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How to film on your phone

A Guide to Lockdown Filming

by filmmaker John Coombes


SEVEN KEY POINTS

  1. Film in the landscape format

  2. Keep the camera/microphone close to you

  3. Place the camera at eye level

  4. Hold the camera firmly on a support and don't move it if you can help it

  5. Film in a well lit place

  6. Don't make sudden loud noises

  7. Rehearse

CAMERAS


There are various devices which can record clips, from video cameras and DSLR cameras to mobile phones and Go-Pro cameras. Mobile phones have two cameras, front and back, they are not always the same quality, do a test to see which camera on your phone gives the best results.


LOCATION / BACKGROUND


Have nothing too close behind you, nor anything distractingly bold. Try to be far enough away from the background for it to be slightly out of focus unless it is an integral part of your film. Make sure there are no windows or bright lights in shot as this will affect the picture quality.


COMPOSITION

If you are recording on a computer or a laptop, the aspect ratio of the screen will be good - just like a TV, landscape not portrait. If you are recording on your phone, please turn it on its side. Consider what it is you want us to see and fill the screen with that. We probably don’t want to see lots of carpet, or ceiling, though some plants can add another dimension to the shot.



Find a support to keep your device steady. If it’s a laptop, sit it on some books or magazines to bring the camera up to eye-level. If it’s a phone, a Joby GorillaPod is excellent, but again raise it up so the camera on your phone is at eye-level. A selfie stick can be used and taped to something to keep it steady.



Mobile phone cameras have very wide-angle lenses, which can distort your face if you are too close, so move the phone a bit further back and use a little of the zoom function to compose your shot.


Depending on your subject matter, you should compose the shot featuring the important aspects of your performance. Unlike conventional film and TV, where you can have various shots showing details, here you have just the one shot, so make it work.


If it’s just you are telling a story, reading or singing, then a medium close up [MCU] will be good. You can lean in to a close up [CU] for emphasis.

If you are playing an instrument, then include the instrument in the shot. But make sure you are facing into the frame, not out of it.


If your subject is a single standing, or moving figure, don’t be tempted to film in portrait [upright] mode. Though the figure might seem bigger on your phone, in the finished film it will be no bigger, but will have unsightly black or blurred space either side of it.


LIGHTING


If there is plenty of light, the picture from a laptop or a phone is excellent. If you are in dim lighting, though it may feel comfortable to sit around in, it won’t be enough to get a good quality picture on your camera. The very latest devices can compensate for low light, but most devices can’t, and you will end up with a blurred blotchy picture. Do a test for the lighting conditions.


If you need to use lights, consider the classic lighting set-up for filming using three lights. A main light, or key light, illuminates the subject from one side. A second light, or fill light, is half the power or twice as far away as the main light and on the opposite side to lighten the shadows caused by the main light. Then if you have a third light it can be placed behind the subject to create depth.


SOUND


The built-in microphones on mobile phones are often better than the built-in microphones on a laptop. These mobile microphones work best up to a metre away, any further and the sound quality deteriorates exponentially.


Rode does a lapel microphone [Rode Smartlav+ £50.00] that connects to a smartphone, though if you are using iPhone 8 onwards, you’ll need a 3.5 mini jack to iPhone adaptor [£10.00]


Alternatively, a Professional Lavalier Lapel Microphone can also connect to your phone like this one on Amazon.

A mobile phone produced in the last five or six years will record good quality sound. If you are using a laptop or a DSLR camera to record your clips it is a good idea to use an external microphone. Again, do tests to make sure you can hear what you want to hear. For the purposes of these films, it is OK to have the microphone in shot.


It is important to make sure you are in a place where the only sounds are the ones you want on your film. To make the sound better have a lot of soft furnishings around, curtains, duvets, rugs, cushions, and the like – though probably not in shot.


Be careful not to make sudden loud noises as these will distort the audio. If you need to shout, for instance, move back slightly first. Prolonged loud noise, or loud music, will dip the audio levels [to prevent peaking] meaning that, after a loud noise, you need to wait a moment for the level to adjust, before speaking.



ONE SHOT RECORDING


You may be recording your piece in one go. This could involve picking the camera up at some point to show something or go to a different place. Rehearse both your piece and your camera moves, so you know what to expect.



MARK IT


Please say your name and title of the piece clearly at the beginning of each recording, to help us when we assemble the programmes. When you finish your piece, don’t stop filming immediately, count for five seconds before you stop recording.


A good way to get started and let everyone know what’s going on is to follow the record protocol:


QUIET PLEASE


STAND BY

RECORD

[wait three seconds]

ACTION


CUT

[wait three seconds]

STOP RECORDING



NARRATIVE


If you are recording a part of a bigger piece, make sure to explain the setting and the situation, in a short piece to camera [see shot composition above] to get the best out of the recording. This should be in a separate film clip before you do the performance.



If you aren’t used to film, be aware that performing without an audience can be very demanding. One way to overcome the distance is to think of a close friend or family member and imagine you are talking/performing just to them.


EDITING


If you film in more than one clip, send me all the clips and I will edit the sequence together. We can arrange a WhatsApp chat to view the sequence for your approval.


FILE MANAGEMENT


If you are filming with your laptop, plug it into the mains if you can. If you are filming on a phone, make sure it is fully charged and has plenty of memory/space as the film files are big - 450MB to 1GB


If you have to record two or more sequences, download each sequence to a computer and then delete it from your phone, before you record the next sequence.


Make sure you re-name the files, XX CLIP 1 TAKE 1, XX CLIP 1 TAKE 2, XX CLIP 2 TAKE 1 and so on, as you film so you can keep track of what you are doing.



FILE TRANSFER


When you have finished recording transfer the files to me please.

I recommend using WeTransfer on a computer.

You can get a WeTransfer app. for your phone but it is not ideal.

If you have a few clips you may need to do a few transfers as WeTransfer only allows 2GB at a time before you have to start paying.



SOCIAL DISTANCES


If you have interactions between people and you want to remain distant you can film each person separately and I can put them together in the edit.



If you have any particular subject matter which falls outside these guidelines, please contact me and we can try and find a way to accommodate you.


John@johncoombes.com



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