Whiplash director Damien Chazelle shows how the future of cinema could be vertical

The Oscar winner behind La La Land and First Man uses his short film for Apple to experiment with turning historic Hollywood tropes on their side.

10 August 2020
Reading Time
3 minutes


Damien Chazelle, the Oscar winning director behind La La Land, Whiplash and First Man, has directed a short film for Apple’s Shot on iPhone campaign by TBWA\Media Arts Lab, experimenting with how the tropes of cinema could be more impactful in a vertical aspect ratio. Vertical Cinema is a nostalgic trip through cinematic history from the perspective of a weary stunt double, who is always swapped out just before a film’s crucial moment. The protagonist segues from black-and-white capers to action movies, westerns and musicals, with each segment used to show how visual signifiers from those types of films – for example the fall from a skyscraper, a quickdraw duel, or a glamorous entrance via a tall carpeted staircase – can be enhanced by a vertical viewpoint.

Chazelle says in a behind-the-scenes film, that the process made him reassess the process of filmmaking from a different, more naive perspective: “I just think back to when I was a kid playing with much less sophisticated technologies than a phone, little VHS camcorders, trying to do my version of Hollywood movies with what I had.” For Vertical Cinema there was also a learning curve involved in using an iPhone differently and “getting to know, in a deeper way, a camera I thought I knew so intimately,” Chazelle continues. “We would constantly realise things that it could do that we didn’t know it could do.”


Damien Chazelle and TBWA\Media Arts Lab: Vertical Cinema

The ad strategically annotates Chazelle’s film with details of said functions, for example the iPhone’s extended dynamic range tool, video stabilisation capability and ultra wide lens mode.

The director says he hopes the film “throws out a few ideas that people can play with on their own at home” and encourages people to think outside the box, or the vertical frame, as it were. In this new format, he describes how you can get an audience looking up and down, instead of left and right, and focusing on different details as well as providing a fresh outlook on a scene. The making-of video also features interviews with other members of the crew, such as costume designer April Napier and prop master Kris Peck, on how the vertical aspect changes the effects of their roles too – from a panoramic view to an elongated one.

Chazelle continues: “There’s no reason we can’t be a little more free thinking about it, the same way painters long ago decided, well, if I want to paint an image like this I’ll paint it vertically, this’ll be horizontal… it’s trying to think of a moving image as a more of a blank page.” He describes the film as a “beginning step,” saying “there’s a lot more that could be done… it’s about asking the question, what happens if we flip any sort of aspect of filmmaking that we take for granted on its side? What things stay the same and what things completely change?”

TBWA\Media Arts Lab also masterminded Apple’s Behind the Mac series of ads, which recently saw Tyler Mitchell show the makings of a photoshoot in his bedroom, and UK creatives from Michaela Coel to Edward Enninful, Anthony Burrill, Grayson Perry and Alva Skog reveal their MacBook allegiance.

GalleryDamien Chazelle and TBWA\Media Arts Lab: Vertical Cinema

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent over a decade working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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