Step Up Your Mobile Filmmaking With These 9 Tools

Not gonna lie, never made a film on my mobile.

Thought I’d get that out there now so if you’d rather hear from someone then has, then you’ve been warned upfront.

BUT! In my defence, that’s because when I started out filmmaking, mobile phones weren’t at a level where that was really possible. I started off making films with something much worse before I got my first (and only) DSLR camera; the Canon 60D which I’ll still use now and again. I like it.

Anyway, back to mobile filmmaking. It’s a thing now!

Yay!

And it’s had quite some success. Did you know that there was a feature film made entirely on the iPhone 5S in 2015? And it was a win! Tangerine directed by Sean Baker was professionally made film with a budget of $100,00 (See? There are other things to spend money rather than the camera) and had a box office return of just under $1 Million.

That’s incredible! But the question you’re probably asking is why did they make the film on the iPhone 5S? I’d rather ask the question, why not?!

I’m gonna make the assumption that you’re convinced! You’re going to head out with your latest iPhone or Android and win yourself an Oscar. Woo-hoo! Go get ’em!

Oops, wait! Sorry, just got excited. Actually, there are a few things you can do to step up your mobile filmmaking game. No, some of these things aren’t free but will significantly help you make a better mobile movie (plus I’ve tried to find the most cost-saving versions of everything I’m about to mention). We’re gonna break them down to three main areas.

Camera. Action. Lights… that looks wrong doesn’t it?

1. Camera

So obviously we’re using the mobile phone as the camera – so when I say camera, I really mean everything you can do beforehand to help plan out what the camera is going to be doing on the day.

FiLMiC Pro

Get complete manual control of your mobile camera with this app. This is so important – more control over your image means more creative decisions.

Apple Store | Google Play

Celtx

Having a properly formatted screenplay is key to any production, mobile or not. Celtx is an online, cloud-based screenwriting software where you can write up to 3 projects for free.

www.celtx.com

Shot Lister

Shot Lister is an incredible tool to use for preproduction and to share with your team. Check it out on their site.

www.shotlister.com

2. Action

These few simple tools will truly excel your production quality from just going handheld with an iPhone. I would say that all three of these options are a must!

Rode Mic Go

If you can help it, don’t use the inbuilt mic on your mobile. There are a whole host of options for good audio, but this is definitely a good start.

Amazon Link

Tripod

Stability in your image, stability in your life. Well… not at all really but I definitely recommend getting some sort of tripod. Great thing with these ones, you can put them anywhere! Anywhere!

Amazon Link

Soundstripe

If music be the food of love… then put it in your films! Yes, this post-production but music can really make a film. Royalty-free music can be expensive, but if you’re making loads of films – I would recommend these guys.

Get Soundstripe

3. Lights

Lighting is key. To elevate the image quality you’re capturing in camera, it’s all to do with lighting. Even when shooting outside during daylight, you’ll want to think about how to diffuse or bounce it.

LED Panel

When indoors use as many practical lights as you can, and then use these great LED Panel lights to highlight where you want to draw the attention.

Low Budget Option | Mid Budget Option

Diffusion

Hard light (like the sun) can create some really nasty shadows. Use cheap diffusion to soften it up to make your image even more stunning – yes the low budget option is a shower curtain. It works and I still use it.

Low Budget Option | Mid Budget Option

Bounce

Especially when outside, use a bounce to reflect some of the sunlight exactly where you want it – often into the talent’s face when the sun is behind them.

Amazon Link

And that’s it. There is of course so much more you can get and upgrade to push your production levels higher and higher but I think this is a pretty great place to start.

If you do make anything on your mobile, I’d love to see it. Just sent it over to me on Instagram @paulsyrstad

When Stuck for a Good Idea

Like any filmmaker who finds themselves between projects, I decided I wanted to write something new. To be precise, something new that I could also actually make within the month. So I sat down at my laptop, ready for inspiration to strike which I could fan into a fierce flame that would become my next short film…

Nothing.

Nada.

I just sat there. I can’t describe how incredibly annoying it was – and I’m guessing, seeing as you’re reading this, that you have had similar experiences. But it just felt unfair! I had found myself with a week of free time which wasn’t particularly normal, so it was perfect to put pen to paper and start to createl But the hours passed and it seemed that pen might be on paper, but the brain was not connecting with the pen.

So I did what I’ve heard every great writer advise, just write something. I squeezed out what little my imagination was giving me and ended up writing ten pages of absolute genius…not really. It was trash. I literally printed it out, read it back, and threw it in the bin. A waste of time and a waste of paper. Apologies.

Now, I’m not the best of writers I’ll admit. Dialogue has never been my forte and can often be a little stilted, but that wasn’t the problem. I just wasn’t having the ideas. And ideas are usually my strong point – and structure, but that’s a different blog.

So there I was, sitting without a decent idea but desperately wanting to write something. And then this word drifts into my mind from GCSE drama class… stimulus. I still hate the word, make me think of teenagers throwing a sock in the middle of a circle and then jumping up ready to improvise a Oscar-worthy performance based around a sock. 

I digress.

Stimulus. However much we want to think our best ideas are born out of our own brilliance, they actually are amalgamations of everything we’ve already seen, heard, read and learnt. And now and again, we need to give a little jolt to our creative centre. So I decided to do the unthinkable…\

I used Google. I’m sorry but it’s true. I googled things like “short story starters” and “story stimulus”. This would never work. I scrolled through sentence starters and quick one-sentence ideas like:

  • “They sat next to each other on the train, still pretending to be strangers…”
  • “What if, in the basement of your house, you discovered a secret passageway?”
  • “She picked up the wrong suitcase at the airport, and inside was the evidence from a crime”

Suddenly I came across one sentence which grabbed my attention and my imagination was kickstarted into action, revving up the gears slowly but surely into what became a script which I am extremely proud of. I wrote the ten page script in a day and shot it over two afternoons that weekend. This is what we came out with…

A Heartwarming Story About the End of the World. Whether you love the title or not (and I do), I can’t claim the credit – that was my wife’s stroke of genius!

Of course, the short film is clearly filmed quickly and with limited resources, but it has actually developed into a six-part series which I’m working on now – and all from looking up story starter ideas on Google. It might feel like cheating, but it’s not. The sentence that this entire story came out of was this: “A woman drops her wallet on the street, and it falls open. You pick it up and are about to return it to her when you notice a strange picture inside.

Below are a couple of sites with some great ideas to kick you off, and remember; everyone starts with the blank page, writers just colour them in.

https://www.creative-writing-now.com/short-story-ideas.html

https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story-ideas//

Out of Shot #001 – Staying Creative When You Can’t Be Productive w/ Your Hosts

Meet your hosts in the first episode of Out of Shot. Paul, Faith, Ken and John talk through the difficulties in keeping creative during times between work, how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the entertainment industry, and what we can do in the waiting. 

Staying Creative When You Can't Be Productive w/ Your Hosts – Out of Shot #001 Out Of Shot

My First Camera

I say my first camera, but I guess the more honest thing would be to say the first camera I made a feature film.
A warning, this gets embarrassing real quick.
My friend, Saul, and I were around sixteen years old and had a weekend free. We decided to improvise a short scene about an adventure hunter called Craig Hunter who was in search of the fabled Skull of Goliath (very cool already, I know).

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