From Mashups to Pocket Cinema…

As a fan of short-form user-generated content, I have a real fascination with pocket cinema a.k.a. mobile phone films a.k.a. productions for the Very Small Screen. The first camphone appeared in Japan in 2000, and within a few years mobile phone films festival started to appear, such as Pocketfilm in France and Japan, alongside dedicated streams at festivals like Sundance (US) and Raindance (UK). YouTube launched in 2005, in 2009 the iPhone 3GS launched and this saw YouTube uploads increase 400% in one week (1700% in 6 months).

There’s a certain aesthetic to many mobile phone films which can often be shaky and pixelated (termed the ‘Ketai Aesthetic’ by Max Schlesser) and yet some of the most powerful images of recent world events have been captured using these personal, consumer devices. The mobile phone camera is intimate, discreet, and allows us to ‘shoot from the hip’, recording events as they happen in real-time.

However, the ‘art’ of mobile film making allows us to question our assumptions in terms of what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating engaging content. Without being able to rely on high-end technology and production practices, narrative practices are laid bare: what works on the big screen doesn’t necessarily work on the small screen – and vice versa. It’s about energy and imagination rather than big budget, and pushes us to think about how to tell a story quickly.

For 3 years now I’ve been working with students on the production of VSS films as it challenges their prior assumptions about film-making and pushes them to really focus on content and the art of ‘fast entertainment’. These skills are invaluable in a time when 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and there are 100 million daily mobile views – how to increase the likelihood our of content being seen, enjoyed and contributing to the YouTube community and culture as a whole.

I’m especially looking forward to this year as after seeing the mash-up videos the group came up with as a non-assessed short exercise a couple of weeks ago (see here for an example), I have a feeling we’re going to see some excellent productions. While we’ve so far been focusing on remix culture, fair use type policies, and pushing boundaries in terms of copyright, we are going to have to now re-focus in order to ensure our content is viewable on the various screens around our building at MediaCityUK. This is going to mean adhering to certain editorial guidelines, which necessitates certain constraints in terms of what can be filmed, used and broadcasted. It will be interesting to see how these constraints influence the films that will be produced; at the same time I’m acutely aware that constraints are often seen as going hand-in-hand with creativity…

I’m going to leave it there for now, lots more to say and I’m trying to keep this blog post length – will no doubt be writing more about the films themselves in due course. In the meantime, here’s one my (many) favourites which I like because it’s simple and quirky: Personal Jesus by Yaroslav Dimont.

6 thoughts on “From Mashups to Pocket Cinema…

  1. Great stuff. It’s good to see that you’re continuing your great work in these areas. The journey from homemade movies shot purely for family gatherings to mobile footage appearing on terrestrial TV has been a long one. There has been a huge amount of resistance to introducing UGC in to broadcast and the idea that ‘the best camera is the one you have in your pocket’ doesn’t wash with cameramen and filmmakers who have spent years learning their craft with expensive tools. This week sees the BBC broadcast Youtube’s ‘Life In A Day’, I wouldn’t say it’s a turning point, more of an acknowledgement that what matters most is the story being told regardless of who shot it or what equipment was used. I hope some other broadcasters can learn from this.

  2. I love debates like this, this post augments my “all the phones a stage” blog and how I validate the concept of phone flicks as a valid art form. I agree totally about the vibe from this years students especially Sound Sketchers (great things ahead for her).


  3. As a taster my offering will be leaning towards the abstract, really looking forward to doing this assignment. As always your views on how this idea will go down with the group ring true. Thanks for adding the link to my page.

  4. Just came across your article and was surprised to watch my video here. Happy you liked it 😉
    It was my one of my few experiments in this area of film making and now I am mostly doing DSLR based stuff. But while the phones are getting more and more sophisticated in terms of video quality I don’t exclude the possibility of shooting such things in the future…

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