I have shot home videos ever since I was a young boy. I was always the person who filmed the family movies and was able to do so in an inconspicuous way that really captured the essence of my family. This bled over into my relationships; using my iPhone, I would capture small moments during a relationship. In time, I had enough material to cut together a cute romantic piece that could depict our love for one another over the months or years we had been together. Ultimately, the experience sparked a light in my brain that the iPhone may be the best weapon of choice for me.
For years, I had been sitting on an idea for a film that could capture the "everyday" between a boyfriend and his girlfriend. The goal was to give the feeling of "I remember that," from one relationship or another, to "I want that day" without going over-the-top cheesy. Thus "Romance in NYC" was born and we began our extremely successful Kickstarter campaign. The film is a POV perspective of the Boyfriend and his Girlfriend taking you on a journey through their life enjoying a regular day in NYC, but capturing the tiny nuances that are romantic, even in the most mundane situations, with NYC as a beautiful backdrop.
Why the iPhone 6?
Short version: I was due for an upgrade. No, in all seriousness, I absolutely love pushing technology to the limit and giving myself hurdles to cross. Having a $5 million budget, the best equipment and a large crew can often come at the price of creativity and improvisation.
I own many prosumer cameras, but I always felt they were just too big and invasive for this particular film idea. To achieve the right intimate, candid feel, I finally found my medium, the iPhone 6.
The iPhone’s camera and glass are still the best on the market. A story is a story whether you view it at 1080p or 4K, and the iPhone 6 had what we needed to get it done, plus a time and time again proven track record with capturing great quality footage consistently.
Also, the natural field of view (FOV) of the iPhone mimicked our real life romantic point-of-view. We didn’t want it to feel like a video game, but a moment you could look at and go, "Oh, I have been there!" or "I want that day!"
Dealing with limitations
The iPhone’s limitations such as low light and resolution made looking at dailies a scary exercise. But as we continued to shoot, I realized it wasn’t about the grain in a shot but about the way the girlfriend would look into the boyfriend’s eyes and how we could use the iPhone’s limitations to our advantage.
With the combination of the hardware Apple provides and the app MoviePro – being able to lock ISO was a huge one, this saved us on our last day of shooting where we lost the light due to cloud cover and needed to match footage with minimal lighting setups – we were able to push the camera to the limit, gaining 50mbps 60fps 1080p video to capture one of the smallest nuances of the human experience.
Choosing the right accessories and gear
Even though we were shooting on an iPhone 6, the basics of film still apply. So for natural motion and movement you use a Glidecam. In this case we used the HD2000 for extra stability and quick release. This was our go-to for any walking or running shots. It was important that the actress [Rachael McOwens] and I could be playful but not give the audience vertigo. It added a smoothness to the shots but also retained that natural bob so not to feel like "the boyfriend" was on rails.
The Blackwing was great for more stationary shots, acting as an easier way to hold the phone steady, with the gun-handle grip allowing for less shake and easier push and pull movements, especially for the "kissing," considering how close we had to get the camera to the actress’ face.
We had multiple brackets to hold the phone on any rig, tripods, monopods and shoulder rigs that we would use for shots here and there when it called for it. And lots of gaffer/duct tape, because what film doesn’t need excess duct tape?
The GorillaPod was a backup source of stabilization for the iPhone, but ended up being instrumental in such an unexpected way. We coined the term "Boyfriend Angle" throughout the film. It was holding the camera just slightly higher than my own eye level to give that "comforting feel."
MoviePro was an essential component to making this film a reality. I researched apps which unlocked extra features for the iPhone’s camera, such as manual exposure, temperature, FPS and otherwise restricted features in the basic iPhone camera app. What ultimately led me to choose this particular app was the developers’ promise of less than 1% chance that your footage would be lost if the app crashed. He had implemented a caching system that would save all footage with a variant of "1 second off the end" lost if a crash occurred. The app saved my ass on multiple occasions and the end results were wonderful. It not only helped me to understand how the iPhone filmed better but allowed me to push it to the limits.
Upside of shooting on a phone
Shooting on the iPhone created a "bubble" for me and the actress to work within, focusing more on the story than the technical aspects of it all.
We were able to shoot in many heavily populated locations such as the subway, clothing stores and restaurants. We took up such a small footprint that we could get away with doing this because we weren’t bothering anyone. Having no heavy equipment or lens changes was freeing.
The most important thing to remember is that no matter what medium is being used, the basics of filmmaking still apply. But with any new medium, it was even more important to push the boundaries of the techniques and processes I have learned over the years.
Be creative. Embrace the fact that your camera won’t shoot 4K resolution RED footage and play. Enjoy the small form factor to get those shots otherwise impossible on a large camera, while embracing the suspension of disbelief.
Watch the trailer for "Romance in NYC" below:
Tristan Pope is an Emmy-Award winning director and photographer in New York City. His recent festival-bound short films "Romance in NYC" and "Dancers of New York"have demonstrated his work as an innovative cinematographer/director. Sought after as a speaker/presenter at Apple Stores as well as the Toronto International Film Festival, Pope is thrilled to be able to share his creative vision with an increasingly widespread audience.
His creative cinematic fire erupted during his tenure at Blizzard Entertainment, where he was a substantial part of the team awarded an Emmy for the South Park episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft."