Filmmaker Uses iPhone To Make Films, Wins Awards

Shoots exclusively on mobile device

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

With every generation, Apple’s iPhone continues to improve as not only a mobile phone and computing device, but as a camera. It’s dominated the field so much that it has pretty much scuttled one entire category of camera and has two more – point and shoots and camcorders – in its sights. But one filmmaker is targeting a category of his own, and is earning awards hand-over-fist by shooting all his work on the iPhone. And the industry is starting to notice.

The iPhone is really making a buzz for itself, especially with low budget filmmakers who are short on cash and big on ideas. And it’s really starting to turn into a serious filmmaking tool, not only because of all the apps that the iPhone offers filmmakers, but because of dynamic range and improved lens elements.

And one such filmmaker is turning his plucky mobile phone into a bonafide art form. We’ve seen this before, to be sure, but when you rack up one award after another for best film, clearly something is happening that cannot be discounted as merely a mobile phone camera.

Conrad Mess, an award winning director from Spain, is carving out a brilliant niche of films that are part horror, part film noir that are heavily influenced by the likes of Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino. This kind of style allows Mess to rely on green screen and CGI to fill out the the scenes he’s imagined and make his film look far more expensive than his $400 budget allows. He shoots on the iPhone, and then adds his CGI with Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D for modeling.

“One no longer needs a multi-million budget to make a film or a crew of actors and supporting cast that can easily fill a major venue.” – Ruben Kazantsev, co-founder of iPhone Film Festival

His first iPhone short, The Fixer, won best film of the year at the 2013 iPhone Film Festival, with judges marveling that Mess could get such production value out of a mobile phone platform. Miguel Johnson, an iPhone Film Festival Judge, said the story and special effects are “awesome,” and the movie’s quality “… (is) so good that it was simply hard to believe it was shot on an iPhone.”

After his accolades at the IFF, Mess created three more films over the last year, including Russian Roulette, The Asking Room, and his current award winner – The Other Side, which was shot completely on green screen and then filled in with virtual sets to give it the big budget feel of multi-million dollar horror film, which Mess says mixes “Victorian aesthetics and 3D graphics in a comic horror style.”

“The shooting of The Other Side has meant a lot of hard work,” Mess tells Videomaker Magazine, “but it is a unique and innovative format that has made it worthwhile. Though this time Mess isn’t spending $400… He’s got a budget of $27,000 and it shows.

So much so that he wrapped up another best film accolade from the Phonetastic-Sitges International Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain. Of course this is get another mobile phone film festival, so he’s still the big fish in that small pond.

But considering Mess has no formal film training, and only started making films on his phone after getting it as a anniversary gift, it’s laudable to see how far he’s been able to take the genre.

“You know, when you haven’t got resources, you do what you can,” Mess said.  Mess also says that while he enjoys shooting on the iPhone, his real love is post production … crafting the film in the edit bay where it takes on its true character.  “For me, this is the most enjoyable part of the process, the edit,” Mess says.

Filmmaker Brian Kowalchuck agrees that the iPhone may be a legitimate camera option. “The pro of using a mobile device is that people think it’s cool and cutting-edge,” Kowalchuck told IndieWire. “In a way, I agree. I am gaining access to a few major talent agencies and managers and other companies I might not otherwise have access to. People want to read the script, too. This is not a minor consideration.”

And animator Sascha Ciezata agrees, saying that the iPhone has been able to give him a portable studio in his pocket, even with animation. “I didn’t have the money to make my film,” Ciezata adds, “So, I decided to try using my iPhone as the camera… (it gave me) more control over the production process – when shooting film, you never really knew what you were getting until the film came back from the lab. With the iPhone, I got instant playback so if something isn’t working you can adjust accordingly.”

For Ciezata, his next feature may be shot on the iPad because it now shoots in HD.  “With the iPad, I have a digital canvas in glorious HD,” he says. “I’m working on some longer form content in that style. The quality is so much better.”

But both Kowalchuck and Ciezata do acknowledge that while the iPhone has improved and can be used for short format films, as a feature there are challenges. And even when the quality does reach a point where it can legitimately compete, Hollywood will likely be slow to adopt it. “(I think) it will be a long-time before Hollywood accepts it as a new standard,” Ciezata told Indiewire.”

But with the indie world, it’s anything goes. So what I read just today on Twitter really rings true with these guys… Filmmakers don’t make excuses, they make films. And that’s what they are doing to great effect.

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.


  1. Conrad Mess says:

    James, did you receive my e-mail?

  2. John Lindsay Green says:

    Hello James! Thanks for such an interesting article. I was thinking of trying to do a short film by using my iPad, since I don’t own a smartphone/iPhone. I have a start-up content production company, and we have some pretty decent stories, so I was thinking of shooting with my iPad, just to become more familiar with all of its Apps and functions.

    Also James, in the article photo of Conrad Mess, I see that he’s using a tripod and some other equipment. Is there a list of basic iPad accessory equipment available, that I may access, for using my iPad as a filmmaking camera, a recommended stabilization/tripod device for the iPad, and what’s available for recording sound externally utilizing the iPad, and last but not least, what lighting devices can be attached to the iPad to solve any lighting issues?


    John Lindsay Green

    • James DeRuvo says:

      John, thanks for your kind words! There’s a ton of stuff out there, and I would recommend you head over to our good friend Taz Goldstein’s site Hand Held Hollywood to get up to speed.

      Taz wrote a great book that will also help. We interviewed him on doddle Talks Tech last year and it’s quite an informative hour. Best, JD

  3. TJ in Phx says:

    Congratulations to Conrad and thanks to Doddle for sharing his story. I’m always pulling for the little guy and you can’t get much more “little guy” than an iPhone and a $400 budget!

  4. Conrad Mess says:

    Thank you very much for your words and the exposure. I really apreciate it :)

    Conrad Mess.

    • John Lindsay Green says:

      Hey Conrad Congrats on your project success!
      John Lindsay Green here. I just posted a few questions to James, regarding the utilization an shooting with an iPad. I have an 16 GB iPad, and that’s the scope of my equipment. Would you mind sharing with me a list of additional equipment that I may use with my iPad for filmmaking, including the names of the Apps for the iPad, that would benefit me the most. Lastly, what can I use for external lighting (mounting), and what would you recommend for external sound recording? I’ve never done any of this before, so any assistance you can provide would be most helpful. Thanks Conrad!

      Most Sincerely,

      John Lindsay Green

    • James DeRuvo says:

      Conrad, thanks for checkin’ in man! You’re story is quite and interesting one! We’d love to have you on our podcast – doddleTALKS Tech to talk about your method. Can you contact me at james at doddleme dot com?