Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese & iPhone Filmmaking

Posted April 24, 2023
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My friend, the documentary filmmaker Mark Benjamin sent me a link to an article in IndieWire entitled “Martin Scorsese: ‘The Image on an iPhone Is the New Cinema Vérité’

At first, I thought the article was a reference to Scorsese using an iPhone to make a film, which is certainly something that would have been a) interesting, and b) inevitable, at least in my opinion. Sadly, it was simply a notice that Scorsese felt that in the future (which is today) people would be watching films on their phones, a rather passive use of an incredibly powerful tool.

The article did, however, motivate me to search to see if Scorsese ever did shoot a film with nothing but an iPhone, and it turns out that, in fact, he did. Reflection on Isolation.

In the article above, published on June 5, 2020, the writer notes:

“In his NEW short film Reflection on Isolation, which was shot on his entirely on his iPhone, legendary director Martin Scorsese discusses how “anxiety” set in during lockdown, after an initial “relief” that his heavy 2020 workload had been temporarily lifted.

Wow, I thought, I HAVE to see this. And here it is:

It is, in a word, shockingly terrible. For a man who has an Academy Award, 4 BAFTAs, 3 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, 2 DGA Awards and even a Grammy, you would think, here’s a guy who knows how to make a film. And he has made some amazing films, including Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Gangs of New York, Raging Bull and The Irishman, and even here we are but scratching the surface.

But give the guy an iPhone and what happens?

Many years ago, when I was working with The BBC in London, I was approached by Lord David Putnam, producer of some amazing films such as (but hardly limited to) Midnight Express, Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields… Like Scorsese, a genius.

He asked if I could come by his office in the House of Lords and teach him to shoot video on his own. Which, of course, I did.

We went to a bicycle repair shop, and despite my instructions, he took the small camera (this was before iPhones) and proceeded to make a really appalling piece of terrible home video — much like Scorsese. Much to Putnam’s credit, when we went back to his office to screen it, he agreed that it was crap, and then said, “Let’s go do it again,” at which point, it wasn’t bad at all.

For years now, many years, we have been transitioning mostly TV news channels and networks to work in a very different way. We teach the reporters and the camera operators, the editors and the producers to shoot, edit and produce their own stories, which we like to think of as small movies as opposed to ‘packages’ on their own — entirely with iPhones now.

You take away the camera people, the directors, the editors, the producers and you say “Here’s the camera — there’s the door — let’s see what you can do”, it can be frightening. But with a bit of instruction, the results can be astonishingly good.

Here’s a story done by Rick Villaroman, chief photog at KPIX, the CBS O&O in San Francisco — all done on an iPhone by Rick and no one else.

Better than Scorsese?

I think so.


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