Of iPhone 4 film shoots and more

Zombie Mints - Litter

Yes, I’ve been a busy film geek of late. Not only have we attempted to shoot a short film entirely on the iPhone 4, but I’ve been getting to grips with FCP Studio and learning how to edit the footage; as I am sick of trying to do it in the totally unintuitive and limited iMovie 09 or iMovie app.

It has not been the easiest of times. But as with each of my shoots I have learnt from it.

The main objective was to shoot a spoof commercial / short horror comedy film in 1 day, with mainly found objects / objects I already had, amateur actors, natural light and do it all on the iPhone 4 – and for £50 including food. It did not go to plan.

The End result – was shot in 4 hours, on the iPhone 4, is not edited on it though as that was doing my frickin’ head in, features the usage of one red head light as the weather was not with us on the day, I had to buy makeup and marigolds as props. Total budget – including feeding the crew was about £60.

Firstly, always check your makeup prior to prepping your shoot. I found that the latex and powdered makeup I intended to use for my zombie makeup had gone off, since I bought it after a special FX course that I took. Cue hurried calls and a mad dash by one of the crew to go and pick up some replacement makeup; only to find that it was vastly substandard, but by then we had to crack on and make a go of it. Not ideal. Periodically check your makeup, just like you would any piece of equipment.

Secondly, I must say that if you’re going to attempt to shoot anything meaningful featuring actors, that requires intricate zooms or moving the camera, don’t bother using the iPhone 4 unless you really want to keep retaking your shots to get them right. It’s difficult enough to shoot anything with actors and enabling them to hit their marks without having to ensure that you capture the shot. All it takes is the focus to suddenly become unresponsive or a slight knock to the camera itself or the tripod you’re using and the shot is ruined. This happened often. It’s fine if the shoot is simple or just shooting live action as it happens – after all that it what it was designed for.

I have noticed also that the compressed format of the iPhone 4 AVCHD footage doesn’t hold up well in blocks of colour, especially on blacks of shadows. It often looks blocky or patchy, even when the scene has plenty of light. My main actor brought a Canon 550D and I have heard amazing things about the video capability of this camera. If he had known how to use it and I could have quickly learned, I would have been sorely tempted to ditch the iPhone and do it right. However, the object was to have a fun shoot, using the iPhone 4 and not falling back to any of my other cameras – not even the fully charged Semi Pro DV cam I had upstairs; no matter how tempting it was!

Zombie Karl

The real point of contention for me has been the edit. iMovie just doesn’t cut it as an editing app, not when you’re shooting multiple viewpoints / angles and intercutting them. A 30 second sequence took me 4 times longer to edit in iMovie and it was far from polished at the rough cut stage compared to the same edit in FCP. That is the point though isn’t it. Although you may want to shoot a fun movie – fun is relative and if you approach it with a Semi Pro sensibility then you must use Semi Pro tools.

But the iPhone 4 footage is still relatively new. Few programmes automatically come with the codecs / settings as standard, so I found that FCP did not have suitable setting for me to use, which would retain the audio on the timeline. That is, until I stumbled across the article “Topic : Iphone4 video to Final Cut pro – giving away a droplet to help you out.” – which came with a link to download a droplet. This droplet converted over 62 clips in an hour – into better quality ProRes 422 LT footage that FCP could understand and could play back the audio. Nice! Thanks Jeff Greenberg!

Anyway, it will be while yet before the finished movie is ready for derision and mockery. But I am in the middle of editing it right now, and must stop procastinating. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait.

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