Connect with us

New Movie Tech

Vertical video finally became a thing this year

Charmaine Blake



A view of people holding phones at NBC’s “Today”

Image: Noam Galai/WireImage

The iPhone X is basically one gigantic screen, but the “notch” right at the top of the display guides the owner on how to hold it. The phone should be held vertically, where the length is far longer than the width.

And yet, since the introduction of the iPhone a decade ago, online videos have forced people to turn their phone 90 degrees to view horizontally. The motion even inspired the name and marketing for Verizon’s go90, a video streaming app that launched in October 2015. 

This year, however, the script was finally flipped. One of the biggest trends to emerge on popular social sites was vertical video — or video filmed in portrait mode rather than horizontally. 

One of the biggest stories cementing this trend was when online video giant YouTube updated its app in August to begin playing vertical videos at full size, rather than shoehorning them into horizontal boxes as it had for so many years. The company also released a new feature for recording and sharing vertical-only videos in November.

Another indicator of this growing trend is its presence in popular new apps and some of the largest acquisitions of the year. For example, one of the fastest-growing apps this year, HQ trivia,  changed live game shows by letting users play along on their phones. The “show” in this case is a  vertical video of a trivia contest that awards winners cash prizes.

HQ wasn’t the only app to fully embrace portrait-style videos. Spotify also started promoting vertical music videos earlier this year, and lip-syncing app also embraced vertical videos before it was acquired in November for $1 billion.

MediaRadar, an ad sales analytics company, claims at least 112 sites were using vertical video over the first three months of 2017. And of course, Mashable was recognized with the 2017 Digiday Award for “most innovative publisher” in part due to our site’s new vertical video format Mashable Reels

Of course, not every internet video is vertical these days. Movies and TV shows still use horizontal video to capture our attention, though at a decreasing rate. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are also growing in popularity and require viewing in landscape mode. Facebook Watch and Twitter Live may offer publishers both formats, but the overwhelming majority of shows are horizontal. 

Still, humanity’s laziness — and the natural orientation of a smartphone — along with the ubiquity of smartphones and the growth of mobile online video helped give rise to more vertical video in 2017. 

Vertical video is “completely aligned with user behavior. It seems obvious now, but when we all use our phone by default we’re all shooting vertically because we’re too lazy to put our phone sideways,” said Aaron Shapiro, CEO of digital consulting company Huge. “It’s a testament to everything great and terrible about user behavior all at once. We’re such passive creatures even the smallest behavior can just be giant barrier.”

Vertical’s slow rise 

Vertical video is nothing new. As soon as Steve Jobs presented consumers with iPhone cameras, people started taking photos and shooting videos in portrait mode more frequently. 

But videographers groaned. 

“I strongly believe you lose visual real estate when displaying vertical video,” Anthony Quintano, head of video for Honolulu Civil Beat, told Mashable via Twitter message when asked for his opinion on the format. “Just because I don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”

Snapchat cofounder Evan Spiegel was one of those people who ignored peoples’ grievances. Valuable real estate was lost when people held their phones vertically while watching horizontal videos, Spiegel argued to advertisers at the Cannes Lions festival in 2015 as he pitched his 3Vs “vertical video views” strategy.

“Part of Snapchat’s appeal is that they’re not like everybody else, but that’s constantly a challenge when it comes to advertisers. Advertisers will do little to work more,” David Berkowitz, formerly chief marketing officer at global advertising agency MRY, told me at that time. 

But as time has passed, advertisers and publishers have started to listen and create more vertical videos. 

The good and the bad 

For some publishers, embracing vertical video has been obvious as audiences increasingly come to sites via mobile devices. 

“Our audience is 80 percent mobile at least,” Emily Smith, formerly chief growth officer of Brit+Co, told Mashable back in August.

Vertical Networks, a media company launched in late 2015 by Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth Murdoch, decided to focus more specifically on the format. Its show Phone Swap launched this year and was created exclusively for Snapchat Discover. 

“We create premium short-form formats for mobile. Many of our shows have larger audiences than any show on broadcast television — with up to 14 million people tuning in to Phone Swap each week,” Tom Wright, CEO of Vertical Networks, told Mashable in an email interview. 

Not every show by Vertical Networks is necessarily vertical in orientation, Wright told Mashable, but the studio is one of the few that has created a vertically formatted show for Facebook Watch, such as I Have A Secret

Brit+Co also has created vertical-only content for Snapchat Discover. Unlike other publishers, Brit+Co doesn’t have a daily or weekly channel, but its pop-up channels on Snapchat have been received well, according to Smith. (Full disclosure: Mashable is also a Snapchat Discover partner).

“When you’re limited by certain specs and format sometimes that’s the best environment to come up with something unique,” Smith said. 

Still, vertical video is not an easy format to adopt for designers and videographers. 

“The problem with vertical or square videos is that you have to resize all your footage or animation,” Debbie Saslaw, who worked at HBO digital and helped build its creative for Snapchat. “Some companies shoot vertically, but it’s a waste of time if you want to repurpose that content.”

Meanwhile, horizontal video still remains the focus of TV broadcasters and high-end video bets like Facebook with Watch and Twitter with Live. 

“As far as mainstream goes, you won’t see broadcasters change their ways now,” Quintano said. “You may see platforms make the option available for vertical, but it will never drop the option to watch something horizontal.”

Looking forward

Vertical video has never been more present among distribution platforms and publishers than it is right now, and yet, it’s arguably still early days.

“Publishers need resources — money, talent and technology — to build out their capabilities,” Todd Krizelman, CEO and cofounder of MediaRadar, wrote in his company’s white paper on vertical video. 

TV has analytics firm Nielsen and a wealth of advertising dollars to back up the value of its format, but the shake-up among the brands that have pivoted to video has publishers wary of the bet on online video that is often optimized for smartphones. 

“People want to consume as much in as little as possible, but whether that’s going to sustain and satisfy people, that’s a play,” said Parker Ray, chief digital strategist of public relations company MWWPR. “Why are we spending all this time and money on something that’s going to be scrolled through very quickly?”

Along with the rise of vertical, videos also are becoming more immersive with 360-degree viewing and augmented reality. Perhaps smartphone owners may be more motivated to flip their phones if it means placing a T-rex in their surroundings as Apple demonstrated in its iPhone X ads

As Quintano noted, “Vertical video is just another step into the future.”

Read more:

New Movie Tech

MoviePass CEO proudly says the app tracks your location before and after movies

Charmaine Blake



Everyone knew the MoviePass deal is too good to be true — and as is so often the case these days, it turns out you’re not the customer, you’re the product. And in this case they’re not even attempting to camouflage that. Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, told an audience at a Hollywood event that “we know all about you.”

Lowe was giving the keynote at the Entertainment Finance Forum; his talk was entitled “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” Media Play News first reported his remarks.

“We get an enormous amount of information,” Lowe continued. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”

It’s no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on.

I didn’t imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you?

It sure isn’t in the company’s privacy policy, which in relation to location tracking discloses only a “single request” when selecting a theater, which will “only be used as a means to develop, improve, and personalize the service.” Which part of development requires them to track you before and after you see the movie?

Naturally I contacted MoviePass for comment and will update if I hear back. But it’s pretty hard to misinterpret Lowe’s words.


The startup’s plan is to “build a night at the movies,” perhaps complete with setting up parking or ordering you a car, giving you a deal on dinner before or after, connecting you with like-minded moviegoers, etc. Of course they need data to do that, but one would hope that the collection would be a bit more nuanced than this.

People clearly value the service, because it essentially lets them use someone else’s credit card instead of their own at the movies (and one belonging to a bunch of venture capitalists at that). Who would say no? Some people sure might, if they knew their activities were being tracked at this granularity (and, it has to be said, with such a cavalier attitude) to be packaged up and sold. (Good luck with the GDPR, by the way.)

Hopefully MoviePass can explain exactly what data it collects and what it does with it, so everyone can make an informed choice.

Update: In a statement, a MoviePass representative says:

We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.

I’ve also asked for information on what location data specifically is collected, for how long before and after a movie users are tracked, and where these policies are disclosed to users.

Read more:

Continue Reading

New Movie Tech

Aesthetic excellence: how cinematography transformed TV

Charmaine Blake



Directors of photography from Atlanta, Transparent and other top shows discuss how they achieve the sensibility of cinema

Much of the conversation regarding the rise of prestige television has rightfully centered around the showrunners and writers rooms whove energized a medium that was once the province of three-camera sitcoms filmed on studio sets. But less often do we focus on the cinematographers behind the lens, many of whom never saw themselves working in television until, in the last decade or so, the schisms between the small and big screens dwindled. And not merely in the scope of the stories or the quality of scripts: never before has television looked so good, from inventive camerawork to glossy lighting.

Its hard to ascertain exactly when the paradigm shift began, but there have certainly been seminal moments that most boldly bridged the gap between the two: the six-minute tracking shot in True Detective following Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on a drug bust comes to mind, as do early seasons of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, ambitious, world-building series that took a sledgehammer to the conventions of episodic television. That the Television Academy split its cinematography honors between one-hour and half-hour series last year also signaled that the Emmys governing body had taken note of the profusion of aesthetic excellence on TV.

Nowadays, changes to TVs visual orthodoxy is reflected everywhere, and more diversely, too: in the sprawling, noir-ish science fiction of Netflixs new series Altered Carbon; in the shabby surrealism of FXs Atlanta; in the bright, California sheen of HBOs Insecure; and in the hyper-naturalism of Amazon shows like Transparent and I Love Dick. In these shows, and several others, environment comes alive as much as the characters do and, unsurprisingly, the directors of photography behind them were inspired by the world of film, approaching the work less like fragmented installments of a serialized story than like marathon movies, constructed piecemeal.

None of the creatives involved in this project saw this as a TV show, says Martin Ahlgren, who shot half of Altered Carbons first season and several episodes of House of Cards. We all imagined it as a 10-hour movie, and thats the approach we took to creating not only story arcs but visual arcs.

Joel Kinnaman in a still from Netflixs Altered Carbon. Photograph: Netflix

For Altered Carbon, a Blade Runner-inspired series about a future in which consciousness is digitized and stored in microchips, Ahlgren says that the visual world was more fully realized than it might have been as a two-hour feature, where much of the show would have been constructed via green screens and digital effects. Moreover, for a series that bounced between six different directors in its 10-episode first season, more responsibility falls on showrunners and cinematographers to establish and sustain visual through-lines in the absence of consistent episode-to-episode direction.

Jim Frohna, the Emmy-nominated DP behind Transparent and I Love Dick, took a similar approach in his collaboration with showrunner and head writer Jill Soloway. The pair, inspired by the intimacy of Andrea Arnolds film Fish Tank, first teamed up on the 2013 feature Afternoon Delight; when they moved to Amazon to make Transparent and, later, I Love Dick, they saw no need to change their formula as they ventured into television.

Jill would always talk about Transparent as a five-hour movie and never had any expectation that wed change how we shot Afternoon Delight, says Frohna, whos teamed up with Arnold to shoot the second season of Big Little Lies. I love lighting very naturalistically and was always drawn to hand-held cameras. I purposely would light from outside the windows, just like how youd have light coming into an actual place, and that freed up space for the actors to use the whole room.

There was a time, 15 years ago, when there were so many movies in town you would see them shooting on the streets, at the studio, and then that dried up, says Transparent DP Jim Frohna. Photograph: Merie Wallace/Amazon

When speaking of their approach to television, cinematographers frequently invoke the influence of naturalism on their work. Christian Sprenger, who shoots Atlanta, attributes the shows raw, dreamlike quality to his fruitful relationship with creator Donald Glover and director Hiro Mirai, who were often expressly working against the conventions of the small screen and culling inspiration from indie films like Memphis, Belly and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Ive never been involved in a project before where it almost feels like no risk is too big. Were shooting in Super 16, using these super-old garbage hand-lenses, putting tons of filtration, purposely trying to improperly calibrate the color balance, Sprenger says. When we were making season one, it was around the time that the first season of House of Cards and True Detective came out. It felt like there were these institutional pillars getting knocked over by these auteur film-makers, coming in and saying Were going to make a TV show however we want, and well make it not feel like television at all.

This was what Ava Berkofsky had in mind before she was hired to shoot the second season of Insecure, which she felt too closely resembled a standard television sitcom and hadnt yet taken full advantage of its environment. I was really drawn to Insecure, as a fan of the show, but I thought there were a lot of opportunities that werent being embraced, with it being an LA show, a female-driven show, a black show. I thought that the lighting overall looked too similar to television, and that people of color didnt need to be lit so aggressively.

Insecure DP Ava Berkofsky: Its no longer the same 50 people in charge of all the content that happens. Its a much bigger, more democratic pool. Photograph: HBO

I never had any desire to shoot television before, so I felt like I had nothing to lose in the interview, Berkofsky adds. I told them I would want to switch from zooms to prime lenses, change the lighting from stage-y to naturalistic, and treat it like a film. When she was brought on to shoot most of Insecures second season, Berkofsky and director Melina Matsoukas, who directed Beyoncs Formation music video, drew from the color palettes of films like Nightingale, Selma and Moonlight while referencing Flying Lotuss Until the Quiet Comes video to establish a sense of place.

Naturally, given that cinema is a common point of reference for todays premium television series, the distinctions between the two mediums have begun to shrink. But subject matter, too, comes to bear on the look of a series, and more or less presupposes that it differ visually from the kinds of shows that preceded it. If were pulling back the curtain, opening your eyes to a different sort of protagonist or subject matter, something has cracked open for all the creative members of a team, says Frohna, who shoots with his preferred Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II. We dont want to make another slicker-looking police procedural. Were in new terrain. So with that, theres a new look to it.

Berkofsky agrees: Unexpected people are running shows and unexpected stories are being told in unexpected ways on television, which is very attractive to cinematographers because the people we used to look at in the features world are in television now.

This migration of indie film-makers to premium and streaming television was set in motion chiefly by changes to the film industry, which used to be more hospitable to the kinds of mid-budget projects whose creators now revel in televisions abundant resources and creative liberties. Most of us see ourselves as film-makers, but the differences between the mediums have more or less disappeared, says Ahlgren. Theres very few movies between $10m and $40m being produced; its become either very small indies or tentpole Hollywood blockbusters.

These auteur-driven series check all the boxes of those movies from the 90s we all look back on, adds Sprenger, who also shoots Netflixs female wrestling comedy Glow. The $5m-$20m realm has dwindled, and a lot of those film-makers and crew members are moving to premium television. And youre getting seen by millions of people, which is sometimes the turn-off for a handmade indie film.

Where the streets of Los Angeles were once overflowing with film crews, youre now more likely to happen upon a television production, not only in Hollywood but in Atlanta, New Orleans and Vancouver, where Altered Carbon shoots. I moved out to Los Angeles maybe 10 years ago and theres a night-and-day difference between how incredibly busy everyone is crew-wise, says Sprenger. If youre lucky, you get work on something that feels like a movie, and know youll have eyeballs on it when its done.

Read more:

Continue Reading

New Movie Tech

Snoke Screens: Designing the User Interfaces In The Last Jedi



You’ll find no touch screens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—not even when you can watch it at home next month (March 13 for digital, two weeks later for physical). Same goes for mice and keyboards. They’re all too familiar, too of-this-world, to appear in a galaxy so far, far away. What you’ll find instead are interface displays, and lots of them. Whether in an X-wing’s cockpit or the bridge of a Star Destroyer, every display in The Last Jedi exists to support the story—to provide a graphical complement to the film’s action and dialogue.

And it started with the film’s director. “Whenever possible, Rian [Johnson] wanted us to use practical graphics to enforce the narrative,” says creative director Andrew Booth, who oversaw the creation of TLJ’s assorted instrument clusters, targeting systems, medical readouts, and tactical displays. “It would actually appear in the script that you look at a screen and gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening. The challenge was always, what can we do in-camera to create something that feels real and believable?”

What’s impressive about the interfaces in The Last Jedi is that they feel believable not just to the audience, but to the film’s dramatis personae. In the real world, designers design for one person: the user. But creatives like Booth—whose design agency, BLIND LTD, has been behind the look and feel of some of this century’s biggest blockbusters, including every Star Wars film from TFA onward—designed the practical displays in The Last Jedi with at least three groups of people in mind: the characters, the actors depicting those characters, and the folks watching along in theaters.

Consider the film’s opening scene, in which (fair warning: plot points and spoilers from here on out) Commander Poe Dameron calls General Hux. The point of Poe’s call is to buy time; he’s charging the engines on his X-wing so he can stage a surprise attack on the First Order Dreadnought that’s poised to obliterate his Resistance buddies planetside. It’s a plan the audience comes to understand when the camera cuts to a display inside Poe’s starfighter that shows the status of his boosters.

The inside of Poe’s X-wing. The top display depicts the Dreadnaught tower Poe attacks at the beginning of the film; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system.

“For us, that’s a perfect piece of storytelling,” Booth says. “Now you’ve got exposition, drama, and tension all wrapped up in this close-up of a progress bar.” And because it’s a practical effect, that tension is experienced by audience, actor, and character alike. In fact, every single display in Poe’s cockpit pulls triple duty: The top one depicts the tower Poe is attacking; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system, which BB-8 spends much of the sequence trying to repair.

These kinds of details don’t always make it into the final cut of a film, and even when they do, audiences don’t always notice them. Not explicitly, anyway. “For us, these graphics are more about shape and form than they are about spelling things out—but they do allow people to feel what’s going on in a scene, and they help support the actor’s performance,” Booth says.


The WIRED Guide to Star Wars

Similar details abound inside the spacecraft from Canto Bight, the opulent casino city. The graphics aboard the ship that DJ and BB-8 steal are shiny. Slinky. Sumptuous. A striking contrast to the First Order’s stark, militaristic vibes and the ragtag aesthetics of the Resistance. “This was us trying to evoke a different world,” Booth says.

But even the film’s familiar spaces brim with visual information. Toward the end of the film, on the chalk-dusted mining planet Crait, the audience gets multiple glimpses inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, from which he has orchestrated the First Order’s assault on what remains of the Resistance. “The aesthetic is sharp, clean, systematic—just like the First Order, itself, and the color palette is all red, grey, black and white,” Booth says.

Inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, above the battle on Crait.

These are classic, higher-order stylistic cues, many of which date back to the original trilogy. During pre-production on The Force Awakens BLIND LTD researched the original designs closely, and collaborated with production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford to get the look and feel just right. The graphics continued to evolve with Lucasfilm design supervisor Kevin Jenkins and production designer Rick Heinrichs on The Last Jedi. They immediately help viewers understand where they are and whose ship it is. (The Resistance’s aesthetic, by contrast, is analog and unstructured—its color palette dominated by orange, green, brown, and other earth colors.)

But look closely, and you’ll see that the screens inside the shuttle are loaded with details. Crait’s topography, the blast door separating the Resistance from the First Order, the line of AT-ATs—they’re all depicted on screens, often for the briefest of moments. “It gives you an idea of the level of detail that we put into these interfaces,” Booth says. “It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on: You don’t necessarily always see it, but you sure as hell feel it.”

Read more:

Continue Reading