Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by David Rosen
December 6, 2013 1:48 PM
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Are Mobile Movies The Way of the Future?

"Searching for Sugarman"

"No feature filmmaker conceives - let alone executes -- their film for a mobile platform," Lipsky insists.  "Makers frame their films in terms of the script and the story -- that's what drives decision making as to how a scene is shot and edited.  I shoot a lot of close-ups and extra-close-ups and it would be antithetical to conceive a shot in terms of a handheld device."  He is adamant that the new 4 inch screen of the iPhone 5 (with a 16:9 aspect ratio) or iPad 2's 9.7 inch (4:3 aspect ratio) is not up to the challenge of real filmmaking.  "They are simply not acceptable ways of viewing a film," he argues.

Of course, Lipsky acknowledges that many people are watching shorter works, including TV shows, and even some feature-length movies on mobile devices.  However, he warns that such viewing is not relevant to a director, an "auteur" in the classic maker sense, in framing and executing a scene. 

"Documentary films are measured by their impact; they are stories created to engage people," said Jarmel, who, with her partner, Ken Schneider, founded PatchWorks Films in 1994 and is currently completing "Havana Curveball."  Among some of their other recent works are "Speaking in Tongues," which won the Audience Award at the 2009 San Francisco Film Festival, and the ITVS-funded "Born in the U.S.A," which aired on the PBS series Independent Lens.

Speculating on what would likely work aesthetically for a documentary designed for a mobile platform, Jarmel acknowledged that the format has a different potential.  "In a small format, there would likely be no wide shots, fewer subtleties like many 'in your face' videos on YouTube," she reflects.  Equally critical, "it would have to be short-maybe 3 to 8 minutes." 

"We saw mobile video as an experimental platform not unlike the avant-garde of the '70s."

However, she worries that the small screen further isolates viewers, offering no community experience.  She acknowledges that online platforms-Facebook, Twitter, games, apps, or participatory storytelling-have great potential to take the story off the screen. These transmedia platforms can generate a lot of interest and create a different form of "community" experience.

The increasing, widespread adoption of small, mobile entertainment devices poses two challenges for indie filmmaking -- making vs. distributing.  And makers are adapting to the new medium. Carton Evans of the Disposable Film Festival, which was created in order to democratize filmmaking by showcasing works made using smartphones, tablets, laptops, cameras and other non-traditional devices. Evans reports that the number of submissions increased from 60 when the festival started in 2008 to 2,000 this year.

Evans notes that filmmaking has been repeatedly revolutionized by technology, whether Super8, video or today's digital devices. "When we started the festival seven years ago," he recalls, "we saw mobile video as an experimental platform not unlike the avant-garde of the '70s."

Since then, makers have both adapted to the possibilities of the new medium and the medium itself has expanded. Evans notes that while the festival focuses on short works, it has shown feature-length films shot on an iPhone.  And a host of accessories, such as a $10 add-on lens for more widescreen shots, are now available. 

These advances have enhanced the medium's aesthetic possibilities, according to Evans. "A new creative vocabulary is being developed," he said. "One film we showed last year was a thriller about man who stalks a woman through her webcam.  It was shot on a webcam and invoked a sense of immediacy that could not be captured using a professional camera.  It made everyone in the audience complicit in the act of stalking the character."

The fact that people shooting video with their iPhones or other devices is become ubiquitous, presents new opportunities for documentary makers.  "Such shooting is less intrusive and fosters a greater sense of intimacy between maker and subject," said Evans.

Though filmmakers may not be able to limit the screens on which their movies are seen, they may be able to control the tools they use to make them.  There are still filmgoers who buy seats in theaters to take in wide shots and panoramic views, but there are also stories that benefit from filmmaking technologies that can fit within the nooks and crannies of our lives to tell stories even more intimately.

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  • Ricky Fosheim | January 30, 2014 2:52 PMReply

    Awesome article. Check out Uneasy Lies the Mind, definitely the first feature length narrative movie to be shot entirely on the iPhone.

  • Vin | December 10, 2013 2:40 PMReply

    Excellent article. I'm sympathetic to Lipsky's point of view, but I think he is missing the fact that it is very likely that the feature film is losing its status as the central - perhaps definitive - filmmaking expression. I don't think we're there yet, but I think that's where we're headed.

    Partly this is due to the fact that technological advances in filmmaking and distribution tools have made non-traditional categories and platforms more exciting to budding filmmakers. Partly it's due to a combination of greater narrative adventuresomeness in mediums like television, and the insistence of Hollywood to turn studio filmmaking into something akin to an amusement park ride. Put it all together, and you've got a generation of movie makers and movie watchers that is increasingly less invested in the ways of the old - because the ways of the old are, frankly, kinda staid.

    I'm not going to say whether all this is good or bad (because frankly what difference does it make), even if I prefer the communality of a packed dark movie theater to the communality of live-tweeting the latest episode of Game of Thrones...but that's the way the world's going.

  • j | December 7, 2013 4:37 PMReply

    It might be a nice idea short term wise but in the long term it wont last .The quality of a film you see in a theater is far better than on your phone .

  • Brian Kowalchuk | December 6, 2013 11:24 PMReply

    It's going to be interesting.

  • Behalf of Everyone | December 6, 2013 3:24 PMReply

    Um, I like Bluray so I wouldn't watch this s***

  • Everyone | December 6, 2013 5:43 PM

    We don't know you

  • dyg | December 6, 2013 2:22 PMReply

    Park Chan Wook's Berlin winning short NIGHT FISHING was shot on an iPhone (financed by Korea's #1 telecom). After seeing it, you think, "what a great short! Pity it was shot on an iPhone."

  • Kristian Berg | December 6, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    At the 2013 Woodstock Film Festival in the Short Docs II program, David Kaplan's "Where Beasts Dwell" was shot entirely on an IPhone with a super-8 filter app. Interviews conducted solely on audio - it totally fit the quirky portrait of artist Kathy Ruttenberg. This was paired with Shira Piven's "The Beast and the Angel" on the MC5's Wayne Kramer and my own "Poustinia" portrait of artist Gendron Jensen.