The Evolution Of Filming Video With Your Smartphone

More and more I am filming content on my smartphone and I am digging it. Let me start off by saying I am old enough to have been creating content before there were video cameras and desktop editing options. I am also young enough to have been an early adopter of that technology. When I started creating videos over 10 years ago all the working film people would give us video creators a hard time. Saying it’s less than, a toy and not legitimate. Well now that is no longer true and it was well worth my time to go on the journey. Recently hearing about phone filming technologies I scoffed at them. Then I had an uncomfortable realization. I was treating the idea of shooting video on the phone the same way the film people scoffed at video in my early days. I quickly started to learn about the new technologies this is what I found.

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To start you want to beef up your camera app and get a sound recording app. The two camera apps that I have been using are Filmic Pro at $14.99 and Movie Pro at $5.99. Right now for me, Filmic Pro is in the lead also the Film Riot Show did a great review tutorial on Filmic Pro here. For audio I have been using one app I’m very happy with called the Apogee Meta Recorder at $4.99. For a single person shooting I have been using a simple inexpensive phone lav, you can get ones like this on Amazon for $20.00. If you are shooting a scene with multiple people you can use a shotgun, Rhode has many phone friendly options.

For stabilization and framing there are many options as well. On a basic level I use a simple tripod phone mount and a basic flexible gorilla tripod. Here is a best of list. Recently I purchased a handheld rig from iographer for around $60.00.

Last I will say I have worked professionally as a video editor and when I import video captured on the phone into the editing program I am hard pressed to find any reasons for not capturing video images on the phone. All the gear to make a legitimate attempt at filming with your phone is under $100.00. That to me is amazing. I would highly recommend you explore the possibilities of shooting a short film or web series idea you’ve been kicking around as soon as possible. With gear under $100.00, it will only cost your time.

To put my money where mouth is so to speak, on my youtube “How To” channel I am doing a series called “How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film” So far all the episodes are shot on the phone and the short that I will be making at the end of the series will be shot on the smartphone.

I hope you found this simple hack useful. For more tips and shared experience visit and subscribe to my above-mentioned youtube channel Create Sci-Fi with plenty of informative videos on creating content.

Why I Am Filming More And More Video Content With My Smartphone, An Honest Non-Technical Answer

I wanted to talk a bit about the idea of shooting video content on a smartphone. I am old enough to have been creating content before there were video cameras and desktop editing options. I am also young enough to have been an early adopter of that technology. A funny thing happened to me recently that made me think about that.

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When I first started shooting video in the early days, fueled by Dogme 95, I was making Mumblecore films before that name existed. Shooting video was liberating. My experience with filmmaking had been shooting music videos on Super 16 as a job. The group I was involved with would make sure to do what was known as a weekend rental. We’d shoot the band on Friday with the equipment rented on the budget provided by the record company.  Because the rental houses were closed on the weekend we would have the equipment over the weekend so we could make our personal films as long as we bought our own filmstock and had the rental back by Monday. We’d piggyback all the laborious tasks and expenses on the back of the music video budget. I remember lighting a set for hours and never really knowing if the shots were any good until almost a week later. Editing was an event. We’d rent a suite with an operator, they would provide lunch and we’d sit on a huge couch in the back of a room while an editor operated a console that looked like it belonged on the Starship Enterprise.

Then very shortly in my foray into filmmaking, these digital cameras started showing up, the Sony VX2000 and the Cannon XL1. I worked at a production house that had one coveted AVID editing system. I was low man on the pole but they were kind enough to let me edit my own projects. The catch was, I had to come in after midnight. One day they said, we just got this new thing is called, Final Cut. It was Apple’s Final Cut, version one in fact. You can use that if you want, they said. Cue Hallelujah music and sound effects. Between the new cameras and desktop editing, I was off on an adventure, one I continue to this day.

It was a rough time back then. People were very divided on the subject of film versus video. Mostly the established working people would tell you video would never look like film and how it’s not the same, and less than. And all the unestablished hard working people trying to get ahead would say, content is king and I am a storyteller and every six months the technology would get better and better. It was an exciting time. I imagine it was what it was like for kids hearing punk rock music for the first time and thinking, I can do this and starting bands with their friends.  

My long journey and commitment paid off when the DSLR cameras appeared. It all worked out fine, I could proceed to tell my stories and not have anyone undermine them because of the filmic quality. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about the DSLR. Remember the tsunami of over-cranked footage, it was so beautiful we could not get enough. Then the slider, ah perfection. And now the drone shots … a dream come true.

What is my point you might be asking yourself? Recently I have been hearing about festival films shot on a smartphone. Reading about 4K resolution recording with a phone. Giant Billboards touting, shot with the phone. My knee-jerk reaction was, why on earth would you want to make a film on your phone? It’s a phone! I remember the yellow plastic phone on the kitchen wall with a 10-foot cord. The Motorola bricks, the Razor! Shoot a film on your phone ?!?! Ah ha! There’s the rub, I realized I was reacting just like the film veterans were reacting to me and my video punk friends back in the day. Actually, I realized that after I shot a bunch of footage on my phone that looked great.

I was somewhere with an unexpected opportunity to shoot some footage and I had no camera. I used my phone out of necessity. Once I got home and saw the results I immediately adopted it into my workflow. I did some research and downloaded a camera app that was a bit beefier than the stock one on my phone. Did some more research an purchased an audio recording app for another five bucks. And I have to say, it works quite well. I am now planning to shoot my next short film with my camera.

The last thing I’ll say is I intentionally wanted to not make this a technical comparison. However, I edit video for a living and without going into boring detail, in laymen’s terms, the video looked and sounded just fine. And for a ten dollar investment? I’d upgrade that comment to, it looked and sounded amazing.

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You Would Never Dare Dream That You Could Write You First Short Film Tonight And Make It Tomorrow, But You Can.

Most likely you’re here because you’ve never made a film but are thinking about it, circling the idea, waiting for your moment. Or maybe you had a false start and the first time didn’t go so well. Don’t worry I am going to help you. The following is just a very basic exercise to get you started down your path of making an original video. The great news is all that time spent on your phone staring at the screen exercising you thumb eye coordination is about to pay off. And there is no bad news.

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I imagine as a first-time filmmaker you will be way more comfortable shooting video on your phone rather than a DSLR camera. When it comes time to edit I think moving things around on your phone will be far less intimidating than sitting in front of your computers newly installed editing software with no idea what button to push to even launch it. For this exercise, it’s best to just stick with the phone.

Of course, there is the need for a script. Gasp. Just whip up something compelling, humorous, thought provoking and entertaining. I’m sure some of you can do that but most of us can’t. Not for a lack of desire and drive. Most of us need to be taught how to write and through hard work and dedication get good at it. But in the meantime, we need to just get started. Action begets action! Let’s not worry about writing an award winner, let’s concentrate on getting something on paper or more realistically in your phones note program, might as well. It’s like texting to imaginary friends about made up stuff. Almost like real life. I will say again the goal is to just make something, get the ball rolling. Let’s do this right now.

No use in avoiding it, get to work on the script. Keep it simple our goal is 2-3 mins of content.  Think one location and two actors. First, we create a  title and a log line. If you were sitting down to write a series or a movie you would not start like this, maybe you would but this will work well for what we are going to accomplish in this exercise. Having said that, here’s a quick example. This is the log line for Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’: A land lubber sheriff tries to kill a giant shark to protect his family and seaside resort town.

Let’s do ours quickly,  first thing that comes to mind. There are no wrong answers.

Film Title 


Once you got that let’s answer these questions and write a logline.

NAME


We’ll call him/her the Hero

GENDER


FUNCTION


What’s the Hero’s FUNCTION? eg. long distance runner, artist, father etc.

FLAW


Does the Hero have a FLAW? What is it? eg. an arrogant, a lazy, a macho, an insecure etc.

INCITING INCIDENT


What is the story’s first major event, the INCITING INCIDENT eg. falls in love, is fired etc.

GOAL


What is the Hero’s visible GOAL? eg. to win the race, to catch the killer, etc.

NEED


What is the Hero’s NEED? eg. to connect, to stand up for herself etc.

Don’t overthink it, the goal is to make a film to get your dream career rolling. Action begets action, right?  Keep in mind you have no budget so a pilot crash landing in the Himalayas is not going to work for this. Here is an example from this worksheet. Title: “ Poison The Tap Dancer Upstairs” Marge Mayhem an emo horror writer plots to poison her upstairs neighbor, an aspiring tap dancer Teddy so she can write in silence and finish her book. You get the idea. If you’re totally stuck remember the exercise is to just get out there and make something. If you want to be adventurous just use a random title generator  &  a logline generator . Using that method I just randomly generated “Helping McGee” A funny athlete and a gay robot builder travel through time. I’d watch that.

We are just gearing up to make a short with just the title and logline alone you should come up with 2 mins of dialogue. And if that too has you paralyzed with fear just make it with minimal dialogue, not a silent film where nobody talks have natural sounds and a few one liners. With both those examples , can imagine that. And I’d recommend that. For example in “ Poison The Tap Dancer” We see Marge typing, chunks of ceiling fall on her computer she looks up, she says,”humph” we cut to Ted tap dancing around the apartment in pure bliss. You get the idea. May seem silly but just enjoy the act creating something, don’t judge. Its an exercise in getting you started – today.

This next step is important, make sure your phone is charging while you are working on the script. You’ll need it for the next two crucial steps. Step one call a few friends and tell them they are coming over to be in your movie. Or maybe you are going to their house, apartment, roof, yard or basement because it is a better location. Explain to them it is  just an exercise and that they will have fun and you are buying pizza. Also I’m sure you have funny, smart friends but just in case they can’t act all the more reason to keep the dialogue minimal. Next and most important is your phone’s camera that you will upgrade the recorder and the editing app you will add. Most camera phones actually shoot pretty decent video, terrible audio but the picture is great. All the more reason to consider a minimal dialogue approach. I think that’s three reasons if you’re counting.

When shooting your first short we can take a very simple but effective approach to make sure you capture all the video you need to tell your story. For each one of your scenes shoot the entire scene in a wide shot, repeat the scene again in a medium shot and finish with a close up or close ups on your main characters. Shoot all the way through to the end,  if something minor goes wrong keep going. Some moments may be useful. Even if they are just listening and not speaking record the entire scene with the listening subject in close up. Last pick up inserts, fingers typing, feet walking or running a confused dog perhaps. From our friends at wikipedia. A Wide Shot, typically shows the entire object or human figure and is usually intended to place it in some relation to its surroundings.  A Medium Shot, mid shot (MS), or waist shot is a camera angle shot from a medium distance. I’m sure a close up needs no explanation. The reason for that type of coverage is that it is safe. For the actors it allows them to redo lines and you can cut between their best moments from other takes. For the director it gives you many options to tell your story. A film is written three times. First when you write it, second when you shoot it and third when you edit it.

Once you have your footage you need to edit it and yes we will do that on your phone to. One great thing is you don’t have to worry about transferring your video to a computer just do it all on your phone.  There are quite a few options, Magisto (iOS and Android) , Adobe Premiere Clip (iOS and Android) , Apple iMovie (iOS) &  GoPro Splice (iOS)  I’m sure there are others but these are the ones that appear most in searches on the topic. Read up and see which ones suit you and your phone. As I mentioned earlier you should  beef up your camera app whether it’s Android or iPhone . I’m sure you will struggle a bit to get up and running but that’s part of the process.

Just keep Going. Upload your video to your social media get input from your friends and start planning your next project, I promise you with each one you will get better. Maybe you nailed it this time in which case with your next video you will get, more better. Finally as we both well know by now, action begets action.

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