Filmmakers aren’t born, they’re made. But getting the relevant experience can be a bit daunting. Use apps, get crewing and enjoy.

Our North East Film Society (NEFSoc) nights may not be the among the most prestigious or glittering of meet ups, if anything they’re decidedly low key and geeky, but they’re a vitally important resource for inexperienced and aspiring filmmakers to talk shop. Each month they meet – for now at Gateshead’s bijou Arch Sixteen Cafe – to show the latest productions and share job opportunities.

Among the videos on show are genre films – crime, science fiction, horror – artistic and lyrical cinematic shorts, and student film projects. There is no judgement from the audience, just honest critique and feedback so there’s no fear in submitting a film for the event. And that’s important for anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of filmmaking.

Tools of the Trade

I should admit straight away that I don’t do cinematic filmmaking. Cine-cameras are out of my price range and I’m rarely commissioned to shoot anything that requires lenses that cost more than the car I drive. But I find the discussions helpful and never less than revealing.

In fact, few of the filmmakers work on expensive equipment and very few graduate through to that level of shooting, without first crewing a few budget productions. Affordable DSLR or even compact cameras, tripods and sound recording equipment are all essentials, but so are some simple smartphone apps that can give you an insight to the technical aspects of shooting, and that’s where a few pounds well-invested can get you a lot of back up.

Pro Cinematography Guides and Apps

Black and Blue’s Digital Cinema Pocket Guides are full of the kind of no-nonsense technical information – which buttons to press, type of sensor and memory cards, display menus – that would otherwise be buried in the manual. You can buy one for your specific camera or get all 30 as a bundle, currently at less than £10. Some of the most popular handheld and cinematic cameras are there so you get real know how alongside bang for your buck. These are a must for anyone looking to be a camera operator.

Storage Calculators

There are a couple of great apps for calculating how much storage or card space you’ll need for specific video codecs, resolutions, bit rates etc. They take all the unnecessary guess work and tension out of what should be a shoot and go experience.

AJA’s Data Calc is a free iOS app covering all of the industry’s popular digital video formats and resolutions – 720p to 4K – on a single screen. It doesn’t cover bit rates but you can’t have it all for nothing.

Get your hands on Cameras + Formats for iOS and you’ll pay £4.99 right now, but you’ll also get things like bit rate and information like whether or not Adobe’s Premiere Pro will work with CinemaDNG files, or the dynamic range of the Red Dragon camera. It’s got an encyclopaedic list and is regularly updated, so it’s a must-have.

Tracking Sunlight

Sun Seeker is an Android and iOS app to help photographers and cinematographers track exact sun exposure, direction and times for any outdoor location. It works as an augmented reality app – the information is overlayed on the screen when you open the camera view – showing the sun’s current position and its path with the hour points marked.

You can plan in advance as it allows you to input any date and see the solar path for that day. Sun Seeker also works from any location on Earth and uses the phone’s in-built GPS locator to give precise details. It gives sunrise and sunset directions, plus the golden and blue hour times each day. Cost is £9.99.

Shot Set Up

Forward planning is an essential on busy shoots so the developers at ShotList worked with an award-winning video production company to create this great editable shot list app. It works like a production stripboard on your phone and lets you track your progress shot-by-shot on each day.

You can put in locations and detailed notes for each scene and shot, plus set it up for single or multiple days on set. You tick shots off as you go and you can create a pretty detailed pictorial storyboard in the app.

ShotList allows you to store up to 52 shots per scene, with storyboard images, notes, shot type, angle, movement, camera and status. You can then email the schedule to your team direct from the app. All in all a great planning tool for filming at a reasonable £9.99 on the iOS store.

Pro Packages

Anyone who needs a level of professional detail above and beyond these apps might look to invest in pCam Film and Digital Pro from Thin Man Inc. This package of apps has won an engineering award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Whether you are an art director, visual effects specialist or camera operator you’ll find something here to help you out.

Tools for choosing the right lens, aperture and shutter speeds, sit alongside colour correctors, lighting and time lapse calculators. This app was developed by cameraman David Eubank and it aims to be the only camera app you’ll ever need for calculations on-set. It is only available for iOS and it costs nearly £30 but so many serious camera professionals swear by it that you can take that as an endorsement.

There are lots of other great apps out there to help both amateur and professional filmmakers – check out the Black and Blue article below – but these few will give you the headstart you need to improve your knowledge.

Useful Cinematography Smartphone Apps