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I have a smartphone. Can I make a feature film?

Recently, while taking a class on Direction, I was asked this question by a first year student of films. Though, it sounds crazy, but, to be honest, it is very much possible today. With the advent of technology and different smartphone manufacturers outsmarting one another, we have a bag full of opportunities.  If you have a decent story, well forget decent also, if you have a story, no matter how crazy it may sound, there are ample opportunities around you to convert your dream into a full-fledged feature film.

Let us discuss some important tips before you shoot a film on smartphone:

  1. Story– Not just a story. We have to think of something that can be justified in case of a shaky footage or not-so-good framing, etc. Think of a story that can have a mobile phone as one of the characters or story-telling tool. For eg, your story could be about a guy who records everything on his new smartphone gifted to him by his father. May be while capturing a video on road, he saw a glimpse of a beautiful girl in the background and the story could be whether he can find the girl or not OR may be the guy is suddenly missing and we only have his phone and videos through which we can track him. Sounds like a thriller. Isn’t it?
During filming of ‘Unsane’
  • Storyboards– Work on your storyboards i.e. frame by frame description of your shots and angles on paper, so that a lot of time can be saved during production. Remember, time saved is money saved as a lot of expenditure goes when you go on floor i.e. when you start to shoot. So if you have your storyboards clear and completed, shooting would be easier.
  • Avoid portrait mode– Unless your film is a selfie film, avoid holding it vertically. Holding your phone horizontally makes it better aligned to be viewed on a TV or a computer screen. Also, holding you camera horizontally gves you a better grip. You don’t want to see your phone getting dropped on floor evry other time. Isn’t it?
  • Keep your phone on an Airplane mode– Just think while shooting a scene, the shot is going perfectly, your actors are giving a great take, your sound, camera, everything is in sync. Sudddenly, you get a call on your phone and you have to start all over again. Not only it will ruin some of the best shots but it is highly annoying too. So do not forget to keep your phone on Airplane mode before calling ‘Action’.
  • Lighting– An extremely important aspect of mobile filmmaking. Since, you are shooting on a phone, you need to light your scenes well. Each and every visual is important. Remember, you are shooting something that will visually hold the attention of a lot of people. Avoid shooting against the light. Make sure to avoid sky in outdoor shots, or you can shot at an angle which is slightly above the low angle. Shooting during an overcast weather is great as it creates diffused look. The sensors in phone find it difficult to get adjusted during the change of light intensity. While shooting indoors, you can use black cutters to get rid of reflections.
  • Download useful apps– Next time, when you open your Play Store, try to download useful camera apps which can make it easier for you to control your smartphone. One such app is FiLMic Pro which offers wireless control and monitoring of your phone. You can buy the app for just INR 230.
  • Audio– Often the most neglected part of the shoot, but the most important. Poor quality of sound can ruin your great production. Recording the live sound is always a challenge. You can use some cheap mics available online. Also, in controlled conditions, you can hide an I-phone near your actor as the quality is not that bad too.
  • Editing– A lot of money can be saved, if you can edit your film. Try your hands on Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. These are quite user-friendly editing softwares. You can also watch or download editing tutorials online. Learning on the job is the best art.
  • Guerilla-style shooting– Shooting your feature film on mobile helps you to shoot scenes guerilla style i.e. people on road do not get to know that you are actually shooting a film. With no heavy equipments around, nobody can find out as everybody has a smartphone these days. Chances of you getting unnoticed are high, if you plan your shoot smartly and do your location recce (If you recce an area, you visit that place in order to become familiar with it. Filmmakers usually recce a location when they are going to return at a later time to shoot there) extensively.
  • Films already shot on mobiles– Films like ‘Tangerine’, Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’, ‘And Uneasy Lies the Mind’ and the first Indian film ‘Adadae’ are some of the films that have been shot on smartphones.

Here are a few links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN6v5PE9Ga4 (Adadae Trailer)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUxRxgtYt0M (Tangerine Trailer)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7KZrt_cHH0 (Unsane Trailer)

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