Shot on iPhone6 Siyuan G billboardSo you have been following the hype of mobile filmmaking, watching the films and seeing the billboards all over town “Shot on iPhone X”(which is truly a brilliant ad campaign). You think, “it really is that easy!” Then you see a movie like Tangerine shot on iPhone winning at Sundance and go: now I need to make a movie, I want laurels!

Immediately you hop
online to google “best equipment” but quickly get overwhelmed by all the different options! But you start buying! You spend money, you buy the “tools”, and since you already have a mobile device, of course you will become a great cinematographer now! Look at the Billboards or Instagram! It is simple!


You don’t know

  • how to frame a shot
  • the rule of thirds
  • how to cast an audition
  • how to edit a film
  • how to handle a crew
  • how to direct an actor
  • how to light a set, you have no idea
  • that a mobile device is actually going to be shakier than a bigger camera due to inertia
  • what the importance of sound is
  • how to operate a camera

842599The biggest problem is that last one, “you don’t know how to operate a camera”. We all have to start somewhere, but somewhere somehow it is being lost on people that basic filmmaking 101/camera knowledge is going to help you make a better film. The big red dot that records, makes you think, well you hit this and shoot. You don’t think about exposure, shutter, frames per second, aspect ration(well you do think of this because you WANT, nope you NEED 4K cause everyone says 4k is the best!), or any filmmaking 101 and you shoot.

And guess what? It is probably going to be shit.

No it is not groundbreaking, amazing, artistic, it is shit. The only praise it will get is on a Facebook wall with close friends and parents getting “like” happy. And it isn’t your fault. It isn’t your phones. It isn’t Apples. But it is a problem, as with all things that go mainstream quickly. And it IS your job to recognize when you should learn more to improve.

Remember when DSLR cameras hit the market? Everyone was a professional photographer! I would love the statistics of weddings ruined those first few years by bad photos.

But guess what, it is OK to be shit. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the magic behind mobile filmmaking is it is allowing people to find that inner filmmaker easier by making it more accessible. In countries where documentary crews would be arrested it is an amazing way to get stories out to the world. It is up to you for self awareness and knowing when you need help or to know you are just a prodigy. But regardless now you have learned something important, you have learned that you need to learn a hell of a lot more, because there is so much more that goes into a film than just owning a camera that can shoot it. The best equipment in the world be it for an iPhone or a RED, a GoPro or a Canon, will do you no good if you don’t pick it because it is the piece of equipment that will help to tell your story the best. I get asked, all the time, what is the best tool for iPhone filmmaking, and when I ask them, well tell me what your story is, they can’t they just want the quick fix, the list of tools, the tangible answer that money can buy. The magical weight loss pills of filmmaking. Guess what, the answer is simple, the tool is your story and your story defines your tools. Need a dolly shot to track along with some epic emotional moment? There is a tool. Don’t have that moment, don’t need the dolly.

drilldown-banner-our-storyBut wait… you forgot the story, didn’t you? Yeah… that is the hard part. Coming up with it, shaping it, testing it, storyboarding it, shotlisting it… It is frustrating, exciting, and a lot of work.

Telling it these days, however, is easy, as long as you don’t just think there is some magical equation for the “best” of everything. You shoot with what makes sense to shoot on.

Sure shooting on an iPhone has this magical freeing quality to it, that I have explained here:

“Shot on iPhone” The Age of the Story

mobile-device-storyBut at the same time, all the films I have shot on mobile devices were shot on them because I believed it to be the best medium for the story. If you asked me to shoot Fast and the Furious 19281 I would NOT use an iPhone. Maybe a shot here or there, if I really needed something crazy compact and mobile, but even then, probably a GoPro(i.e The Hobbit).

There is so much more to the process than the equipment and technical prowess of course. There is creativity, freedom, expression, trial and error, mistakes, roadblocks, brain freezes, breakdowns, fuck ups, reshoots, voice over, foley… but don’t skip the journey because you want “Shot on iPhone” attached to your film, because all of that process is half of the fun.

If you say “I didn’t have time to” “Don’t judge this too hard, I” or anything along the lines of “this isn’t my best work but I put it out there anyway and am using some stupid ass excuse so that I don’t have to actually put the time and effort into researching, learning, and executing techniques and such to polish this to a point where I can honestly say this is, regardless of what you think, something I believe is my best work”, than don’t release the fucking thing. Try again. Shoot again.

Mobile filmmaking allows for something amazing, trial and error! It allows you to fuck up. It allows you to truly shine if you can convince your audience to not care about the medium you are shooting on. If they walk out of your film talking about your film and the camera as an after thought or bonus because you have made a good film. Because that is the future, a story driven world, the age of the story teller. Being able to tell a story because you can grab shots that might not otherwise been accessible, since the camera is now in your pocket. Right now it is important for others to see that a film can and is shot on a mobile device so credits or tag lines “Shot on xPhone” are great to get the word out, but the next step is to be able to remove that label, and let the medium speak for itself. When it is no longer needed because it is just accepted.  Films shot on mobile devices represent a very small minority in festivals and the like at the moment, so, yes it is encouraged to go and do, and by god there might be more mobile films than actual films around now, but at the same time, don’t just slap on a label to ride the hype train.

Remember with all films:

  • You still need permits.
  • You still need equipment.
  • You still need post.
  • You still need to edit.
  • You still need good sound.
  • You still need a story.
  • You still need a budget.
  • You still need common sense.

But now you have the freedom to choose the camera best for your story. The setup best for your story. The equipment best for your story. The best medium for your budget or lack of. I was amazed at how much equipment I have acquired and used in different scenarios depending on my film. The Ultimate iPhoneographer’s Equipment List, but I can’t tell people to buy all of this, because I don’t know if it fits their story.

Don’t let a mobile camera cause your film to become nothing other than a home video or a snapchat. Let mobile filmmaking be part of your expression and make sure that expression has a damn good reason to use a mobile device and a story to bring the audience on a journey with. You want to be a trend setter? Work on the cutting edge of technology? Make a mobile film? Make the mobile device an extension of your idea! If you put thought into the process, allow for the mobile device’s limitation to spur creativity, and remember or take time to learn some filmmaking 101 techniques, you will raise the quality of your film by leaps and bounds, not just ignoring it because you want to be “edgy”. We now have these amazing tools at our fingertips to produce something truly unique and just a pocket grab away. I will be the first to say mobile filmmaking is going to go leaps and bounds in the next few years and has already taken huge leaps in the past few. I cannot wait to see what people do with it. Just remember a story is a story whether it is 1080p or 4k.

Matrix-red-pill-or-blue-pillThere is no secret tool or item you can buy to make a great film, that is up to you, your story, and how far you are willing to push and believe in what you create. So follow your passions, get your story out there, but remember, just because it is accessible, doesn’t mean it is going to be easy or an instant success. The only way to find out is to give it your all right out of the gate, and when you fall, pick up the pieces, figure out why, and try again!