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  • The Importance of an “Indelible” Screenplay

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    Melanie Williams Oram is the department chair of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy’s New York City Campus. Melanie wrote and directed SHOOK, a short film that Showtime acquired and airs. SHOOK won several awards including Best film of the Festival at the inaugural Juneteenth Festival. Her feature length version of SHOOK was an Urbanworld Screenplay Competition Finalist. She has produced several award winning shorts including A-Alike, which won the Gold Medal at the Student Academy Awards and a DGA Award. She has won both an Emmy and a Peabody for her work at HBO Sports. Currently she is producing her first independent feature film, Indelible.
    Indelible
    I am nearing the end of the production phase on my first feature film IndelibleThis film tells the story of El Bonds, an African American female scientist who races to find the cure for a disease that killed her husband and threatens to take the life of her teenage son. As the producer on this project, I am struck by how important a solid script is to creating a quality film. Yes, the feature film arena is one where the director is clearly the ruling monarch, and I’ve always preached that without a good script, the director, even a great director, has nothing. Now after nearly finishing the production phase of Indelible, I see in practice that a well-structured script is the engine that powers the rest of the filmmaking train.

    Our process on Indelible has been truly collaborative. Our writer, Mikki del Monico wrote the script and asked Randy Dottin, the director to attach himself to the project. Randy and I had collaborated on several short film projects together and he asked me to come onto the project as a producer. As a team our first step was to apply for a production grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Mikki already had an established track record with Sloan and had previously won a $10,000 screenwriting grant for an earlier draft of Indelible.We were fortunate enough to win the $100,000 production grant and then our journey to make a feature film began. I worked with Mikki and Randy for about two years on developing the script and getting it ready to shoot. Mikki wrote countless drafts and we had several meetings about how to clarify the want of the protagonist, increase the intensity of the obstacles created by our antagonist, and shape subplots that were both engaging and well-crafted.

    We went into production confident that our script had all the elements of a good drama. We completed our initial shoot and managed to stay true to our original vision. After a fairly lengthy break in production, we cut together an assemble version of the film and re-evaluated the script. It was clear that we needed to do some pick-up shoots. We were facing some challenges as a production because we didn’t have access to some of the key talent that we needed. We wanted to finish the film strong and so we were faced with the task of altering the script again. Our new script needed to create a softer side of our protagonist by deepening some of her personal relationships. This process included broadening the role of some characters, minimizing the role of other characters, and even recasting one of Indeiible’s major players.

    To date, we have completed two pick-up shoots and we plan to do one more in the late spring/early summer.We are editing a new cut of the film that incorporates all our footage from all three (3) periods of our production phase (initial production + two pick-up shoots). We will look at the cut and determine not only which scenes need to be reshot but what scenes need to added to the script to ensure that we enter into Indelible’s post production phase in the strongest possible position. We have pledged that we will not embark on this final pick-up shoot until we believe the newest version of the script is solid. As a team we are still committed to the idea that a strong, well structured script provides a blueprint for making sure that ultimately we produce “a good story that is well told.”I believe that my experiences as a professional filmmaker, and definitely my work with the Indelible project have shaped my teaching in the classroom. As an instructor, I try to bring together theory and practice. I’d be curious to hear your ideas on screenwriting theory and how you’ve put those ideas into practice. What are your experiences with developing and/or producing your own scripts either for shorts or feature films? 

    To learn more about NYFA’s Screenwriting program, please click here.

    Indelible Movie On Set Indelible

    On Set Indelible2

    On Set Indelible3

    All Photos Taken By Gregory Costanzo

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    April 16, 2012 • Screenwriting • Views: 7743

  • The Power of Pitchfest

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    Pitchfest are events at New York Film Academy are held shortly after graduation for MFA and AFA students in Screenwriting and Producing. A culmination of their studies, graduates pitch their thesis projects, usually a TV pilot or feature screenplay, to television and film professionals. It’s a great opportunity for students to start developing relationships in the industry. About 15 producing students held their event on campus in March, pitching their projects to industry professionals including guests from HBO and Network Television, and even George Gallo, writer of Midnight RunBad Boys, and The Whole Ten Yards. Twelve screenwriting students held their event at West Hollywood’s luxurious Andaz Hotel. By the end of the evening, each student had pitched to about 20 companies.

    Since the event, a number of students from both departments have gotten interest from companies. Congratulations to our recent Screenwriting and Producing graduates!

    NYFA PitchFest

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    April 5, 2012 • Acting, Producing, Screenwriting • Views: 4201

  • Whatever Happened to Francis Ford Coppola?

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    Francis Ford CoppolaLast week was the 40th Anniversary of The Godfather. I don’t know if you saw it but the AMC channel aired it repeatedly during the week. Watching those films again, it made me wonder…

    Whatever happened to Francis Ford Coppola?

    The Godfather was a huge influence. I mean everyone went to see it. I remember I had a friend who was ushering at the movie theater and would sneak me in. It didn’t even matter what part of the movie you came in at, you’d just watch it from there to the end. Sometimes I’d even stay to watch the beginning of the next show. We used to refer to the film as, “the Beast.” That’s how much respect we had for it. A few years later, as a film student, Scorsese became my guy (he was the filmmaker that made me want to be a filmmaker.) The Godfather was still the benchmark and with all due respect and deference to good ol’ Marty, he never made “The Beast”.

    Coppola followed up with Apocalypse Now. The stories about making that film are legendary—the enormous amounts of money, equipment, and insanity that went on in the jungles. But whether you like the film or not, you can’t help but be impressed by the enormity of the undertaking and the execution. It is unquestionably the work of a master filmmaker. And then… What? What happened? He never again fulfilled the promise of his early films. It makes me sad. What went wrong? Where did Francis Ford Coppola jump the shark?

    It started with a film called One From the Heart. You’ve probably never seen it. Few people have. It was a musical fantasy set in Vegas, and even though it pioneered some video-editing techniques, it was a disaster with audiences. Then there were The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. It seemed to us as young directors as the work of a desperate filmmaker who lost one audience and was trying everything he could to connect with a new one. Next he tried a Godfather knockoff, The Cotton Club. An epic crime drama, it even had the same sort of violent montage at the end. A pale imitation and another box office disaster. And finally, Godfather 3, the last ditch effort to recapture past glory. I don’t even have to tell you what a disappointment that film was.

    How did such a great filmmaker lose his way? Was it the disappointing loss of Zoetrope Studios? In 1969, Coppola decided to buck the studio system, which he felt had stifled his artistic vision. He created Zoetrope to fund off-beat films by first time directors. It didn’t work. Was it the pressure of paying off the huge financial debt in which he found himself? Coppola has declared bankruptcy three times. It’s not easy holding onto a personal vision while digging yourself out of a financial hole. Or was it the tragic death of his son? Personal tragedy has a way of putting ambitions of glory in perspective. In the end, perhaps it was just the unimaginable pressure of having to equal something as great as The Godfather.

    The Godfather

    It’s hard not to reflect on the somewhat tragic trajectory of his life. Early success does have its pitfalls. Compare the careers of directors like Spielberg and Scorsese. They all started out at the same time. They were part of an avant-garde group of filmmakers that were revolutionizing Hollywood. But where Spielberg and Scorsese are viable, influential, Academy Award nominated filmmakers to this day, Francis Ford Coppola has sadly vanished from the scene. I can easily imagine him filled with deep satisfaction and appreciation of what he’s accomplished. I can also imagine him with deep regret at what could’ve been. Ultimately, I’d like to think that with age comes perspective, if not wisdom, and maybe even acceptance. What do you think? Every filmmaker has to come to grips at some point with this issue of art and commerce. How have you handled it? Or how do you envision handling it? I’d like to know.

    Click here to learn more about the filmmaking program.

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    March 16, 2012 • Filmmaking • Views: 9490

  • Producer Chris Brigham and His Road to "Inception"

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    Chris Brigham NYFAChris Brigham isn’t your typical “Hollywood” producer, which comes as a surprise, considering he produced global blockbusters such as Inception, The Aviator, and Analyze This. He doesn’t even live in Hollywood.“New York is a great place for a producer right now, especially with the tax breaks. There are more shows here now, which means more jobs.” Aspiring filmmakers looking to develop stories, however, should still consider Los Angeles. Everyone’s path will be different. It’s up to each individual to recognize which is one’s true calling.“Not everyone will have the chops for this business.”

    As the guest speaker for our Q&A on Thursday, Chris shared with us his journey from a P.A. in New York to the Hollywood powerhouse he is today. Hustling his way to the top, there was much to be learned in terms of film production. Most importantly, he learned quite a bit about dealing with people, which is something he credits to the Teamsters.The motto? “Money talks. Bullshit walks.” New York is a ‘show me’ city where you have to back up what you’re saying. Chris realized his ability in handling people and their problems was a valuable skill in the industry. Soon he began finding steady work as a line producer.

    So what is a line producer? “It’s a critical job. You are the eyes and the ears managing the movie. Being a line producer demands entrepreneurial skills.”Highlighting some of the details of his job, one learns it’s not your typical 9 to 5. Being a freelance line producer requires a lot of travel, networking, and wisdom to find the right project. “It’s better to work on quality projects but it’s a lot of hard work.”

    His recommendation for filmmaking success? “Get your foot in the door. Make phone calls and start out as a P.A. on set.” Eventually you’ll build a reputation and, who knows, you may end up waking up one day with a call from Christopher Nolan’s team to work on Inception. Luck may play a part, however, this game is a foot-race and the last person standing is the one who makes it in this business. Whether it’s writing, directing, acting or producing, there are thousands of people trying to do the same thing you want to do. The key is not losing sight of your dreams.

    What about maintaining a family and some sort of normalcy? Chris recounted some of his struggles balancing career and family. He recalled a shoot in Montreal where he drove six hours to see his wife and kids on the weekends. Character is indispensable. It seems kindness, too, can pay off in a business with a bad reputation for its conceited personalities.

    Twitter was abuzz for Brigham’s appearance. Irrefutably, the most submitted question of the night was “Is film school worth it?” In response, Chris cited his very first film class in college learning about Fellini and Kurosawa. It sparked his passion for the craft. He encouraged our students to collaborate, build bonds, and sustain a network. In this industry, it’s crucial to meet the right people. Create a foundation for yourself. Film school is what you make of it.

    After the Q&A, Chris handled individual students with personal questions, ranging from “Can I meet Christopher Nolan?” to “How do I get my screenplay funded?” Chris stayed for a good 45 minutes afterwards, patiently handling questions and proving to us how integrity can go a long way.

    Chris Brigham Q&A at NYFA

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    March 5, 2012 • Producing • Views: 6275

  • Good University Ranking Guide Ranks NYFA Screenwriting Programs as the Best!

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    The Good University Ranking Guide, a ranking of MBA and University League programs from Australia, Canada, UK, USA, and the World just ranked the New York Film Academy as one of the top schools for screenwriting. The site commented, “The Screenwriting Workshops and Programs of the NYFA are the most comprehensive screenwriting courses of all top film schools.” Check out our Screenwriting MFA program today!

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    December 7, 2010 • Acting • Views: 4715