Matthew Roche and Elliot Milofsky talk Smartphone filmmaking
This January, the first Dublin Smartphone Film Festival took place at the Generator Hostel in Smithfield, a weekend showcasing the possibilities of smartphone filmmaking. With experienced hands like Steven Soderbergh experimenting with the format, its prominence is only growing, but a new generation of directors are taking up their phones and the opportunities accessible tech is affording them to create films of their own. Two such emerging talents are Matthew Roche and Elliot Milofsky, independent Irish film-makers currently studying Philosophy in Dublin. As part of ‘Extra Extra’, the pair just finished their latest short film Lady Luck, a submission for the Moment Invitational Film Festival. Their last short film Far won “Best Irish Film” at the Dublin Smartphone Film Festival and even since then the pair have been directing more shorts, all completed only with a smartphone. Film In Dublin spoke with the pair about their efforts in filmmaking and in getting others to realise the potential of the phones in their pockets.
Film In Dublin: I suppose the first thing I’m wondering is what made you first choose to shoot on phones?
Matthew Roche: There was a 48 hour film competition held at our university just 5 months ago that required us to use only our phones. It was so accessible that we just fell into the competition without a second thought. Even my phone that overheats and nearly scalded the actors hands was able to get the job done. If it hadn’t been so accessible neither of us would be working on anything today.
FID: What is it that most excites you about the format, beyond the accessibility factor?
Elliot Milofsky: The fact that flagship smartphone cameras are getting better every year; it’s starting to blur the lines between amateur and professional camerawork. You no longer need to have a crazy background in videography to shoot a high quality film, especially with apps such as FiLMiC Pro which lay it all out with relative ease.
Matthew: I’m going to throw my two-cents in here as well! Steven Soderbergh said it better than I could when he was talking about ‘Unsane’ so I’m going to “borrow” his words for a second. The ability to get any shot that you have in your mind without hours of set-up and direction is truly an amazing thing and when I’m writing, it’s almost magical to think that all of the ideas in my head can be captured comfortably (well, as comfortable as a hot set will allow).
FID: Does having an advocate as prominent for smartphone filmmaking as Soderbergh help in getting productions off the ground? Are there raised eyebrows still when you talk about shooting on iPhones or does the conversation turn to him and Sean Baker?
Matthew & Elliot: He definitely does help normalise the use of smartphones for serious productions but it still can be thought of as inferior because of tiny budgets and the fact that everyone has one. For most people, it takes the magic out of the whole film-making process. A lot of people would still equate a short to a near-effortless vlog just because of the similarity in tech used (despite having the same pre-production as a standard short film).-
FID: There are definitely shots in Unsane where the effect is heightened from the camera being used. Is there anything you’ve shot in the films you’ve made so far that would have been less effective on a standard camera?
Elliot: The reason we created our first short (“Far”) was that we didn’t feel like we could create a cinematic piece on our old iPhone, so we decided to use the front-facing camera to our advantage by writing a film in the form of a FaceTime conversation. We wouldn’t have been able to support that story with the use of standard filming methods.
FID: And do you see yourselves always working with smartphones or would it depend on the production?
Matthew: It really does depend on the production! We don’t want to limit ourselves to it at this early stage but we’re very comfortable with the potential they have now. You can get a very unique feel from a smartphone production which hasn’t yet been fully explored.
FID: Can you talk about the goals of Extra Extra and how you’d like to see it grow?
Matthew: Currently we aren’t thinking very far ahead after just finishing our newest short. We hope to make more shorts (and we have two in the pipeline) and also to try making films that are longer than the snappy 3-minutes that we are used to. Our goals for Extra Extra, as a whole, are to reach out and collaborate with some more Irish talent so as to start experimenting with different formats and styles.
FID: You’re producing films at a good pace and have had success in getting them out to festivals. What advice would you give developing filmmakers for getting eyes on their work?
Elliot: Definitely focus on the quality of the work more than anything. You shouldn’t even think about how you’re going to promote your work before it’s finished. Be happy with your efforts, and if it’s ready, share it. Try to contact local (and not-so-local) filmmakers and request their constructive criticism, they’re always happy to help someone who’s putting in effort.
FID: Your latest film Lady Luck is part of the Moment Invitational Film Festival. Can you talk about the production of that film and how the experience you’ve built up over the last year or so aided in making this one?
Matthew & Elliot: We struggled with a lot of obstacles both on and off set with “Lady Luck”. It’s been our most ambitious creative project to date and the deadline left us only a month to finish it. The first obstacle was that we had some small hiccups with our smartphone that we didn’t factor in when shooting in 4k (Filmic devours the battery). We were also restricted to one evening on set, and setting up took over 2 hours. The entire cast and crew was made up of 5 people, and it still felt cramped in that tiny room. As difficult as that was, the audio from the lottery footage made it even harder because it fluctuated a lot in quality (hence the strange muffled moments). However, that was the biggest hurdle in editing. I (Elliot) found that the post-production went smoothly because of the different skills I’ve picked up editing our other work. For me (Matthew), I’ve learnt quite a bit about developing an idea into a cohesive screenplay and forming ideas more visually.
The final selection of the Moment Invitational Film Festival will be announced on March 9th.