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Unsane and the iPhone Revolution

September 4, 2018

Steven Soderbergh (Director of Traffic, Ocean’s 11,12,13, and Magic Mike) won an Oscar for Traffic in the year 2000. Recently the Academy Award rated Best Director decided to make a new movie. It’s called Unsane. Genre wise this is a bit of a thriller and stars Claire Foy who won a Golden Globe for Best Actress with her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the 2016 Nextflix show; The Crown. Back to Unsane; where Claire plays the main protagonist (Sawyer Valentini) who gets committed to a mental institute. This is full-blown spoiler territory now so I’ll stop here, but to be fair, the title is a dead giveaway and did I mention this movie was filmed on an iPhone?

Why would an A-List Hollywood Director, film a movie on an iPhone? Well because Steven Soderbergh (SD) is not your typical A-Lister. In an interview with Hey U Guys Steven Soderberg said it was a creative choice, as he saw the iPhone 7Plus as being a small capture device which gave him a flexibility he couldn’t get from a bigger device.

It seems the iPhone was instrumental in pulling off certain shots in this movie. So instrumental, that Soderberg also said he’d use the device again in the future! Well if It’s good enough for him, it must be good enough for us, right?

iPhone vs Arri

So now that we’ve realised we have a Hollywood capable film camera in our possession right now, it kind of begs the question: What do we actually need from a movie-making machine and what’s the difference between the iPhone and a proper film camera? There are actually many things to consider when choosing your capture device for video production: resolution, frame rates, audio bit-rate, sensor, lenses, how the camera reacts to light.

At the time of writing, a popular film camera used in Holywood is the Arri Alexa. This camera could be considered an Indusrty Standard and has been used to film movies like The Avengers, Drive and a million other huge titles. Let’s take a brief look at how that compares to the iPhone used to film Unsane.

iPhone 7Plus Vs Arri Alexa
Resolution: 4K (30 fps)  Vs 2K (60 fps)
Frame Rates: Up to 60 fps Vs Up to 120 fps
Audio: 44.1KHz Vs 48 KHz

Potato Jet did a video review which shows that although the iPhone can produce good pictures, it really doesn’t compare to the might of the Alexa. You’ll lose something in terms of quality, but then you’ll gain in terms of mobility and It’ll be great for your budget.

iQuality

With filmmaking being an art, it’s always difficult to debate whether the increasing pixel count of the new technically superior digital cameras are actually producing better images than those of analogue film cameras. Does sharper and more crystal clear actually mean the story will look better? We’ve gone from grainy black and white pictures, to full-colour Standard Definition, all the way up to 4K and beyond. But someone out there will tell you they prefer the way a vintage Alfred Hitchcock movie filmed on a Mitchell BNC looks, compared to the sharp and polished 4K look you get from a modern Red One.

iMovies

Rage (2009) may have been the first major theatrical release shot on smartphones and there’s been a number of notable smartphone movies since. #STARVECROW is the world’s first selfie movie and Tangerine was filmed completely on the iPhone 5s. This iMovement has picked up pace since it’s inception in 2010 and now the iPhone Film Festival judges received over 2000 submissions in 2017. IndieWire has some interesting movies in their iMovement list if you want to find out more about this sub-culture.

iGear

Dougal Shaw (Senior Video Journalist at the BBC) decided to delve into iPhone videography himself and his kit list included the following: iPhone 6S Plus, Filmic Pro App, some sort of rig to stabilize the phone, a collection of lenses, a tripod, a microphone and a computer with video editing software. All of this is so much cheaper than getting a pro Arri Alexa setup!

iMoney

The fact that Steven Soderbergh did shoot a movie on an iPhone, is proof that you don’t need a huge budget to film a movie. Having said that, there’s a lot more involved in shooting a movie then just having a camera and pressing record. Also, the budget for Unsane was pretty low for a Hollywood movie, at $1.5m. But that’s astronomical in terms of a low budget indie production. Unsane only made $10.7m in the Box office, which is Soderberg’s lowest grossing movie by far. I wonder if a better camera would have equated to better box office sales?

iDirector

If iPhone’s are so great, do you need to bother buying a camcorder or DSLR? This is where personal preference comes in. Me personally I know how things can go wrong with technological devices and I prefer to have separate bits to do specific jobs. The thing is sometimes we’re short on space (so we buy a printer and scanner 2 in 1). Sometimes we’re short on budget (so I bought an all-rounder DSLR instead of a camera excellent at taking stills and a separate video camera). Using your iPhone all day to film movies will drain your battery and constant charging will shorten the lifespan. Steven Soderbergh has years of experience, a team of professionals and a million dollar budget. His iPhone movie would be awesome but I doubt you could get the same results. If you’re asking me could I film a movie on an iPhone? The answer is yes. Would I? No. But Steven Soderberg did.

Check out the trailer for Unsane. The full movie is available to purchase on Youtube now.

Kal Sereousz
Creative from London, United Kingdom. Freelance writer for Big Picture Film Club. Editor of TechHopUK Magazine.

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