"No Love Like Yours," the latest video from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, is an evocative, dreamy vision of death and rebirth, set against the unique backdrop of New Orleans. It was also shot entirely on an iPhone 6S Plus. Utilizing a cobbled-together camera rig and an app called Filmic Pro — the same one used to shoot last year’s festival favorite Tangerine — actress-turned-director Olivia Wilde and her team turned Apple’s smartphone into a 4K filmmaking machine, proving once again that the most ubiquitous piece of technology in our daily lives is also a creative tool with shockingly impressive potential.
"I’ve been a fan of the band for a long time," Wilde tells me just moments after the video has had its premiere at a pop-up art installation in Los Angeles. "I knew them from their manager Bryan Ling, who’s an old friend of mine, and I had said over the years, ‘I want to direct a music video for you guys.’"
"I want you to stumble upon your own funeral."
The chance came when Ling asked her to listen to the first single from the band’s upcoming album Persona. The song sparked the idea of a moody short film, centered around tearing down the "Edward Sharpe" persona itself — something that resonated with frontman Alex Ebert. "There was actually a lot of serendipity involved," Wilde explains. "I didn’t know at the time that the album artwork would involve the name ‘Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ with Edward Sharpe crossed out. So when I pitched him, ‘I want you to stumble upon your own funeral,’ he said ‘Do you know what the album artwork is?’"
"I had already crossed out my name [on the cover]," Ebert says. "Months and months and months ago. I was just like, ‘Fuck Edward Sharpe. I’m going to kill myself-slash-that person.’"
But from the very beginning, Wilde was pitching the video with a very specific twist: they’d shoot it on an iPhone. "I had offered a couple of years ago to shoot a video for Edward Sharpe on an iPhone, because I thought we don’t need a lot of money to do this. This was the iPhone 4," she says. "Once the iPhone became the 6S and had the ability to shoot on 4K, it was a whole other ballgame. Not something that was a fallback plan or a sacrifice. It became something that was actually an exciting kind of tool."
That’s not to say everyone was totally on board with the idea — in particular, her cinematographer Reed Morano, who’s worked on HBO's Vinyl and the 2014 dark comedy The Skeleton Twins. "When [Olivia] said that she was shooting it on the iPhone, I was like, ‘Ah, Jesus. Too bad I’m going to have to say yes to this, because I’ll do anything for that woman,’" Morano tells me over the phone. "Even though people think of me as a young cinematographer, I am known in the cinematography world as always being a film purist, and not being as receptive to digital taking over. So it was a big deal for me to be all, ‘Yeah, let’s shoot it on an iPhone!’" But Morano came to see the proposition as a challenge worth taking on: they’d shoot it on the smartphone, but it had to look good. And that required going far beyond just pulling out a phone and pressing record.
"It's a little bit of a Frankenstein rig."
For "No Love Like Yours," Morano used what amounted to a box with a depth-of-field adapter, letting her shoot with the same kind of shallow depth of field often associated with 35mm or comparable digital cameras. A series of adapters then allowed her to swap in different camera lenses of her choice (she favored a set of Nikon lenses that she normally uses for still photography). "It’s a little bit of a Frankenstein rig," Morano admits, "but it worked." Shooting in a widescreen aspect ratio at 24 frames per second helped complete the cinematic look.
While operating the handheld set-up wasn’t as convenient as shooting with a traditional camera rig — "I didn’t love that aspect of it," Morano says, "but it didn’t matter because the images that were coming out of it were shocking to me" — the smaller size did prove less awkward for the actors and performers themselves. "A lot of the people that were in that video were not actors," Marano says, "and I think the fact that we were [shooting] with this tiny little thing felt a lot less intimidating to them, and they were really able to let loose and be free."
But the technology used to create something is just one small part; ultimately, a project depends on the creative minds that put those tools to use. Wilde is quick to name all of her collaborators as essential to the project, from Morano, to editor Paul Martinez, to Ebert himself. And with her video joining a growing legacy of projects that shoot with tools like this — a new iPhone-shot feature called 9 Rides will be premiering this week at SXSW — the most important impact may be in how these smartphone-shot projects are inspiring a new generation of aspiring filmmakers.
"I've got the phone. I'm going to go shoot a film."
"I was sitting on the subway the other day and this woman is sitting next to me in her nurse’s outfit, heading uptown, and she was editing photos," Wilde says. "She was upping the contrast, and adding a little tilt-shift, and I thought, it’s because of this phone that people consider themselves photo editors now. And I hope this video makes people think ‘I’m going to go shoot a film. I’ve got the phone, I’m going to go shoot a film.’"