That smartphone in your pocket is powerful enough to shoot a whole movie – but will that film be as good as one made using a professional camera?
We held an experiment to find out.
We made a short film using both a Sony PMW F3 camcorder and iPhone 6S Plus to see how the two versions would stack up against each other.
Coming up with a story for our film
We were using a new method of filmmaking so we thought we needed an original idea. After some intense brainstorming we settled on Ghosts in Time – a story about a young woman who travels back in time to figure out who murdered her parents.
It was written by my brother Matthew Nsubuga and I.
I won’t give you any more spoilers, you’ll just have to watch it for yourself below.
We partnered with producer Rik Gordon who has had success with short films Pigman and The Wake. He was enthusiastic about the idea from the start and helped find the filming location – a house in Balham, south London.
The location was key. We considered underground car parks, parks and other outside areas but eventually settled on a house. It may not sound glamorous but we felt we needed somewhere where we could control the light, which is important when using a smartphone camera.
Our Director of Photography was the experienced David Pulgarin and together we came up with a plan to make the film. We considered shooting it with the professional camera first and then repeating the process with the smartphone.
But we eventually agreed this would not be efficient as we would have to re-do the set-ups for each scene. Instead we decided to shoot the scenes twice as we went along using both cameras.
Using two cameras required a longer shoot day because the usual 3-4 takes for a single scene were doubled. We were essentially making two films.
Despite this, it turned out to be relatively straightforward (apart from a broken window) because of all the planning we had already done. We were able to switch from the professional camera to the smartphone without too much difficulty.
In certain scenes, we had to change up the lighting for the iPhone so we could get a better shot.
Nele Mertens, the assistant director, was worried the cast and crew would not be as motivated for the smartphone shoot but this did not turn out to be the case.
She said: ‘Being on the set of Ghosts in Time was a brand new experience, we were making a short film but at the same time we were also conducting an experiment. I was very interested to see the differences between both versions of the film, and the results are fascinating.
‘I’m so glad to have been a part of this.’
Memory capacity was a problem on the iPhone 6S Plus. We had a device with 16GB so had to download footage on to a hard drive every so often. The iPhone Steadicam Smoothee add-on, which changes the iPhone into a steadicam, also took getting used to but created some great shots once we figured it out.
We also used a 4-in-1 Olloclip lens set that allowed us to have several lenses on the iPhone, including a fisheye, two macros and a wide-angle.
Actress Godiva Marshall decribed how she felt during the shoot, adding: ‘For me the process of filming felt very smooth, changing from normal camera to phone.’
Colour grading (the process of changing the colour on the image) proved to be challenging for the iPhone version of the film. Some of the shots had become overexposed and required a lot of work. But thanks to the hard work of Nick Wakeling and Kourosh Asgari we were able to get a consistent look on both versions of the film.
Composer Lee Carter was heavily involved throughout the film and found the whole process intriguing.
He said: ‘Both cuts looked fantastic (which is a testament to both kit and crew) and, with negligible differences, proved to be a smooth process for me.’
Ultimately the decision of which version of the short film is best is down to the viewer but it’s not as clear-cut as you may have thought.
Yes, the version with the Sony PMW F3 looks better but the iPhone 6S Plus cut may have actually had more polished performances from the actors.
This is because this edit consisted of the final takes of each scene, which were normally the best. By this time we had sharpened the performances.
Producer Rik Gordan summed it up when he added: ‘It was certainly a unique project and one that proved that you can make a quality film using an everyday mobile camera.
‘It’s almost heartening that that’s now a very real possibility for people who aspire to make films – the device they use every single day will be the key to getting started.’
Ghosts in Time – Sony PMW F3 edit
Ghosts in Time – iPhone 6S Plus edit