Shooting Your Film With an iPhone? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t
One of the most cringe-worthy lines I hear from many established actors and filmmakers is; “the barriers of entry to filmmaking have lowered, today you can make a film on your iPhone”. It’s a true statement, but the part of iPhone filmmaking is what I find troublesome. iPhones are magnificent tools, and the cameras on these devices continue to improve year over year, but I would be cautious of using them as a filmmaking tool. It’s possible to make a film with an iPhone. All the components are there, but I have a few reasons why you should skip that approach, see below.
…it will just look low quality in comparison to other films
As an emerging filmmaker, when making a short or a feature, there is a competition to get noticed. Usually, establishing yourself is to fight through the competition for festivals, contacts who can propel your name, or just general web views. In this competitive arena, First impressions are everything, and at first glance, iPhone visuals will look of lower quality than other filmmakers shooting on super 35 cameras. Unfortunately, judging a book by the cover is a real thing, and with film, the cover is the first couple of frames.
…you’re limited in your visual storytelling
There is only so much that an iPhone can do from a professional standard. iPhone’s are made for everyday users, so the ability to manipulate and customize is limited to the point and shoot. There are apps out there that can free up the phone and open more manual settings, but they tend to feel like quick fixes vs re-established settings for the phone. You also limit the visuals by leveraging only the setup that the iPhone can offer. Other cameras allow full customization of rigs and workflows.
…sound quality is going to be horrendous
The sound quality with shooting on an iPhone is going to be a dead giveaway to amateurism. When it comes to filmmaking, the sound is fundamental, and paradoxically, an ominous sound is the more significant indicator of a bad picture. The iPhone is a great product that allows external sound so that you shouldn’t have to rely on the factory default sound. But if you’re willing to use external audio and go professional, why not take that added step of making the picture visuals as impressive as the sound.
…streaming services like Netflix, Prime, etc., do not accept iPhone as admissible equipment
Unless you’re someone like Steven Soderbergh, content distributors and streaming services have equipment requirements that filmmakers must adhere to have their films available on their platforms. That might not be the goal out of the gate, but let’s say you have a fantastic story behind your film, it gets picked up by festivals, and it begins to build a following. The momentum of your movie may come to a screeching halt because it wasn’t shot with the right equipment to be accepted on these platforms.
…creating a professional-grade film on iPhone is difficult
Often movies like “Tangerine” or “Unsane” are used as a reference to show how an iPhone movie can be successful, but what’s not often mentioned is how difficult it is to recreate a feature film experience with an iPhone. A director like Steven Soderbergh or Sean Baker doesn’t just pull out an iPhone from the pocket and start shooting. The iPhones they used were usually modified and rigged with appropriate gimbals and stabilizers. Special lighting and framing are also required to create the visual narrative.
…lens options are non-existent
Seasoned filmmaker and cinematographers know that real visual magic comes with a quality lens. A film shot with an inferior camera and top tier lenses will always look better than a good camera with bad lenses. Shooting on iPhone limits lens options and the ability to use Zeiss’ and Cooke’s lenses of the world. There are aftermarket lenses you can swap out to help with visual variety, but it won’t push the camera as other premium lenses could.
…professional-grade equipment is now easier to access
Until recently, to get premium film equipment, you had to pay 10s of thousands or had to go to a film school to access their student equipment. However, now there are a ton of rental companies offering rentals to anyone. So instead of trying to compromise on buying equipment with your budget, you can use a portion of that budget and rent equipment for the days needed.
…no one cares if you shoot your film with an iPhone
Another misconception for shooting on an iPhone is that filmmakers may think the audience will be impressed and interested because of it. The truth is – they’re not. It could be an excellent talking point, and you may get an enthusiastic response, but it likely won’t be genuine if you didn’t blow their socks off with the story. I’d argue that mentioning your film was shot on an iPhone may take away a bit of the magic out of it, grounding it to everyday tech, but if this is an intention, it’s a different story (see exceptions below).
…but I have exceptions to the rule
I do have exceptions to this rule because the iPhone is still a tool, and though I’ve provided recommendations against it, it’s a tool that shouldn’t be ignored entirely.
- Learning & experimenting
The iPhone could be great for when you’re testing or just simply learning. Let’s say you want to understand the whole process of completing a film. You can shoot a short concept with the iPhone, edit and finish it, and then you will have that experience under your belt. Another example would be testing or experimenting with stories and shooting a demo version of it with a phone.
- Budget reasons
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a post-money society and making films can be really expensive. If there is a severe budget issue and there are no other options to generate funding, grab the iPhone. It could be advantageous to wait for the financing to shoot your project correctly, but if the story is strong and it’s an itch that needs to be scratched, then go for it. Something is always better than nothing.
- Shooting iPhone is a component of the story
When your film calls for an iPhone, then you use an iPhone. An example could be a found-footage story, or a story told from the first person who happens to be using an iPhone for whatever reason. The component would need to be solid because if it’s forced, the audience will see through it and figure out that the iPhone was used for budget.