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Your guide to shooting an entire film on a smartphone

Imagine 10 years ago someone claiming they could shoot a screenworthy feature on a mobile phone. You'd go deaf from the guffaws echoing from Hollywood to Bollywood. But, as is the case of the "do everything machine" known as the smartphone, filmmaking from pocket to cinema is a bona fide reality. 

Here are some basics to help you shoot your own high-quality My RØDE Reel film entirely on a smartphone, from inspiration to which video and audio equipment you'll need.

First, find inspiration

Received wisdom dictates that writers need to read in order to write; the same can be said for smartphone filmmakers. If you can see what other people have been able to achieve, it will likely inspire your own endeavours. We recommend checking out major events such as the Toronto Smartphone or the iPhone Film Festivals. Wired.com recommended these four shorts as their faves in 2014, and the films are particularly sharp examples of what's possible. Also, major motion pictures such as 'Olive (2011)' (shot on a Nokia N8 in 2011) or 'Tangerine (2015; using three iPhone 5s)' have proven both popular and successful, and are worth watching.

 

 

Second, ensure you have quality sound equipment

There is another adage which is invariably true: people will watch bad vision with great sound more readily than great vision with terrible sound. Indeed, for many, bad audio can break crucial immersion and ruin the suspension of disbelief, thus potentially pulling an audience member away from your story.

Of course, smartphones themselves do not come with particularly good microphones, but there are plenty of solutions. A number of RØDE microphones, for examples, can be used with an iOS or Android device, such as the RØDE VideoMic ME. Although, for the absolute premium sound quality, consider investing in a separate sound recording device, a larger shotgun mic and a professional sound recordist.

Now ensure you have the right video equipment

Just because you are shooting on a smartphone, doesn't mean you can't use a decent camera rig and a number of accessories. For example, a grip mount is absolutely essential if you want to be able to attach more equipment to your phone, or - more importantly - place it on a tripod.

Another suggestion would be to purchase a lens kit for your phone. Though these scale in quality, there are generally two options: A lens that enhances the in-built one by attaching over the top, or one that connects via Wi-Fi and acts almost like an app. Sony can provide the latter, while brands such as Moment specialise in the former.

While we're on the subject of video accessories, don't forget to check your storage space. If your phone cannot take micro SD cards, you may not have enough space on the phone for multiple scenes. Consider using a phone with a lot of spare memory and very little apps (that take up valuable memory real estate), or utilise a phone that can handle larger micro SDs - 64 gigabytes wouldn't go amiss! Check out Susan Roderick from FiLMiC Pro's excellent wrap on the essentials. 

Could an app help you further?

Though, in general, you want to keep away from having too many apps on your camera phone, some of them are designed to help filmmakers achieve better shots. For example, FiLMiC Pro for iOS devices gives you more camera features than a phone normally comes with, such as advanced folder management and a number of on-screen aids (for white balance, exposure and the like).

Combining this software with your microphones for recording, camera accessories and a solid lighting crew and you may be surprised as to the cinematic quality you can achieve with something you just text and Facebook on every day.