We all make videos with our phones, but what about taking it up a notch and making an actual movie? Robert Fitzhugh is a smartphone filmmaker, trainer and founder of the Dublin Smartphone Film Festival, taking place in the capital on June 3rd. He dropped in for a chat with Brendan Courtney who was sitting in for Ryan Tubridy. They chatted about the upcoming festival, Wes Anderson re-makes on TikTok and how easy it is to make a great-looking film on your smartphone.

Robert studied classic filmmaking and invested in a professional camera, costing around €750. He was all set to go, when he realised his peers had spent a lot more money on theirs and this became a big talking point. Robert was worried that the story behind a movie could get lost in the competition over who has the best kit:

"There was this weird logic where the technology you had dictated the quality of the story you were telling – it was just a very strange way of looking at it. Nobody was in the background going 'Hey, what's your film about, what’s the story?’ It was like no, their camera’s expensive; mine is not – game over."

There has to be a better way, he thought, when he saw people being discouraged from making films because their cameras would never be "good enough":

"I kind of became obsessed with accessible technology and being able to use the kind of tools you had in your pocket to create stuff."

Not everyone was on board with using mobiles to make movies, Robert says. Some in the film industry didn’t take him seriously in the early days; including when he was applying for jobs. He just went ahead and started his own business. The "real" film industry took their time catching up, but Robert says it’s different now:

"Only now, I’m starting to see a change where people are starting to come around to it. The concept was incredibly niche and a little bit … patronising pat on the head, 5 or 6 years ago."

The technology in your mobile phone is amazing, Robert says. Even if the results are not the same as you’d get from a film camera, you can still find an audience for your story:

"If the story’s good enough, it doesn’t really matter what it’s made on."

Shooting and editing apps can enhance the functionality of smartphone cameras and you can get results that people find it hard to believe were shot on a phone. Robert says he's seen this happen:

"Last year we were setting up a film on the screen and one of the staff from the IFI came down and tapped me on the shoulder and they go ‘Are you kidding me? Are you telling me that was filmed on a phone?’"

Brendan has seen some of the smartphone movies from past festivals and he agrees; the quality is so good that it’s impossible to tell they were filmed on a smartphone. Robert says everyone is getting in on the act:

"To me, in my world, it’s becoming almost moot, because Lady Gaga had a video filmed on a phone, Selena Gomez; there’s films in the cinema now. Really it’s becoming almost a bit of a moot point. The quality is exceptional."

He encourages filmmakers to tell people straight up their work is made using a phone – to own it and and blow them away with the quality. You still need to learn some of the tricks of the trade, but Robert says these can be tweaked for mobile filming:

"What it comes down to is the fundamentals of how to make one, which is regardless of what equipment you use, you need to understand a good story, lighting, that sort of stuff. And that really doesn’t change, it’s just the device is more accessible."

Rob says he's been surprised that so many older people flocking to the craft of smartphone filmmaking. He thought because it was new tech, it would be a young persons’ game. As it turns out, the impulse to tell stories is strong and the notion "I have a book in me" has now been replaced with "I can make a movie". People are recording their own life stories on their phones:

"It’s opened up the door to older filmmakers, who want to document their family, friends, stuff like that."

Brendan says he’s writing a book about his mum and documenting the interviews on his phone. He says Robert’s experience tallies with his own. Robert runs mobile filmmaking courses and he says people are always amazed at the power of the apps and how you can have a full-service film studio in your pocket:

"You will make something in 2 hours. You will write, shoot and edit something in 2-3 hours and you will walk out and you feel empowered; because all these tools exist."

Robert has seen so many people gain confidence from achieving something they didn’t think possible:

"What I love about it is that it kind of eliminates all these doubts that you might have – like, I don’t know how to do that. When you’ve a pen and paper, you’re like, I could write a book; now it’s like, this is pretty accessible."

There’s still a bit of a patronising attitude out there directed at people who are making movies on their phone. Robert says you can put the negativity aside and just make a start - that’s how you get better:

"When films get submitted to festivals, there is a marked difference between somebody who understands all of it and somebody who’s just like ‘I have a phone, I’m a filmmaker’. But it’s all about learning as well, moving and progressing. You learn by doing."

Robert and Brendan chat about the Wes Anderson re-makes on TikTok, documenting your loved ones on film and the upcoming Smartphone Festival in the full interview here.

The Dublin Smartphone Film Festival is on June 3rd, 2023 – more information here.