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  • James Stranahan

Sometimes, a Good Cell Phone Can Capture More Than the Best Hollywood Technology

The average movie these days costs $65 million to make. Think about that for a second: that’s a nice chunk of change for anyone regardless of what they do for a living. I think I am safe, then, when I go out on a limb and say that most film students don’t have that much lying around their dorm rooms. I know I didn’t when I was at the AADA in Los Angeles. Today, of course, I still don’t have that much, but I do have investors that are willing to fund Tip-Top Productions’ films. Thanks to them, I’ve got some awesome technology to work with. There’s nothing like creating a movie using an Alexa or a Red Cam. Having tools like that to produce a film makes it even easier to give audiences the high-quality entertainment they have a right to expect when they sit down in their seats with their popcorn.


While I will always love the toys that come with a well-funded movie, I think sometimes it’s necessary to drop them and re-experience what it’s like to make a film using a simple cell phone. After all, that’s how I got started way back in high school (I won’t admit how long that’s been. I’m sure you can Google me and figure that out). I was a skinny sophomore and had been a theater student since middle school. One day, I decided to just pick up my cell phone and make a short film with a couple of friends. My life hasn’t been the same since. It’s hard to explain, but it was a bit of a rush, as I recall, because suddenly I was actually making a movie. People were acting in front of me, I was directing them, and a real story was coming alive as it was captured on my phone. Academy Award-worthy it was not, but I was very proud of that film and the work my friends and I put into it.


So, a few weeks back, I was finishing up a long day on the set of Better Than Yourself in Idyllwild, California. I was surrounded by gadgets - the best money could buy and most definitely what producers dream of having. I was just about to leave for my room so that I could snore for hopefully a very long time when I spotted my cell phone sitting in its usual place. I had one of those weird flashbacks, when you suddenly remember your younger self from way back when. I recalled making that film in high school and obsessing over every detail: the lighting, the breeze, how my friends delivered their lines - everything. I thought, “Why not?”


I picked up my cell phone and decided to take a walk. I left behind 21st century film technology and started videoing anything and everything. Squirrels. Birds. The wind as it rustled through tree leaves. I found a small stream and videoed that, too, zooming in on how the water trickled over the rocks. I saw a frog hopping along the muddy bank and got it on video.


You know what happened as I took videos with my cell phone? I remembered why I love making movies so much: I can capture the world as it unfolds moment by moment, moments that are lost forever because time escapes us but that I can revisit for years to come. I can see the world as it really is: wild, unfiltered, and authentic.


When I had finished filming the world around me, I simply stopped for a while and reflected on the fact that I felt like I was fifteen again, discovering the power and wonder of filmmaking. No matter where my Hollywood career takes me, I truly hope that I never forget what it’s like to simply enjoy making movies.



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