Filmmaking For Dummies
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Today’s smartphones are so sophisticated, and the technology so advanced, you can shoot a professional looking short movie, or even a full-length feature on your smartphone. Your phone probably shoots 4K broadcast quality images — something that many older expensive video cameras can’t even do.

Some of the advantages to shooting with your smartphone include:

  • You just point and shoot.
  • You don’t have to fuss with bulky movie lenses.
  • No manual F or T stops to deal with.
  • No depth of field or focus headaches.
  • No exposure issues.
  • No need to lug around a heavy, bulky camera.
  • Your phone is always with you — ready to capture that million-to-one encounter or shoot that on-the-spot great idea.

Shooting in landscape mode

The first thing you have to remember is you’re shooting a movie, not a photo, not a selfie, and not something you’re just going to post to Facebook or Instagram. So, you now have to remember to turn your smartphone sideways. This is called landscape mode.

The normal way you’re use to holding your phone is profile mode. Note that landscape mode resembles the dimensions of your 16x9 TV. Note also that when you watch YouTube videos or feature films on your smartphone, you turn it sideways for the image to fill the whole screen. If you don’t shoot your movie in landscape mode, you’ll have black bars on each side of the image, and your movie will not fill the entire screen. So, landscape, don’t profile!

Always make sure your smartphone is charged and ready to go. Shooting video on your phone drains the battery faster than talking or listening to music on your phone.

Take off with airplane mode

You’re moving in for the perfect shot, the actors embrace, and you’re capturing a priceless moment — and then your perfect shot is interrupted by your phone ringing — your camera is ringing! “Cut! Hello? Hi mom, I’m busy, shooting my movie.” It’s happened to me.

Go into your phone settings and put your phone on airplane mode. All the functions of your phone will work except your shoot won’t be interrupted by another phone call or annoying text. You want your smartphone to be a 100-percent dedicated camera for your shoot, not a communications device.

Steady as she goes

Your smartphone is already a sophisticated movie camera. Most smartphones have a built-in stabilizer to ensure steadier shots. Often, you can handhold your smartphone for many of your shots, especially moving or following shots.

Steady as a rock

For steady tripod shots, you can get special adapters for your phone that have a tripod mount, so you can attach the phone to a tripod for rock-solid shots or for smooth panning ones. You’ll find plenty of smartphone tripod adapters on Amazon for as low as $5.

Shooting format and resolution

Before you start shooting with your smartphone, you need to go into your camera video settings. You will have a choice of resolution quality. Usually the options are 720, 1080 (2K) and 4K. I’m sure that 6K and up will soon be available for your phone. I recommend shooting on 720 or 2K because the quality is awesome and both resolutions are broadcast quality.

If you shoot in 4K, you will very quickly eat up a lot of storage space on your phone. In the video settings, you should also have the choice of shooting at 30 frames per second or 24 frames per second. Choose 24fps for a more film-like look. A great smartphone app called Filmic Pro will add even more professional shooting options to your already advanced smartphone.

Saving your movie files

Depending on your smartphone’s built-in storage capacity — or if your smartphone has a removable SD memory card — you will have to constantly offload (transfer) your shots to an external hard drive or your computer. If you don’t, your phone’s memory will soon fill up and you will have no more room to shoot anything.

Some smartphones connect to your computer via USB and allow you to download your footage this way. An iPhone allows you to wirelessly download your footage from your phone using Airdrop. This allows you to easily and effortlessly download your footage, which then you can erase (trash) off your phone and continue shooting.

There’s also a great (free) app called Simple Transfer, which is absolutely one of my favorite apps. It lets you view all your phone’s photos and movies on your computer desktop, and you can choose which shots you want to download from your phone to your computer in one batch — so you don’t have to transfer one shot at a time. I absolutely love this app so much it’s on my phone’s main home screen.

Many smartphones are now synced up with the cloud, so, chances are, your smartphone footage will automatically download to your computer if both are talking to the cloud.

I can’t emphasize this warning enough. If your phone is talking to the cloud and your footage is automatically downloaded to your computer, be absolutely sure to move those shots (digital video files) to a separate folder outside your camera roll. If you don’t, they will all get erased in the cloud when you erase them off your phone. They will also get erased off your computer and any other device that also talks to the cloud.

This is one major flaw of syncing with the cloud — most people think they can trash stuff on their phone to free up memory because it was transferred to their computer and lives in the cloud, but in reality, your computer is talking to the cloud and unless you transfer it out of your camera roll into a folder on your desktop, you’ll lose everything.

All your movie files will be saved to your camera roll in your phone and filed under Videos. But move your movie shots out of the camera roll into a special folder that isn’t mirroring your camera roll in the cloud.

Miniature camera equipment

The great thing about your movie camera being your smartphone is that everything is light and portable. Your phone is also small enough to mount on a car dashboard or adhere to the car window (on the inside) for great single shots of your driver and passenger or a nice two shot from inside the windshield. Or, turn your phone around so it’s looking out your windshield for a nice POV (point-of-view) shot of the road.

Use a selfie-stick as your camera crane for high shots or low to the ground shots. (See the following figure.) Cut a slot out of a paper cup to make a tripod to hold your phone — this also works great as a dolly, too — and just slide the cup along a desk top or the floor. Try furniture sliders to slide your smartphone along carpets or hardwood floors for smooth dolly shots.

©Bryan Michael Stoller / A selfie stick used as a camera crane for the Smartphone. High and low shots. (The model in this shot is Honey Bear.)

If you want professional-looking dolly shots, check out Dyno Trek. It’s a miniature, motorized dolly system (also called a slider system) built just for smartphones. It comes with tracks that magnetically hook together for flawless, smooth movement. You can dolly in and out and side to side, or turn the track vertically and get dolly-up and dolly-down shots.

You can program the speed of the dolly and even set it up to move in sync with your smartphone for time-lapse shots or stop-motion animation. The kit is lightweight and portable and comes in a sturdy carry case.

If you have an older smartphone that you put away after you bought the latest and greatest upgrade, it may be time to dust it off. Even though cellular service isn’t activated on your old phone, all its camera functions should be working fine. It’s really an iPod without cellular service. But you still have Wi-Fi!

This old smartphone can be used as your action backup camera (make sure it’s not a big deal if this extra phone gets damaged or destroyed). Place it in the middle of a quiet neighborhood street and have your actor in a car drive over and past the camera. Just make sure he knows to keep the smartphone between the tires! Secure this “B” action camera on the outside of your car for some dramatic driving shots.

You can even find a car suction cup mounting device for your smartphone on Amazon — or, just use lots of masking tape on the phone to secure it. (I recommend tying the phone down securely — just in case. The wind could catch it and send it flying!)

Throw the phone in the air to a friend to simulate the POV of a ball being tossed back and forth. I recommend doing this on the grass in case one of you misses a catch.

Use several smartphones to capture your movie

Pretty much everyone on your crew (even if there’s just two of you) has a smartphone, so any one of these could be used as a second or third camera on your shoot. If you have two actors talking, you can save time by having one smartphone on each actor, instead of using one camera to shoot each actor separately. You can also use an extra smartphone for your wide shots, and another for close-ups (just don’t get the phones used for close-ups in the wide shot!)

Apple’s latest iPhones feature a triple-camera system that allows users to shoot multiple different-size shots at the same time with just one smartphone camera. Apple's iPhones have three different lenses: a telephoto lens, a wide lens, and an ultra-wide lens.

Using a revolutionary app developed by Filmic Pro, each lens can record its own file — thus creating three different-sized shots at one time. It’s like three cameras rolled into one smartphone. It’s also invaluable for documentaries and spur-of-the-moment events.

Another ingenious advancement with the Filmic Pro app, is the ability to use the iPhone to shoot an interview in which both the interviewer and the interviewee are filmed at the same time. The app records footage from both the front and back camera at the same time and creates two separate digital files. So, you don’t have to have two separate cameras to shoot your interview! This unique technology is absolutely a game-changer for the independent filmmaker shooting with an iPhone and the Filmic Pro app!

Great sound on your smartphone, too!

Not only can your smartphone shoot great, broadcast-quality digital images, but it also gives you pristine digital sound recording. To get the best of this, plug in a professional directional microphone. You don’t want to use your built-in smartphone microphone because it only picks up good sound close to the phone, or ambient sound from all around your environment. Some wireless sound options can record sound directly into your smartphone without the hassle of tripping over wires. Røde makes the Wireless GO, which is perfect as a wireless, compact microphone for your smartphone shoot.

Your Smartphone Is an Entire Production Studio

Your smartphone gives you a camera to shoot your movie, and it can give you great sound. But that’s not all. You pretty much have an entire production studio in your pocket! You can even write your screenplay on your smartphone with the Final Draft app.

Storyboard on your phone with storyboard apps like Blocker by AfterNow (an absolutely amazing 3D app) and Storyboard Animator for free. You can create a shot list on your phone with an app called Shotlist – Movie Shoot Planning.

You can also download stock footage and sound effects right to your phone. In post-production, edit your entire movie on smartphone apps like the free iPhone version of iMovie or myriad Android editing apps. And, when you’ve completed your movie, use your phone to upload it directly to YouTube or Vimeo!

About This Article

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About the book author:

Bryan Michael Stoller is an award-winning filmmaker who has produced, written, and directed more than 100 productions from music videos and commercials to TV shows and feature films. His movie First Dog had nearly a half-million Redbox rentals, and he has directed stars such as Edward Asner, Barbra Streisand, James Earl Jones, Drew Barrymore, and Dan Aykroyd. Bryan's movies have amassed close to eighteen-million views on video on demand platforms. Learn more at

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