7+ Best Tips On How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema

How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema – Years ago, when I mentioned to my filmmaking friends that I was going to shoot a short film on my smartphone, I was laughed at and thought I was crazy. At the time, cinematographers and directors thought it wasn’t conceivable to use a Smartphone to produce content for television or cinema, but big-time Hollywood directors are using them today, and you should too.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend using a smartphone for a high-budget action film or period piece drama using only natural light as a light source, but for low-budget short and full-length features, I wouldn’t hesitate to give it a go if you are on the fence.

7+ Best Tips On How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema

Many independent filmmakers are starting to learn about shooting with a smartphone is they are compact filmmaking devices that can shoot incredible footage with the right smartphone filmmaking tools.

Smartphones allow filmmakers to film in places where large cameras would bring attention to or require considerable amounts of equipment that isn’t convenient to the guerilla style of filmmaking a smartphone allows.

If you are worried about filming with a smartphone because it won’t be as good as a cinema-style camera, don’t worry because movies made with Smartphones are becoming mainstream now.

The Smartphone feature, Tangerine, was a breakout hit at the Sundance film festival and was one of the first movies shot on the iPhone 5s. With the help of an anamorphic lens adaptor for the iPhone, director Sean Baker was able to give Tangerine a unique cinematic look. 

With the iPhone 5s, the filmmaking team was about to capture the video for Tangerine in a distinct way, which gave them the freedom to shoot guerilla-style at a breakneck speed.

Because of the small and compact design of the iPhone 5s, the Tangerine camera team could film in locations, that wouldn’t have been possible if they shot with larger cameras.

Since the success of Tangerine, other Hollywood filmmakers have followed suit and started making feature films with their iPhones

Steven Soderbergh used the iPhone 7 Plus to film his feature film Unsane. After the success Steven Soderbergh had with Unsane, the director went on to film High Flying Bird on the iPhone 8. 

If you are unfamiliar with shooting video with a smartphone, and thinking about shooting your next feature or tv pilot with a smartphone, these tips On How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema will help you in the right direction. 

The key is to make sure you have the right talent in front and behind the camera, have the right lighting equipment, have the right smartphone filmmaking apps on your phone, have a great script, and have great sound, you can shoot a smartphone movie that can rival ones shot with larger cinema cameras.

Here are my 7+ Best Tips On How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema.

Want more filmmaking content for your smartphone movie? Then check out our guides to the best skills needed to excel in the film industry, tips to become a better director, or smartphone filmmaking 101.

7+ Best Tips On How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema
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Shoot in 4k

With 4K video now being the new normal with the latest smartphones released today, with some now pushing 6K and 8K, 4K video allows you to shoot at roughly four times the pixels of HD and improved video quality

The only problem with shooting at 4k or higher is that the video file sizes are larger than HD video files, so you need to make sure your smartphone has at least 128GB of hard drive space or higher.

If you decide to shoot a smartphone movie in 4K, you will need to figure out if your video needs the extra resolution. It wasn’t long ago that 1080p HD video was the standard for most social media platforms like Youtube and Vimeo, and you still can upload HD formatted films to these platforms, but technology is constantly changing, so choose your format correctly.

The advantage of shooting your smartphone movie in 4K is it will give you better video quality over HD and reduce the effect of color banding that can affect lower resolution videos. 

Do you need the extra definition that 4K can give you? I believe you do need the extra definition. Sure it will take up more room on your smartphone hard drive, but it will allow you to have a smartphone movie that will pop visually for the next few years on video-sharing platforms (Youtube, Vimeo) and 4k televisions.

Ability To Scale The Video Image

Shooting your smartphone movie in 4k gives the filmmaker four times the pixels of HD, which means if you add a 4K video clip to a 1920 x 1080 HD sequence you will have to scale it down to fit. The great thing about this is that you can move around this video image and select different parts of the image for your shot.

For example, you have a wide shot of two people in the scene. You can then in editing, push the image in for a medium shot of one character, and then a medium shot of the other character, which can give three shots in one take for your smartphone movie. You can do this in 4k, 6k, and even 8k without doing too much harm to the image.

This is a great way for those filmmakers filming at a fast pace, to get all the shots they need with minimal setup for their smartphone movie. Keep in mind that you can only push in 50% before the image starts to degrade. With the extra resolution, 4K video or more gives you an HD timeline that allows you to artificially move the image in any way you want for your smartphone movie.

You can start zoomed in on one individual and then pull back to reveal a larger scene. Or produce camera moves from left to right and up and down without losing resolution. This can be beneficial for improving a static wide shot and can help to make your video more exciting.

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Image Stabilization


It doesn’t matter how great your smartphone image stabilization is, when you go handheld with your smartphone, it can suffer shaky camera footage if it’s not mounted properly to a tripod or some form of stabilizer or gimbal. 

When shooting a smartphone movie, using the smartphone’s built-in image stabilization can affect your image quality. Why? Because the image stabilization software has to push in on the video and then jiggle it around using the surrounding video as a buffer to knock out the bumps. If your video is shaky, this push-in can be a great amount.

Most smartphone’s that shoot 4k video or higher can reduce this problem with built-in image stabilization, but never rely on it. I would suggest buying a gimbal stabilizer for your smartphone, to avoid using the smartphone’s built-in stabilization and suffering a loss in image quality for your smartphone movie

Have External Hard Drives On Hand

7+ Best Tips On How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema

Shooting a smartphone movie in 4k will take up quite a bit of space on your smartphone’s hard drive. That’s why it’s important to have extra storage devices that you can offload your footage to in order to free up space on your smartphone.

The great thing about technology improving is that electronics are getting cheaper. So having a few external hard drives on hand will not cause too much damage to your pocketbook, and you will have enough free space to store your 4k smartphone movie footage. 

If you are going to be filming your smartphone movie guerilla-style I suggest buying a rugged external hard drive that can withstand the elements. 

For your home computer investing in a solid-state hard drive is key for video editing. A Fast SSD will significantly speed up the processing of footage and can increase overall performance and reduce game loading time.

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Want to Learn More About Filmmaking, and make a better smartphone movie?

Become a better filmmaker with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by film masters, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, James Cameron, and more.

Shoot Your Video In The Highest Quality

Smartphone Camera Accessories - 10+ Best for Video Creators

I know I talked about shooting in 4k video minimum, but there is a reason, technology changes faster than we want, and what is standard now could be obsolete in a year.

This is something you to pay attention to in your smartphone movie video resolution. Have you ever tried to edit footage shot at 4k video and footage shot in HD video? You will notice that the definition of the HD video will look poorer compared to the 4K footage. This is due to the fact of reduction of the pixels of HD video. When you scale up high-definition video to match 4K, it will lose much of its picture quality because of its lack of pixels compared with 4k.

There will always be improvements in the image quality of the video, so it’s important to shoot in the highest quality so you can future-proof your video. There may not be much need for a video shot in 6K or 8K right now, but that is not to say this will be the case in the future. By filming in 4K now, you can avoid these up-scaling issues with your video that might occur later. You will also have the best quality smartphone movie for archive purposes.

Use A Filmmaking App

7+ Best Tips On How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema
Photo Courtesy of Filmic Pro

While the preloaded apps on a smartphone are great for the regular user looking to capture quality videos, in order to make your smartphone movie look cinematic you need a 3rd party app like Filmic Pro.

Compared with the standard Camera appFilmic Pro gives you a lot more options for video format and quality, and better control over focus, exposure, and white balance. It also integrates well with external hardware.

The standard Camera app can only record in a limited range of frame rates (multiples of the US 30fps standard), in 16:9 widescreen. Filmic Pro gives you a lot more choice. There are eight aspect ratios (screen shapes), from ultra-wide 2.76:1 to square

In addition to the US NTSC formats, frame rates include 24fps cinema-standard plus 25 and 50fps European broadcast rates, and slower rates as low as 3fps (which can be useful in low light). Timelapse intervals range from 1 second to 1 minute (you can’t set the interval in the native Camera app). You can also choose higher bit rates than Apple’s for better video quality.

The standard iPhone camera lens is equivalent to a 29mm wide-angle when you’re shooting stills. But video is much narrower, because of digital image stabilization. Filmic Pro allows you to turn off the stabilization to get the full wide-angle field of view.

On a twin-lens iPhone 7 PlusFilmic Pro uses either the wide or telephoto lens in normal use. That gives you more control than the Camera app, which switches between them depending on the zoom level.

It’s powerful on its own but built to support external microphones, lens adapters, and other production accessories. It really does put true professional-quality videography at your fingertips for your smartphone movie.

Download on the App Store

Lighting Is Key To Cinematic Look

8 Important Low Budget Filmmaking Tips For Beginners

If you don’t have good lighting on a film set, even with the best camera in the world, you won’t be able to capture the perfect footage. That’s why cinematic lighting is important to your smartphone movie.

Cinematic lighting is a film lighting technique that goes beyond the standard three-point lighting setup to add drama, depth, and atmosphere to the story. Cinematic lighting utilizes lighting tricks like bouncing light, diffusing light, and adjusting color temperatures. 

Lighting is fundamental to film because it creates a visual mood, atmosphere, and sense of meaning for the audience. 

Whether it’s dressing a film set or blocking actors, every step of the cinematic process affects the lighting setup, and vice-versa.

Lighting tells the audience where to look. The lighting setup guides the eye to a specific actor, prop, or part of a scene.

Adding a portable lighting kit is key to a great look to your smartphone movie. 

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iPhone microphone

Sound is the perfect supplement to the visuals in a film. If you don’t have the proper sound equipment, dialogue and atmosphere can be muffled. 

Having a boom operator to capture the sound onset and a sound designer that can add music, dialogue and sound effects layered on the audio track will help you create an immersive experience, and help tell the film’s story, and evoke an emotional response. 

Without sound in a film, the audience would be left with just the visuals and no context for what they are seeing.

You can either an external professional microphone hooked up to your smartphone for recording dialogue close up to your actors, or by using an audio recording kit that includes a shotgun microphoneboom pole, and an audio recorder.

Color correction & Color Grading

Most major video-editing programs, allow you to color correct and color grade to achieve the cinematic look to your smartphone movie that you want.

The terms ‘color correction’ and ‘color grading’ are often used interchangeably, but refer to different processes of editing color in the video. 

Color correction is usually done first. This is because raw footage tends to be over-saturated and the colors need to be balanced out. The process of color correcting does just that, by making sure footage looks exactly the way that the human eye sees things. If the white and black levels match what the human eye sees as white and black, then the other colors should be balanced as a result.

Color grading is the next step, where you create the actual aesthetic of your video. But this is an entirely optional process, especially if the film is meant to be as realistic as possible. However, the right color grading does help convey a visual tone or mood to heighten the narrative.

If you liked this article, please help me share it via a tweet, stumble, pin, or Facebook share would be much appreciated! 

Trent has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

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