Source: imdb.com

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)

Park Chan Wook was one of the first to decide to shoot movies on a smart­phone. Source: cine21.com

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)

Look­ing for Sug­ar Man was shot on a smart­phone because the crew ran out of film mon­ey. Source: en.kinorium.com

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)

Film­ing on the iPhone helped Sean Bak­er not cramp ama­teur actors with mon­strous pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment. Source: filmatik.ru

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)

Although The Turn was filmed as part of an adver­tis­ing cam­paign, this did not lim­it its direc­tor in any way. Source: life.ru

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)

Zack Sny­der proved that smart­phones are also suit­able for action shoot­ing. Source: imdb.com

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)

The action of the “Pro­file” takes place entire­ly on the com­put­er screen. Source: www.geekvibesnation.com

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)

In order to show that some­one is watch­ing the hero­ine with the help of a cheap cam­era, Soder­bergh had to delib­er­ate­ly wors­en the image, the iPhone shoots so well. Source: imdb.com

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)

With his two paint­ings, Soder­bergh put an end to the dis­cus­sion of the phone as a tool for film­ing movies. Source: film.ru

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.

There are also lens­es for smart­phones. Source: telescope.ru

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.


От Yara

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