It’s awards season in Hollywood. Around this time of year, big studios premiere the movies they think have the best chance of bringing home awards from the various events. But perhaps some of the most exciting contenders are the independent movies with tiny budgets. These releases occasionally surprise people by being dark-horse contenders to the big blockbusters.
Part of what’s so alluring about filmmaking is the relative accessibility. Even on a very limited budget, anyone with a camera and a vision can make something that has a big impact on people.
Until recently, smartphones were only used for found footage or shaky cam shots. The idea of shooting a professional-looking film entirely on a phone seemed dubious. Now, with the popularity of smartphones and the marked increase in their cameras’ quality, audiences have been stunned by critically acclaimed films shot on tiny cellular devices.
Harness the power of your tiny portable camera! Here’s what you’ll need if you want to try your hand at filmmaking with the same tool you trust to snap your selfies.
Screenwriting and storyboarding apps
You can’t make a movie without a script. There are plenty of mobile writing apps available for free, but you may want a more specialized app.
A screenwriting app will have more helpful editing and formatting tools for the filmwriting process. Some even include sharing options that help you collect feedback from others online. A good screenwriting app will run somewhere around $15.
Once you finish your script, you’re going to want to storyboard your scenes. Again, there are plenty of high-quality drawing apps that would work for this, but for organization tools specifically for filmmaking, you’ll want to invest in a storyboarding app. An app like this will cost you around $20.
Anamorphic adapter lens
Of all the things to save for, this is the big one. With this lens, your phone can capture a wide, cinema-quality shot.
Anamorphic adapter lenses fit over the top of your phone, resting in front of the camera. They shoot in 16:9 aspect ratio without cropping your video, meaning you can use all of your phone’s sensor to capture every shot.
The lens squeezes your video to fit on the smaller sensor, but you can “de-squeeze” video in post-production. This gives you a look similar to that provided by the anamorphic lenses used on some Hollywood productions, including unique distortion, blurring, and horizontal lens flares.
Video camera app
There are several camera apps that help you record with far more precision than the default app that comes with your phone. If you are going to use an anamorphic lens, you are going to need an app that can convert the resulting 4:3 squeezed video to 16:9 video. These apps include this “de-squeezing feature” as well as the ability to manually control exposure, tint, color, audio gain, and other features that help you get the exact feel you’re looking for with limited editing in post-production.
These apps are fairly cheap. There are ones available for free, but you are going to want to do your research and find a higher-quality app for around $10. Paid apps tend to have more options and better interfaces.
Stabilizing video mount
To get a steady shot, you’ll need a stabilizing video mount. Without one, your footage is still going to be shaky regardless of your lens quality or amount of time you spend tweaking effects in post-production.
There are professional stabilizing video mounts available for smartphones, but they can be quite expensive, ranging from $70 for off-brand options to $180 for name-brand models. The problem with these is that they aren’t future-proof. As the shapes and sizes of smartphones have changed, mount manufacturers have been slow to adapt. Professional stabilizing mounts that are compatible with newer, larger smartphones (the ones with superior cameras) are few and far between.
If you have a newer phone, you may want to make a stabilizing mount yourself. By installing a skateboard bearing inside PVC pipe couplings, you can create what’s called a gimbal—the heart of any stabilizing mount. From here, there are a number of ways to attach a run-of-the-mill smartphone mount and a counterweight. There are several DIY projects you can find online, and most won’t require much more than an aluminum rod, smartphone mount, PVC couplings, nuts, and bolts. The specific list of materials will change based on which project you decide to build, but collectively they shouldn’t run more than $30.
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