Today, movies are shot on smartphones not even for the purpose of saving money — this will not affect the quality of the picture. We bet that you might not have noticed that some of the films that will be discussed below are not shot on professional equipment. Moreover, many of them are full-length, which increases the risks.
In this article, we want to show that today a smartphone is a full-fledged working tool that major directors resort to, and special awards are established for films shot on phones. We will dive into the history of such cinema and learn how to achieve a cinematic picture on smartphones on our own.
The history of smartphone cinema
“Night Fishing” (Park Chan-wook, 2011)
The director of the iconic “Oldboy” was one of the first to use a smartphone to shoot movies. The 30-minute Korean horror movie was filmed on an iPhone 4 and won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival the same year it was released.
According to the plot, the fisherman decides to spend the night near the established gear, but one of the fishing rods catches the revived drowned woman. The blurring of the picture rhymes well with the mysterious atmosphere of the film, the viewer sees what is happening, as if through a fog.
“In Search of Sugar Man” (Malik Benjellul, 2012)
This movie was shot on the iPhone 3G not for artistic purposes, but for economy. Initially, the director worked with a vintage 8mm camera, but when the money for it ran out, he filmed the remaining timing on a smartphone, using a filter that imitates film, which he could not afford.
This documentary is dedicated to the popular South African musician Sixto Rodriguez. After recording his first two albums, he disappeared without a trace, giving rise to many legends about his fate. The heroes of the film are trying to find him several decades after the loss. The picture has collected many nominations and prizes, including the Oscar for best documentary.
“Tangerine” (2015, Sean Baker)
This comedy road movie about the journey of two transgender men in search of a boyfriend is perhaps the first truly competitive film shot on smartphones. With a budget of about $ 100 thousand (even the actors were non-professional), the picture paid off 8 times and became a festival hit (awards from the Film Independent and GLAAD organizations, as well as the Gotham festival).
The film was shot using the FiLMIC Pro app, equipment used three iPhone 5S, camera stabilization systems and a wide-angle lens. During the rental, the film crew did not advertise that the film was completely shot on a smartphone. The first viewers did not even know about it.
“Turn” (Michel Gondry, 2017)
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director tried his hand at mobile photography as part of Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” ad campaign. The 11-minute film about a tricycle looking for its owners was filmed on an IPhone 7. Gondry himself praised the iPhones for being light and comfortable for capturing fast movements, while also allowing them to mimic the picture of professional cameras.
“Snow, steam, iron” (2017, Zack Snyder)
Before this film, one could say that all this is nothing — you can’t spoil a conversational chamber movie with a smartphone. But then Zack Snyder (300 Spartans, Watchmen) stepped in and showed that even a director accustomed to blockbuster scope is quite comfortable within the framework of a mobile phone.
Snyder shot the short film on an iPhone, which he did not reveal the model of, in a few days without much effort. His son and daughter helped him in his work. The film is freely available on Youtube.com video hosting.
“Profile” (2018, Timur Bekmambetov)
Produced by Bekmambetov, Remove from Friends, Search, and his directorial Profile, are a line of films shot in the screenlife format. This means that the action in them takes place inside the computer interface. We follow the heroes through the windows of various applications, and the heroes themselves appear in the frame only when they call up via video link.
The movie is based on real events and tells how jihadists recruit girls from Europe. The film needs a specific style of shooting to remove the distance and establish an emotional connection between the viewer and the heroine. Make the viewer a silent observer of carefree web surfing, which gradually acquires the intensity of a thriller.
“Out of my mind” (2018, Steven Soderbergh)
Horror about a girl who, trying to get rid of an obsessive boyfriend, ends up in a psychiatric hospital where her pursuer works. This film was immediately announced as a spectacle filmed on a mobile phone (iPhone 7), and the money for its production was raised through a crowdfunding campaign.
Nevertheless, it is easy for an unprepared viewer to be deceived when viewing — the film does not betray that it was filmed in some special way.
High Flying Bird (2019, Steven Soderbergh)
His next film, a near-sports drama about how a sports agent draws a basketball star into a dubious adventure, was again filmed by Soderbergh on a smartphone. This time it was the iPhone 8. The picture was highly appreciated by both critics and viewers. For clarity, it has a 91% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes platform.
“Tenderness” (2020, Anna Melikyan)
A black-and-white melodramatic series stylized as Soviet classics with Konstantin Khabensky. The series (by the way, filmed on the iPhone 11) grew out of the short film of the same name, also filmed on the iPhone.
Mobile Film Festivals
In the 2010s, in parallel with the development of smartphones themselves and the growing interest in them as a tool for filming, specialized festivals began to appear, created for talented authors who want to show their work to a wide audience. Here is some of them:
- iphone film festival. The main condition for participation in this festival is that at least 70% of the film was shot on a smartphone. It is allowed to use any programs for editing and color correction. There are no restrictions in technology: you can use an external microphone, wide-angle lenses, flashes, a tripod, and so on.
- Toronto Smartphone Film Festival. A Canadian festival whose mission is to expand the filmmaking community to smartphones and tablets as one of the cheapest devices available for this activity. Of the restrictions: in addition to the fact that the film must be completely shot on a phone or tablet, graphics and animation for it must also be made on a smartphone / tablet.
- The Mobile Motion Film Festival is held in Zurich, Switzerland and allows, in addition to phones, the use of GoPro in film production. Does not limit the use of additional equipment or programs for post-production. From the interesting: among the nominations there is “Best Short Film in Snapchat”.
Tips if you decide to try making movies on your smartphone
In addition to the already mentioned lenses for a smartphone, it would be useful to get a steadicam as well, after all, phones are very sensitive to shaking. Read our reviews of the DJI OM 3 and DJI OM 5.
If we talk about applications that will help you more flexibly adjust shooting settings, then here are some of them:
- The already mentioned FiLMiC Pro, used in the filming of Mandarin. There is on Android and iOS, it costs about 1400 rubles. Provides full control over focus, exposure, white balance, sound levels and more. The application also supports third-party steadicams, microphones, lenses, and other external devices.
- MoviePro is available only on iOS, costs 899 rubles. The application allows you to control focus, exposure, shutter speed, ISO and other parameters. Like FiLMIC, there is support for external devices, as well as a shooting mode from multiple cameras.
- ProShot is available on Android and iOS, where it costs about 500 rubles. The application is quite minimalistic, allowing you to adjust the focus, exposure, as well as shutter speed and white balance.
- MAVIS is present on iOS, distributed free of charge, but contains in-app purchases. The program can compete with FiLMIC in terms of the number of functions. In it, you can adjust the frame rate, focus, exposure, and even color temperature, shutter speed and ISO. Also supports audio monitoring via headphones.
- ProMovie Recorder is free, but videos recorded with it contain a watermark that won’t disappear until you purchase the Pro version. The app is only available on iOS. The program supports external devices: various microphones, steadicams and lenses and other accessories. If desired, you can even connect an external screen to your smartphone through this program (via VGA or HDMI adapters).
Shooting movies on a smartphone today is not an extravagant eccentricity or a sign of a certain style. A culture has formed around this tool, great directors do not shy away from using it, and the current technical level is almost indistinguishable from professional equipment. So if you’ve always wanted to make movies, but for some reason put it off, know that you have the opportunity to start in your pocket.