Have a movie idea? Technological innovations have made it possible to create Hollywood level films using a smart phone or a DSLR, transforming the landscape of the industry. Shooting on a budget is nothing new for amateur and Indy filmmakers, but filming on a phone was. In 2015, Tangerine, a movie shot using only an iPhone, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival achieving status as the first feature-length movie ever recorded on a smartphone.
In 2018, the celebrated Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh announced that his new film titled Unsane would also be filmed with an iPhone. The small-budget thriller, The Possession of Hannah Grace, is the first Hollywood movie to be shot using only a full frame mirrorless DSLR, a camera that costs a mere $2,000. With technology becoming ever more accessible, everything needed for a feature length film can now be bought at Best Buy. Directors are discovering that bigger isn’t always better.
“The smaller camera’s ability to see beauty under low light conditions, the LED lighting technology, and the [eco-friendly] methods we used in set construction made this whole production a case study in how to be efficient and still tell a great story with a fantastic look,” said producer Glenn S. Gainor.
Compare the cost of a DSLR to a typical Hollywood RED camera price tag of around $35,000 and it’s easy to appreciate the resourcefulness and immense cinematography behind this new movie, and the possibility of a future of sustainable and affordable film production.
Movie Info: A shocking exorcism spirals out of control, claiming the life of a young woman. Months later, Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is working the graveyard shift in the morgue when she takes delivery of a disfigured cadaver. Locked alone inside the basement corridors, Megan begins to experience horrifying visions and starts to suspect that the body may be possessed by a ruthless demonic force.
Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras
Mirrorless digital cameras emerged in the early 2000s and in a few short years models like the Leica M8 or the newer Panasonic Gh5 became widely celebrated among photographers and videographers. The following decade saw a rise in camera manufacturers like Sony, Nikon, and Canon all launching their own models of mirrorless cameras, competing to improve the quality of still and moving digital images.
The first cameras from Sony’s α series were DSLRs, but by 2010 when the Sony Nex-3 camera was released the company decided that to add the E-mount system that included mirrorless cameras and camcorders to their lineup. In 2013 Sony announced the release of their first full-frame mirrorless α7 model and the camera became instantly popular due to its superb ISO range that enabled its users to record footage, even under less than perfect light conditions. Despite powerful features, mirrorless cameras were never used in Hollywood.
What Makes Sony α7s II so powerful?
A few years after the initial success of the cameras from the α7 series, Sony launched the α7S II model that, unlike previous models of the same series, could capture footage in 4K resolution internally and without the aid of additional equipment. A few years after its release, this camera was installed on the International Space Station by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency to capture the first 4K video in space, while filmmakers frequently used it to record commercials, promo videos, and short movies.
The Sony α7s II offered a much-improved recording setup that allowed users to increase the dynamic range up to 1300%. Additionally, the camera’s Full-Frame sensor Image Processor provide the ISO range of 100-102400, which practically means that Sony α7s II can capture crystal clear footage under virtually any light conditions. The extensive list of α7s II’s features allow it to produce competitive image quality to that of Hollywood cameras such as the ARRI Alexa, or Red Cinema cameras, averaging over $50,000 each. So it’s easy to see why a Director on a budget might want to choose the Sony for a feature length film.
The Possession of Hannah Grace as a case study
Having the most expensive equipment doesn’t guarantee that your movie is going to be a major success at the box office. Some of the greatest movies in history were made on small budgets, and with less than perfect equipment. The crew of the horror/thriller movie The Possession of Hannah Grace chose to work solely with α7s II because the camera suited the film’s visual style, with the added benefit that it was budget-friendly.
The anamorphic lenses that were used in combination with the a7s II enabled the camera crew to record images that have a wider aspect ratio than then the sensor’s native ratio. Lennert Hillege, the Director of Photography on the movie stated that this, “camera-lens combination breaks new ground for anamorphic productions, allowing the production to access the beauty and unique aesthetics of anamorphic imagery on a tight budget.”
The movie had a $9,500,000 budget, and the choice to shoot the entire film with α7s II cameras was based on the aesthetics the director and the DOP envisioned, rather than on the practical need to cut expenses. The results are undoubtedly impressive, with gorgeous stills and incredible visuals. The entire style of the movie reflects the eerie atmosphere of a morgue based in a brutalist building.
The Sony α7s II is unquestionably a powerful camera that is capable of stunning performances. Creativity, imagination or inventiveness are often far more important during the process of making a movie, while cameras, and all other technical aspects are merely tools artists use to tell stories. Now everyday people with the drive and an idea can have access to the same equipment some Hollywood producers use to share a unique and lasting story.