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Find your MOJO: The rise of mobile film makers and journalists

Improvements in smartphone technology have allowed the average person to become amateur journalists and filmmakers. Whether the content is particularly good or balanced is another matter, but there’s no doubting that when done right, mobile content can create some truly fascinating pieces of work.

“With lenses, tripods, audio apps and accessories, smart phones have an increasing capability to capture quality content” says Paul Wilson of Exposure Video. “Since Tangerine – a feature film produced in 2015 using just 3 iPhones, there has been a growing trend of movies pruoduced this way.  No, you don’t get the cinematic look of professional cameras or a DSLR, but if used correctly, the outcome can still be compelling.

The filmmaker says “You still need to know how editing works. You still need to know how sound works. You still need to know how a camera works. You can’t just go out and shoot.”  Framing, composition, lighting, sound, timing – these are all equal factors in producing something that will engage and ultimately be successful.

But it’s not just filmmakers who are facing competition from aspiring amateurs, think of a recent breaking news story in the UK and it’s more than likely that you went to social media before, or at least in conjunction, with traditional TV reporting. MoJo – aka Mobile Journalism – is a response to technology and how we as consumers find our news. But MoJo is more than shaky mobile phone footage, it’s a valuable piece of content that journalists and news providers are taking very seriously.

ECUK spoke to Eleanor Mannion, a Mojo filmmaker, news co-ordinator for @rtenews & Director of @rteone documentary The Collectors, about how MOJO is affecting traditional TV reporting.


How has the evolution of the mobile phone and MOJO impacted traditional journalism?


Smartphones have changed everything from how we produce the news but also how news is now consumed. Smartphones are the camera in your pocket, with you everywhere you go. As an audience we are now used to seeing “amateur footage” being used in breaking news stories such as the Bataclan in Paris or Londonbridge terrorist attacks. But smartphones have also changed how our audiences consume their news. More and more this is done on the go throughout the day checking social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat on smartphones. This has changed how journalists tell their stories – video is king and subtitled video that can be viewed mute is key on social platforms.

We also must consider how to tell our stories in 10, 20 & 30 second bites and what aspect ratio to use in order to suit where and how that video is being consumed. Journalists reporting for traditional media such as TV and Radio will still be expected to feed photographs or video into the social platforms of their organisations from the scene of the story.

News does not wait to break on TV or Radio bulletins anymore – news is 24/7 now via social, online, TV and Radio and a multimedia/mobile mentality is crucial.


Apart from breaking news, is MOJO of a high enough quality to be broadcast on a regular basis?


Simple answer is yes. With a few key pieces of kit mojo is broadcast quality. Keep your smartphone steady via tripod/shoulderpod or gimbal. Use a microphone for broadcast quality sound. Filming with an app such as Filmic Pro also helps to obtain broadcast quality picture and sound. The app lets you separately set your exposure and focus, change the temperature of your shot and monitor your audio levels/adjust the gain amongst other features. As a mobile journalist I have shot and edited several TV reports for prime time news bulletins on my smartphone. Last year I filmed and directed a one hour documentary called The Collectors for RTÉ One. This doc was filmed entirely in 4K using the Filmic Pro app on an iPhone 6S+. Using a mojo kit gave me great freedom as a self-filming Director and I was able to travel easily and lightly and achieve greater intimacy with my interviewees. For The Collectors I filmed in locations all over Ireland and also New York, Portugal and London. It was first 4K smartphone filmed doc in Europe to be aired by a broadcaster – happily for myself, Jean Devlin the Producer and Emmet McCarthy the Craft Editor it received great reviews and ratings with the audience not realising how it was filmed.

Has social media and live streaming posed a real threat to the TV ‘news’ industry?


Audiences are migrating to social for their news updates/breaking news stories throughout the day but Television news is still a powerful medium – it excels in giving the audience a curated bulletin with powerful in-depth analysis and discussion. I think TV News can use social and online to their advantage to draw audiences to their bulletins and now more than ever there is TV News is needed.


 What are the most important things to consider when you’re a MOJO, what are the common pitfalls?


You have to consider where you content is intended for? Is it for TV or Social? That will dictate the aspect ratio you film in. Which social platform is it for – again that will dictate do you film vertically or horizontally. A common pitfall is people filming vertically when they intend the content for television. Another common pitfall is monitoring your audio using your smartphone headphones – these have an in-built mic so that mic will override the external mic you are using and record you rather than your subject!! Keep the smartphone stable via tripod or gimbal. Consider where you light source is! The story has to suit mojo – not all news and current affairs suit being done this way. Play to the strengths of the camera! Personally I think mojo is a great way to tell human interest pieces because of the level of intimacy between you and your subject.


What essential kit do you need to get started?


Tripod, shoulderpod, microphone and Filmic Pro app. Find a story or person that interests you, play to the strengths of the kit and enjoy yourself!

Feeling inspired? ECUK and Doc in a Day are holding a 36-hour filming challenge at Old Granada Studios this September, take part with as little as an iPhone and shoot your own inspiring documentary:


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