Mobile phone filmmaking

My friends and I collaborate on independent films in our spare time to break the monotony of daily routine. It’s a daunting task, but it’s a labor of love, even when the end result isn’t an epic piece of cinema.

Equipment, however, is expensive, and often we found ourselves improvising, like using $5 IKEA lamps and frosted shower curtains to light scenes. And now with Apple touting iPhone X’s video camera capabilities and a slew of companies making gimbals and lenses for them, filmmaking has become even more accessible to the average person.

Freefly sent us a Movi gimbal to test out for a week. Instead of a straight review, the video team thought it would be fun to make a movie. By “make a movie,” I mean, we grabbed a bunch of gear from the studio and shot a short scene in the park (see above).

The experience

First of all, dogs are finicky little monsters, and we could’ve used a script supervisor, but on to the gear. We used:

  • iPhone X
  • Moment portrait lens
  • Freefly Movi gimbal
  • Zoom recorder
  • Sennheiser shotgun microphone
  • generic boom pole from Amazon (though, if you’re on a super-tight budget, you can substitute with a tree branch, duct tape and hair ties — I successfully tried this in college)

Mounting the Moment lens on the iPhone X was a cinch, but balancing the Movi took a little practice. The Movi also included an app for adjusting the camera and gimbal settings. We weren’t able to use the Moment wide lens with the Movi because you can see the gimbal in the shot. Sliding it out of frame set the camera off balance, so we stuck with the portrait lens. We were later told Moment made counterweights to fix this issue.

Video quality was… adequate. We weren’t able to lock down the same exposure for every shot on the iPhone X, so a lot of time was spent in Premiere Pro matching shots. Since we won’t be able to get our hands on the Moment anamorphic lens until later this month, we faked the 2:39:1 with some black bars, tossed on a LUT and added a little After Effects magic.

People sometimes forget how important audio is, especially in our case, when we decided to shoot outdoors. Our windscreen wasn’t sufficient for harsh Bay Area wind. We should’ve picked up a dead cat windshield, but still, the Sennheiser shotgun did pretty well compared to iPhone X’s onboard recorder.

Ultimately, we probably could’ve put in a little more effort in pre-production, but it was fun getting out of the office for an afternoon. Video quality was decent enough for a web series, but we’re not quite ready for Sundance or Cannes.