In the last few years, filmmakers all over the world have been expressing their creativity by shooting short and feature-length movies using their phones, showing that you should never be afraid to tell a story if you don’t own a $50,000 camera. Here are five great ones, shot on five different generations of iPhone, including one shot entirely on the new iPhone X.
"The Fixer" - Shot on iPhone 4
In 2010 and 2011, iPhone short movies began to appear across the web after the release of the iPhone 4 that shot 720p at 30fps. Niche award sites and iPhone film festivals started popping up to shine a light on these adventurous filmmakers. "The Fixer" was one of the better short films shot at this time and won many of these awards. It’s heavily reliant on post-production processes, but the ambition is brilliant to see from a filmmaker using a camera of such low spec compared to the tech available in the latest smartphones.
“Tangerine” - Shot on iPhone 5s
"Tangerine" was perhaps the first box office success by a movie shot on an iPhone, specifically the iPhone 5s. With a budget of $100,000, the production team saved money on using expensive equipment and spent it on paying extras and location hire fees. Critically acclaimed and premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, A.V Wire’s Seth Malvin Romero described it as "an original, dazzling, and unforgettable portrayal of betrayal and friendship that easily bests any other film this year." "Tangerine" did more for this genre of filmmaking than any other release to date, and returned almost $800,000 in the box office.
“Romance in NYC” - Shot on iPhone 6
This one began life as a Kickstarter campaign and was released one year before "Tangerine," but on a newer model of iPhone. It’s Tristan Pope’s “Romance in NYC” shot exclusively on the iPhone 6. Pope had decided to use the iPhone 6 “to achieve the right intimate, candid feel” in his romantic drama that is shot almost entirely from the first person perspective. The movie is anchored in real life New York City, and Pope attempts to convey the intimacy that is found in mundane moments of relationships between a boyfriend and girlfriend.
“Detour” - Shot on iPhone 7
Fast forward a few years and we’re now in the 4K era of iPhone cameras. “Detour” is a quirky short movie by acclaimed director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). The project was funded by Apple themselves as an advertisement for the filmmaking capabilities of the iPhone 7 upon release, none-the-less, Gondry does a wonderful job in using traditional cinematography techniques to tell this clever story which has young girl’s tricycle being the main protagonist of the movie.
“Made in Paris” - Shot on iPhone X
The iPhone X is the most capable, highest spec iPhone camera to date, shooting up to 4K at 60fps using an f/1.8 wide angle lens and an f/2.4 telephoto lens that are both optical stabilized. "Made in Paris" utilized smartphone gimbals, stabilizers, and iPro Lenses by Schneider Optics for macro shots to shoot this beautiful cinematic short film about a French pastry chef. This is a wonderful demonstration of the cinematic capabilities available in the ever growing iPhone video, and accessory, market.
A smartphone camera is an extremely useful tool to get something visual in the can quickly when prepping for a larger project, just ask Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle. Check out this behind-the-scenes featurette from “La La Land” and scrub through to 5:36 to check out Chazelle choreographing parts of the opening number on his iPhone.
These are just a handful of the thousands of short and feature films shot on iPhones, so please share your favorites in the comments section. So why would you even consider shooting on an iPhone? I feel like these five directors would all have a different answer, some based on budget, some based on an attempt for a voyeuristic look to the project. But the main consideration for myself as a filmmaker would be to break down the assumption that top spec gear is necessary to shoot good video. It’s a great exercise to solely concentrate on your composition and storytelling that can open your mind to larger projects, or even stand alone as a compelling piece of cinematography.