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In the last ten years film-making has changed in a huge variety of ways. Budget-conscious filmmakers, for example, have shifted their attention away from costly 35mm and 16mm film stock towards cheaper digital alternatives. So, will we ever see a movie shot on a smartphone make it big? 

Lights, smartphone, action!

In 2002, Danny Boyle’s acclaimed 28 Days Later was famously shot mostly on DV with a Canon XL1 digital video, which was still seen then as a notably guerrilla approach. Now, though, the likes of DVCPRO, XDCAM, and even HD tapes have given way to even more extreme DIY in-your-pocket movie-making techniques, as smartphone manufacturers make mobiles with video cameras good enough to shoot actual films. But is that a good enough incentive for movie makers to use them?

Mobile movie magic

Apparently so. Plenty of movies have already been shot on mobile phones. The Commuter, for instance, a short film starring Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and Pamela Anderson, was shot in 2010 on the streets of London and St Albans entirely on a Nokia N8.

In 2011, Old Boy director, Park Chan-wooks, made Paranmanjan (or Night Fishing) using an iPhone, and it won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival. Park said he enjoyed the medium because it meant a wide variety of angles and edits were possible as numerous cameras could be used. And back in 2005, South African director Aryan Kaganof made a film called SMS Sugar Man on a Sony Ericsson W900i. Old skool!

So – if the films are being made and achieving a certain amount of artistic acclaim and critical success at festivals, how about a mainstream blockbuster?

Distribution, distribution, distribution

Well, the problem isn’t with the films themselves; it’s with the distribution and how the films are viewed. If you want a blockbuster, it’s not enough to create a beautiful and entertaining story – you’ve got to get it into the movie theatres. In 2011, director Hooman Khallili, shot a feature-length flick called Olive

It was independently financed for under half a million bucks, and filmed, again, on a Nokia N8 (with the help of a custom-made 35mm lens, a helicopter and a motorcycle side-car). Unsurprisingly, it got a ton of media coverage. However, when Khallili asked for $300K from backers on fundraising site, Kickstarter, so he could get his work into mainstream venues, the funding bid failed. Now, he’s turning instead to alternative distribution methods, like video on demand.

Just a matter of time?

But while Khallili is now questioning the importance of cinematic release for art-house movies (which is a fair, but separate, point), the opening weekend ticket sales are definitely a necessity if you want a blockbuster. With the likes of Dolly Parton writing songs for him, and former Facebook exec, Chris Kelly, involved on the production side, Khallili isn’t exactly the lowest of low-profile, low-budget film-makers. So if he can’t convince the Hollywood execs, the future of the smartphone blockbuster might be less than secure.

We reckon it’s all about perception – when the studio bosses and the big financiers can accept that smartphone technology is a staple for today’s creative community, the floodgates will open. But until then, mobile filmmakers might have to stick to polishing their film-festival gongs.