By Matt McGregor
In June 2012, Youtube user ‘gloveandboots’ released ‘The Vertical Video Syndrome – A PSA,’ a video poking fun at film-makers who hold their camera-phone vertically. Common across Youtube, videos shot vertically have two black bands of empty space framing the video, as you can see the screenshot, below.
The Vertical Video Syndrome quickly went viral, picking up over three million views on Youtube. Noticing the popularity of the video, Miriam Ross—an academic and filmmaker based in Wellington, New Zealand—decided to respond. With research assistant Maddy Glen, Miriam produced the Vertical Cinema Manifesto, arguing that Vertical Cinema was, in fact, a legitimate cinematic form.
As Miriam explains, “The ‘Vertical Video Syndrome was very humorous, but when you see it getting circulated online, it’s used as a form of policing.
“We wanted to get away from that. We wanted to say, we have all these new tools, let’s see what can happen. It’s all very experimental. Hopefully the manifesto is a celebration of what can be done.”
The result was a close parody of the Vertical Cinema Syndrome. Replete with quotes from feminist film scholar Laura Mulvey,The result was a close parody of the Vertical Cinema Syndrome. Replete with quotes from feminist film scholar Laura Mulvey, the film closes with six recommendations, the forth of which reads, “A Creative Commons licence must be used.”
The ideas around the manifesto tied into an honours film course Miriam was teaching at the time, on DIY filmmaking. “That paper framed the project. Part of that is trying to move away from the hierarchies around filmmaking–the idea that there’s a ‘best way’ to make films.
“We were looking at how people use the technology they have in their hands to make films with no budget or resources. Obviously, with DIY filmmaking the Creative Commons licences became very interesting. It tied into both the courses I teach and our project. Because we’ve got no money, we’ve been wanting to find material we can use for free. But we also want to take part in this Creative Commons culture that’s going round now, where people are licensing their work for free.”
Miriam is also interested in how DIY filmmakers remix and reuse other cultural works. As she points out, “There’s a lot of debate now, because video essays are becoming more popular. Film academics who are using video clips, and sometimes using voiceover to narrate the clips, and that’s could come up against copyright.”
As Miriam points out, one of the problems is that New Zealand lacks the broad Fair Use allowances enjoyed in the US. Even the Vertical Cinema Manifesto itself, which uses small parts of several copyright films, could occupy a grey area, despite New Zealand’s Fair Dealing exceptions for criticism and review.
“It is tricky. One of the things I teach in my course is mashups and video remixes. They are a huge part of our contemporary culture, and they’re all operating in this grey area. It’s strange because the companies, especially film companies, want their films talked about. The mashups are often a form of advertising for them, but they still aren’t promoting this sort of use.”
More recently, Miriam and Maddy produced Heaven, a short ‘vertical’ film currently under consideration for film festivals. “It’s an exploration of what we can do with very little resources and money, using new technologies.”
This film, like the Manifesto itself, was made collaboratively with friends and colleagues, and will carry a Creative Commons licence when released.
“That’s what’s great about Creative Commons. It encourages people to take something and just see what they can do with it. That’s the kind of spirit I want to see more of. Instead of trying to be an auteur starting from scratch to make something unique and singular, why not build on what other people are doing to create something that’s maybe more hybrid, but maybe more exciting as a result.”