Shot on Cellphone

Shot on Cellphone

Howdy friends!

About a month ago a representative for Nokia contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in participating in a promotion in conjunction with their new phone and TRON.

They would send me a phone, and I would use it to make a short film inspired by TRON. Then some of the films would screen at a sneak preview of TRON: LEGACY.

It sounded like a fun project, so I agreed. I even passed along the project to a few of my filmmaking friends. (Only one ended up doing it)

It took a bit longer to get the phone than they originally suggested.
We were supposed to have a week to make our films.  We ended up having only 3 days.  
This made things a little challenging for me as I had 2 full days of the day job, plus a day of rehearsal and editing “Updating Paige” already scheduled.

So I had three days in which to make a film…and I was already booked on all three days.

Luckily I anticipated it being a tight deadline and planned for something that could be shot very simply and with a very small crew.

Here’s the rough time table:

2:45pm – phone arrives from UK
8pm – build “rig” to attach camera to tripod
cork & tape

Troy (the star) shoots Jack in the Box commercial / Luke outlines script

6:45am-9:45am – film NOKIA project.
Allison A/C

Troy & Luke

10am-6pm – Luke goes to work, transfers & transcodes footage on laptop while doing day job.
8pm-9pm – log footage

10am-11am – rough cut
11am-12pm – Martial Arts rehearsals
12pm-1pm – rough cut continues
2pm-5pm – supervised session with editor of Updating Paige.
echo park sunset
6pm-11:59pm – fine cut, vfx

12am-2am – vfx, color correction
roto'd Troy

2am-3am – sound design and mix
3am-3:30am – delivery.

A compressed schedule to say the least.

But let’s get down to brass tacks…

The phone/camera was an interesting device.  After years of using the iPhone it was challenging to work with a less intuitive device. Especially when it didn’t come with much of a manual.  For instance, there is a whole separate button on the phone for the “menu” and the keyboard for typing letters is a “T9” keyboard.  But it’s a touch screen, so it could just as easily be QWERTY… Maybe that’s an option to change, but I didn’t see how and didn’t have the time to spend figuring it out.

The camera functioned pretty well.  It shot 1280x720i 25fps .mp4’s. These were easily converted 1920×1080 Apple ProRes422(HQ) files using MPEG Streamclip.  I toyed with the idea of slowing the footage down to 24 fps in case the projection was going to be in a US format (25fps is used in Europe).  But I never got the delivery specs.

The camera shot AMAZING video…for a phone.  The colors were decent, it functioned alright in low-light.  The controls were easy to use and made sense.  In fact, the camera options were the most intuitive part of the device.  You could easily change the recording quality, white balance preset, and switch to black & white, sepia, or “saturated” colors.

I left everything on auto.

The camera also had a pretty nice stereo recorder.

There were a few drawbacks to the camera.

1.) Jerky zoom.  It’s impossible to zoom smoothly either using the on
screen option or the buttons.
2.) Lack of manual controls.  No manual exposure or manual focus. This made VFX shots VERY hard as the exposure would change MID SHOT as things in the shot moved. (Like a car…or a person.)
3.) Sensor lag.  This is actually kind of cool.  In fact, if I’d gotten the camera sooner and had more time to conduct tests…I probably would have incorporated this into my film.  check it out here:

Because of the difficulties with exposure and the way I shot some of the scenes, the VFX I had originally planned were going to be VERY difficult.  I fact, I spent several hours on a few shots and didn’t make too much progress.

It wasn’t until this text message exchange with my friend Bruce that I saw “the light” and revamped my ideas.

da Vinci txts

I re-watched my cut and thought HOW can I tell this story “more simply?”

Even though it was late…and I was pretty tired, I still figured it out fairly quickly.  It wasn’t as “flashy” as I originally planned, but that was ok.  

K.I.S.S. – keep it simple, stupid.  It’s a little base, but it’s often correct.  

Get rid of the extras, include ONLY what you need to in order to tell the story.

In fact, making the VFX less obtrusive actually improved the piece. With a little sound design, and a couple well place shots – I was easily able to get the IDEA across.  It wasn’t necessary to include flashy effects.  Plus…it would have probably taken me ALL night.

And I like sleep.

In the end, I made a film that given the limitations of the schedule & the medium I’m pretty happy with.

Check it out here:

Anyone else shooting on mobile devices? What has your experience been?


In the end, they didn’t show ANY cell films the bigscreen…why not? That was never explained to me. BUT they did show our film on several flat-screens in lobby.


  • Dad
    Posted at 08:41h, 31 December Reply

    I watched the “sensor lag” sequence…My inner ear started getting confused… I quit watching…. uugh!

  • Alan Lavender
    Posted at 11:56h, 07 January Reply

    I’m not an experienced filmmaker but out of necessity shot some election campaign videos on my iPhone. What a nightmare the sound sync was as I eventually realised the original clips were out probably that sensor lag you mention. However as with digital still and cinema cameras it seems obvious to me we will be seeing more and more phone cameras used – it disarms the subject if theyre not an actor – so until I stumble across the money for a decent RED Epic rig I’m into developing the iPhone rather than wasting cash on something in-between. Getting a handy zacuto grip to mount it. Also like the fact it’s always with me. Put the election site as my URL here so you can check them out. Edited with Pinnacle free from Avid. Liked your film reminded me of other possible worlds/ modal logic/ the butterfly effect. Could be more material in that.

    • Luke
      Posted at 15:28h, 07 January Reply

      thanks for watching Alan. multiple realities, string theory, etc is something that has interested me for a long time. it was fun to do something with those themes in this little short…and I’d love to do something longer and go more in depth.
      in regards to camera-phones, I know what you are saying – I think having a small “non-threatening” camera can help people relax and open up. It’s great that the technology is so readily available.

      have you had a chance to shoot w/ any DSLR’s? They can be pretty low-profile too.

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