Filmmakers are embracing smartphones as a legitimate tool

When you think of moviemaking, you envision huge, bulky cameras designed to capture as many details. You think of massive film crews working together to provide the best audiovisual experience to the movie-going public. But can the use smartphones pave the way for a new kind of filmmaking?

Have you ever heard of a film called Tangerine? It was released back in 2015 and is directed by Sean Baker, who eventually made the critically acclaimed The Florida Project in 2017. Tangerine explored a variety of issues that made it a subject of discussion, but that’s not the most peculiar part about it.

What gave Tangerine the spotlight is the fact that it was shot using an iPhone. In particular, Sean Baker utilized three iPhone 5S smartphones — and that’s it. There were no film cameras amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. He simply had a limited budget and he needed to find a more practical method.

Sean Baker only had $100,000 to shoot the film. Yet with that amount, he managed to create something that the film industry would talk about for years. He saved a lot of money when he decided to use iPhones, so he was able to pay for better shooting locations and hire more extras.

In the end, his film raked in almost a million dollars at the box office — that’s nearly a 1,000 percent profit. It proved that you didn’t need millions to create financial and critical success. What mattered was that the tools you were using amplified what you wanted your film to portray.

Soderbergh and Smartphone Filmmaking

Another recent proponent of the use of smartphones to shoot films is Steven Soderbergh. The 56-year-old director has always been open to fresh and innovative ideas. It’s why his films such as Side Effects and Logan Lucky have a distinct feel to them; he’s always had his own brand of cinematography.

As he continued his career as a filmmaker, he eventually saw the potential of smartphones. These devices were usually the tools of new and amateur filmmakers, but Soderbergh was on to something. For him, the size was less of an issue. What was more important is that it provides a wide array of functions.

So when Soderberg made Unsane in 2018, he utilized the iPhone 7 Plus. Unlike Sean Baker, he clearly had the budget to use the traditional filmmaking cameras. But he opted for the small, compact device to record his new psychological horror — and it was a success. He got the people talking.

Just like the case of Tangerine, Unsane became a box office success due to how small the budget was. Soderbergh had $1.5 million and he managed to rake in about $14 million at the box office. People who saw the film wouldn’t even know it was shot on an iPhone if they weren’t told about it beforehand.

More Areas to Capture

Due to its compact size, a smartphone can reach areas that the regular filmmaking camera cannot. In the case of Tangerine, the iPhones could sneak in narrower areas with relative ease. Likewise, Soderbergh was able to create a harrowing mood in Unsane due to how the smartphone ‘stalked’ the character.

If more filmmakers could see more of the benefits of smartphones rather than their disadvantages, the future is certainly bright for the industry. This is why technology is good for films. As tech giants create more powerful cameras in smaller devices, more people can try their hands in filmmaking.

Changing the Game in Moviemaking

There are occasional issues with Android while using online video converters — or with any platform such as macOS and Windows. But that doesn’t mean the use of smartphones is going to be difficult. In fact, it’s a flexible tool that can elevate a scene if used well.

Plus, the fact that smartphones now offer video recordings in 4k-resolution is a huge deal. A film made with a phone no longer has to look amateurish and low-budget. Manufacturers are also paying attention to this shift in filmmaking — they’re no making accessories specifically for smartphone filmmaking.

What this form of filmmaking presents is the narrowing gap between what it means to be a professional and an amateur. You still need to have the vision and the skills to create a good film, but you no longer have to always look for funding. You can start filming if you have a smartphone with a decent camera.

There will always be blockbuster movies with budgets of at least $100 million. But that doesn’t mean there is no room for growth in films with significantly smaller budgets. If you have a great story to tell and you a smartphone in hand, you’re a couple of steps closer to your first legitimate film.