Smart Phone Movie Making

Smart Phone Movie Making

I attended two different workshops on making movies using in a smart phone over a period of a few days. The first was at the Cine Circle Festival in Brick Lane, London and the other in Birmingham, run by the BBC as part of Digital Cities

The Cine Circle event was a mixture of short film showings, pitches and workshops. I saw a couple of short films and attended two workshops. The first was on getting funding and covered a range of options, mostly crowdfunding. New to me was to find out that YouTube provides funding not only for creators that they think can break through but also charities. 

The workshop on making movies with a smart phone, was lead by two friends who make short films together. Both are principally actors. They confirmed most of the kit list I was already considering. However, they didn't use any lenses which was surprising. One thing that did concern me was how the sound was lost if the camera (and microphone) wasn't pointed directly at the actor. 

At Digital Cities, in Birmingham, the course was more hands on in that we took videos of our neighbour at the start and end of the session. Each lasted about 90 minutes. In this session, we learnt about the rule of thirds, the microphone in the headphones, lenses, focusing, battery life and storage. I hope to buy the kit in the next few months and to start trying it out.

As a reference, here is Steven Soderbergh's trailer for Unsane and the IMDB page for Sean Baker's Tangerine. For the latter, they used three iPhone 5S phones. The money saved on camera equipment was used to pay for shooting locations and to pay extras. They used the FiLMIC Pro to control focus, aperture and color temperature, as well as capture video clips at higher bit-rates and an anamorphic adapter from Moondog Labs (to capture widescreen). Baker used Final Cut Pro for a preliminary look of the film and DaVinci Resolve to correct contrast and saturation.

Soderbergh loved the iPhone’s small size, giving him the ability to get the shot he wanted in tight quarters. In “Unsane” when space got especially tight, they tapes the iPhone to the wall. For his new film, High Flying Bird, he wanted to shoot anamorphic, be slicker and have a much more normal look (in comparison to Unsane). But to get the lens where he wanted, or to move in a certain way e.g. to have the camera reach multiple destinations without either somebody getting hurt, or the shot being compromised because of the size of the equipment, the iPhone was still a good choice.

Soderbergh sat in a wheelchair, holding the iPhone using a six-inch, £140 stabilizer (the DJI Osmo), his hand/arm functioning like mini-crane. He uses a 12-inch by 12-inch LED panel. High Flying Bird was shot with an iPhone 8 and a clip-on Moondog anamorphic lenses. It was recorded in 4K using the Filmic app. Soderbergh didn't do much manipulation of the video after he shot it. By contrast, he used plug-ins for Unsane to recreate the look of old film stock.

For those interested in my provisional equipment list:

  • Gimbal e.g. Osmo (with small tripod)
  • Large tripod
  • Ulanzi or Moman light
  • Rode VideoMicro
  • Rode SC3
  • Rode SC6L
  • Rode Smartlav+
  • Ulanzi rig
  • Zoom H1N