Getting creative with vertical: Approaching the 9:16 format for Nespresso Talents.

Filmmaking techniques • Written by Ellie Cameron-Krepp & Maggie Joyner

Each year for Nespresso Talents, filmmakers are invited to explore new angles and push the boundaries of traditional filmmaking by creating short films using a 9:16 aspect ratio – for the opportunity to be flown to Cannes Film Festival and win awards from a pool of €50,000. For those new to the format or just looking for some inspiration, we’ve put together a few tips (and examples of previous winners) to help you embrace vertical.

1. Creativity is key (and you can break the rules)

Starting from scratch with a creative idea can be one of the harder parts of the process – but as long as your film explores the 2021 theme ‘Doing is Everything’, the rest is up to you. Whether you want to get creative with the theme or with the format – think about how you can break the traditional rules of filmmaking. The normal conventions of 16:9 video don’t need to apply – so try to surprise audiences with unique storytelling and a clever use of the vertical format. 

2. Start exploring new angles and shots.

From storyboarding through to on-set, consider how to enhance your angles and shots to convey emotion and tell your story. If you’re not sure where to start – consider how you might highlight tall subjects (like buildings, trees or waterfalls) or up and down movements to use the space. Birds eye or super high and low angles can also give you more room to play with!

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'Flubér' by Oliver Beaujard & Nina Zardalishvili

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'Virtuous Love' by Victor Hanotel & Déborah

3. Shoot vertically or mark your camera.

Although it can be tempting to film horizontally and crop to 9:16, it can pay off to turn your camera around and shoot vertically. Being forced to consider the composition when you’re filming will give you a lot more control over the full frame – plus you’ll maintain the video resolution for sharper images. If you would prefer to crop the footage in post, just make sure you mark your camera display or monitor with 9:16 guides for shooting – so you can still clearly see what will be in frame. Find more tips on that here

4. You don’t need a fancy camera.

You don’t need the most expensive camera to be able to tell a good story or make a great film – and for vertical filmmaking, you probably have a great camera right at your fingertips. Most new phones can film at 4K – which Apple cleverly highlighted by commissioning award winning director Damien Chazelle (‘Whiplash’ and ‘La La Land’) to create this vertical short film, shot entirely on the iPhone. For Nespresso Talents, the jury will still be looking for high production values – so if you are shooting on a phone, make sure you consider how using add-on lenses, tripods, handheld rigs and capturing audio externally will help elevate your film.

5. Don’t limit your storytelling.

No matter how creative your approach to the 9:16 format might be – storytelling is still key. So while you might want to wow with your vertical imagery – don’t forget that Nespresso are looking for unique and engaging short films that tell stories from the heart. Make sure you use the theme to inspire your idea, and then embrace the vertical ratio to tell your story in a creative and captivating way.

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'Unlocked' by Alexandros Tsilifonis

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'Karafiát' by Diana Horka

6. Make full use of the space available.

Don’t be scared to fill the frame! Although our attention will naturally be drawn to the centre of the screen, think about how you can direct the audience’s eyes to make the most of the full vertical canvas. Whether you’re using wide shots, close ups, animation or something else – keep thinking about the top and bottom of the screen and whether you’re utilising all the space available. 

7. Be deliberate with movement.

Camera movement can be exaggerated in vertical formats, so try to keep any movement subtle and natural. Try to avoid shaky handheld shots, quick pans or big movements –  unless it’s a very specific creative decision. Horizontal movement is not the best use of vertical, so if subjects are moving, try having them move towards or away from the camera (as opposed to across the screen) which will help you create more depth. 

8. Animators have a blank canvas.

If you’re an experienced animator or just curious to give it a go – the vertical format is an exciting blank canvas! From stop motion and motion design through to full 3D animation – you have the freedom to carefully create every element on screen – and make the most of the space.

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'The one about the shirt' by Daniela Hýbnerová

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'Un mirlo, un árbol, una tele' by Francisco Najera

9. Get creative in post-production.

Ready for the edit? Be sure to set up the correct frame size in your sequence settings, so that you’re working in 9:16 from the get go. If you did shoot your footage horizontally, be sure to crop and resize correctly – and avoid black bars at all costs! Your editing style will depend on the project, but don’t be afraid to explore VFX, motion design, sound design, captivating titles and even techniques like splitting the screen in half, thirds or a grid to highlight multiple clips at once.

10. Find some inspiration.

Looking for some inspiration from other vertical short films? Check out previous editions of Nespresso Talents here to see how previous winners and shortlisted filmmakers around the world have told their stories in 9:16.

Nespresso is inviting filmmakers to submit a 2-3 minute vertical short film around this year’s theme ‘Doing is Everything’ for the opportunity to be flown to Cannes Film Festival and win prizes from a pool of €50,000. Join Nespresso Talents here.


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