Widescreen! Cinemascope! Panavision! Since the early days of cinema, movie screens have been getting steadily wider. From the squat 4:3 aspect ratio of early 20th century silent movies, through the explosion of sprawling widescreen film formats that began in the 1950s, to today's ever-expanding domestic TV screens, the trend is clear: bigger is better … but only if you stretch things in the horizontal dimension.
But what happens if you turn this thinking on its head? Or rather, on its side?
That's the question posed by Vertical Cinema, a Sonic Acts art project comprising ten specially commissioned films made by experimental filmmakers and audiovisual artists. Vertical Cinema presentations have been held since 2013 at locations across Europe and in the USA, with the films frequently being projected in churches. The movies are projected using a custom-built 35mm film projector in vertical Cinemascope. No landscape images here. In Vertical Cinema, everything is portrait.
Here's what Vertical Cinema has to say about this unusual twist on traditional cinematic conventions:
For the Vertical Cinema project, we "abandoned" traditional cinema formats, opting instead for cinematic experiments that are designed for projection in a tall, narrow space. It is not an invitation to leave cinemas – which have been radically transformed over the past decade according to the diktat of the commercial film market – but a provocation to expand the image onto a new axis. This project re-thinks the actual projection space and returns it to the filmmakers. It proposes a future for filmmaking rather than a pessimistic debate over the alleged death of film.
With its mission to challenge established conventions, Vertical Cinema wears its experimental heart firmly on its sleeve. But what's to stop someone making a full-blown narrative feature film in this unusual vertical format? On the face of it, the challenges seem considerable. The entire movie industry is built around the landscape image. Even if you could get such a film made at a technical level, would the vertical format clip your storytelling wings? And would audiences actually want to see it?
To answer these questions and more, Cinefex spoke with six filmmakers and visual effects experts: Douglas Trumbull (filmmaker and VFX innovator), Tim Webber (creative director and VFX supervisor, Framestore), Rajat Roy (global technical supervisor, Prime Focus World), Paul Mowbray (head of NSC Creative), Marc Weigert (president and VFX supervisor, Method Studios) and Charles Rose (CG supervisor, Tippett Studio).