In 2015 we saw the release of Tangerine, a low budget drama about a transgender prostitute. It was heavily praised by festival critics, but a major source of buzz for this film was a result of the actual filmmaking method that was used . Tangerine was shot entirely using the camera on an iPhone 5S. Not a camera using an iPhone as a monitor, not a camera made by Apple, but the actual iPhone camera was used during the entire filming process. The Director Sean Baker reported that his experience in using the iPhone to capture his film was ideal. Footage was never lost, and a cheap app allowed for control over focus and other camera controls (Newton, The Verge).
If you think back a few years, you might remember hearing “camera phones” advertised as something new and high tech. Now, smart phones not only come standard with a camera function, but the latest incarnation of the iPhone (the iPhone 6S, which released before Tangerine was completed and screened for festival audiences) has the capability to shoot video in 4k resolution. From the perspective of a filmmaker, but also as a viewer, this raises some questions about the future of how people make video content. If a cell phone is capable of recording video with the quality of cinematic cameras, does this render them unnecessary? In a world where nearly everyone has a cell phone, it seems these devices are being made to do more and more for us.
So what’s the down side? If the tools of filmmakers are made available to everyone, shouldn’t they embrace the technology? It’s perfectly okay to buy a new smart phone and experiment with what kind of videos you can create. It’s fun, and it can help you develop your video production skills, whether it’s something you want to pursue as a career or it’s a fun hobby. Either way, I don’t think that any pocket device should surpass the professional use of cameras. I don’t think it’s a filmmaking sin to experiment, but if you are trying to make something cinematic, why use the device you talk to people on Tinder with? There is of course the argument that new technology is inevitable, and by not embracing or at least considering new ways of doing things, you’re in danger of being the jackass who says, “That’ll never catch on”.
I wonder though, if two different tools do the exact same thing, is it necessary to dwell on it's phycial shell?Does it then become acceptable (since it's hypoptheically possible) to pull a smart phone out of your pocket and shoot something grand?
I should state my bias. I have always been slightly weary of technology. I didn’t want to get a cell phone of any kind. But when I became driving age, it was deemed necessary by my parents to get one. It was time, but I knew that once I had a cell phone I’d be texting and communicating on a scale I’d yet to step onto. It happened, times changed, and it wasn’t until 2013 that I got my first smart phone (I still have it today). As someone with reservations about the rise of instant communication as well as a passion for filmmaking, my opinions on using phones as cameras is certainly a personal preference.
Maybe technology will get to the point where your iPhone camera is literally comparable with a full fledged cinematic camera. Maybe a whole new generation of filmmakers will see cameras as more traditional than necessary, a novelty that’s gone away, just like shooting and projecting on actual film has.
I find all that kind of scary. But I’m willing to bet that purists will be sticking around for a while longer, what with an interest in practical effects and authentically shot-on-film theatrical adventures, as well as 70MM screenings arousing the curiosity of film goers (Star Wars and The Hateful Eight within the past month or so, respectively). New territories of filmmaking will be explored, and there’s not a really good reason to try and stop it. But you don’t have to submit to it if it’s just not the right fit for you as a filmmaker.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If you want to make video content with your iPhone 4K camera, I won’t try to stop you.
Regardless of the forthcoming filmmaking techniques, films are here to stay. Often times, if a certain method is used to make a film and it’s completely successful, you don’t notice it. Ideally, you’re not going to be trapped into sitting their thing about how the shot was pulled off, versus what’s going on in the story*. Good execution is invisible.
*Although, as a film student/fanatic (if you are one), you most likely do this a lot.