"Everyone has a story to tell, even if they don't know it," said Mike Castellucci, creator and producer of 'Phoning It In'.
The multiple Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Award-winning news series, which is now on its fourth episode, is shot with an iPhone – favouring creative storytelling over expensive broadcast equipment.
"I have got to the point where I don't even tell people that I've shot the series with my phone," Castellucci said. "It's fun to enter awards without anyone knowing, and to win is so satisfying."
From convicted criminals who have turned their life around through art, to the most dedicated Girl Scout cookie seller in Texas, Phoning It In aims to capture the human spirit in a series of feature stories, evoking emotion in the audience.
Importantly, Castellucci notes that it is not unusual for his stories to change direction as he builds trust with his interviewees.
"It's a one-day relationship – I just happen to be recording it with a phone. Technology will change. Storytelling never will."
The series was inspired after Castellucci's news editor at Channel 8 asked him if he could shoot an entire news package on his iPhone for the evening news broadcast.
"The interviewee was a world-renowned artist, and he asked when the camera crew and sound engineer was coming," he said. "He was visibly underwhelmed when I told him it was going to be produced on an iPhone.
"After the broadcast that evening, he said he loved it. Since then, my subjects have all seemed to be more comfortable with me filming with a phone.
"It's so unobtrusive. Instead of a $40,000 camera, I have a little smartphone on my tripod and a mic, and half the time they forget it's there."
His packages are fast-paced, but is able to hold the audience's attention with a mixture of descriptive and humourous narration.
"It's a combination of good writing, beautiful pictures and a lot of natural sound. As a reporter, you hear a lot and see a lot that's going on, and I really want to take a viewer to that place," he said.
"If I can evoke any emotion out of a viewer, whether it is for 10 seconds or a whole two minute piece, then it's a victory."
Although Castellucci shoots on his iPhone using the native camera and FilmicPro, he edits packages on his laptop.
"When I teach, I ask people how they know if a piece of footage was shot on a phone," he said. "They say the footage is shaky, vertical, with bad audio. I'll show them how to eliminate those factors – it's all about layers of perception.
"The equipment that you can't buy is the ability to craft a story – if you can craft an engaging, emotional story then all of a sudden you've got a broadcast-quality piece that hopefully people would like."
Castellucci, who is also a professor of practice at Michigan State University, runs a class called 'Storytelling With Your Phone' to encourage the next generation of reporters to tell more stories.
"If you're getting started, don't be afraid to dive in and have a go. Have fun and use it – the best camera you've got is the one that's with you, after all."
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