By JENNY BARCHFIELD, Associated Press Writer
"Silence on the set," ordered movie director Xavier Mussel as he grabbed
his cell phone -- not to make a call but to film another scene for his
Cheap, easy and accessible, mobiles-as-movie cameras are breaking the
motion picture mold, putting a touch of Hollywood into amateur
filmmakers' hands. How-to workshops have sprung up from Boston to Abu
Dhabi to Rio de Janeiro, and Paris just held its second film festival
devoted exclusively to movies shot with cells.
Some 8,500 visitors attended screenings at the recent three-day Pocket
Films Festival at Paris' Pompidou modern-art museum. In addition to
nearly 100 shorts, the fare included three feature-length films —
all shot on cells.
"What we're seeing is the democratization of filmmaking," said
festival director Laurence Herszberg. "Now, you don't need expensive
equipment and years of training to make a movie. All you need is your
phone, that little object you carry around in your pocket all day."
Purists complain that poor image quality makes such films virtually
unwatchable, but cell filmmakers insist the advantages of shooting on
mobiles far outweigh the drawbacks.
"First and foremost, it's a matter of cost," said Leonard
Bourgois-Beaulieu, whose short, "Busy," won Pocket Films'
audience-choice award for best film.
"You save on the camera, which can cost tens or even hundreds of
thousands of euros and you also save on all the trappings that go with
an expensive camera, from operators to lighting designers to makeup
artists," said the 23-year-old director, who wrote, shot and acted in
his lighthearted comedy about harried twentysomethings.
"Busy" took less than a week to shoot, Bourgois-Beaulieu said, for the
cost of a Metro ticket and two coffees (one scene takes place in a
He acknowledged that cell cameras can't match their conventional
digital counterparts for image quality -- particularly when blown up
to fill a full-size movie screen. While close-ups and still shots in
"Busy" were remarkably sharp, sudden movement and traveling shots
reduced the image to a pixelated fog.
Still, Bourgois-Beaulieu said, there is an upside to the
graininess. It allowed him to play multiple roles in the movie.
"With the pixels distorting my face, you can't tell it's me," he said
with an impish grin.
Brazilian-born director Louise Botkay-Courcier, whose poetic silent
film "Mammah" is set in a Turkish bath, also said she liked cell
cameras' low definition.
"Just like in painting, in film there are different styles," said
Botkay-Courcier, 28, who added that she was inspired by the fluid,
blotchy style of the Impressionists. "Not everything is about
Festival-goer Stephanie Woldenberg agreed.
"I was expecting the grainy images to drive me crazy," said the lawyer
from Switzerland. "But in a lot of the films, it added something
mysterious, almost beautiful."
Cell-phone cameras have been around for nearly five years. Nokia, the
world's No. 1 cell-phone maker, was first to integrate a camera in
2001, said Nokia France spokesman Xavier des Horts. That initial model
took only stills, but built-in video soon followed and is now
Though cell films are easier to shoot than conventional movies, they
can be harder to edit, said Pocket Films' artistic director, Benoit
Uploading footage from phone to computer can be tedious, as editing
programs often have to convert the format. The process can take hours,
even days, depending on the amount of footage.
"Once you upload the footage, you go through exactly the same editing
process as with any other digital movie," Labourdette said.
Films screened at the festival were edited on Vegas, a video and audio
production program by Sony or on I-Movie, software that is standard on
new Apple computers.
Most free Internet-based editing software is still not equipped to
recognize cell phone footage, Labourdette said.
Because built-in microphones in cell phones pick up background noise,
most dialogue must be added in post-production.
"It's a real pain in the neck," said director Bourgois-Beaulieu, who
spent weeks re-recording and re-synching all the dialogue in his
chatty, 10-minute-long film.
While cell-phone cameras have radically simplified shooting movies,
the crux of filmmaking -- finding the right story -- remains as
complicated as ever, he said.
"Just because everyone has a cell phone in our pockets doesn't make us
all Spielbergs," said Bourgois-Beaulieu, who is hard at work on his
second cell movie. "You've still got to have an artistic vision, or
else it's just so much dumb footage."
Copyright -- 2006 The Associated Press.
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