Shooting Feature Films with Smartphones and Distribution

Susy Botello
Smartphone Filmmaking
5 min readJul 15, 2022


Distribution is evolving in the filmmaking industry. There are a number of platforms for distribution available to filmmakers, mostly feature length films around 90 minutes in length.

Two of the feature films whose filmmakers attended our festival in San Diego this year, shot with smartphones, are on Amazon Prime.

Married and Loving It! — Shot with an iPhone
Surveilled — Shot with a Samsung S9 plus

Single Location Mobile Feature Film by Indie Filmmakers

Married and Loving It! filmmakers Ryan McDonald and Brandie Lee McDonald presented a Mobile Filmmaking Class during the festival. They flew to San Diego from Utah.

The film was part of the feature film competition in the International Mobile Film Festival 2020 edition. We all know what happened in March 2020 in California. We had to cancel the in-person festival and go virtual within a couple weeks.

Feature Mobile Film Brings UK Filmmakers to San Diego

Surveilled filmmakers James Smith and and Caroline Spence also flew to San Diego to present their feature film. Surveilled won the Runner Up Award for Best Feature Film.

This power team of filmmakers by Raya Films has made five feature films, two of them shot with smartphones.

Photo: Caroline Smith with Tracy Hot Nerd Girl from the Star Wars Steampunk Universe during our Red Carpet Extravaganza!

Married and Loving It! and Surveilled aren’t the only feature films shot with smartphones to compete in our festival that have secured distribution.

Mobile Film Goes to the Cannes Film Market

Charon, a 73-minute film by actor and filmmaker Jennifer Zhang, secured a distribution deal after winning the Best Feature Film Award last year’s 2021 edition of the International Mobile Film Festival in San Diego. The film made it to the Cannes Film Market 2021. Charon was shot with an iPhone 8.

Jennifer Zhang accepted our invitation as judge in our feature film competition panel of judges this year and came to San Diego from L.A. to celebrate with us.

“Jennifer, who was mentored by Blake Snyder, is the writer and instructor of Save the Cat’s Cracking the Beat Sheet online course.” BJ Markel, July 15, 2021.

But wait, there’s more!

Jennifer Zhang edited the entire movie on her iPhone with a social media app which has never been done before.

Image: Top Row: Feature Film Judges: Jennifer Zhang | Errol Trotman Harewood | Randy Davison | Steven Palmer Peterson. Bottom Row: Short Film Judges: Maxim Mussel | Ant Pruitt | Ross Perkins | Robert David Duncan | Kimberley Hart

Listen to the Filmmakers Discuss Filmmaking with Smarphones

You can listen to Jennifer Zhang in Episode 94 of the SBP Podcast Mobile Filmmaking discuss the intricate details of her mobile filmmaking experience.

Episode 77 of the podcast includes a conversation with Ryan and Brandie McDonald about Married and Loving It!

Caroline Spence and James Smith discuss filmmaking and their mobile films Cyberlante and Surveilled in several episodes of the podcast: EP125 Post Festival James and Caroline| EP104 James and Caroline | EP91 James Smith | EP90 Caroline Spence

Traditional vs Current Distribution Opportunities

Distribution, traditionally consists of not just online distribution but theatrical distribution. If you’re thinking that theatrical distribution for a film shot with a smartphone is not a realistic option, think again. We presented a short film shot with an iPhone 4s by Conrad Mess in a theater projected to a full sized cinema screen. It blew people away, figuratively speaking, of course.

The pandemic accelerated a part of an industry that was evolving due to the growing market for online streaming.

The online consumption of streaming media has grown immensely over the last five years and it’s not just videos and films, audio podcasts became “a thing” in 2018.

We’re at the cusp of a big shift as creators and consumers. Traditionally, movie audiences demand great stories and great quality production. This is true for theater and online streaming.

The perception of what this means for smartphone filmmakers depends on what you’re used to. My perception is that this can be a win-win.

The mobile smartphone film industry is evolving at a rapid pace. When I launched our festival in 2009, only for films shot with mobile phones, it took about three years to find a respectable venue to screen the movies on a large screen.

It was as if no one believed movies shot with mobile phone cameras would be “watchable” on a large screen. I stuck to that vision and ultimately proved you can use a phone to shoot a movie and watch it with other filmmakers in a traditional film festival setting. But what does it mean for distribution?

Today more professional filmmakers are investing in making short films. At the same time, more smartphone filmmakers are making feature films.

“If you build it, he will come,” is a well-known quote from the 1989 film Field Of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. It’s since been altered as “If you build it, they will come.”

Making a movie, especially a narrative feature-length film, takes a lot of detailed and meticulous work. You built it! Now what?

The film industry is evolving. There’s a place and opportunity for serious storytellers to be a part of it. You can realize your dream to make movies and play on the same field or space as other films. Keep an eye on Netflix. As Amazon and others are willing to stream Avengers alongside Surveilled or Married and Loving It! perhaps Netflix will leave a door ajar for serious mobile filmmakers.

And who knows what’s in store for those who love the challenge of filmmaking willing to use a smartphone camera! HBO, Showtime…and live theater screenings with brands like AMC, could be on the horizon very soon.

The filmmakers that attended the IMFF in San Diego last April, and others, are making their mark in an industry that was extremely unreachable. Now it’s your turn!

The International Mobile Film Festival is accepting feature films, short films, screenplays (new) and smartphone photos (new smartphone photo story competition). Get details:

Watch this entertaining video and enjoy our celebration of mobile filmmakers in San Diego, California. Turn sound on and watch until the end.

Submit to the International Mobile Film Festival

All films are shot with smartphone cameras (10% max. aerial drone footage). New: Screenplay and Smartphone Photo Story contest: Frame A Story (One story in one frame).

RULES | Submit Now

© 2022 S. Botello Productions™. All rights reserved.



Susy Botello
Smartphone Filmmaking

Official International Mobile Film Festival founder - S. Botello Productions. Mobile Film Advocate & Podcaster.