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Will 2014 Be the Year That Smartphone Filmmaking Goes Mainstream?

By David Rosen | Indiewire January 29, 2014 at 10:09AM

The smartphone, particularly Apple's iPhone, is revolutionizing moving-image making.
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"Night Fishing"
"Night Fishing"

Over the last century, each generation of technology revolutionized filmmaking. But with the smartphone filmmaking, the barrier to entry drops to something close to zero. 

It's an ultra low-cost medium. It's easy to use. It also offers a sense of immediacy -- you can do away with crew or shoot surreptitiously. It turns anyone into an amateur filmmaker -- but as the smartphone is being adopted by professional filmmakers, it's fostering a new aesthetic.

Filmmakers first started using the smartphone to film in 2005; the following year Italian directors, Marcello Mencarini and Barbara Seghezzi released a feature-length doc, "New Love Meetings (Comizi d'Amore)," shot in MPEG-4 with a mobile phone. In 2007, South African director Aryan Kaganof released "SMS Sugar Man," a feature-length narrative shot using the Sony Ericsson W900i. In 2011, directors Hooman Khalili and Pat Gilles released the feature, "Olive," shot on a Nokia N8, and Korean director Chan-Wook Park released the award-winning short, "Paranmanjang (Night Fishing)." Last year's Oscar-winning documentary, Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching for Sugar Man," integrated 8mm film and iPhone video.

Then last year, director Brian Kowalchuk announced that he plans to shoot "Ode," a feature-length movie, on an iPhone and under a SAG-AFTRA Ultra Low Budget production contract. "I have directed five plays, largely under the auspices of Equity's Seat Theater Plan in New York and Los Angeles," he says. He also produced and directed "The Billy Armstrong Situation," a narrative feature shot with Super 16mm and some supplemental digital video footage; it's currently in post.

Read More: 5 Affordable or Free iPhone Apps for Filmmakers


"At day's end, I'm just a guy trying to get a film made," Kowalchuk said. "I like Super 16mm film and have been considering using it for 'Ode.' Simply put, I thought it might be cool to make a film for worldwide theatrical distribution with a device I could pull out of my pocket."  He adds, "there are smart phones other than an iPhone that could probably get the job done."

Kowalchuk acknowledges that being an early adopter has its benefits. "The pro of using a mobile device is that people think it's cool and cutting-edge," he says. "In a way, I agree. I am gaining access to a few major talent agencies and managers and other companies I might not otherwise have access to. People want to read the script, too. This is not a minor consideration."  

However, he warns, "the cons might outweigh the pros.  More than anything else, it's an unproven technology."

Asked whether he's receiving support from Apple, Kowalchuk is vague. "We are currently in discussions with select hardware and software providers and manufacturers," he said.

Filmmaker Sascha Ciezata brings a very different sensibility to iPhone filmmaking. His film, When Lynch Met Lucas, was the first animated film ever shot with an iPhone and drew extensive media coverage, going viral. The video used audio from a speech by David Lynch recalling a meeting he had with George Lucas regarding his possible role directing the "Star Wars" sequel, "Return of the Jedi." 

"I've worked in live action and animation, but in 2010, I didn't have money to shoot the Lynch story on film," Ciezata said. "So, I decided to try using my iPhone as the camera and, working through a trial-and-error process, I simply made things up as I went along." For example, he used an Ikea bookstand in place of a tripod to mount the camera. "At that time there were no iPhone tripods and other ancillary equipment like you have now."  

This article is related to: Tech, Filmmaker Toolkit: Technology, Digital Future, Filmmaker Toolkit: Production