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How to Shoot a Short Film on Your Smartphone

You may have all you need for a video project right in your pocket
Photo of shooting video with a smartphone

Smartphone technology has improved immensely in the last few years, which means that a lack of high-end camera and lighting equipment is no longer a barrier for aspiring filmmakers. This week the folks over at Mango Street show you how they created a short film about a ghost haunting a seaside town using only a Samsung S22 Ultra phone.

Although the phone they used has advanced features like 8K video, Super Night Solution mode and Super Steady video, you don’t have to have an S22 Ultra to imitate some of the techniques that they did. The good news is that most modern smartphones have comparable features that make it easy to shoot a short with a bit of creative thinking. (For another take on this topic, check out my story on whether you can shoot pro-quality video with an iPhone.)

Think Outside the Box

For the Mango Street short, neither Rachel nor Daniel were feeling particularly confident in their on-screen ability, which is ironic since they run such an inspiring and thoughtful YouTube channel. So, they opted for a character that would be non-verbal and relied heavily on the moody landscapes in their coastal neighborhood. Their solution was to make a short film about a lonely ghost haunting a ghost town.

Don’t feel like you need to be the star of your own short though. If you are looking to make a short low-budget film and are more comfortable behind the camera, consider looking to your friends and family for low-cost or free talent. Your boisterous best friend or joke-cracking uncle might make for great on-screen talent for whatever you are creating.

Consider Accessories

Although Daniel and Rachel were mostly shooting handheld for the Mango Street short, there were a few places where they relied on a tripod in order to capture both of them in a single frame. If you are shooting with a phone that doesn’t have stellar stabilization a tripod can help you keep your shots steady. A small stabilization system can also help you capture smooth cinematic footage as you shoot. A small LED light can help your subjects stand out if you are shooting late at night or in dimly lit interiors. (For more suggestions, check out our story with seven accessories you need to start shooting video today.)

Utilize High Resolution Modes

The phone that Mango Street used to create their short let them shoot in 8K, meaning they could punch in on wide shots without losing any quality, and add some visual variation without having to shoot multiple takes of the same action. If your phone lacks 8K video, consider shooting in the highest resolution available to you. And don’t be afraid to zoom with your feet to get some nice details of your subjects.

Don’t Forget the Promo Photos

Every short film needs some nice promo material! The good news is you can likely use the same smartphone to capture those promo shots for use on social media platforms. Daniel and Rachel used long exposures, a tripod and those LED light panels to create the ghostly image that you see in the video. See their final film below.

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