The newest Steven Soderbergh movie, “Unsane,” was shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus using technology from two Seattle startups: Moment, which makes mobile-phone camera lenses, and FiLMiC, which has developed an app to bring high-end video capability to smartphones.
In hindsight, the last week of March would have been the perfect time for Marc Barros to buy a lottery ticket. But even without it, the week was a pretty fortunate one for the Seattle startup founder.
His company, Moment, launched a Kickstarter campaign that reached its goal of $50,000 in 41 minutes. The startup then went on to mark its best week in sales, five times its previous record.
And Barros found out a major Hollywood movie had been shot using his startup’s mobile-phone camera lenses, which attach to smartphones to produce more detailed, higher-quality images.
The newest Steven Soderbergh movie “Unsane” was shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus using technology from Moment and another small Seattle company, FiLMiC, which makes an app to bring high-end video capability to smartphones. Like Barros, FiLMiC founder Niell Barham only learned after the movie was produced that his technology was used in the horror flick from the acclaimed director.
“We probably would have offered to give them some products for free or something,” Barros said, laughing.
Soderbergh’s movie, starring Claire Foy as a woman involuntarily committed to a nightmarish psychiatric facility, garnered attention for its nontraditional filming method — adding legitimacy to an industry Barros and Barham say they knew was going to boom, even when others doubted it.
“In the early days, people thought it was sort of a gimmick,” Barham said. “It was ‘Ha-ha, professional quality on an iPhone, you’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”
But as smartphones became more advanced, people began ditching separate cameras and relying on their phones. The big break, Barros said, came from the rise of YouTube stars, especially in the last five years.
Some YouTube personalities have millions of followers — internet celebrities in their own right — and many of them use iPhones or a Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy phone to shoot their songs, makeup tutorials or mechanic tips.
“Unsane” just helped to boost the visibility of what can be done with the small devices.
Of course, high-end cameras have many features the iPhones don’t, and that’s where FiLMiC Pro comes in. The company’s app lets filmmakers choose from different high-end resolutions, tweak color grade and confirm image stabilization.
One of its newest features is the option to shoot remotely by putting the smartphone on a dolly or a lighting grid, and control it from another device farther away. It allows for unusual shots that couldn’t be achieved if someone had to hold the phone, Barham said.
He had heard whispers of Soderbergh’s new movie using the technology, but it wasn’t confirmed until it was previewed at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. The app developed by FiLMiC, which was founded in 2010 and has 12 full-time employees, had already been used to shoot small-budget film “Tangerine,” which went on to impress audiences in 2015, and one scene in Oscar-nominated “The Florida Project.”
“Tangerine” was shot on the iPhone partly because of budget reasons, but Soderbergh told IndieWire he used an iPhone because of its impressive cinematography capabilities. “I think this is the future,” he told the film-industry publication. “Anybody going to see this movie — who has no idea of the backstory to the production — will have no idea this was shot on the phone.”
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Speculation is already swirling online that Soderbergh stuck to the iPhone method for his new sports-drama movie “High Flying Bird,” which stars André Holland and just wrapped up shooting this spring. No word yet if it uses FiLMiC and Moment’s technology.
The companies aren’t waiting around to find out, moving ahead with expansion plans.
After Moment’s latest Kickstarter campaign met its goal in less than an hour, it went on to raise more than $1.5 million for a new lens, battery-phone case and counterweight stabilizer.
The 5-year-old startup, which has about 25 employees, has so far done all its major product launches on Kickstarter and is sold almost solely through its own website. Barros said that helps the Moment team understand who is buying its lenses. Those people seem to be YouTubers, travelers and any millennial who is interested in getting high-quality photos without heavy gear.
About one-third of Moment’s employees are professional writers and photographers, something the company plans to take advantage of with its new travel venture.
Moment is launching group travel trips, led by its own employees, to take people on dayslong trips to scenic spots around the world, complete with shooting tips.
All of this technology is bringing power to people who couldn’t afford high-end video-quality gear before, Barham said.
FiLMiC’s app costs $15, and an anamorphic lens, which can be used to capture wide shots, from Moment is $150. Throw in the smartphone most people already own, and it’s not a bad deal.
Barham is hopeful more films will be shot using the app, which the company’s team is expanding with new features.
“Anybody who wants to tell an authentic story, wants to tell their story, can,” Barham says.