Director Runs Out of Money, Turns to iPhone To Finish Oscar Film

Uses app to film remaining scenes of Searching for Sugar Man

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

It used to be, that if a director ran out of money, he’d beg, borrow, or even steal to get the remaining shots he needed. But the digital revolution – and smartphones in general – has changed all that. And one director, who had just a handful of scenes left to film when he went broke, turned to his iPhone and a $1.99 video app to get the shots he needed.  And now he’s poised to win an Oscar for his documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

 I really had very few shots left but I needed those shots. And one day, I realized that there was this app here on my iPhone and I tried it and it was basically the same as the real thing. – Malik Bendjelloul, director “Searching for Sugar Man”

As he tells it, Bendjelloul became fascinated with the story of Rodriguez, a Detroit-based singer-songwriter who became a superstar in South Africa. Bendjelloul decided to tell the story in a documentary called “Searching for Sugar Man,” a film that has won awards at Sundance, South by Southwest, Tribeca, and is now poised for the big one … OSCAR.    He decided to use a Super 8mm camera to give it an earthy, retro feel of the 70s, when Rodriquez was hot and releasing albums.  But with just a few shots left, Bendjelloul ran out of money.

“I started shooting this on a Super 8 camera, like with film, which is pretty expensive stuff, and completely ran out of money. “

Seeing the finish line just in front of him, but needing some pivotal transition shots, Bendjelloul turned to his iPhone, and an app called 8mm Vintage Camera by Nexvio, an app developer out of China. The app gives video clips the grainy, discolored and dusty aged 8mm look that Bendjelloul was looking for, and even allows for filming with seven different lenses and effects.  The result is a look of an old family movie.  And Bendjelloul says that people can’t tell the difference.

So while some are trying to raise thousands for making documentaries on Indiegogo and Kickstarter, Bendjelloul went to iTunes. And that saved Bendjelloul’s film and put him on the path to Oscar.  It also continues to underscore how democratizing a smartphone and an app can be for giving filmmakers the tools necessary to tell the stories that they want to tell.  Sure, being able to shoot on a RED Epic or Canon 1D-C is a sweet proposition.  But it really boils down to what’s the look you’re trying to convey?  Ansel Adams once said that the best camera you have, is the one in your hands, and that has never been more true in today’s digital filmmaking landscape, where a filmmaker can grab his phone and an app and tell (or in this case finish) the story he wants to tell (and a good place to start is Taz Goldstein‘s excellent site – Hand Held Hollywood).

And maybe, just maybe, this time around, it’ll end up carrying Oscar and giving an acceptance speech. Something that Bendjelloul has gotten rather used to.

Hat Tip – MacRumors and CNN Money

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.

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