Cinematography : Shooting shorts on iPhone, Galaxy (Android) or any smart devices by Fiona Faith Ross

Fiona Faith Ross

Shooting shorts on iPhone, Galaxy (Android) or any smart devices

Hey filmmakers! What are your views on shooting on smart phones? Do you do it? Would you do it, or do you fall in the "over my dead body" camp? Is the new smart technology a boon for short filmmakers? (I don't mean "vertically challenged", ha ha, I mean if you shoot shorts...) So...if you are planning to shoot a short, especially for one of the time-restricted contests out there, would you consider abandoning the trad stuff for the new technology? What about file formats and post production? If you are recording your movie on a smart phone, what are your preferred apps and processes? I'm doing research on this and I would greatly appreciate your experiences, views and comments. Many thanks, guys.

Brandon Marks

Granted I am not a professional cinematographer, as an aspiring DP, I feel as though abandoning traditional (or neotraditional filming equipment (digital)) should be reserved for experimental shots or shorts. If the story of the short somehow requires it to be shot on a phone in parts, this would be a exception, but when it comes to shooting entire films on a phone/tablet is not a good way to go for numerous reasons. As I said before, I'm no professional as I just graduated from film school recently, but definitely an amateur move unless it is used to enhance a piece of the story.

Fiona Faith Ross

Thanks for the feedback, Brandon, much appreciated. Any more?

David Landau

Art can be made with any kind of paint. However, professional work procedures and methods are more easily achieved using professional equipment. Professional cameras allow the filmmakers to do more, have more control and be more artistic.

Joseph M. Armillas

Fiona: I agree with Brandon and David. With full frame DSLR's and HD and UHD camcorders being so affordable these days, it doesn't make sense to shoot on smart phones, unless you're personal vision and cinematic style calls for it, or if a contest demands that that's all you're allowed to use.There have been a few films shot entirely on smart phones such as; Uneasy Lies the Mind & Framed, none of which have made it to wide distribution. These two films and others were shot with pro lenses, lighting and full crews. As far as apps regarding post production I can't address that since I've never shot anything on an iPhone or smart phone. Just the compression codec on any video coming from a smart phone would give me the willies!

Aaron Craig

There are some great professional looking things out there shot on smartphones. Check out this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyYhM0XIIwU. Awesome stuff. We're shooting an upcoming short on smartphones. Will be a first attempt, so I'll give better feedback when it's shot. I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand, though.

Fidel Barria

with all due respect to those that do use a smartphone to make a film work, I would not, I think every device that has been previously designed for a specific purpose in.

Parker Reeve

I'm an aspiring DP currently working as a gaffer and camera operator. We can work with any camera. The challenge of shooting with a smartphone camera would be wonderful. and at the end the audience cares more about the story than what camera was used. especially for short films.

Aaron Craig

As a voice actor in a former life, I had this same discussion regarding sound recording equipment when near pro quality recording tech started becoming affordable for the semi professional user, and many voice actors started building their own home studios. Old guard sound engineers swore to me that a home studio could never get the same quality sound as a $100k + pro studio, and they were right. But you could get enough quality that your client was happy to hire you and your home studio, and save themselves the cost of renting studio time. Today, a lot of musicians and voice actors do their own recording at home on kits that cost less than $1000, and the quality is good enough that you can't notice the difference between their recording and a pro studio, once the output has been compressed to mp3 and played through a tiny earphone jack. Today, many indie films are consumed on YouTube, Vimeo, etc, where the file is compressed and then played on a small screen. Can you get cinema quality on a smartphone? No way. But you can get good enough quality for your audience. And I'm all for removing any excuse to not make your art. We do the best we can with what we've got, and between waiting for funding so I can afford a "real" kit, and just shooting the thing I'm passionate about, well, let me just grab my smartphone, because I've got a film to make :)

Michael Elder

Call me old school---but when you can't change out lenses---yet alone "control" them, suddenly everybody is calling themselves a "DP" or "Filmmaker". It's a slap in the face for those of us old guys who have spent over 30 years studying, perfecting, deploying professional techniques to accept an accepted "professional" look on a smartphone----but Parker DOES make a valid point about the audience, and their lack of technical understanding---or concern.

David Landau

Michael, you have a very important point. Those who work for years learning the art and craft by working professionally are mentored by experienced and talented artists. Those that take up a simple camera and just shoot are reinventing the wheel - learning not from the years of experiences and insights of the masters that came before them but rather their own trial and error, destined to make the same mistake that were long solved centuries ago by others.

Michael Elder

Sadly, though David-----nobody really cares.

Brandon Marks

Everyone here has a valid point so far. Working currently as a freelance videographer mostly doing commercial or promotional training videos for companies, I have experienced the lack of knowledge or consideration people exhibit when seeking a video; they do not care if the final video necessarily looks good (on the opinion of a filmmaker), but are more the fans of simple, clean work. Many clients are not fans of pans, tilts, etc. My point is that if you are working with clients that may not know or expect the kind of work that someone who is or aspires to be in film as a profession is used to producing and if this is the case, then yes, perfect, use the most low-cost and efficient equipment available to you because money is money. However, if the audience for your work have knowledge and the expectancy for something more film-worthy, I would suggest against equipment that cannot serve that purpose.

Aaron Craig

I think the pros here are overlooking the fact that experienced DPs and pro equipment cost a lot of money over the course of a shoot. Of course it's better to have a DP with years of experience. Of course it's better to shoot on pro grade equipment with lots of lenses, etc. Sadly, for 99% of film makers out there, that world is completely out of their financial reach. Given the choice of shooting on lesser equipment or not shooting at all, it's a no-brainer to shoot on what you have access to. Now, if any DP with his own equipment wants to volunteer for my next no budget film.... :)

Michael Elder

Thank you Aaron for your astute insight. However, you might be surprised as to just how cheap some of us dinosaur DP's just might be!

David Landau

I think you need to put into perspective your idea of "99% of filmmakers". If you are talking about film making hobbyists, than perhaps but I would still say its probably around 50%. But professional filmmakers - which by definition professional means making one's primary income and living by making or working on films/TV/videos - I would say that 99% only work with professional equipment. The professional film/video business employs several million people in the USA alone between crew members, production company and studio employees, corporate video depts & freelancers, rental companies, content distributors, theaters, cable providers, etc. It is a massive employer which is actually much larger than the number of no-budget indie filmmakers who have other day jobs.

Royce Allen Dudley

"Nobody really cares" ? We shoot for peers as much as target audience. Tools are tools; it's never the camera that makes or breaks a film, it's what is done in front of it by who is behind it. That said, we do not see studio pictures shot on an iPhone, and when we see an iPhone image on a commercial viewed on our home theater OR on our own iPhone, the fine print title says " simulated image" .... as in :not shot on an iPhone".

Aaron Craig

Michael, how cheap is cheap? :) I actually just relocated back to California after living in Europe for nearly 20 years, so in all honesty, I don't have any idea what daily rates are here. As I'm hoping to get a project under way sometime in 2015, I'd be curious to know what a no/low budget film maker should expect to pay a good DP.

Aaron Craig

David, yes, I was being a little hyperbolic in saying 99%, but I think my point is still valid. Even established pros have difficulty raising funds to make movies, especially good movies, in the sense of "not connected to a tired franchise that the masses will throw money at" films. I guess I just find it elitist to hear someone say "don't even think about making a movie unless you hire pros and rent pro gear" -- that's simply not possible for many, many would be film makers. And careful about making the distinction between pro and hobbyist based on where your income comes from. Many people making money in the film industry aren't actually all that good, and many "hobbyists" are very fine artists who haven't had a break. Technically you are correct -- a pro is a pro because they make a living at it. I prefer to think in terms of artists getting their message out any way they can.

Michael Elder

Aaron, it's so hard to say now days with all the self-proclaimed "DP's" out there fresh out of "film" school who haven't paid their dues, and will work for a cheese sandwich and credits--but there are several variables that need to be considered when addressing day rates for a DP. Union DP's can and will charge more for a standard 10 hour day rate than non-union. And yes, it's indigenous to where you are working. Since so many southern states are "right-to-work", many non-union crew members can do fairly well if they hustle their butts off to find the next gig. That fine-if you're 25 years old---but after so many years, and more adult responsibilities--- that gets old real quick. Back when I was working fairly consistently in Florida and Atlanta, I was earning between $1,000 and $1,500 per day--depending on their budget. However keep in mind, that I was usually the camera operator and was active in working with the gaffer a whole bunch, so I was actually performing three positions. Film budgets generally are larger, but that too is a matter of perspective. A million dollar budget is considered low budget , so what can I tell you? But, I love it all, but miss it more than ever.

Royce Allen Dudley

DPs in Southern California hired to shoot indie narratives make very little today. $300-500 including expensive gear for a 12 hour day is the higher end of normal. Better DPs who can will hold out for $650-800 per day, but likely with some equipment thrown in... a longer project gets a deeper discount. I specify SoCal as Nor Cal ( San Francisco ) is totally different... all the work pays scale, unless it's truly a hobby project. But budget is not an indicator of rates any more. I have made 400% more per day off tiny projects than off a million dollar feature. The problem now is budgets are all over the map, and how those budgets are allocated depend upon the experience and expectations of the producer. I think it's safe to say that anyone expecting to make a true living off cinematography in Los Angeles today had better be on a TV series or have ASC after their name. The day of the working class DP is gone, and kids with cameras all vy for table scraps. It's simultaneously amusing and pathetic to watch. It's mystifying that the equipment prices have anything to do with the labor rates- when equipment was high priced, it did not, now that a camera can be put on a credit card, there is a perception that cinematography is simple and therefore labor has no value.

David Landau

Aaron, an artist works with the right tools for the task and the best tools possible. Painters are very picky about the kind of brushes they buy, the paints they mix, even the type of canvass they stretch. The reason there are starving artists is because they put themselves and their money into their art. Even no budget filmmakers can easily get access to crews and professional equipment. There are many colleges that can provide both to "no budget" filmmakers, as we at Fairleigh Dickinson University have done now on four occasions. A true artist is resourceful and creative. My problem with people who want to shoot movies on I-phones is that they obviously don't take the art and craft of filmmaking seriously. They want everything cheap and easy. Therefore they obviously have a lack of true artistic commitment. They want to call themselves "filmmakers" but don't want to work hard and sacrifice for it. The "no budget" feature I worked on this past summer with an entire student crew where the crew was unpaid and the professional equipment was free, still cost the producer around $80,000. She paid all the actors, she paid for the housing, food three times a day, gas and van rental and insurance. Because she had so much invested, she was very serious about her film and it was very well written. planned out and directed. I have another friend who enjoys making her own films for under $2,000 with just her and a camera and a bunch of unpaid actors. They both call themselves filmmakers. But one is serious about her art while the other enjoys just making movies as her hobby. Which do you think is more enjoyable and connects more with an audience?

Brandon Marks

David, perfectly said. From a very recent graduates perspective, everything about that statement is absolutely true. Just because the films I have shot to date have been "low budget" I have always worked with either prosumer or professional equipment and have always wound up spending money regardless.

Aaron Craig

So, David, according to that logic, artistic dedication is measured by the amount of funds one has access to? If I understand you correctly, you think your friend making her film with a camera and a bunch of unpaid actors is somehow less serious because she doesn't have 80k to spend on a film? Sorry, but that smacks of elitism and I completely disagree. I've worked on big budget films as an actor, and produced my own projects in film and onstage for 15+ years. Never have I found that the size of a budget corresponds to talent, artistic merit or dedication to the craft. The fact is that, as in the music industry, the rapid advancement of tech means that the film set of today is quickly going to be replaced with new gadgets that will be cheaper and better than what we use today. That's simply Moore's law. Some jobs will be taken over by new gadgets, and some new jobs will be created by them. What won't be replaced, of course, is the artistic vision needed to bring a project together. When I can afford them, of course I'm going to hire the best professional talent I can find. That's a given. But if I don't have a budget, I'm just going to make the best damn art I can regardless.

David Landau

Not by the amount of funds you have access to, by the amount of funds you're willing to put into it. Do you really think that what you buy at the dollar store is as good as what you buy at Lord & Taylors? Of course there is a direct correspondence between budget and quality. That is a given fact of life. A budget allows you to do more and work with better tools and work in better locations and with a more experienced crew and with better actors. Budgets have nothing to do with the quality of the story, but everything to do with how that story gets told. What does smack of elitism is how so many people who have only watched a lot of movies but have never bother to take the time to study, work or learn the arts and crafts of filmmaking have decided that they are the best filmmakers in the world but have somehow been slighted or suppressed by "the system" because they have "no budget". Having no budget is no excuse. Save your money and get a budget. If your project is actually good, you will be able to find others who will become as passionate and dedicated to it as you are. I worked for free on my friends feature because I believed in her and her screenplay. Many years ago when I produced my own film, some of my union buddies worked for me for free because they believed in me and my wacked out vision. I spent $20,000 on my feature and no one was paid and we shot it all in ten days. And although it won a bunch of awards in festivals (it was the world's first interactive mystery feature film), it never got distribution and I never made my money back. Often, your art will not support you. It certainly won't thought if you refuse to support it. PS - my friend who makes the $2,000 horror films is very happy that someone reviewed her on line as the new John Waters. She has no pretense that what she does is high art. Its campy fun. It's Roy Liechtenstein. )And if you don't know who that painter is you can call me elitist and I'll be proud of it. )

David Landau

PPS - Good luck on your film. If you put as much passion into it as you have into these postings, I'm sure it will be great.

Michael Elder

Thank you, David. If I can get just one of the two I am really pushing, and I get just $250k to produce them, then I'll make you my Gaffer!

Michael Elder

David makes such a great point about budgets, and I wish more people understood. A great story is only as good as the director who is directing it. I have seen some really terrible scripts that actually wound up being fairly watchable by a talented director----and vice versa. I think that any writer should direct their own work---because they already see what's happening both on paper AND in their head.

David Landau

I would be honored to gaff for you. Would be a lot of fun.

Michael Elder

Supremely kind of you, David. I have been fortunate to have worked with some unbelievable gaffers, and I just feel you would be one of them!

Aaron Craig

David, I don't understand what you mean by "Not by the amount of funds you have access to, by the amount of funds you're willing to put into it." I put whatever I have into art, as I'm sure you do. It's just that many, many people don't have $100k to make a movie (or 20k, or often even 5k!). Does that mean that shouldn't even try? I actually agree with everything you say re: spending what you have, and hiring good people (and of course calling in favors when you can). I think my original point has been missed. That is, make your art with whatever tools you have. Of course a painter wants better paints and brushes. But if he doesn't have access to them, the true artist will paint with what he has -- he doesn't have a choice, such is his drive to create. Anyway, I feel like we've bashed this horse around enough. Just to be a jerk, now of course I'm going to have to shoot my next short on a smartphone and let you guys bash the hell out of it :) Have a great day.

David Landau

HI Aaron. I understand what you're saying. Yes, we do what we can with what we can get. I'm sure you'll make a fine film - don't tell me what you shot it on. Surprise me! I like surprises. It's obvious you certainly have the guts of an artist. Good luck with all your endeavors - and most of all - take the time to enjoy what you're doing. That's what life is all about.

John O'Hara

Fiona, take a look at http://iphoneff.com. 70% of the films here must be shot with a mobile device. Photography is not about the camera. It is about lighting and composition. There are lots of ways to rig and accessorize (including lenses and stabilization) mobile devices, but NO camera can compensate for bad lighting and poor composition. 2015 deadline is Feb 1. There are other similar festivals that all show some impressive film-making.

Lindbergh E Hollingsworth

If using an iPhone pick up the FilmicPro app ... don't just use the iPhone in video mode as it the auto-focus and auto-exposure will create havoc. For Andriod users I'm sure there's an app at Google that works.

Fiona Faith Ross

Valuable advice, thank you, Lindbergh.

Ward Andrews

One must be shooting constantly to learn. I often take walks and before I know it I am filming with my iPhone or iPad to see what compositions I can get or to find a new way to express an idea. Then I try to edit it together and I see where things work or don't. Then when I have my "real" gear I already have the experience of working with a certain light or composition.

Fiona Faith Ross

35 comments! Thanks guys. Your feedback is really useful.

Justin Elijah

Not to cut anyone else off but I have done tremendous research on iPhone filmmaking and from what I've seen it can be cinematic quality. Now if you are talking about using the stock iPhone as it comes out of the box no way, BUT if you add the mcam lite with the EnCinema dslr adapter and film in an app called Filmic Pro where you have direct control over almost if not all of the things you would on a traditional dslr. Technology is advancing everyday why not take advantage of it, if the people who make the RED cameras decided to collaborate with Apple and make things just for the iPhone no one would have anything negative to say about it, it's the fact that A select few people are going out and making good films that both look and sound good and are winning film festivals everywhere on iPhones and the tradition buffs just don't know what to do about it. It takes skill and some learning to get the hang of filming with the iPhone and in my opinion it takes more skill to film with an iPhone because it is so different which is why my production company is going to be using nothing but use iced to film our upcoming shorts. Thank you.

Royce Allen Dudley

When the best defense of something new is to imply that those who do not respect or embrace it are future-fearing Luddites, that says a lot. "Tradition Buffs" - LOL Yes, you can strap things on a phone, tell a story and overcome issues with workarounds...that doesn't make it a professional tool or a good choice.

Justin Elijah

I was not trying to imply that filming on iPhone was the best choice or that the iPhone could in any way be a "professional" tool. What I was implying is that filming on iPhone presents a new and much larger challenge which I believe is the great appeal. For example how can I achieve a look even similar to that of a "pro" camera with this simple idevice. What's life without challenges? And if you can easily do something and it becomes boring why not try something that presents a larger challenge?

Justin Elijah

In addition, I'm sure someone on here has mentioned that the best camera is the one you have with you, so why discourage or for lack of better word downplay the work of someone that has less than you because they cannot yet afford what you can afford?

Aaron Craig

Can't resist posting this link here to add to the lively discussion. http://www.theverge.com/2015/1/28/7925023/sundance-film-festival-2015-ta...

Andrew Sobkovich

The linked article about the iPhone "feature" doesn’t say a lot about the actual production of the picture. The article doesn’t even state whether the associated images, of various aspect ratios, are full frames pulled from the picture, partial frames or separate stills. The wide variation in the displayed quality needs some explanation. Having the director say it is “cinematic” is as meaningful as the comment “we didn’t loose any footage”. Oddly there is no trailer for this groundbreaking major motion picture event despite there being a finished edit that was shown at Sundance. Commenting in a cinematography forum on the picture based upon a PR article seems a bit premature.

Jason Scott

Check out www.conradmess.com - his latest was shot entirely on an iphone 5

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