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Big Screen Dreams: What Aspiring Filmmakers Can Learn From Sean Baker's Tangerine

Big Screen Dreams: What Aspiring Filmmakers Can Learn From Sean Baker's Tangerine

You’ve probably heard of Tangerine. Released in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim and featured at Sundance, Sean Baker’s film gained instant attention for being shot entirely on multiple iPhone 5s devices.

For the cash-strapped filmmaker it’s certainly an enticing value proposition. How many times have you wished for just a little more money in your budget for actors, sound, or location fees? So let’s take a bite out of Tangerine, and see what we can we learn for our own projects.

Baker achieved his startling results with three pieces of equipment:

  1. Moondog Labs 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter
  2. FiLMiC Pro App
  3. Steadicam Smoothee

Moondog Labs 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter

  • Before beginning his month-long shoot Baker ran extensive tests, searching for an aesthetic he was happy with. The iPhone 5s shoots in native 16:9, so to achieve a 2.40:1 ratio Baker borrowed a prototype of Moondog Labs’ 1.33x Anamorphic Adaptor. "To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have even made the movie without it," Baker says. "It truly elevated it to a cinematic level."

At $175 Moondog’s Adaptor isn’t cheap, but it’s an awful lot cheaper than Anamorphic lenses for a movie camera, or even a DSLR. This is worth prioritising if you want that sweeping cinematic feel.

FiLMic Pro

Baker used the FiLMic Pro iPhone app to lock focus and exposure, control white balance and give better compression. It also allowed him to achieve 24 frames per second. No app will transform your video on its own, but for only $8 this two-time winner of camera app of the year will give you that essential control over your shots that you’re used to from a full camera.

Steadicam Smoothee

"These phones, because they’re so light, and they’re so small, a human hand - no matter how stable you are - it will shake. And it won’t look good," says Baker. "So you needed the Steadicam rig to stabilize it." Baker used a $150 Steadicam Smoothee to keep the picture still, and the results speak for themselves. One famous scene was shot from the back of a moving motor scooter.

A steadicam rig is essential is you’re shooting on a phone. If the $150 price tag is a little steep there are cheaper options on the market, like the Glide Gear or Fomito Professional.

Lessons Learned

While Tangerine can provide a wealth of ideas and a host of kit to add to your wishlist, remember that this is a developing field. As Baker put it, “we’re at such an early stage of using devices that aren’t cameras to make films that you can do whatever you want! We just experimented and said, what benefits are to be found here? Let’s just try different things”. If you take one message from this blog, let it be that - never be afraid to try different things.

If you’re after more information on Tangerine’s journey from storyboard to screen, have a look here – and for more insight into the world of small-scale filmmaking, you’re already in the right place, at the Filmstro Blog.