Occasionally, a shot filmed on an iPhone makes it into your movie. Martin Scorsese revealed there was an iPhone pick-up shot in The Wolf of Wall Street that made the final cut.
But iPhones are no longer just for that quick temporary insert; filmmakers like Sean Baker, Steven Soderbergh, and Claude Lelouch are showing that both new and established filmmakers can make great films using their mobile device, and without needing the most expensive gear. Recently at this year's Cannes, Claude Lelouch discussed shooting sequences of his award-winning film on an iPhone and announced that his newest film to be released this fall had been shot entirely on a smartphone using cinema camera app, FiLMiC Pro.
Smartphones and cinema camera apps are making cinematic storytelling accessible to more voices, and enabling different kinds of stories to be told. We had a chat with Neill Barham, CEO of FiLMiC Inc, about his take on the future of mobile cinema.
No Film School: We're seeing more and more films shot entirely on smartphones. What do you think these advances in smartphone technology and apps like FiLMiC mean for the film industry in terms of accessibility?
Neill Barham: Hyperbole aside, [it's] the greatest communication revolution in the history of humankind. Of which, FiLMiC is only playing a small part at the very high end of the spectrum, with YouTube and the iPhone and smartphones in general being much bigger agents of change. But I do believe FiLMiC has had an outsized influence on accelerating the credibility that smartphone content and technology has had on the world stage.
Nothing makes us happier as a company, than knowing that our users feel comfortable in the knowledge that they have access to the same artistic tool that Sean Baker used to carve out a place in cinematic history with Tangerine. From my perspective, Tangerine changed the world for the better, by challenging our preconceived notions of the trans community. Tangerine was a heartfelt story about friendship that resonated with people all around the globe; with a story no Hollywood studio in the world would have touched at the time. But now some of them would. And that’s thanks largely to Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch and a small, no budget movie made on an iPhone 5S with FiLMiC Pro.
Claude Lelouch shooting with an iPhone and FiLMiC
NFS: What are some differences you notice between the type or genres of films that are being shot on smartphones versus films that are shooting on large production cameras?
Barham: This is an easy one. Large productions seem to focus ever more heavily on known commodities, comic books, sequels, remakes, anything with a built in audience that can help ensure the return on production and marketing costs of $100 million dollars or more. But the loser in that equation is the movie going audience which is, in my opinion, starved for original and compelling storylines that small, independent films can deliver.
Sean Baker’s Tangerine is, of course a great example of that. But so is Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird, a story that challenges the institutional entities behind professional sports, penned by ever challenging Tarell Alvin McCraney of Moonlight fame, which is in its own right a perfect example of the kind of film we need more of, whether they are shot on a smartphone or not.
NFS: What are some pros and cons in your opinion to shooting on a smartphone?
Barham: The early move to feature films on a smartphones was predicated on the precept that the filmmakers who HAD to do that, were making the choice for budgetary reasons. But now we are seeing Oscar winning directors, shooting multiple feature films in a row on smartphones, such as Steven Soderbergh with Unsane, and High Flying Bird, not because they can’t afford other options, but rather, they enjoy it more.
They enjoy the intimacy, the speed, the ease with which they move the camera, both in shot and between shots, they enjoy the fresh and original camera angles they can achieve and collectively all of this triggers their sense of creativity. Inspires them to make fresh and original choices, makes filmmaking, dare I say it, fun again.
Steven Soderbergh shooting Unsane with an iPhone
NFS: What does mobile filmmaking mean for camera crews in terms of size and hands needed, as well as on-set workflow?
Barham: This is actually a matter of choice. There is a misconception that because you are shooting with a smartphone every film has three people for a crew. The reality is you still need production design, wardrobe make up, lighting, sound crew. So while the camera department may shrink, the rest of the crew can be as big or small as you project warrants.
What smartphones often mean for camera crews is less people managing one camera, and more people shooting with multiple cameras. Every smartphone production is instantly a potentially multi-camera shoot, with B, C and D camera options sitting in the back pocket of every crew member. Second unit and behind-the-scenes cameras are already at hand, none of this requires onerous camera rental fees to scale up the camera department. And that is also exciting for filmmakers -- liberating. Allowing them to take chances in ways that previously would have been inconceivable.
NFS: What can FiLMiC do that might be surprising to people?
Barham: Intercut seamlessly with $100,000 camera footage on the big screen at Cannes. Recently, one of my partners and I had the chance to go see the world premier of Claude Lelouch’s film The Best Years of a Life at this year’s Cannes Film Festival; the decades later follow up to his Oscar winning film a Man and a Woman. The film was shot on primarily on a $100,000 rig and the remaining 30 percent was shot with FiLMiC Pro. Knowing that, we still found it difficult to discern what footage was shot with which. And we were actively looking for it.
To the rest of the audience no one cared, and they were all on their feet at the end of the film in rapturous applause because the emotion carried the story and the cameras did their job in telling the story. Claude enjoyed the process so much he shot his entire next feature film on FiLMiC Pro and the iPhone. Just like Steven Soderbergh before him.
NFS: It's awesome to see that you're getting feedback from industry users and implementing some useful requests, like adding LOG and Flat color profiles. What's coming up for FiLMiC that users can look forward to?
Barham: Any good filmmaker knows that video is only half the story and if your audio suffers the audience will tune you out sooner than if your picture is rough. After chatting with Sean, back at the time of Tangerine, and learning that his sound crew took up a much larger footprint than his camera team, we also wondered if we could improve that process for aspiring filmmakers as well.
This year at NAB we announced and demoed our upcoming FiLMiC Audio field recording app and won a Best of NAB Show award for it. That app will be launching at the end of summer and promises to bring high fidelity recording to iOS devices, and soon thereafter Android. In addition to allowing users to turn a second iPhone into the audio backbone of their production it has a great, remote sync integration with FiLMiC Pro so you don’t have to sync your sound files in post. We believe that is a game changer that lets you get the quality of separate unit sound with the convenience of recording to your native device.
We also are launching #FiLMiCFest our annual short film contest, this year with roughly a $100,000 in prizes and great list of sponsors. 6 categories winners, and a large cash prize for production, to help the Grand Prize winner realize their dream of a small film that can change the world.
And speaking of the contest, FiLMiC just launched their annual Mobile Filmmaking Contest (#FiLMiCFest) – over $100,000 in cash and gear goes to the winner! Enter here.
To learn more about FiLMiC check out their website.
What do you see as the pros and cons of shooting your movie on a smartphone? Do you think its the future of filmmaking? Sound off in the comments!