Tangerine: Shot on iPhone 5s and with near zero budget, the ultimate microbudget masterclass for filmmakers today

Tangerine, a no budget drama about trans sex workers in LA has been taking the festival circuit by storm, and it’s easy to see why. Watch the trailer.

What’s key here is that it was shot on iPhones.

I am not advocating every indie film be shot on an iPhone, but if you are procrastinating because you can’t get the camera you want, Tangerine should be a nice wakeup call. It’s not the camera, it’s what’s in front of the camera and the story you tell that matters.

I wrote about the fetish of kit HERE and why for many of us it can be a huge distraction.

I have not seen Tangerine yet, but based on consistently excellent reviews and by watching the trailer, there is much we can all learn from this movie already.

The keyword here is VIBRANT.

It’s not a word often used to describe indie films, but it’s certainly a word I personally associate with a cinematic experience worth two hours of my life.

Kudos to director Sean Baker, his fabulous cast and wonderful crew.

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Vibrant Characters
There’s no doubt, the characters jump off the screen. Immediately engaging and entertaining, I am sure I would enjoy spending two hours with these girls and the extended cast. How vibrant are the characters in your film? And can you cast what is written on the page with actors who can really deliver that level of energy? If not, keep looking for actors who are ‘right’ for the parts. Tangerine proves the incredible value of outstanding actors in a part that suits them.

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Vibrant World
There are two worlds here. The first is the urban sprawl of LA, with its golden light, neon nights and iconic streets and people. It just looks like a movie. Having this as a physical backdrop helps the filmmakers enormously. How can you set your film in such a vibrant physical world? The second world is that of the story, the world that the characters live inside, with all the wonderfully vibrant characters they meet. It’s not a world I see very often, and when I do, it’s usually one that has been over production designed and populated with movie character clichés. The filmmakers REALLY went deep into this world and it has paid dividends.

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Vibrant Cinematography
Even though Tangerine is shot on an iPhone, it looks amazing. This is partly because you can do things with a phone quickly that you can’t do so easily with cine cameras. Essentially, the filmmakers have used the limitations of the iPhone to their advantage. And let’s be clear, the movie is shot on a PHONE! Let that sit for a moment. Second, the film has been lovingly graded to look rich and of course, vibrant. Note, the filmmakers have also got the sound right. I suspect they recorded separate sound and used old school clapper boards to sync it in post production. Great sound is key to making your images look good (as is editing).

Now add some more words to what Tangerine promises…

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Fun
It just looks like an entertaining blast. How many indie films promise this? I can’t tell you how many times I have been sent trailers of films with characters gazing into their navels. Not Tangerine. It may hard hitting in places but it’s also funny. This is key.

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Honest
I get a sense I will find out stuff about this world when I watch Tangerine. It just feels honest. Of course it’s a story, so it’s the truth with the dull bits taken out, but the fact that if feels so honest makes me REALLY want to see it. Honesty in our stories is free. Write the raw truth as you see it.

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Fresh
While transgender issues are very much in the zeitgeist, Tangerine manages to bring some levity to this world. So it’s a fresh take on a fresh issue! It’s just oozing out of the screen.

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Intimate
Perhaps the most exciting thing that shooting on an iPhone is that it offers intimacy with the cast. It’s allows for stuff to happen on camera that will feel more honest, spontaneous and often a little dangerous. This is all because the tech is just a phone and not a whole rig with crew. That’s all VERY exciting for anyone who wants to delivery stories and performances with ‘teeth’ and integrity. I am in!

I hope that Tangerine inspires a whole new generation of filmmakers to move away from genre films made for $5k, instead looking deep into their hearts and souls and choosing to tell tougher stories with honesty and integrity… and where possible with regular gags.

Dave Bulis recorded a podcast with director Sean Baker which you can hear below…

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
My movies www.LivingSpiritGroup.com
My Facebook www.Facebook.com/ChrisJonesFilmmaker
My Twitter @LivingSpiritPix


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