The transition from celluloid to digital medium has seen quite an emotional as well as technical turmoil in the worldwide cinema space; now a leap to Smartphone films might be a quicker one, or will it be tricky?
While the gap between a filmmaker and the quintessential audience is increasingly getting smaller, the extensive use and availability of handheld mobile gears are providing more air to the fire of capturing cinematic memories. India remained one of the slowest adapters in terms of advanced cinematic techniques compared to the film industries around the world; however, the present age of Smartphone users are turning the tables, rather fast. Smartphones are now considered a powerful device to make movies and although it might come as dismay to the layman, there are several film festivals and online platforms around the world endorsing filmmakers who walked the mobile way to tell their stories.
Roberto Rossellini, the legendary Italian film director and screenwriter, once said, “Making films is easy. People say it’s difficult in order to stop you.” Independent and motivated story tellers are no way subscribing to the difficulty quotient now; they have smartphones!
It all depends on the content…
The basic look of a film, a mighty visual medium, is otherwise reliant on contemporary equipment and the additional relief of a decent budget. However, when stories are conceived, the treatment depends on the content. There comes the versatility of a handheld device that gives instant opportunity to a filmmaker to shoot and give life to ideas away from being mundane and traditional. Smartphone films are not just fashionable; they are the voice of independent story tellers seeking a larger audience.
India is not far behind, rather coping quite rapidly in terms of striking the cords of harmony; aesthetically as well as significantly. Documentary and ad filmmaker, Abhradip Ghatak, made a short film with his Apple iPhone 4S during an informal visit to the northern terrains of Bengal and called it ‘Taan – Tide of Life and Death’. While toggling focus between corporate videos, commercials and self-realised fictions that can vent out its narrative without the luxury of large screens, Abhradip thinks the new mediums are perfect for precise content. “I was inspired by Jafar Panahi, the Iranian filmmaker, and how he made his films, such as ‘This Is Not a Film’ (2011) and ‘Taxi’ (2015),” Abhradip says. Aesthetically, one cannot expect a Smartphone film to be as pleasing as the ones shot on professional cameras, but the liberty from customary outlook is motivating most of the early adapters. “Although there are challenges such as low light filming and image stability in terms of shooting on a smartphone, the respite from a larger-than-life image and cinema gradually becoming a more intimate medium fascinates me as a creator,” he adds.
New medium – renewed interest
India is perhaps the best example of unpredictable film markets where the evolution of audience which is more open to original content is an everlasting phenomenon. A social commentary made on a shoestring budget like Aligarh was appreciated and saw unexpected box office success, whereas Mohenjo Daro, an out-and-out Bollywood commercial-flick, with a budget of over INR 1 billion failed to collect even INR 50 million.
The penetration of smartphones across India has also added to the distribution feasibility of independent filmmakers. In a report on the Indian cinema industry, released by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India at the Indywood Film Carnival in Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad, the growth prospects of the industry were meticulously documented. The report suggests that by 2020, the Indian average household income is expected to reach EUR 17,000 from EUR 7,500 currently with a corresponding middle class of over 90 million people. This level of median household income will drive discretionary spending on leisure and entertainment. The proliferation of internet and smartphone usage has opened up a new platform for film distribution and viewing.
Consequently, with technology becoming cheaper, faster and easier, one can shoot moving images on a smartphone and edit on a laptop. We do not need to have a huge set up for video shooting, inspiring youngsters to take up this kind of film making. Unlike the times in the late nineties or even the early years of the twenty first century, access to independent documentaries and films is far easier for the new generation. Since most of the documentaries were government funded, the perspective and subjects were limited back in the day. Now, one can watch everything on Netflix, Vimeo or YouTube. That’s how the audience is getting educated and welcoming new content. The lines are slowly fading and film watching as an experience is getting more focus in terms of content – a very encouraging trend shift for independent filmmakers in the country.
Challenges are hypothetical
The challenges that apparently threatened a potential story now add value to the narrative. A low-lit murder scene with hand-held shakes would create a larger impact on the audience than a nicely choreographed scene, seconds a number of independent filmmakers on a social media group dedicated to short filmmakers in India. Apart from being the cynic who would criticise the quality of picture, the technology used behind smartphone films have come a long way in the recent past and will improve further with times. So, it’s not the matter of being out of focus at times, but being focussed on the wide range of flexibility it offers. Smartphone film making is here to stay, and grow from strength to strength.
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