How to make an award-winning film using a smartphone

Award Winning Film Smartphone

Film Producers Ingrid Serban and Forest Sun at the Grammy Nominee Party – Photo by Steve Jennings

SAN FRANCISCO, United States — Have you ever been passionate about, or dreamt of, making an award-winning film? Here’s your chance to get started by using just a smartphone device. Follow our definitive 8-step guide below created by San Francisco-based songwriter and film producer Ingrid Serban. Ingrid grew up in Communist Romania and often found herself escaping reality by improvising scores on her piano with make-believe stories. “It was a way of creating my own reality,” says Ingrid, who along with Forest Sun, produced a short film titled “All Sales Final”, shot entirely on an iPhone 4 and went on to win an award at the Albuquerque Film and Music Experience earlier this year.

So far, the film has been selected for 6 film festivals and is awaiting a few more. It recently premiered at the Asheville Cinema Festival, NC and continued on to India for two others (Chennai International Short Film Festival and Ahmadnagar International Film Festival). Then, to Tiburon International Film Fest in California and Albuquerque, NM, where it won Best Short Film on a Smart Device. “All Sales Final” is a short 7-minute, black and white silent film, with a piano improvised score by Ingrid herself. The film only had 6 actors and was shot on 5 locations within 7 hours. And no one had ever acted or made a movie before!

Although Ingrid began her career as a songwriter, she’s now added filmmaker to her CV. A few years ago, Ingrid lived in Los Angeles and was inspired to go into film making when she had the opportunity to watch a master at work. As she recalls: “While in Los Angeles, my director friend and mentor, Peter Bogdanovich (whose work included Paper Moon, She’s Funny That Way and Mask), was working on a script.” Ingrid continues: “I got to watch him bring the story to life through filmmaking and it inspired me to create a film myself.”

Making ‘All Sales Final’ began with my desire to tell a story and a snippet of a dream that sparked the creative process. What if there was such a thing as an Elimination Agency? When the idea solidified in my mind, I had the skills, passion and determination to translate it into a film.

Ingrid is setting the stage for other aspiring filmmakers on how to create a film with little or no budget. If you feel inspired, follow Ingrid’s 8-step guide on:

How to Make an Award-Winning Film Using a Smartphone

  1.  Have a smartphone.
    If you don’t have one, borrow one from a friend. Obviously, who doesn’t have one these days, right?
  2.  Have a compelling or funny storyline.
    This is especially important when working with a smartphone (in Ingrid’s case, iPhone 4), when you have to give up a sizable amount of technical and visual effects. Ingrid explains why: “While making a movie about depression and suicide, I was sure we were making a drama. We only realised it was a comedy when we started taking it out to festivals and heard audiences laugh – a lot.” If you can’t wow the audience with action, comedy may be, the next best thing.
  3.  Plan daytime shots and make the film silent.
    Smartphones generally don’t do well in low lights. And adding lighting and sound could run your budget up very high. So if you’re working with limited resources and/or budget, start with a simple silent film. As Ingrid explains: “Since this was our first film and resources were limited, we didn’t want to worry about lighting or sound. Those two could get really expensive. Although you could get away with using the sound on smartphones, but I really don’t recommend it.”
  4.  Use a tripod.
    Smartphones are rather flimsy and don’t have an inner stabilisation. You need to have mercy on your audience. Thus, plan to use a tripod if you want the viewers to finish the movie. Ingrid explains why: “There are some rigs out there designed to stabilise a smartphone and provide post production tricks, but again, we were brand new filmmakers and didn’t use any bells or whistles.”
  5.  Have your laptop or computer nearby to transfer footage.
    And make sure you also have a backup charger available in case your phone runs out of battery during a shoot.
  6.  Make the film short and add music in place of dialog to set the mood.
    This keeps the audience intrigued throughout. Ingrid adds:”Forest Sun, the other producer on the film, is a singer-songwriter, recording artist and record label owner for the past 16 years. I have been a musician my entire life, so we brought that common language to this project. One of my favourite compliments that we received for ‘All Sales Final’ was from a director of photography who said that the visuals of the film had a strong musical rhythm.”
  7. Just do it
    When starting out, there’s something to be said about having a finished product sooner than later. Successful people in any industry never put off a project.
  8. If you want your film to win any awards and be seen at film festivals, it’s incredibly important to submit your film to as many film festivals as possible!
    Ingrid and Forest used to submit their film to all the film festivals. This recently improved platform gives filmmakers the opportunity to create a comprehensive press and media kit that includes the filmmakers’ bio, a short description of the film and much more. The film can be uploaded to Vimeo, which links to WAB, and it can either be public or password protected. Some festivals require a no-distribution or public access status of the film. This is why “All Sales Final” is password protected. Ingrid provides more details: “A filmmaker has to submit to each festival individually and it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before any submission.” She also highlights:

A couple of considerations that I keep in mind are my budget and the festival’s mission statement. Each festival has a submission fee of anywhere between $10 – $100 or more, depending on the festival itself or the date when you submit it; the closer to the final deadline, the more expensive it will be. I try to sense where my films would be a good fit and go with my intuition. Aside from that, I look at places in the world where I’d like to travel.

“All Sales Final” is a fictional story about a man named Samuel A. Dillon, who had no hope or reason to live. When he finds an Elimination Agency ad in the newspaper, he decides to end it all by ordering his own assassination. A turn of events causes him to change his mind but all sales are final. He is now faced with the challenge of either evading or defeating his assassin. What will be his fate? To find out, join the mailing list here: and be the first to know of its public release! As “All Sales Final” is in the process of travelling the festival circuit and not yet publicly available.

Courtesy of: Ingrid Serban and Forest Sun| Website: and
Tiffany Le About the author

Wardrobe consultant and fashion writer who owns a Bay Area luxe tailoring boutique. Believes in karma, human rights and being earth-friendly. She has a B.A. in Psychology and a degree in Fashion Design from San Francisco Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising; and inspires others to be confident and beautiful from inside out.