Production stills by Kenny Gan, sourced from James Lee

Interested in filmmaking but lacking in conventional (and probably costly) equipment? Your smartphone might just be your next best bet.

As smartphones and other handheld gadgets increasingly infiltrate every aspect of our modern, tech-reliant lives, local independent filmmaker, James Lee explores the possibilities offered by the ubiquitous smartphone as an alternative to traditional filmmaking equipment in his latest brainchild, the ‘Smartphone Films Series’.

Just check out his short film below!

‘Overtime’ is the first product in the series of several short films shot entirely on smartphones. This project is a new venture of Doghouse73 Pictures, a production company founded by Lee.

There are two upcoming short films in the pipeline for the series, ‘Idiot’ and ‘Heartbeat’, both directed by Adrian Lai. ‘Idiot’ is scheduled for release in August, while the release date of ‘Heartbeat’ is pending confirmation. Regular updates on the project can be found on Doghouse73 Pictures’ Facebook page.

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Contrary to the mundane, dreaded work routine implied by its title, ‘Overtime’ is an action-packed short film – shot on a OnePlus 3T phone – that invokes echoes of the gangster/triad film genre. Directed by Lee and set in a car park complex, it features Ben Chan as the protagonist assigned to retrieve a briefcase containing some money from the rear of a car in order to settle his debt.

The rousing display of nimbly executed combat moves in ‘Overtime’, complemented by a soundtrack befitting the sinister tone of the short film, makes it a thrilling watch.

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In debt and desperate – the unnamed protagonist of ‘Overtime’, played by Ben Chan.

Its intense action is enhanced by brisk editing and strategic shots from varied angles. The narrative appears to revolve around the pursuit of a mysterious briefcase, yet there is more than meets the eye – every character seems to be motivated by an inscrutable, hidden agenda.

Lasting just over four minutes, it is imbued with a prevalent atmosphere of ominous suspense and foreboding which ultimately heightens at the cliffhanger ending.

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Why the smartphone though?

The portability and convenience of the smartphone align with Lee’s advocacy of self-initiated filmmaking as he encourages aspiring filmmakers to just “start making films” and not be restrained by unattainable equipment. “Don’t just think you don’t have this particular camera, or you don’t have that; if you want to shoot, you can do it with your phone and two friends,” he advises in an interview with Centrestage. 

The smartphone is considered as a staple device in our contemporary lifestyle – nearly everyone owns one – making it an ideal tool for feasible, economical filmmaking.

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The director, James Lee in action on set with a trusty smartphone.

He is also an ardent proponent of digital video (DV) filmmaking and the expansive accessibility of YouTube. His stance is evident in a self-authored article, ‘The Importance of Independent Film-making in Malaysia’ posted on the Doghouse73 Pictures website.

“YouTube now allows everybody in the world with even a smartphone camera to produce and make films. Creating another generation of filmmakers which produces short form content and at the same time creating other formats that once will never could believe it’ll find it audiences or seems not fit for traditional TV stations [sic],” he shares in his article.

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Of dangerous, suspicious men and an ostensibly harmless, innocuous briefcase.

Notably, he releases his works through online channels, such as YouTube and Vimeo – a testament to the practicality and versatility of utilising online streaming platforms as distribution channels for films.

Furthermore, he asserts in his article that taking advantage of YouTube and the latest technological advancements enables the independent filmmaking scene to thrive and develop, benefiting filmmakers and the creative industry in the long run.

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Is smartphone filmmaking the future of film production – without compromising on quality? The ‘Smartphone Films Series’ might provide a promising, encouraging answer. What do you feel? Drop us a comment below or send us your thoughts to