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VIDEO: Surf Film Shot Entirely on an iPhone – This Moment

This Moment is a unique surf film, shot entirely on an iPhone, by California local Sven Dreesbach. Let us emphasize that this short was filmed ENTIRELY on an iPhone and it’s on par, if not better, than the majority of surf films shot on professional cameras. Sven’s creative eye seems effortless. Whether it be the organization of his shots, the way he colors his footage, or even the framing, it is simply captivating. Therefore, The Surf Channel just had to pick the filmmakers brain and ask him everything imaginable about his process and inspiration for This Moment.

This Moment iPhone Movie by Sven Dreesbach
This Moment iPhone Movie by Sven Dreesbach
This Moment iPhone Movie by Sven Dreesbach
This Moment iPhone Movie by Sven Dreesbach

Where does your interest in surfing come from?

I had been living in California for years before I actually started surfing. You will laugh, but the decision to finally give in to my friends suggestion and paddle out with them, originated in a random “necessity”: I was about half a year away from getting married and I desperately needed to find a (fun) way to get in shape for the big day. Since I’ve never been much of a gym person it didn’t take me that long to fall in love with surfing. And man did it hit me. Believe me, I am still mad at myself for not having started earlier than just 4 years ago.

Do you use a special app to record the video? Or just the stock camera app? Does that App have any special settings to allow you to color grade the footage?

For all the in-water shots I simply used the standard camera app, since I wasn’t able to get filmic working comfortably with the button layout of the housing. Most of the on-shore shots were captured with Filmic Pro though.

How does color grading iPhone footage differ than coloring footage from a camera that shoots in a RAW or LOG format? Is more difficult?

It’s actually as much of a difference to RAW or LOG, as let’s say, shooting footage with a (non-hacked) 5D. The images are already pre-graded by the camera’s chips and because of the h264 quicktime compression you don’t have much dynamic range. I wish there would have already been a LOG mode in order to have more control in post, but I guess that will still be coming sooner or later. The iPhone 6s Plus, particularly compared to previous models, renders its images beautifully straight out of camera though. The direct comparison between the 5s and the 6s image quality is absolutely noticeable and overall the latest generation of iPhones made a huge step forward in regards to internal image processing and resolution. sLOG would be the next step for any serious filmmaker, since my options in grading ended up being pretty limited.

Why shoot these films on an iPhone?

It was just the most flexible solution apart from the fact, that we had a very tight budget to play with. Renting a professional camera for those 5 days would have already cost more than the low-end path that we took. This way I was also able to get back in the water any time after the principal shoot was over in order to get some pickup shots.

What was the difference between shooting on and iPhone 5 and iPhone 6?

Like I hinted above, the overall image quality is much better in comparison and making use of 120 fps in full HD, instead of just 720p, like on the old phones, was a no-brainer. Needless to say that all of the footage was shot with 120 fps in order to contribute to the dreamy atmosphere. Still, I can’t wait to shoot a project in 4K and push detail/sharpness levels a bit more.

What draws you to shooting in the ocean?

Apart from the ocean being a great exercising ground for photography and filmmaking it’s maybe also the fact that sometimes I just rather watch/shoot my friends, instead of going surfing myself. I am not implying that I am a chicken, but I just know where my limits are in surfing. Sometimes I get torn between taking my board or my camera, in the end it’s always a phenomenal world out there in the lineup or along the shore, no matter what decision I ended up making.

How did you come up with the idea for This Moment and Dark Waves?

My friend Robert Koch aka Robot Koch had approached me a while ago and had me listen into this song which would appear on his soon to be released album Hypermoments (Monkeytown Records). Dark Waves was the perfect fit to get back into this surreal world which I had established with my proof of concept short film Willow Creek a year earlier. Stylistically I knew I wanted to go into a similar direction with Dark Waves. This Moment on the other hand happened more or less on the side lines. I knew I would be shooting a ton of footage and wanted to make use of the extra time we had on location to create something less surreal and dark than Dark Waves, but still maintain a pinch of poetry in its pacing. That’s also one reason why both projects were shot in 120 fps all the way.

What was your post production workflow? Programs?

I basically edited, graded and finished the footage in Davinci Resolve. The files were easy to handle compared to 6k footage from a RED or ARRI RAW. Resolve covers editing pretty well now and it’s sweet to just cut out round tripping with a separate editing software. This way all edit conforming nightmares that I’ve experienced, were a thing of the past, for once. Neat Video helped with denoising some of the footage.

What do you look for in a shot? Subject or environment focus?

In regards to image composition i think it depends on what’s best for storytelling and what fits your personal taste as a photographer or film maker. When I shoot people, I usually try to nestle them into the landscape or dress their surroundings with whatever location I am shooting at. In This Moment and Dark Waves I had a lot of fun shooting environmental portraits of surfers in different situations before and while they were surfing. The closer the camera gets to them, the closer I also intended to be on the talent in order to
give the moment I captured the right weight. This wasn’t always easy as you can imagine, particularly in the water. Talking about post production, I had to stabilize a lot of the footage inside Resolve.

What is your next project? Will it also be on an iPhone?

There are a few projects on the horizon and for a few of them, shooting with the iPhone will be a good option. Unfortunately I can’t get into more detail, I can only say that surfing might not be a part of my next project. Still, I can’t wait to get back into the water with a camera. I am happy my board will have to do for the time being.