As It Happens

Why this director thinks smartphone-friendly vertical films are the future

Timur Bekmambetov's new film V2. Escape From Hell, is advertised as the "world's first vertical format blockbuster." The Russian director says it's time other filmmakers start adapting to meet the needs of smartphone users.

Russia's Timur Bekmambetov is filming a vertical movie to cater to mobile viewers

Timur Bekmambetov is the Russian filmmaker behind the forthcoming vertical film, V2. Escape From Hell. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)


Timur Bekmambetov's films are generally high-paced, and his latest feature is a straight-up action movie — straight up as in it will have plenty of action, but also because it will be shot entirely in the vertical orientation many people use to watch and post videos on their phones.

The forthcoming film is called V2. Escape From Hell and it is being advertised as the world's first vertical format blockbuster.

"We are just starting this adventure," Bekmambetov told As It Happens host Carol Off.

The Russian director and producer is known for his 2008 blockbuster Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy as professional assassins with superhuman abilities.

But he has also found success with his films Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web, which experimented with film formats by using screencasts from Macbook laptops.

Bekmambetov says it's time that filmmakers start adapting to the needs of viewers who want to consume content on the go. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Bekmambetov says vertical film is a logical next step in his experimentation given how most people consume their content now on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

"People are consuming on their mobile phones and it's weird that the filmmakers don't care about the audience," Bekmambetov said.

"Of course, it's not what we studied in our film schools. It's not how we made our movies. But it's today's world and we need to adapt ourselves and I don't know — find some something new."

Bekmambetov admits that horizontal film is a more natural alignment for the human eye to view. But he points out that once a viewer is on the move, everything changes.

"When you're mobile, when you are on your way, when you're exploring new territories and new worlds — then you have a vertical screen in your hands," Bekmambetov said.

Bekmambetov, left, on the set of his new vertical format film, V2. Escape From Hell. (Vladlen Maslenikov)

Bekmambetov says that filmmakers should also start considering the attention span of viewers, which may be limited if they are consuming content on the go.

"I'm not saying that we should shut down all theatres, for sure. I'm just saying that we need to learn how to make people's life more meaningful," Bekmambetov said. "And it's the only way to do it — if we will make content for them when they are moving on their mobile."

With all that in mind, Bekmambetov says he has tailored V2. Escape From Hell to best suit the needs of viewers watching on their mobile device. Even the plot, which revolves around a man who escaped a concentration camp in Germany in 1945, Bekmambetov describes as an intimate portrait piece — not landscape, or horizontal.

"Metaphorically, it's only way to make this movie right — to make it vertical," Bekmambetov said.

"It's a movie about the hero, about the man. It's not about landscapes. It's not about views. It's not about beautiful mountains or concentration camp wires. It's about his face, his figure, his soul, his story. It's about this person. That's why portrait works perfect."

Bekmambetov says V2. Escape From Hell is character-driven and a portrait piece so it only makes sense to shoot it vertically as well. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Bekmambetov says he is still learning the value of experimenting with the vertical format but suggests that there is a more direct connection between the character and individual viewer with this new format.

"When you're talking about the horizontal it's more for the audience," Bekmambetov said.

"But mobile phone, it's a personal relationship between character and the viewer. It's very different rules. I don't know yet what it is. I mean, I'm in the process of making this movie. But I'm telling you that there's a very different dynamic."

That said, Bekmambetov is still planning to release the film in both formats — with both a theatrical horizontal and phone-friendly vertical release. The film is scheduled to be released in February 2021.

Written by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes and John McGill. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.


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