08 November 2011


It early morning on the set of THIS IS OURS. Coffee. Eggs. Bacon. Bagels. All in all one of the better micro-budget film breakfast spreads. I'm not really awake when the DP, Jonathan Houser, asks me if I want a code for this iPhone app called Storyboard Composer. It takes me a second before I realize that I already have the app. I bought it long ago, when I first got my iPhone 3G. I remember it being the first app I actually spent money on, and it's still the one I've spent the most on.

It wasn't even that hard of a decision.


Basically what the app does is build storyboards using the camera in your iPhone. You take pictures, import them, and add whatever you need to the image to create the storyboard. Direction, movement, people, whatever. Put it in a Quicktime video with the proper pacing, export it to PDF, and there's your pre-visualization all finished.


The concept isn't all that complicated, one of those "why hasn't anyone else thought of this already?" sort of things. If you watch the DVD extras for AMELIE, you'll see Jean-Pierre Jeunet essentially doing the same thing. This app is a natural extension of that.

But wait, why does Houser have codes for a free copy of it?

Because he created the fucking thing. It's his app.

Really, this shouldn't be all that surprising. Innovation in film processes is always driven by filmmakers who see a need they can fill, something that they possess the skills to make more efficient. This is how grip equipment gets invented. Hell, it's how Kit Boyer ended up putting a plunger on a RED lens earlier in the shoot. It stands to reason that a filmmaker would be behind something like a storyboarding app, but even then you assume it's a filmmaker working for someone like Avid or Apple who came up with idea, someone who makes films on the side. Not a filmmaker who gets steady work in the field.

But here the creator is, sitting in a crowded kitchen in Plain, Washington, working on a micro budget feature. It's kind of weird.

After the shoot, we meet up for drinks in Seattle. Houser tells me some of what they've got planned for future versions of the app--an iPad version, syncing with various other things you use in pre-production--but mostly we talk about how people use it both in pre-production and production. A lot of filmmakers will keep it on their phone and only use it for more complicated scenes. Others will use it for everything. My favorite use that I hadn't considered? Using it in conjunction with your script supervisor. Take a picture of the monitor for every shot of a scene. Load them into the app, then play it back before you move on, if for no other reason than to make sure what you just shot cuts together. It's a hell of a lot easier than going back to that location, or re-setting all those lights. Or worse: getting all your actors back a month after you wrap for re-shoots. It's not even extra gear to carry around.

And then who walks into the bar? Wonder Russell. Sometimes the indie film world is bigger than we think. And sometimes it's a lot smaller.

Check out the app for yourself:


Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.