With each new iteration of Apple’s iPhone, the device’s camera gets better and better, so it’s no wonder than amateur and professional filmmakers alike have begun turning to the device that many of us carry around in our pockets every day to make their movies. Some people in the cinema world consider using such lowbrow technology the equivalent of blasphemy, while others believe that this levels the playing field by allowing everyone, even those who can’t afford fancy cameras, the chance to be filmmakers. With the new iPhone 7 making its debut this week, here’s a look at five movies that have been shot using various iterations of Apple’s smartphone.
Tangerine tells the gritty and often funny story of prostitutes living in a not-so-glamorous part of Hollywood. When a transgender prostitute finds out her man has left her for a biological woman, she goes on an angry rampage, followed by her best friend. Writer and director Sean Baker used an iPhone 5S to shoot the movie in order to accommodate the film’s tiny budget. Critics marveled at how the film looks like ‘a real movie’ despite using such ‘cheap’ technology to shoot it. Baker told The Verge that he and his team used three different iPhones, the $8 app Filmic Pro, a Steadicam, and some adapter lenses that attach to the iPhone in order to get the look of the film. He said that he and his team overall had a very positive experience using the phones as cameras.
James Ransone, who plays the pimp at the center of the movie’s love triangle, said that it’s not about whether or not one uses an iPhone, but whether one understands cinematic history. “You still need to know how editing works. You still need to know how sound works. You still need to know how a camera works. You can’t just go out and shoot,” Ransone told The Verge. “Yes, you can make a beautiful-looking film on a shoestring budget. But you have to know 100 years worth of filmmaking.”
2. I Play With the Phrase Each Other
This 2014 experimental drama from writer-director Jay Alvarez was shot with an iPhone and appropriately consists entirely of cell phone calls between the different characters. The neurotic young protagonist Jake is persuaded to move to the big city by his con man friend Sean, who earns his money by ripping people off via Craigslist. When Jake arrives and Sean has disappeared, Jake slips into a weird nocturnal poverty. The movie is billed as the first feature film composed entirely of phone calls.
3. And Uneasy Lies the Mind
This film came out in spring 2014 and was billed as the first feature length narrative movie shot entirely on an iPhone. The psychological thriller follows a man with a severe head injury as his mind unravels while on a vacation with friends at a deserted mansion. The iPhone was chosen over 16mm film to save cash. “The iPhone ‘look’ that I created fit the story, mood, tone, and the character’s inner psyche way more than any other traditional camera could have,” director Ricky Fosheim told Gizmag. “I’m not advocating for everyone to go shoot their next movie on the iPhone, but if you can find a creative and plausible way to make it work, then I would encourage you to take as many risks as you can and try to push the limits in the ways in which we tell stories.” Fosheim used the Filmic Pro app as well as some lens adapters, and said that there were difficulties with using the iPhone as a camera such as low battery life and poor performance in cold weather.
The French filmmaker Maël Sevestre made this short film in 2011 using an iPhone 4S, making this one of the earliest iPhone movies using one of the oldest iterations of the iPhone that have been used for filmmaking. The movie was shot and edited in just a couple days and follows a photographer (who uses a real camera) as he goes out into nature to take pictures when something unexpected happens.
“I just wanted to do a small short, like a 48-hour film project,” Sevestre said to Zacuto. “We liked the idea of making a movie only using the phone instead of the 5D Mark II. So we did. I had heard that the iPhone 4S had a new optic (a real one), so I figured why not be the first to do a short movie using only this camera?”
5. Searching for Sugar Man
This Oscar-winning documentary only has a few scenes that were shot with an iPhone when director Malik Bendjelloul ran out of money, but still the Academy recognized the medium as legitimate when it granted the documentary about the mysterious musician filmmaking’s highest honor. The film is about the ‘70s musician Rodriguez, whose music was hugely popular in South Africa though his fans there knew almost nothing about his life and he was believed to have committed suicide. The Detroit-born musician was never successful in the U.S. and didn’t even know of his popularity in South Africa until fans from the country found and contacted him during the 1990s. According to MacWorld, the majority of the documentary about the musician’s strange career was shot with Super 8mm film until funds started to run dry. Then the iPhone scenes, including the part at the beginning of the movie where the producers discover Rodriguez, were shot using the 8mm Vintage Camera app.