For years now we’ve seen iPhones make their way into mainstream film production. Directors like Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh have been using them brilliantly on their feature films, and countless micro-budget filmmakers are making DIY content with them day in and day out.
Even still, the vast majority of filmmakers haven’t really been interested in shooting movies on iPhones. Many respect it as a great tool for someone else, but have had concerns about production value and usability on their own sets.
But I think that’s going to change very soon.
Between the innovations we’re seeing in mobile camera technology (namely the new iPhone 11 Pro), and the new ways in which content is being distributed and consumed, it seems inevitable that iPhones are about to have their biggest moment yet. At least with respect to filmmaking.
Take image quality for starters – the difference (to the average viewer) between well lit iPhone footage and well lit Alexa footage is now completely negligible. That’s not to equate the two cameras – there’s still a reason I invested in an Alexa 4:3 – but we can’t ignore how far mobile camera technology has come.
We’re getting to a point where iPhone cinematography is in the same ballpark (relatively speaking) as professional grade cameras. This transition has happened slowly over many iterations of the phone, and now is at a tipping point…
As a result, iPhones are beginning to be seen less as some fringe tool used by student filmmakers, and more as a fully capable motion picture camera. Not just by a few trailblazers, but by an increasingly large number of open minded filmmakers who understand its true value.
And once Apple starts shooting their gorgeous demo videos in 24p (as opposed to the soap opera-inspired 60p mode), I bet they’ll turn even more heads 😉
People always focus on image quality when it comes to iPhone filmmaking, but it’s all the other benefits that really make it interesting.
For me, the most exciting part is how inconspicuous it can be. Everyone, everywhere is holding a phone at all times. Who’s going to know if you’re shooting a movie or a selfie when you look just like everyone else around you? For a guerrilla filmmaker, it’s a no-brainer.
The overall efficiency of it all is undeniable. You have everything you need in one package – a 1200 nit monitor, 3 lens choices, built in media, battery, color correction tools, and incredibly innovative software – Like Filmic Pro, which will now be able to simultaneously record multiple video streams from each of the 4 cameras on the iPhone.
Stabilizers and audio accessories can be added as needed, but even “rigged up”, you’ll be working with a pocket-sized setup.
All of this creates an incredible opportunity to shoot whenever and wherever you want. And that lack of constraints can push your production value through the roof.
It’s not just about straight up image quality – it’s about your whole visual canvas. Dynamic locations and set pieces will always up your production value faster than any camera or lens.
You’re given this type of freedom when you shoot on an iPhone, but need to give up some luxuries too. Obviously there’s the difference in image quality, but there are also the technical limitations to consider.
You’re not shooting on Cooke’s with a follow focus rig, so those focus pulls you wanted won’t happen. Dynamic range isn’t as strong, so you need to frame and light more carefully. Lowlight capabilities are weaker, so you have to avoid certain shooting situations.
There are no shortage of downsides, but the same could be said about any camera. It’s all about what suits you and your production, and in many cases it’s worth sacrificing the comforts of a traditional cinema camera for the freedom that a phone brings.
This is especially true for filmmakers who are taking advantage of the new media/internet landscape.
There’s an unprecedented opportunity right now to create extremely low-cost productions, and publish them online for a profit. The business model can take many different forms –
Individual content creators can build audiences with free short films, and convert that audience to paid premium content subscribers. Production companies can produce ultra low budget features films for extremely niche audiences, and profit by releasing and marketing exclusively on social media…
There are a million and one ways to do it, and many people have already begun to prove these models. But we’re still at the very beginning.
As audiences continue to move away from the movie theater and gravitate to their cell phones, the storytellers will have to follow. There will always be theatrical exhibition, but this new paradigm that’s just beginning to get cracked open is going to change things.
New types of auteurs will emerge with new stories, told differently. Their audience and exhibition format (phones) will have a major impact on their storytelling style, and approach to the technical craft.
We can only assume that iPhones (and phones like them) will play a huge role in this transition. After all, what better device is there to shoot on for content that’s intended to be viewed almost entirely on smart phones?
Working with an iPhone can be faster, more efficient, and less expensive in almost every way, while also allowing for a much quicker turnaround. These are the pillars of creating high impact online video content, and are not as easy to execute with more traditional camera setups.
While it may be impossible to predict the landscape of indie-film over the next 10 years, one thing is for sure – the internet will play a huge part in it.
It will continue to dictate how films are discovered, watched, created and sold. As more filmmakers find ways to make a living within this ecosystem, it’s highly likely that much of their content will be shot on mobile devices.
There hasn’t been a period quite like this in film history. The closest thing I could relate it to would be the French New Wave, but really this is all new territory.
From where I stand, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Camera phone technology is just becoming a more mainstream option, right as mobile content consumption is skyrocketing.
Whatever course things may take from here, it’s going to be an interesting ride!
What are your thoughts? Are iPhones the way of the future for indie filmmakers? Leave a comment below!