ALTERNATE ROUTES: Smartphone Filmmaking for Screenwriters

Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.

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There’s been a revolution in film production. Thirty years ago, the only way you could get a film made was to spend near-obscene amounts of money on film, film processing, and film cutting to get a completed film. Then, video created the beginning of democratization in narrative, with directors like Robert Rodriguez embracing finishing a film on video, instead of going back to film. This saved a huge amount of money, and tied in nicely with the home video boom of the 90s.

There’s been another step toward democratization, and odds are you’re a part of it. It’s from the mobile phone you may already own.

Smartphones now have the video processing ability of some high-powered digital cinema cameras, which can help create movies and TV shows, potentially, for nothing more than the cost of one. There’s already been some high-profile examples of mobile filmmaking; indie film trendsetters the Duplass Brothers produced TANGERINE, a feature film that was completely shot on an iPhone 5S, and Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh recently directed a feature called UNSANE, starring Claire Foy and Juno Temple, shot on an iPhone as well. There’s even an iPhone Film Festival (that’s been going on for six years!), showcasing the best in short films and music videos made on smartphones.

Script EXTRA: ‘Tangerine’ – All You Need Is a Want and an iPhone 

So there’s high technology in your pocket, and big-time filmmakers are using it to make feature-length content. But here’s the best news: if you’re a screenwriter, you can utilize that same technology to produce your own films and television shows – because smartphone filmmaking is incredibly intuitive and easy to learn. The phone in your pocket, literally, could be the key to turning you into a produced screenwriter!

So let’s say you have a script you’d like to see produced. Hopefully, you’ve written it like a production manager, keeping things reasonable from a shooting standpoint. If you do, you can download a few apps, and purchase some accessories, for your phone that will turn it into a camera, sound recorder, and even an editing system, to turn that script into a finished film. If you’re interested, check these apps and accessories out:

Roomscan Pro ($4.99 on App Store): While you’re planning your shoot, you’re going to want floor plans of the locations you’ll be filming in. Roomscan draws those floor plans for you – and all you have to do is touch each wall with your phone! You can them email yourself the plans and print them out, allowing your crew to see exactly where you’ll be filming, and where you’d like to put the camera and your actors.

Shot Lister ($13.99 App Store, $15.99 Google Play): Any film is an exercise in jugging a million different variables, so you need an easy way to schedule it, and to change it when changes pop up. Shot Lister allows you to store every shot in every scene in your film, along with all the specific items you need for them (which actors, props, wardrobe, hair & makeup, etc.). You can also export those schedules as PDFs for your crew.

FiLMiC Pro ($14.99 App Store, $9.99 Google Play): This app turns your smartphone into a professional-level camera. It allows you to control focus, exposure and zoom on the camera, the frame rate (how fast or slow the final image moves), and it allows you to share your videos to social media sites, or to another computer for offline editing.

Script EXTRA: Duplass Brothers Infuse ‘The Do-DecaPentathalon’ with Character-Driven Truthfulness

The Duplass Brothers film TANGERINE used FiLMiC Pro, and their co-director of photography Radium Cheung found the app allowed the iPhone to handle image requirements normally handled by much more expensive digital cameras.

“What it enables you to do,” Cheung told IndieWIRE, “is you’re able to lock down three parameters before you roll, which is color temperature, so basically light balance, your exposure, and your focus point. Once those three parameters lock, you roll the camera.”

You can also purchase lenses to attach to your smartphone’s camera – Moondog Labs makes an anamorphic lens adapter for the iPhone that TANGERINE used to create a more cinematic look – but starting with FiLMiC Pro can give you some serious camera firepower for your phone.

Saramonic SmartMic Mini Condenser Microphone ($19.95 on Amazon): Getting a beautiful picture is only half the equation when it comes to making movies. You need to record your actors delivering their dialogue cleanly, or else your audience won’t know what they’re saying. The Saramonic microphone, which works with Apple and Android smartphones, allows you to get a more directional audio recording than if you were recording with the phone’s built-in microphone. Its shotgun design reduces unwanted sound from the back and sides, which will make your recording much clearer.

Script EXTRA: How to Write an Indie Film on a Budget 

Now if you’re really committed to getting excellent sound on your movie, you can team up with another smartphone owner to record sound on a separate phone. If you do that, you can use apps that work as a sound mixer. One of the good ones is Apogee Metarecorder ($14.99 for full version on App Store), which can turn an iPhone or iPad into a two-channel audio recorder. You can record audio independent of the phone you record video with, allowing you to get your microphone much closer to your actors, and get a much better recording.

Adobe Premiere Clip (free on App Store and Google Play): When you get your footage shot, you’ll need a way to edit it together into your final film. Premiere Clip allows you to lay your clips out and trim them how you like, allows you to add music and even out audio levels, and even lets you export from the program to Premiere Pro on a desktop, to continue working. You can also add titles, transitions and effects, and adjust the lighting on your shots.

It’s hard to imagine that, for less than one hundred dollars, you can equip your smartphone to create video that rivals what the professionals make. But you can! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also a wonderful Web site, Hand Held Hollywood, that specializes in all things smartphone filmmaking. Check out all their other essential apps for filmmakers, and start working on bringing your script to life!

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One thought on “ALTERNATE ROUTES: Smartphone Filmmaking for Screenwriters

  1. prillman

    No offense, and as much as I love the Duplass Brothers, but the true credit you should be giving to for “Tangerine” is writer/producer/director Sean Baker, who also directed “Starlet” and the upcoming “The Florida Project,” which also looks great.

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