Earlier this year, Tristan Pope released “Romance in NYC,” a crowdfunded short film shot entirely on an iPhone 6. For his follow-up, “Dancers of Zurich,” Pope once again returned to the iPhone 6. In the short time since the release of “Romance in NYC,” many more smartphone camera accessories have hit the market and Pope availed himself of this new gear. Below you can read his first-person account of what it was like to shoot “Dancers of Zurich,” along with an explanation for why the iPhone 6 was the right camera to get the job done. Watch the film above and read his story below.
READ MORE: This Romantic Short Film Was Shot Entirely on an iPhone 6
Why shoot on an iPhone?
I switched over to an iPhone (around the iPhone 4s) because as a photographer I know the age-old adage: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I was using my phone for my vacations and everyday shots — more than my DSLR due to ease and convenience — so I wanted the best quality possible. From there I just kept pushing the limits of what an iPhone could do.
Be it through apps that unlock manual controls or techniques with external attachments, I found the potential of this little phone in my pocket very exciting.
“Dancers of NYC” was inspired by the fact that a small camera could have 240FPS. I love slow motion, especially being a dance photographer/videographer. Being able to capture the entire move instead of just the perfect frame is beautiful.
I have shot on DLSR, RED, ARRIs, you name it, but there is something liberating about shooting on a mobile device. Sure, there are limitations — but they can be very liberating in that they push you to truly focus on the story. No longer do you need to add 5000 attachments to your camera to be taken seriously. It is also nice to push the boundaries of what the iPhone can do and try to make something small much bigger through content and story.
READ MORE: Could the iPhone 6’s Camera Revolutionize Filmmaking?
This time around I moved beyond the iPhone-tripod set up and incorporated some innovative stabilizers. From the Ikan’s FlyX3 Electronic Gimbal to Grip Gear’s IndieSolo Stabilizer, I had prepared an arsenal with which to capture some of the more unique movements throughout the dance.
When asked about the best equipment to se when shooting with an iPhone, my response is always with the question: what is your story and what kind of shots are you creating? There are so many amazing options out there to help you accomplish unique camera choreography — lens adapters from Olloclip, stabilizers from Gripgear, full -n DSLR lens rigs by Beastgrip. Even traditional equipment can work with a mobile device (I used Gorillapod and Glidecam on “Romance in NYC”). All in all, the best way to approach it is to ask yourself: if everything broke, could you still achieve the shot with just the iPhone? If the answer is yes, then you know that it is the best medium to tell your story.
Although bitrate and focus can prove to be significantly challenging with the iPhone, I found these challenges to actually push me to become creative with layering, depth and movement in order to create the feel of a DSLR. I made sure to be careful with the exposure and the smoothing that the iPhone routinely applies to certain shots because although these features are great for point-and-shoot, they can work against you when you need continuity between each shot. I would hope that in the future, Apple might allow for the user to have more control over exposure and bitrate in their stock application. The LG G4 is an amazing example of a camera phone that provides an operator with all the necessary tools with which to control the image, while also not overwhelming anyone who just wants to shoot with the click of a button.
The biggest drawback of shooting on an iPhone to this point has been the absence of depth of field. With equipment such as Beastgrip and iOgrapher — which make it possible to attach DSLR lenses to your iPhone — it will be interesting to see what the possibilities are from here on out. Another disadvantage of shooting on an iPhone is the low resolution of the footage. But when you compare them to the feeling of liberation you get whilst running down the line shooting three dancers moving in tandem with just a small stabilizer and iPhone in your hand, the disadvantages seem insignificant. And man does it make traveling with your equipment so much easier.
One of the major upsides is that you don’t need a big crew. The “crew” on “Dancers of Zurich” consisted my sister and myself. My sister, who happened to be in the midst of an “Eat Love Pray”-style trip around Europe at the time, shot the behind-the-scenes footage and helped me keep my equipment in order when I was shooting. Ideally you want at least one to three people with you on these shoots: one person for lighting, one for makeup and one assistant to make sure everything is in order.
I am excited for the day when I don’t feel like it is necessary for me to say that I shot my film on an iPhone, but for now I enjoy sharing that small bit of information for those who may feel like they can’t tell their story because they don’t have the right equipment. In the end, if your story is strong and you know how to manipulate the medium, iPhone or RED aside, your film will captivate an audience. We all go to the movies to suspend our disbelief and all of these cameras, regardless of how much they cost, help to make that happen for us. So take your phone out of your pocket and start filming!
Tristan Pope is an Emmy-Award winning director and photographer in New York City. His recent 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. You can follow the progress of all of these projects at http://tristanpope.com or follow him on Twitter @tristanpope.