Film-maker Phanindra Narsetti on making a film with the iPhone 4s and pushing the boundaries of mobile film-making

To the makers of Backspace, the decision to make the film on an iPhone 4s was born out of both necessity and the need to push the boundaries of mobile film making. “I wanted to make a zero-budget film, firstly,” says Phanindra , the self-taught film-maker behind the film, Backspace. “The iPhone 4s offers portability and was a far better choice for working with people who have never faced a camera before,” he adds.

So did he write the script keeping in mind the limitations and advantages of the equipment? “Absolutely. Once I arrived upon the idea of using an iPhone 4s, I knew what kind of shots I could and couldn’t capture and write accordingly,” he explained. Certain shots, like those showing the insides of a washing machine and a draw could never have been done as easily with a professional video camera.

Backspace is 21 minutes and 20 seconds long, has a cast of six and a crew of two. It was written in two days and produced in three and a half months, the bulk of which was spent in editing. “We took only five and a half days to shoot the film but editing took me over two months,” informs Phanindra. The only investments made were for the iMovie app using which the film was edited and the fee paid to Saketh Komunduri for the music. The iPhone 4s was borrowed.

Filming with the iPhone, obviously, has its limitations. Praveen, the cinematographer and executive producer, says that the hardest scenes to capture were the ones having both outdoor and indoor sequences and those requiring quick panning of the camera. “We didn’t have the advantage of adjusting exposure and white balance as we do in a digital video camera. We had to continuously tap the focus to make sure we got the shots right,” he says. The film uses sync sound and the dubbing was done placing the iPhone in a cardboard box and speaking into it.

Backspace opens with a bachelor, played by Phaninda Narsetti himself, waking up to find a mysterious envelope at his doorstep. On opening the envelope, he finds a blank sheet of paper along with a note saying ‘Any action performed by your hands can be retracted if you write the word ‘backspace’ on the paper. Only without breaking the word once you start writing it.’ Though sceptical at first, he tries his luck only to find that the paper does have time altering powers. Endowed with this new found ability he tries a series of experiments starting by merely throwing things off his balcony but moving onto playing with his pet goldfish’s life. The movie takes a morbid turn when he finally stabs his girlfriend, only to turn around and find the paper flying out of the balcony door. What follows is his attempt to retrieve the paper, a sequence during which the viewer is constantly reminded that every action he makes takes him further away from saving her.

According to Phanindra who has scripted, directed, acted in and edited the film, the idea was born purely inspired by the ‘backspace’ key on the computer and what it can do. What underlies this fascination is his love for electronic gaming and the ability to control virtual life using a set of keys. While the thought of a sci-fi premise using which he could tell the story, he decided that fantasy was better suited to his target audience in India.

Backspace is not Phanindra’s first attempt at film making and is certainly not his last. His ad film for Nataraj pencils won third place at Mofilm India competition, 2010. Phanindra is also planning another Telugu short film Madhuram, a love story which he says ‘will change the way people perceive love but he feel he has a long way to go before he can successfully make a feature film.