HOW TO SHOOT A FILM ON A SMARTPHONE

Friday, 10 February 2012


The release last year of Olive – the first feature film shot entirely on a smartphone – shows the technology to make movies is already in your hands. Nick Moran, Ed Szekely and Mike Leader, of production company BytesCorp, share their tips on ensuring your smartphone videos look professional without spending a fortune on kit…


Stability, stability, stability
First things first: “The key to making your footage look professional is stability,” says Ed Szekely. “Shake compromises footage. The smaller the camera, the bigger the risk of shake.” To avoid this, Nick Moran suggests that, “Before you even think about buying anything more expensive, you should get a tripod.”
You can pick up a perfectly good one for around £20 and, for about £15, you can buy a specially designed mount for attaching a smartphone to anything with a standard tripod thread. Make sure you fix your smartphone to the tripod in landscape (not portrait) orientation, otherwise you’ll end up with a narrow image which doesn’t fully fill the screen.

Keep sound separate
“On-board mics are never a good idea,” says Nick. Poor quality sound will instantly make your film seem more amateur, so instead of recording audio on your smartphone, beg, borrow or buy (possible for under £20) a small digital voice recorder. These have an external microphone input, so you can record your audio as a separate file and synchronise it with your video footage on a computer afterwards.
When shooting a piece to camera, use a clip-on microphone (under a tenner online) attached to your actor or presenter’s clothes. With its shallow range, a clip mic can, according to Mike Leader, “really set you apart from someone whose footage has all the background sound.” If you’re filming a room scene and using a video mic, instead of forking out for a boom pole, just fashion one yourself using a broom handle and some gaffa tape.

Let there be lighting
If you’re planning to shoot at night, get your hands on a mini LED video light for under £20. This works particularly well if you’re doing interviews or vox pops at festivals or in clubs, but Nick warns, “LED lighting is harsh so it’s not suitable for realistic drama set indoors.” When filming inside, the BytesCorp folk recommend investing in a pair of softboxes – you should be able to get a decent one for £109. Ed Szekely says, “With these you can create basic two-point lighting, using one light to set the tone and another to fill in shadows or light another point of interest in the scene.”
Always remember when using two-point lighting, to place one light closer to whatever it is you’re filming, otherwise you risk lighting the scene too evenly, which looks unnatural. If you’re on a super-tight budget you could attempt to construct DIY softboxes out of house lamps and tracing paper. If going down this route, remember domestic tungsten light bulbs emit an orange glow, so you’ll need to replace them with daylight light bulbs – they don’t cost much and are widely available online.

Post-production on the cheap
“Adobe Premier and Apple Final Cut Pro packages don’t come cheap,” says Ed Szekely, “but then again, they might not be what you need.” Windows Movie Maker and iMovie do pretty much everything you require. As Nick says, “iMovie is a versatile programme, with a good import function – it can read all different file types from smartphones other than iPhones. The only thing it doesn’t do is special effects.”
Alternatively take your pick from the many open source video editing software options available, such as Avisynth, Jashaka and VideoLAN Movie Creator, which are are all free to download. When it comes to synchronising your audio and video, BytesCorp recommend DualEyes, a programme that does the job for you. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial.
Stick to these simple rules and, who knows, the next feature shot on a smartphone could be yours! After all, as Ed says: “The image quality and width of angle you get on an iPhone 4S and a Canon 5DMKII – which costs about £2,000 – are remarkably similar. It’s really quite astonishing.”

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag. 

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