Cellphone film for big screens
12 June 2006
A classic white Valiant cruises the deserted streets of the vast metropolis. Inside the car, Sugar Man, a pimp with principles, shepherds his flock of working girls from client to client. The three women are foreigners, 'cos "nobody was born in Joburg", come to the anonymous city to get their share of the pie.
So begins SMS Sugar Man, the first feature-length film in the world to have been shot entirely on cellphone.
"I know that a music video for The Presidents of The United States was shot on Sony Ericsson k750i and that there are probably some short films shot on cellphones as well," says cinematographer Eran Tahor on smssugarman.com, "but no feature films."
"It works", says writer and director Aryan Kaganof. "We shot with up to eight Sony Ericsson W900i mobile phones, and the results were beyond our expectations."
The Sony Ericsson was the only phone available that shot video at 30 frames per second, rather than 16 - 18 fps. From tiny images on the phone screen, the footage was transferred onto traditional 35mm film stock for projection.
"It was a revelation.
"The pictures looked nothing like anything I have seen before," says Tahor. "Highly saturated, dense, warm painterly pictures that hit you right in the stomach. I knew that we’re onto something very special."
"We often had a scene with two mobile phones mounted into the rear view mirrors of our action vehicle, a Valiant, then Director of Photography Eran Tahor shooting with one, Aryan shooting and then also the actresses shooting," says Michelle Wheatley, the film's producer.
"For one sequence we had a love scene between our two actresses where they filmed it themselves. This is what the technology allows you to do."
"The results of the blow-up tests were amazing," says Kaganof. "This camera has liberated film makers from the tyrannies of the 35mm set. Finally I can truly say that I film what I like."
Writer and director Aryan Kaganof also takes the title role in Sugar Man
"We didn't want to lose the momentum so from the birth of the concept to finishing principal photography took 12 weeks. We knew that we wanted to shoot in December to maximize on the deserted roads and free Christmas lights everywhere. We set a date and stuck to it!"
The film was shot in just twelve days, working six hours a night. Without the all the camera and grips gear, the Sugar Man crew was able to work much faster, and closer, than traditional film crews.
"Sometimes I'd be a close as 10cm from the actress when filming close-ups," says Tahor. "It created a level of intimacy I have never experienced before on set."
To go with the innovative approach to shooting the movie, the film's producers have decided to use a variety of new media formats to market and distribute it.
"The film is not only for mobile phone viewers, cinema, ipod, DVD etcetera, we also want it to be web interactive. We will run competitions where people can re-edit their own endings, information blogs on how to shoot your own film, we want people to send us their own short films," said Wheatley.
"This isn't the end, only the beginning, this will all eventually be on the website - www.smssugarman.com."
"We will also be placing the promo on Google, Yahoo and MySpace.com, and trying to reach a global audience."
SMS Sugar Man will hit the big screens later in 2006.