The world of film is getting more and more accessible. For years, film cameras cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but now even relatively cheap DSLRs are giving us picture quality good enough that they are being used in major films like Black Swan. At the same time, the spread of internet video has made self-distribution for would-be filmmakers more feasible than ever. The game, as they say, has changed. Now three guys from Kuala Lumpur are hoping to change it even more with "Summer Love KL," an online drama series shot almost entirely with an iPhone 4S. The series comes from startup Superboyz.tv, essentially an online production company founded by three guys from Kuala Lumpur who go by the names QuaChee, Arico, and Ben CMX. Talking about the choice to shoot on the iPhone for their first drama series, in a press release on the Superboyz website, Arico says:
We have always wanted to shoot in a simple style, nothing too complicated. We did some research and we thought it was possible and worth [it] to give it a try. Then, we went looking for products like the steadicam and adapters so that we could use the iPhone.The team says the goal of the series is also to showcase Kuala Lumpur as a cool and unique city, and they plan to make use of some unique local spots as locations as their drama about college romance unfolds. It's definitely an interesting concept. But how is the execution? Well...not great. The iPhone 4S produces a clear, sharp image as long as it is given enough light, but it looks very much like video because of the device's deep depth of field, and it's not always clear where in the frame viewers are meant to focus. There are also moments in the first episode (emebedded below) where you can see the iPhone automatically adjusting the exposure, which is a bit distracting. The iPhone footage also really stumbles in the few slow-motion shots I watched in the first episode, which look very rough and jerky, in part because the iPhone isn't actually capable of shooting at high frame rates. The real problem is the sound, though. Because the iPhone isn't a particularly good microphone -- especially not for recording a whole room -- almost all of the dialogue is recorded separately and then dubbed. This can work, of course, but in the case of "Summer Love KL" there are just too many moments where it is distractingly obvious. Transitions between dubbed sound and the few bits recorded live are very awkward, and there's almost no ambient sound, which gives the impression that the characters live in a world where cars make almost no noise but bubbly synth pop music seems to be perpetually playing in the background. Of course, like all film and television, the product ultimately lives and dies on the quality of the story and the acting. I can't say that I enjoyed either of those things through the two episodes of the show that I watched, but as an American male, I'm almost certainly not the target audience for this, so I'll refrain from commenting further. You can check out the episode below and see if "Summer Love KL" interests you. If it does, there are two more episodes up already, and more should be coming soon. If it doesn't interest you, I think it's still important to recognize the series as a reflection of the fact that these days, anyone can put together a TV series. Personally, I don't think these guys have done it particularly well, but that doesn't mean in can't be done. The iPhone certainly has some limitations as a camera, but they're mostly things problems that should be surmountable with a skilled team and the right techniques behind them. Even if the Superboyz team aren't the ones to make Asia's first popular drama to be shot on a smartphone, I do believe that someday we'll see something like that happen.