When stand-up comic and former SNL cast member Jay Pharaoh showed up on set in June 2017 to play his part in Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, his first question was about the cameras — or lack thereof.

“I saw him sitting the chair and I was like, ‘yo where’s the camera?’”

Pharaoh and co-star Joshua Leonard recently spoke with Inverse about Unsane (video above) and about acting for an iPhone — an iPhone 7s with Moment Lenses and using the FiLMiC Pro app, to be precise. While Leonard knew there would be cameras, Pharoah never got the memo.

“It was a surprise to me,” Pharaoh tells Inverse. “I didn’t know. Y’all knew; I didn’t know.”

Despite that surprise, Pharoah’s acting and improvisation skills make a memorable impact in the thriller. He plays man at a mental health facility where the film is set, and is easily the smartest person in the building. His character, Nate Hoffman, befriends Sawyer Valentini, played by Claire Foy, who is convinced that man employed at the facility (Leonard) is her stalker.

All the equipment to shoot the movie could fit into a backpack, and the shooting pace was fast, which helped keep creativity flowing, Leonard says.

“Part of the pain in the ass about making films is how much time it takes between creative impulse and the execution,” Leonard tells Inverse. “Anything that reduces that amount of time so you can get an impulse on screen is fantastic, and I think that’s really what this kind of technology is allowing us to do.”

Read the full story: The Insanity of ‘Unsane’ Shows That iPhones Are the Future of Movies

A movie like Unsane — which uses a lot of close-up shots that have a slightly unsettling effect — feels suited to the setup of an iPhone. It may not work for all movies, though.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to be at the point where we’re shooting Dunkirk on an iPhone,” Leonard tells Inverse. “And I don’t think we should be, but in terms of accessibility, it really opens the doors and there’s a lot fewer excuses to sit at home as opposed to going out and making a movie.”

Steven Soderbergh uses an iPhone to shoot 'Unsane' in June 2017.
Steven Soderbergh uses an iPhone to shoot 'Unsane' in June 2017.

“I think this is the future,” Soderbergh said at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “Anybody going to see [Unsane] who has no idea of the backstory to the production will have no idea this was shot on the phone. That’s not part of the conceit.”

In the production notes, Soderbergh said it was inevitable he’d ditch the film camera. “I’ve been experimenting for years with this equipment, with these phones and with the lenses that are available to put onto these phones,” he says. “I looked at it as the future.”


Unsane is in theaters now.

Photos via Fingerprint Releasing / Bleecker Street