Suitcase Tales – How to shoot and work with mobile phone footage
Posted on 29 August, 2016 by Team Wishberry
By Sudhish Kamath
Image Source: www.imakemovies.me
A lot of people, especially filmmakers, had a lot of questions about how I managed to shoot Side A | Side B with just phones. Did the rushes turn out okay? If yes, how do you handle post?
Yes, they turned out okay.
And we did finish a first cut for festival submissions as planned, thanks to our editor and ace system-obsessed post-production geek Vijay Venkataramanan (who previously edited Good Night Good Morning and X – Past is Present).
But before I go into the specifics of how we managed it, here are the basics of what we shot with:
iPhone 6S Plus
Cost: Rs. 50,000 – Rs.80,000
Cost: Rs. 3000
Tripod (usually comes with the kit)
I bought this one:
Cost: Rs. 3000
Cost: Rs. 600
Shooting do’s and don’ts:
Ensure that you are shooting from the FilmicPro app (and NOT the default Camera app on the phone) with the 4K settings, the desired frame rate (24 fps, ideally) with both cameras configured to exact same specifics – aspect ratio, frame rate, resolution and audio.
Always record with audio. It simplifies sync time later. We were able to sync it automatically with a feature on Adobe Premiere because the platform studies the .wav files of the pilot with the professionally recorded sound and syncs it up in no time.
Outdoor shooting and lighting:
Shoot outdoors and in natural light as much as possible. Minimise indoors and night shots. If you have to shoot indoors and nights, ensure there is adequate lighting. Portable LED lights could be used to light up indoor spaces. There are some available on Amazon.
I picked up two portable battery operated LED study lamps for Rs. 600 each from a local electronics store.
Log each shot after the take. We didn’t have the time to log it and I ended up spending three days just logging the shots in files and folders scene-wise.
Transfer footage after every session and scene or when there’s less than 20 per cent space in the phone. Back up the transferred footage in an external hard drive or two at the earliest available opportunity. Ideally, assign an assistant for this task.
Before shooting with lens, ensure that you have tested them through trial and error with all possible lighting conditions. Despite testing the lens, we found the ever-changing lighting conditions inside a train and the intense movement quite a challenge. We got steadier shots holding the camera in our hands than on a tripod kept on a base because the jerks of the moving train got transferred to the camera.
After shooting the film, I woke up to two consequences we had underestimated.
The phone cameras do not generate the time-code required for generating offlines and later, conforming the offline files back for online-editing and grading.
Despite shooting with FilmicPro, the Samsung camera gave us shots with variable frame rate. The artificial intelligence system, developed to save space and minimize file size on the phone, shot high speed action in higher frame rate and static shots with a lower frame rate. Which meant that some of the shots were randomly at 65-70 frames per second and some as low as 5 frames per second.
Our Editor Vijay Venkataramanan after much research online, came up with the following solutions.
He learnt that we had to use consumer-end editing solutions that were familiar with mobile phone footage than advanced professional editing solutions. Hence, he found Adobe Premiere to be the most stable option – it was user friendly and advanced enough to generate time-coded 4K intermediate files that can be further transcoded as offline proxy files. You can rent a legal copy of Adobe Premiere for as less as 2000 rupees a month.
Vijay used the Adobe Media Encoder to convert each of the 1500 clips using the Cineform GoPro 4K codec to generate new 4K master files with timecode. This took a couple of days. Then, he spent a couple of more days to transcode these new master 4K files into HD offlines. In our case, he used the DNxHD36 .mov to generate the low-res files for the offline edit on Adobe Premiere.
He made us invest in a Lacie 2TB external hard drive so that we can connect it to any system and work apart from backup storage drives to keep copies of the rushes – the originals and the new master files.
He edited and uploaded cuts for review onto Wipster for notes. So now, we are set to edit sitting in different cities.
So, when I’m not teaching my creative writing course at the Dayanand Sagar College, I get online to go through the cut and make notes for Vijay. We just finished the first cut of the film. In a month, we hope to have the final graded cut ready!
Also read: Sudhish's previously written article Suitcase Tales - Recording the journey of 'Side A Side B'.