How to Make a Movie on Your Smartphone

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A cinch way to promote your business.

She is an award-winning producer and counts Steven Spielberg as a mentor, yet Veronica Grey shoots and edits all her movies on a smart phone. If you want to promote your business, she says the secret is in your pocket…

Your story

My documentary Worst Shark Attack Ever [a protest against shark slaughtering], which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and has cameos by The Cure and the American rock band MGMT, was totally filmed – and most importantly, also edited – solely using an iPhone 5. Budget is on the mind of any filmmaker, creative or entrepreneur, and there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy in a person. Do you want to focus on raising a budget [to afford a professional film crew] or getting your message out into the world?

The duration

In my experience, 15 minutes is the ideal length for a cell phone movie, which is why four years ago I made a movie called 15 Minutes of Flame about the Burning Man festival, which won the 2011 New Media Award at the Pare Lorentz Film Festival. It is the standard maximum upload length for a YouTube video unless you get approval for your channel to upload longer videos. Plus, a viewer’s attention span is short and if you can’t get your main point across in a quarter of an hour, you might lose your audience. Also, remember that any movie, even if it’s promotional, should tell a story, and you should aim for each portion – beginning, middle and end – to be about five minutes for this genre.

Cutting and pasting

At the start of my career, there was no such luxury as iMovie (which allows you to cut and edit entirely using only your iPhone), so back then I had to shoot in one continuous take and just live with that finished product, for better or worse. But now, thanks to in-phone editing software, you have so many freedoms. When I made 15 Minutes of Flame I didn’t even own a laptop. Using iMovie [now], my stuff often ends up looking a ‘bit rough’ but I feel that is part of its charm. Super polished perfection to me is boring. It’s like a date with a pretty person who has nothing to say.

Names and titles

We all know how powerful YouTube can be for getting videos out there, but often people underestimate the importance of picking a strategic title – one that isn’t necessarily original but highly searchable. As well as making movies, I also write books and my latest – Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: The 5 Most Important Wellness Secrets of All Time – was an Amazon bestseller. The title of one chapter is “One Direction”. Do I know it’s the same as a UK pop band? Absolutely! Because the book is also sold on Kindle, who knows what kind of traffic a “One Direction” chapter might generate. However, if you go for this strategy, be careful not to make your reference too obvious as it could get banned by YouTube for breaking licensing rules. The “One Direction” chapter has to do with energy flow and so is vague enough that I knew it was safe, and could argue it was relevant.

Paid promotion

Social media is a great tool for spreading a message and I’m constantly promoting across Twitter, Facebook and Vimeo. Another secret weapon I use is Fiverr [the online outsourcing service that connects you with a database of people offering services for $5 a task].

For just $5 you can pay people to share your video for you. For instance, someone might offer to share your video on their Facebook [page] 10 times for $5, if – and that is the important if – they genuinely like it. Some people don’t agree with [being] paid for promotion, but I probably spend more on Fiverr than I do on food.

Celeb cameos

If you want celebrity clout in your video then create something charitable along the lines of causes they already support. Leonardo DiCaprio gave approval to be in the introduction for Worst Shark Attack Ever but didn’t have to film original content, I simply edited public domain footage of a speech he’d given to the Secretary of State.

Most celebrities will allow seconds or minutes of their work to be used if appropriately in context, and becoming familiar with public domain and fair use laws is an invaluable tool for anyone who would love to incorporate a household name into their projects. Another factor to consider is Worst Shark Attack Ever is not-for-profit and we offered free screenings. Perhaps if it were making money, I would have to deal with Team DiCaprio on a different level and an association would never happen.

The pitfalls

I love YouTube because it’s so instant and has such a huge reach but that can be a downside. There definitely have been movies I have taken offline when I realise they don’t paint me in the most professional light (including one I shot after being released from an emergency room that freaked some viewers out).

There is a lot of “shock media” out there, which might get you a lot of short-term attention, but never ever put something online that may come back to haunt you later.

Focus on getting your message out instead of money or fame. Also realise how much power new technology gives us as individuals. In 2006, I spent five-figures hiring a film crew to make a short film that today I know I could make on absolutely no budget. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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