Tropfest the world’s largest short film festival has put out a helping guideline for budding videographers and wannabe filmmakers for shooting video on mobile / cell phones. You have to start somewhere and this is a helpful how to for newbies getting ready to shoot for the Australian Tropfest 2011 Telstra Mobile Masterpieces competition.
Shooting on your mobile is very different to shooting on a handycam. Mobile phones donʼt offer the same flexibility and superior quality as the latest handycam on the market. Whatʼs more, watching a film on the bus on a laptop, or in the park on a phone is a completely different experience to watching a film on a hugeflat screen or in a cinema so preparation and pre-planning becomes even more crucial.
Like with all film making, story, picture quality, picture size, sound, light and editing are all key to a successful and engaging short film. So naturally, making a short film for such devices might require more thought as well as a better understanding of the mobile phone as a tool to create an equally captivating story for smaller screens and portable devices.
Below are a few suggestions to be aware of during the preproduction of your short film on a mobile handset.
Donʼt forget to check out the winner last yearʼs Telstra Mobile Masterpieces competition Missing You by
• Story over quality – a good story will always be more engaging than a highly polished film
that is boring.
• Keep it simple – thereʼs no much time for complex narratives and shots in short film. Only
include what is fundamental to the story.
• Be creative! We donʼt want another chase sequence or gag film we want to see new ideas
and stories shot in unique and interesting ways.
• Hold the camera as steady as possible and aim for a smooth action when panning. Loss
of quality will occur during rapid and fast panning.
• Mobile phones are much lighter than handycams so much more difficult to keep stable.
Stand with feet apart and elbows planted against your body for steadier shots.
• Avoid the zoom function, as youʼll lose picture quality – better to move physically closer to
your subject. Use close-ups and avoid wide and landscape shots.
• Use larger text – smaller text is hard to read on smaller screens
• Even with the advances in mobile camera technology, the sound recording function on
most mobile cameras is limited so you should not rely on sound to tell your story. Sound
and music can be added in post-production.
• The in-built microphone will pick up surrounding sound so you need to be close to your
subject. The sound quality can also be affected by wind and rapid movement of the
camera. An external microphone attached to the camera can be used to avoid this
(most phones should have this capability) or dub audio afterwards…or a combination of
• Your short film will be viewed on mobile phones and online if you are short listed or
selected so keep this in mind when shooting and during post-production. Mobile phone
speakers are not the greatest quality for listening to large amounts of dialogue.
• Use soft light – mobile phones are unable to process major contrasts.
• Use the white-balance function if your camera has it.
Editing and Post Production
• Use editing software to edit your footage. This is a much easier way to finalise your film.
Software such as iMovie, Premiere and Final Cut Pro can offer you this. Simply connect
your phone to your computer (via USB or Bluetooth) and import your files into your
program of choice then edit away!
• Take note of ratio sizes when editing on a computer. Most mobile phones record 640 x
480 pixels. Most editing software wonʼt recognise this and will adjust/stretch your picture
• If you donʼt feel comfortable using software to edit, shoot in sequence on your phone and
export the entire file to your computer.
• Also keep in mind that we screen all films at 25 frames per second (fps) on the festival
night. Most mobile devices shoot at a higher frame rate then this. Be sure to change
the settings on your mobile device before shooting, or request a 25fps digital BETACAM
master from a duplication studio.
• Take advantage of the portability of the mobile camera and shoot from interesting angles
• and locations a regular camera would struggle with.
Lastly, keep in mind these tips are not set in stone! Be innovative! Be creative! Think outside the square!
The trusty mobile phone is a new and exciting medium for storytelling and film making so there are no hard
and fast rules. Take a chance, if you think it will work, give it a go. There is so much more to discover and
explore within the world of mobile phone storytelling and often risk taking, experiments and ʻaccidentsʼ
produce the most interesting and unique results!
Try here for more on Tropfest.