Legendary director David Lynch famously railed against the phone screen as a destination for filmmaking on the DVD extras for Inland Empire. “It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your fucking telephone. Get real!” he said. Well, that was 2007, when the first iPhone was still a flashy new gadget.
Things have moved on since then. These days mobile devices are a perfectly legitimate medium for great filmmaking to end up on. And that filmmaking doesn’t have to be in the traditional landscape format. Colenso BBDO knows this. And, working with New Zealand telecoms brand Spark and Facebook, they’re trying to prove it to everyone with the inaugural Tall Shorts Film Festival - a vertical-format film festival for the mobile age.
The Festival's call for entries asks that submissions be no longer than two minutes, that they are shot in portrait format and that they incorporate the theme of light. Entries are open here until May 10th and will be judged – live on Facebook - by iconic Kiwi director Taika Waititi. The winning film will be promoted by Spark and the filmmaker will receive a $10,000 (NZ) prize.
LBB’s Alex Reeves chatted to Dan Wright, executive creative director at Colenso BBDO, about the impact they hope to make with the festival.
LBB> How did the idea first come about and then develop?
DW> The Tall Shorts Film Festival came from another film project for Spark - Dot, the lonely story of a simple grey dot - the kind you see bouncing on your phone when someone’s typing a reply to a message. It was a story set on a phone and made to be viewed on a phone, so it was a no-brainer that it should be a tall film. We loved the process and the challenges that the format threw at us.
Dot had a very stripped-back aesthetic. We were squeezing expression out of a grey circle. It meant we were constantly looking for cinematic references and techniques to help the communication. We loved the idea of bringing the craft and attention of our biggest screens to the one that most carry in their pocket.
Tall Shorts was the result. An annual call for filmmakers to test the limits of their most familiar screen, with a promise they’ll be seen by our most world-famous directors.
LBB> Why and how did you get Facebook on board?
DW> We collaborate with Facebook as much as we can. There are very clever people there who have been working hard to help brands behave more like they belong on mobile. I think Facebook loved the idea for the same reasons Spark did - they’re two brands that are both right at home on your smartphone, both in the business of entertainment, and both fierce advocates of creativity.
LBB> Why was the theme of light decided on?
DW> It’s the essential element of filmmaking.
And, conveniently, it’s also the approximate weight of your smartphone.
LBB> How did you get Taika Waititi involved? And why was he the right choice? It's great to see respected filmmakers like him embracing the portrait format, considering the opinions of people like David Lynch a few years ago.
DW> I think we’ve come a long way in terms of accepting different formats. From the days of thinking people shooting on their phones gave no thought to the viewing experience, to realising that often, portrait IS the viewing experience. Tall Shorts is a project, inspired by viewers, that’s become a brief for creators. We’re not imposing a point of view, but exploring an opportunity that the audience has opened up. I think that’s why Taika was into it – exploring is fun. And, history has shown, quite often you find something you’ve never seen before.
LBB> What sort of creative innovation do you expect to come out of the restrictions you're imposing for the festival?
DW> I’m looking forward to seeing people find the stories that have been screaming out to be told in tall format. Maybe they’re stories that have suffered a little from being told in widescreen all these years. Maybe they’re films no-one’s bothered to make before because they just haven’t quite fit.
I can’t wait to see people use the limited width to their advantage for reveals and omissions. And for that uncomfortable feeling you get when there’s a psycho killer in the house and everyone’s dead and the sole-survivor has their face very close to the edge of frame. There’s probably a name for that. I’ll ask Taika and get back to you.
LBB> What do you think lies in the future for portrait filmmaking? My gut feeling is that wide screens will never go away because humans naturally see in widescreen.
DW> We’re not expecting portrait to replace landscape. We’re responding to something people are doing right now. Right now, people are holding high-quality screens in their hands. Some of them are reading this on them, loads of them are watching video content on them, and many of those (regardless of what they’re watching) are holding their phones the way it’s most comfy - vertically. So, it’s not about replacing. But it probably is another fragmenting. Another thing we can’t just do one way anymore.