Earlier this year I totally pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I planned and shot a mini documentary just using my phone. I’ll be honest with you, it was a learning curve!
I’ve filmed lots of shorter videos with my mobile, but recording a documentary with proper interviews and b-roll was something I’d never tried. I have been filming for a long time, but creating longer pieces using only mobile footage was new to me.
Remember the basics of filmmaking apply whether you’re using a mobile phone or a cinema-standard Hollywood camera. You still need to think about structure, framing, focus, lighting, sound, locations, etc… just like you would for any other video.
During the shoot I was hit by some issues I didn’t expect. So I wanted to share a few lessons I learned, and some tips that might help if this is something you want to try for yourself.
Even on airplane mode, with everything turned off, my iPhone X crashed a lot. It struggled with filming lots of footage in one go – think recording more than 5-10 minutes without a break. I noticed it was worse when filming slow mo, (which is not surprising because there is SO much extra data generated when you film this way.)
I don’t know if my mobile was just finding it hard to process lots of material, or if there was activity going on in the background I wasn’t aware of, but there were certain points when I had to stop, shut down and restart. Not great if you’re in the middle of an interview or trying to get a one-time shot!
HACK: Allow extra time for filming and keep an eagle eye on your phone to make sure it hasn’t frozen in the middle of a shot. If it has, take a deep breath, close the camera app and start again. Mine did restart again fairly quickly.
My first interview take was a nightmare, because I forgot my headphones and it turned out the generators humming in the background totally destroyed the audio.
Getting the sound right on a mobile is tricky enough because the native camera app doesn’t show you how loud or quiet anything is. Echoes and background noise from computers or air-conditioning units can be more distracting than you think.
I used the FilmicPro app to record my interviews and some of the footage because it shows the audio levels on screen. It’s a useful visual aid, but I would also recommend wearing headphones at ALL times so you know what’s being recorded. I ended up totally re-shooting that first interview by the way.
HACK: Download an app like FilmicPro or Moment Pro Camera which give you audio bars on the screen so you can see the volume when you’re filming. And wear headphones! Otherwise it’s a bit of a guessing game – you’ll need to record a few seconds as a sound check and then listen back to it, to see if the levels are ok before shooting that interview.
I realised if I wanted to create something different to my usual videos I would need extra kit to get a different look. Yes the native phone camera is great, but I wanted to push myself to get shots I wouldn’t normally attempt. That meant upgrading.
Buying some Moment lenses for this film was an investment, but worth it. While you can get awesome shots through the lens on your mobile, being able to change the look of a frame allowed for more creative options and varied shots. I’ll definitely be using them on other shoots too.
I also used and DJI Osmo 2, a handheld gimbal, to get smooth moving shots and some nice slow motion. I bought this a year ago, but had never really learnt how to use it. Turned out it was a fiddle to set up and took a while to get used to, but the results were worth it – silky-smooth slow mo and jitter-free moves helped me achieve shots I’d never have got otherwise.
HACK: Think about what you’re going to be filming and research what might help you go the extra mile or achieve something extra. And invest in a decent bag so you can keep your kit organised and accessible!
Here’s my bike overloaded with kit! After this shoot I bought a better bag to keep everything in.
This was my kit list:
The truth is a compelling story is what matters most! What’s the longest video you’ve created with your phone? Comment below and let me know.
Here’s the final edit of my film if you want to watch:
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