Cinemá Vertécal Announces First Vertical Theater in World

Entertainment startup hopes to woo millennials with contemporary new format.

Cinemá Vertécal renderings of the former Emerson theater in Hollywood.

Vertical video has become a staple in the new mobile-first world of storytelling. Companies like Snapchat and Periscope have ushered in a new way of creating content. VF or VV, as it is sometimes called, has seen greater adoption over the past few years, as younger viewers signal their preference of consuming content in this newly popular style.

Because of its acceptance and mass appeal, vertical video is now being taken seriously by filmmakers, looking to create an art form the traditional 16 x 9 aspect ratio cannot accommodate.

Yet, many complain that the industry is not catching up to the trend, and distribution of this new aspect ratio is limited to handheld devices, which do not properly tell the story.

Enter in Cinemá Vertécal, a progressive company hoping to change all that. This Santa-Monica-based startup announced today it will be ushering in the first movie theater catered to vertical filmmakers, and consequently, those who prefer content consumption in that format.

Romeo Cervas and Craig Nelson are the co-founders of Cinemá Vertécal, named as an homage to the reality filmmaking style known as Cinemá Verité, which literally means “truth.” These film buffs hope to wake the entire industry up to this new way of making and consuming film.

“Beyond CG, there has not been a great deal of innovation in film over the last 25 years,” said Romeo, “So experimenting with new contemporary formats may be the thing the industry needs to attract and retain an audience.”

On set of Jim Craig’s VF Thriller, The Last Tower (used with permission of JC Studios)

Jim Craig, a vertical filmmaker, is happy for a new outlet for his V-films, “Traditional filmmakers prefer the cinema. They don’t like seeing their work on TV’s or the internet,” he said, “However, the VF community began in a mobile-first environment. Now it’s our turn to move to a bigger canvas in which to express our 9x16 artform.”

The New Norm

Once shunned by traditional filmmakers and purists, vertical video has become the norm for everything but film and TV. However, as viewership declines on both fronts, networks and studios are looking for new ways to attract millennial viewers.

One studio executive, who wished to remain anonymous, announced that many in the studio system have been reluctant to join this vertical trend, even though they recognize it as the future.

However, with new outlets like Cinemá Vertécal springing up, they are starting to consider shaking things up by green-lighting development on several vertical test films within the studio system.

In addition to the vertical screen, there are other changes that appeal to a more millennial way of thinking. Phones and talking are permitted.

“It’s hard to ask moviegoers to sit quietly without their phone in a dark theater while the world is going on around them. So we lifted that barrier of entry,” said Cervas, “We encourage our guests to discuss the film while its happening and ‘snap’ or ‘film’ what they see on screen, the whole movie if they like. To help, seats are made to rotate 180 degrees, so moviegoers can comfortably take selfie snapshots with the screen behind them.”

The company, which is preparing for it’s second round of funding, has big plans beyond this first test market.

“We are looking to open 12 vertical theaters in 12 DMAs within the next 36 months, two of which will be drive-ins” said Nelson, who handles the business and licensing at Cinemá Vertécal, “Once the infrastructure is there, more vertical filmmakers can compete to help grow the quality and appeal of vertical film.”

But not everyone is convinced, Tim Simons, President of American Film Federation (AFF) finds the new format insulting and ludicrous.

“Yes, it’s ok for your phone, I’ve finally accepted that. However, when vertical film bleeds into cinema, that’s when I put my foot down,” said Simons, “It is an aberration to traditional filmmakers everywhere. Cecil B. DeMille must be turning over in his grave.”

Despite the critics, both Nelson and Cervas think studios will come around, the same way brands and others who produce mobile content already have. And that will lead to greater expansion.

“Film is art, no matter how you express it,” says Cervas, “But film is also commerce, and without new ways of attracting younger audiences, reluctant studios and cineplexes will continue to see massive year-over-year declines.”

Cinemá Vertécal will begin operations at the former Emerson Theater in Hollywood in September, with a first run of Jim Craig’s VF Thriller, The Last Tower.