It was only a matter of time before a Best Picture hopeful for the Oscars was shot using a device that has permeated our culture in just a few short years: smartphones. Tangerine, a gripping, funny, heartfelt and heartbreaking film chronicling transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, walked away from the Sundance Film Festival with huge buzz, not only for the content and quality of the movie itself, but for how it was filmed. Shot entirely using multiple iPhone 5S, Tangerine has become a critical darling that champions and reveals the power of smartphone cinematography.
To counteract the film’s small budget, writer and director Sean Baker made the decision to film using Apple’s titular smartphone. Shockingly enough, the compact camera, shot on the 5S model no less, does not deter the quality of the film in any way. In fact, since the film was shot with a 2:35:1 aspect ration in widescreen, you’d be hard pressed to tell the film was shot using an iPhone. Of special note is just how seamlessly and fluid Baker creates some zooming shots of the ever-exposed Hollywood setting of Tangerine.
With three iPhones at their disposal, a Steadicam rig to stabilize and position the phone to avoid hand-held shaking, Filmic Pro, an $8 app that added editing features like aperture, color temperature and focus, and a set of anamorphic adapter lenses, Baker and his filmmaking crew were able to make Tangerine into a cinema worthy feature film, despite the relative nuts and bolts of the equipment. Those adapter lenses were particularly important in the filmmaking process that graduated Tangerine from a DIY smartphone film to Sundance standout.
“To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have even made the movie without it,” Baker told The Verge. “It truly elevated it to a cinematic level.” Prototypes from Moondog Labs, the anamorphic adapter lenses gave Tangerine the shiny veneer of a studio film, with an undeniable and irresistible look. Using the Filmic Pro app, Baker and his post-production team decided to forego convention and overly saturate the film, making the dominant color orange, which ended up inspiring the film’s name. The cherry on top of the making of Tangerine was to actually add in some digital grain, again to transform the film’s quality more closely to that of actual film.
All things considered, Tangerine proves that it doesn’t take much beyond an iPhone, an app and a few cheap pieces of equipment to make a movie rife for taking over movie theatres and looking like a quality studio film. Beyond the film’s powerful message and storyline, Tangerine is also an inspirational and aspirational example of what all can be accomplished in the filmmaking industry, especially for budding, amateur filmmakers who already have the tools they need to make a movie in their pocket.