Richard Lackey is a filmmaker and colorist based in Dubai, and he recently produced some videos shot on his iPhone SE that caught the attention of a lot of people in the filmmaking community. We caught up with Richard last week to learn more about him, his filmmaking journey and to get tips on how to shoot better with the iPhone.
The video above was shot, edited and color corrected and graded by Richard.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in the United States, in Las Vegas, where I have extended family ties but I grew up in the south of England. I spent 10 years in South Africa after that, before I moved to Dubai.
Were you formally trained in filmmaking?
I’ve always had an interest in filmmaking, but I never thought I’d be a filmmaker. I actually studied aerospace engineering, and being technical in nature, I was naturally drawn to the technical side of filmmaking and post production.
What’s your filmmaking journey been like?
My first camera was a Sony camcorder that was interlaced, standard definition and used miniDV tapes. It was nothing compared to today’s cameras, but it was all I had at the time. I surfed at the time, and I shot my friends and I surfing, and later some skate videos with friends in Cape Town. I learned a lot of the fundamentals through these experiences - camera motion, composition, framing… never any formal education, just through doing.
I remember my first NAB in 2003, where I saw the Dalsa Origin, which was the first cinema 4K camera. It had a Super35 camera sensor, and it came attached to a large, refrigerator-sized array of hard drives. I was amazed by it. This was a couple years before the RED One but I knew it was the future and it changed my whole direction.
From shooting and editing surf and skate videos my first real career move was as an Avid editor, cutting a couple of weekly kids TV shows, after a few years I started post-producing, and post-coordinating at a prominent post facility. Eventually I moved those project, time, budget and resource management skills on set as a producer. The thread running through all of it was always technical… the science and real-world application of digital imaging technology, camera through post.
Are you a full time filmmaker?
No, I’m not. I’ve produced shorts, commercials, corporates and one feature film, you can check imdb for specifics, but now I’m product manager for UBMS, one of the leading broadcast and cinema equipment suppliers in the region. Any filmmaking I do now is done on my own time. I enjoy writing and have run my blog Digital Cinema Demystified for many years now, and I write for cinema5D.
What gear do you typically shoot with?
I own very little equipment, but have shot with pretty much every mainstream cinema camera. I’m usually able to borrow equipment I need or want to test.
I have an iPhone SE that I use a lot. It’s a surprising amount of fun. In Dubai, you have to be careful where you shoot and what equipment you have with you. Even though people are generally open to you filming, you technically need permits. Nobody looks twice when I’m shooting with my iPhone.
So why the iPhone?
What I enjoy about shooting with the iPhone is that there’s a certain freedom when you capture things, and nobody really “sees” you or cares about what you’re doing. So you get very different results than if you were to use a larger camera. I also understand the limitations of the camera on the iPhone, and if you acknowledge them and work within those constraints, then you can create amazing imagery that most people don’t believe is possible from a phone. I plan to keep pushing it further.
What are the drawbacks of shooting with the iPhone?
I’m a member of the Colorist Society International (CSI) and I’m in DaVinci Resolve all the time, and my background is in post, so I love color. That said, I consider the main limitation of the iPhone revolves around technical details - it produces only 8-bit 4:2:0 files and it has limited dynamic range, so you have to hit its sweet spot with every shot to make it work.
How do you overcome those limitations?
By shooting in situations where there’s naturally not too much contrast ratio - shooting in the morning and late afternoon or early evening is best. If you shoot it right, the images are beautiful and the color doesn’t break down in post. But proper exposure is critical. I may be mistaken, but I think the native ISO of the iPhone camera must be somewhere around 50. Don’t try to push it too far and get it all right in camera.
If your white balance and exposure are correct, and you have a nice range of information, you’re good. Avoid shooting into the sun. To mimic more cinematic film, calculate a 180 degree shutter, usually 1/48th second (assuming 24fps). This is where ND filters are very important. I strongly recommend using ND filters that cut out infrared light to combat IR pollution, which makes for muddy browns and blacks
Stable shots are key. It’s a very simple rule, but super important. The iPhone is small and is easily affected by your hand shaking. Stabilize your iPhone and you’ll get better shots.
What’s your workflow?
I started out using Filmic Pro, and really enjoy using it. My settings are always 24fps, UHD and maximum bitrate. I import the files and then use Resolve to edit and grade.
Richard's website can be found at www.dcinema.me, where he has a great tutorial on how to shoot smartphone video for post using Filmic Pro.