The days of cinematic landscape formats that favored wide angles, the rule of thirds, and everything that Alfred Hitchcock adored were numbered when Instagram launched allowing only square photos.


Then, Snapchat was launched to the delight of millenials whose raison d’être is to share everything they are doing. Snapchat continued to buck the video format trend with vertical videos. What was once totally unheard of, and considered ugly, is now a new content format. Thanks to creative designers who understand how to put content into a mobile screen, not worrying about how it looks on any other digital support, vertical is here and here to stay.


Even if you’re not snapping, vertical video is coming whether you like it or not. Facebook is currently rolling out changes to the way videos are displayed in your news feed. Not only will videos play automatically, but – you guessed it – they will be increasingly vertical in nature. Videos will also play automatically with sound on if you are browsing your phone, a feature that you have to disactivate if you prefer browsing in silence.


The Challenge For Content Creators


There is a big paradox in digital video. On the one hand, vertical video is taking over social media. On the other hand, the world’s biggest video destination, YouTube, is still a landscape format media.
vertical video format frames
The different frames for shooting one piece of content and adapting it to different digital channels
Anyone with a content budget knows that shooting multiple formats with different cameras can easily double the cost of creating the same piece of content. What most of us are doing now is shooting video in super high definition with the primary action happening in the center square. The square is the part that will always be present, and if the format is vertical we can tack on the parts above and if it’s horizontal we can tack on the parts to the sides. Just make sure that there is nothing important – like your company’s logo? – in the corners…


If it sounds icky, that’s because it is. But nothing is ickier than the vertical format on YouTube, with the blurred sides to fill the screen and the central action so small it can hardly be seen. The ickiest though? When your beautiful content directed by the new up-and-coming director is chopped to bits for the sake of reaching millennials on their preferred devices.


Planning is Key


Storyboards must take into account the needs of vertical formats from the very beginning. An agency that tells you “we will format it later” will make your life miserable because the formatting will cost you an appendage and it won’t look good after the fact. Paying more for shittier content is not a sustainable business model.


Video is no longer an option, it’s the standard. Maximizing how you use your videos is essential to getting an ROI on your content. Don’t limit yourself by automatically locking your content out of the new – and most engaging – channels. Get in there and make it work from the moment of conception.


But it looks so fucking ugly!


Let’s get personal for a minute. I used to dream of being a film director. When I started at the university I was determined to be a film major. I would throw my hands up in a frame and look through my fingers picturing the world as it would appear on the big screen. The rich landscapes unfolding across the horizon. The balance of composition suddenly jarred by action and chaos. Drama enhanced by the beauty of cinematography.


I studied the classics and the modern. The visual ballet of In the Mood for Love. The heart attack-inducing perspectives of Saving Private Ryan. The famous angles of Citizen Kane when Orson Welles demanded to dig a hole in the studio floor so could capture the extreme shot of his frustrated hero. Imagine if those films had to be shot considering a vertical format!


It’s tempting to apply the standards of one media to another, even to try and cross TV formats with digital channels, but the reality is that’s no longer possible. A TV spot is good for TV because TV serves a certain purpose. Digital channels serve their own purposes and thus must have content made explicitly for them.


None of the agency art directors that are making videos for Snapchat are Speilbergs or Wong Kar Wais, and that’s a good thing. Aesthetic is a constantly evolving opinion of beauty, and insisting that a consumer flip their phone to horizontal to watch a short video is not an artistic decision, it’s a lazy move because you didn’t consider all formats before shooting. You can hide behind the ancient aesthetic of cinematic beauty, but the fact is you didn’t do your planning.


The world changes all the time, better to surf the waves than drown in the deep water of the past.

2 thoughts on “Vertical Video Formats

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