Photo courtesy of Dylan Mininger
Last weekend, a Netflix Original film came out called “High Flying Bird.” The film was directed by a renowned, hard-working and serious technology experimenter by the name of Steven Soderbergh.
“High Flying Bird” is a film about the NBA lockout in 2011 that lasted 161 days. The film revolves around a newly drafted player and his agent trying to shake up the NBA during this time period. Firstly, the film features absolutely no basketball, which I suppose plays into the whole lockout thing; and secondly, the film was shot entirely on an iPhone 8 equipped with a wide-angle lens.
The film was operating on a budget of $2 million dollars, which is a big budget for shooting on an iPhone; but if you take a look at his previous films, you’ll see that “Logan Lucky” had a budget of $29 million, “Magic Mike” had a budget of $7 million and “Ocean’s Thirteen” had a whopping budget of $85 million. Soderbergh is no stranger to a wide array of budgets, and he’s also no stranger to being one of the first big directors to jump onto new trends in technology. He was one of the first to shoot in 4K resolution, to shoot a larger-budget film on a Canon prosumer handheld camera — similar to the camera used in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later.”
Now, Soderbergh, if you’re reading this, please stop. I get it, iPhones are diverse pieces of technology that actually have some serious aptitude camera-wise, and yes, they shoot amazing resolution, but you’re getting ridiculous.
His film previous to “High Flying Bird” was a film with Claire Foy, “Unsane.” That film garnered a huge amount of claim due to the “look” and “aesthetic” of it. The film was shot on an iPhone 7, and gave the entire movie a shaky, handheld, wide-angle look that is disorienting and truthfully makes it unwatchable for me. Reviews are fairly positive for both films, which is unsurprising as the content of them are decent, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there is no serious reason for the usage of cheaper equipment to shoot these films. Overuse of wide-angle lens in film is an entirely different opinion column for me, but it’s quite a distracting look.
“Unsane” had a small budget of around $1.2 million, and I’m willing to bet Soderbergh can get a much larger budget for his films. Usage of iPhones and consumer/prosumer cameras is meant for independent filmmakers. I’m not saying this is some sort of exclusivity, but I’m saying that for directors who have all these larger budgets and access to cinema-grade cameras, as well as marketing, production companies and large sets, they already have access to many more resources than the average young filmmaker trying to create their dreams — and they should take advantage of that.
“Tangerine” is a 2015 film by director Shaun Baker, done on a microbudget and shot on three iPhone 5s’ with mountable anamorphic lenses. This film was hailed as an absolute tour de force and brought the relatively unknown director into the spotlight.
He didn’t shoot the film on iPhones for aesthetic; he shot them on the iPhone because he had minimal resources and took the cheapest route he could.
To filmmakers like myself, this was an absolute inspiration. Watching him grow as a filmmaker, from shooting on an iPhone to shooting his most recent film on 35mm film, has been an exciting process. Watching a man who has directed $85-million-dollar films turn around and shoot on an iPhone is unexciting, and frankly, it’s silly. Go ahead and mess around with your 4K technology and expensive futuristic camera equipment. That’s fine. But please leave us the consumer cameras and the cheaper equipment, because we are out here just trying to bring our ideas to life on what we can afford.