“Shoot Movies with Your iPhone, There Are No Excuses,” Soderbergh Says

January 27th, 2018
"Shoot Movies with Your iPhone, There Are No Excuses," Soderbergh Says

At Sundance 2018, Steven Soderbergh has given us an interesting glimpse into his rather secretive world.

In the article published by Indiewire: “Steven Soderbergh Says He’s Done Directing Studio Movies and Wants to Only Shoot on iPhones — Sundance 2018” Soderbergh expresses his frustrations as a filmmaker with the Hollywood establishment, and his excitement for the future, a future where he, (and anyone with a story to tell) can use a smartphone to create imagery that stands up even on the big screen.

While many filmmakers and gear related news portals have placed the emphasis on Soderbergh’s praises of the iPhone, I think there’s more to it than that. This is not about the iPhone, it’s not about the camera at all… and that, to me, is the real point. This is about filmmaking, filmmakers, finding an audience, and the commercial viability of film outside the studio system.

The Long Game

In an interview given at Sundance, Soderbergh explains his strategy, and his appetite to continue on a somewhat experimental path despite setbacks. “I’m playing a long game here,” he said. “I’m trying to develop an approach to putting out a movie in wide release that makes some kind of economic sense for the filmmakers and the people that have a participation in the movie. It’s going to take a while.”

Taking the focus away from the expense and mechanics of filmmaking in the traditional sense… all the gear, the crew, the infrastructure, and instead concentrating on the heart and soul of telling the story, the performances and direction, may open up opportunities for many would-be filmmakers that may have a ton of talent, but no money.

We don’t know much yet about Soderbergh’s latest horror film “Unsane,” except that it was produced in secret, shot on iPhone, and stars The Crown breakout Claire Foy as well as The Blair Witch Project‘s Joshua LeonardSNL‘s Jay PharoahKiller Joe‘s Juno TempleAppropriate Behavior‘s Aimee Mullins, and Traffic‘s Amy Irving.

Unsane will premiere at Berlin Film Festival next month. A few days ago two teaser frame grabs of Clair Foy were released. They look really good.

Image via Fingerprint Releasing / Bleecker Street

Image via Fingerprint Releasing / Bleecker Street

The iPhone

It’s no secret that the iPhone has become a favourite tool among filmmakers in recent years. It’s thanks in large part to the success of Sean Baker’s Tangerine at Sundance in 2015 that professional filmmakers started to take notice.

“I think this is the future,” Soderbergh said at Sundance. “Anybody going to see this movie who has no idea of the backstory to the production will have no idea this was shot on the phone. That’s not part of the conceit.”

We may have reached a point with today’s smartphone cameras that having a large cinema camera and associated crew and infrustructure is no longer a deciding factor in the potential success of a film.

“People forget, this is a 4k capture,” said Soderbergh, who was long a passionate advocate for the high-end RED cameras. “I’ve seen it 40 feet tall. It looks like velvet. This is a gamechanger to me.”

The cameras we carry around in our pockets are only going to get better, and I know for myself, it’s getting more and more difficult to find excuses not to be writing and shooting more short films.

The truth is, and what I think is the main takeaway… there really aren’t any excuses.

Please let us know what you make of all this in the comments.

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Yuki Ogura
Yuki Ogura
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

I’ve been always dreaming of being able to shoot films just with a small thing like an iPhone. Currently, in filmmaking, there are too many factors that we have to care about but not directly important for telling stories. For example, it’s frustrating for me to think about how to pack gears because I want to spend that time on thinking about how to tell the story.

I visited film festivals around the world, and watched so many boring films with great resolution and beautiful lighting while some cheap-looking films were amazingly interesting. I hope people, especially clients who are asking us filmmakers to make films, will soon notice what is truly important for a film.

Robert Frank
Robert Frank
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

He’s right. The ‘best’ camera is the one you have with you. I think resistance to what Soderbergh is saying is based on people whose criticism equats the art/craft of filmmaking with the business of selling that film.

Tim Naylor
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

I completely agree with him. As a DP I’ve shot a boat load of indies and TV on everything from Reds, Alexas, F55’s from non-union to large union crews. But deep down, I know we could shoot compelling content with a fraction of the resources. The operative phrase being “compelling content”. In the next few years, the only excuse to making great films will great material.

I was completely absorbed by Tangerine. The filmmakers did not have big names, contacts or money. But they did have great casting, story, directing and performances.

I’m hoping we see a new wave of storytellers liberated from gear and who focus more on performances and direction. Right now, I find the current DYI filmmaker scene caught in a rut. They fetishize gear to the point every other vimeo upload becomes an aesthetic pissing contest. Technically great images but soul less with no story, vision, character, etc (the things non-filmmakers care about.). For these reasons, I still have my BMPCC.

 Miguel Gomez-Pardo
Miguel Gomez-Pardo
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

Is it posible to shoot a great movie with an iPhone? Sure, why not?
what bothers me it’s that Soderbergh doesn’t care about the tools he’s using (which, i admire) but if he really doesn’t care about shooting with an iPhone, a RED or an Arri.
Why the need to tell us the tool he is using before realeasing the movie.
Now, if i watch the movie would it be because it was shot on an iPhone, it will be like watching a tutorial or a seminar.
I won’t be as invested in the story as i should. I will be thinking of the tools used. Maybe i’m the only one wired that way.
I’m a nobody and Soderbergh it’s a GREAT filmmaker. But i’m going to allow myself giving him an advise (hope nobody get ofended)
If you truly care about the story and no about the tools you are using (as i already said, i admire that. And i think that goes with the spirit of cinema5D) don’t make a fuss about the tools you are using before the release of your work.
Do it after, once everybody got caught in the story.

Steve Oakley
MemberJanuary 29th, 2018

For those of you beating on the iphone… you need to actually look at the images it makes. same as a high end camera ? no. is it a very respectable ? very much so. the biggest problem with the iphone is its compression that makes it a good light only camera unless its a one time news shot. I’d not think twice about taking a couple shots on it and mixing it into a corp job. would I shoot a feature on it ? probably not unless it was in some really messed up place where totally being discreet was required as the only way to get it done. shot on iPhone X 4Kp24

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbrYVPeaOzs

Manu Laroche
Manu Laroche
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

… let me pretend you can shoot without ND filters, 14 bits, raw, finest lenses … then pretend you’ll obtain almost the same result.

Let’s hide moreover it’s a matter of luck, networks & money, not of talent and hard work.
:D

Manu Laroche
Manu Laroche
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Stay a dof

Tim Naylor
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

Sounds like excuses. Of course he has an advantage – now. But what about Tangerine? Or Soderberghs first film? I think the notion of anyone with a vision, great story and cast can now actually get it on film without having to hire the army many of us belong to, scare the crap out many a tech. Brace for the change.

Benjamin Witte
Benjamin Witte
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Acquiring talent and funding is much more difficult than getting a camera.

Dávid Tiegelmann
Dávid Tiegelmann
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

One sentence rules them all ???❤️

Robert Halliday Jr.
Robert Halliday Jr.
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

When you have millions of dollars for set design, actors, editing, props, location and like he always provides, a mediocre Hollywood story, he’s still only half correct. The camera is a tool and an iPhone is literally the worst tool for filmmaking.

Richard Lackey
Richard Lackey
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

I’m curious to see the film though.

Daniel P Sousa
Daniel P Sousa
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

There are literally millions of tools there are worse than an iPhone for filmmaking, but I agree with the rest of what you said.

Matt Goller
Matt Goller
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Just shows how disconnected they are. Zack Snyder and his iPhone piece. The guy had a freaking crane. How can you possibly say “anyone can do what I’m doing, just grab your iPhone,” When you use a freaking crane!?!

Tim Naylor
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

You’re missing the point. I think he’s stating that the image is more than good enough to do a production that’ll look good to general audiences and that it’ll get a lot more people with great ideas and stories making films. Personally, I think it’s something we need – more stories by people not obsessed with gear.

 Erkki Juurus
Erkki Juurus
MemberJanuary 28th, 2018

He’s making a valid point about excuses and storytelling, but I think gear does matter, too, as does story and some other production details. The smartphone look is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Yes, the iPhone or smartphone image may be good enough for the general audience, at least for the lovers the horror genre in particular. The overnight success of the Blair Witch Project was a good example, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that it happened within the horror genre of all genres. That is, without dismissing their smart idea for a low budget production.

Nevertheless, even though I agree that a good story is the key element, I for one still appreciate certain look, too, regardless of the genre. I don’t think I’d be too interested in going to watch a movie shot entirely with an iPhone for the sake of it. I don’t particularly like the smartphone look. Nor do I like the process of filming with one.

Besides, if you insisted on using an iPhone for an entire film, wouldn’t that be just the other side of the same gear-centric coin? That is, being obsessed by the use of certain kind of gear, in this case the iPhone/smartphone.
Unless that’s all you’ve got. Which in Soderbergh’s case it certainly isn’t.

The bottom line is, story matters, and gear matters, too. Having an iPhone is no excuse for either telling or not telling a good story. Using one for filming is an acquired taste. So are the resulting films.
Not much point in arguing about matters of taste. Horses for courses.

Danny Lau
Danny Lau
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Agreed. Getting a camera is the easy part nowadays. The hard part is everything you mentioned in the crew, actors, props, costume designers etc etc etc list goes on

Steven J. Selcuk
Steven J. Selcuk
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Dear ARRI we don’t need u anymore. Thanx ?? Soderberg u are a genius . ?

Angus Khan
Angus Khan
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

I wonder how much Apple paid him?

Tim Naylor
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

Probably nothing. Soderbergh has a great reputation regarding integrity as well as how he treats crews, etc.

Jason Langdell
Jason Langdell
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Joanna Geale

Joanna Geale
Joanna Geale
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Interesting read, thanks

Chris Barton
Chris Barton
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

YES! Thank you! I’m so over the continuous gear chase…

Gene Nemetz
Gene Nemetz
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

I get what you’re saying Steven. But I still wish I had a Red Helium 8K.

Brian Godsey
Brian Godsey
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Can’t wait to see his iPhone Master Prime rig! ?

Piotr Pitold Maciejewski
Piotr Pitold Maciejewski
GuestJanuary 27th, 2018

Filmmaking is not about camera obviously but Phone – is an extreme. It’s even not biggest expense – when You pay actors and crew, You want to be sure that camera didn’t fail on set, and I find it risky to use iPhone instead of something that offers me dual recording option

 Miklos Nemeth
Miklos Nemeth
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

Absolutely eye opening revelation. I’ll sell my expensive gear next week and I’ll buy a Sony AX53 consumer 4K camcorder, I think it is a magnitude more excellent for movie making than an iPhone, giving about the same image quality as the iphone. Or, only iPhone and nothing else is ok for movie making?

Oscar M
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

if he is $tired of big cameras or whatever the reason is then why not pick up a GH5 or something else with a descent DR instead of being batman with a iphone – pretty ridiculous if you ask me

If he is happy with the result then good for him.

– Imagine how many guys will be in post for how many hours struggling to get e descent result…will not be cheap
So in the end a better sensor would probably make more sens for the budget….

But nice gimmick. if you like gimmicks like that

 Ron Scibilia
Ron Scibilia
MemberJanuary 27th, 2018

It doesn’t have to be an iPhone, but getting past The Machine to the core of the art matters. The less intrusive technology around the actors, director, DP, and script the better. That doesn’t mean lousy technology, it means technology that gets in the way of the artistic process as little as possible. (Of course, the camera is the least expensive piece of any film project.)

Enko Medenko
Enko Medenko
GuestJanuary 28th, 2018

Bull crap even iPhone commercial that say shoot on iPhone don’t show reality prime lenses used and special adapters and rigs only shoot on iPhone my ass

Fadhil Parewangi
Fadhil Parewangi
GuestJanuary 28th, 2018

too much apple causing constipation

Clayton Burkhart
Clayton Burkhart
MemberJanuary 28th, 2018

There’s more to telling a story, than telling a story.

 Si Horrocks
Si Horrocks
MemberJanuary 28th, 2018

I think the people that don’t get the idea of shooting with a smartphone are kind of stuck in a traditional way of making films.

Filmmaking has become very conservative. Even most festivals are stuck in the past.

I’m guessing they have never made a “no budget” feature.

Smartphone cameras offer a great amount of flexibility. They are virtually anonymous. You can jump on a train and start filming, no permission required (ok, gunfights are out). Because they are simple to operate you don’t need to hire a DoP. You don’t need a big crew. You don’t even need a crew at all – except maybe a someone to do sound (ask a friend).

I’ve been using a Samsung S8 and the inbuilt mics are incredible. You could easily use the audio for background ambience. Maybe even catch some dialogue with it.

You can just start making films and Amazon and YouTube are waiting for you, once the cut is done.

The only thing stopping you making films is you.

Robi Metti
Robi Metti
GuestJanuary 29th, 2018

.. tired of this bs.

Alexey Leontev
Alexey Leontev
GuestJanuary 29th, 2018

I’ve seen on YouTube some shorts filmed on 1.33 anamorphic iPhone “mount” you won’t believe but it’s quite good tho…

Miguel Queiroz
Miguel Queiroz
MemberJanuary 29th, 2018

This article and Soderbergh’s statements, in my opinion oversimplify the matter. It’s yes and no, for me and there is no simple response.

What are we talking about here? Are we saying that a 5 people crew with an iPhone and a good lighting kit/knowledge can yield the same results in terms of cinematography as a larger crew with a professional shooting kit (assuming the same HoDs)? No way! Are we saying it is perfectly possible to shoot a cinema quality film with an iPhone and that the skill is more important than the tool? Yes, absolutely! So both things make a difference, although good filmmakers will be able to produce interesting results both with an iPhone or an Alexa. But the results will look different and an Alexa with Ultra Primes is able to produce results 100 times better than an iPhone.

And why are we talking about the iPhone here… When we perfectly know that there are other smartphone brands out there with at least as good cameras as the iPhone? Is this just blatant advertising for Apple?

Steve Oakley
MemberJanuary 29th, 2018

I have done some test shooting and can give you very specific answers.

“But the results will look different and an Alexa with Ultra Primes is able to produce results 100 times better than an iPhone.”

different sure, but bad ? no. 100 times difference ? no. don’t confuse having a lot of crew and gear as equaling better results than less crew and gear. even the big new cameras prove this not true. I’m doing stuff against windows with vastly smaller lighting packages these days due to the DR modern cameras have… never mind their much better low light abilities again mean much smaller lighting to get good shots.

maybe you _want_ deep DoF, although I can show you an iphone dropping focus off when its on something close. as for the 5 person crew… not the exact same look, no. something thats pleasing and watchable ? yes. its like comparing film vs digital ;), different palates.

I’m not giving up my “good” cameras, but I am using my phone for corp work when I need a quick shot and its the camera I have with me.. not the one I’d prefer, but the one I can pull out, get a good looking shot and edit in and no one is the wiser. Thats being done all the time now.

just as folks fought digital over film and that battle is pretty much over… then dslr’s brought about affordable large sensor cameras ( along with RED ) across all vendors, likewise better cameras in phones will provide us with a new tool. its not going to replace the big cameras… except that, well national networks are doing live shots on phones that can look pretty decent if lit. Not as good as a real ENG camera, but good enough that no one is complaining, or really noticing on the consumer end…

Miguel Queiroz
Miguel Queiroz
MemberJanuary 30th, 2018

Hi Steve, thank you for your reply. I never said iPhones were “bad” and as you can imagine, “100 times better” is a metaphor. As you well admit yourself, an iPhone not as good as a real ENG camera.

You probably have more experience with TV work and ENG cameras (just assuming). I work more in the short and feature film industry and work regularly with the Alexa and with Ultra Primes, as well as other not as good but still professional digital film cameras, like the Black Magic Ursa Mini or the Kinefinity KineMINI 4K. I agree with the article about the iPhone being decently up for the job of shooting for the big screen in terms of resolution, DR, etc… We both also agree that for instance low-light performance is not the same.

What I cannot agree is that to shoot a feature or even a short piece of drama, the size of the team is indifferent. If you think having a self-shooting Director, a set designer who also does make-up and wardrobe and 2nd AC who also has to pull focus, a gaffer who also works as grip… Or a 1st AD who also does script supervising. Then we definitely agree to disagree there. You may not need a large team to shoot documentaries or corporate video. But if you’re shooting drama, this doesn’t apply.

Also, as professional DoP (feel free to check me on IMDB or Film Bang)the creative options in terms of visual story telling that I can achieve by using a complete set of primes, the type of framing DOF and composition changes I can achieve by going from Wide to Long lenses, etc… Not to mention the image quality of a set of proper primes… None of this can ever be achieved by shooting with an iPhone.

Can I tell a story cinematically with an iPhone? Certainly! Does it have the minimum requirements to look good enough on a big screen? Sure! It’s a tool like any other. But I can do with an Alexa and primes all that I can do with an iPhone. The opposite is simply not true… And that sums my point up.

Narek Avetisyan
Narek Avetisyan
MemberJanuary 30th, 2018

Even with these small sized screen grabs it’s apparent to me that it’s coming from a phone. The sensor may be ok and the resolution and frame rate there. But until they implement an actually great glass on a phone it wont compete with even the cheapest camera.

Micha Yunowho
Micha Yunowho
GuestJanuary 30th, 2018

“It’s the story, stupid” ……I agree with that for films that are not visually based. But if you have a highly visual film, the iPhone won’t cut it.

 John Watkins
John Watkins
MemberFebruary 21st, 2018

Sure shoot on a iphone but then how much post production are you doing? I want to see the iphone he is using and what is it plugged into.

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