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Uneasy Lies the Mind – A feature film shot entirely on the iPhone


March 3, 2014

Uneasy Lies the Mind was shot on an iPhone 5, using cinema-quality lenses

Uneasy Lies the Mind was shot on an iPhone 5, using cinema-quality lenses

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While the folks at Apple would undoubtedly love it if filmmakers everywhere ditched their high-end video cameras for iPhones, the fact is that the phone's tiny lens, sensor and other features are no match for those on something like the RED Scarlet X. It was those limiting factors, however, that made the phone an ideal choice for the recently-completed indie psychological thriller, Uneasy Lies the Mind. It's being promoted as "The first narrative feature film to be shot entirely on the iPhone."

The film was conceived by California-based writers/actors Jonas Fisch, J'aime Spezzano, and Dillon Tucker, and was shot/directed by cinematographer Ricky Fosheim. Its story is told in the form of the disjointed, distorted memories of a character who has suffered a severe head injury, so sharp, clear images were not the order the day. The use of grainy 16mm film was considered, but the filmmakers ultimately decided that it was more affordable to achieve a similar look using an iPhone 5.

A Turtle Back lens adapter was added to the phone, in order to shoot with proper Nikon Cinema Prime lenses (although the output from those lenses was ultimately still funneled through the iPhone's existing lens). That adapter, perhaps more so than the lenses mounted in it, was responsible for much of the film's look.

"In the middle of the lens adapter is a glass focusing screen with a patterned texture, almost like a finger print," explained Fosheim. "Hair, dirt, and oil from my hands would always get stuck on these focusing screens. I completely welcomed these textured imperfections and chose not to clean or replace any of the dirty parts. At times I would even add dust and dirt."

The focusing screen also introduced a vignetting effect to the shots – once again, it was something that would ordinarily be considered a flaw, but in this case was desirable. That effect became more pronounced as the iris was closed down, sometimes to the point that it actually became too much. This meant that the aperture often had to be kept wide open, which in turn resulted in a shallow depth of field. That, in turn, produced an effect of the actors moving in and out of focus within the shot – which Fosheim also liked.

Filmmaker Evan Glodell, incidentally, similarly encouraged dirt specks and minimal depth of field in the cameras that he built to shoot his film Bellflower. Additionally, the makers of the Academy Award-winning Searching for Sugar Man used an iPhone to shoot some scenes of their film.

Flosheim controlled parameters such as white balance, exposure, frame rate and compression using the Filmic Pro app. Audio was recorded on a separate system, and synced to the iPhone footage in editing using Final Cut Pro 7.

Challenges involved in using the iPhone included very short battery life when shooting outdoors in the winter. As Ricky recalled, "In between takes we would have to place the camera underneath our armpit in order to keep it warm." It also didn't do a great job at shooting in dim tungsten lighting, requiring a lot of post-production tweaking in order to match up the color temperature of shots.

As would be expected, though, the iPhone rig was also very easy to move around the set, and to use in tricky locations such as on a toboggan. And, it did give the filmmakers the distinctive quality that they were going for.

"Now that the movie is done I couldn't be any happier with how it turned out," Flosheim told us. "The iPhone 'look' that I created fit the story, mood, tone, and the character's inner psyche way more than any other traditional camera could have ... I'm not advocating for everyone to go shoot their next movie on the iPhone, but if you can find a creative and plausible way to make it work, then I would encourage you to take as many risks as you can and try to push the limits in the ways in which we tell stories."

Uneasy Lies the Mind is being shown at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose on March 8th, and at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas the following day. Ricky and the other team members are currently seeking a distributor for the film.

You can see how the iPhone footage came out, in the mini "making of" documentary below.

Project page: Detention Films

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I'm in the camp of Brian M. One could make a movie with a pin hole camera, but why would they? By the time all the peripherals are attached, the iPhone is a big as a DSLR.


Well that will be one film that goes straight to DVD or perhaps download these days or more likely the delete botton!

The idea of shooting on a poor quality system is that the biggest cost is not the recording equipment but actors time etc. So why not record at decent quality and then simply degrade when required for special effects. At least when you realize what a the cockup the recording is you can do something about it......

Brian M

@ Brian M, Wow, I think you are missing the point. The end result was exactly what the director wanted. I think it's very clever and it looks good. Anyone knowledgeable and interested in film making will know what he's trying to achieve. We'll look forward to your entry into Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, or at the SXSW festival, shall we?


@ Brian M

As someone who is not impressed by purity of video or purity of sound (I love Bob Dylan's singing and the way his words send shivers up my spine), I wish anyone well if they are brave enough to explore new ways of doing things. Thank goodness for those brave enough to take the road less travelled by.

Where would gizmag and those whose items it covers be if people were not prepared to explore new and creative techniques? Still pondering what it would be like to not live up in the trees, I guess.

Mel Tisdale

Is that supposed to be ground breaking? First feature film on a smart phone was made in 2011. 'Olive' the first feature film on a smart phone was made using a Nokia N8: http://www.slashgear.com/nokia-n8-filmed-feature-film-olive-hits-theaters-this-month-02199622/

David Malek

@ David Malek.

The only place "ground breaking" occurs is in your post. If you read the article and watch the promo you might even find out why the movie was made the way it was.

Steve Lane

@Mel Tisdale, the road less traveled by is only relevant if it's better. Recording movies on an iPhone is NOT better. Yes artistic quality is important, but that doesn't mean having to get rid of technical quality.

Snapping pictures with this Fisher-Price pink digital camera for sports, portraits, weddings, and landscapes instead of a D800 and f/2.8 lenses is also an "original" idea, but it's a really crappy idea. http://www.amazon.com/Fisher-Price-Kid-Tough-Digital-Camera-Pink/dp/B0089W1J1A/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1395260267&sr=8-2&keywords=fisher+price+camera

What I think this really is, is a gimmick to attract attention to increase publicity for their "film," which wouldn't occur based on the quality of the film itself.

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