Is It Possible To Shoot Professional Videos With A Smartphone?
I had to ask myself this very question when I was hired to shoot footage for a behind-the-scenes documentary series with my mobile. As it turns out, a few top directors are already pioneering the use of them in full-blown productions.
I was booked for a short-notice, two day shoot after my Samsung S9 was deemed good enough by the client and I found myself frantically searching my local mall for a decent stabilizer. In the end I went for the strangely-named Zhiyun Smooth 4 (I use the Crane 2 for my DSLR gimbal work so trusted the manufacturer) because it was rush hour and I had to get home to try and find a way to get pro results I'd be happy handing over to a client before the 8am call time the next day.
Things didn't go well to begin with. I automatically assumed I was tied to the app that goes with the stabilizer and I spent then best part of 2 hours after I got home trying to get some kind of workflow I would be happy with. It just wasn't happening until long after my wife went to bed when it dawned on me - the stabilizer would stabilize with or without a phone linked to it! I rapidly moved on to the Filmic Pro app I had already installed long ago and what do you know? It has Smooth 4 hardware support already built-in. Bingo.
I spent the next couple of days shooting away with just my stabilized phone in hand, grabbing recharges when I could and recording straight to a micro-SD card (sorry to rub that in, iPhone users). Once I'd got the hang of locking-in exposure, white balance and shutter-speed, it was actually great to use. They key to the results I was getting of course was that I was on a professionally lit film set - my camera was alongside a Red the DOP was shooting on - and if you can handle the permanently wide field of view, it's actually very pleasing to look at (I'll post examples once the footage isn't embargoed).
It turns out that I've just dipped my toe in the water, though. Did you know you can buy an anamorphic lens adapter for smartphones? This opens up an entirely new world because anamorphic is a filmmakers dream. In short and in very rough terms, it offers the flat perspective of, say, a 50mm lens but the field of view of a 25mm. You can tell a film is shot in anamorphic because of the distinctive lens flares and oval bokeh (warning: once seen this is never unseen and you'll always notice it!). It also just looks damn great. The bad news? You'd have to mortgage your house to buy an anamorphic lens, let along the camera to stick it in front of. So screwing one of these in front of a smartphone for $175 and getting pro results is intriguing to say the least, if you can leave your ego at home when you're actually out shooting with one and people are pointing and laughing or, worse, assume you're trespassing on the set.
But then, why should your ego kick in when the director of Oceans 11, Erin Brockovich, Out Of Sight and Traffic (oh and umm Magic Mike) is releasing films this way on that little-known indy platform Netflix? Stylistically the look isn't for every script, of course - but the advantages of shooting so small and light are obvious, not to mention you hardly have to grade the footage in post. Have a look at the trailer for High Flying Birds below and tell me what you think in the comments. Are smart phones credible tools for filmmaking? If not, why not? It's another string to my bow, definitely. If it's good enough for Steve, it's good enough for me.