Watch the segment here: This was an article done for the Evening Magazine show on the NBC affiliate in Seattle, KING5. It feels good to know that the word is starting to spread about mobile filmmaking. Here is a link to the article: LINK
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: TANGERINE 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? Doesn't matter! 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. APPS 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. FADE OUT.
I’M SHOOTING ANOTHER MOVIE ON MOBILE AND SO ARE YOU!
You heard me! You and I are going to shoot a feature film together and we’re going to do it all on mobile... or whatever you have at your disposal. This summer, I’m laying down the gauntlet. The challenge is to stop shooting short films and get to your feature film. Maybe it’s your first feature. Maybe, like me, it’s your 4th. No matter which number it is, we’re going to set aside convention and create something spectacular... on mobile! You with me? Good! Now, how the heck are we going to do this? “Feature films are hard and labor intensive, aren’t they?,” you say. Well, yes. But so is eating an elephant. You attack a feature film the same way as you eat that elephant... one bite at a time. Let’s go over the broad strokes of what we will accomplish together: We’re going to write a script or, in my case, a scriptment. For the uninitiated, a scriptment is a lot more than a treatment and not quite a full script. That is to say, it’s all of the scenes written out with scene headings, actions, and maybe a little starter dialog, but not every bit of dialog your actors would say. There is a caveat, though: You must have decent actors to pull this sort of thing off. I’ve been able to pull it off twice before, so I feel extremely comfortable with that sort of creative collaboration. Next, we’re going to choose our “weapons of mass creation.” The tools we choose are important. Not the sort of “important” Hollywood makes you think you need, but the kind of important that allows you to get your job done. When you see a feature film being shot, you see dozen trucks with gear and crew to handle that gear. There are cranes and dollies and rigging and giant lights... and a catering truck to fuel the men and women who run all that gear. Trust me, I know. I was Key Grip for 12 years! That’s a lot of expensive stuff and crew you don’t have. So, we’re going to use what we DO have... YOU and a few of your closest associates! Oh, and more importantly... good food from a local restaurant. Lumped in with all of this is the actual gear. We’re going to go into the specifics in another article, but the long and the short of it is you need a camera of some sort, sound equipment, and something to illuminate the scenes. Let’s talk cameras... because they’re sexy. Yes, there’s nothing sexier than pulling the plastic off of a new piece of kit. The sound of the crinkle and crackle as the clear skin peels away... the whiff of adhesive as the film gives away to its inevitable resting place in the trash. We all know and love that new gear smell. But, I don’t want you to spend a lot to make this feature. If you already have a phone, then you have exactly what you need to make this feature. We’re going bare bones on this one... After all, this is a ’mobile creator’ challenge of sorts. The other gear, we’ll go over later. Just know that we need good sound, so you might have to spend a little cash getting kitted out with the proper gear for that. It might not cost that much, but it will probably cost you something. Sorry. Either pay now or pay later, but you‘re gonna pay! Ultimately, we’re going to need to edit the beautiful images and crisp sound you captured. Part of this challenge is to do as much of it on a mobile device as possible. Whether you have an Apple or an Android, there are solutions for you in the app stores that are pretty darned impressive. We’ll talk about a few another time, but for now, expect to pay a little something if you don’t already have an app that comes on your device. Don’t worry it won’t be that expensive. Finally, we’re going to get distribution for the feature film you‘ve created. Now, there are many flavors of distro, so we will have to unpack that in an article all on its own. But, we should make a plan... a business plan for this ‘product’ you’ve taken time and money to craft. What is the ultimate destination for your product? You should think about that before you shoot one second of footage. Notice I’ve used the ‘p’ word twice? Yes, movies are a product. the sooner you get that into your mush the better. Yes, features can be both art and commerce, but it’s not called ”show business” for nothing... Not “show art,” not “show fun,” show business! If you’re just making your movie to show to granny during the holidays, then that’s on you! Full disclosure: I have distribution lined up for this project. I want to be as transparent as possible moving forward, so, again, we’ll talk distribution another time. Why are we doing this? Well, there are a few reasons, but the most important are these: It is my belief that mobile is ready for primetime. We’ve see what Steven Soderbergh and Sean Baker have done with their feature films that were shot on mobile. At the time, they were somewhat groundbreaking. Now, shooting a feature is nothing new, but what is new is doing an end-to-end mobile workflow... shooting and finishing on mobile. Mobile is ultra accessible. Sure, you could grab your DLSR or cinema camera, polish up your lenses, charge up your batteries and head out. Once you get back, you’ll throw your footage into your computer, edit and export. It’s been done. It will continue to be done that way. and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the real challenge is to grab what‘s in your pocket, maybe throw on a conversion lens, shoot and edit right on the same device. Doing a short film is a hell of a lot of fun, but what are you going to do with it when you get done? Yes, you can enter it into a festival, but that’s not a business plan. Shorts are hard to sell, but you know what’s easier? FEATURE FILMS and SERIES! And, they’re needed now more than ever! We're launching a streaming service. There. I said it! The goal of this exercise is to curate the best projects that can be made. This isn’t YouTube! We want proper movies and series. This is intended to be high quality entertainment. No cat videos. No proofs of concept for something you want to make when you have more money to make it better. Make your ‘better’ right now... on mobile! I believe that filmmakers should make a buck from all their hard work, passion, and diligence. So, it is my goal to help in that when the service is launched. More to come at a later date. I keep saying that “I’m using this time period we’re in (the time of Covid-19) as an excuse to not have any more excuses.“ No more “I don’t have X, so I can’t do Y.“ You have a movie studio in your pocket. If you have a story to tell, why wait for someone to give you ‘permission’ to go shoot your project. No! That’s B.S. and we’re not going to let each other fall into that trap, right?! Good! Reach out on social and let me know what you plan on shooting. Let me know how I can help. I’m here to encourage and problem solve. Together, we can shake off the shackles of fear and excuse to create something that can potentially change your life and the lives of those in your socially distanced circle. I’ll be posting some more articles about the gear, tips, techniques, business, and more in the coming weeks. It begins now! Stay safe and let’s get to work! FADE OUT.