Forget heavy and expensive equipment. Today films can be made using small gadgets — think handycams and smartphones! Sudhish Kamath takes you behind the scenes

Until a couple of decades ago, there was no way you could make a movie and get it released without expensive film cameras, and every can of film that could shoot a few minutes of footage would set you back by thousands of rupees, escalating the final cost (of completed film and processing) to almost Rs. 1.5 crore.

To get a film released in the theatres today, you don’t need a film print anymore. A high-definition digital print would do. Today, you can shoot a film with cameras straight from your high-end smartphone.

Now consider the following:

The iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 can shoot 1080p (HD) video; both cost less than Rs. 50,000.

You can order a professional grade Canon 7D that can shoot full HD for around Rs. 80,000 from Flipkart. That too on EMIs!

If you have people visiting you from the U.S., they could get you a 3D Hi Definition Handycam for less than $ 1,000. Imagine shooting your short / feature film on 3D! You can buy the handy Go Pro cameras that let you shoot sporting action in HD detail for about Rs. 20,000!

Every laptop you buy today comes with basic video editing software that can edit in HD (Freeware Windows Movie Maker on Windows or the preloaded iMovie on Mac platforms).

Which means that since it doesn’t cost much these days to buy decent HD cameras, anyone today CAN make a movie. In principle, of course. “These cameras have ensured that people can learn the visual language easily. There’s nothing stopping them from getting a camera and learning how to use the features. But then, just like everyone who learns a new language does not become a professional writer, learning the visual language does not mean everyone who has learnt to use the camera will become a great filmmaker,” says cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan, who used a mix of high-end cameras and the Go Pros for his new film Inam (Ceylon in English).

Doesn’t low-resolution pixellate on the big screen?

“Every camera has a certain character and you can use different cameras to tell different kinds of stories. Once you understand the character and feel of a camera and establish it as a part of the storytelling style, resolution doesn’t matter. People who are sceptical about resolution and pixellation are the same people who were sceptical about film grain. Film grain can look really good when you want to create that kind of mood. Similarly, in a few years, people will get used to the idea of pixellation if the story is gripping and demands that treatment. Don’t we like to watch old MGR films with the scratches and dust?” he asks.

Santosh Sivan shot Inam with digital cameras for capturing multiple points of views. “Today, war is captured through the phone. Technology has helped us get into the middle of action. Which is why I used the cameras,” says Sivan.

Cinematographer Rajiv Menon employed digital cameras to make the viewing experience more immersive while shooting Mani Ratnam’s Kadal. Ram Gopal Varma’s last few films have experimented drastically with all kinds of inexpensive cameras (some with catastrophic results).

Filmmaker Q, who made his underground indie cult hit Gandu with a six-people crew, and a Canon 7D camera, took his film all the way to Slamdance! “When I bought the 7D, it was over Rs. 1 lakh though. It was expensive for me back then. Resolution really is over-rated. Look at Harmony Korine. I love his trash aesthetics. He shot a dogme film with really old VHS cameras called Julien Donkey Boy. He shot the film on VHS, played it on the screen and then shot the screen to get the high resolution required for projection.” After Gandu, he has shot his new feature film Tasher Desh using the Canon 7D too!

Ad filmmaker Abhishek Shah of Be Positive 24, takes 4,000 pictures a year that are not part of his job. Just randomly on the move. On his iPhone. “I will always be grateful to Steve Jobs. Thanks to him, I can see colour like never before everywhere I go. We now have apps on our phones that allow us to check composition of frames without changing lenses, edit images and also experiment with visual treatments,” he says, showing off a lensing app on his iPhone that he bought for Rs. 2,000. “I have shot an ad campaign with my phone and the output has been fantastic. I dream of a full HD iPhone in my hands soon,” he says, ready to exchange his one-day old iPhone 5 for the next model when it’s out next month! Two years ago, critically acclaimed Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook shot an entire film on an iPhone. Night Fishing went on to win Best Short Film at the Berlin Film Festival.

Closer home, Dibakar Banerjee made Love Sex Aur Dhokha making the digital camera an integral part of the narrative. Back then, the cameras were a tad too expensive for the common man. Not anymore. “But a word of caution,” says cinematographer-turned-actor Nischalakrishna Vittalanathan. “Just because you have these cameras, does not mean you can shoot on the move. Watching hand-held shaky images on the big screen could be migraine-inducing. Just ensure you are also investing in the right kind of lenses and gear for smoother movement of the camera. You might end up spending at least another Rs. 50,000 on building customised jibs and gear such as Merlin Steadicam or Glidecam for 7D cameras. And another lakh or more on the right lenses.”