02 April 2012

How To Film a Movie Using A Smartphone or iPhone - Tips, Apps, and Attachments

Technology has made it possible to make professional looking film using a smartphone as the movie camera.

Proof of this is Olive, a movie entirely shot using a Nokia N8. This may be the first movie ever to be shown on the big screen. The Nokia N8 boasts a 12-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss glass that could record 720p video.

But aside from the N8, other smartphones such as the iPhone can similarly accomplish the same feat. Devices, attachments, and applications that can help in making the movie are important to achieve a polished look. In this aspect, the iPhone is advantageous because of the sheer glut of devices and apps available for it.

To make the film have a polished and professional look, accessories and smartphone apps are needed. These attachments and apps give the movie a close to Hollywood look by giving more professional looking shots, wider scenes, and special effects. Of course, a story or plot, script and actors are very important. It is also advisable to storyboard the movie (drawing or illustrating each scene as it would be filmed).

Attachments, Accessories, and Devices

When it comes to accessorizing the smartphone for movie making, the following should be considered. These assist in making the actual shots better looking and give the desired effects such as a wider shot, steady movement, and better sound.

1. The Lens
2. The Tripod
3. A Tracker
4. Steadicam
5. Microphone

Video: Olive - The Movie Trailer


Having additional lenses attached to the iPhone or any other smartphone allows a more varied choices of shots to do. Camera phones have lenses that have fixed optics. These are not very sharp and not particularly good at letting light reach the sensor. Normal phone cameras also cannot really zoom in on a shot.

A super wide angle lens allows to capture more of the scenery than a normal lens. A fish eye lens is used for scenes that require that special look. For a polished and clear scene especially during close up shots, a telephoto lens is recommended.

This doesn't mean using the normal lens, it's just that having additional lens options makes the movie more interesting to watch.

Tripod, Sliders, and Steady cam

A tripod is best when shooting a long non-moving scene. This eliminates the shakes and jitters one gets when just holding the phone. Smartphones record a scene by scanning each frame from one side to the other in a sweeping motion. It doesn't snap the whole frame at once. If something in the frame is moving quickly or if the whole frame is moving as the result of a shaky camera, the image expands and compresses unevenly. Using a tripod will remedy this.

Any tripod will do but an attachment is required to interface the phone to the tripod. Aside from a tripod attachment, there are also phone tripods available (just check if it's the desired height).

A slider helps in filming scenes that are "tracked". These are scenes where the camera moves in a straight line from left to right or up or down. Using a slider makes the shot balanced and straight.

Steady cam is a device that is used even in regular movie making. This allows the camera to follow a character or move around the room without any shaking or jittering. The shot is steady the whole time. Using a steady cam requires calibrating it before the shot to get the right balance. Steadicam Smoothie is an attachment for the smartphone that does this purpose.


The smartphone already has a built in microphone, but to capture the sound clearly, an external mic is needed. There are expensive options but an ordinary mic attachment can do, it just needs to be very close to the sound source without being seen in the shot.

Battery charger

A smartphone is not a computer. And using it as a movie camera will drain its battery really fast. Having a battery case/charger combination can alleviate the hassle of constantly charging the phone after every shot.

Video: Behind The Scenes in the making of Olive

Smartphone Apps

Aside from the hardware needed to make the movie, smartphone applications also help in the movie making process by adding special effects and controlling the camera to get the desired look and feel. The following are applications that proves useful in filming the movie. Most of these movie making apps are available free or have free versions for download. Although these are initially for the iPhone, the developers may also have a version for other smartphones.

Autofocus and Filmic Pro help in locking the camera settings. Most smartphones stubbornly changes the focus on a shot regardless if that was the desired effect. These apps help in preparing the camera for the desired shot and locks the settings.

Voice changer. Some movies need a computer voice or voice effect, most phones have a built in voice effect changer.

A very useful and recommended app is Action Movie by Bad Robot. It is a free app that inserts special effects in the movie such as explosions and flying objects.

For a more cinematic feel or special look such as a fuzzy look, infrared look, or something special, Cinema FX and Movie Looks is the app to look for. These apps help in presenting the scene in the desired way.


To edit a movie, it is recommended to use a regular computer. Programs such as Movie Maker in Windows or iMovie for the Mac can be used. For online options, Youtube allows the user to edit both sound and video. A computer can also be used to add additional effects or fix the movie as it will be faster using a computer than a smartphone.

Other Notes

Before embarking on making a movie using an iPhone or any other smartphone, one must take note of a couple of things.

Memory. The smartphone has a limited amount of memory and using it for this purpose will eat up its resources really fast. A regular 16 gigabyte iPhone can hold about 40 minutes of high quality video. Other smartphones have options to increase memory capacity, it may be worth considering doing this.

Also, because of its limited resources, processing video on the phone does take a long time. Allocate around 20 minutes of processing time for every 1 minute of video on an iPhone. This may be also apply to other smartphones.

When able, always try and use the laptop or computer for post processing duties. It allows for faster processing time and quicker set ups between shots. Also remember that unlike Olive where professional attachments and applications were used, the movie may have size limitations when it comes to viewing it.

Some of the smartphone devices mentioned can be found below on the RELATED LINKS. Please note that there are also other alternatives available aside from those mentioned.


When filming, these tips will help in delivering a real satisfying film experience:
  1. To limit overexposure, try shooting on an overcast or cloudy day. This will avoid blurring out the colors such as a blue sky. Try not to film while facing a light source. Try using a diffuser (such as a lampshade) or have the light source coming in from the side of the camera.
  2. When filming, move the camera slowly. Avoid fast or sudden movements, this prevents blurring or decrease in quality.
  3. Always try and film with a stabilized camera.
  4. Make sure the room or area is evenly lighted to avoid a grainy image. Using an app like Autofocus or Filmic Pro can help adjust the filtering.
  5. When filming inside, make sure that all the light sources are of the same color. If not, the subject may come out tinted.
  6. Anticipate the actor's actions and give them space to move; likewise, if someone is facing to the left or right, move him to the opposite side of the frame. If you the subject's entire body cannot be fit in a shot, crop at a natural cutoff line, such as the elbows, knees or hips.
  7. Not considering memory space on an iPhone or smartphone, it's always better off overshooting and cutting later.
  8. As mentioned, storyboard the scene to be shot. This means drawing each scene (similar to a comic book) to better visualize and communicate to the actors how the scene is to be filmed. A simple stick figure drawing will do.


Telescopic 8X Lens & Tripod Kit
Loftek Loftek Fish Eye Lens Wide Angle Lens Macro Lens 3-in-1 Kit
Kraken Ams Attachment: Handle & Tripod Mount
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Filmic Pro
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