Chinese vertical dramas made for phone viewing show the future of mobile
July 21, 2019 8:51 PM   Subscribe

What’s remarkable about vertical drama is that it’s not just any scripted content cropped for a vertical aspect ratio. These shows are specifically imagined for the mobile screen from the ground up.

The large film screen, through its overwhelming size, attempts to immerse the cinema-goer in another world. The mobile screen, which in this sense is the opposite of film, doesn’t concern itself with immersion, but rather provides a tiny surreal portal into the universe of its content. It is this surreal distinction of the small mobile display from its real world surroundings that allows viewers to accept its supernatural visual language: faster, denser, and more information-rich than the real world can offer.

Some other examples: Instagram launched IGTV in 2018, and is pushing creators to explore what’s possible for mobile video. Netflix introduced vertical 30-second previews, and is now experimenting with mobile-first features like vibrating movies. Spotify is releasing vertical music videos. Snap is delivering plenty of premium mobile video content with its Snap Originals, and has more on the way.
posted by monospace (24 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Just say no.

Seriously tho, this is really cool.
posted by Zedcaster at 9:38 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

These are really cool. Aspect ratio isn't accidentally successful, but dogma around it is generally useless. Working in AV for a few years, I got very used to the taste of that bullshit. Experimentation in this field is what we need. And this looks gorgeous.
also, here's this lovably pedantic asshole breaking down visual media formats.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:33 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I totally get that there are situations where vertical video makes sense. It's portrait mode, damnit! Nothing wrong with that.

But... there are playback and remixing issues. I just hate when vertical video is padded with blurry mirrors of the video itself. I hate when vertical video won't play vertically on my phone but is instead a padded shrunken landscape version of the original video (hence about 1/8 of the useful screen). Video players have to get smarter about this. (According to a search I just did, YouTube's recently improved this but I haven't yet noticed it in real life.)

Whatever the composition issues in the original work, portrait is harder to to remix than landscape. Landscape works better in online articles, blogs, on large TV monitors, as well as in (ugh) facebook and twitter. Portrait generally requires left- or right-float layouts which can work but are tricky across different form factors and are in any case not well supported in many publishing systems.

I don't begrudge anyone's choice when taking a portrait mode video (or photo). It's totally valid if consciously chosen (but often people do it by default because vertical is the "natural" position of their phones). "In the modern world of today", playback options for vertical video (& photos) aren't close to optimal. I choose landscape by default unless there's a strong compositional reason portrait makes more sense (e.g., portraits). If there's no compelling aesthetic reason for portrait mode, the practical advantages of landscape mode prevail (for me, in most cases).
posted by sjswitzer at 12:26 AM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

FWIW, I appreciate that the FPP is pointing out how the prospects for portrait-mode video are improving. I applaud that and agree that it's worth pursuing. The reasons to dislike "vertical video" today are not entirely knee-jerk. Technological changes which are (per FPP) in progress will do a lot to address those reasons.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:39 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think its brilliant.
posted by newpotato at 3:33 AM on July 22, 2019

Yup, I really like the new ideas show in the main link. Of course it's not great when videos filmed and designed for landscape viewing are stretched or cropped for portrait, but that's really not what these Chinese "vertical dramas" are about.
posted by adrianhon at 3:59 AM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it’s discovering the narrative possibilities of a new medium. Remember that the landscape-like “widescreen” is actually a relatively late development - CinemaScope (2.66:1) appears in about 1953. The way we use screens themselves tends to advance after the technology becomes available. The crucial point about ‘vertical drama’ is that it’s responding to how we use a smartphone. It’s awkward and kind of annoying to hold your phone in landscape mode to watch media. Vertical drama allows full use of the screen and finds new techniques to do it. It’s brilliant - I think the visual language will quickly spread to music videos (particularly K-Pop).

It’s taken a while, but now I’m actually excited about mobile media again!
posted by prismatic7 at 4:59 AM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

The other day I learned that some artists will have vertical music videos posted to YouTube as well. An example: Camila Cabello - Havana (Vertical Video) ft. Young Thug.

This confused me very much, as I have been unable to get YouTube to have a player with a matching aspect ratio. Even on my phone, as soon as I press full screen, it will be letterboxed into landscape mode. Does anyone know if there is a way for these vertical videos on YouTube to be played vertically?
posted by Martijn at 5:44 AM on July 22, 2019

The split screen tension release in the first link is fascinating.
posted by lucidium at 5:55 AM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thanks, I hate it.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:03 AM on July 22, 2019

Imaging the first major cinema release to do this - go to the movie theatre and get to sit there with your phone watching the new release, which is live-streaming to all the phones simultaneously, with cinema quality sound playing the audio. Of course you’d have to bring a second phone obviously so you could sit there and text while watching the movie on the first phone ....,,
posted by inflatablekiwi at 7:14 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The split screen tension release in the first link is fascinating.

That was the first thing that grabbed me as well. Not in love with the idea that every narrative needs to be short and "snackable" (I hate that word). But any medium that makes creators start to think differently about how to tell a story is a new opportunity to write something truly new. And that's not something that happens all that often.
posted by Mchelly at 7:27 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it’s discovering the narrative possibilities of a new medium.

And (probably inadvertently) returning to the format used by 30-line mechanical television circa 1930.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:28 AM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I tried following the links, but my Chinese is nonexistent -- If I wanted to watch My Idiot Boyfriend or Ugh! Life! - how / where would I find them?
posted by Mchelly at 7:33 AM on July 22, 2019

> lucidium: The split screen tension release in the first link is fascinating.

Yeah, I came in to say the same thing. I think there is a lot of potential here, especially because humans, mostly, are in portrait mode. Our bodies and our faces. There are also cool possibilities in terms of "handheld" video that switches from vertical to horizontal, and then trusts the viewer to reorient their screen appropriately. I don't think current players are designed for that, but maybe down the road.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:33 AM on July 22, 2019

It seems like you could also do interesting things this way with panoramic video designed to be watched in portrait mode but requiring the user to move their phone around to see the whole picture, maybe using some of the tricks from video games to get the viewer to look where you want them to (and also maybe designed for multiple views to really get what is happening).
posted by straight at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

My wife spends more time watching Chinese and Korean dramas on her phone than doing basically anything else, thanks to constant health concerns. She doesn't have any trouble turning her phone 90° however, so I'm not convinced this is something that benefits her.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:48 AM on July 22, 2019

This is very cool! I've been waiting for media to adapt to the phone as used by people. Video designed for a vertical format seems so much more intimate than widescreen video when viewed on your phone. I won't watch normal video on my phone (it's a small screen, why would I subject myself to that?) but would watch this type of video on it, without question.
posted by maxwelton at 10:28 AM on July 22, 2019

humans, mostly, are in portrait mode

vertical format seems so much more intimate than widescreen video

I think these two go together. A middle-distance shot of a person seen on a phone in landscape mode looks very tiny and far away, but the same shot of a person in landscape mode fills your screen and looks much bigger/closer.
posted by straight at 11:36 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I experimented with taking some hyperlapse videos while running this weekend, and specifically for forward movement, the shooting vertically led to a good feel of a run/chase/forward ready. With the landscape recording, when moving forward so much of the viewpoint wasn't about picking out the path, but just leaves wooshing by. When I know I was going up/down hills one couldn't even tell in the horizontal rotation.

However, I see a big future in jump scares for vertically filmed video as one really feels the limited viewpoint a bit more. The narrow field of view of VR (albeit much less limited than I think a phone screen would feel) I feel adds to jump scares in horror games in VR.
posted by nobeagle at 1:05 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ahhh, because lazy / ignorant people keep taking vertical videos with their phones, we now have a whole new art form?
posted by njohnson23 at 6:11 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ahhh, because lazy / ignorant people keep taking vertical videos with their phones, we now have a whole new art form?

Pretty cool, isn't it, that the intuitive way to take video on your phone, given the form factor and what-not, has spawned something neat? Glad you're as stoked as I am.

If "vertical" video was really such a no-no, why can a phone not take a "landscape" video when held in the much more natural "portrait" position? Especially now that sensors are so big most of the extra pixels are being thrown out, especially when recording video? Oh, well, blame those stupid users! Works for me!
posted by maxwelton at 8:35 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

If "vertical" video was really such a no-no, why can a phone not take a "landscape" video when held in the much more natural "portrait" position?

It would be hard to watch as you were filming to see if you were framing things right because the picture on your screen would either be sideways or very small.

But probably not smaller than the little eyepiece we used to use on actual video cameras.
posted by straight at 10:26 PM on July 22, 2019

It drives me bananas to watch a vertical video where someone is panning frantically between two subjects that would both fit in the frame landscape. Our eyes are in landscape orientation, video should be in landscape orientation.

/me waves cane at clouds
posted by Fleebnork at 7:56 AM on July 23, 2019

« Older Do Good Recklessly   |   Under the sea Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments