One cost £50,000, the mobile under £1000. Next project, Carrot Camera?

My good friend in Accra, Ghana has built a nice bijou hotel. We stayed there last Christmas and were very pleased with its setting away from the hustle and bustle. The staff were great, food delicious and the prices affordable.

I mentioned to my friend in return for his hospitality I’d like to make a video for him. He got his staff together and I thought up a quick script and then we filmed it. The whole event from conception to the last take took about an hour and a bit, all filmed on my mobile phone.

There seems to be an air of surprise when I take out my phone. In India, a similar incident — great hotel at Fairmont and within an hour I’d filmed a promo (2nd video below).

The thing is it’s not the mobile phone. I’ve had the opportunity over my career to film with lots of different cameras from the DVW beta which cost a whopping £42, 235 to the under a £1000 mobile. Frankly you could put a lens in a carrot and the results wouldn’t be that different.

Yes we marvelled in the mid 2000s when Nokia, followed by Apple and Android turned the trusted phone into a device with which we could film. We shouldn’t be sniffy. That was a stroke of genius in engineering, however that was some years back and it hadn’t been the first time a camera the size of a child’s palm had been manufactured.

In the 1970s, Richter came up with the EMP. Doesn’t look like a big deal now, when it used film, but that’s the problem with revisionism and technology. When we look back, we’re always somewhat dismissive, just as generations will look back an sneer at people filming with their mobiles. I mean what luddites?

But we are entrepreneurial. In Carolyn Marvin’s book When Old Technologies Were New, citing the first telephones, Marvin observes a phenomenon that as a technology breaks a cottage industry sprouts around it and a few people frame its use, before it becomes commercial. We inherently create desires tactically around our consumer goods, and label them (often bending the truth) so mobile phone filming becomes such an exciting artefact we must all need one. Mobile cameras, though not as you know it, were first touted in the 1960s in the Cinéma vérité movement.

For all that we’ve come to associate with mobile phone storytelling, it’s not the phone per se, but the skill set of the directors e.g. Soderbergh and Unsane (2018) and several, several, talented journalists. Al Jazeera were one of the first major networks to film exclusively a documentary in Syria. It came across my desk as one of the jury members for the UK’s television network news competition, the RTS.

Their motives were not to dissimilar to the emergence of 1990s consumer cameras when the professionals all used £50,000 cameras. You could film officials clandestinely and get away with it.

One of the central claims with mobiles too is that it provides unfathomable intimacy. I’m afraid that’s a bit of a myth, as intimacy is not borne of the tech alone. Setting matters too, as well as who’s holding the camera. There’s also an intimacy threshold in which size seems not to matter any longer. So those using a Go Pro would eke out the same level of intimacy as those with a Go Pro — all things being equal. As yet too a distinct filmic language solely owned by mobile phones is yet to emerge. And don’t mention selfies. In 1994 a journalist by the name of Dan Roland was wowing audiences with his selfies.

But yes where the phone comes into it own in its workflow and push to social media. If your raison d’être is not about first land grabs, you may look to consider other strategies. And it’s slow mo function, with steady handycam is the stuff that traditionally required a more expensive range of camera to execute. That was one of the reasons I purchased my first mobile.

All in all, the mobile is great addition to the tool kit of video gathering and editing, but your workflows require a logic of outcomes and therein lies many other credible strategies. Hail, I mentioned the Carrot Camera coming to a supermarket near you. At least you can eat it afterwards :)

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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