Have ye heard the prophecies? The demise of professional filmmaking is nigh! Smartphone cameras will soon render all our jobs obsolete! By early 2019, all video will be shot and viewed on mobile devices, quality and craftsmanship will lose their meaning, and the professional video landscape will descend into madness. Soon we’ll all be wearing burlap shirts and dirt smudges, roaming the sepia-toned desert, reminiscing about the old days when filmmaking was done by pros like us.
Or, to put it more mildly, rapid advancements in mobile tech are pushing the boundaries of video production in some intriguing new directions. I guess that’s probably a better way to put it.
So we can probably cancel the apocalypse sirens for now. Still, that stuff I made up in the first paragraph does have a point – rapid evolution in smartphone camera tech is making complex shooting and editing techniques available to the masses. And a lot of folks who work in video production don't really know what to make of it yet.
And while we at FCM do relate to that lack of certainty, all it takes are a few deep breaths and a bit of calm reasoning to keep our blood pressure from spiking. See, no matter how much computing power device makers fit into those little pocket shingles, the unique advantages to a full film crew with pro-grade cameras and equipment won't be going away anytime soon.
In fact, we've actually found a number of compelling ways to combine smartphones with other accessories – tripods, stabilizers, lens attachments, even drone controllers – to augment our existing approach to video production. But we'll launch into a deeper exploration of said gadgetry in Part 2 of this blog, which we'll post in the coming weeks.
First and foremost, in Part 1, we want to acknowledge and explore the unique advantages of smartphone filmmaking in a general sense. Just how powerful and effective can these tiny cameras be, and what might this trend mean for aspiring filmmakers?
Back in 2012, a filmmaker named Malik Bendjelloul famously ran out of money to buy film for his 8mm camera, while shooting a documentary called Searching For Sugar Man in South Africa. In a final act of desperation, he ended up shooting the remainder of the footage he needed with an iPhone 4 camera. He then used a simple $2 app to apply an old-school film grain effect to the iPhone footage, making it nearly indistinguishable from his actual 8mm camera footage. Searching For Sugar Man went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary that year.
In 2015, a comedy-drama called Tangerine that centered on two transgender sex workers premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and was later released in theaters by Magnolia Pictures. The film received widespread attention and critical acclaim, not only for its moving and authentic performances, but for the fact that the whole thing was shot on three iPhone 5S cameras.
Just this year, Steven Soderbergh released a movie called Unsane, which he shot entirely on iPhone 7 Plus cameras. That movie made over 11 million dollars in theaters, and has an excellent average of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes.
These are just three milestone examples in a long list of high-profile film productions that incorporated smartphone cameras. Imagine going back in time to the first iPhone launch, and telling Steve Jobs that the new product he was about to unveil would soon be used to shoot Hollywood films! Ah, just seeing the look on his face would ... actually, scratch that. Steve Jobs was not a humble man. He'd probably shrug it off and claim he saw this coming. But hey, still. Imagine going back in time and meeting Steve Jobs. Wouldn’t that be fun?
It’s been undeniably fascinating to see how far seasoned Hollywood directors can push smartphone camera tech when used properly. However, when it comes to the big picture, it’s even more exciting to imagine the possibilities on ground-level. After all, every Hollywood director was once a novice. And the tools to learn the craft are now far more accessible than ever before.
Steven Spielberg started making movies on an 8mm camera his parents bought him when he was barely a teenager. By his own admission, he didn't start with any grandiose filmmaking aspirations, he just wanted something fun and creative to do in his spare time. But think about it ... if his parents hadn't gotten him that camera – an unconventional toy for a 12-year-old, and out of reach for nearly every other kid in America at the time – we wouldn't have Jaws, Indiana Jones, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, Ready Player One, or Spielberg, the HBO documentary I watched to get all this information.
It makes you wonder how many undiscovered Steven Spielbergs were out there back then ... imaginative young teens who never rose to their full potential, simply because they lacked the tools to discover their talent.
Now here's a statistic for you: 200% of U.S. teens have smartphones. That's two smartphones per teen. One in each hand, so they can catch Pokemon with one, and Snapchat themselves catching Pokemon with the other. I didn't look that up, but it feels right, so let's roll with it.
The point is, since the days of Spielberg's youth, the number of young aspiring filmmakers that already have the tools they need is staggering. And not just for capturing video. The Android and iOS app ecosystems add virtually unlimited potential on the editing side. And don't even get me started on the filmmaking potential of Augmented Reality.
Some people will point to the abundance of video on social media as evidence that smartphones are over-saturating the video medium. However, this is missing the point. Those who simply want to gain social media clout will make videos with that goal in mind. And it would be a stretch to say that those videos somehow compete against videos made with artistic expression in mind. Heck, that's why we have Vimeo.
The video sandbox may be bigger than ever, but people still know quality and originality when they see it. And no matter how available the tech is, a camera is still just a camera, and it still requires a compelling human perspective to bring a scene to life. So show us what you got, kids.