What do you do when you’re an aspiring filmmaker and the budget for your latest short film is roughly the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal?
The smartphone revolution has transformed no-budget filmmaking. You can make the most of your limited budget with inexpensive and sometimes free apps that can replicate some of the expensive equipment and software used by the pros.
Here are the mobile apps you need as a filmmaker on a budget.
1. Light meter
A light meter is a device that measures the environment and gives you the information you need to calculate the correct aperture, ISO and shutter speed for a specific camera shot – better known as an exposure triangle.
The light sensor in your smartphone does much the same thing. Only the information is used to automatically perform tasks like adjusting the brightness of your screen or turning it off during a call so you don’t have to press keys with your cheek.
Light Meter – Lite for Android and Light Meter for iOS are both relatively simple apps that can convert this information into the same data you would get from a professional light meter, with a small sacrifice in accuracy.
Download: Light Meter – Lite for Android (Free in-app purchases available)
Download: Light Meter for iOS ($6.99)
The clapper is not particularly expensive or complicated. Depending on whether you’re recording your audio separately, this might not even be necessary.
Its snapping sound is used to synchronize the audio and video tracks, while its dry-erase surface is used to mark information such as scene number, shot number, and other bits, which the video editor then uses to organize footage. This digital clapper is very handy if you don’t have a real one.
Download: Clapperboard for Android (Free in-app purchases available)
As our Clapper option for Android is not available for iOS, we offer a powerful alternative for Apple fans.
Filmmakers without a budget have made do with whiteboards for decades. And a loud clap from one of your actors can sync the sound almost as well as a clapper. So why bother with an app at all, even a free one?
The answer to that is accuracy. The clatter of a slate creates a distinct spike in an audio waveform, giving the editor just the right moment to synchronize audio and video in their video editing software.
Image source: Apple
Download: DigiSlate for iOS (Free in-app purchases available)
4. Magic Lumix viewfinder
Magic Lumix Viewfinder is specially designed for Panasonic Lumix cameras. But don’t worry, most of its best features are applicable to any camera, as it lets you preview things like aspect ratio, lens aperture, and image composition without having your camera gear in hand.
There are some features, like crop factor calculation, that would be slightly different if you’re not using a Lumix camera. However, if you want to use it to take quick shots or explore places while you’re on the go, the Magic Lumix Viewfinder is the best way to achieve that.
Download : Magic Lumix Viewfinder for Android | iOS (free, premium version available)
5. Shot Designer
Many of Shot Designer’s features are hidden behind a premium paywall, which is comparatively expensive. The free version is limited and apart from bug fixes, it hasn’t been updated for a few years. So why is it on this list?
The reason is that what it does in the free version works very well. It allows you to quickly fade out a scene with your actors and cameras before recording.
You can add props, furniture, and even walls. You can coordinate the actors’ and camera’s movements, saving time and headaches by giving your crew a solid overhead view of the location they want.
Essentially, the free version makes it a great football coach whiteboard, only with actors instead of quarterbacks.
Download: Shot Designer for Android | iOS (free, premium version available)
6. Cinematic professional
Similar to Shot Designer, Filmic Pro is not free but has a subscription model instead of a one-time payment. A free version is still available, but it lacks some more professional features – like the ability to film in ProRes format or use Frame.io, a handy video collaboration service that has become a vital part of the workflow for many filmmakers.
However, despite its limitations, Filmic Pro remains arguably one of the best manual video cameras for your smartphone.
Even in its stripped-down form, the app packs an impressive array of features, like image stabilization and manual control over almost every aspect of camera settings.
Depending on the camera quality of your smartphone, it doesn’t necessarily replace your DSLR. But as a secondary camera, it does an excellent job of capturing a different angle or an intermediate shot with a quality that can be seamlessly edited on the spot.
Download: Filmic Pro for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)
There’s never been a better time to be a no-budget filmmaker
Some of us remember a time when DIY filmmaking meant using a shopping cart as a dolly and a broomstick as a boom mic. Thanks to smartphone cameras and apps, getting at least the basics of good filming gear is now within reach of most budgets, no matter how low.