Frugal Filmmaking and Techno-fetishism

iphone video filmmaking

“You want to learn about filmmaking? Then just get out there and shoot something!”

Such is usually the refrain when professionals are asked how to ‘break in’ or what the best way is to learn. Much like in any other creative field, e.g. ‘Writers write. To get better at writing, write more.’

There’s a vast cottage industry of courses, tutorials, books and workshops, designed to assist, accelerate or encourage. But nothing will ever teach you more craft than actually doing it, doing it often, and failing well.

But while writing is limited in the tools and toys you can obsess over, the right kind of screenwriting software, pen or notebook, none of them significantly affect the quality of the final result.

Not so in filmmaking, where an arms race of techno-fetishism reigns. Go to any popular online forum for filmmaking on the cheap and you’ll find the same thing: A keen, often young, filmmaker asks a question about how to get the best results with their limited equipment, only to be derided for their ‘choice’ and encouraged to spend hundreds or thousands more for better equipment.

“You’re not shooting in 4K?! What even is the point?!”

“Don’t even bother, I’m a professional wedding videographer and I’d never use anything that rubbish!”

“Shoot on an iPhone?! What a joke, you can always tell!”

That last point particularly sticks in my craw. Sure, you might be able to tell, but does it matter? Filmmakers have shot on VHS, or SD digital footage or Super8 and made creative films, launching their careers, allowing the limits of the technology to act as incubators for their creativity. Now most of us walk around with a phone with HD video shooting functionality; tiny supercomputers with videographic, audio and processing powers far exceeding what filmmakers had access to, not even 20 years ago.

So, all you really need in the beginning, to learn, to create, are some friends and at least one decent smartphone. If one of your friends also has a phone? Great, use it to record sound separately. A third phone? Fantastic, now you have a second camera angle! And when you’re done, use free editing software on either phones or a computer, stitch it together, watch the result over some drinks with your friends, and learn from your manifold mistakes. Then go out and do it again, but better.

Technology might limit the perceived ‘quality’ of the result but, like with anything else, it’s the narrative, the creative choices, that will shine through. Keep it fun, keep it creative, keep it utterly yours and you’ll far outstrip yet another 4k yawnfest that someone’s moaning isn’t getting enough hits on Vimeo.

There are some cheap tools I’d recommend to improve the process, but I’ll cover those separately. For now, let this be the message: As a budding filmmaker, you have your tastes, your instincts, your influences; beyond that you need little more than the device you may even be reading this post on. Go. Go forth and create.

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