New 9×16 Festival Could Showcase YOUR FILM at the Next Cannes!

In certain filmmaking crowds it is often expected of me, as a student of film history, to abhor the modern trend of vertical video or 9×16. But many people would be surprised to find out that I actually do not have a problem with the format at all. We take photos in portrait mode, we Facetime in portrait mode, we read articles in portrait mode… the simple fact is a smart phone is just easier and more natural to hold in portrait mode. So why not have video that’s designed to fit that natural aspect ratio?


Now a clear distinction must be made here – we’re not advocating that all media be produced at a 9×16 aspect ratio. That would be as silly as calling for all productions to use 16×9 or 2.39 – some things work better in one format or the other and it’s up to the filmmaker to choose.

Until very recently, the 9×16 aspect ratio hasn’t been taken seriously by content creators, employed only by well meaning amateurs just trying to capture a spur of the moment event. Well it’s time to change that. What if you used the skinny aspect ratio to your advantage? What if you could be one of the pioneering filmmakers creating new aesthetics in the 9×16 video world?

Nespresso Talents 2016 is offering just that opportunity! An international search is on for the three most innovative filmmakers working in 9×16 to be showcased at the Cannes Film Festival 2016.

So How Do I Compose 9×16 Anyway?

The narrower framing of the vertical video may seem alien at first but it really isn’t that unfamiliar. If you’ve ever taken a portrait photo, you’ve framed for 9×16 – now we’re just adding motion. Check out these three Nespresso commissioned films by the jury members for some amazing composition ideas.

Martin Scorsese famously asked how you would compose a close up in widescreen. It can be difficult as closeups in widescreen result in some sort of compromise between cutting off parts of the face or having lots of empty room on the side of the frame that need to be filled. Well the human face (and body for that matter) fit much better in a 9×16 aspect ratio.

Landscapes might be something you would think lend themselves better toward widescreen and you’d be right. You’re not going to get Lawrence of Arabia vistas in 9×16 but if you look for interesting compositions, you’ll find lots of stunning natural imagery that fits the tall frame:

Architecture almost lives in the 9×16 aspect ratio – seemingly perfectly suited for this documentary on Doors:

And of course in animation – you’re only limited by your imagination:

Keep in mind that with the vertical edges of the frame so close, where you place your horizontal lines becomes much more important. Also consider what’s in the frame and what’s not and use that strategically to tell your story. With less horizontal real estate you have to be more selective about what you choose to show which can make for some stunning compositions.

Always remember: it’s what’s in the image and what isn’t – that’s the only thing that matters.

Technical Considerations

You can create your 9×16 film in anyway you want. Shooting video on a phone held in portrait mode would be the simplest but it may not be the most creatively interesting. For mounting GoPros and small DSLRs you can look into ball head tripods. These are designed for photographers who  shoot stills in portrait mode – however they are not great for shooting pans and tilts. In those situations you may need mount the camera on an L bracket on a fluid head tripod to get the sideways shot. You can purchase them premade or make one of your own:

L Bracket

You don’t have to always shoot locked off on sticks. Handheld is always an option when shooting 9×16 but there are some things to consider. CMOS sensors capture the scene from top to bottom – the resulting “jello effect” causes vertical lines to slant in a pan. In vertical mode, the “jello effect” will cause things to stretch-and-squish when performing quick pans. Because of the claustrophobic nature of vertical video – excessive camera shake or fast moves may cause motion sickness in the audience so either avoid that or use it sparingly and always with a purpose.

When it comes to editing you’ll want to create a custom timeline in your editing suite (like a 1080×1920 timeline) so you are filling the entire frame with your 9×16 image. Things like cuts, dissolves and other transitions will have a little different effect when working with 9×16 versus widescreen. The best approach is to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t for your idea.

How Do I Enter?

The Nespresso Talents 2016 contest is open to international entries starting on March 7th and closes on April 10th, 2016. The top three filmmakers will be selected to have their work screened at the world famous Cannes Film Festival in May.

Head over the Nespresso Talents 2016′s submission page to submit your entry- the deadline is April 10, 2016!



Why the Fan Cut Ghostbusters Trailer is Better than the Studio Version

A few days ago I joined the throngs of the internet in my lukewarm reaction to the new Ghostbusters trailer. Then today I watched a Fan Cut version (by filmmaker Bevan Bell) that makes me actually want to see the reboot:

Here’s the studio version which as of this writing has 58% thumbs down:

So what did the fan trailer do right right? Well if you’re cynical about the actual film, you might say they just showed A LOT less of the film: the fan cut trailer weighing in at less than half of the studio version. But let’s take a neutral approach to the film and study the trailer itself as a mini film and marketing piece.

There are two other big differences between the fan and the studio version: First – the fan trailer doesn’t treat the audience like a bunch of idiots. We have ALL seen the original Ghostbusters. We don’t need text to remind us – and we certainly don’t need to reminded that it was 30 years ago (where does the time go?). In the first few seconds the studio trailer already puts our thoughts immediately toward the original. You just can’t live in Bill Murray’s shadow. It’s all going to be downhill from there. On top of the visuals we also get this haunting piano version of the theme song – even further tugging on our nostalgia strings.

Ghostbusters Graffiti

What the fan trailer does differently is start with a “monster mash” creepy but corny type sound track – and we get only a flash of the Ghostbusters headquarters – a flash of the Ghostbusters graffiti. We’re not idiots – we know what those are without a text scroll to tell us. What the fan trailer gets right is to just give us a glimpse – enough to recognize the symbolism but not enough time to linger and recall the original. The Ecto-1 and Slimer get similar treatment – it’s in the film all but 10 frames or so – it’s enough to spark recognition but not comparison to the original.

In other words: the studio trailer says, “Hey, you remember that film you loved that came out 30 years ago? We’re going to completely redo it!”

Whereas the fan trailer says, “Hey check this film about Ghostbusters, it’s a new crew but you might recognize some things”

It’s a slight difference but it’s enough.

The second advantage the fan trailer has is it has a consistent tone. After the introduction, Ray Parker’s Jr’s iconic song runs throughout keeping things moving and light hearted. The studio trailer is constantly switching tones: from nostalgic, to dark, to funny, to exposition, to funny, back to exposition, back to funny and nostalgic, to epic action special effects, to funny, to epic again with more exposition, to funny, to epic, to scary, to action film, to funny and then cut to logo. Each of those transitions is pounded into our skulls with abrupt musical cues – it’s just way too over produced.

Now some on the YouTube comment section point out that the film itself is still awful – that is something we do not know and won’t know until the film gets released. But just as a good trailer can make a terrible movie look good – a bad trailer can make a good movie look horrible. Hopefully Sony’s trailer falls in the latter camp because I’m still rooting for all those involved. Those overwrought jokes in the studio trailer may actually work well in the context of the film once we get to know the characters better. After all comedy is all about timing and recutting jokes for a trailer throws everything off.

But in this case of studio vs fan trailer it’s really amazing how less is infinitely more.

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