I made this…on my phone

Reuters is carrying a story about a South African filmmaker who shot a movie entirely using cell phones. The “radically low budget” was set at $160,000, and it is being proclaimed as an incredible achievement.
But is it?
I mean, surely $160,000 would be better spent on actual cameras? Is it not more likely that the whole thing was done as some sort of gimmick?
I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, it’s just I can’t for the life of me see how it has any benefits doing it that way. He talks about being able to film non-stop, and yet, every cellphone I’ve used stops recording after about 3 minutes, and there’s only so much you can record onto a memory card, certainly less than an hour offered by video tapes. For a camera phone with a decent lens, it’ll cost more than hiring even the most basic video camera, and the frame rate is something like 12 or 15 frames per second. Even if you forget about the spatial or chromatic quality, what’s the plus side to all this? Apart from maybe an endorsement from Nokia*?
Anyway, I propose some ideas as to how the budget may have been spent:
1) Champagne (every night, as they laugh at the rest of the world for being suckers)
2) Bribing Reuters into running the story.
3) Regular laser eye surgery, needed to combat the effects of squinting at a small display.
4) Endless takes, because people’s phones keep ringing during the shoot.
5) Phone calls…

*note, digitalintermediates.org is not affiliated with Nokia in any way… We just like their phones.

Have cell phone? Make a movie
By Rebecca HarrisonThu Feb 2, 6:00 AM ET Copyright (c) 2006 Reuters Limited

Eight cell phones, $160,000, and a good idea — could this be the future of film-making?
South African director Aryan Kaganof thinks so. And to prove it, he made SMS Sugar Man, which is billed as the world’s first feature film shot entirely on mobile phones.
SMS Sugar Man was filmed on eight phone cameras over 11 days with three main characters for less than 1 million rand ($164,100). As well as traditional cinema screenings, the film will be beamed to cell phones in 30 three-minute episodes over the course of a month.
Kaganof says the tale of a pimp and two high-class prostitutes cruising around Johannesburg on Christmas Eve is blazing a trail for a new, democratic approach to film that will slash the cost of both making and viewing movies.
“I thought cinema in South Africa wasn’t the appropriate medium to represent who we are … it’s a mostly white phenomenon. Then it struck me that a medium that Africans love more than any other is the cell phone,” he told Reuters.
Kaganof — who ironically bought his first cell phone last year to make the film — dismissed concerns over quality and said the footage looked “fabulous” when blown up to the standard 35mm feature film size.
While films made in or about Africa are grabbing the limelight outside the world’s poorest continent, small audiences at home — where most people cannot afford a night out at the cinema — make it tough for filmmakers to break even.
Finding a low-budget model like in Nigeria, where the homegrown “Nollywood” industry is hugely popular, is the only way of ensuring a future for South African film, said Kaganof.
SMS Sugar Man — which is due to premiere around May — cost just a fraction of the 6 million rand that many low-budget local films cost. By comparison, Hollywood pictures typically cost $40-50 million and often exceed $100 million.
“We wanted to make a radically low budget film to show that anyone can do this,” said producer Michelle Wheatley. “There are a lot of people in Africa who want to make films and can’t afford it.”
AFRICAN AGENDA?
The cheap technology used to shoot SMS Sugar Man means the cameras are always rolling, making for a fresher, more dynamic and fluid movie, with room to experiment.
“We just had a bunch of mobiles and we let it run,” said Wheatley. “That allowed the actresses to explore the story and to improvise, to try stuff out that they wouldn’t have done if they’d had a camera pointing in their faces.”
One problem is that film fans hoping to watch SMS Sugar Man on their phones will need an up-to-date camera-equipped handset, and while cell phone use has exploded across the continent, only a rich minority have the latest gadgets.
With all the talk of empowering Africa, it is surprising that none of the three main characters, including Kaganof who also acts in the film, are black.
But Kaganof argues that “we are past all that,” despite the deep divisions in South Africa 12 years after the end of apartheid. He says the technology behind SMS Sugar Man gives Africa a chance to stop copying the West and set its own agenda.
“What we are doing is exciting, it’s innovative and we are pressing the buttons that the world will follow. It is an African film,” he said.

Posted: February 2nd, 2006
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