The Role of New Technology and Filmmaking
Smartphones changing the filmmaking landscape
When it comes to mobile phones, the majority of people now have ‘smartphones’. A step up from traditional mobiles, these compact devices are defined as being able to perform many of the functions of a computer.
Cameras on mobile phones were initially added as a ‘novelty’ factor, allowing people to take mediocre photos and videos and instantly share it with others.
Technology soon developed with the introduction of ‘smart’ devices and with this so too did the quality of the cameras and their abilities. A tiny high-resolution camera is embedded in an object most of us carry in our pockets every day. Do we make the most of it?
Now days, smartphones are now gaining momentum in the professional film and photography arena.
Filmmakers have started adopting smartphones to produce not only quality shorts, but in some cases full-length feature films – shot completely on a mobile phone. The Apple iPhone seems to be the most popular when it comes to a filmmaking tool. For this reason we will focus on the Apple iPhone, however, the technologies and capabilities are not limited to these devices but can be applied to many smart-phones. This is mostly likely due to the filmmaking apps and ‘ad-on’ tools, including attachable lenses that enhance camera quality and capabilities.
In order to understand how smartphones are being adopted in the professional industry and the capabilities, it is important to look at some real life examples.
Well known South Korean director, Park Chan-Wook, who directed “Old Boy” and “Stoker” won a Golden Bear, was one of the first professionals in the industry to really embrace the technology with his 33-minute feature film Night Fishing. He won a Golden Bear for best short film at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2011 with the fantasy drama. This illustrated that even veteran filmmakers have embraced the new medium, demonstrating that smartphone-made movies can be technically and aesthetically accomplished.
While Chan-Wook did attach a 35mm lens to his iPhone as the principle camera, he had his entire crew shoot with iPhones, capturing various angels that he used throughout the film.
Apple of My Eye
Michael Koerbel and Anna Elizabeth James, founders of small production company Majek Pictures, recently shot and edited their four-minute film Apple Of My Eye on their iPhone 4. While the couple had the story idea but had no money to make the film, which is a sentimental story of a man’s relationship with his granddaughter that then evokes images of his own childhood. The couple got the idea to make the idea the film on their phone while playing around with their iPhone 4. In the ‘making-of Apple of my Eye’, it shows James editing the film on the iPhone iMovie while driving home. The couple say they would not recommend using a smartphone for larger projects but say it worked quite well for this undertaking and would use it again for similar projects.
Searching for Sugar Man
‘Searching for the Sugar Man’ has become the first documentary partially shot with a smartphone to win an Oscar after it took out the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature earlier this year, (Sumria, 2013). However, the use of the iPhone was not a choice. Director Malik Bendjelloul turned to using his iPhone after he ran out of money while making the film and had to film the remaining shots using the 8mm Vintage Camera app. He found this technology so impressive, he re-shot some images using the same app.
This Is Not A Film
Well-known and controversial Iranian filmmaker, Jafaf Panahi, was placed under house arrest as he appealed a court’s decision for a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban on making films after the Iranian government claimed his previous film was ‘propaganda against the state’. Panahi was placed. Panahi disobeyed court orders and shot the film ‘This Is Not A Film’ partially on an iPhone in his home. This allowed him to be discrete during the process. After the film was completed it was then put on a flash drive and smuggled out of the country. ‘This Is Not A Film’ then premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
The 53rd Hour
This seven-minute film won the Tropfest Telstra Mobile Masterpieces category in 2012. This is a category specifically dedicated to the emerging popularity of smartphones in the filmmaking industry. The 53rd Hour was made by director Jason van Genderen and tells the story his separation from his children and the ‘missing moments’ as he deals with joint-custody. Genderen is now seen as a ‘poster boy’ for how to make a beautiful short-film on a limited budget using conventional methods, (no author, Tropfest Blog, 2013). Genderen has been recognised has been recognised by Tropfest on several occasions for his ability to tell not only moving, but also complex stories in less than 10-minutes.
Apps and Tools
Just like the props and special affects when shooting a traditional film there are now a hundreds of Apps and accessories that can act in the same way, adding different styles and tools to the film-making experience. In fact, the development of these ‘apps, can now make smartphones some of the most versatile tools on set and the improving quality of cameras on phones, in addition to the versatility of emerging software are becoming more recognized as legitimate film-making tools. They can do everything from calculate depth-of-field to help you level a camera. The possibilities are endless and everyday new apps change how you approach your job as a filmmaker.
Examples of some apps that are revolutionizing the filmmaking process include:
This is one of the top apps when it comes to a depth of field calculator on the iPhone. It allows users to quickly calculate depth of field accurately and discretely.
Artemis Director’s Viewfinder
This app allows users to use their phone’s camera to take a picture and then overlay that picture estimated field-of-view for different lens sizes. It allows the director to ‘see’ with different lens sizes all at once and then determine the best field-of-view
Storyboard Composer is the world’s first mobile story boarding application and allows users to create their first storyboard in a matter of minutes. Storyboard Composer allows professionals and students to portray their vision to others in an easily controllable and transportable format.
Designed for filmmakers and photographers, mRelease aims to make getting releases for shoots much easier. Appearance Release (a.k.a. Model Release or Talent Release), Property Release, Location Release, and Crew Release are all included.
Once the basic information about your shoot is entered, the user adds some quick details about your subject, an image from the built-in camera or photo library, and get a touch-screen signature .The app also creates, stores, and emails a pdf file of the signed release, including the embedded photo of your subject.
In addition to new software, there is also a growing range of hardware specially made for smartphones, including tripods, lenses and filters.
One of the initial appeals of the smartphone as a filming tool was its low-cost appeal and ease to use. The smartphone has opened up the filmmaking platform to a range of people that previously would not have had the funds or equipment to bring their ideas to fruition. As can be seen in the above examples, filmmakers have turned to their smartphone when funding has been non-existent or run-out. The costs to shoot on a smartphone are minimal and even apps that enhance production elements are very small. Entrant in the South Korean Olleh international Film Festival, Hong Young-geun, tells how he salvaged a script that he abandoned five years ago after a funding application was rejected by the Korean Film Council. When he heard about the Olleh festival, he reworked the script and shot “One Day” with an iPhone 4 in three days. He said that during editing, the crisp picture quality of the iPhone-shot scenes surprised him. “I’ll add more scenes to the short and submit it to other film festivals”, Young-geun added.
This is particularly important for young film-makers starting out, as they too, now have avenues to not only get their work out into the world, but also to gain experience.
Secondly, it is the flexibility and ease of these devices that is drawing filmmakers to the smartphone as a work tool, (no author, Lights Online Film School, 2013). Instead of carrying a hand-held camera and going through the process of setting it up, people can just ‘whip it out’ and start shooting. The smartphone brings an ‘anytime, anywhere’ element to filming that has not been capable in the past. Also, smartphones allow people to shoot incognito and without drawing attention during the filming process, as was the case in Jafaf Panahi’s film ‘This Is Not A Film’. Having a smartphone enabled Panahi to film without drawing suspicion during his house arrest.
From start to finish, the production process requires a range of different elements and devices. The smartphone, along with the latest software, now means many of these elements are on the one device. From organising release forms, a safety checklist, setting up different angels, filming and even editing, smartphones are being recognized one of the most versatile tools on a film set.
Another aspect that smartphones seem to be building on is the notion of creativity when it comes to filmmaking. Director of It’s A Wonderful Life and three-time Academy Award winner, Frank Capra once said “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness”, (Willans, 2013). Smartphones are seen to embody this creativity due to the diversity they bring to shooting a film. It has been noted that the art of good film-making should be to make good with whatever technology they have at their disposal and there is a feeling that smartphones can also help young directors land producers learn how to maximise their creativity rather rely on traditional production tools, (no author, Lights Online Film School, 2013). Using one small camera may help upcoming filmmakers create strong films and documentaries using whatever technology are at their disposal.
In particular, smartphones have impacted the short-film arena. Creative director of World Film Directive, Alice Bragg, believes smartphones have freed short-film makers and given them a range of possibilities unlike anything before. “You can do some really amazingly dramatic shots with smartphones. Even simple things like attaching them to the front of a skateboard can produce some astonishing shots”, (Willans, 2013). Hall (2013) adds that smartphone films can be made on a very low budget, which likely encourages risk-taking that traditional filmmaking shuns.
The smartphone is also felt to bring a new, and more personal element to filmmaking. Lee (2013) recalls some of the stories of entrants at the South Korean Olleh international Film Festival. Shunji Iwai, a veteran Japanese film director, captured a poetic two-minute production that shows a white plastic bag floating in the street near his office, calling it his first smartphone movie. In addition, Member of K-pop group, Brown Eyed Girls, Narsha, told a story of her childhood when she dreamed of being a singer to escape poverty. Jury president, Bong Joong-ho, said the nature of smartphones helps to tell more intimate and personal stories.” It’s close to our body,” he said. “There are many fun features that only smartphones have. I would like to tell stories with very personal and intimate confessions of people.”
How is it affecting the Film Industry?
One of the most prominent affects of smartphones on the filmmaking industry is the development of smart-phone film festivals. The increasing popularity of smartphones and their growing recognition as production devices is inspiring a whole new genre of film festivals, specifically catered to smartphones. Film festivals dedicated to short movies made with the video recording and editing features in smartphones have sprung up around the world in the last three years or so as consumers snapped up high-tech phones. Not only does this cater to existing filmmakers who have already adopted this technology and gives them a professional platform to showcase their work, but also such festivals are also able to highlight the capabilities and quality of these devices to others.
At the moment, smartphone film festivals serve as a springboard for amateur filmmakers and a buzz creator for those trying to break into the film industry with little funding.
In Australia the Tropfest Telstra Mobile Masterpieces was introduced in 2009 as the mobile film category. It recognises the growing interest in mobile films and by opening up the Tropfest competition to the mobile platform, the festival aims to give greater accessibility to filmmaking. The aim is to see it as a natural extension of short film story telling. This category is gaining more and more entries each year.
Similarly, South Korea’s annual Olleh International Smartphone Film Festival is gaining momentum each year. There is no red carpet, no sleek limousines and is described as the world’s “least authoritative” film festival, according to one of its organizers. The festival features works by unlikely filmmakers with little to no capital or experience and only smartphones as their camera equipment. In its third year, festival has drawn more than 700 entries from South Korea and abroad, up from about 400 submissions from last year. Around twenty-five are eventually selected for screening during the festival.
South Korean movie director and jury president for the festival, Bong Joong-ho, recalls “When I was in college I wanted a camera so much, so I sold doughnuts for six months to buy a Hitachi camera”. But now more than 30 million people have more than 30 million cameras they can shoot movies with,” he said of South Korea where two thirds of the country’s 50 million people own smartphones.”
Other emerging film festivals include the Mobil Film Festival in San Diego, the Pocket Film Festival in Paris, and the online iPhone Film Festival, (Hall, 2013).
So will this technology ever replace traditional film tools and methods? Despite the increasing popularity and capabilities of these new technologies, it is unlikely smartphones will ever fully replace the big-budget ‘Hollywood’ productions. The millions of dollars that go into such productions can not be replaced, regardless of how smartphone technology improves. The future of filmmaking will most likely see a blend of what is emerging in today’s environment, that is a blend of the old and the new. As can already be seen, there will definitely be an increasing presence of new technologies, with those already in the industry as well as upcoming filmmakers. It will also expand the filmmaking industry with more people able to become ‘filmmakers’ and more platforms to disperse films. However, traditional filmmaking and production elements will never be replaced, therefore the future of filmmaking sees greater diversity and opportunity than ever before.
Hall, B, S, 2013, ‘The Next Stephen Spielberg uses a smartphone’, viewed 2nd November,
Hanlon, J, 2012, ‘Pocket Filmmaker: smart tripods for stabilizing your smartphone videos’, CNet.com, viewed 3rd November, http://www.cnet.com.au/pocket-filmmaker-smart-tripods-for-stablising-your-smartphone-videos-339342136.htm
Lee, Y, 2013, ‘Smartphone film fest draws unlikely filmmakers’, Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 29th October, http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-technology/smartphone-film-fest-draws-unlikely-filmmakers-20130420-2i74b.html