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Guerrilla Documentary: Using Your Mobile Phone

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

When acting as a covert field filmmaker the best device you may be able to use is your phone. Here are a couple of ways to make the most of this technology.

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    Down Low

    Similar to situations that may require a still camera, cellular telephone may be able to do the trick when you are attempting to get covert images. There are many situations when exposing a video camera, or even a small photographic one, may be enough to turn a volatile situation into a dangerous one. In these cases you may want to just turn to something as simple as a mobile.

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    Almost all cell phones now allow for some sort of picture function. On higher level smart phones, such as the blackberry or iPhone, you can get images that are near to those of consumer digital cameras. Here you can try and get as many pictures as you possibly can, but it will take you quite a bit longer than it would with an normal still image camera.

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    Most of the higher level smart phones allow for a quality video function as well. Many phones have some type of video record function, but very few have the ability to produce images of high enough quality that it can actually be used in your documentary film. The blackberry, and “jail broke" iPhones, are able to produce some quality record functions. The iPhone is then easiest to transfer into your editing project because it simply saves the video as a common video format and then puts it into the iPod section of your phone. From here you can import it into your iTunes, and then into your editing project.

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    The best way to approach the use of a cell phone as a recording devices in these situations is to make it look like you are dialing or texting. To do this you need to keep it below head level, but try and make it as vertical as possible to retain directness of images. If people become aware of you and your phone you can easily make it look as though you were preparing for a phone call.

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    Higher level smart phones will also often allow some sort of audio record function. This can be great if you cannot bring out your phone at all. With this you can set it to record and have it act as an audio device. It is not as good as having video or photos, but it is some form of documentation.

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    The Send Off

    One of the best reasons to use your phone in this way is that you can immediately send your captured media to someone else, preserving it if anything happens to you or your phone. Nobody can then compel you to give up your only copy because the original no longer matters. Make sure to send the media every so often so you do not have a chance to lose anything.