Getting into low budget filmmaking on your iPhone is an exciting concept, but also a bit of a daunting one if it is something you do not have much experience with it. It requires you and your team to take an idea, write it into a script, capture it on video, and edit it into a final product. And of course… it has to be good!
To be honest, your first film, second film, maybe even third film most likely will not be your best work. So when you are initially honing your skill set, I suggest you forego expensive equipment, and use something you can find right in your pocket most of the time: your iPhone.
Remember when cell phones used to cost about 50 bucks? Those were the days. Now a new iPhone can run you as much as $1,000! However, there is a good reason for the price tag, and it is because these are actually pretty powerful machines. One of the most impressive parts of it? The camera!
The logistics of a crew, actors, locations, props, and more is something for another article. In this article, we explain why it makes sense to simply use your iPhone for your first few films. Heck, I personally think it has a strong enough camera to use even once you have honed your filmmaking skills. Just look at the 2015 film “Tangerine." It was shot entirely on 3 iPhone5s’, and made it into Sundance Film Festival, along with a limited theatrical release. Imagine what you can do with an iPhone8 or iPhoneX!
The camera on the iPhone is so user friendly, even my Grandmother has no problem taking photos and videos on it. However, there are a few extra layers that will help you create a better looking image as you film your low budget movie. Here are some of our best tips for low budget filmmaking on your iPhone.
Easy tip: Hold the phone horizontally when you are filming. If you fail to do so, you will have a video with big, ugly black bars on each side that only looks good on Instagram, and that is not what we are aiming for when low budget filmmaking on your iPhone!
To achieve a consistently exposed and focused image, be sure to utilize the exposure/focus lock feature. While you are in camera mode, tap the area of the screen you want to focus on or expose for, and a yellow box will appear. Continue to hold down your finger in that yellow box, and in the top center of your screen you will see “AE/AF LOCK” appear. There will also be a small sun icon next to the box. You can move that icon up and down to further adjust the exposure.
Using slow motion is pretty simple. Just swipe to left until you have the “SLOW-MO” option highlighted. Once you press record, you’ll be filming in slow motion. The quality of the iPhone slow motion is impressive and is an easy way to add unexpected production value. If you feel like some of the shots you got in slow-mo are a little shaky, fear not! It probably looks good, because it was in slow motion, and everything looks good in slow motion.
Using time lapse is quite similar to using slow motion. Scroll one item past “SLOW-MO” and you should land on “TIME-LAPSE”. Again, this is a solid way to add production value, however it is the opposite of slow motion in two ways. The obvious way is it speeds things up, rather than slowing them down. The second point is you want to make sure your phone is very, very stable while recording a time lapse. If you get bumped, or just fail to hold the phone steady, it will look pretty amateur and most likely will not make the final cut. Low budget filmmaking on your iPhone doesn't have to look low budget!
My personal favorite thing about using a iPhone to film is that it is tiny! It is so versatile in the type of shot you can get, because this bad boy can fit anywhere. I was filming a travel show, and we needed to get super close up shots of a chef preparing a meal in a very small and crowded kitchen. Our big production camera literally could not fit in the room for the shot we needed. I took out my iPhone, and held it within inches of the chef’s workspace, and got some really great close-ups that would have been impossible with a larger camera.
While the story about the chef is great, one thing is very important: lights. If you are filming in broad daylight or an evenly lit environment, then you are golden. But these cameras are not amazing in low light, so if you know you will be filming in a dark environment, bring lights. It does not have to be anything fancy, and you know what, if your friends and crew also have smartphone, then there that is already a start to lighting your shot with their phone flashlights!
This is another topic for another article, but just as a heads up, there are so many accessories that can elevate your iPhone cinematography game without breaking the bank. Anything to apps to lens kits, even tripods, audio recorders, and stabilizing gimbals for your phone will make others think you spent serious money making your film, rather than low budget filmmaking on your iPhone.
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Sam Klein is a writer, producer, and director based in Los Angeles, CA. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America, has written and directed shorts that have been in festivals around the country, wrote the ‘Hipsters” series for Youtube star Anna Akana, directed internationally distributed commercials for Dunlop, and is a staff producer for Tennis Channel’s original content department.
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