How We Shot the 4K Video ‘Flying Into Dusk’ Entirely on iPhone
My name is Jaron Schneider, and Toby Harriman and I are the creators of “Flying into Dusk,” a shot film we self-funded and shot out of helicopters entirely on iPhone 6s. We selected some of our favorite cities around the United States and because we targeted the hours around sunset as the lighting, we thought the narrative of seeing the sun set around the country would be a really cool angle.
Last year when the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were announced, one of the first things to get us excited about the new devices was hearing how Apple had increased the resolution of the video footage to 4K. Working closely with the Filmic Pro team, we also learned that the bitrate of that 4K footage doubled that of our go-to camera, the Panasonic GH4, at 100 MB/s. To us, that was absolutely insane to think about: we could drop a considerable amount of weight and get better quality footage. So we had to try it.
We have been shooting sunrises and sunsets around the country from both the ground and the air for years now, but a kind of ‘holy grail’ project Toby and I had been discussing didn’t really seem to come together until we got our hands on the iPhone. We had wanted to do an aerial series focused on either sunrises or sunsets around the country in major cities, but it had been rather cost prohibitive in the past. We got lucky though, as about when we got our hands on the iPhone, we also both had several trips for business that put us in some of the major cities we wanted to shoot. I flew over our home town of San Francisco while Toby headed east and captured Chicago and Boston. We both were in New York and Los Angeles, so we took both tackled those cities together (but on separate flights on different nights to maximize the chances for the best shooting conditions).
For this project we wanted to keep our kit as small as possible to really take advantage of how compact shooting on the iPhone is. We really only needed two pieces of gear: the phone, and the Ikan Fly-X3 stabilizer gimbal. It’s designed specifically for iPhone (and GoPro) and requires no balancing or calibrating. Simple, fast, and extremely effective.
When we fly, we shoot doors-off of out of Robinson R22 or R44 helicopters. We spent a lot of time talking about the project and what we were aiming to do with the pilots before takeoff so that they knew exactly how to fly to get us the best quality footage. Never undervalue how important a good conversation with your pilot is, especially if you’ve never flown with them before.
We chose to film this project initially on both a 6s and a 6s Plus, but eventually decided to not use the 6s Plus for a couple reasons. Firstly, the stabilizer gimbal we chose could not handle the slightly increased weight of the 6s Plus (it was only rated to handle the 6s). Though it was able to balance under ideal conditions, the increased wind and pitch of flying was never “ideal.”
Secondly, we found a very interesting problem when we combined that gimbal with the iPhone 6s Plus optical stabilizer: they don’t play nice together. When shooting with the 6s Plus, we recommend going without a stabilizer since the OS in the phone is really quite excellent. However when you combine it with the gimbal in a helicopter, the two stabilizers seemed to fight each other, resulting in footage we couldn’t use. You never can predict these kinds of things, and that’s why we always have a backup camera!
On that note, as this was our first time experimenting with a setup like this there are definitely a million things we wish we could go back and redo. From at least two failed flights in Chicago due to app glitches (we were using a pre-release version of FilmicPro that was less stable than the final version released a few weeks later) to the gimbal having issues with phone weight, to weather conditions being pretty rough, there are numerous places we would have preferred to get longer, smoother shots.
We were really surprised at how well the iPhone handled this project. We chose to do sunsets rather than sunrises due to the time of year and the cities we were shooting in (the light was just superior, especially in Los Angeles), and watching how the iPhone adjusted to the fading light was pretty amazing. We were laughing with each other at how crazy it was that the iPhone was doing better in low light than our Panasonics!
We edited this video on two Mac computers, one iMac and one Mac Pro, in Adobe Premiere Pro. We spent a lot of time fussing over the footage and picking the best quality shots across all the cities. All told, we shot 150 gigabytes of footage over the multiple flights across the country, so we had a lot to work with. We also chose a great musical piece by James Everingham, which we thought complimented the grand scale of our project perfectly.
I don’t know about Toby (actually yeah I do, I know he likes this shot too), but my favorite shot from the whole video has to be when Toby is flying over the US Bank building in Los Angeles. Toby was using an extremely experienced filmmaking pilot, who managed to fly smoothly sideways over the tower so Toby could get that stunning reveal shot. It’s easily one of the best shots in the film, and one of the coolest shots either of us have gotten for any of our aerials.
Featured image by Brett Phillips