The iPhone has become the storyteller’s pen in the age of streaming
The premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival of Sean Baker’s Tangerine is a testament to the awesome democratization of technology over the past decade and how it’s empowering storytellers.
“The Starlet director stunned a packed crowd at the premiere on Friday night when he revealed that he shot his low-budget movie entirely on the iPhone 5s. Baker held up one of the phones, which he joked he’d stolen from the production. He said he used three iPhones to complete the dramatic comedy, about two transgendered hookers (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) who roam through the streets of Los Angeles. The film was shot in about a month. “We came across two things that elevated the look,” Baker said. He used a Moondog Labs anamorphic lens and an app called Filmic Pro to get the film’s grainy and sophisticated look.” — Variety
This is not the first full length feature film to be produced entirely on an iPhone: Old Boy director Park Chan-wook shot Paranmanjang, a 30 minute film on an iPhone 4 in 2011, which was shown in Korean theaters. There is a controversy surrounding the facts that some shots of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers may have originated on an iPhone: Seamus McGarvey, the director of photography, was quoted as saying he had inserted some iPhone shots in the film. Disney made sure this assertion was eclipsed, and McGarvey said he had been misquoted. My two cents: Disney was afraid that audiences would object to pay a premium price for The Avengers if it came out that part of it had been shot with an iPhone.
For the past five years the DVD market has continued to decrease. Meanwhile, the entire indie film business has been upended by the mediaquake and the friction between tech and entertainment. It’s quite exciting and heartening to see storytellers embrace low tech, available to all today, in the same way that Godard and the Nouvelle Vague embraced 16mm film and handheld cameras in the 1950s-60s.
Each positive friction between tech and entertainment has given us a plethora of creative geniuses, storytellers who embrace the new tools in novel ways: Méliès invented special effects in the early 1900s, Technicolor introduced awe inspiring color palettes in the 1930s, 70mm and Panavision enabled epic storytelling, etc… Today’s creators have at their disposal such tools as the GoPro, 360 degree cameras, Virtual Reality, 3D game universes, YouTube, the Lytro, and the list goes on.
This week’s latest announcements from Sundance point towards a renaissance of indie long form storytelling. Given that the distribution will not solely be in theaters, it’s no longer “cinema”. Both Netflix and Amazon, largely embraced by consumers, have either opened their checkbooks in significant ways — the Duplass Brothers 4-pic pact is a first sign — or will do so in the next 48–72 hours. Let’s hope that this streaming boom will be to indie storytelling the equivalent of the video deals in the 1990s, which among others allowed an almost unknown director named Bryan Singer to get a $6M budget for The Usual Suspects in 1994. The bet paid off for the European film financiers who backed The Usual Suspects, given that the US box office was $23M. The video revenues also gave Miramax the means to introduce an imagination-maverick Quentin Tarantino to the world.
Multi Channel Network Fullscreen announced yesterday that they’re launching a film division to allow their YouTube talent to “graduate” to long form storytelling, on the heels of Grace Helbig’s Camp Takota and SuperGravity Pictures’s inception. The twist with this model is that the YouTubers’ massive followings will further enable a direct to consumer distribution model powered by the web. Indiegogo and Vimeo have just announced a partnership around: 1) “a fund for select Indiegogo film campaigns in exchange for exclusive distribution on Vimeo On Demand", and 2) a dedicated “Vimeo VOD storefront on Indiegogo’s site with titles funded by Indiegogo campaigns available for purchase.” The combination of crowdfunded film projects and a VOD platform like Vimeo is a strong pairing that will benefit the indie scene and give filmmakers and producers additional monetization avenues outside the current model.
The major Hollywood studios are 100+ years old yet still hold considerable sway in the entertainment business, through a combination of cunning and constant reinvention and good old monopoly practices. They are seeing the writing on the wall and have started to coopt the YouTube stars into mainstream shows — Grace Helbig is getting a pilot talk show on E! and The Fine Bros. are on Nickelodeon.
The competition for streaming rights seems to be heating up in a healthy and sustainable virtuous circle and could bring back the revenue that video did in the 1990s, which was the basis for riskier fare from indie directors. Let’s sit back and watch it unfold!
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