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Vertical Movies, Here We Come: First Up Is Timur Bekmambetov’s $10 Million War Drama

The digital-filmmaking pioneer thinks audiences are ready for the world's first vertically shot blockbuster.

Producer Timur Bekmambetov for 'Unfriended: Dark Web'Deadline Studio Portraits at SXSW Presented by MoviePass, Day 2, Austin, USA - 10 Mar 2018

Timur Bekmambetov

Michael Buckner/Deadline/REX/Shutterstock

In the early days of smartphone video, shooting something vertically amounted to sacrilege to many purists who believed only in landscape orientation. Snapchat and TikTok eroded that sentiment enough that the upcoming Quibi platform will let viewers watch mobile-only shows both vertically and horizontally. Now, pioneering filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov is taking it a step further: His upcoming $10 million film “V2. Escape From Hell” is a World War II drama shot with vertical framing and smartphone audiences in mind.

Deadline reports the movie will be the world’s first blockbuster shot in that orientation. Production starts next week on the Russian film, starring Pavel Priluchny as Mikhail Devyatayev, a captured Soviet pilot who leads an escape from a German concentration camp by hijacking an aircraft.

The fact-based film is produced by Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs and Voenfilm in partnership with Russia’s biggest mobile phone operator MTS, which will release the Russian version on its digital platform early next year.

A second English-language version will also be produced. It will will include different scenes and will open with the Luftwaffe bombing raids against London.

In an IndieWire profile of Bekmambetov in 2018, the Russian filmmaker discussed his dissatisfaction with current movies that use traditional production methods — everything, he said, feels derivative.

He’s produced several movies using Screenlife software, which allows filmmakers to create movies where the action takes place on a computer screen. Among them is “Unfriended: Dark Web,” the sequel to the 2014 found-footage horror film whose story unfolds through Skype conversations. The original was produced for $1 million, acquired by Universal, and went on to gross over $16 million. The similarly budgeted sequel grossed $16.4 million for Universal.

Bekmambetov also produced the vertical series “Dead of Night,” which was released on Snapchat in September. It followed a girl trying to escape a zombie apocalypse.

Quibi is banking that audiences are ready to consume Hollywood-produced content in vertical form. When the platform launches April 6, it will be available only on phones and tablets. Each series or movie is produced to natively display in either vertical or horizontal form. Viewers can switch seamlessly back and forth thanks to the company’s Turnstile technology. Some vertical views offer a re-cut or reframed version of what’s shown horizontally; other instances take a page out of Bekmambetov’s Screenlife playbook and offer a view of a character’s smartphone.

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