The First Music Video Shot Entirely on a Camera Phone -- The True Story

With all the buzz about the iPhone4's video capabilities, I thought it would be appropriate to tell a story from the archive. This is a story of the harsh mistress that is internet fame and of pushing technologies beyond the cutting edge. It is also a story of self-congratulatory exaggeration. It is the true story of the first music video shot entirely on a camera phone:

iPhone/iPad Friendly Video


Set your judgement aside and come with me way back to 2004.

(Ripple dissolve - Chimes sound effect )

Random Nokia 3650 PhotoCamera phones were first becoming popular in the US, and I had recently picked up a Nokia 3650. This shining piece of technology had a 0.31 megapixel camera that also recorded 176x144 video, though limited to 12 second or 96kb clips (whichever came first). In addition, I was equipped with an unlimited GPRS plan from T-Mobile and an account with the now defunct proto-twitter service Textamerica. I was posting photos and short messages regularly from my phone way back in the early mid-2000s. I was a true member of the avant garde. Little did I know that my penchant for pushing the envelope would catapult me quite nearly to internet celebrity.

The night was February 30th, 2004. I was visiting San Diego for the weekend. It was late, so a group of friends and I were at the only place to go in track-home-laden North County San Diego -- Denny's. As it got later, we all became slightly punchy. My friend Haber (known only by his last name) was punchier than most and I began to film him with my camera phone. I discovered that you could stop and start within a clip, which allowed for basic in-camera effects like making things disappear. At one point in a video clip, my other friend Dave told Haber to get down from something he had climbed on to. That line was born to be a sound sample.

Later that night I returned to Haber's place, where I was couch surfing. I got the idea to throw together some loops in Garage Band and edit the grainy clips into a "music video". Haber, who is one hell of a guitar player, added the pièce de résistance -- a kick ass guitar solo. I inserted an MTV-style music video title and named the "band" XFYA, since everyone at Denny's that night had been in my high-school band, FYA (like ex-FYA, get it?). I hastily uploaded the video to Textamerica ( Link), giving it the title "the first music video shot entirely on a nokia 3650", and promptly went to sleep. The next morning, Haber Get Down had been seen nearly 10,000 times. It spread like a small brush fire through the nascent Web2.0 and went on to be viewed nearly 200,000 times (which was a lot for back then). It was even written about by several prominent bloggers including BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin who wrote "It's kind of lame, but it's still a first."

Filming "Cornelius Swarthout"To continue riding this wave of internet celebrity, we made an attempt to shoot a planned music video on my camera phone. We recorded a few songs the next night and filmed the second music video shot entirely on a camera phone: Homage to Cornelius Swarthout.

Alas, I was too far ahead of my time. Youtube didn't exist yet and web videos didn't have as much ability to go viral. Some TV shows appeared interested, but the video had too little resolution and television didn't really "get" internet video yet. (I actually sent a a mini-DV of this to a cable channel! Imagine 176x144 badly encoded video blown up to 720x480. Yuck!) Haber Get Down was forgotten. Over a year later, the Presidents of the United States of America claimed that they were the first to film a music video with cell phones on their song Some Postman. XFYA, being essentially a fake band, had no chance at refuting this. I still stand by my acheivement though. Granted, their video may have been better -- but we were first.

Ok, setting this silliness aside, something did strike me during that time. It was something people are only starting to talk about now. When we were filming Homage to Cornelius Swarthout, I thought about how liberating it was to be able to make a film with a pocketable device. I thought to myself that some years in the future we would have HD video camera phones, and the boundries of where and when cinematic stories could be created would be broken down.

We are seeing this now. When the iPhone 3GS came out, I made another music video, which was the first ever to be to be shot on that device -- Technologic Overkill. It was sort of an inside joke to myself about Haber Get Down (Technologic Overkill was the name of my moblog on Textamerica). Other videos came shortly after (1, 2, 3). Now with the iPhone 4, people are creating and even editing HD videos from a device that fits in their pocket. The results are pretty good (1, 2, 3).

Back in 2004 again. I had another thought that day while filming my second camera phone project. More important than where and when videos could be created with a pocketable device was who would do it. In the future, any kid with a camera phone could create the next masterpiece of cinema. I know Haber Get Down is far from a masterpiece, but I think it was an interesting step towards the future -- or it could just be a blurry camera phone video.

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Related Posts
Technologic Overkill
Homage to Cornelius Swarthout
Everything You Wanted to Know about iPhone 3GS Video
Pocket Cam: The Future of the Colony

From The Archive: Homage to Cornelius Swarthout

This entry is quite old and quite silly. I created the first music video shot entirely on a camera phone.  Homage to Cornelius Swarthout is the second music video shot entirely on a camera phone.  I still enjoy the strangeness of the song and video. Before you judge the quality of this video, remember that this is 2002 camera phone technology.

P.S. Cornelius Swarthout was the true inventor of the waffle iron -- a truly great man.

Shout outs to Dave, Haber, Sean and Justin.

From the Archive: Libra Armor by Jane Lui

iPhone-Friendly Youtube Version

Jane Lui is a musician and good friend of mine. We met many years ago in the San Diego cafe music scene. Back in 2007 we happend to be in London at the same time. Unfortunately our schedules only intersected for two hours. What would be a better use of those two hours other than making a music video? Nothing.

Currently Jane is working on her third studio album and is raising money for it through Pledge Music. Check out some of her music on Youtube. If you are in to it, think about dropping her a donation.

My favorite Youtube videos from Jane:
Duck Tales
Long Ago

Related Posts from thautomaticfilmmaker:
From the Archive: Freddie Goodtime
Pocket Cam: Tom Brosseau w/ Angela Correa live in Zürich
From the Archive: Tuesday's at Paddy's 

From the Archive: Alpine Pastures

This is a very short, verité doc that I made during my first year living in Switzerland. I was shooting web videos for the site at the time. While shooting at the Berggasthaus Aescher, we observed an event that happens once a year:

I am still amazed by how you can feel transported back through time in this country.

From the Archive: Freddie Goodtime

This music video was the last project I directed at Brooks Institute of Photography. The song is Freddie Goodtime by my friend Jane Lui. If you haven't heard her music, you should definitely check it out. Freddie Goodtime is a song about an angel who is tired of his angelic life. He wants to shead his wings and enjoy more lascivious human pursuits. Freddie has sent a letter to a friend explaining all of this, but the letter is sent to Jane by mistake. The song is Jane's response to his letter.

The scenes with Jane were shot at Lestat's in San Diego. Freddie's scenes were shot in Ventura. Just like the characters in the song; they have never met. The cinematography was by William Eubank.

From The Archive: Need a Screwdriver?

This is a spec commercial I made back in my Brooks days with Crystal Abeel. While experimenting with different in-camera effects, we stumbled upon one of the most fascinating properties of depth of field. If a foreground object is made to go sufficiently out of focus it actually dissappears. This is caused by the circles of confusion being larger than the image plane -- meaning that the object is so spread out optically, that it can't be seen anymore. Anyway, we put together this spec commercial based on this effect. This spot is all one take. The entire effect is in-camera. Shot on a Panasonic SDX-900.

From the Archive: I Know It

Way back during my first year in film school, we were tasked to create a short self portrait film for a documentary class. I am still quite happy with what I made -- though I probably would have recorded the voice over better. The piece is entitled I Know It.

From the Archive -- Tuesday's at Paddy's

I have decided to start a recurring segment on my blog that will feature some older projects of mine. First up is "Tuesdays at Paddy's," my first music video. During my first year in film school, I was visited by my friend Ryan Blue. We decided to shoot a music video and since there was a place in town called Paddy's, his song Tuesday's at Paddy's was a natural choice. Shot on my old mini-dv Canon ZR-10, the video quality definitely doesn't hold up to the test of time. I am, however, still proud of my first attempt at music video.

One cool thing to note about this video is that it will loop seemlessly :)