My title

How to Make a Documentary With The iPhone 11: My First Experience

When the iPhone 11 came out, what got everyone’s attention was video. People were shooting breathtaking videos with nothing more than the built-in camera. So, I decided to make a documentary with the iPhone 11

A Dream that Didn’t Come True

I applied to the MBA programs at USC, NYU, and Columbia because I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. But all of them rejected me. Within a few months of starting my MBA program at Pepperdine, I realized nobody hired MBAs to do creative work. So, I gave up on that dream.

How technology Fuels Creativity

The rise of social media, smartphones, and web 2.0 technology disrupted every aspect of media and entertainment over the last 10 years:

  • Authors can write books without publishers
  • Broadcasters can start shows without radio stations

As Naval Ravikant says, all of the new forms of leverage are permissionless. The creative power that was once only in the hands of the enterprise is now in the hands of the individual. When I finished writing an Audience of One, I didn’t have a contract for a third book. So, I needed a creative project. First, I worked on a book proposal that went nowhere. Then, I published two books. And I realized it might be time to start exploring another medium for creative expression.

A Portfolio of Meaning

We make one thing, whether it’s a job, a creative project, or a romantic partner our primary source of meaning and joy. And we set ourselves up for disappointment. We need a portfolio of meaning, which allows us to diversify our sources of fulfillment.

Navigating the geography of a creative life is complicated. In the beautiful words of Elle Luna, nothing is guaranteed and anything is possible. With every piece of creative work, you plant a seed. You don’t know if it will bear fruit or lead to anything.

  • One blog post could lead to a book deal. But you might have to write 1000 before it does.
  • A single episode of a podcast could get the attention of someone who changes your life

Even though I wrote a book called an Audience of One during, shortly after publication I was addicted to achievement. I was obsessed with reaching an audience of millions. Ironically, I’d lost sight of the value of creativity for its own sake. And that’s why I decided to make a documentary with the iPhone.

What it takes to Make a Documentary with the iPhone

Imagination has no budget- AR Rahman

To make a film would have cost you thousands of dollars on lighting, cameras, and audio gear a few years ago. But today, we can do far more with less. It’s just a matter of resourcefulness.

Coming up with an Idea

Nobody has a shortage of ideas. They just lack the discipline to capture them. And if you don’t capture your ideas you’ll never capitalize on them.

My goal was simple. Make a 10 minute short about something I found interesting. Surfing and snowboarding were a bit too ambitious for a first film. So that was off the list.

I was spending all of December at my parent’s house. And that meant one thing: a lot of food. And Indian food is colorful, has great stories behind it, and no shortage of characters. But food was still too broad of a concept. I needed to narrow it down. So I decided to get help.

Learning How to Make a Documentary with the iPhone

Seth Godin has once said the internet is a fountain of knowledge. The internet can give you an education kicks the crap out of the one you got in school. So I knew there had to be an online course about this.

1. Masterclass

The Ken Burns documentary film making class was filled with practical wisdom and insights. I would watch one lecture each day and take notes on what I could apply to my film.

  • Thanks to the masterclass, I was able to find what made my story unique. The women in my family cook with zero recipes and none of them learned to cook from their mothers.
  • It was also full of practical advice like the power of using still images with voiceovers (something I Incorporated).

99 dollars to learn from a true master of the craft was money well spent.

2. How to shoot video that doesn’t Suck

My literary agent recommended a book by this title to me. It taught me about the importance of shooting from different angles, limiting special effects, and avoiding fancy cuts between scenes. People have said the book is like two years of film school in 200 pages. While I’ve never been to film school if you want to learn to shoot video read this book.

3. Shoot footage of anything and everything.

This might have been the most useful thing I did. Most of the family members in my documentary weren’t going to arrive until a few days before Christmas. But shooting as much footage as possible taught me a ton about how to use the camera on my phone.

Getting Your Footage

Writing has taught me one thing. The more material you have to work with the better. You can always cut things out and probably will.

1. The Shot List

After reading How to Shoot Video that doesn’t suck, I made list of shots I wanted to get. I needed as much footage of the women in my family cooking as possible. Every time my mother was in the kitchen, I set up a tripod and pressed record. And I shot lots of footage of the food.

2. The Interviews

Given that I’ve hosted a podcast for 10 years. I knew this is where the meat of my story would be. Even though it wasn’t scripted to the tee, I asked everyone a few questions.

  1. What’s your name and how are we related (just to warm the up_
  2. Describe your mother’s cooking in three words, then in detail
  3. How did you learn to cook?
  4. Do you use recipes?
  5. Describe one of our family gatherings

With that, I got all the soundbites I needed.

3. Equipment/Software

With the iPhone 11, I had my camera covered. But had to buy some stuff on Amazon for sound and lighting I purchased:

  • A lighting kit ($50)
  • Shure microphone MV8 for sound ($100)
  • Filmora for editing ($45)
  • Monthly subscriptions to Storyblocks and Epidemic Sound ($25)

The total budget for this was $225.00. But since I won’t have to purchase equipment again, you could say I could have made this for a budget less than $100.

4. Editing/Post-Production

Editing is where the real magic of film making happens. It’s how you bridge the gap between imagination and reality.

Identify The Magic Moments

Working on the Unmistakable Creative podcast has taught me to identify what NPR calls “driveway moments.” And each of my family members said something or other that qualified as one. Once I identified those moments, I had to figure out where they fit into my script.

The Arch and Narrative

A compelling story has a linear arch and narrative. One of the easiest ways to give a story that arch is with the hero’s journey. Somewhat unconsciously, I mapped it all over the hero’s journey and had a structure that flowed.

Color, Music, and Voice-Overs

You might have wondered how movies get that cinematic look/filter. And the secret is something called color LUTS. I found myself trying different color luts on every scene and it wasn’t working. Then, one night, I turned off the sound and I realized I needed to use the same color filters one every scene.

Thanks to my experience from the podcast, voice-overs were straight forward. Music creates emotion. Think about your favorite scenes. Without the music, this speech below from the movie Meet Joe Black wouldn’t have the sample impact.

My return to Creativity for Its Own Sake

Technology has made it possible for us to be more creative than ever before. But, when we use it to consume more than we use it to create we become its slave instead of its master

Sadly, the birth of the influencer led to the death of hobbies. This was the first time in almost a decade where one of my creative projects was just for fun. Sure I’ll share it with my audience. But I didn’t make it for them. I made it for myself. And it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in a long time. You can see the film below.


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