Tasked with a tiny bathroom and a low budget, the choice to shoot on iPhone felt like a no brainer. But it certainly didn’t start that way.
When artist Estyr and director/editor Serville Poblete brought me on board in spring 2020, the music video concept was paired with a lush budget and three day shoot. After our funding fell through, Serville and Estyr asked if I was interested to shoot solo with them using what we had leftover (alt: available): $500 and a friend’s small bathroom.
Considering the tiny 4’x7′ size of the bathroom and our small team, I wanted to avoid overwhelming the shooting environment with anything that would inhibit our flexibility and space to play. In short: avoid excess gear.
“What if we shot on an iPhone?”, I said to Serville over the phone, moderately nervous I was about to be laughed at. To my pleasant surprise, he was ecstatic. Apparently he had been looking to shoot on iPhone for awhile now. Estyr agreed, loving the prospect of new flexibility the iPhone could bring. So, we went for it.
The $250 budgeted for camera went towards lighting and grip.
My technical takeaway is the iPhone performs best in vibrant, high contrast environments, which made it a great fit for Slow Drip’s colourful look. We used the Telephoto and Macro lenses from Moment, but otherwise found our look came from the 13mm and 26mm native lenses of the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Filmic Pro was used for capture, and the Filmic Remote app on my iPad provided Serville with a way to monitor without having to look over my shoulder.
In my iPhone “camera build” research, I was surprised to see the option for a cage with EF lenses, converters to expand the phone’s sensor size, and many more. But embracing the nature of iPhone was important for the shoot. Our attention to what’s in front of the camera (makeup, set dressing, lighting and color palette) was far more important.
We used the DJI Osmo 4 for different variations of locked off, top-down, and gliding camera movements. In comparison to a typical cinema camera build, our ability to efficiently switch between these setups stuck out to me. Even with a speedy crew, the prospect of fitting a larger gimbal and operator in the 4’x7’ bathroom felt silly. There was just enough room for Estyr, myself and the iPhone. As we captured takes with the DJI gimbal, everything felt painless. I was grateful for the light-weight nature of the iPhone
The other perk: b-roll was incredibly fun and flexible. Serville and I explored a variety of options and angles quite quickly, and got closer to the subjects than I ever have with a cinema camera. I remember capturing shots of bubbles on the water, my phone centimetres away from the surface. I kept thinking how uncomfortable I would be centimetres away from water with a cinema camera.
Our pickup shoot was equally feasible and fun. Sliding the iPhone under or around the fish tank was painless, and the look really shines on the native 13mm wide lens. See below for my favourite photo of Esther’s living room setup as fishtank garbage bag mayhem
Once in colour, the h.265 transcoded files from FilmicPro colour best with basic grades. Achieving your look, specifically the colour palette, in camera is important when shooting on iPhone. You simply do not have the latitude for dramatic push and pull once in post.
Before we shot the music video, Serve said something that really stuck with me: “I’d rather pay the people over the cost of a camera package.”
It’s important we acknowledge how inaccessible filmmaking can feel. On low budgets, I notice more often than not the choice to sacrifice our rates in favour of “nicer” gear. A career in cinematography and filmmaking should be available to the broadest range of socio-economic backgrounds, and not just for those with the means to access expensive camera packages. When it makes sense to shoot on phones, we should! I was pleasantly surprised and comforted by the results of shooting on iPhone for Slow Drip, and look forward to shooting more on iPhone in the future.
A peek behind the scenes: