Irish broadcaster RTÉ has been experimenting with the production of vertical video, using iPhones to shoot, edit and title content for mobile audiences on social media.

Mobile journalists Eleanor Mannion and Philip Bromwell produced 12 vertical videos ahead of Pope Francis's visit to Ireland last weekend, which were published on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

"We wanted to get a range of personal messages in advance of the Pope's visit, from people all around the country," said Bromwell.

"The vertical format seemed a great way to do that – we asked people to talk directly to camera, as if they were speaking to Pope Francis directly – it's how you'd send videos if you were communicating among your peers."

Although the mojo reporters have produced hundreds of videos for social media before, the ‘Post to the Pope’ series marks the first time the broadcaster has made content specifically for the vertical video format, which would then be re-purposed for online, TV and radio audiences, as well as to feature on the RTÉ Player. The traditional model of re-purposing broadcast content for social was flipped on its head.

"One of the aspirations of this digital-first project was to connect with the generation that aren't watching us on television, as other generations have done," he said.

"It's about delivering good-quality content that reflects everything else we stand for, but as a new kind of content for a new kind of audience.”

The series features 12 Irish citizens passing on their messages to the Pope, which included a survivor of clerical abuse, an 11-year-old schoolgirl and an asylum seeker.

Mannion explained that the Pope’s visit was a suitable story to test out the production of vertical video because they could prepare for it in advance, and it was a story that would engage the whole nation.

"The last visit from the Pope was in 1979, where a third of the population of Ireland at the time went to see him,” she said. 

"Since then, Ireland has changed: it legalised divorce, decriminalised homosexuality, repealed the 8th amendment for abortion and, of course, had the shake-up of the clerical abuse scandal." 

Mannion and Bromwell wanted to reflect that in the videos and show a range of opinions and views, not just presenting the contributors as ‘talking heads’. They did that by packaging the pieces as they would a news story, with B-roll and context that helped the audience understand contributors' point of view.

"One of my favourite Facebook comments was that someone described RTÉ as 'woke', and another said he couldn't believe RTÉ published it – the audience felt we really connected with them,” said Mannion, explaining the footage includes a variety of views, from the devout to the critical.

The two reporters, who were each equipped with an iPhone 8+, used Filmic Pro to shoot 4K footage in the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, but used LumaFusion to edit the clips vertically, and title them with RTÉ branding.

"Everyone can do ropey vertical video, but if you aspire to do slick, nicely packaged vertical video, there are challenges – your whole sense of composition is challenged," said Bromwell, who has spent the last 15 years producing content shot and edited in the 16:9 aspect ratio.

“It’s invigorating to try something new. The project evolved as we went, and we learned organically as we worked on it."

The reporters would often have to think twice about the framing of their shots, especially if the subject moved around a lot.

“Because we knew the footage would be re-purposed for TV, we had to imagine where the vertical frame would be on the 16:9 shot, which was tricky at times," explained Mannion, adding that it would be a different experience if they had to shoot everything vertically.

“Sometimes in the edit, we used a split screen and put three 16:9 pics on top of each other, which enabled the viewer to see the entire shot without any cropping, and in some instances, show multiple things happening at one time."

The team would share an iPad Pro to edit the footage, using LumaFusion’s ability to let users share settings from one device to another.

“Because the entire project was mobile-centric, without bringing anything into a desktop edit or 16:9 newsroom space, the production of vertical content was a lot faster than it would have been,” Bromwell said. 

All the videos had a still, centred image at the start, to ensure audiences saw a polished shot in their feed.

“There’s no manual for this – we went into this being very realistic in that these weren’t necessarily going to pull in huge audiences, but it was about doing something different, and working out how best to do mobile-optimised content,” he said.

“I think it is definitely a model we could take forward and apply on another project in the future, or we might look into adopting it in another series – it’s a learning curve."

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