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 told my filmmaking buddies that I was going to shoot a short film on my smartphone, they laughed at me and thought I was crazy. Cinematographers and directors thought it was impossible to use a Smartphone to create content for television or film at the time, but today’s big-name Hollywood directors do, and you should too.

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

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

Many independent filmmakers are beginning to learn how to shoot with a smartphone because they are little filmmaking equipment capable of producing fantastic video when used with the correct smartphone filmmaking gear.

Smartphones allow filmmakers to film in situations where huge cameras would draw attention or require a large quantity of equipment that would be inconvenient for the guerilla style of filmmaking allowed by smartphones.

If you’re scared that filming using a smartphone won’t be as excellent as recording with a cinema-style camera, don’t be. Smartphone movies are growing increasingly popular.

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. 

The filmmaking team was about to capture the video for Tangerine in a unique method, thanks to the iPhone 5s, which allowed them to shoot guerilla-style at rapid speed. 

The Tangerine camera team was able to record in situations that would not have been viable with larger cameras due to the iPhone 5s’ small and compact design. 

Following Tangerine’s popularity, several Hollywood filmmakers have started shooting feature films with their iPhones. 

Unsane, a feature film directed by Steven Soderbergh, was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus. Following the success of Unsane, Steven Soderbergh went on to film High Flying Bird on the iPhone 8.

If you’ve never shot video with a smartphone before but want to try it out for your next feature or TV pilot, these guidelines on How To Make A Smartphone Movie For TV & Cinema will point you in the right path.

You can shoot a smartphone movie that can equal those made with larger cinema cameras if you have the proper people in front and behind the camera, the correct lighting equipment, the right smartphone filmmaking software on your phone, a terrific storyline, and great sound.

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 the latest smartphones available today, 4K video has become the new standard, with some pushing 6K and 8K. 4K video allows you to capture at about four times the pixels of HD and improves video quality.

The main issue with recording in 4k or greater resolutions is that the video file sizes are larger than HD video files, so make sure your smartphone has at least 128GB of storage space.

If you want to capture a smartphone movie in 4K, you must first determine whether your film requires the higher resolution. Although 1080p HD video was once the standard for most social media platforms, such as Youtube and Vimeo, and you can still upload HD formatted films to these platforms, technology is always changing, so choose your format wisely.

Shooting your smartphone movie in 4K has the advantage of providing greater video quality than HD and reducing the effect of colour banding that can occur with lower resolution recordings.

Do you require the additional definition that 4K can provide? I believe you do need the extra definition. Sure, it will take up more space on your smartphone’s hard drive, but it will allow you to create a smartphone film that will pop visually on video-sharing platforms (Youtube, Vimeo) and 4k screens for the next few years.

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.

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.

Image Stabilization


No matter how good your smartphone’s image stabilisation is, if you shoot handheld with it, it can result in shaky camera footage if it’s not correctly mounted to a tripod or stabiliser or gimbal.

Using the smartphone’s built-in image stabilisation when filming a movie can degrade the image quality. Why? Because the image stabilisation software must push in on the video and then jiggle it around while using the surrounding footage as a buffer to smooth out the bumps. This push-in can be a significant amount if your video is choppy.

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 4K smartphone movie will take up a lot of storage space on your phone’s hard drive. That’s why having alternative storage devices to dump your footage to in order to free up space on your smartphone is critical.

The good news is that as technology advances, devices become more affordable. So having a few of external hard drives on hand won’t break the bank, and you’ll have enough free space to save 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.

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 mentioned recording in 4k video at a least, but there’s a reason for that: technology moves at a faster pace than we can keep up with, and what’s normal now could be obsolete in a year.

This is something to consider when it comes to the resolution of your smartphone movie video.

Have you ever attempted to combine 4K and HD video in an editing project?

When comparing HD and 4K video, you’ll see that the HD video has a lower definition. This is owing to the fact that HD video’s pixels have been reduced. When high-definition footage is scaled up to 4K, it loses a lot of picture quality due to the paucity of pixels compared to 4K.

Because video image quality will always increase, it’s critical to shoot in the highest resolution possible so that your video can be future-proofed. While there may not be a great demand for a video recorded in 6K or 8K right now, that does not rule out the possibility in the future. By shooting in 4K today, you can avoid any future video upscaling concerns. You’ll also have the highest-quality smartphone film for archiving.

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 fantastic for the average user wanting to take high-quality movies, you’ll need a 3rd party program like Filmic Pro to make your smartphone movie look cinematic. 

Filmic Pro gives you a lot more video format and quality options, as well as superior control over focus, exposure, and white balance, as compared to the standard Camera app. It also works nicely with third-party gear.

The regular Camera app can only record in 16:9 widescreen at a limited number of frame rates (multiples of the US 30fps standard). You have a lot more options with Filmic Pro. From ultra-wide 2.76:1 to square, there are eight different aspect ratios (screen shapes) to choose from. 

Frame rates include 24fps cinema standard, 25 and 50fps European broadcast rates, and slower rates as low as 3fps, in addition to the US NTSC standards (which can be useful in low light). Intervals range from 1 second to 1 minute (the interval cannot be changed in the original Camera app). Higher bit rates than Apple’s are also available for improved video quality.

When capturing stills, the regular iPhone camera lens is equivalent to a 29mm wide-angle lens. However, because of digital picture stabilization, video is substantially narrower. You may switch off the stabilization in Filmic Pro to gain the full wide-angle field of vision. 

Filmic Pro uses either the wide or telephoto lens in typical operation on a dual-lens iPhone 7 Plus. This gives you more control than the Camera app, which alternates between them based on zoom level. 

It’s capable on its own, but it’s also designed to work with external mics, lens adapters, and other production gear. For your smartphone movie, it truly puts true professional-quality videography at your fingertips.

Download on the App Store

Lighting Is Key To Cinematic Look

8 Important Low Budget Filmmaking Tips For Beginners

Even with the best camera in the world, you won’t be able to capture perfect footage if you don’t have good lighting on set. That’s why your smartphone movie needs dramatic lighting.

Cinematic lighting is a cinema lighting method that goes beyond the traditional three-point lighting configuration to give the plot more drama, depth, and atmosphere.

Lighting methods including bouncing light, filtering light, and altering colour temperatures are used in cinematic lighting.

Because it generates a visual mood, ambiance, and feeling of meaning for the audience, lighting is crucial in film. Every stage of the cinematic process affects the lighting arrangement, whether it’s outfitting a film set or blocking performers.

The audience is directed where to gaze by the lighting. The lighting configuration directs the viewer’s attention to a specific performer, prop, or scene element.

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

FD12 logo


iPhone microphone

A film’s sound is the ideal complement to its visuals. Dialogue and atmosphere can be muffled if you don’t have the right sound equipment.

Having a boom operator capture the sound onset and a sound designer layer music, dialogue, and sound effects on the audio file can help you create an immersive experience, tell the tale, and elicit 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 main video-editing applications allow you to colour correct and colour grade your smartphone footage to obtain the cinematic appearance you desire.

The terms ‘colour correction’ and ‘colour grading’ are sometimes interchanged, but they relate to different methods of video colour editing.

Color correction is usually done first. This is due to the fact that raw film is often oversaturated, and the colours must be balanced. Color correction does this by ensuring that footage appears exactly as the human eye perceives it. The other colours should be balanced if the white and black levels match what the human eye sees as white and black.

Color grading is the next step, where you create the actual aesthetic of your video. However, especially if the picture is intended to be as realistic as possible, this is an entirely optional technique. The appropriate colour grading, on the other hand, can help express a visual tone or mood to help elevate 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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