The Benefits of Vertical Video

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Vertical video. Among video professionals, the term may provoke feelings of frustration, anger, or disgust. Often it's been mocked and ridiculed as an invalid format choice (see below).

But vertical video is a preferred format for platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Already, vertical video has been added to my list of deliverables. Whenever I finish editing a project, I'm asked to create different versions, including one oriented vertically for social media. 

Last night I came across a thread on Twitter from Anthony Monteleone, a video editor I follow. He made some very good, rational arguments regarding vertical video I felt they were worth sharing and discussing. 

One immediate ramification I've seen in my own work with vertical video is that footage needs to be acquired in 4K. If you need to deliver vertically, it's nice to have that extra resolution to play around with when you have to scale up and crop in. Otherwise, the video can start to pixelate rather quickly.

What are your thoughts about the validity of vertical video? Continue the discussion in the Comments section below.

What I Learned From a Screenwriting Panel

During this year's IndieMemphis Film Festival, I had the opportunity to attend some panel discussions. One session featured writer/director Whit Stillman on screenwriting. It was interesting to listen as he retold his experiences in the industry and what he's learned over the years about the writing process. Here are a few bullet points I took away from the discussion:

  • If you are a first-time director and want to direct what you've written, focus on the simplest story you can tell.
  • The most valuable lessons learned about screenwriting are learned during the edit.
  • If you're looking for books on screenwriting, Stillman recommends Craft of the Screenwriter by John Brady, and Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field.
  • Don't think about the things that screenwriting books teach you while writing your first draft. That can be paralyzing. Just write and then go back and revise.
  • Build your dialogue on a point-counter point formula. When writing dialogue, allow your characters to speak in generalizations. When one character speaks the truth as he/she sees it, and makes general observations about the world, think about the counterpoints to that position/argument. As you (the writer) play Devil's Advocate to your own character's thoughts, those rebuttals can become the basis of dialogue for other characters in the scene.
  • Don't be afraid of things in life that get in the way of your writing. Those things can actually be helpful to you in the process. For example, if you are holding a day job and trying to write on the side, you may grow frustrated that the day job is interfering with your writing. However, the time away from your script is good for the process. It gives you distance from your own material and can help you to objectively approach the script at a later date.
  • Stillman doesn't put too much emphasis on writing a specific outline or treatment before writing. He doesn't like thinking too much about exactly how the story will end. He feels that can be too constrictive, locking the writer into conventional ideas and narratives. He advocates for letting the story go where it wants to as you write. He encourages writers to let the story grow and develop on its own.
  • It's easy to get bogged down in the note-writing/pre-writing phase. Writers can sometimes use that phase as an excuse to actually start writing. Don't be afraid to start.

I thought Stillman had some very good advice for aspiring screenwriters. But the great thing about writing is that there are no right or wrong methods. What works for one might not work for someone else. It's all about finding your own system and your own rhythm.

What are your writing habits? What works best for you? What advice would you give to other writers out there? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

DIY Filmmaking

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Part of growing as a filmmaker is listening to others who have been there before you and learning from their experiences. During this year's IndieMemphis Film Festival I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel discussion called "DIY Movies!: Past, Present, & Future."

On the panel were two filmmakers - Chris Strompolos (Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation) and Kentucker Audley (Open Five and the curator of NoBudge.com). They spoke about their respective projects and offered advice to filmmakers working with shoestring budgets. Here are a few lessons bullet points from their discussion:

  • Build a community by starting with those closest to you. Mine the talents of close friends and family members. Branch out from there. Ask those contacts to loop in some of their friends who may be interested in getting involved.
  • You will be surprised what you can get if you simply ask. It might not happen the very first time you ask, but be persistent. Ask for what you need and be specific. Also, when asking for a favor, focus on the benefit to that individual, organization, or business. Give them something in return for their favor. How can they benefit by fulfilling your request? 
  • Smaller communities are more receptive to film production. Therefore, they will be more likely to provide you with what you need at low/no cost to you. 
  • Be excited and passionate about your project. Others will feed off of your enthusiasm and will  be more inclined to get involved. 
  • When building a crew, ask them what they want out of the project. Some people are willing to work for credit only. Others need payment. Others may just need gas to/from the location and/or food.
  • Be decent to everyone on set. If people have a good experience, they will be more willing to promote your film, and that's crucial when faced with a low/no marketing budget. 
  • When trying to make money on the back end, partner with others. This may mean finding a charity relevant to your film and partnering for screenings where a percentage of proceeds go to the charity. You might rent a venue, sell advertising to local businesses and screen your film. You might partner with local artists and musicians and turn the screening into an event. 

What other advice do you have for DIY filmmakers? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.