The smart phone shooters: how is mobile tech enabling creatives?
As mobile continues to democratize photography and film-making, putting in our pockets tools as good as any found in traditional production houses, what impact is this having on the creative industry?
“We’re the makers, the directors and the creators of our generation. We don’t have big award shows or huge budgets, or fancy cameras, but we do have our phones.”
Those were the words of YouTube star Casey Neistat at last year’s Academy Awards, which were beamed into a room filled with A-listers, producers and top-tier directors via a Samsung ad. The brand’s declaration featured raw and vibrant images of creators at work – a stark caution to mustachioed big budget stalwarts that they need to adapt or face the consequences.
Samsung was right: a new kind of creative community is on the up and there’s no arguing that the advent of mobile has democratized the creation and production of photography and film, be it branded or not. But what does it mean for the art of film-making as we know it?
Mobile film-making, and the confidence that young creators have gained in using the medium, has come a long way in the past decade. Apple, Google, Samsung and Huawei have all tapped into the trend of using mobile to shoot film, naturally to promote the prowess of their own cameras – the best-known example of which is Apple’s ‘Shot On As mobile continues to democratize photography and film-making, putting in our pockets tools as good as any found in traditional production houses, what impact is this having on the creative industry? by Rebecca Stewart THE SMART PHONE SHOOTERS iPhone’ campaign which has been running since 2015. That same year, luxury car marque Bentley captured its entire ‘Intelligent Details’ ad on an iPhone.
Away from the world of advertising though, some savvy big-ticket film-makers have also been tapping into the trend. In 2010, Aardman Animations (the company behind Wallace and Gromit) bagged itself a world record for shooting the world’s smallest stop-motion movie, Dot, on a Nokia N8. Director of blood-soaked thriller Old Boy, Park Chan-wook, was also early on the uptake, using an iPhone to shoot his 2011 30-minute fantasy Paranmanjang. He called the method ideal because it was “light, small and anyone can use it”.
Two years ago, at Sundance Film Festival, Sean Baker’s Tangerine – which told the story of a transgender sex worker and her relationship with her pimp – was entirely shot on Apple’s ubiquitous device. At the time Baker said the cast needed some convincing that it would work, admitting he had some hesitancy about it “out of pride,” but in the end the film was widely lauded by critics.
Former creative Rupert Reynolds-MacLean, now managing director at commercial production house Biscuit Filmworks, which counts Errol Morris and Ayse Altinok among its roster, isn’t sure that the trend for mobile marks a turning point for film-makers.
“I’m not convinced,” he says. “There have obviously been films like Tangerine, but it feels like this is still a technique to play with as opposed to a seismic shift in film-making.
“Yes, mobile continues to democratize filmmaking but there is still a lot to be said for lenses and film equipment.”
He admits that while Biscuit does get the occasional script submission which has components designed to be shot on a phone or “make it feel like it’s shot on a phone,” most of these ideas come from tech developers or phone manufacturers.
“We are seeing a few more content campaigns to accompany TV ads which need to feel user generated, but most of this still has a more cinematic feel rather than work created on mobile.”
In contrast, Austin Mann, a travel photographer whose work has been featured in Apple’s ‘Shot On iPhone’ series, often goes hands-on with mobile to capture scenes from around the world.
He is less skeptical about the role mobile has to play in the creative process than ReynoldsMacLean, but concedes there is a time and a place. “Mobile is often the best tool in very fast moving shoot scenarios as well as street photography,” he notes. “It’s so nimble and subtle that it allows you to capture images you simply can’t with other bigger platforms.”
It’s not simply a case of going out point-andshoot style with an iPhone in your hand though. Mann notes that he uses a mixture of professional and readily available equipment; typically clipping a Moment Superfish 170 lens on to his phone and mounting it on a tripod to get the best results.
Mann admits that some of the more technical elements, like high-quality low-light shots, “just aren’t there yet,” adding: “If you are shooting panorama mode, large format printing isn’t really an option.”
User generated content
While creatives like Mann are titillated by mobile’s potential as a creative platform, one of the obvious advantages for brands relying on the method is that it can be cheaper than hiring an entire film and post-production crew.
Video production is an expensive business and even giants like P&G are cutting back as part of wider cost-cutting exercises (the FMCG conglomerate saved around $750m in global agency fees and production costs last year alone).
As brands look for alternatives to traditional methods, a host of user generated content (UGC) and content creator networks like Seenit and Vidsy have risen up. The latter crowd-sources video content for advertisers, some of which is shot on mobile devices like the popular GoPro camera, Snap Specs, a phone or a tablet.
Vidsy has worked with the likes of Unilever, L’Oréal and Deliveroo, welcoming investment from UK newspaper The Guardian in 2016, and its cofounder Archie Campbell – a film-maker himself – tells The Drum that mobile is helping his company and others establish a new video production model for branded content across platforms like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
“Mobile cameras, technology and software have improved so much that everybody now has the tools to produce amazing quality content that’s just as good as the traditional production houses. If everyone has the same tools then the true differentiator becomes creativity itself.
“This is leading to democratization of the production process and giving new opportunities to a new generation of creators.”
Despite this democratization, Reynolds-MacLean is firm in his view that shooting more content doesn’t mean better content. “It just means there is more to edit. Good, considered film-making will always rise to the top. Audiences want to watch something that people have taken care to make and have thought through properly.”
According to ComScore, brand engagement increases by an average of 28% when users are exposed to a combination of user-created videos and professional content. It’s not just about reaching eyeballs at a lower cost – advertisers could potentially raise awareness when investing in platforms that source this type of mobile content.
For Mann, however, getting clients on-board is the tricky part: “One of the challenges of shooting on mobile is clients don’t think you look like a professional. It’s is a good thing for when you are trying to shoot discreetly, though.”
The future of film-making
Mobile shooting might be cost-effective for brands and prove more technically nimble for creators looking to stand out from the crowd, but how does someone like Reynolds MacLean, with his roots firmly planted in high-end production, think it will disrupt the industry in the long term? “
My generation learned on video cameras, the generation before learned on 16mm and 8mm. Kids now are using mobile. People who want to tell stories will always find a way to tell them, and will want to use the best equipment as they do so.”
As for Neistat’s warning that everyone with a phone in their pocket is now a creator, photographer Mann thinks that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A move towards mobile, he argues, will force artists to be more original in order to distinguish themselves.
“I think we’ll be surprised over the next few years at the mass adoption of mobile as the main creation platform. I can’t wait to see how it impacts the work around us and see creatives shine with these tools more and more each day.”
This feature first appeared in The Drum's March issue, which focused on mobile technology.