Have you ever been annoyed by a YouTube clip that’s shot vertically on someone’s iPhone? Of course you have. But things are about to get a whole lot worse, because Argentine filmmakers Gonzalo Moiguer and Rodrigo Melendez are filming Todas Las Estrellas Están Muertas (“All The Stars Are Dead”) completely in portrait mode. It’s a film that chronicles actors who steal phones, then horn in on the owners’ lives.
You can see the first teaser here. And yes, those are massive, black bars you see on the right and left sides of the Vimeo window, the two sad crutches of a piece of media that grew too tall to support itself.
You aren’t wrong for hating videos shot vertically. Since Thomas Edison defined the standard of 35mm film frames in the 1890s, the medium has had a bias toward the horizontal. There are reasons–coming down to the very design and consumption of media production–that have made wide-aspect films the status quo. Notably, human vision is wider than it is tall. You see roughly 200 degrees horizontally, and 120 degrees vertically [pdf]. Wide films exploit the way human vision has evolved.
And because of gravity, the landscapes in which we live are wide, too. Your home probably has rooms that are wider than they are tall because you walk rather than fly around them. Even skyscrapers are really just portrait constructions in which we layer many of these landscape experiences. So if films follow the stories of people through their lives, it only makes sense that the films would be cropped wide, to follow human action.
Of course, the filmmakers aren’t after good design–they’re after provocative art–which is why they told Gizmodo, “If we don’t question the way we produce [film], then the art form is dead.” We can’t fault them for that, but we can recognize why their artistic statement is so grating, and why even if it’s easier to hold your phone in portrait mode to shoot a video, our landscape film screens, TVs, and computer monitors aren’t going anywhere soon.