The first documentary to be aired on national TV in Ireland shot entirely on an iPhone in 4K resolution is to be broadcast on 26 July on RTÉ, marking a milestone for mobile journalists and filmmakers.
The Collectors, directed by RTÉ mobile journalist Eleanor Mannion, follows six characters who have weird and wonderful collections, including Coca-Cola memorabilia, Lego, and porcelain dolls, taking a quirky look at the collectors' identity.
Mannion, who was trained to use smartphones for reporting by RTÉ, was keen to try her hand at longform mobile journalism.
"There were a bit of nerves from the commissioning editors, but they decided to go for it and I think they were pleasantly impressed and relieved by the quality of the footage," said Mannion.
In fact, when 15-20 minutes of rushes were sent to RTÉ's promotional department, the producer didn't realise it was filmed with an iPhone 6S Plus until Mannion told her – after editing the whole advert.
Mannion noted that shooting with an iPhone came in useful for the pre-production documentary work – they could easily play around with the look and feel of the test footage, experimenting with what equipment worked best for the style they were looking for.
"We shot research interviews and GVs with the iPhone on a tripod, but we soon realised that wouldn't give us the 'ob doc' (observational documentary) feel that we wanted," she said.
"We had to be able to follow them as we moved around their house, so that is when we needed a Gimble, and that gave us the smooth hand-held shots we were looking for."
By the time they started filming, kitted out with a variety of microphones and tripods, the three-strong team had already planned out the targeted shots and scenes that they wanted to achieve with each collector, but were open to the spontaneous filming mobile journalism allows.
"That is the beauty of filming on an iPhone. Because it is so light and portable you can react to what is going on," she said.
"For example, we were in one of the collector's houses who collected Dinky cars and we didn't know what to expect.
"There were toys in every room, and we were able to just follow him around easily and even go into his attic – but if you were there with your traditional film crew, that would have been more of a challenge."
Mannion also had to squeeze into a tiny workshop that served as a storage room for another collector's Lego, where a traditional television crew would not have fit.
"You had to sidle around the table which she builds her models on. You couldn't walk around it, but with the iPhone that didn't present any problems. We could completely show her workshop in its full glory," she said.
"I was also able to get a shot of the inside of a Lego build, using my phone charger plug to hold the iPhone before sliding it inside the model."
The size of the iPhone also went down well with contributors, who felt comfortable speaking to the camera.
"They were so much more relaxed, so we got so much more out of them – it wasn't like a big production camera," she said.
Mannion anticipated a lot of problems before filming started, such as issues with the battery, storage and the phone over-heating, but it went more smoothly than she could have imagined.
Low light was not an issue, despite filming the documentary in late February and early March. The weather was on Mannion's side, with bright early evenings at the time.
"The difficulty appeared when one of our contributors had too much light in his house, from every angle. So that is what I found hard – avoiding getting those blown-out shots."
On the whole, shooting in 4K resolution did not prove a problem for Mannion. She could get two and a half hours of filming on her 128GB phone, she explained.
"You can't wear your contributors out, so after two and a half hours you're taking a break anyway – you can't have the camera on them all the time."
There was also a lot of what she described as "waiting time" to transfer files to her laptop from the Filmic Pro app and make copies of them.
But the workflows of managing 4K files at RTÉ* *, which doesn't broadcast in 4K, proved to be the biggest challenge, she said.
"We had to get the workflow in place where we transcode the files down to HD so we can offline edit in-house, and then bring them to a post-production house to re-conform to 4K."
"Not every story is suited to be filmed on an iPhone, but I would argue that some would be better achieved through smart device filming," she said.
The Collectors will be broadcast on 26 July on RTÉ One at 9.35pm and the 4K version will be available online.
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