Director Sean Baker's feature film Tangerine, which got picked up by Magnolia Pictures, is one of the most talked-about films at the Festival this year even though it doesn't exactly fit the profile of a buzzworthy entry. Firstly, it features unknown actors; no Kristen Wiigs, no Ethan Hawkes. Secondly, it's a story about two transgender women on a Christmas Eve odyssey through the many subcultures of L.A. to "get to the bottom of the scandalous rumor." So, mass appeal? No. (V appeal? Hell yes.) Lastly, it wasn't shot using an expensive, top of the line cinema camera. In fact, it was shot using the device I use every day to take notes, check emails, and dodge calls from bill collectors.
That device, of course, is the iPhone 5s. Tangerine was shot completely on the Apple device, but this smartphone camera setup also included the 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter from Moondog Labs, the FiLMiC Pro app, and external recording devices. Sound mixer Irin Strauss shared on Twitter how they went about recording the audio on a dual system with an SD 664, lavs, and boom mics.
As you might recall, we talked about Moondog's anamorphic iPhone adapter back when it was raising funds on Kickstarter. And FiLMiC Pro, which was used on that gorgeous Bentley ad, (also shot on an iPhone 5s), turns your "iOS camera into a broadcast worthy 2K HD video camera" by giving you manual control over focus, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, tint, and color temperature.
The overall cost of this setup -- a setup that shot a feature film that is just killing it at Sundance? Well, Moondog's adapter costs $160, FiLMiC Pro is $8 in the App Store, and iPhones range from -- what? $200 to $600 depending on service and features? So, you're looking at $168 to $768 to get high quality images for a feature film.
Smartphone filmmaking is still a long way away from not only being fully on par with traditional feature filmmaking, but also being accepted as a legitimate form of feature filmmaking. Personally, I love it. I've always loved it. When the Moment lenses hit Kickstarter, I bought a set. When Moondog's Anamorphic Adapter hit Kickstarter, I bought it. Any app that can turn my iPhone into a little filmmaking tank of fury, I'm all over it.
When you shoot with an iPhone, are you loosng some control over your instrument? Yes. Are you losing image quality? Of course. Does it matter? Maybe not as much as you think, considering the fact that The Hollywood Reporter described the look of Tangerine as “crisp and vigorously cinematic”, with “an aesthetic purity that stands out in a field where so much indie filmmaking has gotten glossier and less technically adventurous.”
I think part of the hang up with filmmakers about smartphone filmmaking is that they're not sold on the idea that people should start making movies with them. But that's just it -- it's not that we should, it's that we can. Tangerine has proved that once again.