Are you a fan of the smartphone revolution? Do you constantly prance around town snapping images of things and people, using photo enhancement apps like Instagram to beautify them. then share them at Facebook or Pinterest? Right, I thought so.
So it even much of a revolution anymore?
For the longest time it didn’t really matter to me. Given how many hours I’ve been devoting to my business for the past three years as part of my duties at PMD-For-Hire, it wasn’t like I wasn’t getting my daily fill of the web. Moreover, it wasn’t like I wasn’t using my computer to do the sorts of things mobile phones were enabling the masses to do presently. The only upside they enjoyed over me was with that mobile phone in their hand, they now had a chance to do more of exactly what I was already doing in the office, but from the road. It was that simple.
I like what Juliane Block was saying yesterday in this 2m52s clip about the reason why smartphones – though ubiquitous – aren’t the primary means via which feature films should be shot and shown in the industry. She poses an interesting argument, despite the fact she couches it through the unique prism of her film, The Inner District, but the argument is applicable to practically all independent films.
I’ll leave it up to you decide whether you agree with her…
“Every moment is pregnant with possibility”…
What I’ve come to learn from having lived away from Canada for several years is that your entire life can change in an instant – less than an instant, actually. If you’re not watching out for it, precious moments – the kind you look back upon fondly as you knock back a few cold ones at barside or share your reminiscences with your kids – can be lost to the sands of time, forever.
Oral traditions used to dominate the principal role of conveying life experiences to younger generations. Since the smartphone revolution, it’s been supplanted by high-performance technology that captures the actual moments – minus the fanfare, minus the embellishments and the hoopla, not to mention the needless running commentary ramble – so that future generations can actually watch history’s proceedings themselves on-screen, simple as that. No more TV news editing departments censoring what’s rating bait and what’s not. No more third-party intervention in terms of what an audience needs to see or what they think it needs to see. The quality of today’s on-the-spot blogger videos is that good and the gonzo stuff boasts just as much authenticity as the average viewer is used to these days. It almost makes you ask when will we see the death of the 60-second slot. It’s no longer necessary.
Now I’ve always a gadget man: I’ve been podcasting pretty much straight through since 2007, recording hundreds – if not thousands — of audio clips and musings for friends, loved ones, and as part of the interview series I once helmed back in Prague – The Knowledge – during 2007-8.
These days, I practically never leave my home without my trusty M-Audio MicroTrack II (the fidelity is awesome and even though it’s a bit clunky and old, I just can’t give it up), and I’m usually not too far away from a PC with a wifi connection regardless of where I’m located in the world. In 2011, I became the reluctant owner – admittedly – of my first iPhone 3G and since the beginning of Q3 2012, I’ve sunk well into regular use of my iPad/iPhone 4S combo alongside my other usual suspects as I spin content as part of my duties at the company. Between these four devices – iPad, iPhone(s), PC, and my MicroTrack — I’ve got enough indie power slung across my chest to run a small portable studio, which is precisely what I’ve done.
I make it a point not to miss a single moment these days. If something inspires me, I’m right on the audio device. If I think something will stand out, out comes the iPhone and I’m quickly snapping the scene. There’s very little waste.
Once you take on this sort of mindset you become much more aware of your surroundings. You also become the window via which the people who follow, know, and love you gain a glimpse into your world without necessarily explaining to them all the story beats of your life individually. Technology is a total enabler – both for you and for them.
The ubiquity conundrum
Then there’s the valid counter argument which runs along the lines of too many smartphones in the market ostensibly diluting the quality of the photography.
If anyone can randomly whip out a phone, shoot a scene, then upload it from the same device, what’s to be said of the professionals who devote hours poring over raw footage, selecting the best scenes, slicing and lacing them together, setting them to music, tagging, titling, and then setting them to appropriate soundtrack? What of their sacrifice to the market and the cost of their art? It won’t be the first time you’ll have heard here about complaints by the professionals that “gonzo” stuff flooding YouTube is pure amateur hour drivel, despite the colossal number of views these can typically garner. If there is zero penalty for pumping and dumping, shooting and uploading, all without any oversight, have we done the photography trade justice?
Time for a little focus…
As filmmakers, you can have the best of both worlds. This is the argument Juliane seems to be making in her clip.
There are times when polish is not required and for those sorts of moments it’s best to have a capable device in your pocket which brings you as near to digital cinema-grade quality as you can possibly find. In cases like these, audiences are forgiving of poorer picture quality – though they will continue to bash you for sound lapses, so be mindful of those…as long as you don’t force them to sit through extraneous minutes of self-serving ramble that doesn’t justify their time investment, you’re good to go.
Like your real movie in the real cinema (or consumed on VOD), audiences want to walk away from their viewing experience better people than when they began. They want to undergo a transformation, so the world needs to be a better place than the instant before they voluntarily gave over ninety minutes of their life plus a few bucks of their hard-won clams. That, along with gonzo video, you now have an even greater potential to convey a deeply-significant lesson through your film and bonus materials because the extreme shortness of the average clip forces you to cut to the chase in seconds, not minutes.
The key takeaway for indies here is that they need to look upon the smartphone as friend, not nemesis.
There’s their primary film – the one which has a distinct beginning, middle, and end which is memorable as a standalone experience – and then there are the days and months leading up to your release and following it, which constitute prime storytelling time in and of themselves, albeit differently than your feature.
Sure, you’re not going to be cutting movie house quality clips when it comes to your gonzo stuff, but thanks to the smartphone, it now allows you to get as close as possible to cinema-quality without the burden of time and cash. Having it so close by at nearly all times of the day means you can fire it up whenever the mood strikes you or whenever something is happen and you don’t have your clunky film camera at the ready on your car’s passenger’s seat.
The new focus which filmmakers need to adopt is that their primary camera chronicles that thing they’ve been devoting months of their life to. It’s got to be the best thing money can buy, the best to showcase your story world which they can lay clutches on. But when it comes to extra-diagetic content – all that stuff which is related to your film which doesn’t actually make it into your locked cut – you need something light, portable, and performant that resembles your film’s primary equipment, just without the hefty price tag.
Main camera for your film. Smartphone for bonus features. It’s really simple if you stay focused.
And your groupies aren’t your enemy…
Your fans are on your side, even though you think they’re out to steal your intellectual property with phones inside and outside cinemas at film festivals.
That raft of smartphones owned by members of your target audience and their friends? Its needs to be looked upon as a continuation of your film’s story beyond its final frame. Opening up marketing and evangelism of your picture to a wider audience isn’t necessarily something you can do solo, that’s why you need to bootstrap the marketing – neither your fans, nor you, even realize this is happening, it’s seamless – by allowing them limited amount of access to your control room.
Once you take on this kind of attitude, you understand how marketing your film today is a series of intersecting latticeworks between the various parties, instead of traditional marketing messages coming from on-high to a captive (unresponsive) audience, forced to listen to things they don’t necessarily want to hear. Giving audiences and strangers the power to spread the word about your film in their own way – yes, primarily by the use of their smartphones – is damn smart indie business.
That touchscreen might seem like an oblong pain in the bum, but you’ll soon realize how it’s nothing short of your very best friend.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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