Little iPhone Films

I heard about this video a couple of days ago and, as always, I was curious to see what a Hollywood director would get up to using an iPhone. The above video was made by Jon M. Chu, notable for (among other films) directing Crazy Rich Asians. Full disclosure – I don’t love this video. I’m not much for dancing and this is not polished and slick in the way I’d like it to be.

So why am I sharing this? What I like about this video is that the film was made to demonstrate the capabilities of the camera without the accessories and crew and equipment that someone with a budget would rely on. In his own words, Mr. Chu –

“I had literally zero equipment,” says Chu. “I see a lot of samples of iPhone videos, and sometimes they use different lenses or professional lights. I didn’t have any of that.”

Michel Gondry did these things with his film “Detour” –

When that film was originally uploaded to YouTube there were several behind the scenes videos that accompanied it. Not only was this film made with a crew and props and sets but there were all sorts of add ons used that took this from being a little iPhone movie to a proper film production where they swapped out the camera for an iPhone.

Since seeing The Revenge of The Great Camera Shootout 2012 this, to me at least, has been a moot point. If most audience members couldn’t tell an iPhone 4 from higher end cameras in 2012 then there is no need to belabor this point (Not saying he is, but…I love you Steven Soderbergh!).

When Zach Snyder posted his short film, Snow, Steam, Iron –

I has similar feelings of excitement. What would he do? What could he do? Alas, he also fell into the trap of using the iPhone with

a Zeiss ExoLens and mount, a couple of smartphone camera rigs, a Kessler Pocket Dolly for tracking shots, and the FiLMiC Pro app to control the camera’s settings. Oh, and a DJI drone for aerial shots. (

At the time the Zeiss lens and mount were quite pricey. A quick check shows them to have decreased significantly in cost. I am assuming this is because of the company Moment now making quality lenses and cases at a lower price (and being used by Mr. Soderbergh in his film Unsane [Hi Steven, it’s me again!]).

I don’t write this to diminish the efforts of anyone. My frustration lies in having these tools, which are accessible and inexpensive, demonstrated in a manner which is beyond most aspiring filmmakers. I would think the marketing people for Apple would want something more in line with what Mr. Chu did, a shining example of what this device can achieve without any additional assistance.

I’ll quote Mr. Chu’s again regarding his approach to making this video, which I think every filmmaker can relate to –

There’s even one overhead shot of Rosado spinning around on one hand. Chu grabbed that one without a grip-stand or any other accessory, again emphasizing that he used no equipment other than the phone. “There was a hanging piece of wood on the ceiling, and I put the phone on it and angled it down. It was as raw as that.”

I’m sure plenty of people feel this is a gimmick, in the same way that Tangerine struck many people as a gimmick.

I don’t think it is though. At this point what is interesting is seeing what can be achieved without trickery, without fancy equipment and a crew. To me, that is the appeal of shooting with an iPhone and it makes me happy that Mr. Chu took this approach.

He could have used third party apps like FimicPro and inexpensive stabilizers and had a similar approach. Being able to see what you can get with only the camera is telling and it’s inspiring. If the footage can be that stable handheld then it’s going to look great with that Studio Neat hand grip you already own.


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