No Camera? No Problem

Written by Josias Jensen.

We are in a unique time in history. It has never been easier or cheaper to get your hands on a device with the ability to capture the world around you and its many stories.

Phones with decent cameras are in abundance.

If you have always dreamed of being a filmmaker, lack of finances is no longer an excuse to not produce content. The device you carry around with you every day could help you get started with your career in filmmaking.

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“Sometimes great art is produced with the humblest means”

Last year, filmmaker Sean S. Baker decided to shoot the feature Tangerine on iPhone 5’s to cut costs. Despite the meagre budget and humble equipment, his film made it to Sundance Film Festival and received much critical praise.

The camera on your phone is not as good as a professional grade camera used on bigger sets however, filmmakers like Sean S. Baker have proved to us that if used well, the cameras on phones can be good enough to produce really interesting content!

This is a brief guide to help you to best utilize your camera phone to produce good content.

Understand the limitations of your device and use it to your advantage

Understanding the limitations of your device will help you know how to best utilize it.

The camera on a phone is much smaller than on a professional grade camera. What I mean is, the lenses on camera phones are wide and the sensor is less significant in size. It isn’t possible to achieve the same “shallow depth of field” look we often see in movies. Most phones have really deep focus.

This is something you can use to your advantage.

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Deep focus is when the camera is able to capture everything from the foreground all the way to the background, in focus. You can use deep focus and staging in depth to tell the story of your project visually. One filmmaker who uses this technique frequently is director Wes Anderson.

If you pay attention to the staging in his films, you will notice that he often has many different activities happening in both the foreground, middle ground and background at the same time. All of these activities, their interplay, and the staging itself can be used as storytelling devices.

Spend more time lighting your set

Spending a lot of time and effort on lighting is a good thing regardless of the camera you use. But with camera phones you must be even more aware of how you choose to light your set as they often have poor low light performance and lower dynamic range.

Cameras phones usually do fine if there is enough light, like on most daytime shoots. If you are filming at night or in the evening, you might have to use strong light sources or move the lights closer to the action. If you do not have the budget for lights, arrange the action around a strong light source that is already present. You can then use a bounce board and diffusion to fill in and shape the light.

To avoid problems with the lower dynamic range, that these cameras have, even out the lighting throughout the shot. This means lighting it in a way where there is less of a difference between the the brightest and darkest spots in the frame.

Buy an app that gives you more freedom

The standard camera apps do a decent job if you want to snap photos and capture video on the go with little hassle. However, if you want more creative freedom you should invest in an inexpensive, but highly useful app like Camera FV-5 or FilMic Pro.

With apps like these, you will be able to change the frame rate, shutter speed, white balance and

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other significant settings. If your phone has the ability to capture video at a really high frame rate that is yet another creative tool at your disposal. Use well placed slow motion footage to drive your story forward (again Wes Anderson is great at using this tool as well!).

Treat it like a proper camera

If you hold your camera phone like a phone, the footage will look much less professional. If you treat it like a proper camera, use a tripod, shoulder rig, small steady stick, dolly etc. your footage will look much more professional.

If you plan your camera movement well, chances are people will forget that your film was shot with a phone. Some movements may even be easier to do with a camera phone than a conventional camera simply because of its convenient size.

Doing a long, single take, steady stick/cam shot with a conventional camera can be an incredible challenge for a camera operator. With a simple (and much cheaper) steady stick/cam for your phone you can achieve similar movements fairly easily because of the light weight of the camera phone and the small rig. This is your opportunity to create some beautiful and memorable single takes!

My hope is that you will not hold yourself back from producing interesting content because you can’t get your hands on an expensive camera. Experiment with your camera phone and discover its strengths and weaknesses and use those to your advantage.

Sometimes great art is produced with the humblest means, and creativity often thrives within limitation. Now go make movies!

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Wigging Out

written by Charis Joy Jackson

 

Film is hard work. Filled with long days, working under immense pressure & seeing impossible situations become possible.

 

Working with The Initiative Production Company, I get to be a part of this craziness on a daily basis. We’ve been producing short films and features since 2008. It started off with only four of us, crazy enough to dream of a grassroots company where we could create great, independent film.

 

Our first endevour into feature filmmaking was The Umbrella. The story follows Jared Evans who when faced with uncomfortable situations hides beneath an imaginary umbrella.

 

 

The Umbrella had it’s US release in August on Flix Premiere, and it’s UK premiere this past week 6TH OF OCTOBER, I wanted to tell a little known story from working on this film…

 

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It was a Thursday night and the next morning was our biggest re-shoots yet. There was only one problem; our actress for the shoot had cut her hair! During principal photography she had flowing, shoulder length, golden hair. Now, she looked like Tinker Bell; cute as ever, but a big problem for continuity.

 

And I was in charge of hair and makeup. Oh dear.

 

Solution? Go to the nearest mall & search for hair extensions, or one of those clips with a fake bun. Not the greatest idea, but hey, it could work… right?

 

It was already 5:30PM, which in Australia meant, the stores were already closing for the day. The director was talking seriously about cancelling Friday’s shoot. Not willing to give up yet, I wrangled fellow crew member Jonathan Proby (or as we call him, Proby), and we ran to the nearest mall.

 

All the while, I was praying the stores wouldn’t be closed yet.

 

Because there’s no excuses in filmmaking.

 

It HAD to work. I didn’t want to let the director down.

 

At the first store we talked to one of the ladies working there. I explained the situation and she cringed. She showed us a few extention options, but all were in the triple digits and we had little to no budget for this.

 

Ultimately, she told us nothing would work, because our actresses’ hair was way too short to support any extensions. I suppressed the knot growing in my throat, thanked her kindly, & left.

 

Hearing that there was no solution really dampened my spirits, and I was ready to give up. Everything was closing anyway, but one look from Proby, who was still rearing to go and I pulled up my bootstraps and pressed on.

 

We entered another store & found something similar but it still didn’t work; the color was wrong, and it was still too expensive.

 

At this point, I wondered if what we needed, especially at the price we needed it at even existed. I kept repeating this phrase like a mantra, “There are no excuses in filmmaking.”

 

We headed to the dollar store, hoping against hope we’d find something there. But our hopes were again dashed and my hair was becoming frazzled from worry. Think Hermoine Granger.

I was desperate now; more stores were closing for the night & we were running out of options.

 

In a last ditch effort, we decided to try the salons. Time was short, so we split up. I headed to the nearest salon and Proby headed to one down the way.

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When I arrived at the salon, no one was at the counter & I had to tell myself to remain calm. Life as I knew it was not over yet. A kind lady approached the counter & asked if she could help me. I smiled,

 

“I have a really bizarre question for you.”

 

“Oh good, I love those,” she said.

 

I sighed and then launched into my story. All the while wondering how I was going to get what I needed, especially at a price I could work with.

 

The lady smiled as I continued to babble incoherently, then excused herself & said she may have a solution. Leaving the counter, she headed to the back of the salon. By this time, Proby had come back from the other salon with no luck.

 

I silently pleaded with God for some kind of miracle; we were out of time.

 

The lady came back to the counter with a box overflowing with wigs of red, black, gold & brown. They were doll wigs. “I have no use for these.” she said, “Maybe they could help.”

 

I took one & looked at it, while she got out a plastic bag & began piling as many as she could inside. She kept telling me how happy she was someone could get some use out of them. She dug in the box for all the blonde wigs & once satisfied she’d given me all of them, threw a few more red, black & brown wigs into the bag.

 

I started freaking out again. How much was she going to charge me?

 

Then she handed me the overflowing bag – free of charge!

 

WHAT?!

 

I was speechless. She was going to give it to me for free? A total stranger? I was speechless.

 

I thanked the lady profusely before making a mad dash back to the office where I gathered my unsuspecting co-worker, Zakk, to be my model as I fiddled with the wigs.

 

Honestly, I had no idea how we were going to make it work, the wigs were still too small for a human head. But there are no excuses in filmmaking, so I kept pressing forward. Afterall, we were given the wigs for free, it had to end well, right?

 

We were all on the edge of our seat, wondering, hoping, holding our breath to see if it was going to work.

 

It took a bit of creativity, but in the end I found a solution and it felt like a Christmas miracle (even though it wasn’t actually Christmas)!

 

This was just one crazy day in the life of making The Umbrella. One I am especially fond of, and one that’s taught me to keep pushing for the best, and loving this crazy adventure called film.

 

For those of you living in the US or the UK, I want to leave you with this challenge; go watch The Umbrella on Flix Premiere and see if you can figure out which scene our actress who plays the character, Aunt Helen is wearing a wig and which is her natural hair.

 

Enjoy!

 

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Acting as a Form of Intercession

written by Josias Jensen

 

Two years ago, I was on set taking a brief break from a scene. I was staring into the beautiful blend of colors from the sunset and a thunderstorm looming in the distance. The weather somehow managed to reflect what was going on in my mind. It was both filled with the deepest peace and yet also deep anger.

 

The peace was my own, the anger wasn’t.

 

The character I was playing was an abusive man in an unhealthy relationship. Throughout the short film the character acts in great anger and frustration, resorting to violence towards his girlfriend.

 

“Every character you play and every story you get to tell can be to the praise of our maker, it can also be a sincere prayer of reconciliation.”

 

Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a method actor, playing this character touched me deeply.

 

As part of my research for the part, I read about the common characteristics of people who resort to physical abuse. I came to believe that at the heart of most abusive relationships is a person who is desperately afraid of not being in control of his or her own destiny. They manifest their desire to be in control via. physical abuse.

 

These people are broken and in desperate need of healing.

 

Playing an abusive man made me understand abusive people better, and my heart started aching for them more than it had in the past. Physical abuse is inexcusable, but these people are in need of help just as much as their victims.

A photo by Rosalind Chang. unsplash.com/photos/qtIsUwoP94s

Through this process, God was giving me more of a heart for people who resort to physical abuse. I started praying for these people and I realized that in a sense, by portraying this character I got to pray for men and women who struggle with abuse.

 

It occurred to me that the acting process can be a form of intercession, prayer and standing in the gap.

 

Through the process I got to not only bring awareness to the issue, I also got to impact God’s kingdom in the spiritual realm.

 

Every character you play and every story you get to tell can be to the praise of our maker, it can also be a sincere prayer of reconciliation.

 

In your research you get to learn about the world around you that he so loves and wants to reconcile. In your acting you get to step into the shoes of the people God loves and feel the pain and joy they go through.

 

God’s plan has always been to reconcile all of creation to himself, and we get to do it through film making and acting. I challenge you to let your expression as an artist to be a sincere prayer.