Samsung, Like Apple, Taps Hollywood Directors to Sell You Phones

At Samsung Unpacked, the company showed off the video chops of its new Galaxy S23 phones by running teasers of short films shot using the new handsets — made by not just anyone, but by acclaimed directors Ridley Scott and Na Hong-jin. And in phone industry tradition, Apple had done that first: Steven Spielberg shot a music video on an iPhone last July.

These little stunts promote the idea that new phones are technically capable of shooting films — and they aren’t wrong, as movies shot on phones like 2015’s street life drama Tangerine and 2018’s thriller Unsane have reached big audiences. Samsung and Apple use well-known directors to appeal to filmmakers on a budget that they, too, can use the phones in their pocket to pursue their dreams.

“I thought it’s a great challenge, a very interesting challenge,” said Scott during a pre-recorded Unpacked segment about shooting a film on a phone. “The scary thing is, this small object is going to take the place of all the big cameras.”

Scott’s lauded film career includes Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner and now his short film Behold, which was shot on a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. The short hasn’t been released yet, but Scott describes it as a simply told story about a man escaping his aggressive environment to take solace in a horse he befriends. The film wasn’t just shot on a naked phone, though, as the behind-the-scenes footage shows production crew using shot-steadying gimbals and tripods, boom microphones and even lenses clamped on top of the phone cameras to improve the quality of the production. 

Na Hong-jin’s short film Faith, which also hasn’t been released, explores how our values and beliefs vary from person to person — perhaps with sinister consequences. Known for his award-winning thriller films The Chaser, The Yellow Sea and The Wailing, Na’s short film looks to be a darkly shot project embracing light and shadows, which is challenging when using phone cameras, which have poorer low-light capability than far more expensive cameras used by filmmakers.

“Filming a movie with a smartphone can seem simple at first, but we needed to ask ourselves, how does this change our production process?” Na said in a prerecorded segment during Unpacked. Adding more lights was the answer, though that changed the mood of the shots. HDR on the S23 Ultra allowed the film’s cinematographer to reduce the illumination so the tone remains dark.

It’s always impressive when a professional shows you what your smartphone can do, but we’ll wait to see the finished short films to know what Samsung’s top-of-the-line S23 Ultra is truly capable of, especially with its 200-megapixel main camera.

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