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First iPhone 4 Short Film: Amazing Trains

June 30, 2010

I got an email from Den Lennie of F-Stop Academy today with an update on their upcoming training course in how to achieve the “film look,” and he included a link to the following piece on Vimeo: the first short film shot and edited entirely on the new iPhone 4…

This is a great example of the fact that compelling content is not just about the gear; it’s about imagination, skill, and heart.

“Apple of My Eye” is a great little piece, nicely shot, with amazing visuals, great camera angles and motion, a nostalgic theme, wide appeal, a sense of wonder, characters, and a definite beginning, middle and end, all the components of great short web content. The nice thing is, after the piece is over, you get a really neat behind-the-scenes mini-documentary about how they made it!

When you see the care and skill that went into making this little gem, as well as the serious production gear they used to take iPhone 4 cinematography to a professional level, you have to be impressed not only at the capability of the new device, but also at the ingenuity and creativity of the filmmakers.

You may have noticed in the film that lighting is one of the biggest issues with a consumer-grade device like the iPhone 4 used for video. Having manual focus, iris and shutter speed gives you a lot more control. However, having a quality camera and just dealing with its limitations also forces you to focus on the story, and figure out the rest. It’s a great discipline.

When I first started shooting video, it was with a DVCPro HD camera at a small TV station. All the camera lights were broken after about 2 months of use, so I spent about a year just shooting dayside hours with no lights, using all available light. Digital cameras are very sensitive, and you have to be careful not to blow out the highlights, but especially with DSLRs, you don’t need as much light to get an image. Gain is always a problem if you have to bump it up, since it can lead to very grainy video, but it doesn’t take much extra light to allow you to stop back down with your aperture or go to a lower ISO. Even a lamp or flashlight can be a big help.

I’m sure “Apple of my Eye” will inspire many more people to see what they can make with the iPhone 4…I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for those and post them here, provided they showcase actual storytelling.

I’ve seen lots of amazing footage from DSLRs, prosumer cameras, even film cameras, that qualify as what I would call “Ambient Music Videos,” or “Soundtrack Music Videos.” Think MTv video set to music…there’s no story, just great visuals set to music. MTV created a new art form with the music video, but essentially, it’s the opposite of storytelling in many cases, unless the song is narrative and the visuals illustrate the story. In narrative films, the music and sound design are there to support the visual storytelling; however, in a music video, the music is created first, and the visuals are conceived, produced and added later, as an accompaniment to the music, not necessarily even illustrating the music.

Some of my favorite examples of this are music videos with “dangerous Teddy bears.” Bjork did the first one of these I can remember; recently, I saw another one by the band “Muse.” Now don’t get me wrong, I really like both Bjork and Muse, but the dangerous Teddy bears in their videos don’t have anything to do with the songs they go with. Same with the original Lexus commercials. Gorgeous visuals, ambient music…and no cars. Just the logo at the end. Huh?? Right. An ambient music video car commercial.

So anyway, now that this blog post has become a meditation on ambient music videos, let me summarize by saying that while the DSLR revolution has put magical tools in the hands of the masses, it doesn’t mean that everything shot with a DSLR, color graded with Magic Bullet Looks, and set to instrumental music, automatically is a narrative film. It might just be a nice looking mood piece, or an ambient music video. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve done one or two of those myself. But what I want to showcase in this blog is true storytelling craft, using the new tools. I want to see compelling short form storytelling content, even if it’s only a “microstory,” because that’s the kind of content that lasts.

I believe that since the Internet creates a platform for publishing semi-permanent content that is infinitely reproducible for zero cost, the content we should be creating is stuff that is worth taking up hard drive space for the long haul. The DSLR revolution is to films what the word processor and desktop publishing revolutions were to books and magazines and newspapers. Just because you CAN write and publish something that looks like a book from a major publishing house through an online print-on-demand service doesn’t mean it’s any good. Same goes for DSLR cinematography. Now that the iPhone 4 exists and has been demonstrated as a competent video and still camera, we have a new tool that will be increasingly used to poor effect by most people, and to brilliant effect by a few.

Be the few.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 10:00 PM

    glad they added HD video recording capability to the iphone 4. Makes a world of difference.

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