Eight tips for filming a cinematic movie on your iPhone
- Lighting, lighting, lighting.
- Stop thinking about what a phone can’t do and start maximizing what it can do.
- Capture movement.
- Record clean audio… or none at all.
- Stabilize your shot.
- Find other ways to up your production value.
- Storytelling is king.
At New32, we believe that budget shouldn’t be a barrier when it comes to making great,cinematic movies. There are so many parts of the filming process that are expensive, but we don’t think equipment has to be one of them. So what’s our answer to creators who can’t afford prohibitively expensive cinema cameras? Well, we’re willing to bet you have a 1080p camera in your pocket, right now. That’s right. We’re talking about making a movie on your iphone. How would you film a movie on your iphone? It’s a fair question. We’ve scoured the internet for the best short films shot on a cell phone, analyzed them, and now we’ve compiled our top eight tips and tricks for you right here.
Note: We’ve linked some products below, in case you have the budget to spring for some extras. We’ve only picked products with great reviews from sources we trust. That being said, our whole thing is that you don’t have to spend the big bucks in order to film something amazing, so if you can’t afford these extras, no sweat! You can film a great movie on your iphone without spending more money.
Tip number one: Lighting, lighting, lighting.
Typically, when filming on a cell phone, the image is very flat. This is because the purpose of cell phone cameras is simply to document what’s in front of them. On the other hand, cinema cameras create more of a dynamic image, with a foreground and a background. Those images have layers and depth. So how do you accomplish the cinema camera look on a phone camera? Lighting! Use lights on different planes to add depth to your shot. Depth will make your movie look richer, more expensive, and more cinematic.
Think carefully about the ways you can light your set to accomplish this. You don’t have to break the bank on expensive film lights–although Amazon has highly-rated options for a range of budgets if you want to go that route–you can do a lot with just some lamps and cheap light reflectors. Can’t afford light reflectors? How about a sheet of foam poster board?
As long as you’re thoughtful and creative–and you’re an artist, so we already know that you are–you’ll be able to work out a cheap way to dynamically light your set. This is our number one way to make your cell phone shot look cinematic. How many high-budget TV shows and movies have you seen where the lighting choices totally ruined an otherwise great shot? (Yeah, we still don’t want to talk about Game of Thrones. Too soon.) This is like the opposite of that.
Tip number two: Style.
Style. There’s a reason Taylor Swift wrote a whole song about it. You really can get away with so much if you have a bold, unique style. Here’s a few ideas to make your short film really stand out in the style department.
- Color. Choose a color palette you love and then figure out how you can accomplish it on your phone. Do you want bold, cinematic emerald greens and ocean blues? Do you want soft, mesmerizing pastels? Remember, the colors you choose tell a story, so be very thoughtful. Think of the directors whose color choices make them stand out; we know we can think of several! You can accomplish this in a number of ways, from buying iPhone preset filters to scouring thrift stores (or your actor’s closets!) for costumes and set pieces that fit the color palette you’re going for. Of course, lighting is part of this as well, but you already know that, because you read tip number one.
- Speaking of presets, here is a short film we really loved that used film grain, giving it a cool, unique, very cinematic feel. It’s so funny to us; when film grain happens organically on a camera, that’s considered a defect, but when you add it in post, it can feel pretty magical. There’s something about it that just seems so authentic. Now, that being said, be careful when using tricks like this; it might seem, well, tricky, if you overdo it. A little goes a long way in the style department. Think about this like adding an accessory to an outfit; you don’t want your shoes to be the only thing people notice. You want the whole thing to work together in harmony.
- Add cine bars! It’s a quick way to accomplish the cinematic look of film, and is very stylish. Even if your viewers are watching your movie on their iphone, cine bars will make them feel like they’re in a movie theater.
Tip number three: Stop thinking about what a phone can’t do and start maximizing what it can do.
Other tips on this list might make you think you need to compensate for something if you’re shooting on an iphone. We’re here to tell you that’s not true. Sure, there are tweaks you need to make in order to ensure you’re getting the best possible shot, but there are things iphones are really, really good at, and we want you to take advantage of that.
For example, detail shots. Iphones are incredible at picking up those little macro images. So use that! Get a bunch of really cool detail shots, and let your iphone shine.
You can also maximize your settings to make sure you’re getting the most out of your iphone. Make sure you’re shooting in 4k, and take a look at your frame rate. Additionally, did you know that you can download an app that allows you to adjust your camera settings manually? Some of the apps listed in the link above are for photography, but some can be used for video as well.
Tip number four: Capture movement.
If you have a little extra room in your budget, consider investing in a gimbal for your iPhone. There are a number of high-quality, relatively affordable gimbals out there that will make your production look much higher budget. We’ve seen great reviews for the DJI OM 5, the Zhiyun Smooth 4, and the MOZA Mini-S (that one’s just fifty bucks!) For inspiration, check out The Path by Nilhs Kimmel. We absolutely turn to this cell phone shot short film when we need storyboarding inspo.
Tip number five: Record clean audio… or none at all.
This one’s quick and easy. Bad audio makes a movie, well, impossible to watch. You have two options here. You can spring for an external microphone (like this one) or you can make a silent film. Either is a good choice, and either presents its own unique challenges that will help you grow as a filmmaker. We don’t know why more filmmakers don’t do silent films; it’s such an easy way to slash your budget and it doesn’t have to compromise your vision.
Tip number six: Stabilize your shot.
Listen, we love a good handheld shot as much as the next filmmaker. But investing in a tripod or a stabilizer for your iphone is only going to make your final product more professional looking. If you have twenty extra bucks you can invest in a small iphone tripod, and it’ll make a world of difference when setting up your shot. Already have a larger tripod? Spend even less money on an adapter so you can use it with your iphone. If that isn’t going to work for you, find a way to prop your iphone up on furniture or a pile of books to get the perfect, stable shot.
Tip number seven: Find other ways to up your production value.
We get it, you’re on a tight budget. We’ve been there too, trust us. Here’s a story for you. Before New32 was New32 and was just a couple of friends with a passion for filmmaking, we were shooting a movie. We really, really, really wanted a scene on a city bus. It would look so good and increase our production value so much. But we were broke. Luckily enough, we live in a small town with a robust public transportation service, so we called and begged to use the bus for free. And you know what? They said yes! That’s the real lesson: when you’re working on a shoestring budget, just ask for things. You’ll be surprised at who might say yes.
Now, was it one of the craziest shoots of our life? Yes. Did the bus have to drive around on its regular route all day? Also yes. Did random civilians try to get on the bus constantly? …yes. We’ll have to do a whole blog post on it one day. But that’s not the point. The point is we got the shoot done and the movie looked so. Much. Better. Because of it.
Just because you’re shooting on an iphone doesn’t mean you’re not a legitimate filmmaker who should be taken seriously. Keep that in mind and don’t be afraid to ask for the things that will make your movie great.
Tip number eight: Storytelling is king.
Yeah, I know. You’re here because you already are a storyteller, because you have a need to express yourself through film. At New32, we are positive that a badass concept shot on an iphone is going to outweigh a so-so story shot on the best, most expensive cinema camera every time. This is less of a tip and more of just our way of saying: you can do this. Your ideas are really what make your movie sing. You can create amazing, stunning, dare we say award-winning cinematic films on your iphone, even if you don’t purchase a single one of the products we listed here.
There was a time when filmmaking was out of reach for everyone but the rich and well-connected. Filmmaking is still easier if you have a ton of money–like, we can’t overstate how much easier–but in some ways the prevalence of 1080p cell phone cameras is democratizing filmmaking. You have to work hard, but you have a shot (get it? shot?) at making something truly beautiful with just the phone in your pocket. By using these tips and tricks, and perhaps by studying some of the stunning short films shot on an iphone that are available on youtube, you can maximize your chances of making something truly gorgeous and professional looking. Check out our CEO, Raven, talking about her five favorite cinematic movies shot on an iphone.