Making Movies With Your Mobile

Pete and Martin visited Pervasive Media in the Watershed for one of their Friday Lunchtime talks last week to hear Jack Edwards talk on Making Movies With Your Mobile. During the talk, part of PMs Open Studio Friday initiative, Jack introduced the simple concept that almost all of us are carrying around a device capable of filming great quality footage. Aimed at those wanting to produce footage for creative or activist purposes, a lot of the advice covered was useful for more general filming.

Whilst in education we may not be in the market for creating the next Cannes sensation, there’s a lot we can take away from a more professional approach. You no longer need to have expensive video cameras, microphones, lights, and tripods to create good quality footage. WIth a bit of stage management and some relatively cheap equipment that fits in a pocket you can easily create your own high quality video.

One of the main take home points was the use of sound, confirming something I’ve said time and time again – you can watch quite poor quality footage if the sound is good, but if the sound is awful even the most beautifully shot HD video will quickly become jarring and unwatchable. With a mobile phone you have a microphone optimised for close up use but may not perform particularly well over a small distance. The good news is by plugging in a cheap clip on tie-mic (around £2-3 on ebay or £5 in Maplin) you instantly get better quality sound. Some of these have quite lengthy leads which could be useful if you’re trying to film more than just a talking head. A top tip is to use a bit of furry fabric to cover a mic outside to mimic the ‘dead cat’ style microphone covers professionals use to muffle wind sound.

Lighting and exposure can be another issue when filming on mobile, so getting you know your settings can give far better results. By turning off auto-exposure in your phone’s video app you can ensure you don’t get that fading in and out effect that can ruin so many indoor shots as you phone desperately tries to get the best levels and fails miserably. A subsequent online search found loads of guides for my phone telling me how to turn off auto-exposure both for the native app and a few of the video apps I’ve downloaded.

Composition – setting up scenes/stage management was also briefly discussed. This is often overlooked but making sure you’ve got a scene set up and everything ready before shooting makes for a more watchable clip. For example using a tripod – these days you can pick up mobile phone adaptors for both large and small desktop tripods. Having a stable shot over shaky-cam is usually far preferable for a viewer (most of us don’t set out to induce motion sickness). You can pick up cheap adaptors, some of which double as hand held ‘stabilisers’ – giving a more ergonomic handle rather than grasping a phone hopefully resulting in a smoother video (£5-25 on Amazon and ebay). Jack illustrated this DIY approach with the fact that when CNN can’t get a full crew to a news story their local reporters will use a ‘Selfie Stick’ and tie mic to film themselves – if that’s good enough for Nationwide broadcast then it’s probably good enough for us. [Note: Please don’t buy a selfie stick]

As far as which mobile apps to use Jack recommended the native iOS video app or Cinema FV 5 for Android. I’ve had a play with the latter and it certainly gives you a lot of manual control over things like focus and exposure.

Jack encouraged us to think about editing as a cut and paste exercise, just a case of grabbing clips, snipping out bits we don’t need and pasting them into the order we need. There are lots of options for giving your footage a bit of editorial polish directly on your phone or tablet these days, this guide gives lots of options for both Android and iOS – – I personally recommend Cyberlink Powerdirector for Android – the cut and paste approach works well with this app.

The talk was followed by a screening of Tangerine, a movie shot entirely on an iPhone with a specially adapted clip on anamorphic lens. The total cost of the equipment ran to around £1000, whilst the movie has gained critical praise both at Sundance and in the mainstream media. Unfortunately we had to get back to work, but the film trailer looks great and I’ll definitely be watching it a later date.

One thought on “Making Movies With Your Mobile

  1. Mark Kermode talks about Tangerine at: “a very fine, very engaging … film”

    This is another small scale example of tech changes changing what is possible – ie filming more unobtrusively in real life contexts, democratising film creation by lowering the cost of creation.

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