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Feature film shot on a smartphone to get theatrical release

December 1, 2011 |  4:46 pm

 

Hooman Khalili first got the idea to make a feature film shot entirely on a smartphone in January 2010. A little less than two years later, his film "Olive," shot on a Nokia N8, is going to be shown in a Los Angeles theater for a week.

That's not bad considering how hard it is for indie films to get a theatrical release these days.

But if you're thinking, "Maybe I should shoot a movie on my smartphone too," be forewarned: It's not as simple as it sounds. At least not yet.

"There was a lot of things making this nearly impossible for us," said Khalili.

The Nokia N8 shoots in high resolution, but before Khalili and his crew could start filming, they had to hack the phone to turn off the auto focus and the auto zoom.

"The camera thinks it knows what you want to focus on, but it doesn't know," he said.

They tried to pay professional camera makers to build a 35-millimeter camera that would work with the phone, but they were turned down everywhere.

Eventually Khalili and his team built what they needed from scratch, dismantling a 1940s-era movie camera to figure out how it should be done. And when it came time to attach the camera to the phone, the best they could come up with was double-sided tape.

The one overhead shot in the movie was made by putting the phone in a remote-control helicopter and hoping for the best.

Still, Khalili and his crew tried to keep the shoot as professional as possible. There were makeup artists and location scouts. Actress Gena Rowlands was involved. Khalili said the film cost less than $500,000 to make. He was hoping to get funding from Nokia but got turned down. Instead he got the cash from Chris Kelly, former chief privacy officer of Facebook.

Pre-production on "Olive" started in April of this year, and the actual shoot lasted five weeks. In order to make the deadline to submit the film to Sundance, the filmmakers edited it in nine days.

"We didn't leave room even for an accidental sick day," Khalili said. "If anything had gone wrong it would have thrown everything off."

Khalili, who is trying to raise $300,000 on Kickstarter to promote the film, is hoping to submit it for Oscar consideration. In order to do that he needed to get the film into theaters before the end of the year. On Thursday he persuaded Laemmle's Fallbrook 7 in West Hills to screen the movie for one week, beginning Dec. 16.

As for the film itself -- Khalili has made the first five minutes available online. It's billed as a film about a little girl who "transforms the lives of three people without speaking one word."

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-- Deborah Netburn

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