How a Filmmaker Captured the History of The Culver Hotel on a Smartphone

With so many institutions — historic theaters, longstanding diners, favorite bars — closing left and right this year, it’s comforting to see stories of resilience. That’s what filmmaker Trishna Patel’s latest project wanted to capture: How a historic hotel managed to stay afloat during a pandemic. When she found that story in the historic Culver Hotel in her hometown of Culver City, California, she got right to work.

After she wrapped a day of shooting, Patel sat down with Thrillist to talk about the hotel’s significance in Culver City, her filming process, and how it felt to shoot her whole documentary on her Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G.

Thrillist: Talk us through the movie you made.

Patel: The Culver Hotel is this historical landmark in downtown Culver City. And because of the pandemic, like many other businesses, it was forced to close down. They had to pivot quickly, and despite closing their doors, they did a lot of volunteer work with charities like Feed Culver to provide meals to seniors and people dealing with food insecurity.

I wanted to take a deeper dive and put faces and places to these narratives, and I wanted to explore what these restaurants were doing to keep their staff on board, how they were rebranding and able to keep serving the community. In the case of the Culver Hotel, which has a symbiotic relationship with the community, they opened a beautiful, bigger, and better outdoor patio to serve guests with live music and dinner.

The story is about history, it’s about resilience, it's about [how] no matter what, at the end of the day, people will find a way to do what they love.

What did you want to accomplish?

I wanted to let the hotel and the staff and the beautiful sights and sounds of the outdoor patio showcase themselves. I’m really hoping to showcase how people have come together and made decisions for their business to keep doing what they’re doing. I want to give people the sense that they’re sitting on the patio listening to music. That they’re a part of history because they visited, and really showcase what the staff is doing and bring that human element to the piece. You'll see the general manager, hopefully the creative director, and the founder and owner. We’ll sprinkle them in and how they've learned and adapted, and their point of view on the hotel and the community.

I want people to feel good after they've seen it. It’s pretty simple: I always say that I want people to feel, after watching one of my pieces, that they've just come to my house for a bowl of curry. I want them to feel warm and good and fulfilled and I want them to be entertained. Hopefully that'll be showcased in the piece.


What's your storytelling style? How do you start the process? 

I’m inspired by bold colors, unique perspectives, and the beauty that is the collective human experience — particularly how those themes are explored through countries, cultures, and cuisine. If a potential story speaks to one of those pillars via one of those subjects, I'll be drawn to it. I ask myself questions: Is there a purpose? What's the goal?

Have you shot on a smartphone before?

I actually shoot a lot on mobile devices now. I love to bring my camera equipment everywhere, and as much as I'd love to travel with [a full rig], a lot of my content for videos happens on the fly. As tech improves, these cameras are made with filmmakers in mind, people hitting the streets and sharing their experiences. It's great to see [that] I can make film-worthy content with just my phone on me. I certainly gravitate toward that. I told the crew that I'm definitely a filmmaker who knows what they want to see creatively. I know what I want to capture. I know how I want people to feel and what emotions I want to tap into. I'm not the most technical filmmaker; it’s not innate in me and I’ve had to try really hard to be tech savvy. The mobile device has allowed me to address those shortcomings technically and let me live my best life as a storyteller. It’s great for someone like me as a producer turned filmmaker.

What was shooting on the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G like?

The Samsung camera works with light really well. When I try to shoot photos at night, there’s a stark contrast from other mobile devices I've used. It’s been a dream for the content I create as far as usability. I use it very intuitively. I had no issues with that. It’s been pretty seamless; there hasn't been a crazy adjustment period. I plan to use it and really insert this into my creative life.


What were your favorite features to use?

I was really keen on the Super Steady [video] feature. I rarely travel to restaurants with my gimbal or tripod because I try to immerse myself in the story and not stand out. But if I'm just out on my own and things are happening in real time, the Super Steady was able to give me that filmmaker feel, like a long pan, that I may not have been able to get on another mobile device.

I also really liked the Night Mode feature. There was such a stark contrast between my nighttime photos and daytime photos. The night mode’s increased sensor searches for any light that’s out there and really makes for a richer, fuller shot. It gives it another dimension. I never loved what I was producing at night, and it really gave me that added oomph.

I create a lot of content surrounding food, but a lot of creators will tell you food is one of the hardest things to shoot. There’s a Food Mode on the Galaxy S20 FE and I thought that was very helpful. It’s so evident in the photos I share. So is the Single Take feature. It's really great because with one tap of the shutter, you get multiple stills and videos to use. I [used to] redo a pan 15 or 20 times just so I get it right — and then I have to go back and take photos of that same shot because I want to promote them on social media. This mode takes one of your pans and divvies it up for you. It'll give you a 3-second, 5-second, or 10-second video. It’s really helpful in that way.

What made it better than shooting with a traditional camera rig?

Capturing people eating food is an intimate thing. I found having the camera with me and using Super Steady mode and not having a rig that would bring attention to myself, it even helped me relax. Even though I'm filming, I'm in tune with how my subjects are feeling. It was nice to be able to film and people thought I was just another person filming my friends on a night out. No one looked at me and felt uncomfortable. It was nice to have that pressure off myself.


What advice do you have for anyone shooting on mobile?

Most filmmakers are such techies, and so when I would make impressive content with a mobile device, I'd usually downplay it. My advice would be to wholeheartedly embrace this efficient and convenient way to make films. So, immerse yourself in all that it has to offer — its features, various modes, and settings — because it may lead to some of your very best work yet.

Watch Trishna's short film here: