Quibi has certainly made a name for itself by attracting exciting talent to craft and star in its original series delivered in “quick bites.” But given that a cell phone is the ideal way to view any Quibi series, that poses a unique challenge to filmmakers who have to make sure their story works both horizontally and vertically.
Veena Sud had this top of mind when she was working on The Stranger, a thriller that she wrote, produced and directed. The story finds Maika Monroe playing a rideshare driver who has just moved to Los Angeles, only to be caught in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a psychopath played by Dane DeHaan.
Speaking with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff on an episode of Collider’s Ladies Night, Sud revealed that when she first signed on for The Stranger, she began considering the ways she could account for having her story work in a vertical format:
“I did have an intent early on when I knew that we would have to accommodate for people who were holding the phone either widescreen or vertical, so I said, ‘Should I have two monitors on set? Should I make sure we’re shooting both ways?’ That would never happen. It’s a set, so you’re moving at breakneck speed. So what we did was the DP and I and my production designer talked ad nauseum before Day One. In prep we spent a lot of time talking about what is the most satisfying way to tell this story for somebody? Because I know how to tell a story horizontally, I’ve never told a story vertically. None of us had.”
Sud and her team knew they couldn’t discount people who chose to watch The Stranger vertically, so they hit upon the idea of emphasizing depth in every shot:
“We very quickly realized we couldn’t just say, ‘Screw you if you’re holding it vertically. We don’t care. Just hold it horizontally.’ Especially since phones are designed to be held vertically. So we started to talk about, what about depth? What about instead of thinking East/West, you think A/Z [axis]? How do I create as much depth inside the frame, because whether it’s horizontal or vertical, I’m gonna feel that. And make sure the information that audiences get holding vertically or horizontally is constantly at the edges of the frame, so that they never feel like they’re missing anything.”
The The Killing and Seven Seconds creator gave some examples of how she emphasized depth in the framing of certain scenes in The Stranger:
“We pushed aisled together closer in like the gas station. There was constantly depth layers we were shooting through. Claire was always moving through spaces that were interesting and full of life, like the train station, Chinatown plaza, the train itself… There’s always something moving and giving you more information. The toughest thing is the movie opens up on two people sitting inside a car. What we talked about then was to respect the dark element and the dark tone of what evolves slowly in that car between these two people, keep the camera moving but very slowly. And hit the side of her cheekbone, hit the rearview mirror where you see her eyes. Keep the camera moving in ways that maybe the audience isn’t even aware of, but they are constantly getting information.”
So there you have it. That’s how a filmmaker creates a show that’s suitable to be consumed in two very different aspect ratios.
The Stranger is now available to watch exclusively on Quibi.