In the debate between vertical and horizontal filming, the most persuasive arguments are the movies. Frederick van Strydonck, a 28-year-old Belgian filmmaker currently based in London, adds to the discussion with “Spltch, an experimental vertical video that won an honorable mention award in the 2018 FiLMiC Pro One World Film Contest. In the interview (below), van Strydonck reveals the creative challenges of experimental filmmaking.
MMM: When did you begin filming with an iPhone?
van Strydonck: In 2014. I found the experience incredibly freeing and exciting. I felt that there was a tremendous potential and a lot of uncharted territory in mobile filmmaking. I still feel that way, more than ever.
MMM: How did you develop your filmmaking skills?
van Strydonck: I went to film school where I worked on lots and lots of short films. This gave me the chance to work with some of the best film cameras, both 35mm and digital. And I learned how every job on a film set operates, from the sound recordist to the electrician. When I got my hands on an iPhone, I began to test out the camera meticulously. I spent hundreds of hours recording things on my phone. Most of it was rubbish, but I kept at it. Through trial and error I learned what the strengths of the iPhone are.
MMM: Have any filmmakers influenced your work?
van Strydonck: I’m very much influenced by filmmakers who break new ground. These directors often have a few ‘failures’ under their belt, but also some fantastic films that push the medium forward. Orson Welles is one of those.
I’m also very much influenced by directors whose work could only function in a cinematic format. Directors like Sergio Leone, Wong Kar Wai or even Charlie Chaplin made films that wouldn’t work as well as a play or a piece of literature.
I was also quite heavily influenced by a director called Shunji Iwai. He began to make films that completely embrace the look of digital cameras. Watching his film All About Lilly Chou-Chou was one of the films that inspired me to get into mobile filmmaking.
MMM: How did you come up with the concept of “Spltch”?
van Strydonck: I was walking through a park and noticed some ducks fighting over bread that had been thrown into the lake. Their feet were creating a lot of movement underwater. So I dipped my iPhone underwater to try and capture that. It didn’t work. But the idea of sticking my iPhone underwater remained. And a few months later I decided to make “Spltch”. The filming was somewhat improvisational. I just kept on dipping my phone into different places with water without knowing how I would cut it together. I just really liked the images I recorded.
MMM: And the title?
van Strydonck: It’s the onomatopoeia ‘splotch’ or ‘splatch’ without the vowels. I didn’t really want to call it anything that implied the film was about anything more than water.
MMM: Why did you choose the vertical form for your movie?
van Strydonck: I was a vertical filmmaking sceptic until my youngest sister showed me some music videos that had been shot in vertical form. I was very pleasantly surprised and it seeded the idea in my head. But I didn’t see the point in doing it until platforms like YouTube and Vimeo would embrace it, which they eventually did. In a world where most online videos are being watched on phones, I think the vertical video could quickly become more part of the norm. It’s already the case on instagram and snapchat.
MMM: But was there something about this subject that suggested verticality would be the way to go?
van Strydonck: In this case, I thought it could emphasise the depth of water. And since the camera moves up and down through out the video, it just felt right. It was also easier to hold the iPhone that way when dipping it underwater. So maybe that had a subconscious influence too.
MMM: What gear did you use?
van Strydonck: It was filmed with my iPhone X and a simple Apple protective case that I use daily. I also used Filmic Pro, without which this would have been very difficult to pull off.
MMM: Exactly how did FiLMiC Pro help?
van Strydonck: Filmic Pro is great because it gives you so much more control. For one, I can much more easily control the focus and exposure of a shot. But it also opens up a lot more control when it comes to frame rates, frame sizes, colour correction, etc. And I absolutely love their guides that allow you to quickly check if your image is sharp and correctly exposed. This can be a godsend if you are unable to look at the screen properly.
MMM: Were you concerned about how the water might affect your phone?
van Strydonck:The iPhone rarely was fully underwater. I quickly discovered that all that needed to be underwater was the corner where the camera lens is located. I was a little afraid that it would damage my phone, but I kept going and never really experience any issues. The seawater did fog up the inside of my camera lens a bit, but otherwise my phone still works perfectly fine.
MMM: Were you working with a crew?
van Strydonck: Since the actual filming was so unplanned and spanning a month, I filmed the whole thing on my own. All I needed to do was dip my iPhone into water. I definitely did get some weird looks as I would drop my iPhone into a fountain or a river. But that was part of the fun.
MMM: Could you talk about location scouting?
van Strydonck: I live in London. So anytime I would go somewhere, I quickly looked at the map and noted down if there was any water to be found in the vicinity. And so pretty much every day I would quickly film a few takes around the city. I became very aware of the water of any kind. So when it began to rain I would run outside to find a nice puddle. Or a canal suddenly became a location full of opportunities. The only location I specifically drove to was the seaside in the beginning of the video. That was one of the last things I filmed.
MMM: Did you encounter any big challenge during the production?
van Strydonck: The technical challenge of filming underwater did require a lot of testing. I very quickly realised that the touch screen stops working when it touches water. So I had to overcome this by setting up the camera and pressing record before dipping the camera underwater. Additionally, most of the time I couldn’t see what was being recorded. And since I was filming all of it at 120-240 fps, I wouldn’t really know what I had until I converted the footage on my laptop. Which lead to a second challenge: determining what the film actually was. While shooting I had no idea what the film would be about or how I would put it together so I decided I would let the form tell me what the story would be. And ultimately settled on the film just being about the water itself. Deep down I feel that there is a more interesting story to tell with this visual gimmick. Maybe a Spltch 2? Do you have any suggestions?
MMM: Perhaps our readers will have some ideas. But meanwhile, can you talk about the intriguing soundtrack?
van Strydonck: That was the genius of Nigel Woodford, the sound editor. He added all of the sound effects in post-production. Nigel is a friend of a friend and based in Singapore. We have never met. But he took on the challenge and created all of the sound from scratch. None of the sound was recorded during filming. He did an incredible job. I think the sound here is 70% of why the film works.
MMM: What about the post production?
van Strydonck: “Spltch” was edited on Premiere Pro. I had about 6 hours of footage that I cut down to 2 minutes. I used the same app to color-grade the video. This was all about bringing out the texture of the water as much as possible. Aadding contrast and colour to it gave it a much more palpable feel.
MMM: What advice would you give to someone just beginning to shoot an experimental vertical video or any other genre.
van Strydonck: The great thing about filming with phones is that you can film wherever and whenever you want. Phone cameras are like the Swiss Army knife of cameras. They are incredibly versatile. So go out there and film. You don’t need to ask anyone’s permission. You don’t have to rent expensive equipment to see how good a location will look. Instead, you can go there right now. Film it. Then look at the shots on a bigger screen. Evaluate what doesn’t work. Then go back the next day and try again. And repeat that process as much as it takes.
What makes movies memorable? The key element is almost always memorable characters, such as Dirty Harry, Dorothy, E.T., and Goldfinger. Even the most plot-driven action films—like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THE GODFATHER—almost always include characters that we can’t forget. In feature films directors have plenty of time for character development. But if you have only 60 seconds, getting the audience to understand and care about a character becomes daunting. And yet it is possible, as Brice Veneziano powerfully demonstrates in “Mémoire de nos Pairs” (“Memory of our Peers”). While the filmmaker employs a number of techniques, the key is his use of a foil character.
Mémoire de nos Pairs (Memory of our Peers) - Short Film - Mobile Film Festival 2018 - YouTube
In the first half of his movie, Veneziano introduces the protagonist played by Sarah Bertholon. A dramatic sound cue causes the character to remember the horror of the Bataclan massacre (Paris, 2015). At that point, the movie might have ended, but to deepen the protagonist’s emotional state, Veneziano brings in a foil character. Classically, a foil character differs from the main character in ways to bring into focus the protagonist’s personality and attitude. In this case, the foil is a passerby whose unawareness of the significance of the place contrasts with—and thereby magnifies— the protagonist’s grief. This key secondary role is played by actor Steven Eynius.
To be memorable, a travelogue will usually accomplish some or all of the following tasks: It will give a true picture of the location and the people who inhabit it. It will be visually arresting, going beyond picture postcards and what the casual observer might see. Its sound track will reinforce the pictures, and in some cases play a role that’s as important as what the camera sees. Mahmood Al-Shafai’s “Planet Tokyo” suggests another challenge: Getting the viewer to think: “This is a place I’d like to visit.” Mahmood’s persuasive travelogue was a finalist in this year’s FiLMiC Pro competition in the travel category.
Planet Tokyo - Shot on iPhone 6s - YouTube
About the project, Al-Shafai writes: “I have always dreamed to go to Japan. Finally my dream came true on April of 2017, I flew from Saudi Arabia to Japan to see cherry blossoms, temples and parks.”
Artists often talk about starting with a precise vision of the finished work, or at least the intent of the work. But sometimes serendipity plays the key role as we see in Giordano Cagnin’s “Opening the Door.” In the interview (below) Giordano, who lives and works in Rome, reveals how several events led him to create an experimental travelogue that was honored in this year’s FiLMiC Pro competition.
MMM: How did you develop your skills as a filmmaker?
Giordano: I am a dancer but I’ve always been in love with movies, since I was a child. I started to learn by myself, watching tons of tutorials on youtube and experimenting with a Canon 7D I bought several years ago. I also read many books about movies. After obtaining a degree in film history, I attended NYU-Tisch School of the Arts where I earned the Certificate in Filmmaking in 2013.
MMM: Would you say that going to film school is valuable?
Giordano: There are many theories on that subject. In depends on you, on the way you are. For me, Tisch made the difference. I had a professor that encouraged us to pursue our vision, learning from the great masters of the past. At the same time we were divided in groups of five, and we shot something like 15 shorts in 6 weeks. For every short film we changed our roles: director, DP, sound recorder, producer, post production, and so on. I worked a lot with other filmmakers, even though, right now, I usually work by myself.
MMM: Do you prefer working alone?
Giordano: It does bring about limitations, but for small projects, it gives you the chance to work faster and to be able to connect with yourself and the way you want to tell your story.
MMM: So could you sum up your thoughts on developing as a filmmaker?
Giordano: I’d say watch movies, a LOT of great movies from the past (especially the silent ones); learn from them; go out and shoot your movie; make mistakes; learn from them; turn obstacles into opportunities; go out again with your camera until you feel confident with the tools you are using. Then you’ll start to find your voice.
MMM: What gave you the idea and the motivation to make “Opening the Door”?
Giordano: I was in Cuba all by myself for the first time. I came from a long period of great suffering and it seemed there was no way out for me. I needed and wanted to stay alone, so I choose a country where there’s almost no internet connection and everything tends to happen moment by moment; a country which is, somehow, suspended in time. I only booked the first night from Italy and didn’t know anything about what could happen later. I felt that I had to make this leap in the dark. My iPhone 7s became my best friend, so I started using it, trusting my inner feelings.
MMM: How long did you spend shooting.
Giordano: Two weeks during which I shot a lot of material around the island. I worked without additional lenses.
MMM: Why use a phone instead of a traditional camera?
Giordano: The main advantage is this: I see something interesting, I take my phone out of my pocket, I point it on the subject, done. Of course you can do it also with other cameras but the process is much slower. Furthermore, even though you loose quality (in terms of Dynamic range, f-stops and Compression), if you set the right shot and the right values (Filmic Pro is fundamental) for certain projects you can achieve stunning shots, even in the low light.
MMM: What other gear did you use?
Giordano: I used a DJI Osmo for almost all shots. I edited with FCPX and colored with Osiris by Color Grading Central.
MMM: Could you describe the advantages of using the FiLMiC Pro app as opposed to the built-in camera app?
Giordano: Filmic Pro turns your iPhone into a little movie camera. Period. It has tons of settings and tools you can play with. My favorites are the choice among different aspect ratios, the internal color correction, the zebra assistant, the focus peak, and the way you can set the focus and the exposition by rotating the wheels.
MMM: What was the next step after shooting?
Giordano: When I came back to Italy, I felt that something inside of me had changed, that I stepped into another level of my life. I “opened a door.” Even though I didn’t know what to do with the material. I just felt I didn’t want to make a classical holiday movie, so I let the clips “settle” in the hard drive. Months later, I was on YouTube and came across Obama’s speech. I immediately felt a connection with those words. He changed a situation that was apparently unchangeable and he started to build a bridge of dialogue towards the future and, of course, with me. I immediately started to organize the material. I edited the speech and made the short.
MMM: Could you describe your approach to editing?
Giordano: I try to make simple, clear and strong shots and, once in the editing room, I use them as if they were LEGO pieces to build something that makes sense. I play with those “bricks”, cutting and moving them back and forward. It’s in that moment that something magic starts to happen. It’s like seeing something coming to life. It’s magical. It’s the moment I mostly love of all the process.
MMM: Do you have any advice for someone just starting out making mobile movies?
Giordano: Just go out and make movies with your smartphone, edit them, see if they work, then go outside and shoot again.
Historically, an interpretive dance features a dancer whose movements tell a story or express an emotion—or both. That tradition lives on in an interpretative dance video with one additional element: the camera becomes a dancer partner…and so does the audience. When you watch Claudio Pelizzer’s “Carry Me Home,” you not only observe the movements of Angela Delfini, but you move with her through an astonishing variety of locations. It’s a totally different experience from sitting in a fixed theater seat and watching an interpretive dance recital. In an interview (below), the director talks about his background and the making of the movie, which was a finalist in the FiLMiC Pro One World Film Contest.
CARRY ME HOME | chapter 3 - YouTube
Interview with Claudio Pelizzer
MMM: Can you share a bit about your background?
Pelizzer: I’m an Italian director and I live in Mantova.
MMM: What’s your training in film?
Pelizzer: I graduated in theatrical and cinematographic arts. My courses included filming, editing and direction. I try to make as many experiences as possible in various productions from video to cinema. I had the opportunity to follow on set great directors who are still for me an inspiration: Marco Bellocchio on the set of “Fai bei sogni” (in competition at Festival di Cannes 2017), Sebastiano Riso on the set of “Una Famiglia” (in competition at Mostra del Cinema di Venezia 2017) and Luca Guadagnino on the set of “Call me by your name” (in competition at Academy Oscar 2018). I’ve also been influenced by filmmakers such as Ang Lee, Fellini, Wong Kar Wai, Lars von Trier, Ridley Scott, and Ingmar Bergman.
MMM: What is the core idea of “Carry Me Home”?
Pelizzer: The movie is about a woman who tries to discover the world and herself in a psychedelic and poetic journey through space and time. This is the third video in a series, hence the subtitle “Chapter 3.” Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 feature the same actress—Angela Delfini—and, like “Chapter 3” were shot using an iPhone 8 Plus.
MMM: How did you plan the shoot?
Pelizzer: I wrote a script for each scene. Then I talked with Angela. She ’s a great performer— an actress, a dancer, and a singer. There is an artistic feeling between us and we trust each other. If can I put together a budget I’d like to shoot a long movie with Angela
MMM: Did you interact with the song’s composer?
Pelizzer: Yes, I sent the video to Rubio, the singer who composed and sang the song “Hack el Fondo”. She ’s very excited about my work and we now are talking about her next music video.
Metric’s latest music video—”Dark Saturday”—should give pause to mobile moviemakers who hate vertical videos. Here, director Justin Broadbent used an iPhone X to shoot separate portrait-oriented videos for each of the four band members. He then combined the footage to capture how each character dealt with late-night loneliness. The result—which should please those who favor traditional framing—is a landscape-oriented movie consisting of four, side-by-side vertical videos.
Metric - Dark Saturday - Official Music Video [HD] - YouTube
Shot in just seven hours with a two-person crew, “Dark Saturday” demonstrates that guerrilla moviemaking isn’t just for amateurs. Metric is a world-class Canadian band currently on a major concert tour. In a fascinating Billboard interview, the director and band member Emily Haines talk about the positive aspects of video production on a shoestring budget. Topics covered include location scouting, scripting and synchronizing the four videos, and use of black-and-white imagery.
Creating split screen movies—whether combining horizontal or vertical video—is easy to do in post even with basic editing apps like iMovie. You can find many helpful tutorials such as this one by Eric Timmer and this one by BeautyBliss101
Here’s another reason to applaud YouTube: that site is a major factor in today’s short film renaissance. In our hustle-bustle era where every minute seems precious, short films can give viewers a lot of entertainment without breaking their time budgets. But the form is also crucial for filmmakers because making shorts is the most economical and efficient road to mastery. It also can lead into the world of feature filmmaking as happened famously when George Lucas turned his 15-minute student film “THX 1138” (1967), into the 95-minute feature version (1971) that launched his Hollywood career.
This brings us to Jacob Givens’ “Intermission,” a sci fi flick about space traveler who is teleported to the wrong planet. At 24 minutes, the movie runs longer than the usual movies featured at MobileMovieMaking.com. But there is so much going on in this film, we believe it’s worth your time whether you simply view it as an entertainment or treat it as a source of techniques that you can borrow.
Intermission | Short Film (2018) - YouTube
If you’re going to study the movie, some elements to consider are the locations, the props, the use of long shots, and the dialogue. Because only a single character appears in the movie, this qualifies as a one-actor film even though a supporting actor is heard on the soundtrack.
One of the oddities of “Intermission” has to do with its credits. While the crew and the supporting actors are named—and while we learn that the movie was shot on an iPhone 8 Plus using the FiLMic Pro App—there is no mention of the lead performer. That actor, who appears in every frame, happens to be Jacob Givens. who does credit himself for writing and directing.
In addition to his filmmaking mastery, Givens uses the YouTube commenting section to engage viewers and to provide additional information. For example, in response to viewer queries, we learn that the production used the Zhiyun Smooth Q gimbal for stabilization and that the filmmaking took place in the Anza Borrego Desert in Southern California.
Simon Horrocks is a master of making movies without spending much money. His current project is “Silent Eye,” a low-budget web series distributed on Amazon. You can get a feel for his methods in the following behind-the-scenes video titled, appropriately enough, “Making a SciFi Movie with No Money.” In the interview below, he provides a number of valuable tips for the economy-minded filmmaker. But perhaps the most important secret that he shares has nothing to do with casting, location scouting, and gear. For Simon Horrocks, the key was overcoming fear.
Making A SciFi Movie With No Money - YouTube
MMM: Could you give tell us what led you into filmmaking?
Horrocks: I wanted to be a film director when I was about 7 years old. I have some school diaries from the time. There’s a drawing of an standard 8mm camera on a tripod my dad bought me. I would also write the synopsis of films I’d seen at the cinema, for example, “The Snowball Express.” Over a few weeks I wrote out the plot-line of this film, as I remembered it. This was in the 1970s, so no chance I could stream it or check the DVD to refresh my memory. Later, at art college, I bought myself a Super 8mm camera and shot a couple of shorts with Jonathan Glazer. After I failed to get into film school, I considered entering the film business at the ground floor and working my way up. But out of total fear and lack of self-esteem, I never even tried. Instead,I became a music engineer/programmer for 20 years and wrote screenplays in my spare time. I had a few scripts optioned. But nothing got off the ground. In my early 40s, I was diagnosed with depression. This led to me “re-inventing” myself. I stood back and looked at why I was doing so many self-defeating things. I realised fear was preventing me from making films.
MMM: Where did that realization lead you?
Horrocks: I decided it was past the time of waiting for someone to give me money to make a film. So I wrote a feature script called “Third Contact,” bought a camcorder, invited some people to help out and started filming. I’ve written a book about this whole rather epic journey I found myself on. I never got round to publishing it, but I’ve edited it down to a long blog post. Through self-distributing this film, I met Andrea Holle in Switzerland. She told me about her idea for a festival for films shot on smartphones and so we set up Mobile Motion Film Festival.
MMM: How did you develop your filmmaking skills?
Horrocks: Learning things the academic way has never worked for me. I can’t spend days writing essays about film to learn how to make a film. Also, I have a bit of rebellious streak. If someone starts telling me, “You have to do it this way,” my mind immediately asks “Why?” and starts thinking about alternative methods. When I came to shoot “Third Contact,” I hadn’t operated a movie camera since my 8mm days. I had no idea what angles I needed that would cut together to make a scene. So I shot tons of footage, hoping I would have so much covered that I could make something of it. The shoot went on for over a year. By editing as I went along, I learned to be much more efficient. I learned how to shoot a film. “Third Contact” was my film school. Back in 2012, there wasn’t much in the way of tutorials. But more recently, especially for CGI work, I have spent many hours watching YouTube tutorials, which are an incredible resource. Filmmaking is like any other art—you learn your craft by doing it, not by studying it. You don’t learn to swim by reading a book about swimming. You just have to get in and splash about until you get some skills. The more you learn by doing, the more your own voice will come out.
MMM: How did you come up with idea of the “Silent Eye” series?
Horrocks: I have no desire to make CGI driven scifi, where it’s all about the spectacle. I’m interested in what technology says about us. I’ve written many feature screenplays.Problem is, getting a feature made takes years even if you make it yourself. So I now had a ton of scifi scripts, sitting on the shelf. As I’d been helping run the Mobile Motion Film Festival, I decided I should make a smartphone film. I wrote a script about the music business to be shot on phones and tried to raise £30k on Kickstarter. We didn’t manage to reach that total, so I decided – damn it, I’m just going to make a short! Then it all clicked in my mind—I’ve got all these cool ideas for different stories, doing nothing. Why not make an anthology series?
MMM: Can you talk about earning money via online distribution?
Horrocks: On the plus side, both Amazon and YouTube have huge numbers of viewers. On the down side, they are swamped by content, because they are relatively easy to get your work onto. And they know they don’t have to pay you much. Since Amazon reduced their rates for low viewing figure films, I find I make more money from YouTube. As a filmmaker, you have to change your way of thinking. Digital distribution, combined with a heavy social media presence, works best with relentless, regular content. This is why it’s hard to get something off the ground with a feature film, which takes 2-3 or more years to make.
MMM: How did you come up with the idea for “You Have Been Chosen”?
Horrocks: Back in 2014, after I had finished my epic “Third Contact” journey, I started to write a new feature script called “The Mentor.” It was a “found footage” idea—a documentary about a social experiment gone wrong. The experiment was about a woman who agreed to allow a male mentor to make all her life decisions for her, to see if she would be more successful. After 2 drafts, I wasn’t happy 100% with it and it went onto the shelf. So when I came to idea for the “Silent Eye” series, I thought about how I could make this mentor idea into a short. I switched the mentor character for an app called Decider. Then cut the story to 10 pages. The story is completely different from “The Mentor” apart from the central idea.
MMM: Why did you decide to shoot with a smartphone rather than a traditional camera?
Horrocks: Whatever you shoot on, there are compromises and limitations. What suits you? What suits your story? When they have these comparison videos on YouTube between an iPhone X and a Arri Alexa, they only compare the image quality, which of course the phone is always going to lose. What we don’t see is someone trying to spontaneously run onto a train, filming without permission, holding a heavy Arri set-up, with legs, lights, lenses and a 6-person sound and camera crew. In that situation, the smartphone wins by a mile. You have to ask yourself: “Is my dependence on this big camera stopping me making my film?” or “Is it stopping me making my film the way I want to make it?” I could write a book on my experiences trying to make low budget films, shooting on 16mm or professional cameras. When we shot “Kosmos,” we had a camera crew, with a big truck full of equipment. Although it feels like you’re making a “proper” movie, for me it also feels like I’m wearing a straight-jacket. Before I made “Third Contact,” I remember watching David Lynch talk about making “Inland Empire.” He explained how liberating it was using a small digital camera. How he enjoyed shooting without having to explain everything to a DoP[director of photography]. And watching it I thought, this is very creative. It’s pure Lynch. I’d rather watch someone as creative as him making a film with a SD camera, than someone less imaginative with all the kit and 50 crew.
MMM: Any reason you chose to shoot with the Samsung S8?
Horrocks: It was the phone I had in my pocket and it has a great camera. As you may guess, I’m not a tech geek. I have almost no interest in equipment specs. I’m only interested in what a tool has to offer me as an artist. I don’t think you should be held back by anything, including whether you’ve got an iPhone, a Samsung, a OnePlus or any other brand. If something incredible, moving, gripping or thought-provoking is happening on screen, nobody cares what camera you used.
MMM: Could you talk about your gear?
Horrocks: I use a Sennheiser 416 microphone. It was the most expensive thing I bought for making “Third Contact.” But I was a sound engineer and sound recordist for many years, so I understood the benefit of good audio quality. Recording audio works differently to visual images. With the image, you can be expressive. You can experiment to achieve different things. With audio, it’s much less about how you record it, but how you design the sound in post; that’s where the expression comes in. Therefore, you want the cleanest sound possible on location. The only Rode equipment I used was a boom pole and mic mount. I used an H4n Zoom, which I also bought for making “Third Contact” 10 years ago! Also from “Third Contact” was a small redhead lamp. A friend found it in the back of a cupboard at the BBC. They were throwing it out, so I took it and bought some legs for it (£25). We had some reflectors and some battery powered LEDs that you can clip on to things like tables and the backs of chairs.
MMM: Anything purchased specifically for smartphone filmmaking?
Horrocks: The Zhiyun Smooth-Q gimbal and the Moondog Labs Anamorphic lens adaptor with a 37mm clip. I used 3 x £1 coins stuck on with Blu Tack as a counterweight for the extra weight of the lens.
MMM: Could you talk about casting?
Horrocks: When I had the idea for the series, the first person I spoke to was Zoe. We’d been talking about working together for a few years, after she appeared in “Kosmos.” She liked the idea and was happy to help produce. So I wrote “You Have Been Chosen” with her in mind also knowing she had access to an office where she works! Zoe helped find the rest of the cast, too. She suggested Amy, Sedef and Richard, from working with them before. Richard, who plays Lee, was an actor I met while working at the IMAX cinema, years before. Mark—who plays the cleaner—stepped in when the person we cast couldn’t make it. He had just come along to help out and didn’t realise he was going to get cast! Mark also recorded sound. As did Scott who plays the cafe barista.
MMM: So the actor can bring more than acting skills.
Horrocks: When you’re making a low-to-no budget film, it really helps if everyone gets involved in the production, including the actors.
MMM: Could you talk briefly about your method of directing the actors?
Horrocks: This might sound obvious but it’s really important to think carefully about what an actor brings to a role in a film. It’s about how a personality works in the story. Then its about working with the actor to bring out what they have, rather than forcing them to do something which is against what they are. Bad casting really can mess up a great story. If you do it well, you are already halfway to a good performance before you started filming. I never rehearse before filming, but my first step is to ask the lead actor how they want to go about creating the character. For this film, I met with Zoe and we talked through the character and the scenes. Zoe went through the script, alone, writing down how she thought her character would feel at each turn in the story. I made suggestions if I thought something might work better differently. Every actor works differently and needs different kinds of assistance. For example, in the cafe scene, I felt Zoe wasn’t quite getting the raw frustration we needed in the dialogue. So, after a few takes, I suggested she do it again but this time add loads of swearing. Really, just to provoke something.
MMM: And this works for people without formal training?
Horrocks: Paul, who plays Paul, Fiona’s boss, had never acted before. He was someone I knew from previous crowdfunding campaigns. He was very much up for playing the bullying boss, so we met in London and discussed the character and acting in general. I asked Paul to film himself playing his character, using his phone. From those videos, I gave him some direction. Pretty much, every human is an actor. We spend our whole day pretending, instinctively. Society requires that we don’t let out our innermost thoughts when we’re at the office or meeting friends. We’re trying to be liked, we’re trying to be funny, we’re trying to be accepted – so we’re all acting. But in a film, you need to do it to command. If I’m working with someone who has never done this before, I’ll try to help them access the acting skills they are, unknowingly, using every day.
MMM: Can you tell us about the locations?
Horrocks: The office looks really cool —especially the top floor with the glass roof. We were allowed to film there, out of office hours. The cafe at the start is in the ground floor of Zoe’s office. Stuart’s living room is in a flat that belongs to my old school friend. He loves to be involved with my films and has been an extra every one so far. I wanted something that looked modest and suburban, so it fitted well. Fiona’s bedroom belongs to my flatmates. They’re a married couple who manage to fit most of what they own into that one room. The overwhelming clutter makes it a great background and a visual metaphor for the chaos of Fiona’s indecisive mind.
MMM: Could you talk about problems that you encountered during the production?
Horrocks: We did have a few challenges. Although the cafe was closed, it was being cleaned as we were filming, by a guy with a huge, noisy, industrial mop or something. Also the air conditioning couldn’t be turned off. The conversation between Fiona and her friend was supposed to take place in the cafe, but it was just too noisy. So we moved upstairs to a staff room, quickly moved around some tables and chairs, and added a pot plant to make it look more like a cafe. But the biggest set-back we had was when I had my phone was stolen after the first day of filming. I had just got home and was about to download the rest of the footage, but I hadn’t eaten much that day so I was dithering on the street, trying to decide where to eat—if only I had a decider app like the one in our movie. Two guys on a motorbike rode up and snatched my phone. We lost half that day’s footage plus we had to cancel the next day of filming as we had nothing to film with. Luckily, Samsung lent us a new phone and we got it finished a month later.
Australia’s SmartFone Flick Fest will showcase its finalists at the celebrated Sydney Opera House on October 1, 2018. Audiences at the SF3 will get to vote for the People’s Choice Awards, announced following the event. For ticket information, visit SF3.com.
There’s still time to enter the competition. Deadline to submit mobile-shot movies is Wednesday, August 8 (Sydney time). The standard entry fee is $20 (Aus) and $15 for students. You’ll find the rules here and the online entry form here.