“It’s so hard to get the studios to really pay attention, especially to beginning filmmakers,” Miller said.
In some respects, Egleson’s film class is like any other. In the first hour, he guides the students through a discussion of editing, graphics, music, and tone. They work on their series, centered on a group of diverse students who each harbor a secret.
“The bottom line is always that if it’s a good story and you get involved, it doesn’t matter what format it is,” said Egleson, who has directed films and television shows.
Other times, though, the students and teacher run into challenges unique to working with their black, shiny cell phones provided by Amp’d:
•The phones film for just 15 seconds at a time. For longer scenes, such as the monologue in the stairwell, multiple phones are used.
•The phones don’t pick up sound well. During this class, the students try putting a phone in an actor’s pocket or using a makeshift boom created with a tiny microphone and a bendable, green stick.
•In some scenes, camera operators can be seen in the shots. So when they finish filming, they quickly put their cameras to their ears and become extras casually chatting on the phone.
The picture quality isn’t as good as film, either, because the phone’s camera records 15 frames per second, compared with the typical 24 to 30 frames per second in movies or on television.
“I wish I could tell you I’ve done this a million times,” Egleson tells the class as they watch him upload their footage stored on the phone’s memory cards onto his laptop, done by connecting the phone to the computer with a USB cable.
Miller said the students also have to adapt their filmmaking style for the small–very small–screen. Scenes are shorter, cuts are quicker, and visuals are larger. Nobody is trying to make a Saving Private Ryan-type epic, and the students refuse to edit out the quirks, saying they want to create videos average phone users could make themselves.
“It’s not quite as clean as what you’d expect from television. It’s a little more raw,” Miller said. “It’s not your Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom.”
On the other hand, Egleson said, the phones give the camera operators more flexibility, because they aren’t lugging around large equipment and can easily whip a phone out of their pocket for spontaneous scenes. And Egleson expects the phone technology to improve quickly.
The BU students aren’t the first to experiment with cell-phone movies. Earlier this year, Ithaca College invited high school and college students from across America to submit a 30-second student film shot entirely with a camera cell phone (see story: Student film festival’s goal: Think small).