Making Films on Smartphones – Hot Tips

Helloooo writers and filmmakers!

While we’re all mulling over the options of microlit texts we could choose from for all our Microflix submissions, I’ve gathered some ready helpful tips for shooting on a smartphone. One of the categories in our 2019 Microflix Festival is ‘Best Film Made on Smartphone’, so if you’re a potential submitter, but are unable to locate a camera and have a smartphone, this is your opportunity to get creative!

When Apples iPhone 6 was released, advertisements began popping up that involved stunning landscapes, close up animals and bright coloured photographs or footage, with text that said, ‘shot on iPhone 6’. It really made you think, was it really shot on an iPhone? Since then short films, feature films, advertisements and web series, have all been shot on a smartphone of sorts.

'Unsane' 2018 Director Steven Soderbergh
‘Unsane’ 2018 Director Steven Soderbergh
What filming on an iPhone 7 looks like! (See above)
‘Tangerine’ 2015 Director Sean Baker
What filming on an iPhone 5s looks like! (See above).

In 2010, Apple of My Eye was released which has since been widely credited as the first film to be made on an iPhone 4, shooting and editing. Then in 2011 the first full-length feature film made entirely on a smartphone- the Nokia N8, was released entitled ‘Olive’. The film was made by adapting the Nokia N8 and crafting a 35mm lens adapter onto the smartphone in order to achieve a shallow depth of field. The N8 is also taped to a motorbike and a remote-controlled helicopter for overhead shots in other scenes. More recently in 2018 ‘Unsane’ was filmed entirely on an iPhone 7, whereas Sundance winner ‘Tangerine’ was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s but used an iPhone filming app called Filmic Pro. Some other great examples include ‘Night Fishing’ (2011) by South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, ‘And Uneasy Lies The Mind’ by director Ricky Fosheim, and ‘Snow Steam Iron’ by Zack Snyder.

Full length feature films will be able to spend their “spare” money on extras for their smartphone filming, such as apps, lens adapters, drones. But I have listed some examples that don’t use any. I also recommend checking out some of these films above if you’re still in need of some inspiration.

Some tips that I’ve collected surrounding filming on smartphones do include extra costs but depending on your adaption you may not need to include any of those. majority of these tips are free!

How to keep your smartphone steady?

  • The newest iPhones have built-in optical image stabilization, which makes shooting decent handheld footage fairly easy.
  • You can try resting the phone on a t-shirt or something soft while you hold it on a table top, the ground or any solid surface.
  • You can even try resting your elbows on a nearby object
  • Holding your breath during shots can also help minimize shakiness if you are hand-holding the phone on a solid surface.
  • You can also keep the phone close to your body
  • Don’t forget to use your body to absorb bounces and shakes
  • Try not to use digital zoom as it makes the shots look more grainy and camera movement are noticed much more
  • If your budget does allow for it, miniature tripods are available to purchase at any tech store

How to fix the lighting?

  • The use of natural lighting can save so many shots on an iPhone! Get outside or open a window if you’re shooting inside, just be careful of shadows!
  • But also whilst shooting inside, more light the better, experiment with your different household lighting, bulbs, lamps, fairy lights, the options can be endless!
  • Keep in mind iPhone has an automatic focus and exposure lock. This can be a great function for quick photos, but when you’re shooting a video of one person talking to the camera, it can really complicate things. The iPhone tends to keep adjusting and refocusing, which can lead to jittery-looking footage. That’s why I recommend using the exposure focus lock. This will help to keep the focus and exposure constant throughout your shot.

How do I get the sound right?

  • Have your subject as close to the phone as possible. So when shooting on an iPhone it’s best to position a second iPhone directly above the subject’s head to record clean audio
  • Otherwise you can invest in external microphones.
  • Also can be a good habit to get into when shooting with smartphones, clap once at the beginning of each take to create a reference point for syncing the good sound from the voice memo with the bad sound from the video recording.

How to make use of smartphones built in features?

  • Don’t forget the great time-lapse feature of the iPhone, as they are a cool way to showcase a bustling work environment or event.
  • There’s also iPhone built-in slo-mo that’s a cool way to showcase a bustling work environment or event.

I hope some of these tips were helpful and can be applied to your next smartphone filmmaking attempt!