Smartphone film-making for charities

Did you know, you carry an entire film production studio with you – pretty much everywhere? Welcome to the world of smartphone film-­making!

Smartphone film-making














Gone are the days when you needed to hire a video production company. Your phone can  shoot broadcast quality video and with that you can edit, add effects, add sound, and if you really want, you can even add a CGI dinosaur (and much more!) – though I am not sure the last one is needed in a charity video! – But what I am trying to say is on just your smartphone, you have the power to create a Hollywood movie!


But before we get into that, can you tell a story?

Yes you can – as charities, we tell stories all the time – we need to in order to show our donors their money is making a difference! So we promise you that by the end of this post (and next weeks) and with a bit of practice, you’ll understand and have the skills to turn your story into a great video, through planning, shooting, editing, publishing, and sharing it – all on the smartphone you carry in your pocket!

But first: what makes a good story?

Start with your audience. What do they want to hear? What motivates them? What is going to grab their attention? Once you’ve got this, summarise it in one sentence – this sounds hard but a clear, concise, key message is vital in creating a successful video. Once you’re crystal clear on the message it’s time to get creative! What creative visual ways can you show your message on film? For this, think outside the box and watch other videos to get inspired.

It’s very easy to tell you all of this, but it’s much more effective to show you! – after all that’s why we are making a video right? we think it will be more effective than just writing the story.

We made our own short video so we could share the process we went through with you. Take a moment to watch it.

First step: Planning

Planning is the most important part of your video. The more time invested upfront, the less time wasted when shooting. The aim of our video was to draw attention to the continuing need for support in Nepal, one year after the initial earthquakes. Like any projects, there were some constraints, we had no budget and little time (welcome to the charity world!) We also had to shoot it entirely in London.

Taking all the above into account, we decided that a creative way to show our message was to draw a comparison between the cost of a cup of coffee in England, to the cost of feeding a family in Nepal. Visually this meant we would show a series of close-ups of a subject matter which was relevant to the British audience, who’s attention we aimed to capture, before zooming out to reveal the Nepalese aspect of the film.

More planning: Putting ideas on paper

Next we had to get our ideas down on paper so that everyone in the team understood the vision and the concept – if they didn’t understand, I am pretty sure the audience wouldn’t either. We wrote a draft script which included a column for imagery and a column for audio This way when it came to filming we did not miss any shots and were efficient with our time (which was essential as we were shooting in a commercial environment). This script went through a lot of changes until a final script was approved – prepare time for this debating process, what makes sense in your head may not make sense to others on paper. Like all good stories, our script had a beginning, middle and an end.

Beginning: Introduce the coffee concept by having a women walk into a coffee shop and stand at the counter.

Middle: Reinforce this concept by filming the process of the Barista making a cup of coffee,  then serving it to a woman.

End: Reveal the Nepalese identity of the woman by pulling the camera further and further away from her as she drinks the coffee. Then finally add the call to action message.


Hardware – Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone (for filming), iPhone 5 (for editing) and a tripod Apps (for editing) – Cinema FV­5 (Android), iMovie (iOS) Movie Looks (iOS), Pixlr

Quick tip: Smartphone imagery can easily be manipulated, but poor sound can seriously affect the perceived quality of your video – so take this equally, if not more seriously than your visuals.

The easiest part: Filming

By now you are ready to go out into the world and capture your shots – just like we were and because we had a detailed plan and we knew every shot we needed, this part was actually the fastest part of the film-making process! The best-practice visuals for a film are very much the same as for photography, stick to the rule of thirds and you will be fine. Two important things to consider in regards to the visuals are:

1) every shot should be landscape, so they can be seamlessly interwoven in the editing process and when viewed on a TV, computer screen there are not ugly black columns either side of your video.

2) If you need to use subtitles, ensure there is enough blank/empty space at the bottom so the type will stand out.

As mentioned earlier, sound is of key importance as it is much harder to edit. For this reason, really pay attention to background noise. How loud are passers by? Is there traffic? We tend to block out these everyday noises in our normal life, but you will be surprised how loud and obvious they can be on film. Don’t let them drown out your message. If possible take two takes of each shot just in case there is a problem.

Once you have all the shots you need, that’s great! Go home, watch them, make sure you don’t need to do any retakes and create your new library of imagery!


Next week:

Next Friday we will dive into the editing, publishing and sharing aspects of video making! But until then, practice makes perfect – so grab your smartphone and get shooting!

Share your short smartphone videos with us by tagging us on your Twitter (@GlobalGivingUK) or Facebook pages! In addition, leave your thoughts and comments below and if you want a copy of our shot list and script – just let us know!

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