Australian filmmaker Jason van Genderen delivered his masterclass on smartphone filmmaking at CGV Cinemas at FX Sudirman in Central Jakarta on Feb. 21-22. (Photo courtesy of Motion Picture Association)

Is Smartphone Filmmaking the Future?


MARCH 12, 2019

Jakarta. When Jason van Genderen made a short film on his now ancient Nokia N95 in 2008, he didn’t expect it to win at a festival. "Mankind is No Island," which cost him only AU$57 to make, won the top prize worth $20,000 at Tropfest New York in the same year. 

"I haven’t been able to repeat that success, to be sure. Every other films were more expensive, but yeah, the fact remains that you can make stories, you can make high-production stories now, frugally," van Genderen told reporters recently. 

The Australian filmmaker recently delivered a masterclass, held in collaboration with Motion Pictures Association, on smartphone filmmaking for Jakarta's aspiring filmmakers. The workshop took place in the CGV Cinemas at FX Sudirman in Central Jakarta on Feb. 21-22. 

According to van Genderen, using a smartphone to shoot a film is no less legit than using professional cameras. 

"You know it was funny, because when I discovered that I thought smartphone filmmaking was cool, it wasn’t very cool for everyone else, so for me, the discovery was quite accidental. It was in 2008, the smartphone I was using just happened to have a video record function on it. I tried it… and it was just a notion of trying to make an experiment come to life," he said. 

Van Genderen was already a filmmaker at the time. He had been working in advertising and had tried making commercials on all models of cameras. 

After winning Tropfest in 2008, he went on to make short films on his smartphone which got regular screenings at festivals. Some of the titles include "The Unspoken" and "Chocolate." Reflecting on the success, he said that "it was silly not to keep exploring that." 

"I got to a point where my films weren't necessarily being taken up by smartphone-only festivals. They went around. There were regular film festivals that were interested in them, so I think that was the greatest inspiration for me. I'd found a tool that made filmmaking within my means, more approachable, more actionable, and it opened up the kinds of stories that I wanted to tell," van Genderen said. 

In the workshop, van Genderen, who is now using iPhones to shoot both films and commercials, revealed the tools and software he has been using, such as Filmic Pro and LumaFusion for editing and the iBlazr flash. However, he said that filmmakers shouldn't think that having an iPhone is a must. 

"There are no barriers to which particular platform you use. The most important thing is to use what you have accessible means to, so don't let your brand of phone become a barrier to telling a story. Your phone is a completely viable tool for storytelling, whatever the brand," he said. 

There are two key advantages in smartphone filmmaking, namely cost and accessibility. Though a smartphone still needs additional lenses and editing apps to produce decent shots, the overall cost is still much lower than shooting with real cameras. As for accessibility, van Genderen said that instead of having to bring bulky cameras and taking a long time to prepare them, it takes just a few seconds to shoot using a smartphone. 

Also, smartphones can help documentary filmmakers shoot more comfortably. 

"I think smartphone filmmaking has become the most fun for me just because it's the least intrusive way of telling a story. My particular genre of filmmaking that I like to explore is documentary and as a documentary storyteller's tool, an unobtrusive camera is the best camera you can ever hope to use, a smartphone is that exactly," he said. 

One obstacle against smartphone filmmaking is the filmmakers' own pretentiousness. Many still think that smartphones can't produce footages of the same standard as professional cameras, though Steven Soderbergh has proven it otherwise with his latest work "High Flying Bird."

"I think the biggest hangup is what I call the 'impostor syndrome,' and that is when I see filmmakers not feeling like they’re being true to film 'cause if they pick up something like a smartphone and film [using it ], they feel it’s beneath them. They feel the product is not quite worthy of being called a film.

"But technology has advanced in such leaps and bounds now, and with software that's being developed, with accessories that are now available for one-tenth of the price of conventional cameras, we can now achieve the same look, the same sounds and the same effects on smartphones as we can on higher-end cameras," van Genderen said. 

Last year, van Genderen founded the Facebook-based Filmbreaker community, which is filled with useful materials for aspiring smartphone filmmakers. It has over 30,000 followers so far, which surprised van Genderen because he only aimed at 10,000 in the first year. 

Van Genderen has also been delivering talks and workshops to spread the Filmbreaker movement. When asked what advice he would give to aspiring filmmakers, he suggested, "be open-minded."

"An advice I would give them is to keep an open mind. Keep an open mind and don't shut yourself from opportunities that new technologies will bring," he said.