Making the Switch to Mobile Filmmaking

July 11, 2018
Special to The Documentary Life by #Doclifer, Damien Swaby

A few weeks back we ran a two-part special on mobile filmmaking aka iPhone filmmaking.  Former BBC reporter, Anna Brees and FiLMic Pro founder, Neil Barham guided us through a wonderful series that examined the recent popularity and importance of doc filmmakers using their mobile devices to make their films.  The following blog, written by fellow #doclifer, Damien Swaby, a doc filmmaker who has openly embraced the mobile filmmaking phenomenon, took some time out to share some of his own thoughts on the subject.  Thank you, Damien!


Making the Switch to Mobile Filmmaking

iPhone doc filmmaker, Damien Swaby

Smartphone filmmaking? I was over the moon listening to Anna Brees on The Documentary Life podcast, I follow her on Twitter and I find it interesting that a former ITV and BBC reporter/journalist has turned to developing her video content on a smartphone only. Well, I tried it in 2015, I bought an iPhone S4, a telephoto lens, a macro lens and a fish eye lens. At first I wasn’t really impressed, putting the lenses on wasn’t easy. They kept falling off and the battery life was very poor when filming. I didn’t feel I had the options I needed.

Fast forward to 2018 and FilmicPro! It was great hearing Neill Barham on The Documentary Life Podcast. Hearing the creator of the app speak about it in such glowing terms was fascinating. The hard work he has put in to create the app was inspiring.

Recently on a trip to New York I was thinking about making a short documentary in the big apple or at least documenting my version of events.

I was in two minds, do I bring a GH3 with my fave 20mm lens? Do I bring a Canon XF105 that has a fantastic zoom lens? Or do I buy a new camera before my trip? In the end I upgraded my iPhone 6 to an iPhone 8 and downloaded the FilmicPro app.

Neill Barham, CEO & Founder of FiLMiC Pro app

The main reason was because I didn’t want to constantly be in “work mode” through the whole of my holiday. Having any type of DSLR, mirrorless camera or camcorder in my hands might be too much for me on such a trip. I didn’t want to worry about carrying extra batteries, memory cards, etc. I wanted to have the ease of just easily grabbing a shot when or if I can. Whether or not I was sitting in a pub drinking a pint of craft beer or if I was at a New York City FC game with a hot dog in one hand or watching some of the amazing jazz musicians in the city. I ended up having a 4K camera, real-time analytics better in some cases than a DSLR. Personally accurately judging important factors like exposure and focus was what most impressed me. Having these features ensured me that I would be able to bring the footage into adobe premiere pro and go on to get the results I want, all shot at 60fps.


The Gear

Audio from a smartphone is quite good but I would recommend using a spare iPhone if you have one and downloading the Rode Smart App plus a Rode Lavier Microphone. I’ve actually used this set up on my iPhone for recording audio for corporate gigs more than anything else.
The clarity and overall quality is better than anything I get out of the SonyA7S ii that I use for such gigs. Another item I would recommend for any other video content producer/ #doclifer would be the Ulanzi Smartphone Video Handle. It’s a 2 standard shoe mount and it allows you to have a led Video Light and Microphone attached to your smartphone.  With 3 Universal 1/4-20 mount tread , you can mount this rig with a tripod, slider or dollys. Best of all at £15 it won’t break your wallet!

I’m telling you, once you set this up in-front of someone you would like to interview you’ll be amazed at the reactions you get of some people and how relaxed they feel. Once they see the video you’ve created you’ll look like a million bucks!


Every Camera is a Storytelling Tool

Overall I don’t see smartphone filmmaking as taking over, in the same way I don’t think a Red Epic or any other camera is the be all and end all. Every camera is a tool to tell your story depending on how you would like to tell your story. As always, it is the talent behind the camera that matters.

My most popular documentary The People of Brixton was shot on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, I used an adapter so I can use my 18-35mm kit lens from my Canon 600d. I got a lot of interviews done for the documentary that day, I do feel at that time if I had Filmic Pro and my iPhone 8 something tells me The People of Brixton would have been a more intimate, intrusive personal documentary.


What’s Next

Right now I am in the post production process of my short trip to America. I am also in the development stages for my short film, Losing My Religion, about a Scientologist and a former Muslim hooking up for the first time in over 5 years. This will be shot on my iPhone 8, using FiLMiC Pro.


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