Tangerine, a gritty movie that proved a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, was filmed entirely using three iPhone 5s phones and the $8 app FiLMiC Pro – albeit with the help of Steadicams and clip-on external lenses

Filmmaker Sean Baker insisted to SlashFilm that using iPhones wasn’t just a marketing gimmick, nor done entirely because of the very low budget for the movie, but also because they allowed for more discreet filming in public.

iPhones were chosen not just as a cost cutting measure but also to allow them to shoot in public places (such as the LA Metro subway and bus line) without permits or permissions. It was revealed that the LA city bus driver called the cops on them because a filmed argument looked “too real” during a scene which took place on the bus line.

Actor James Ransone told The Verge that he had initially had reservations about relying on iPhones, but had been won around.

“I had some hesitancy about it, more out of pride,” says James Ransone, who plays Chester, the pimp at the center of Tangerine’s love triangle. “I’m like, Jesus Christ, man, I was on The Wire. I’ve ended up in iPhone movies!” But Ransone came to appreciate the flexibility of the device. “There’s a lot that can be done with an iPhone.” (One example: Baker shot several scenes while riding his 10-speed bicycle in circles around his actors.)

The team didn’t reveal the use of iPhones until after the preview had been watched by the audience.

The low budget reflected the fact that the movie has a less than commercial theme, described as “a dramedy about a transgendered hooker who tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.”

Variety‘s review said that it’s “an exuberantly raw and up-close portrait of one of Los Angeles’ more distinctive sex-trade subcultures [that] should be enthusiastically embraced on and beyond the LGBT fest circuit.”

It’s of course not the first time iPhones have been used for professional-level filming. The Burberry London fashion show was also entirely shot using the iPhone 5s, Apple featuring the footage in a 30-second ad. A separate 90-second ad to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mac last year was also shot on iPhones.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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