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Filmmaking on IPhone 5C

I’ve selected to reprint sections of PETER BRODERICK’S “How To Be Unstoppable” amazing article on how Sean Baker fearlessly shot his new film, Tangerine, entirely on the iPhone 5s. It dazzled audiences and critics when it premiered at Sundance and is now being released theatrically. It looks great on the big screen and has energy and style to burn. Using the iPhone was the most affordable way to shoot Tangerine, and turned out to be the very best way to make it. Sean shot his first feature Four Letter Words in 1996 and finally finished it in 2000. Made for $80,000 with 35mm short ends, it’s the only movie he has done on film. In 2004, he shot Take Out on standard definition video for $3,000 and “finished it with favors.” In 2008, he made Prince of Broadway on HD for $45,000. Then in 2012, he completed Starlet, which was filmed in HD on a $235,000 budget. Starlet received enthusiastic reviews, won the Robert Altman Award at the Independent Spirit Awards, and was distributed by Music Box Films. After Starlet’s success, “something almost happened,” Sean explained. Having made four features that received steadily increasing recognition and distribution, Sean hoped he could finally access much higher levels of financing. Only interested in directing his own scripts, Sean has been unwilling to work as a director for hire on films he didn’t write. It looked like his script Caviar about the Russian-Armenian underworld in Brooklyn was going to be financed for between $10 and $15 million. After waiting 1½ years for the money to arrive, Sean decided he would have to return to the world of micro-budget filmmaking. He contacted Mark Duplass, who agreed to put together the financing for a new film set in the world of transgender prostitutes. Sean committed to make it for less than half the cost of Starlet (i.e. under $117,500).CHOOSING THE IPHONE INSTEAD OF A CAMERA He began his research in the spring of 2013. While he wrote the script with Chris Bergoch, Sean began exploring how to shoot it. He couldn’t afford to use expensive digital cameras. He didn’t want to shoot on more affordable DSLR cameras, which are used on so many micro-budget features. He felt that most films made with these cameras “look the same.” He also couldn’t afford to purchase a $4,000 lens to create a more distinctive look, and his limited budget wouldn’t allow him to add the two or three extra video people to his crew that shooting on a DSLR would have required. Impressed by the look of the iPad footage in Spike Lee’s feature Red Hook Summer, Sean decided to shoot a 2-minute test reel with the iPhone 5s he already had in his pocket. He showed it on a large screen at Technicolor to Mark Duplass and the other investors, and they immediately greenlit his use of the iPhone. He then called Radium Cheung (his DP on Starlet) and asked him to be his co-cinematographer. Sean explained that when Radium, “who has spent 25 years mastering cinematography and was then shooting the TV series The Americans on 35mm” learned that he was planning to shoot the film on an iPhone, he was shocked. Radium then told Sean, “I’ll come to LA and play with you.” Sean responded, “We’re not playing. We are making a real movie. We have to embrace this and discover all the benefits.”


When Tangerine was shot in December 2013, Sean and Radium experienced the significant advantages of shooting on iPhones.It was very cost effective. They bought 3 phones, used 2 and had 1 for backup. Although they had to pay full price because they weren’t buying the phones with service contracts, they later sold 2 of them on eBay. The other items they needed to shoot on the iPhone were very affordable:Filmic Pro (an $8 iPhone app) was used to lock focus and increase the phone’s compression rate.a Steadicam Smoothee rig ($149) was used to hold the iPhone still when shooting.a Moondog Lab anamorphic adapter ($160) was used to create the widescreen cinematic look of 2.35.a painter’s pole ($35) was used for “crane shoots” (see photo below).It allowed unprecedented freedom of movement. Instead of being limited by camera equipment, they could move freely and quickly. A former bike messenger, Sean was able to ride his 10-speed bike in circles around the actors while shooting them with the iPhone.It enabled them to shoot in an almost clandestine way. Using consumer phones and working with a tiny crew, they were able to shoot in challenging neighborhoods without most people knowing they were making a film. When two unsuspecting young men walked into a scene being filmed, one of the actors stayed in character and spontaneously challenged them by asking “What the f**k are you looking at?” The men had no idea they were being filmed until a producer rushed up to them and asked them to sign a release.It made things easier for the nonprofessional leads. Already used to shooting selfies on smartphones, the actors quickly got used to performing in front of iPhones instead of being intimidated by cameras.It facilitated the creation of a distinctive look. Shooting in such an unfettered way was perfectly suited to the story. In post, Sean and Radium added film grain as needed to the gritty material, and increased the color saturation. Tangerine is the key color throughout the film, but there are many other vivid ones suited to the visceral material. Check out IPhone 5C catches Little Feat jamming at a Topanga Canyon benefit for Hillbilly Hp ownerCheck out more from Peter Broderick’s “The Distribution Bulletin” at Facebook and at in a breeze.