It absolutely blew them away. As the man who would be President of the United States of America made his way through a throng of people towards the stage, mainstream media (MSM) faced a searing problem they did not know.
They waited outside, cameras fixed to their tripod, but when John F. Kennedy started to walk through his adulators no one could follow him, except one person. Albert Maysles. Maysles was part of the new Cinéma vérité band of brothers, who were revolutionising filmmaking and what it meant to be mobile, swift, immersive, intimate and creative.
Whatever you read about in mobile phone storytelling today can’t be told without these guys, and whatever you think you’re doing new in film making language in mobile, forget it, it’s already been done. Countless filmmakers like Ridley Scott were influenced by, particularly, Robert Drew, the father of Cinéma vérité.
Problem is we have short memories. The 60s might as well be a time tunnel, and even when we do know, we choose intentionally to ignore, otherwise we can’t make that claim of being the first, in say mobile, or immersive, or intimate journalism.
Robert Drew, his camera friend Albert Maysles, D.A Pennebaker and Robert Leacock changed the world in the 1960s. There’s a fine BBC film which backs this up too. I’m a philosopher, journalist, entrepreneur and educator and whilst undertaking my doctorate exploring the history, cognitivism and psychology of film through journalism, cinema, photography and video, I made it my point to track down these 60s heroes and try and understand through a new lens of multimedia, mobile and videojournalism what we might be missing today, and how we might benefit from their deep wisdom.
At the point that Maysles speaking at the Sheffield doc festival held his camera aloft, snugly tucking himself into Kennedy’s slip stream, in one unbroken 20 plus second shot, he nails it (see video below).
Soon after, in a hall of cheering fans, the shot fixates on the next @fotus’ hands fidgeting. Perfect. How could anyone wish for anything more? The explicit and the allegorical diametrically morphed into one sequence.
Like a 12-pound new born baby, mobile journalism had arrived with aplomb.
This is Primary (1960) and this is my interview with Robert Drew, which I played at Apple store in London. Primary is part of the National Film Registry, in the Library of Congress.
History can’t be erased. ‘Mobile’, ‘intimate’, ‘immersive’, ‘cinematic’ — scratch the surface of film knowledge and authors such as: P.J. O’Connell, Peter Wintonick, Jill Drew, and Brian Winston lay out the case. We’ve been here before. ‘I don’t think much has changed since the 1960s in styles say Professor Winston, an Emmy winner and prodigious author of books. ‘…but I could be wrong’, he adds hesitantly.Rein a room of avid filmmakers wanting to learn the art of 21st century journalism on a mobile, we put on an experiment and hands-on practice to test various recently claimed theories. I show the delegates a 2 min of six videos (I have posted below eight seconds to illustrate its educational use) and ask if they could categorically pick out the films that were shot on mobile. I’ve listed the videos and links at the end of this post.
Some get one or two, but the consensus is a degree of uncertainty. Thus far, I make the assumption, there is no universal or general lingua franca that the mobile phone, as a convenient camera, has spawned. However, there are pockets of cleverness, born of the use of using a small camera, which distinctly shows up. In a granular deconstruction of Philip Bromwell’s film by delegates, one picks out the coffee bean shot at 1.23. Bromwell places his camera in a pot, with Elvis, his subject, pouring coffee beans on top. Few cameras e.g. Go Pro Sony W800, could capture the same aesthetic.
They also pick out an aesthetic quality. Bromwell’s use of what in the business is known as extreme close up. In 1928 Carl Theodor Dreyer’ s Joan of Arc publicly got there first. But perhaps by using the wide shot sparingly and more close ups we could be moving into a new framing ontology. And for trainers swearing by the mobile phone’s exclusive intimacy. Er, caution! In Salesman, a hard hitting seminal doc about Bible salesman in the US, by David and Albery Maysles there are several scenes that will have you likely describe as intimate. As the late Roger Ebert expressed:
The newer technology dovetailed with Direct Cinema’s philosophy of caring more about intimacy and immediacy than classical storytelling and slickness.
The verdict? Mobile phone journalism today as a movement that attempts to furrow an indelible stylistic path, different from predecessors, is still wide open — still in its infancy. In Moscow, working alongside Oksana, the Lynda.com of the region, she uses her mobile attached to a selfie stick to invade personal spaces, where the presence of the filmmaker would make things awkward. The camera is thrown around as the selfie stick gives rise to a crane-like effect.
How an innocent small piece of tech could perform near the thresh hold of a professional cameras put us all in awe — all of which make today’s mobile journalism a viable, low cost option to filmmaking. That is its USP. Editing, post production, sharing to social media is something Robert Drew and friends could not do. There’s an economic imperative, but it mustn’t be confused with an excellence in film language. There is a reason why given a larger budget award winning mobile filmmakers opt for different equipment like the Arri or Red.
All this is not to say journalism using a mobile phone has had little to offer. What has been marvellous has been its equivalence — it‘s ’like having an army swiss knife to crack open a high security building.
The true frontiere often ignored is the skill set of the trainer or journalist. It’s a philosophy of filmmaking that enables one of the world’s most respected filmmakers Steven Soderbergh to produce a film on mobile called Unsane.
And here what we should be studying above all in reaching new audiences is narratives which get to the psyche of audiences. This ladies and gentlemen is Cinema and if you’re interested I invite you to read this article, The Information Illusion, I posted not long ago.
These four films below were shot on mobiles.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is head of the disLAB, a multidisciplinary course on innovation, storytelling and critical research. He’s a visiting professor at University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. You can find more about the course from this below promo shot on a mobile and here
Shot on mobile below
- 1 Base Culture Research — shot on iPhone with archive from beta etc. Shot by David Dunkley Gyimah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l6nGgjR3is
- 2. Mobile Film Festival 2017 — Trailer shot using a mobile https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-2CCDF42A8
- 3. The Time Fixer (3 min. version for MFF2012) by Conrad Mess. Shot on mobile. https://vimeo.com/66014759
- 4. The King of Coffee from Philip Bromwell. Shot on mobile. https://vimeo.com/95273884
- 5. Crisis in Darfur Expands: Testimonials from Travis Fox. Not shot on mobile.
- 6. People & Power — Syria: Songs of Defiance Al Jazeera English Shot on Mobile. First major documentary by a broadcaster shot exclusively on mobile https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnvPXspjLtU