How Aaron Mento Filmed His iPad 2 Movie

Aaron Mento M.F.A. ’08 holds his iPad 2 as he did when filming his movie “Standards of Living,” with no tripod or camera stand.

When Aaron Mento M.F.A. ’08 went briefly blind in one eye, it changed how he saw filmmaking.

Mento suffered an ocular migraine, a type of migraine located in the eye that causes temporary vision loss. Mento’s blindness lasted 15 minutes. But the experience caused him to take stock of his resources and reassess what he needed to do to move forward in his film career. He ended up making what is, to the best of his knowledge, the world’s first feature-length movie shot entirely on an iPad 2.

“I realized if I wanted to make a movie, I couldn’t wait around for a budget or for someone to green-light one of my scripts,” says Mento, who earned a master’s degree in film production from LMU. “I had to stop waiting and just make something that I could pull off on my own.”

“Standards of Living” is a horror film about a struggling standup comedian who meets a mysterious man who can make broken things disappear and then reappear in improved condition. The comedian decides he can turn his dismal career around with the man’s help, only to reap, of course, unintended consequences.

Mento realized that the iPad 2 lacks industry standard, high definition video capability and a quality microphone. But the device could be useful for shooting horror nonetheless. He created a spooky vibe by improving the sound by using professional quality boom and lavalier microphones, but maintaining the gritty and raw visuals from the iPad 2 camera capability.

“It’s almost a contradiction to have that quality of video with another quality of audio, but it added to the weirdness of the story,” Mento says.

To compensate for having low-quality video, Mento knew that he had to have a strong screenplay. He made sure to tell a story so involving — with twists, turns and surprises — that viewers would forget they’re watching a movie made on an iPad 2.

The production required two weeks of shooting and three months in post-production. One attractive feature of the iPad 2’s camera, the auto-exposure, was actually a problem for Mento during filmmaking. If he was following an actor from one room to another that had different lighting, the camera would automatically adjust exposure settings to try to match the lighting of each room. His solution was to make sure that each room was lit consistently to avoid any unnecessary adjustments made by the camera.

Another problem Mento encountered was the difficulty of holding the iPad 2 still for long or multiple takes. He chose not to put the iPad 2 on a tripod or a stand. With some scenes lasting 20 minutes, Mento’s arms grew very tired.

Mento has been fascinated with horror movies since he was a young boy. This project was inspired by the horror movie “Phantasm,” by Don Coscarelli, who also made that movie on a very tight budget.

“If I can make something engaging with one lens, two locations and a small budget, then I should be able to tell other stories in a satisfying way if I have more money and a crew,” Mento said. “I just embraced the limitations. It made me use my imagination more.”

(Photo by Jon Rou)


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