This is a guest post from former New York Film Academy student, Benjamin J. McElroy. Ben is a film and video professional and the president and executive producer of McElroy Films LLC, a Boston-based corporate, non-profit, educational, broadcast, and independent video production firm. With over a decade of professional experience as a cinematographer, he shares how his time with the New York Film Academy has helped him achieve success.
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In a few months, I’ll have the distinct, but sobering, honor of blowing out 30 candles on my birthday cake. Don’t get me wrong: That doesn’t mean I’m old! Yet, it reminds me of how quickly and how much you can accomplish when you’re focusing on the things you love. Yes, that means my wife and two boys, but also working everyday to produce and shoot videos for dozens of companies and non-profits continues to fulfill me. I’m working for myself, with a great team, and I’m having fun all the while. It was thirteen years ago that I decided on a video production career; a decision made while attending a program at the New York Film Academy.
In my high school years in Groton, MA, I had the opportunity to help shoot some documentary-style videos for non-profits connected to my church. They were amateur, to be sure, but I was having fun: It was work, especially for an untrained kid, but it didn’t feel like work. That’s when I decided to see if this hobby was worth pursuing, and signed up for an intensive program at NYFA.
Even before ‘small class size’ was the mantra of every educational institution, NYFA made sure to limit the number of students so we all could get the individual attention we needed to excel. Then, almost immediately, the instructors threw us right into the thick of things and we ‘learned by doing.’ I remember marveling at the 16mm Arri cameras they brought out. These were real ‘movie’ cameras compared to what I was used to. We were taught to load and unload the film, focus, determine exposure . . . it was so much information, but it stuck as we held the camera in our hands as each function of the camera was described.
We learned basics like composition, perspective, and depth of field: All things I had never thought about before. Later, we were given courses in lighting and editing what we shot. Before you think too hard, there was non-linear editing back then, but NYFA had us cut our films on flatbeds with tape and scissors. Archaic? Maybe by today’s standards, but that experience really helped me appreciate the edit and helped me understand workflows, both manual and digital, that I would run into in the future.
Before I knew it, the program came to a close. I went home and picked up my camcorder, but now I didn’t just see a box with a lens, batteries, and DV tapes: I saw a tool. A tool that I could create just about anything I could dream up – an extension of my imagination. And so, I continued working for the non-profits, but this time paid attention to composition, lighting, and so forth. By the time high school ended, my calling in life was clear. Thirteen years later, I have the New York Film Academy to thank for helping me find my passion.