizontal, our project encourages a consideration of where media practice might lie outside of simplistic rules concerning best practice. In this way we suggest there are no "better" or "more valid" ways of creating content. Instead, it is possible to embrace the multiple possibilities for content creation and display offered by new digital technologies.


[1] «»

[2] Catherine Fowler's (2004; 2008) work on the frame in gallery films does not specifically discuss digital media but sets a precedent for a discussion of framing.

[3] YouTube allows users to link their own videos to others in the form of a response. This is done through the comments section and creates a separate section for the response videos. The creators of the original video must approve the new video in order for it to appear in the video response section. We should note that we designed our video as a response to VVS but Glove and Boots have not yet approved it. We do not know whether this is because they do not agree with the tone of our response or if this is for other reasons. Our video nonetheless appears on its own YouTube page and has a link to the original VVS video.

[4] «»

[5] It is interesting to note that a single, 35mm format helped cinema become a global industry whereas different formats were introduced for television in different national contexts.

[6] Although the lengths of feature films constantly vary, there is pressure from the movie theatre exhibition sector to produce films within the ninety to one hundred and twenty minute time scale. This allows exhibitors to maximize the number of films that can be seen in any one day while providing audiences with a film sufficiently lengthy to warrant the ticket price. Online and DVD exhibition do not have the same concerns.

[7] See «» for more information.

[8] See «» and «».

[9] For example, "La hora de los hornos" (1968) "Roger and Me" (1989), "The Age of Stupid" (2009).

[10] «»

[11] «»

[12] «»

[13] For example, The Barnet Eye. 2011. "Barnet Council Meeting - mobile phone footage of residents being denied access to Town Hall." «»; "Footage of Flavour performing in Mulheim, Germany" («»); TheBravestOnline. 2012. "Fort Worth, Texas Apartment Fire Attack Video." «»; "Epic trampoline flip FAIL dog attack." «».


Baker, C., M. Schleser and K. Molga. 2009. "Aesthetics of mobile media art." Journal of Media Practice 10 (2-3): 101-122.

Belton, J. 1992. Widescreen Cinema. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Brown, T. 2012. Breaking the Fourth Wall: Direct Address in the Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Burgess, J., and J. Green. 2009. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

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