Tangerine not only made a splash at Sundance this year, it was also picked up by Magnolia Pictures for worldwide distribution and is set for theatrical release in the United States in 2015. It was not until after the Q&A that the film’s director revealed the film was shot entirely on the iPhone 5s. Sundance.org doesn’t even mention that the 87-minute feature was shot on a mobile device. They do, however, describe the movie as “bursting off the screen with energy and style.”
First and foremost, Tangerine is a unique story about a transgendered, working girl who tracks down her unfaithful boyfriend, a pimp, on the streets of LA. Sean Baker, the movie’s director, explained how they achieved a different and unique look for a story. In order to further the 5s capabilities and find a cinematic look that worked for the film, the production employed the use of an anamorphic adapter lens from Moondog Labs, a stabilizer, and the $8 app FiLMiC Pro.
Now the question may arise, “If a film can be shot on a device many of us carry around in our pockets, don’t I have a shot at Sundance and other high profile festivals?” There is also a very good chance there will be a spike in iPhone/mobile feature films in 2015. However, the real question that Tangerine’s success raises is a continual one: “How can I find the look that I want to serve my story?”
Mobile tools, like those used in filming Tangerine, have been offered for quite some time. In fact, New York Film Academy posted an article this past summer entitled “How To Shoot a Feature Film on an iPhone”. Macworld’s article, “6 of the Best iPhone Movies”, lists the academy award-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012) for having some of its scenes shot on an iPhone and using the 8mm Vintage Camera app. So with an academy award-winning film featuring iPhone footage and now Tangerine featuring at Sundance, it’s worth looking at the most recent advances of the iPhone 6.
The iPhone 6 camera has 1.5-micron pixels and an ƒ/2.2 aperture. Not only does it shoot 1080p HD at 60 fps, but it also shoots 240-fps slo-mo as well as time-lapse video. Most impressively, it and the Android Lollipop are the only two mobile devices to support the latest H.265 codec. The iPhone 6 currently supports H.265 for its Facetime feature. H.265 and VP9 are the two video codecs competing for the number one compression standard spot in web video. H.265, also known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HVEC), and VP9 both reduce bandwidth costs and support large, high-resolution files up to 8K (see Larry Jordan’s explanation of H.265 and why it is a codec worth familiarizing yourself with in 2015).
The technology of film has never stopped, and will never stop, changing and evolving. Today’s top filmmakers are still adjusting to the change to digital. And the debate over 48 fps that The Hobbit films have caused in recent years is a perfect example of how technology can change our movie-going experience. But Tangerine’s success is proof that the technology we use should mainly be meant to help aid our storytelling and not overtake it. Perhaps the iPhone has gotten us one step closer to what Francis Ford Coppola thought the 8mm camera would do for filmmaking.