Shot on iPhone for Netflix: Soderbergh’s Latest Film “High Flying Bird”

January 21st, 2019
Shot on iPhone for Netflix: Soderbergh's Latest Film "High Flying Bird"

Netflix has released the first official trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s latest NBA drama “High Flying Bird”, again shot on iPhone.

Almost exactly a year ago we took a brief look at the motivations for Soderbergh’s current “shot on iPhone” trajectory, and some of the first stills from “Unsane” (his first project to be shot with iPhones), a psychological thriller starring Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, and Amy Irving.

Now he’s behind the iPhone again with “High Flying Bird”, an NBA drama starring Andre Holland and written by Oscar-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney, who co-wrote “Moonlight” with Barry Jenkins. The supporting cast includes Zazie Beetz, Zachary Quinto, Kyle MacLachlan, Bill Duke, Sonja Sohn, and Caleb McLaughlin.

Unsane, of course, was not the first full-length feature to be shot with the iPhone, and arguably it was Sean Baker’s Sundance hit “Tangerine” that proved not only that it could be done, but that it could look half decent too.

A More Polished iPhone Film

Where Steven Soderbergh’s “Unsane” embraced a more literal “shot on iPhone” look, not particularly intending to hide the fact, his latest “High Flying Bird” shows a much more polished result. When I first watched Unsane, I was quite disappointed to see that it really did look like it was shot with a phone, while I knew first hand from my own work just how far it can be taken. If the new trailer is anything to go by, High Flying Bird is an excellent example of what is possible with well shot iPhone video and proper post workflow.

Shot Using FiLMiC Pro on iPhone

In all of these cases, FiLMiC Pro continues to be the camera app of choice, with its manual control, high bit rates and more recently its computational LogV2 encoding profile. However, what is interesting is that Soderbergh’s camera of choice has been the iPhone 7 for Unsane, and iPhone 8 for High Flying Bird, neither of which feature Apple’s computational smartHDR and dynamic tone mapping features. To me, this makes sense, as these cameras behave a bit more predictable than the latest generation iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR devices. I am still wrestling a bit with the XS Max and XR’s tone mapping, which while totally useable, and under control with FiLMiC Pro, I probably wouldn’t want to deal with it on a critical project.

Soderbergh has chosen the Moondog Labs 1.33x anamorphic adapter, which incidentally, Sean Baker also used to shoot Tangerine. This results in the 2.35:1 final aspect ratio. According to IMDb the Moment 2x telephoto lens was also used, although it incorrectly reports iPhone 7, when in fact it was three iPhone 8 devices used in rotation. In any case, the Moment and Moondog Labs lenses are excellent, the best available. I can see from the motion blur in some shots that ND’s were used to maintain a 1/48th-sec shutter speed, or close to it.

If anyone needed further proof that while it may still be an unconventional choice, an iPhone in the right hands is capable of some very respectable images, this is it. In my opinion and experience, much of the end result you see is also down to the colorist.

“High Flying Bird” will have its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival before its debut on Netflix next month.

What do you think of the trailer? Let us know in the comments below.

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lenisrein
lenisrein
Guest
March 25th, 2019

Recently watched the movie. Though it was shoot by iPhone, Its look like it was shoot with some high resolution camera. The movie is also pretty cool.

https://cotomovies.net/

Richard Brody
Richard Brody
Guest
February 6th, 2019

Using his iPhone to create urgent, luminous images of power-brokering amid gleaming glass-and-steel buildings, Soderbergh gives the intricate, pugnacious drama a mighty sense of swing.

http://cinemafreeapk.com/

Gere
Gere
Guest
January 26th, 2019

The comma goes before the which. This is such an odd grammatical mistake to continue making.

Bill Rosendahl
Bill Rosendahl
Guest
January 25th, 2019

Stupid gimmick, and hypocrisy from Netflix.

SAD.

Harry Rabin
Guest
January 24th, 2019

Are you kidding me…It looks cheaply shot. Needs some serious grading, WS not sharp at all,Artifact, distortion, crushed blacks etc…far far far from cinematic in any way shape or form. Not ready for prime time please… great for WEBBIES…It certainly is a cool concept with running around with iPhones and gimbals etc. Did they just use it’s built in stabilization? I assume shot in 4K 30fps? iPhone X? Sound was boomed right and synched in…must have been a pain with no SMPTE or simply matched up with built-in audio and a plug-in? More details and BTS would have been cooler for this article.

Finn Jäger
Guest
January 24th, 2019

But the iPhone is not on that “list” for approved cameras.

 roger nelson
roger nelson
Member
January 23rd, 2019

looks like crap. Shadows are crushed, skin tones are wrong. This is why arri wins with the alexa

Juan Lopez
Juan Lopez
Guest
January 23rd, 2019
Reply to  roger nelson

That and several of the shots look soft or just plain out of focus. Still, I didn’t realize it was shot on a phone when this trailer popped up on Youtube. I’ll give them that, it is an impressive feat, though it helps to have a huge crew behind you… something you probably can’t afford if your iPhone is the only camera you can afford…

Member
January 22nd, 2019

I wonder if this time he used an ND filter outdoors or not. On Unsane he hadn’t, and a lot of outdoors scenes had to be shot in really high shutter speed because of that, resulting in that very ugly phone look (as you mentioned in the article). But it seems to be more carefully shot this one…

John Parr
John Parr
Guest
January 21st, 2019

Films like this feel gimmicky, when you know they didn’t have to shoot on an iPhone. I’m all about using the right tool for the job, even if its cheaper. But an iPhone? On a more positive note, they cut together really well

brian
brian
Guest
February 11th, 2020
Reply to  John Parr

Its not gimmicky when you do ten times the work in a day.

Ben Turner
Guest
January 21st, 2019

This is awesome and it looks pretty damn good but why not just use a $2000 gh5 or something when an iP… https://t.co/odzNpGu5vq

Jamie LeJeune
Guest
January 22nd, 2019
Reply to  Ben Turner

Because the camera choice has nothing to do with image quality. Soderberg has spoken and written eloquently about the challenges of getting funding for and marketing independent feature films. Shooting on the iPhone yields tens of millions of dollars worth or free press (like this article) and that yeilds more eyeballs for the film. So, he shoots on iPhone. It is very smart marketing. Most of the audience won’t notice that the highlights are clipped garbage and that the skintones are monotone mush because they’ll be watching it on their phones anyway.

Oscar M
Guest
January 23rd, 2019
Reply to  Ben Turner

cause its a statement -not a saving

Bill Rosendahl
Bill Rosendahl
Guest
January 25th, 2019
Reply to  Ben Turner

WHOOPSIE, your blogspam post got cut off. BOO HOO

Sergio
Sergio
Member
January 21st, 2019

Netflix should re-examine their camera and image capture “requirements”.

https://partnerhelp.netflixstudios.com/hc/en-us/articles/360000579527-Cameras-and-Image-Capture

John
John
Guest
January 21st, 2019
Reply to  Sergio

Agreed! They won’t allow an Alexa, and they let the iPhone slip through. Hahaha

Jamie LeJeune
Guest
January 22nd, 2019
Reply to  John

Blame the courts and the lawyers.
The rules don’t make sense if it’s assumed that they are in place to ensure image quality. But, the truth is that those rules have nothing to do with image quality. Instead, those rules are in place because Netflix charges more for its UHD subscription tier and they fear losing a consumer class action lawsuit where a US judge or jury would interpret “4K” to require 4K bayer sensor capture. To filmmakers and anyone who actually understands digital cinematography, it’s total nonsense, but Netflix can’t count on that in the courts. So, they enforce their seemingly silly rules.

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