Stephen Soderbergh is a director whose films have been all over the map. He “arrived” with the small indie sex, lies, and videotape, which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes. He followed it up with the box office bomb, Kafka. He followed that with five other experimental bombs, and then suddenly here’s Out of Sight, a swell crime comedy from an Elmore Leonard story, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, a critical smash that made a lot of money. Then came Erin Brockovich (which I thought was okay, but I wasn’t as wild as everyone else was) and a couple Oscars, and Ocean’s Eleven, first of a series that were all blockbuster hits. (And deserved to be. I love them.) From then on it’s been ups and downs, hits like The Hunger Games and Magic Mike, and misses like The Good German and Haywire. Some of his output is severely underestimated, in my opinion.
This is a fairly standard thriller about a woman who is being pursued by a stalker, which upsets her so much she visits a “counselor,” where she signs a document without reading the fine print. The paper with her signature on it says she can be involuntarily committed for 24 hours. She objects, fights and has to be physically restrained, whereupon she is labelled violently insane and committed for seven days. The police won’t help her. They are shown the document she signed. She begins to realize that they can keep her forever … but all they are interested in is keeping her until her insurance company stops paying. It’s a scam, and most of the inmates of this Kafkaesque asylum are no crazier than the average American. The tension ramps up when she discovers that her stalker is working as a nurse at the looney bin, and she must escape, with the stalker close on her heels. It’s a fairly standard thriller plot, but quite well done. It stars Claire Foy, who just won an Emmy for portraying QE2 in The Queen. She doesn’t look very royal here.
Moral: read the fine print. Yeah, right. Do you? Do you read the agreement box you must check before visiting scads of Internet sites? Twenty, forty, a hundred pages of the most boring prose imaginable? Do you know what you just signed? I sure don’t and I’ll bet you don’t, either.
But there is another, and a lot more interesting story behind this movie. It was shot in secret, and entirely on a 4K iPhone 7. And if you don’t know that, you would never guess! This has such profound implications for potential makers of small, indie movies that I’m surprised no one is making more of a fuss about it. To get the production values of a standard Hollywood film you need vast amounts of skilled technical workers. There are three people just around the camera, which has so many wires and dials and other shit these days it looks like it takes a Ph. D. to operate it. Then there are gaffers and grips, lights to be placed, microphones to be adjusted … an endless string of things that are the reason it typically takes hours between shots.
Shooting with an iPhone, handheld or on a tripod, who do you need? Maybe someone to light the scene. Somebody with a boom mike. And the director/cinematographer. I dunno, seven, eight, ten people? Then you edit it all on your laptop. There are so many stories that can be told, cheaply and professionally, that it staggers the mind. I myself could get up from this laptop, round up some friends, invest a few grand (if I had a few grand to invest) for an iPhone and maybe some lights, and I’d be in business. I already have the tripod! So why aren’t there more iPhone movies out there? Maybe there are, and I just don’t hear of them.