Mobile Filmmaking Overview
2015, I think, is the year that mobile video is significant, transformative appearance on the landscape. I think that happened for iPhoneography three, four years ago, with initially Hipstamatic and Camera Plus. And people still didn't take iPhone video seriously. But now, there have been everything from Bentley Motors shooting a couple spots with the app to people making films that appeared at South by Southwest. And the real turning point was Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch's wonderful film, Tangerine, which we'll get to in a little bit. But this was a movie shot on iPhone, shot with FiLMiC Pro, premiered at Sundance, got bought within the first two days after the premiere for close to a million dollars, and now is going for theatrical release nationwide and internationally.
Yeah. You don't get much of a higher ceiling than that. And so, if you can take away one thing, it's the potential that any of you guys could follow that same path. Pursue your dream, pursue any uni...
que stories that you have that nobody else in the world is going to be able to tell as well as you are. No less than the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney said recently, "iPhones give a vibrancy you've never been able "to have before...I think a new film grammar "is going to come with these things." I'm not 100% sure what that grammar is going to be, but I think it's in flux right now. And I'll be really curious to see two or three years from now what people are creating with these devices. A couple other interesting points, to just show how mobile video is exploding. Facebook, in September of 2014 was doing a billion mobile video plays a day, pretty good. But in April of this year, they're doing four billion video plays a day, 400%
increase in less than eight months. And, what was most surprising to me is 75% of all video content consumed online is consumed on mobile devices. And so, what that means is you don't necessarily need a 20, 30, 40 thousand dollar camera to reach the YouTube audience. And if you're shooting at, actually 1080p is even overkill for web distribution, you could get by with 720 just fine. So if you have a story to tell, start telling it, and proceed from there. Okay, so I made this point a little bit earlier, but I can't stress it enough. Anything that you learn on a mobile platform, you're going to be able to transition over to any camera that you use. If you aspire to be a filmmaker, then there's never been a better device to begin to learn on these days.
Absolutely, I mean I time and time again, I have young people coming to me and asking me, "I really want to get into shooting, "do you have advice, on maybe a camera?" And it's hard to tell them, "Just pick up a camera and shoot," because I think people want to hear that you have some sort of magic bullet. But really what it comes down to is story and story structure and shot structure and pacing, all those things are so critical when you're shooting and when you're telling a story. And as cinematographer, you are collaborating with the director to try to convey this image. And really it doesn't start clicking until you shoot a lot. You really have to shoot a lot. Like with any art form, like with writing, with singing, you just have to get those hours under your belt. And what's really so cool about the mobile platform is that you have a video camera in your pocket. Most people, whether it's an iPhone or whether it's an Android device, whatever it is, regardless, you have a means to be able to shoot motion content. And sometimes you can even edit it on your phone and really start to play with the idea of what does it mean if I put the camera down low and shoot up at my friend or my dad? If I shoot down at it from the side? How does that make me feel? And the more you do that, the more it becomes second nature, so that when you are, eventually, approached by a director, and they're like, "Yeah, we really want to feel, this shot to feel like, "the person to feel kind of small and lonely." You know what to do with the camera then. And what it comes down to is the device you have is the best device, whether it's a little Handycam or whether it's a phone, which is really, really cool. It's exciting to know that the barrier to entry is lowering, and we can get these stories that are maybe really quiet stories that would never have been told normally before everyone had these devices in their pocket.
The perfect lead into our next slide, and I sort of want to caution people at home, if there was, the magic bullet phrase is the one that I'm latching on to. If by tuning into the workshop today, there's a particular button in the app that was magically going to make you a great filmmaker, that isn't the case. You do have to understand about shot composition and what it means and the cinematic language, and the way that you do that is trial and error, watching films, reading a book, appropriating somebody else's technique and seeing if it works for you and then growing from there. I have a great quote from a guy named James Ransone, who was an actor in The Wire, was also an actor in Tangerine, which we'll show you guys the trailer in just a little bit. And basically, when Sean Baker initially said, "I want to make this movie on the iPhone," he was met with, "You've got to be kidding me." In fact I think this particular actor was like, "You've got to be kidding me, I was on The Wire. "We're going to use iPhones?" And what he quickly realized was that Sean and Chris and everybody else on the crew were extremely accomplished filmmakers, and they understood cinema language. And so his quote is, "Just picking up a smartphone, "yes it's more affordable, but it's not going to replace "an understanding of the 100 years of cinema "that have come before it." So the more that you understand that, and it can inform your shooting, just like Jonathan said, whatever device you pick up, you're going to be a better filmmaker. So let's go over these, though you talked about a couple of them. And actually, for people at home, we have potentially an extremely broad audience, from sort of first time filmmakers to people who have been using the app for a long time. So if you want to go to creativelive.com and write in and join the chat boards and let people know what you're interested in us talking about, hopefully we can get to some of it today. And if there's a better workshop in the future that would hit the largest core audience, we would love to revisit that. Because, specifically, we could talk about cinema language for weeks, people go to school for years. So, Jonathan telling you that if you frame a shot from down here, and you frame a shot from up here on the same character, they have completely different meanings. Why do you want to use one versus the other? If I'm framing him upper frame left or upper frame right, if he's looking screen left or he's looking screen right, those all have meaning. When do I use this particular shot? There's no necessarily hard, fast rules, but they carry audience assumptions, and you have to pick and choose as a cinematographer or a director or just an amateur filmmaker on the street what those shots are going to be. Maybe we'll get to that actually a bit in the second segment where we're going to be shooting a little café scene.
Yeah, that sounds good.
We can talk about the particular shots. Audio, why don't you run with that?
Well, audio is one of those things that I think that ends up, unfortunately, getting pushed to the back because the sparkle of audio isn't quite there as the sparkle of cinematography or camerawork or direction. But the real truth about it is audio is just as important, if not more important than picture. And I'm a cinematographer, so that means a lot. To me is that basically the way that we work, we can deal with a lot of bad image, and some films intentionally have images that are distressed in a way, or shot on a certain camera that is supposed to be emotionally manipulative, but bad audio is rarely a tool that you try to manipulate people with because people just check out. So audio is such a powerful thing, that getting good, clean audio is so essential, and it's really the cheapest way to make a really high quality film. If you decide, well I'm going to do that later, we'll put voice-in later, we'll do ADR later, it's an incredibly expensive process, and it's very hard to do it well. So getting good audio from the get-go is really difficult and, until recently, it's been very difficult on mobile devices. It's been hard to get, the microphone on the devices are getting better, but they're meant for just compressed audio over a cell phone tower. But, now with IK products coming out, and those tools that allow you to pipe in really good, high quality audio, it's exciting. It really is that second piece, the last piece, that allows you to be able to take it to the next level.
Right, right, right. And I think, actually, a lot of people don't even know where the microphones on their device are, and so if you're just pan-holding it, there's a good chance one of your fingers is going to be over a critical microphone input.
And so, in the latter stages of today's workshop, we're going to run through a gamut of audio products from great, very portable field devices up to high-end interconnects that let you use the premium quality XLR shotgun mics that you probably use in most of your big productions.
And then, a couple mid-range options, hopefully, if we get to the gear table. So a few other things, to just start you on your journey to being a better filmmaker. Understand what coverage is. Understand what the axis is, the line, and how you pretty much want to stay on one side of it. And the sort of trouble that you're going to encounter if you cross it. Mise en scène, everything that's in the scene has meaning. Like, a lot of people will watch a film and think that, especially if it's a Hollywood or foreign film production, think that something in the background is incidental. Nothing in the frame is incidental, whatsoever. So the wardrobe, the hair and makeup, the setting, the scene, how you're going to stage it. Those are important decisions that the cinematographer makes, that the director makes, that you have in concert with the production designer. And even as a single filmmaker, you want to begin thinking in that sort of way. Do you have a particular, how would you approach those items?
Yeah, that's a good question. I think that the easiest, and most simple way to push a viewer in a direction is through color and through color palette. The way you dress your character, what your character wears, what color the walls are, what color your lighting is, it's an easy thing to tweak that's within most budgets. But you have to know what does that mean, what does it mean when my character is dressing in blue consistently? Or is interacting with somebody who has a brighter, more orange or red color? And how do I want to push my audience in a direction? Because it's really easy to actually push them in a wrong direction, and kind of be like, "Why is this not funny? "Why is this really sad and serious? "I meant to be funny here." And so understanding that and studying that, there's, I think it might be Every Frame a Picture? Every Frame a Picture, it's a blog. And what he does is he breaks down the color palettes of films and you can actually see it stretched out on a timeline, and you can see how the color palettes flow through a whole frame. I'll get on there for you. Very cool.
Yeah, yeah actually.
And it's, like you're saying, it's very thoughtful. You know, what does it mean if there's a large picture behind our subject? Or, if they're darker versus lighter? There's so many different things you can tweak and mess with, and as you shoot more, you learn to use those little tricks and put those in your toolbox, because it makes you a more powerful storyteller in general.
And for anybody who's resistant to learning the rules, learning the rules are great because you can intentionally break the rules. And I'm going to give an example, built off the foundation that Jonathan just laid. Color temperature orange has historically been used as a way of creating a warm glow on somebody, introducing them as a protagonist, a warm, likable character. And historically you use color temperature blue to introduce a menacing villain. Well that's been used for so many decades now, that it's overused. So now you'll find directors or cinematographers making the choice to be like, "You know what, we're going to trick our audience. "So we're going to introduce our villain, our killer, "in the warmest tones possible, "so the audience really grows to like him or her." And then only later spring the trap on them that he's actually the antagonist and not the protagonist. But you have to understand those rules first to realize that you're going to play with them, and in playing with them, play with your audience's assumption. And it's really powerful stuff.
It's extremely powerful, not to ramble on about this, but one really, really powerful use of score just recently in my mind was Nightcrawler. You have our protagonist doing things that are really messed up, and the music score reaches to these beautiful tones, and it's pushing you in this cheerful way, but you're watching this person do really terrible things. So it's kind of totally messing with you. And it feels good to be like, "I'm being manipulated right now, I can't believe this." I caught myself really almost cheering for him in this weird way, but color can do the same thing, music can do the same thing, lighting can do the same thing. All these little things, and they're not necessarily, it's not like they're necessarily rules, it's just that we have behavior that we've been shaped in. So understanding how we behave, and why does it look scary when you shine a light below someone's face, and it goes up and the shadows are cast up on their forehead? It's like the universal thing for a ghost story, right? It works the same with cinematography.
Yeah, just watching a movie and asking yourself, "Why did they choose to do this?" When you find an interesting, compelling moment will begin you on your journey to be a better filmmaker. We should probably speed through some of these. Okay we talked about learning devices, can't stress it enough. Get a better smartphone if you have an older one, say an iPhone 4s and older. The processing power, especially in the 5s, 6, and 6 Plus is off the charts of what was available before it. And get the largest storage capacity available, you'll thank yourselves later. Actually that's a good lead in to our next couple slides. Pros and cons, I'll takes pros, and then you do cons. Pros: available, we all have one. Just like you said, the best phone is the one that you have with you. Actually I think Chase probably said that first, maybe even trademarked it, but who knows? Everybody says it, and it's true. And it works in photo and video. Scalable, I love this. You go anyway with three or four friends and suddenly you have a three or four camera shoot. It's amazing, you go traveling with a group of friends or with your family, you come back with a comprehensive, 360 degree view of what that experience was, instead of Dad with the camera bag and the 200mm telephoto. And everybody like, "Come on, come on, come on." Unobtrusive. Shaun and Chris are going to talk about this later, but it can't be stressed enough. The comfort level, and we were actually just talking about this, the comfort level that people have with smartphones because they're around them every day, and they're shooting their friends with them, they're being shot with them, they're taking selfies with them, makes anybody incredibly comfortable. First time actors, definitely. Documentary subjects, probably. And stealth shooting. If you want to go places where they would never allow a camera: museum, I don't know if I should advocate for shooting without permits, but you can go a lot of places with a smartphone without anybody raising an eye. So I talked about the processing power and actually, did you hear about the Google 360 project?
No. Tell me about it, Neil.
All right, well I just read about it, so I'm not going to be incredibly versed on it, but it's so interesting. One of the directors of Fast and Furious, I think, four of the episodes, not even going to know the guy's name, so if one of the readers in our audience wants to chime in on who that is, we'll give them the appropriate credit. So Google approached him about shooting a story in 360 dimensions and then the audience gets to choose what part of a scene that they actually want to look at.
I mean, amazing.
Oh yeah, yeah.
And the reason that they pursued this is that one of the execs behind the project said that the processing power was now greater than any Playstation and people didn't realize just how powerful mobile devices were, and so this was meant to be a showcase for it. And in doing so, they're creating what's potentially a new storytelling genre. Really fascinating. So hopefully somebody will have a little more information. And lastly, focus on what it is, and not what it isn't. There's so much you can do, just like we showed in the user-generated content reel at the beginning. So yeah it doesn't have a 400mm telephoto for wildlife, so what? If that's what you're shooting, go get the right tool for the job, but there's so many things that it does well and increases your learning curve enormously.
Cons. (laughs) So it's kind of difficult, because again, I like to look at every piece of gear as a specific tool for a job. I wouldn't use a hammer to cut a piece of wood, and I wouldn't use a nail to paint my wall. (laughs) I don't know.
Yeah, somebody would. But understanding the limitations of a device, or any given device is really powerful. So, cons. Battery life. These batteries on these things get, they're hungry, they're battery-hungry. There's some really cool devices that you can get, like this is the Mophie juice pack, I believe. So you can slip, obviously you guys have seen these before. You can slip your phone in there, and it extends your battery life. But, a battery life is limiting. You can't just swap the battery out of the iPhone, for sure. Storage capacity. If you do go with the smaller devices, 16GB devices, when you start shooting higher data rates, which really, once you get a taste of that higher data rates, it's hard to go back, to be completely honest. So you start shooting higher data rates, you're going to start using up a lot more space, so you to have to come up with a really good workflow to offload stuff. Obviously you can't pop a card in and out of the iPhone, yet.
Sorry, just wanted to interject on that specific point. The rumor mill is ripe that there's going to be no more 16GB iPhones and 32 is going to be the lowest you can get with the 6s or whatever it's called.
Yeah, and I think it's showing that they're taking mobile video seriously and realizing that they're going to have a lot of empty storage users if they continue with 16GB phones.
I mean, I noticed even with stills, I fill my phone up with stills. I'm just an avid photo snapper, so I know that I always regret it if I don't get the largest device that I can afford. Weight. Can be kind of shaky. (laughs)
Think before the optical or cinema stabilization, lean up against a wall.
There's this thing that you kind of get with smaller devices, that's like a micro jitter that gives away. Anybody who's shot with a DSLR or a smaller, like a Blackmagic pocket camera, which are really great little cameras. But you kind of get a vibration that happens, and that can really happen easily with mobile devices. So having some weight to increase the size of your device is really powerful and really useful.
Mophie is good for that actually.
Yeah, Mophie does a really good job with that. Older devices don't have image stabilization, or they have more of a slower shutter sampling speed so you get that Jell-O-y rolling shutter look. And your device can get hot if you're shooting a lot, and it starts to build up and can be problematic. And then obviously your optical choices are limited. There are some really cool stuff coming out, and I think we're going to go ahead and do it later.
Right, right, right. I mean that's borderline whether it's really even a con.
Yeah, I mean there are some really, really cool things that I think the Tangerine guys can speak to this, some optical adapters that you can use that aren't even available for larger DSLRs and a look that is so cool I'm green with envy, and I cannot wait to implement this in my next project, so very cool.