Results from a 30-Day Cell Phone Cinematography Project

In trying to learn more about cinematography on a smart phone, I devised a project: Create 60 seconds of motion footage each day for 30 days. To keep the bar low, I set no restrictions on numbers of shots, their durations, or their content — just one minute for 30 days.

The Plan

The basic plan was 60 seconds of footage each day using the FiLMiC Pro app on the iPhone. Ideally, I hoped for six, 10-second shots to capture the day, but that almost never happened because April and T.S. Eliot and all that.

The Gear

While I intended the minimal approach with the smart phone and the app, I did expand the project with two pieces of gear in part due to shaky fingers that even the FiLMiC Pro’s internal stabilization couldn’t quite fix.

About three days into the project, I bought a small tripod and a smart phone mount. The tripod is a Joby GorillaPod — the one that can be shaped into a spider or wrapped around poles. The smart phone mount also came from Joby. Both proved useful for getting moving shots, grabbing long takes, and eliminating shaking.

The only challenge I found was making sure the phone was level. Since the tripod can be shaped however you want, ensuring it is level means using the grid in the app.

The Progress

Finding something to film each day proved fairly easy once I got into the habit of looking around more. The experiment provided the opportunity to try different things, such a slow motion snow falling and extended takes.

For one extended take, I let the camera run for 30 minutes. When I went to check the footage, nothing was there — in the app, in the camera roll, on the cloud. Just, poof! Gone.

This disappearing act also happened with several 10-minute videos. But losing the footage became an opportunity to try again, and in some cases I ended up with better footage than the long take would have been.

The Content

While the habit was easy enough to develop, I struggled with finding content. I regularly wished I lived in a larger city with more culture, landscapes, and nature.

Much of the content centered on weather. This area at least saw 30 seconds of spring, and then another snowstorm hit. Shots included rain, sun, clouds, and snow.

Other shots included perspectives through windows and hallways. Pets, of course, became a regular feature as well.

The Changes

I would make some changes if I tried this project again.

The biggest change would be going out of my way to find different things to film. Filming my regular patterns during the week became old quickly. Within that, trying for specific kinds of shots would be interesting.

Another change would be using something other than the built-in microphone. The sounds in many places overwhelmed the soundtrack — art workshops and their equipment, loud talkers, loud traffic, building environmental systems, even litter skittering across the pavement. This filming setup offered little way to localize the scene sound, and an external microphone might have helped.

A third change would be to do something with the footage, such as edit it into a montage for the day or the week.

A final change might sound silly, but I would have kept a log. While I generally need little encouragement to purchase office supplies, a small notebook and pen to track locations, times, content, and filming conditions would have helped.

The Benefits

This experiment taught me several interesting lessons.

Perhaps the biggest benefit was learning to think more aboout framing. Zooming on digital devices distorts images, and so it is better to move your feet to reframe than to hit that slider.

Another benefit was learning to think more about motion. As a primarily still photographer, this perhaps is the biggest lesson for me to learn. Motion can be quite obvious, such as high winds or heavy traffic, or it can be more subtle, such as a wind gauge or someone fidgeting. Either way, still shots within motion pictures can be quite boring. Better to have some motion to keep things, well, moving.

A third benefit is learning about the power of the ask. I visited the Walker Museum in Minneapolis, and of course took the phone and 360-video camera with me. One interactive exhibit — titled Allora & Calzadilla: Chalk — featured an entire room of slate and enormous pieces of chalk for people to write on the walls, floor, and ceiling. And people had written everywhere. It made for a perfect 360-degree video setup.

I asked the docent if I could give the 360-degree camera a try. Surprisingly, she agreed to let me try for a moment or two. She actually took an interest in the camera and what it could do, asking all kinds of questions about it.

The biggest lesson here? Just go out and try it. Set the bar low, and do it regularly. If something doesn’t quite work, try it again. And have a little fun while you’re at it.

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