David Ma’s iPhone 14 Pro Film, PINCH

The food artist, culinary filmmaker and director pays homage to Kaiju films in his new short movie

Food artist, culinary filmmaker and director David Ma has created a cinematic, stirring short film using the Apple iPhone 14 Pro. In just over one minute, PINCH tells the tale of two crustaceans—a King Crab and a Horseshoe Crab—fighting for dominance. The animals’ sizes and movements, the close-up shots of their pincers and the smoky surface of the water all combine to create a dramatic film that pays homage to Kaiju films. A Japanese sci-fi genre that focuses on giant, fantasy monsters, Kaiju (meaning “strange beast”) films often depict destruction and battles that serve as metaphors. “The way those filmmakers shot miniatures with specific lensing and angles sold the realism of these ‘gigantic monsters’ destroying our cities,” Ma tells us. “I also shot a lot of the subjects from below, having them tower over and command the frame. Guillermo del Toro did this a lot in Pacific Rim and Michael Bay utilizes this technique to make transformers/buildings/explosions seem larger than life.”

Ma and his team worked with fishmonger Steven Wong of Aqua Best NYC to source the crabs, and built the set within a 70-gallon aquarium. “I love building worlds on camera and taking something familiar and turning its perception around for audiences,” Ma says. “This project was particularly interesting to me because it combined miniature set design, puppeteering, practical effects and dynamic camera work. In trying to achieve so much in-camera without the use of CGI, it was an ambitious undertaking that relied less on expensive camera rigs and more on ingenuity and creative problem-solving.”

Shooting the entire film on an iPhone is a feat, but for Ma it was also an adventure in exploring the device’s possibilities. “What I enjoyed so much about this project was the creative freedom and ability to execute the idea with a few friends and the iPhone14 which packs pro-level features into its revamped camera,” he says. “A new feature on the iPhone 14 that I used was Action mode. I was excited to utilize stabilization without the use of a gimbal. As we followed the creatures through and across the water, action mode provided smooth movements and an element of grace to a couple of the shots needed.”

He continues, “I also explore macro mode when shooting the creatures. Crustaceans have such interesting color and texture to their exterior shells and the macro mode was able to capture those details beautifully. Narratively the series of macros teased the creatures dark appearance and built anticipation before their full reveal to the audience. In thinking about the world around these creatures I integrated several different textures—black sand, driftwood, rocks—and pops of color in plant life allowing the Phone 14’s processors to register the image with clarity and vibrance. We also had the ability to go underwater with the device for a couple scenes which helped with dipping in and out of the surface.”

While Ma is a professional and has years of experience shooting films, he assures that making your own high-quality movie on an iPhone 14 isn’t as daunting as one may assume—and he offers up a bunch of useful tips for those who are keen and curious. “As always, spend time crafting the story first and foremost,” he says. “Once you have the story and different arc points, you can then use the framing and lighting of each shot to convey whatever emotion you’re trying to elicit from the audience. Don’t feel limited to shooting inside a studio or in your home. Get out into the world and film in unique, interesting locations. Utilize Action mode to give movement and energy to your shots. Because the phone is quite light, it allows you to move dynamically with the action on screen without sacrificing stability. And at 240 FPS, use the iPhone’s slow-motion to up the drama or drive home the visual importance of a particular scene.”

Behind the scenes imagery from David Ma’s PINCH, courtesy of the artist