These are, truly, exciting times! Filmmaking is more democratized than ever. In this article, we're going to dive into the gear you want, but more importantly, the gear you need to make a feature film (or any other professional looking video)... on mobile.
Let's face it... gear is sexy! Acquiring filmmaker's tools is an intoxicating endeavor. First, you buy it, unpack it, use it, dial it in so it works perfectly for you... and then the next shiny thing comes onto the market and you NEEEED IT! It's a drug. A cruel mistress always leaving you feeling unfulfilled.
For Michelangelo, his chisel and hammer or paint brush was all he needed to make the masterfully crafted art he created. We're going to try to think the same way: Minimalism. What are the tools we NEED to get the job done? Let's dig in and take one bite of the big filmmaking elephant... CAMERAS.
Now, I know what you want, but an Arri Alexa Mini LF with a giant set of Cooke Super Speeds is not exactly in the budget. Even if it were, we're making a feature film on mobile, so we're nixing that idea right out of the gate. Plus, we don't have the crew needed to support that workflow, so... just, NO!
Just a quick side note about cast, crew, and safety: The other part of this challenge is taking into account that COVID-19 is still a thing as of July 2020. I want to be clear... WE'RE ONLY MAKING A MOVIE! We're not going to endanger ourselves or others doing this thing we love so much. Nothing is worth that. So, we're going with as efw people on set as possible. You, a sound person (if you need one; you should have one, but only if it's safe), a few support people (only if it's minimal and necessary), and your cast (only who you need to tell the story). That's it! Let's be smart about the script and the workflow. Okay, back to it...
You say, "I have a DSLR." Great! Good for you! Shelve it! We're making a feature film on MOBILE! Anyone can make a movie on a digital cinema camera or a DSLR that can literally see in the dark. That's not what we're going for. Our challenge is to take that lowly paint brush or chisel and make something great, in-spite of its inherent shortcomings. Trust me. It can be done. And it has been.
Not to get too into the weeds about who did what with which camera, but here are some stellar examples of inspirational filmmaking:
Filmmaker: Sean Baker
UNSANE and HIGH FLYING BIRD
Filmmaker: Steven Soderbergh
SNOW STEAM IRON
Filmmaker: Zack Snyder
And, before you say, "but, I'm not Sean or Steven or Zack." I say, "Not yet! So let's make your movie and find out."
With that out of the way, let's get back to what we'll need for this challenge.
A CAMERA (A PHONE)
What you have in your pocket probably shoots 4K (which is not 100% necessary, by the way). It probably has some sort of image stabilization and the ability to add an external microphone to capture decent audio. There are a few other bells and whistles we can add to make life easier, so let the breakdown begin!
APPLE OR ANDROID?
Honestly, the gap between the two is closer than it used to be. Sure, there are more Androids in more hands around the world, but in terms of quality... that's both a subjective and a technical issue.
First, the 800 pound gorilla: iPhone
Again, Android phones have much more saturation worldwide than Apple's iPhone, but there's a reason why filmmakers and other creatives choose them... apps and accessory development. We'll talk about apps in a bit, but Apple takes the title as top dog in mobile creation tools.
No one can deny that iPhones are technologically advanced. They have great lenses, fantastic dynamic range, stability, power, and a unified ecosystem. Plus, they're dead simple to use. When you couple those attributes with the fact that app and accessory developers make sure to have the latest and greatest offering first, you can't go wrong.
What I'm using...
Control is important, especially when you're shooting a movie. The more control you have over your image, the more consistent your look will be. There are several apps on the market that will give your iPhone or Android the manual control you need. My top choice is Filmic Pro.
Now that we've talked about the what, let's talk about the why. Why I am choosing Filmic Pro? Well, if it's good enough for Soderbergh and Baker, then it's good enough for me!
Obviously, that's not the only reason, so let me explain.
I like shooting in a LOG color profile. Basically, the image is flat and milky when you view it in its raw state. The contrast/saturation have pulled out and shadows are lifted. This is an oversimplification of what LOG is, but it comes in handy when you start to color grade your film. While shooting, it allows you to capture more information in the dark shadow areas so you can dial in the black levels to taste without adding quite as much noise or graininess. Again, control.
Other added bonuses are being able to bump up the bitrate from the native low bitrate of the phone. The more bits, the more control you have in post to make color correct your footage.
Again, there are other options out there, but this is the one I use... and it works on both iOS and Android. Bonus!
I'm not going to reinvent the wheel when it comes to tutorials on Filmic Pro. There are some incredible YouTubers out there who can tell you everything you need to know about what button to push and why. In fact, here is one from my buddy, Blake Calhoun, of iPhoneographers:
and this one of his many videos explaining LOG:
You should go check out Blake's YouTube channel. I've been doing this a while and I still learn something from him.
There are other apps that work well. Moment, the makers of some of the conversion lenses I’ll be talking about in a later article, make a popular app. It has many of the same features as Filmic Pro, but with a different interface and only supports iOS.
BeastGrip, my preferred phoneography accessory maker, recently released their app offering called BeastCam. It has some impressive features for version 1.0, but lacks FLAT and LOG color profiles. This is a solid app, though. Especially if you are into the ecosystem of gear, like I am. I’ll definitely be covering their add-ons that make shooting easier. At this time, it’s only iOS compatible.
Fear not, Android users, there are a few good options for you, as well.
McPro24fps, horrible name, but if you have the right Android phone, you can unlock some crazy impressive features. Prepare to be impressed by 10-bit recording, bitrates up to 500Mb/s, previewing LUTs, recording directly to an SD card, and the ability to record audio in .WAV format. All that and more in this app’s debut. Sounds promising.
In a future article, I’ll cover lenses, rigging, and cages. That’s going to be a fun one because there are a myriad of options to help craft a specific look and feel for your project. From depth of field adapters (DOF) to anamorphic lenses to specialty lenses, filmmakers seemingly have unlimited choices to go along with their unlimited vision.
In the upcoming articles, we'll cover support gear and stabilizers, lighting, sound, editing software, and other fun goodies.
Once we get through the gear, etc., we’ll cover the process. We’ll take all of this gear and software and couple it with the pre-production, production, and post production workflow. It’s all related these days and we’ll go over how.
Post-production is its own beast and I'm going to go deep into that in another article, but for now, I'll just say that editing on your phone or iPad is the way to go when using software like LumaFusion. This is my go to editing package on mobile and it can even work its way into a larger post-production pipeline with its Frame.io integration. Super excited to talk about that!
And, finally, we’ll talk about distribution. There’s nothing sexy about that, but the business end of the business is a crucial part of this challenge.
So, be sure to subscribe to the blog and head over to the podcast and YouTube channel for more.
Until next time. Stay safe.