Video for the iPhone 101: Studying Mobile Filmmaking
Up until now, making mobile content has been trial and error. Interactive agencies like Trigger LA and AvatarLabs have arisen to use their marketing and advertising skills to create powerful promotional content. Motion picture studios and TV networks have repurposed hot TV shows or created games or other content, often partnered with those same agencies. A handful of pioneers–from Fun Little Movies to director Sally Potter–have forged their own distinctive paths in mobile content.
But now you can actually study mobile movie-making at U.S. universities. MobilizedTV sat down with Bart Weiss, a professor in the film & video area of the art department of the University of Texas at Arlington. Prof. Weiss has not only been teaching mobile movie-making to a group of students, but, as founder of VideoFest–a 22-year old video festival--has encouraged a mobile angle. (Video Fest takes place this year from Sept. 23 to 26 at the Angelika Theaters in Dallas.)
Weiss says he’s still planning ways to incorporate mobile into VideoFest that will make the most of what mobile has to offer. “First, there’s the augmentation of the program,making the festival richer,” he says. “That’s one component. The other component which I’m just as interested in is what is an interesting aesthetic experience through the phone.” Weiss says he’s toying with ideas involving augmented reality or other mobile content that can only be seen within the parameters of the festival’s theater. Weiss is a fan not only of the iPhone but of augmented reality, pointing to the practical applications of Yelp and Urban Spoon for locating restaurants in the vicinity. His interest is in exploiting the technology for aesthetic ends, and this, he admits, is a work in progress.
In the meantime, a local high school student Ryan Kline already added a mobile component to VideoFest, creating a free iPhone app that will enable festival goers to navigate the festival and their screening choices.
“This is the only class I know of that teaches video for the iPhone,” says Weiss, who taught a class on video for small format screens (web, iPod and mobile phones) before the iPhone appeared. “Two years ago, before the iPhone, my students came up with webisodes, mini-documentaries, and videos meant for the Dallas Morning News website.”
Not all the students in the class own an iPhone, says Weiss, and he’s still working with creating a partnership with the computer science department to help develop iPhone apps. He has shown his class some of the new tools out there for shooting with the iPhone, including Bubo’s Owle, a “camera” stabilizer so iPhone shooters can capture moving shots. Weiss also notes it has a wide angle lens. He also notes that Stanford University has all its classes available on iTunes, including a class on creating iPhone apps.
“The problem–and this is the core of my existential angst at the moment–is that making an Iphone app isn’t like making a film,” says Weiss. “You have to have a higher geek consciousness than I have. I have read every book about iPhone app development and they all assume a knowledge of programming. When the iPhone came out, Steve Jobs showed how easy it was to create an app. Two years from now, it will be. But, for now, the SDK (software development kit) is a little more complex than that.”
Weiss has seen numerous movies shot with mobile phone cameras, and he points out why the aesthetic is still nascent. “People say the best camera is the one in your hand,” he says. “But if you’re using a new tool, you have to ask yourself what you can do that is unique and takes advantage of that tool. Why shoot something where you could use a DV camera; you’re not gaining anything, although it has a high level of coolness. Thinking what I could do with the iPhone, I’d rather do something more interesting.”
Weiss has had his class pitch apps they can develop and he’s finding they’re gravitating towards tools for making films. “There is no location scouting tool, for example,” he says. “They’re trying to do an all-in-one pre-production tool.” Weiss notes that his students are aware of the numerous iPhone app production tools already out there. “There are 50 slates out there, but they’re all from professional productions, and this is one to do if you’re shooting with a phone,” he says.
Other students are working on mobile movie-making methodologies. “One of them is doing something where you take two pieces of archival film and blend it with something you shoot,” he says. “Some of them are exploring interesting ways of working with video. One idea I had was to take a piece of archival film and have a way to dub a funny track to it; as an iPhone app, it would be a lot of fun. Our task is how do we do the coding to make this happen now that we’ve conceptually come up with the ideas.”
Another goal for the mobile movie-making program, says Weiss, is to curate a video of the week. “Just like I curate the festival, I will pick a film that I think is interesting in some kind of way and have it screened, through the app,” he says. “I want to make one video for you to watch a week and then it comes down after a week. Scarcity drives traffic; if you get a note, this is the last day to see the video, it’ll drive you there.”
MobilizedTV will write about other university programs advancing the art and science of mobile content, and encourages professors of and students in such programs to contact MobilizedTV directly.
Tags: augmented reality, AvatarLabs, Bubo Owle, Fun Little Movies, iPhone app production tools, iPhone app SDK, iPhone apps, iTunes, mobile aesthetics, mobile filmmaking, mobile filmmaking studies, mobile movie-making, mobile moviemaking studies, mobile phone cameras, MobilizedTV, Rage, Sally Potter, Trigger LA, University of Texas at Arlington, Urban Spoon, video for the iPhone, VideoFest, webisodes, Yelp