If you’re a filmmaker, chances are you cling to your smartphone like a life raft. Instant access to email on set, a decent camera for BTS pictures, and the Internet at your fingertips are just a few of the reasons why this would be the case. And let’s not forget tweeting both your triumphs and frustrations.
But that $600 piece of metal and plastic in your hot little hand can do more than all that. It can actually help you make your films as well and, no, I’m not talking about using it as your primary camera (though there’s no shame in using that as a starting point).
Here are 5 of the best (non-Candy Crush) apps that every filmmaker should have on his or her phone, what they cost, what they do and why they’re important.
NOTE: While some of these may also be available for Android, I’m an iPhone user so I’ve focused on iOS apps since those are the ones available to me.
More for the assistant editor or DIT, KataData is a data calculation app. It has two main modes, camera and codec. Camera lists most all of the major digital cameras used in production today, including RED, Alexa, Sony F-series, DSLRs etc. You set your camera, recording format, and resolution/framerate and KataData will calculate how much data is produced per unit of time.
Data can be measured in megabytes, gigabytes or terabytes and time is measured by seconds, minutes, hours, timecode or frames. So if for example you were shooting 4K at 23.98fps on the Sony F65 in F65RAW format, KataData quickly tells you that this create a little over 1TB of footage per hour.
Everything is the same on the codec side except you’ll set your video codec instead of your camera to tell you how much data will be created at a given resolution and framerate for a period of time. It’s an incredibly useful app for quickly determining project storage needs and camera card runtimes. Also includes support for HFR and 3D shooting.
Banned for a time, but recently back in the iTunes App Stores is the iOS version of the popular media player. VLC is like a swiss army knife for video and audio formats as there’s rarely a clip that it can’t play.
The iOS version is perfect for showing someone your reel or short film and you can load videos easily through Wi-Fi upload, iTunes syncing or downloading videos directly from the web, but perhaps it’s most powerful feature is Dropbox integration allowing you to playback video or audio files from your Dropbox account. VLC is an essential tool on set or in post.
Created by Adam Wilt, a noted software designer who also does a fair share of camera work, CineMeter uses the built-in rear-facing camera on iOS devices to provide a light meter, RGB waveform monitor and false color mode. Using CineMeter, you can easily tell what areas of your scene are over or underexposed and determine what F-stop to set your lens to.
The light meter can be calibrated to match other light meters and can take readings using matrix or spot metering. The waveform can be used to check how even the lighting is and how uniform color is, like say across your blue or green screen background. And you can set contrast limits with the false color mode to show you at a glance where your image is clipping or crushing. You can lock the devices auto-exposure setting so that it stays at one exposure as you take measurements and you can even lock in a white balance for color comparisons.
Movie*Slate is exactly what it sounds like, a digital slate app that runs on your iOS device. It’s easy to use and works just like a normal slate on set. You can quickly and easily set all the data necessary, make notes and logs and export those notes and logs for ingest into all of the major editing applications. And while the app by itself is incredibly useful, especially for smaller shoots or short form shoots, what’s most interesting about Movie*Slate are the available plugins.
There’s a sound department plugin for marrying sound reports to your notes and logs, and a mulitcam plugin to easily track multiple cameras, but the best is the timecode sync plugin. Created in conjunction with Denecke, the predominant name in timecode slates, the timecode sync plugin allows you to sync timecode to the app over Wi-Fi through the Timecode Buddy system as well as allowing you to jamsync the app with timecode through the headphone port.
You can also jamsync timecode from the app using cables connected to the headphone jack. While they incur an additional cost, these plugins can really make Movie*Slate a powerful on-set tool.
Kodak Cinema Tools (Free)
Perhaps an odd idea for a giant company, Kodak took it upon themselves to release this app completely free of charge. Thing is, it mostly focuses on filming with actual, you know, film. That celluloid stuff that we used to use (unless your name is Christopher Nolan). But if you ever do find yourself on one of those magical sets running film cameras, this could be a helpful app or at least a good refresher course.
Tools include a calculator for film length in feet or meters for a given running time and film format, a depth of field calculator, a sun calculator that quickly gives you the time for sunrise and sunset in a given location, a glossary of film terms, a listing of different Kodak films, and more. One of the more interesting tools is called “How to Read a Film Can” and shows you what the various letters and numbers stand for on the different sections of a can of film.
Things like the depth of field calculator and the glossary can be handy on digital shoots, too; many digital cameras have 35mm sized sensors which should make the DOF calculations applicable and the glossary includes current terms like LUT and color space.
What apps do you like to bring to set with you?