Mobile Filmmaking Tells Real Stories

Let us tell you a story about a storyteller.

Our film festival is genuinely working on opening doors to storytellers through filmmaking by creating a mobile film resource center with many programs and opportunities.  It has been our mission to open the door to creativity and opportunity and to encourage and inspire everyone to make films for over four years. The reason we work so hard to build this is because for the first time in our history since the days we carried sticks and stones as tools all over the world, we share the same tool again. Just about everyone around the globe has access to mobile phones and a lot of people don’t realize what the tool in their hands is capable of.

The camera on the phone is pretty good. It is so good now that you almost cannot see a difference between a smartphone’s HD camera and a professional one when you are watching films online or on big screens and your mobile device screens. It’s a great time for the mobile filmmaker and storyteller.

One of our newest friends submitted a film to us for inclusion in the International Mobil Film Festival™ in San Diego. His name is Nelson Pena. Nelson has created a series of films with his phone and one of them in particular has been accepted into MFF2015. The story is part of a series and we were really impressed with the film as a true story told creatively. We are excited about sharing it on the big screen during the festival with you.

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I wanted to make this more of an article than a question and answer interview but I think that I would do Nelson better justice if I let his own words tell you his story.

Nelson is planning to attend the festival in San Diego April 25 & 26, 2015 and we have our fingers crossed. We are going to have a panel of filmmakers speak about the benefits and downfalls of mobile filmmaking and we look forward to Nelson being a part of the select panel for a Q&A.

This year’s film festival is free to attend. So if you are curious…go ahead and wander into our world where mobile phones give an awesome opportunity to filmmakers all around the world. Join some of the international filmmakers who will attend, and join Nelson Pena as he shares his film projects and experience with you in person.

SBP: Were you a filmmaker before becoming a mobile filmmaker? If so, please tell us what inspired you to become a filmmaker before becoming a mobile filmmaker.

Nelson: Yes. I have been a filmmaker for a long time. I was born an artist. I got that from my mother. I wasn’t a filmmaker as a kid. But I drew a lot as a child. Photos, drawing, graffiti and paintings always caught my attention, so becoming a filmmaker later in life made sense to me.

SBP: What phone do you use? Why? Would you consider using a different phone and if so which of the newest phones would you pick?

Nelson: I use an iPhone5s. When it comes to using other phones to shoot, one can never say ‘never.’ But it would be hard – not impossible – for me to switch phones. I love my iPhone and I’m so used to it and I have gotten to know it so well by now.

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SBP: What inspired you to use your phone to film?

Nelson: I shot my first films on 16mm film. Back then you needed more equipment and crew to pull anything off. But even back then, I was wearing multiple hats on the films I was making. I would write, produce, shoot, direct and edit films on 16mm film.

Nowadays, with the advent of DSLRs, YouTube, Vimeo and such, more filmmakers are writer/director/producer/shooter/editors than in the days when filmmakers were shooting on film.

I discovered that my phone gave me an option to express myself as a filmmaker and a storyteller without having to lug tons of equipment and, at times, an unwilling crew. This freedom to create is what inspired me mostly use my phone as a camera. I decided to shoot the types of films that I like the most. Anyone who knows me would tell you that real storytelling and me go hand-in-hand.

SBP: Do you do anything else with the phone such as editing, music creation, voiceovers, graphics or effects? Would you? Why or why not?

Nelson: No. The only thing I do with my phone is shoot. I am aware that there are editing applications for phones, but I would personally stay away from that.

I need a big screen to look at my footage. I can’t squint my eyes for hours at a time while editing and doing graphic work for one of my films. I have two 28” screens and I’m sticking to them.

SBP: What accessories do you use during your productions?

Nelson: I’ve been learning about phone-shooting along the way. Actually, I am still learning.

First, I recognized I could use my phone as a camera, so I shot a short documentary with a friend of mine, and his family in the South Bronx called “A South Bronx Dad.” In retrospect, this became the first film shot for my “You Are Not Famous” documentary series, which is entirely shot on iPhones. Take a look at the “You Are Not Famous” Facebook page.

Overall, I was happy with the film. Still, I knew I could do better than what I did. I felt the phone was good, but it had a lot of limitations…

So, I Googled iPhone lenses and this-and-that and a whole world opened up. I bought a microphone from Euditige; Olloclip lenses, and an iStabilizer.

I now use FilmicPro, too.

SBP: What do you use for post-production, like editing and special effects?

Nelson: I use Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014 and mix it up with a bit of After Effects and sometimes Photoshop.

I do not use special effects. I’m shooting documentaries with my phone, so, other than color-correction, I pretty much present what I shoot in the exact same manner in which I captured it.

SBP: How much focus and effort do you give your films during post-production?

Nelson:  A lot of time. I put a lot of time into my editing work. I am very organized and this is of paramount importance for editors. I like looking at everything I shoot. And as tedious and boring as this is, I must put myself through it.

I first build my story. Then, once I have a picture-lock, I do color-correction. In a perfect world, I would have a sound editor working on sound-design and mixing my film while I am doing color-correction.

SBP: Do you usually put some time and effort with audio during production and in post?

Nelson: I have for my other films that were shot with a crew and with more money. With my iPhone films, the sound quality HAS to improve. I am considering buying a zoom and record sound with it. This would be in addition to the Euditige mic. I would then sync my iPhone footage with the sound captured on the zoom using Plural Eyes.

SBP: What advice would you give someone who has no experience in filmmaking and wants to try mobile filmmaking for the first time?

Nelson: This is great. I say go for it. You can make films so inexpensively using your phones. You don’t have to break the bank while making a film that most likely, if it’s your first one, is going to be bad. That experience is very discouraging, “having no money in the bank because you wasted it all on a bad film.” I have a lot of filmmaker friends who have gone through this. Some have even mortgaged their houses to raise money for their films.

But today, a budding filmmaker could make a film with his/her phone and very little money. This is a great and cheap way to make mistakes.

A couple of things to keep in mind: If you are starting out, you are going to make a lot of mistakes; no one is immune to that. However, you don’t have to show those films to anyone. You could make three or four short films and learn a lot from them, and then make the one you show to everybody and have them think you had it from the get-go!

I have my share of horrible films that I have made, too.  And I would not show them to anyone.

SBP: How important do you think it is to accessorize your phone to produce a good mobile film?

Nelson: Very important. Knowing what I know now, I would never shoot another phone-film the way I shot my first phone-film. I have to have my toys and accessories. I feel like I am in control when I do. It’s like a painter who needs all of his brushes to paint. I am the same way.

SBP: What is your best filmmaker attribute according to others and yourself?

Nelson: Directing.

SBP: What is your favorite part of filmmaking in general?

Nelson: Shooting/Production.

And sound mixing, when you are in the studio mixing your film and watching it all finally come together, that is a ‘wow’ moment for me.

SBP: What is the worst part of mobile filmmaking?

Nelson: The batteries die super fast. A lot of times I’m shooting outside and I can’t plug my phone. Whenever I shoot exteriors, I make sure my phone is charged 100% beforehand. I’ve lost stuff I wanted to shoot a couple of times because my phone battery died and I had nowhere to charge it.

For this reason, I am buying a charging-case and hopefully this will alleviate this problem a bit.

SBP: Regarding the subject of your film, the robber, what brought up the story? Did you search for such a story?

Nelson: You are referring to my short documentary “Have You Ever Robbed Someone At Gunpoint?”

Like I mentioned above, I am interested in real story telling. Being from New York and from the Bronx, I have met a lot of interesting characters: good, bad, and everything else in between. So, I am exploiting what is available to me: my phone as a camera and all the real stories I have in front of me. I learned that from Robert Rodriguez. You have to exploit what you have access to and not what you hope and wish you had access to.

I don’t have to go out of my way to find the characters I interview for my documentaries. In NYC, they are all around me.

SBP: During the making of your film, did anything surprise you about the process being easier than you thought or harder than you thought, for example?

Nelson: I was thrilled at how easy it was; don’t get me wrong, making films is hard no matter what. For me, though, when compared to making films on 16mm film, shooting on your phone is much easier. I don’t know how others feel about this. I am only speaking from my own experience here.

SBP: What was your intended message with your film? What do you hope viewers walk away with, after watching your film?

Nelson: With all of my documentary work, I want to put the viewer in other people’s shoes. Maybe that ‘ex-con’ would not be an ‘ex-con’ had he grown up under different circumstances. Maybe that ‘ex-con’ would have attended Harvard or Yale had he been raised somewhere else.

Hopefully, my films will help people understand one another a bit more. I am not advocating anything here. You don’t have to like anyone you do not want to like. But you can still show someone you don’t like a bit of respect while keeping your distance. Understand that you do not have to ‘automatically’ dislike someone because they are from a different country, race, gender, sexual orientation, neighborhood or coast.

SBP: You have a series of episodes of this nature, correct? Would you like to share why you chose the route you chose for your theme?

Nelson: Yes. I have an exciting and explosive short documentary series entitled “You Are Not Famous”. Each episode lasts between three and five minutes and they are all shot entirely on my iPhone 5s.

I don’t think I chose the theme. The theme chose me. Again, this is one of the most exciting and interesting forms of story telling for me.

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SBP: How hard is it to walk up to someone and ask to interview him or her with a phone versus a pro camera?

Nelson: I don’t know how to explain this one, because for me this isn’t about the camera. This is more about intuition and intuition isn’t something one can teach.

Most of my friends would never, in a million years, do the things that I do. They think I am crazy. Yet, I feel so comfortable approaching a total stranger in the streets of New York, talking to them and getting them to agree to be interviewed by me; right there on the spot, too. That’s how I got my subject for “What Happened To Your Leg?” and the subjects for most of my other pieces.

I’ve had a few people say no and even when this happens they’re saying no with a smile. Getting strangers to smile at you in New York City? That’s not easy. Trust me.

And sometimes, I’ve had people say no to me and then a few weeks later they approach me, asking me to interview them, so their ‘no’ was a temporary one.

In my humble opinion, this part is something that you either got it, or you don’t.

SBP: You entered one of your mobile films into the International Mobil Film Festival in San Diego for MFF2015 in April. Do you plan to attend the event, walk on the red carpet, be part of a speaker’s panel and present your film to the audience with a Q&A?

Nelson: I’d love to attend the event. I have to see how my schedule is. But I intend on being there. And I would walk the red carpet, be a part of a speaker’s panel and do a Q&A following my film screening. Yes.

SBP: What is your agenda for the next two years as a mobile filmmaker? Are there any future projects on the horizon?

Nelson: Right now, I am putting the finishing touches on Season One of “You Are Not Famous”. The next two years, besides my non-mobile film projects, I will be working on seasons two and three of “You Are Not Famous.” I want to shoot season two in Los Angeles, where I also reside.

SBP: Lastly, has been a true storyteller changed some of your views and/or opinions about anything? Do you feel you also have gained insight?

Nelson: I’ve learned not to judge people at first glance. Seriously. I have learned a lot about life from the documentaries I have directed. And I have also learned to ‘see’ the human being before I see the ‘bum,’ or the ‘ex-con,’ etc. Even, if I, too, do so from a distance.

In the opening of this article, I asked you to allow me to tell you a story about a storyteller. I hope you enjoyed the story and realize that you were born a storyteller too.

Everyone in the world has a story and we have shared our stories since we were children. How will you share yours now? We are here to inspire you to tell stories and then we offer you the opportunity to do so with what you have in your pocket. All the films in our film festival are shot with phones. Filmmaking is one of the best ways to share a story profoundly.

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“The red carpet is in your pocket!”

Submit your mobile film to MFF2015 before the deadline of January 19, 2015. Come meet and wish Nelson and the other filmmakers luck next April in San Diego for the International Mobil Film Festival™!

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