This tidal wave that is the growing sophistication of imaging technology in smartphones and tablets has enabled us to do so much, that we now have the capacity to make simple, yet complete movies on these gadgets. In fact, all three stages of filmmaking—pre-production, production, and post-production—can be achieved solely with the use of your mobile device. Follow along as we take you through a crash course in Mobile Moviemaking 101
Have a film idea
It all starts with a film idea. What’s your story? How should your story be told?
Since you’re working entirely on your phone or tablet, it’s important to keep in mind that your story has to be simple and easy to execute. This can be really tough because you tend to want to do so many things that it’s hard to come up with an idea with a singular focus. Luckily, though, there are some apps that can give you a leg up if you’re having trouble keeping track of your thoughts.
If you’re an Android user, you can download an app called SimpleMind to help you plot your ideas by putting them in actual mind maps, allowing you to get an overview of your concepts and how they are interconnected. iOS users, meanwhile, can use iThoughtsHD, another mind-mapping app that lets its users create all kinds of charts and maps—radial, web, outline-style—and even lets you finger-draw quick diagrams for better visualization.
Map out your concepts until you’ve got a cohesive idea and narrative that you can work with to create an outline or a short screenplay.
Write a screenplay
With a clear film idea in mind, you need to determine how the story will play out. How will the story unfold? What characters, settings, and props would you need? These are just some details that will be fleshed out when you write your screenplay.
A screenplay, unlike a mere script, contains more than just the characters’ lines; it covers camera and actor movement, character expressions, location specifications, blocking schemes, lighting, sound cues, and all those other details. It’s fundamentally what you want your film to look and sound like on paper.
Final Draft Writer, a screenwriting app for the iPad, lets you create screenplays from scratch in proper script format and edit them as you go along the pre-production phase. With Final Draft Writer, you can also keep track of revisions using colors on your pages and switch from one revision set to another. You have the option to export your screenplay as a PDF and add it to your Dropbox account so you can share it with friends if you want to get their feedback or ask them to join in on your project.
Put your vision on a storyboard
Now that you’re done with your screenplay, it’s time to illustrate what’s written on your screenplay with pictures and drawings so you can visualize what it’s going to look like onscreen—scene per scene, shot per shot.
For basic storyboard drafting, you can use an Android app called Storyboard Studio. It lets you import images you’ve taken using your device’s camera and from Google Image Search, but if you’re fairly good at drawing, the app also provides eight different types of brushes for you to use. Apart from that, you can attach notes to each and insert cutouts of people with different poses and directional arrows to indicate camera or actor movement. When you’re done, you can playback your board as a slideshow or export it as JPEG, PNG, and PSD.
There’s also this neat iOS app called Storyboard Composer, which lets you build a professional-looking storyboard out of some location shots you took with your phone. You can choose from a library of photos, rearrange them in panels based on the order of your story outline, determine angles and camera movements, insert stand-ins, add audio clips, set the duration of each panel, and play your board back in real time. Once you’re satisfied with your board, you can export it as a PDF so you can print it out and email it to others, or you can export it as a QuickTime movie to review pacing.
Prepare a list of what you need
Based on your screenplay and storyboard, you have to put together a detailed checklist of what you need. If you have a night scene, you might need an extra light source to make your subject appear brighter. For daytime outdoor shots, you might need to bring a white sheet to use as a diffuser. If you have panning shots, you might need a slider or a tripod mount. Do you have scenes that require special attachable lenses? What are you looking for in the actor who has to play the lead part? Where should you shoot? How much is your budget?
Sounds too much to keep in mind? Good thing there are apps like Google Keep, Trello, and Evernote to keep you right on track.
Make sure your device is suitable
When you’re through with all the preparations, you’ll finally be ready for production! First off, you need to check how suitable your smartphone or tablet is for filming.
The best camera is the one you have with you—except if it’s 0.3 megapixels and can’t take decent videos. Your device must have a reasonably powerful camera and be able to record in high quality—ideally at least 720p—for best results. So far, the smartphones released within the last 12 months that had the best integrated cameras in their class were the HTC One, the iPhone 5, the Nokia Lumia 1020, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the Sony Xperia Z1.
Your phone should also have adequate audio-recording capabilities. If your film is dialogue-heavy, make sure that your device can capture audio with utmost clarity. If your phone or tablet not capable of doing so—which is most likely the case—you can attach a clip-on mic or set up a wireless one that’s compatible with your device.
Your smartphone or tablet should have a generally long battery life to avoid the risk of having to cut your shoot short because you suddenly ran out of juice. Get your device on full charge before you start, but still, just in case, remember to bring a mobile charger with you.
Storage size is also a consideration. Four to 8GB should be enough for a really short film. It would also help if your device had a microSD slot in case you plan on shooting a lot of footage and need more space to store the video files.
Know what your device can and can’t do
It’s important to master the features and spec sheet of your device so you know what you can and can’t do with it when using it as a camera and as a creative tool. Here’s an easy example: unless you’re a Sony Xperia or Samsung Galaxy S4 Active user or you have an extremely reliable waterproof case, underwater shots are out of the question. Although it isn’t ideal, it would be okay to use your device’s digital zoom if and only if your phone has powerful lossless zoom that can operate during video capture. Otherwise, digital zoom is a no-no.
Assess the native camera app
Launch your device’s native shooting app. Are the features, effects library, and video options sufficient for what you want to do with your film? If not, go ahead and install another one. There are loads of camera apps over at Google Play, the Apple App Store, BlackBerry World, and the Windows Store, and we’re pretty sure you’ll find that one app that best suits your needs.
Pick the one you’re happy with, use the storyboard and screenplay as a reference, and hit record!
Mind the lighting
Smartphones and tablets generally have trouble shooting drastic variations of light and harsh contrast, so in extremely bright conditions—such as high noon—it’s important to avoid shooting against the light and to try to keep the sun out of the frame. Cloudy conditions are ideal, but make sure to set the appropriate white balance so your shots don’t come out too cool-hued.
Overall, though, shooting outdoors and in other brightly lit locations is no sweat; it’s indoor and night shooting that’s tricky. Some smartphones have a built-in LED light that operates during video recording to help keep subjects well-lit amidst a dim and dark background.
Shoot in airplane mode
One of the most important things to remember when shooting with a smartphone or tablet is this: you’re shooting with the device that takes your calls.
If someone calls you while you’re recording, your shoot would be rudely interrupted and, if your shot relies greatly on timing, would ultimately be ruined. Luckily, setting your device to airplane mode is a super-easy way to avoid this frustrating pickle with a quick swipe or press of a button.
Store your files in the cloud
If you’re shooting with your smartphone, but editing on a tablet (so there’s more room for your fingers to play around with the footage), storing your files on cloud storage services like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive is definitely the way to go.
Edit your videos
After all the necessary shots have been successfully carried out, the next step would be to arrange the clips in a timeline so you can build the film according to the storyboard and screenplay. While current video editing apps for mobile devices have a long way to go before they become as efficient and functional as desktop editing suites, there are some apps that have the bare necessities for simple film editing, like trimming, combining and arranging clips, and adding music.
One app for mobile filmmakers on Android is WeVideo. Apart from the basic functionalities, WeVi deo lets you add some flair to your clips with preset video effects that give your clips a bluish hue, transform them into old-film-style black-and-white, make them look grungy, or make the colors appear bolder. You can also add your own music from your own library as background. The app lets you playback your timeline so you can review your progress and the pacing of the video.
Another app—for iOS this time—called Splice gives more control over your project. Not only can you arrange, trim, and add video effects to clips on a timeline; you also get to crop, pan, zoom, select transitions, and add text. Splice also lets you mix multiple audio tracks—so you can have one track for sound effects (the app has a rich SFX library), one for narration, and one for background music—and make sure each one is in sync with the other tracks, including the video. You also have the ability to pull music from iTunes and other music sources.
When you’re all done, you can finally export your project as a finished film.
Show off your film to the world
Upload it on YouTube or Vimeo. Post it on Tumblr. Share it on Facebook. Round up your friends and hook up your device to a projector. Tell the world that you’ve just succeeded in taking your vision and translating it into the language of film. After all, nothing beats the feeling of seeing the world bask in the marvel of your masterpiece—your brainchild, your pièce de résistance. It’s your story in pictures and sounds, made possible by the little gadget that rings in your pocket.
First published in Gadgets Magazine, October 2013
Words by Racine Anne Castro