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06.16.10

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Dial 'M' for Movie

Apple's iPhone4 changes the way films are made

By Daedalus Howell


Zealous geeks have their own version of the Rapture and Armageddon, neither of which is terribly apocalyptic unless, you know, one needs to reboot HAL or something. If this were an SAT-style analogy, it would go something like "Armageddon is to the Singularity as the Rapture is to ______." The correct answer? (a) Convergence; (b) "OMG, that girl looks like Sailor Moon and now I'm too petrified to answer due to my anime-boner." To nonbelievers, unversed in geek-speak, the correct answer is (a) convergence, often defined as a synergistic confluence of once-discrete technologies into greater efficiencies when combined. Or, as was the ambition but a decade ago, streaming internet movies on TV.

In the late '90s, convergence was something of a holy grail for both evangelical and more mercenary geeks alike. The former saw the inevitable marriage of old and new media as a byproduct of technology's natural evolution toward simplicity, if not sublimity. The latter knew it was the best way to pump product directly to the consumer, who, in this case, wouldn't have to leave the couch. Fast-forward 10 years and lo, there's an app for that.

"Hi, John Ciancutti, VP of personalization technology, here," read a recent post on the official Netflix blog. "Today, I had the unique opportunity to present the app we're working on for iPhone at the Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco."

According to Ciancutti, geeks will soon stream the sort of content into their iPhones that was once only available on the big screen (or, at least, the bigger screen). The announcement from the Los Gatos–based online movie hub came on the heels of Steve Jobs' introduction of the iPhone 4. Apple is promoting its latest gadget with the smug tag, "This changes everything. Again." And, yes, it probably will, but in ways the convergent-minded geeks might not expect. With the proper app, the new iPhone 4 doesn't simply put the movie theater in one's pocket; it also crams in the movie making.

The new iPhone not only shoots HD video, it comes bundled with a mobile version of iMovie, Apple's desktop editing software, which is a slightly lower rent version of its professional grade Final Cut Pro suite, the industry standard. At $200, iPhone 4 doesn't quite answer Jean Cocteau's admonition that "film will only become art when the materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper," but it's getting closer.

Now the web is atwitter with speculation about how quickly some smart-phone Fellini will claim to have produced the first feature film on an iPhone 4. Previous iterations of the iPhone have resulted in an abundance of similar, if less ambitious, efforts. Among them is a music video posted to YouTube in late 2008 garrulously titled "World's 1st music video shot on an iPhone—Newteknowledge by GOSHone."

Its director claims the minute-and-half clip was "shot entirely on a jailbroken iPhone 3G" as a video for GOSHone's album ctrl_alt_ego. Six months later, an arguably more successful effort posted by BJSRmusic boasted that it was shot on the then recently released iPhone 3GS. Neither filmmakers seemed as concerned with their video's content as they were about bragging rights, lest one think "Music Video Shot on iPhone" is a groovy name for a song.

Heretofore, no one has claimed that they have made an iPhone 4 video, let alone a feature, because the device won't be released until next week. But when it drops, let's hope Digital Age auteurs hew more to Cocteau's vision of inexpensive filmmaking than engage in some hasty race to YouTube's upload page.

As Francis Ford Coppola famously opined 20 years ago, "To me, the great hope is that now these little video recorders are around and people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them. And suddenly, one day, some little fat girl in Ohio is going to . . . make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder, and for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever, and it will really become an art form."

In the very least, we can watch the iPhone 4 destroy professionalism as we patiently await a true convergence of artist and technology. Otherwise, you're just phoning it in.

Daedalus Howell makes media at DHowell.com.


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