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Notes from a Filmmaker: Lee Bailes on the iPhone 4

August 17, 2011 BelowTheLine, Smart Movie Making No Comments
The Steadicam Smoothee in action
The Steadicam Smoothee in action

In the first of our series, Notes from a film-maker, Lee Bailes of Eibon Films gives an excellent insight into some of the pros and cons of filming on an iPhone 4

So a while back I got hold of an iPhone 4 deliberately to play with its HD filming capabilities; because I was dismayed at the utter lack of filming over the last 15 months of hell in my old job and also wanted to negate any excuses that I might have for the future: such as, I haven’t time to charge my video cameras up; I’ve run out of tape; I haven’t got my camera on me and am unable to capture this marvellous event happening in front of my eyes etc.

Especially now that I’ve changed jobs for the better and am in a much more saner plane of existence, my excuse pool is very much shallower.

I know that the quality of footage will never hold up next to a Semi-pro HDV Camcorder when you’re needing to be able to push the footage in post, as there’s so little visual information to play with in comparison. I also knew that there wasn’t going to be even half as much control over what I shot or the quality of the sound.

However, for quick ‘making of’s’ on set, for doing possible video blogs/podcasts, or capturing something worth sharing on the net that didn’t require the post polish, it was going to be a damn sight better than a Flip type camera.

It was the fact that you can now install the iMovie video editing app on it, and unlike any other phone out there to my knowledge you can film and edit and upload all from your mobile phone, that swung it for me and made me sign up to an exorbitant contract for pitiful data rates.

But like any cynical sod, I firstly wanted to fully research the workflow and conduct a few misguided experiments. I wasn’t going to rush out there like many did, just to be the first iPhone movie (shot and edited on the iPhone exclusively) on the net; although the day I picked up the phone I was instantly inspired to write a very easy to shoot low-budget comedy horror short — more news on that soon.

Anyway, so the phone itself isn’t the most ergonomically pleasing to hold and shoot with a steady hand. However there are some great cheap cases out there already.

There are also a choice of either iPad stand type cases and solutions for Tripod holders / mounts — to enable you to set it down on a safe surface and shoot a vibration / shake free scene. The latter is very useful when you might be a bit under the influence, or don’t want that fake Documentary Verite feel to shooting dramatic scenes.

The solution I went for is the iPhone 4 Tripod Holder — not a bad idea for $9 US. And it was delivered to me in a week! Great service. But if you want mobile shots — perhaps you want to check out the iPhone steadicam style stabilizers out there (sadly iPhone 4 ones not currently available).

Here’s a shonky demo I shot — just to test the tripod holder, practice the workflow and compare it to the iSight cam on my Macbook Pro, and see what the process was like to edit it in iMovie ’09 rather than using the FCP suite.

The sound isn’t bad (I was speaking very quietly… I’m shy) and the footage looks great — although it does tend to get pixelated very quickly (due to it being AVCHD and not true HD) if you allow iMovie ’09 to compress it — but for web delivery it’s fine; especially if all you’re going to do with it is capture someone mooning down the pub.

And if you pack a very small tripod — you could easily carry a tiny portable film studio with you in a backpack, along with all your other crap and not even notice the extra weight. Perfect for those always on the move and wanting to travel light.

I have heard of the ThinkGeek iPhone microphone — for those wanting to record better sound, perhaps shooting interviews etc. That shall be my next experiment — although other users have hinted at�more DIY adapter solutions such as using a Mini A/V Cable.

But what is all of this research in aid of? Well I hope to shoot a short flick next week — entirely with the iPhone 4 — that’s what. And for other fun projects the possibilities definitely outweigh the reasons not to have a go. And that’s nothing but good for a procrastinator like me.

Eibon Films is an independent film production company set up by Lee Bailes that specialises in making transgressive genre cinema

If you would like to contribute to smartmoviemaking.com, drop me an email @ tony.myers@smartmoviemaking.com

Edoardo Ballerini is an actor and a writer. He has appeared in over forty films and television series, including Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos and the indie hit Dinner Rush. He was last seen on Theater Row in New York in “Honey Brown Eyes.”You can reach Edoardo on Facebook or Twitter

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