Six Things to Look for
in a Movie-making Mobile Phone

By Kerric Harvey


Mini-movies made on a mobile phone are all the rage right now, with at least one full-length feature in theatrical as well as online release (Sugarman, 2006) and a fistful of Very Small Screen (VSS) film festivals popping up on both sides of the Atlantic – including our very own Nokia Shorts showcase as part of the annual Raindance Film festival right here in Britain.

Knowing what technical features are must-haves in the camera-phone itself will give you a head start in this pocket-sized younger cousin of the “indie” film genre. Here’s a list of deal-breakers to help you pick the right phone for the job if you’re serious about joining the swelling ranks of VSS filmmakers....or if you just want to have a whole lot of fun with your phone.

1. Resolution

Most online distribution platforms need a resolution of at least 640 x 480 pixels if your footage is going to read well once it’s been through the various compression events to which digital material is routinely subjected. Think of “pixels” like the dots you see in a newsprint photograph. The more pixels, the smoother and more professional-looking the overall picture. In side-of-the-box lingo, this translates to camera-phones that offer 2-Megapixel or higher resolution rates.

YouTube will accept video at 320 x 240 pixels, but you run the risk of your stuff looking fuzzy or having those weird little squares show up as an unpleasant surprise as part of your shot.  But to record at the highest level of resolution your camera-phone can offer, even if it eats up space in your phone memory faster than the lower levels might.

If you’re really serious about picture quality, go for a camera-phone that’ll give you 720 x 480 pixels, which delivers near HDTV quality. True HDTV resolution, ‘though, checks in at a whopping 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080, which brings us to the next point.

Making Movies With Mobile Phones2. Recording rate

Digital recording media don’t really work the same way as their analogue ancestors, so to talk about “feet per second” for a camera-phone is a bit like describing a warm-blooded dinosaur. We still do it, ‘though, so make sure that your camera phone can record at a rate of at least 28 feet per second (fps). Thirty fps is even better. Anything less than 24 fps is going to yield choppy, old-time movie style footage. Some sets, like the LG DARE VX9700, offer variable FPS rates, including 120 fps, which is great for slow motion shooting. The audio doesn’t record at the same speed for that model, ‘though, so be careful.

3. Audio

Speaking of audio, make sure that the microphone on your mobile is on the same side as the lens. This is a big one. many if not most camera-phones use the phone mike – the place your mouth goes as you talk on the phone – as their camera-phone mic, which is the kiss of death for mobile phone filmmaking since it means you’ll pick up you giving directorial advice much better than anything your actors might say.

You’d think that this fatal double-purposing would be especially true of the cheaper model phones, but that’s not necessarily the case, so before you plunk down your cold hard cash, make sure that the in-camera (or in-phone) mic faces the action, not the person holding the phone.

4. Manual functions

You’ll also want to make sure that your camera-phone has manual over-ride for basic shooting functions like brightness, contrast, and focus. Most phones set these for you automatically, and they don’t always do the best job of it. White balance is usually out of your control – that’s almost always an automatic pushbutton experience, so you’ll have to compensate for that by paying special attention to lighting mix and placement in your shooting environment (more on that later).

5. Memory

Video takes up a lot of room in your phone’s digital storage bin. This is especially true if you’re shooting long scenes at 30 fps with high resolution – like you’ll probably want to do.

So make sure that your camera-phone comes equipped with some kind of expandable memory so there’s room for everything you shoot and your regular phone traffic besides.

Expandable memory comes in two main forms. The first is a simple expandable memory card, such as a 2-Gigabyte micro SD card that you just pop into the phone as added storage.

The second is a mobile phone memory “stick” which works just like a USB memory stick (thumbnail” or “flashdrive” are two other names for this)  does on your computer. You just insert it on the side of your phone and it provides a boatload of external memory just like it does on your computer.

6. Battery

Shooting video also drains your phone battery much faster than regular use, so you’ll need an especially tenacious battery to provide juice for all those “just one more take” moments, even if you delete unwanted shots as you go along.  Battery duration, and the ability to recharge quickly, are definite checklist items as you decide what phone is best suited for your own VSS (Very Small Screen) filmmaking adventures.

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About The Author


Kerric HarveyKerric Harvey doesn’t really sleep very much. As a full-time university professor, a working playwright and screenwriter, an exuberant free-lancer in the online universe, and a consultant in new technologies and media anthropology, she’s resigned to a life of adrenal overload. Fortunately, she loves it.
 
A Canadian Permanent Resident, American citizen, and cheerful addict of international travel, Kerric can usually be found at 37,000 feet writing adventure movies and plays about magic, or plotting her next research project on the best way to make film and television for very small screen (VSS) media or the cultural implications of vampires, wizards, and pirates.
 
When she’s not teaching, writing, or plotting, she spends as much time as possible crawling through megalithic ruins, exploring old castles, and getting afloat in all kinds of watercraft. She’s also the founding director of Aldebaran Drama Group and of the OxDocs Institute, found at www.oxdocs.eu.
 
Her degrees are from McGill University (Montreal), Cornell University (New York), and the University of Washington (Seattle). She’s tenured faculty at George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) and also teaches in Continuing Studies at Emily Carr University of Art, Design, and Media (Vancouver, Canada).
 
She thinks of her life as treasure-hunt in every way possible.

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6 Things To Look For In  A Movie Making Mobile Phone