Cell Phone Cinema strips filmmaking down to a story and a single piece of equipment. Students write a narrative script, plan production design, secure locations and shoot a three-act short using only their cell phones and simple sound equipment. Students harness their problem-solving and storytelling skills to craft a compelling film by focusing on the story instead of on state-of-the-art gear.
ArtCenter: How would you describe this class to prospective students?
Victoria Hochberg: As the name suggests, students write a script and shoot a short film entirely on a cell phone without any other gear — no dollies, no extra lighting, nothing. This is filmmaking of the future but also a return to the past because there isn't an obsession with equipment. The most important thing is the story.
Without the ability to use cinematic tricks, we were able to really focus on storytelling and directing. In each class we were driven to hone in on the messages and emotions of our films. It’s amazing what you can do with a cell phone and a good story.Ryan LapineGrad Film
AC: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
VH: I wanted to completely strip down the filmmaking process and inspire a kind of guerilla sensibility, more cinéma vérité within narrative filmmaking. I knew that cell phones had incredible optics, so I wasn't worried about the quality. But I wondered if it was possible. Then someone told me about Tangerine, a film shot entirely on Apple 5S cell phones. Once I saw that film, I knew I was on the right track.
AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience?
VH: Without extra lights or external equipment, students immediately become aware of the practical implications of the locations they choose. More importantly, they learn how to deal creatively with limitations, which really is the biggest skill a director must learn. Every shoot, even the most expensive Hollywood film, is fraught with limitations and unexpected problems. Learning to improvise and use the “disasters” to your advantage is incredibly valuable. For many students, this was a real revelation.
AC: What do students learn in this course they wouldn't learn from a more traditional filmmaking course?
VH: Many directors focus on the spectacle, but this can be a way of avoiding what they fear: crafting a solid story. With Cell Phone Cinema, there are no distractions to keep you from thinking about what a director really needs to do — like telling a story, organizing ideas visually and structurally, and working with actors. Plus, in this course, directors are also the camera operators, which allows them to authentically see through that lens.
AC: What were some of the most surprising ways the students responded to the challenges and assignments?
VH: The most interesting results come from students who are willing to make mistakes and take risks. One student used a paint roller to rig up a kind of periscope shot. Another built a box to hold the cell phone. One used a skateboard as a dolly. Being completely involved in problem-solving makes you feel like you’re inventing cinema. You’re able to be enormously creative, and that’s incredibly exciting.
AC: What was one of your favorite films to come out of the class?
VH: Ryan Lapine made a film about a recent widower who buys his son a fish. The fish dies the same day, and the man tries to hide it from his son. I don’t want to share the ending but it’s a wonderful film.