Movies for the very small screen

  • Movies for the very small screen

Learning to make films for every viewing platform is vital in our technology rich world, and with this in mind, Senior Lecturer Dan Wagner decided to create a course focused on films for the very small screen – mobile phones and other wireless mobile devices.

Wagner’s project, called Entertainment Lab for the Very Small Screen (ELVSS), is designed to take film students outside of the conventional methodologies they generally learn as part of their degree. “ELVSS is an experiment in acquiring footage with a whole new set of tools, repurposing their films for delivery in a whole new way: back onto the same devices with which they were shot, and trying on a whole new mindset in regards their craft,” says Wagner. “We’re challenging the students to demonstrate new approaches to traditional visual narrative conventions. There’s already a well-established cinematic language for the 70-foot screen. Now we need one for the 70-millimetre screen.” 

When the first course started in 2011, students were able to experiment with the new medium. “We gave them mobile devices, and said ‘You can make movies with these’,” says Wagner. “It was mind-blowing for these students to be able to put cameras in places they weren’t able to put them before, and to shoot anytime, because they had an HD camera in their pocket. They could put the cameras in watertight bags and put them in fish tanks, or tape them to doors, or tape them to steering wheels, or tape them to the bonnet of a car. They were exploring all these ideas.” 

Since that first year, they have started working with Senior Lecturer Helen Keegan and her students at the University of Salford in Manchester and lecturer Solene Trousse and her students at the University of Strasbourg in France, in an international collaboration that allows students to experience not only a new medium, but a new way of working internationally. “What’s valuable about this is the ability to connect with people across the world. They have this device in their pocket that is an incredibly powerful thing, on a lot of fronts, not just the ability to make and share movies.” 

The differences in making films for mobile devices are small but important. “Part of it is looking at the uniqueness of how small this camera is, with a very small lens, and a very small sensor, and delivering on a very small screen. What’s different about that? It’s helping them to look at what’s appropriate, and using the right tool.” 

Wagner says it’s a thrill to apply the tools of filmmaking to these new types of devices. “Also to see the students do new things with them, to create and innovate on their own. It’s not predictable where they go. I love that about it.”