Make Your Smartphone Smarter: What Goes in Your iPhone Filmmaking Kit?

“Shot on a smartphone” rarely means just a smartphone. So what goes in your kit? Director Ricky Fosheim, of the entirely iPhone-shot feature And Uneasy Lies the Mind, walks us through his favorite hardware and software for efficient, low-budget smartphone filmmaking.

———————————————————————————————————————————

Two years ago a group of friends asked me to direct an indie feature they had written called And Uneasy Lies the Mind. Their David Lynch-inspired script called for a very unconventional aesthetic. After research and testing, I fell in love with the look and feel of the iPhone 5 images when attached to a 35mm lens adapter, shooting through 35mm lenses. It was grainy, textured, heavily vignetted and saturated, with high contrast.

Heavy vignetting around the edges of a frame from And Uneasy Lies the Mind

Heavy vignetting around the edges of a frame from And Uneasy Lies the Mind

An iPhone’s unique characteristics are its size, ease of use, high-contrast image, and adaptability to all sorts of aftermarket lenses. Sure, you’re not going to shoot Lawrence of Arabia with your smartphone, but in the right context, it can make for powerful, cutting-edge cinema. And the recently released iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, with their 240-fps-capable cameras, have just opened up a wealth of new possibilities. Make the most of your phone’s versatility with the following tools, many of which I used on my own set.

Lenses and Adapters

There are so many different lens options out there: spherical clip-on lenses, anamorphic clip-on lenses, and 35mm lens adapters. The Nikon NIKKOR lenses are fairly expensive, so renting is a good idea. If you want to go really high-end, rent the Zeiss CP.2 lenses. Make sure you get cinema lenses with external iris and focus control, unlike the common modern Nikon and Canon glass meant for DSLR cameras.

Five percent of And Uneasy Lies the Mind was shot with Olloclip lenses—the wide-angle and macro lens in particular, the latter of which magnifies an image 10 times. We shot the entire opening and closing title sequences with the macro lens, putting the lens into liquid and getting less than an inch away from what we were shooting. As these lenses are so cheap, we weren’t worried about putting them in situations where they might get harmed. They are available for numerous phone models, and you can pre-order lenses for the iPhone 6.

When using the Turtleback 35mm lens adapter, you have to shoot through a thick pane of textured glass, almost like a fingerprint. This creates a very vignetted image with random chromatic aberrations. Shoot with the fastest lens possible, as the vignette gets larger when you close down the aperture. I shot everything with an aperture of f2.0, even when outside in bright daylight. It was gritty, with specks of dirt always getting caught in the glass focusing screen.

Moondog Labs 1.33x anamorphic adapter lens

Moondog Labs 1.33x anamorphic adapter lens

If you’re looking for something cleaner and a little more traditional, try shooting with a Moondog Labs 1.33x anamorphic adapter lens. It optically creates a 33 percent-wider frame, which significantly increases your resolution when shooting in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. It also creates subtle blue streaks that I love. As with most anamorphic lenses, the biggest drawback is its close focus capability. As long as you can keep your subject three or four feet away from the lens, you’ll be fine.

Movement

If you’re looking for camera movement, I recommend a skate dolly like the Pico Dolly Camera Table Dolly (available at photographyandcinema.com), attaching an articulating arm or a shoe mount. Alternatively, try the Poise SwiftCam G2 handheld gimbal (dict-creative.com).

An iPhone 5 attached to a Pico Dolly via an articulating arm

An iPhone 5 attached to a Pico Dolly via an articulating arm

Smartphones are so light that a stabilization rig is essential. There are numerous options to choose from, but I used the Acebil 4-Section Aluminum Monopod with DV Pan Head. For the handheld look of And Uneasy Lies the Mind, I attached a monopod to the Turtleback case, which made the handheld look less shaky and gave it a bit more control.

If you don’t want to attach lenses, but still want a sturdy case to attach all your different support systems, the iOgrapher, the Phocus Accent from Smart Phocus, or the mCAMLITE case.

An iPhone 5 attached to a Pico Dolly via an articulating arm

Actress Michelle Nunes in a scene from And Uneasy Lies the Mind

Apps

FiLMiC Pro allows you to dial in white balance, exposure, and focus, as well as adjust frame rate and compression settings. It also has a rule-of-thirds grid for framing (very useful for macro photography).

Post

A note on post-production: If you’re a journalist in the field and need to turn something around immediately, editing directly on your phone is a valid option. For anyone else, stick with the classics: Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, and Avid. MM

Bonus video: Fosheim walks us through his process of creating the in-camera effects behind And Uneasy Lies the Mind‘s unique, low-fi title sequence.

Ricky Fosheim directed the feature And Uneasy Lies the Mind, currently available on VOD courtesy of Gravitas Ventures. Visit uneasyliesthemind.com for information, or look for it on social media:

Twitter: @UneasyMovie
Instagram: Uneasy_Movie
Ricky Fosheim Twitter: @RickyFosheim

Pictures courtesy of Detention Films.

To subscribe to MovieMaker Magazine, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.