5 Reasons to Make an iPhone Documentary

More and more documentary filmmakers are joining the growing ranks of mobile filmmakers and picking up their iPhones to shoot their next doc.

Back in December, we first began talking about this seriously, when we spoke with filmmaker Jack Ballo, who was over the moon about making an iPhone documentary.

And since then, we’ve run a two-part podcast special dedicated to the very topic, enlisting former BBC and ITV reporter, Anna Brees as well as FiLMiC PRO founder and CEO, Neill Barham.

Just last month, I personally invested in a new phone as well as some gear, including the Movi Freefly system and a Moment lens setup.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been fun playing with this technology and seeing how I might be able to fully embrace on some sort of upcoming doc project.

You may still be on the fence about this whole mobile filmmaking thing, if so, here are five reasons why you might consider jumping in!


It’s Cheap

Why would you pay $2k for a videocam when you can get simply use what’s already probably in your back pocket?

The fact is that many phones nowadays have 4k capabilities, have high memory storage, and with the right accessories and/or apps can get you not only decent images but decent sound as well.

There are super cool lenses and stabilizer systems that are out there as well.

There really is no need to break the bank for your camera, if it’s not absolutely necessary, and that’s a great thing for doc filmmakers!


It’s Small and Unobtrusive

Similar to what happened when dslr filmmaking blew up, making documentaries with your phone minimizes the impact on your subject, the environment, your own body… in short, your film and the filmmaking process.

People in the majority of the world are now used to seeing smart phones, so it’s only natural that subjects are engaged and comfortable around them.

That low impact on an environment and its subjects is something doc filmmakers have been dreaming about for decades.

And now we’ve just about perfected it.


They Are Light

This is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Anyone who has spent hours shooting verite with a camera, lens, batteries, sound, shoulder rig, knows how cumbersome and heavy it can get after even just a few hours of shooting.

Well, I don’t have to tell you how light a phone is, even with one of these lenses and Freefly Movis!

Shooting with your phone saves a lot of wear and tear on the #doclifer’s body!


4k Capabilities

Don’t laugh.  It wasn’t that long ago AT ALL when you had to pay hefty fees for 4k firmware upgrades on professional cameras.  And now, virtually all newer mobile phones come equipped with 4k video on the phone, no upgrades/updates needed.

Of course, it is important to note that these are recording to your phone’s built-in memory cards, so the colour space is generally 8-bit, 4:2:0 .

They’re not amazing in lower light levels, they do break-up on the big screen, and can’t take a bunch of post work on the image… but c’mon, people, what do you want? It’s a damn phone!


Multi-Camera Capability

Another really nice bonus to shooting docs with your phone is that because they’re relatively inexpensive and because they’re pretty small, it doesn’t take all that much to create multi-camera setups.

Some people are even using their older phone as an external recorder to simply record the sound.

I love this idea, actually.  It’s like when we were all shooting with a dslr and recording sound on our Zooms!


Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.

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