The humble camera has come a long way in the past few decades, and they just keep getting better and better. These days there are crazy filmmakers out there making whole shorts and features on just their smartphone – look at feature film "Tangerine", or the Robert Rodriguez short "Two Scoops"!
Smartphone filmmaking can be a fantastic option for the camera crew on a budget. In this guide, we're going to go over how to make a movie with your smartphone, the techniques involved, and some of the production equipment required.
How to turn your smartphone into an HD movie camera
Shooting a film with your smartphone starts with something very simple: turning it sideways. You'll get the best cinematic look from your smart device if you avoid classic social media vertical framing and rotate to the more widely used cinematic 16:9 ratio.
Next, familiarise yourself with the settings available on your device. You need to be able to quickly access video size, frames per second, white balance (if available), exposure, and storage location. If you can, it's also advised that you turn off auto settings such as focus and exposure, so that you can control them fully. Many filmmakers also recommend downloading a third-party filmmaking app for your smartphone, like FilmicPro (which was used to shoot "Tangerine"). These typically have more intuitive settings controls, making them easier and quicker to use.
-Quick tips for shooting with a smartphone
Sound solutions for smartphone filmmakers
So, what sound equipment is available for budding smartphone filmmakers? Depending on your budget, skill level and schedule, you have two options:
You could buy a plug-in mic, but plugging straight into a smart device comes with its problems.
– Option 1: Plug-in mic
You could buy a plug-in mic like the Sennheiser MKE2 Digital, but plugging straight into a smart device comes with its problems. For starters, not every 3.5 mm jack will work with a smartphone; although the same size and shape, the input on a phone is usually designed differently to a mic. By all means give it a shot, but test everything before purchasing.
The real downside, though, is the lack of control. Plugging a microphone in-camera means you can't control the levels during a take, and the quality is usually poorer. This increases your risk of bad sound, which can break the immersion of your film. Additionally, your mic becomes anchored to the camera during scenes where it really ought to be brought closer – such as when shooting at awkward angles.
– Option 2: External sound recording
If you have the budget to either buy or rent gear, it's always better to use an external sound solution. Grab yourself a dedicated soundie and load him or her up with a decent boom, a dedicated audio recording device and the best shotgun mic you can afford – RØDE is often a good blend of quality and budget.
With this combo, you'll be able to record pitch-perfect audio that can be fully controlled, and you'll have a technician on set who'll take care of it properly. Plus it'll be easier to grab quick foley FX for post production – your recordists can wander off to capture sound while you set up the next shot.
Of course, the downside here is that it'll be far more expensive, and you'll need to sync up sound with footage in post. Software like Adobe Premiere Pro is pretty good at doing it automatically, but your editor will thank you for bringing along a clapper board and taking good notes.
— iPhone Film Festival (@indiefone) July 20, 2017
A quick word about lighting a smartphone film
Smartphone camera dynamic range is never going to be as good as your Black Magic Ursa or 4K counterpart, but mobile devices are getting better every year and some users swear by the quality of the humble iPhone. However, it pays to be prepared for trouble.
When shooting a film with your smartphone, you need to make natural light work for you.
When shooting a film with your smartphone, you need to make natural light work for you. Shoot on cloudy days or indoors for more even tones, or if you must shoot in direct sunlight, find angles that don't create too harsh a contrast on your subject. If you need it – and we'd recommend it – go to set armed with a reflector disc, poly board and at least a 4×4 diffuser (if not bigger).
That said, those who can afford some proper lighting should consider the investment. LED lights, for example, come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are really easy to use, not to mention the fact that they're less likely to blow up than something with a heavy bulb.
LED panels, for example, can provide a really soft fill light for most indoor or outdoor uses (including green screening). Combine them with a few small fresnel lights and you can pick out and highlight key features on your subject – such as backlighting, which instantly makes a shot look more professional. We recommend investing in a Lite Panel kit, so you have some stands and a carry case, too.
And that's it! Now you're ready to go out and shoot your smartphone masterpiece. But if you have any other questions, or want to look at some equipment, contact DVT today.
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