The recent premiere of Cyrene Quiamco’s (@CyreneQ) “25 Unconventional Ways to Live Life” at the Bentonville Film Festival and subsequent posting on YouTube was a cause for reflection for me. As I thought about the landscape of vertical video in mid-2017, I was struck by a powerful parallel. As I composed the following tweet about the first four feature length vertical film directors:
— David Neal (@WalrusWinks) May 11, 2017
I realized that the current situation in vertical video very closely mirrors what was happening with computer programming in the mid-1980s. For those of you who know something of the history of technology, you may be aware that the mid-80s was the zenith of the female graduation rate in Computer Science. (If you are unfamiliar with this, see e.g. this NPR podcast transcript.) With the advent of the personal computer, computer programming started to change from a relatively minor, large organization’s industry into the “wild west” silicon valley hacker culture that we associate with it today. Part of that change was the transition to the male-dominated industry we have now, from a situation where women, if not necessarily always in the majority, were a significant part of the picture.
The title of this post “Vertical Cinema Manifesto” (VCM) is taken from the 2013 video by Miriam Ross and Maddy Glenn of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Created as a direct response to the widely watched and referenced video “Vertical Video Syndrome” on the Glove & Boots blog, VCM took a tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject that is also apropos to my thesis here. They modeled their rebuttal to the suffrage movement and the male domination of the Cinema that we are all aware of. However, as it turns out, “serious” Vertical Video production at the present is indeed dominated by woman practitioners! This is true in the larger volume of short form video as well as the small number of feature length vertical videos. Of the 50+ videos in my retrospective of the first 10 years of vertical video, many, and indeed most of the best, were directed by women.
So, well and good, you might say, women are doing well in vertical video. Hooray. Not so fast, say I. Right now, vertical video is in transition from a obscure, much-maligned, mostly amateur field to a potentially lucrative professional one. Currently the advertising industry is pilling on the vertical bandwagon. The journalism industry, in particular mobile journalism (mojo) is not far behind advertising in uptake. What does this mean? Basically, the money is starting to flow into vertical video, and with money is power, and it is here that I see the potential, indeed almost inevitability, that women will be pushed out. That is what happened in Tech, and I am afraid of seeing history repeat itself.
So here is my manifesto: Let’s not push women out of Vertical Video. They have been a driving force in the production of vertical video so far and among it’s most creative and outspoken voices. Let us guys not just barge in and grab the money, power, and glory (assuming there is any) but let us rather partner and share with the women who helped get Vertical Video beyond its early ridicule. This is not just going to magically happen, it will take effort and money but hopefully we can keep history from repeating itself here if we are vigilant and proactive.