Author: Helen Kantilaftis

In Favor Of The 48-Hour Film Festival For Actors

Benefit of 48 Hour Film Festival for Actors

All across the land, one competition is taking filmmaking by storm. The 48-Hour Film Festival challenges production teams to make a short film in only two days’ time, which will then screen publicly in front of a panel of judges. Winning films from each city move on to be screened in Los Angeles, and the top 10 worldwide screen at Cannes the following year.

To start, each team receives a random genre, and a prop, character, and line of dialogue that must be included in their film. Then, over one weekend, writers craft a script, a director breaks it down, actors perform, an editor cuts it, and the producer turns in the final copy. For actors, the challenge is a great way to practice on camera, gain material for a reel, and meet industry folk. Never before has one weekend done so much for your acting career…and it’s fun!

Advantages for Actors

Scheduling film shoots is always a difficult proposition, and when working in indie film, is a common reason that shoots get pushed back. With the 48-Hour Festival, scheduling problems are reduced because everyone knows about the weekend in advance. This means that Festival teams are often more organized and dependable than the average independent production team.

Additionally, competing in short film festivals gives actors the chance to play a variety of different roles. Producers must recruit their cast before they know what the story and genre will be, so actors often have the chance to play against type, or in an atypical genre. For instance, horror, western, and sci-fi are genres that are included in every drawing, but rarely will actors come across them on public call boards.

Finally, the popularity of 48-Hour Film Festivals draws many professional production teams in every city. This gives actors the chance to work with established, local, film industry pros, which is crucial for networking. Beyond the networking, these teams bring a high-standard of production value with cameras, lights, microphones, and other equipment that would otherwise only be found on the best short film shoots.

Reel World Experience

All of the above traits make short film competitions a viable option for actors in need of resume and reel building credits. On-camera experience is important for all aspiring actors, and a credit from a 48-Hour Festival is definitely worth the time.

If the final product is polished, there is also a good chance that footage can be obtained for use on a reel. This is further encouraged by the quick turnaround time. In only two days, an actor can gain a credit and a scene for their reel, talk about efficiency.

Besides all of this, 48-Hour films are fun yet challenging to work on. Actors must build a character quickly and perform under constant time pressure, similar to the stress experienced on studio TV and film productions. And, with The 48, there is always a guarantee that if completed on time, actors will get to see themselves on the big screen and gain exposure to local audiences.

Advice for Finding a Team

Don’t despair if you are an actor without a team for an upcoming competition. If you are interested, chances are that you can find a team. The 48-Hour Fest has a mailing list on its website that anyone can sign up for, and they also host mixers for teams and prospective members. Signing up and/or attending those events is one way to find a team. Another proven way is to hit the local casting services and social media groups for teams in need.

Importantly, the festivals are all open to anyone, and volunteer-based, so payment is never provided. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the actor to screen teams for quality and find the right one for themselves.

Things to Look for in a Team:

  • Experience – Always helps if they have done this before.
  • Organization – They should seem knowledgeable and prepared.
  • A Full Crew – It’s a lot of work. If others have signed up, that’s a good sign.
  • Similar Vision – Ask them why they are doing the project. Ask what their goals are. Ask to see their past work and be prepared to answer their questions about yourself.
  • Familiar Names – If they have an artist on their team that you recognize, that’s a good sign of legitimacy.
  • Matching Personalities – To work closely and successfully in a high-stress environment, it helps to be comfortable with the people around you.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Acting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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A Look At The Only 12 Steam Games That Sold More Than 500k

Bestselling games on Steam

As a game developer, it never hurts to look at what titles are selling like hotcakes, especially on a platform you’re considering releasing your own project on. Over the years Steam has grown exponentially for, among other reasons, being one of the most developer friendly platforms out there. Between the “Steam Greenlight” and “Early Access” programs, it’s no surprise why many devs – both indie and big-budget – strive to release their games on Valve’s digital marketplace.

It may come as a surprise, then, that despite Steam boasting 125 active users and 10 million concurrent users, only a dozen games have broken the 500,000 sales mark. In fact, only 6 of those 12 have reached a million units sold. These stats are according to Sergey Galyonkin, founder of Steam stat tracker on Steam Spy. Here’s the list of games:

More Than 1 Million Sold

  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • ARK Survival Evolved
  • H1Z1
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Rocket League
  • Besiege

More Than 500,000 Sold

  • Dying Light
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Stranded Deep
  • Killing Floor 2
  • Total War: Attila
  • Pillars of Eternity

Below are a few things we noticed about this list that may just be interesting, or may actually prove useful when deciding which kind of project you’d like to release on Steam someday…

Some Of Those Games Are Still In Early Access

Despite still being considered “incomplete,” Besiege, H1Z1, ARK Survival Evolved, Stranded Deep, and Killing Floor 2 have managed to sell a lot of copies. For those unfamiliar, Early Access allows developers to get vital information by releasing a beta version of their game. Thus, players know they are not playing the final version of the title, and should expect changes (mostly for the better).

The benefits of going with an Early Access release are not without their risks. However, we’re still seeing many players interested in paying money to play games that are still in development. Clearly, gamers are intrigued by the idea of playing a game and, with their help, watching as developers work out kinks, fix bugs, and add content the players themselves suggested.

Pretty Much Any Genre Can Make It Big On Steam

While we doubt an educational or erotic game will ever join the list above, it’s cool to see some variety in terms of genre when looking at the best selling Steam games. Instead of being only first person shooters and action adventure games, we have survival sandbox, city building, computer RPG, strategy, and even a physics based vehicle soccer game.

It’s also worth noting that a good mix of single player and multiplayer games found success on Steam. While the list is dominated by MMOs and games with multiplayer options, fans of one player games have clearly been enjoying The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Cities: Skylines, Stranded Deep, and Pillars of Eternity.

Most Of The Top Selling Games Were Not Indie

It would have been pretty exciting to see the list above dominated by small teams. Who wouldn’t want to see several indie teams find success after risking it all, while sacrificing time and money to finally create a game of their own?

While there are plenty of success stories out there just like this, the truth is that most of the games above had big budgets and publisher support.

The biggest ones are, of course, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, both of which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. The majority of the other titles didn’t have budgets of that size, but still had decent amount of cash to spend.

The good news is that a few of the titles on the list were developed by smaller teams with smaller budgets.

The Mean Average Cost Of These Titles Was Around $30

It only takes a couple of minutes browsing through Steam’s marketplace to see how many games are available for a few dollars. If your budget is only between $10 and $20, you’ll have no trouble finding plenty of good titles – and not just during sales.

However, keep in mind that, just like Google Play and the App Store, many of these cheaper titles aren’t even worth the $5 you paid for them.

Judging from the top selling list, players are clearly willing to pay top dollar for the best experiences possible. GTAV, The Witcher 3, and Dying Light are a $60 download, but still have found success. The same goes for like Total War: Attila and Pillars of Eternity, with their $45.99 price. The rest of the games are between the $15 and $30, with only Besiege being less at $6.99.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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The Actor as a Craftsman

The Craft of Acting

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a craftsman as, “a person who makes beautiful objects by hand” or “a person who is very skilled at doing something.” The definition goes on to specify that a craftsman is “one who creates or performs with skill or dexterity especially in the manual arts.”

Usually, when a person thinks of a craftsman, they think of a sculptor or carpenter who takes raw materials and creates something functional or artistic. But, as acting is a craft we can think of actors as craftsmen as well…

Acting as a Craft

A stage play, film script, or audition side is only words on a page. The words are the same words that appear in newspapers, novels, and on street signs. They are not a performance in themselves, but a guideline that requires the interpretation of an actor to come alive. Scripts are the raw materials that an actor works with to gradually craft a performance.

There are hints within a script, just as there are hints within the raw materials of other craftsmen. Carpenters use different types of wood, and sculptors different types of clay, to build the products they desire. An actor too must take heed of their raw material and adapt to its needs. Different subjects, genres, and mediums require different approaches. Acting may not fit the description of a “manual art,” but it is, at the very least, a physical art.

Craft as a Process

No matter what actor you ask, they all start somewhere. Each has a specific process from which they build a character. For example, Robert De Niro says, “I just try and find out as much about what that character is. Usually from real people…” He subscribed to a Lee Strasberg’s method and built the foundation of his characters on his observation of real people and the personal experiences that he had himself.

The point is that everyone starts in the same place, with the same script, but must build a character through their craft. As intimidating as that may sound, craft offers the advantage of being a gradual process.

Actors start with the script and make initial observations about the character. In subsequent reads, actors observe the stage directions and other characters dialog about their character to further inform their creation. Then, actors apply their own past and their own world views to the character. In the same way that De Niro observes the world around him, all actors can add seasoning to their characters through observation.

How to Build a Character

The craft of acting follows a different order for everyone. Actors must experiment and find the process that works best for them. However, as a general guide, actors should start with the script and continue improving until closing night.

Craft a Role from the Start

  1. Read the script several times – An actor must know the entire story better than the audience. Each time you read the script, observe something new about your character and add it to your performance.
  2. Research the script – Find out about the time period, location, political atmosphere, and history of the world of the play or film. Apply all of this information to change the way a character moves, speaks, and acts.
  3. Collaborate – Listen to your director’s notes, and listen to your fellow actors performances. Everything that they say and do is a hint to help you put the finishing touches on your character.
  4. Continue to Discover – After opening night, or after the first take, continue to learn about the character. Take lessons from each scene and apply them to the next scene. Continual learning makes stage performances vibrant throughout the run and film performances captivating from start to finish.

Actors may not be the best at building houses or throwing ceramic pots, but that does not mean that acting is not a craft.

All craftsmen start with something rudimentary and alter it until it becomes something of value. Acting is the craft of building a physical performance from words. When practiced with passion, acting definitely fulfills one of Merriam-Webster’s definitions: “a person who is very skilled at doing something.”

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Acting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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The Use Of User-Generated Content In Broadcasts

Broadcast Journalists Now Use User-Generated Content

In today’s world of viral videos and retweets, many broadcast journalists turn to user-generated content to stay relevant with their audiences. User-generated content (UGC) generally means content contributed by someone who doesn’t work for the broadcaster and isn’t paid for his or her content (usually video).

User-generated content is not a new development of the digital age. In the past, TV stations sometimes used video or pictures viewers sent in from the scene of a developing story. Broadcasters still use this type of content, especially in instances of breaking news where the TV crew can’t reach the scene in time, but today, broadcasters are also collecting user-generated content from social networks like YouTube and Facebook.

Filling in Coverage Gaps

UGC is increasingly used in situations where no other video is available. In the past, if you wanted to cover a car accident, you raced to the scene to get video of the aftermath – the cracked-up cars, the backed-up traffic, bystanders who were willing to be interviewed on camera.

Today, everyone has a cell phone camera, and people often get video of accidents and other news events as they happen, or immediately afterward – even before authorities and reporters can arrive at the scene. Sometimes you get lucky and find there are multiple pieces of content for the same event, allowing you to view the news from different angles and decide which is best for your audience.

This type of content is especially useful in situations where sending in a news team might be dangerous or prohibited by law. A recent Tow Center study showed the most common type of story using some form of UGC is “conflict/war/military,” with 44% of user-generated content usage. The next most common was “vehicular crashes” at 21%, followed by “protests” at 17%.

The Syrian conflict of 2013 was cited as an example of a situation where journalists were mostly prohibited from entering the country, or roaming freely if they were already there. During that conflict, much of broadcasters’ news coverage of the events came from UGC.

Using Both Still Pictures and Video

The report goes on to note that broadcasters use video about 70% of the time they run user-generated content, and still pictures about 30% of the time. Broadcasters’ websites are more even, with 49% video and 51% photos in UGC.

Identifying User-Generated Content Still a Challenge

User-generated content is described in a variety of ways. When a viewer sends video directly to the station, anchors usually note that the footage was “sent in by a viewer.” UGC from social media is a lot murkier. Depending on the situation, it may be called “activist video” if it pertains to a protest.

Sometimes it’s attributed to the social network where it was found—“from YouTube”, “courtesy of Vine”—and sometimes it’s even called “amateur video” (generally only if the video quality is poor and the station wants viewers to know they’re not responsible for it). “Eyewitness video/photo” is another way of describing it.

UGC is not always identified for what it is at all. The Tow Center study found that 74% of the time, UGC was not called user-generated content in any way. On television, the individual contributing the content was only credited about 49% of the time, although news websites did better, crediting the originator about 72% of the time.

Potential Legal Challenges

While items on social media are generally meant to be shared, some social networks’ terms state that content is only to be shared by individuals, not businesses. A Broadcast Law Blog article from 2014 points out that even attributing the content to its original creator doesn’t always protect a broadcaster from lawsuits.

A common cause of lawsuits against broadcasters is improperly using photos found on the internet. Content posted on a TV station’s website is especially problematic. When in doubt, it’s best to check with your station’s policy on sourcing video/photos or, in some situations, check with the station’s legal counsel.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

For more on navigating the legal challenges and How to Utilize User-Generated Content, please click here.

 

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How To Utilize User-Generated Content

How To Utilize User-Generated Content in Broadcasts

User-generated content, or UGC, is everywhere these days. Many broadcast journalists feature it during newscasts, and even on the broadcaster’s website and social media profiles. User-generated content (UGC) generally means content contributed by someone who doesn’t work for the broadcaster and isn’t paid for his or her content – usually video, but sometimes still pictures as well (especially online).

In the past, TV stations sometimes used video or pictures viewers sent in from the scene of a developing story. Broadcasters still use this type of content, especially in instances of breaking news where the TV crew can’t reach the scene in time. But today, broadcasters are also collecting user-generated content from social networks like YouTube, Vine, Flickr, and Facebook.

Be Careful to Describe User-Generated Content Correctly

A recent Tow Center study found that 74% of the time, UGC was not called user-generated content in any way. On television, the individual responsible for the content was only credited about 49% of the time, although news websites credited the contributor about 72% of the time. Always make every effort to attribute the video to the person who supplied it, even if you have to use their Twitter handle (real names are certainly preferable).

Unfortunately, there are no clear industry standards about how UGC should be described on air when it is credited. Different stations have different policies, and sometimes no policy at all. When a viewer sends video directly to the station, most broadcasters note that the footage was “sent in by a viewer.”

UGC from social media is much more varied. In the Tow study, about 9% of the time, UGC was described as “via [Name of social media site]”, while 3% of the time it was described as “eyewitness video/footage” and 8% of the time it was referred to as “amateur video.” About 2% of the time, the journalist just called it “unverified video”.

Again, the best policy is to attribute the video to the person who took it. If the video is from a local person and has gone viral, be sure to mention the local angle along with the person’s name. If the video is from YouTube or another social site, you could say, “This video was originally posted on YouTube by John Doe, and as you can see, it’s already had X number of hits…”

Legal Issues to Consider

Items on social media are meant to be shared. However, some social networks’ terms state that content is only to be shared by individuals, not businesses. A Broadcast Law Blog article from 2014 points out that even attributing the content to its original creator doesn’t always protect a broadcaster from lawsuits. It goes on to say that many broadcasters have faced lawsuits over “attributed” content they found on the internet, mostly pictures. Content posted on a TV station’s website is especially problematic.

As you’ve probably noticed, many TV stations frequently use video from social media sites without issue. Often the person who posted the video enjoys the free publicity and has no desire to sue the TV stations that use it. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll always get lucky. It only takes one lawsuit-happy opportunist to cost your organization a fortune in legal fees.

Every TV or radio station should create a policy about sourcing user-generated content—after consulting with a legal expert. All journalists should be provided a copy of the policy and guidelines so there are no mistakes. Make it clear what steps must be taken before using UGC.

Make sure to read and understand the terms and conditions of any social media site from whom you plan to source video. Even then, the safest solution is to seek out the video’s poster and simply ask permission to use the content. Start with something like, “I’m from [broadcaster’s name] and we’d like to do a story about you and your cause/idea/experience.” This flatters the content owner and gives the impression of you giving them free publicity, as opposed to them giving you free content. You can then go on to say that you’d like permission to show their video as part of the story.

Have an Appropriate Legal Agreement Handy

If the contributor agrees, have him or her sign a legal disclaimer stating that you have permission to use the video. This should be written by an actual attorney, not the station manager’s assistant. Yes, lawyers are expensive—and that’s exactly why you don’t want to get sued. Acquiring and attributing user-generated content properly can save a broadcaster thousands of dollars in legal fees and a lot of wasted time dealing with lawsuits.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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What Actors Can Learn From Athletes

The connection between actors and athletes

History is riddled with the names of professional athletes who turned to professional acting after their playing careers. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jordan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and dozens of others have all had their time on the big screen. The transition is natural in many ways. After all, at the root, a sport is an improvisation show with specific rules.

Every time LeBron James takes the court he is performing in front of a live audience of tens of thousands, and millions more who watch on television. He is a player and his stage is the hardwood court, every possession a scene, halftime is an intermission, and the analogous principles never end.

Although athleticism does not imply acting skill, the connection between athletes and actors is undeniable, and there are tips that can be gleaned to maximize performance, no matter the arena.

The Body as a Tool

Athletes and actors alike rely on their physical capabilities as a primary tool, so it follows that they both must take good care of their bodies. Nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise are as important for an actor as they are for an athlete. Together, these habits give actors the energy they need to rise early for auditions and day jobs, and then stay up late into the night performing on set or on stage.

The food actors put into their bodies is the fuel they burn in performance. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates should make up the bulk of an actor’s diet. Be wary of sugary foods that spike blood sugar and lead to an inevitable “crash.” Also, caffeinated drinks should be consumed sparingly, especially while on set. Caffeine is a stimulant drug that changes the chemistry of the brain, interfering with emotional truth, and it is a diuretic.

Hydration is vital to keep all internal processes functioning correctly. According to Amanda Carlson, a dietitian at Athlete’s Performance,

“Studies have shown that being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol level. Cortisol is one of those stress hormones. Staying in a good hydrated status can keep your stress levels down.”

To feel fresh and confident before auditions and performances, be sure to drink plenty of water.

Did you know that sleep is when most improvements take place? This is because during sleep, neuronal connections are made and information is stored as long-term memory. For an actor, the benefits are apparent because, without adequate sleep, an actor cannot learn their role, their lines, or their blocking.

Exercise is critical for athletic performance and helps actors keep mind and body in tip-top shape. During exercise, the body releases endorphins which lift mood and directly combat stress. In addition, regular exercise increases energy levels throughout the day and helps people sleep better at night.

Practice Makes Perfect

Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame wide receiver of the San Francisco 49ers, was renowned for his deliberate and consistent training regime. Frank Sinatra, the Academy Award-winning actor, once said, “before starting to shoot a picture, I read the script half a hundred times.”

Now, Jerry Rice isn’t much of an actor, and at 5’7” Sinatra didn’t strike an imposing figure on the football field, but they both illustrate the importance of preparation to success.

Athletes spend years of their lives learning the nuances of their games and building their minds and bodies into specialized machines. Actors should do the same.

Studying acting, learning techniques, and reading scripts are the proven ways to improve to learn acting skills. Look for opportunities to learn in your area. Schools like the New York Film Academy have the resources and experience to allow actor’s to grow as artists.

However, simply practicing is not enough, at some point actors must play.

Baseball has the minor leagues, basketball has the NBA D-League, and college football is the presumed first step for an NFL player. If Hollywood is the biggest stage for actors, then Community Theater and independent films are the grounds for development. Aspiring actors must seek out opportunities to perform and put their hard work to the test in front of an audience.

Only through committed training and dedication can an actor attain a successful career. Following the tips and tricks of pro athletes is a unique and inspiring way to gain insight into the physical and mental requirements of professional performers.

Unfortunately for actors, following the example of athletes like Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t make you into Mr. Olympia, but it might just allow you to play a Terminator in the future.

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Answer: What is Method Acting?

Method Acting Explained

Question: What is the acting technique, based on the principles of Stanislavsky that was popularized in 1930’s America by director Lee Strasberg at The Actors’ Studio, New York?

If this were an episode of Jeopardy, the correct answer would be the title. However, defining something does not imply understanding, and the term “method acting” is often thrown around acting circles, but seldom understood.

In some ways, the Method has become a parody of itself through interpretation and criticism from film audiences over the decades. The wild behavior of method actors off-screen has taken the limelight from the performances that the actors unleash onscreen.

Heath Ledger’s death, tragic as it was, became the most popular and shocking story associated with the release of The Dark Knight Rises. Even to this day, it overshadows an Oscar-winning performance. Method acting has been accused of leading to his death, mostly by those who don’t understand what method acting actually is.

History of the Method

The father of method acting was actor and director Lee Strasberg. He, along with several colleagues (Adler, Meisner, Kazan, etc.), adapted the teaching of Stanislavsky for their American acting students. They focused on an “inside-out” performance, stirring past emotions from the actor’s life that they could draw upon during performance.

This became known as sense memory, and Strasberg developed a series of exercises for his students, based on cultivating sense memory. Together, this collection of exercises comprises the Method.

Method acting took off in the 1940’s and 50’s behind the powerhouse performances of Marlon Brando under the direction of Elia Kazan. Note that Kazan also directed James Dean in East of Eden, also famous for its use of the Method.

The roles and performances of early method actors came to define American acting. Audiences were amazed by the sense of reality. They felt as if they weren’t watching actors at all, but peeking into the lives of real people.

After this period of success in the mid-20th century, method acting continued to be employed by many famous actors; Newman, Pacino, Monroe, and Hathaway to name a few. They have always attracted attention for their performances, but also for their technique of getting into character.

The Basics of Method Acting

The Method requires intense devotion and emotional bravery. Part of the reason its practitioners are so respected is because of those challenges. Understanding of the history and development of method acting helps to understand the goal; creating an emotionally truthful performance.

The process of method acting is simply one way to reach that goal, but remember, all actors take ideas and techniques and change them to fit their needs. No actor practices the Method the same. Here is a basic guide to method acting:

  1. Know Stanislavsky’s System – The Method starts here. Script analysis is crucial to understanding your character and beginning to ask questions. List out the actions and objectives of characters and then ask about the psychology of their decisions.
  2. Build a Back Story – To know a character, you must know about their past. Look for clues in the text that could provide support to their emotional journey in the play. Developing a character history will also help you, the actor, connect to the character.
  3. Connect Personally and Truthfully – Strasberg asks, “What would motivate me, the actor, to behave in the way the character does?” Think of your past as it relates to the emotions that you have identified in your character. Was there a time when you felt a similar emotion? What did it feel like?
  4. Practice and Apply – There is no substitute for doing. After you do the prep work, find an outlet for performance so that you can practice your skills. Continue to hone in on a character and on your technique. Behind the simple naturalism of a method actor’s performance is hours and hours of deep thought.

Since its inception in the 1930’s, method acting has evolved and changed through experimentation on stage and screen, but the core principles remain the same. The goal is to create a lifelike character, to escape impersonation and simply be.

What is method acting? Answer: Not acting at all.

[su_note]Designed for both new actors and experienced actors, our 6-Week Acting for Film Workshop in Florence, Italy teaches students the foundations of acting and the nuances of acting for the screen. Visit our 6-Week Acting for Film Workshop in Florence page to learn more.[/su_note]

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5 Things Experienced Game Designers Wish They Knew From The Start

Advice from experienced game designers

Any game designer who has been in the industry long enough can relate to the old saying: “if I knew then what I know now…”

Like any occupation that demands passion, creativity, and hard work, the road of a game developer is one where mistakes are to be expected. Although learning the hard way is sometimes the best way, it would do every aspiring designer some good to consider all of the following pieces of advice….

1. Don’t Let Mistakes Get You Down

If there’s one thing to expect when designing a game, it’s that everything is bound to change. You may have an initial design that you think is perfect but will eventually realize how many elements and mechanics conflict, requiring you to make adjustments. The mistake most designers make is letting this essential step discourage them since having to make changes means that the first design failed.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” -Thomas A. Edison

Instead of giving up, learn from your setbacks so that the next time you come up with an idea for a new game mechanic or entirely new concept you can avoid the same oversight.

All it takes is a bit of research to realize that some of the best games out there were initially planned to be something entirely different, forcing the developers to adapt while conquering their fear of making another mistake.

2. Planning Is Everything

Gone are the days when you could leave a school project or essay to the last minute, stay up all night to do it, and still get a decent grade. Much worse than a bad grade on your paper is the negative feedback you’ll receive from players and fellow developers after they check out your project – a game that didn’t receive the necessary preparations and thus was hastily put together.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln

The sooner you realize the importance of a game design document, the better. It is a living document that helps you plan every aspect of your game, make note of any changes, and keep the team organized. So before you get to work on your first project, sit down and write a game design document detailing everything about it. It will save you time discovering problems with your concept while writing the GDD, as opposed to while playing a build you’ve already spent hours programming.

3. Follow Industry News and Keep Playing Games

It sounds silly to tell a game designer to never stop playing games, but you’d be surprised by how many veterans admit to only checking out one or two titles a month. While the role of game designer is a challenging and time-consuming one, you should always find time to play games being made by other passionate developers.

The exercise of playing a game to analyze what worked and what was a poor design decision will never stop being useful to you. You’ll become a better designer by sharpening your ability to take a design that doesn’t work and come up with ideas to improve it.

“Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.” -William Arthur Ward

While you’re at it, make sure you don’t fall behind in this fast-paced industry of ours, or else you’ll find yourself designing games that no longer appeals to most gamers. Even though we all want to design something irrelevant to what is popular, we have to accept that paying attention to current trends will increase the chance of our game being a success.

It will help you think twice about implementing a game mechanic into your project when you realize that another title with a similar idea received a negative response upon release.

4. Seek Inspiration Outside of Games

Like we said in the last piece of advice, don’t get so lost in your project that you lose interest in seeing how other games have turned out. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with receiving ideas from sources not directly related to video games. All it takes is a look into your hobbies to find the creative spark that will help you craft the next big hit, or at least something you’re happy with.

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” –Vincent van Gogh

Take Shigeru Miyamoto, an industry legend who needs no introduction. He has often admitted to getting game ideas from his childhood and hobbies. He came up with Pikmin while watching ants carry leaves, while The Legend of Zelda was inspired by his time exploring the wilderness surrounding his hometown. Whether it be sports, movies, or comics, find your source of inspiration.

5. Feedback From Playtesting Is Priceless

Even if you make a game that is absolutely perfect for you, it won’t matter if others don’t enjoy it. Unless you’re designing games specifically for your own entertainment, your job as a game designer is to create experiences that others will love. For this reason, you should always playtest your games, even the earliest playable build, to see how players react. There’s no better way to find elements about your game that need to be tweaked, expanded on, or removed entirely.

“Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding.” -Burt Rutan

Playtesting is also a valuable tool for seeing how solid your level design and game’s difficulty are. If new players keep getting lost to the point of frustration, something needs to change. It could also be that the game is too easy or too hard, which can be hard to determine based on your own playtime since you only represent one skill level.

Click here to see how you can get the most out of your playtesting sessions.

Conclusion

While making games for a living can be fun and satisfying, it can also sometimes be very taxing on both mind and body. For this reason, among many others, a lot of designers are abandoning their childhood dreams in favor for another career.

Whether you’re new to the industry, or already have years under your belt, don’t forget the tips you’ve just read to avoid discouragement and continue growing as a designer.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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How to Make An Actor Demo Reel

Making an actor demo reel

In the long line of confounding acting advice, casting directors demand that actors have a demo reel if they are to take you seriously. However, in the same breath they will also say, “no reel is better than a bad reel.” Being bad is worse than being considered an amateur, but in either case the chances you are going to get cast are very low.

The truth is a demo reel is quickly becoming the most important part of professional casting submissions, even more important than headshots and resumes. Through online casting services, CD’s can quickly view demo reels and, in some cases, they won’t even consider actors who do not have reels. Reel-less actors are considered unready for the demands of a professional gig, so, by that logic, having some sort of reel is preferable to nothing at all.

Gathering Footage for a Reel

Ideally, all content on a demo reel is professionally produced, but for a beginner with little experience that is impossible. Luckily, in the last couple of years, casting pros have become more accepting of reels that aren’t professional, as long as the quality is acceptable. This means that student films, independent films, web series, and privately produced scenes are widely used on actors first demo reels.

When the project starts, know that you probably won’t receive any footage for at least a few months. With that in mind, focus on giving the best performance you can during production and the film will take care of itself.

Make sure to stay in good standing with the director, producer, and editor. Get their contact information before you wrap your scenes. Mention that you are assembling a demo reel and would love to include a scene from the film. Down the road, after the project is cut, send an e-mail requesting your footage.

If the footage is local, you can meet up with the team and download the video file to a jump drive. If not, have the editor, or director, send your scenes over Dropbox.

Once the files are in your possession, hire an editor or recruit a knowledgeable friend and get to work.

Rules for Reels

All CD’s want to see is what you look like, what you sound like, and if you can act. They are always pressed for time and they want this information immediately.

  1. Show Only Your Best Work – If the production quality is bad or the acting isn’t your best, wait until you have better footage.
  2. Keep It Short: 60 to 90 seconds total – Casting directors don’t need much to glean the information they need to make a decision.
  3. Slate screen at the beginning and end (Name, E-mail, Website).
  4. Include 3-4 different scenes – Mix up the comedy and drama, be sure to show casting your best types.
  5. Lead with your best credits.
  6. DO NOT repeat footage – Use each project only once, otherwise you look like you don’t have anything else.
  7. Make it focus on you – If other actors are in the scene, avoid covering them too much. At least 75% of the reel should be you.
  8. Post Online – On your personal website, on video sites (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), and embed on your casting website profiles.
  9. Update the reel as you gain experience – Start with what you have, but as you advance, replace the old footage with newer, better clips.

A great demo reel, like a great headshot, will not get you a role, but it can help you get an audition. Once you have secured the audition, the reel no longer matters, it’s all about your performance in the room.

No reel might be better than a bad reel, but there is no reason that an actor cannot put together an acceptable reel to show off their current skill level. It makes a great self-motivator for any actor who wants to improve.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Acting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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The Decline Of Couch Co-Op

The decline of local multiplayer co-op gaming

From bigger worlds and realistic graphics, to downloadable content and 1 Gigabyte games that can fit on your phone, there are plenty of obvious differences between games today and games from the ’80s and ’90s. Those of us who played arcades and video games in this era, however, are aware of perhaps one of the biggest disparities of all: multiplayer.

These days it is all about online multiplayer, which PlayStation 4 and Xbox One gamers can only enjoy if they play a subscription service. Titles offering online multiplayer modes often boast dozens of players in one match, intense gameplay that cannot be matched by A.I. opponents, and the ability to chat with friends while playing. Of course, most games these days that include online multiplayer also lack any local multiplayer modes, which means only one person is using the console to play.

This is very different from the days when games were almost expected to have some form of two or four player modes. Some of the most beloved titles from the 16 and 32 bit era did, including the flagship series for the top companies of the time: Nintendo and Sega. All the early Mario and Sonic games let you face countless foes, explore new worlds, and save the day with a friend helping you along the way.

There are many other games like these from the time, and even when consoles were finally able to support LAN and online, plenty of memorable co-op games still emerged. Titles like Gears of War and Halo, despite having online support, let you take on the campaign with others on the same console.

Today, however, there just seems to be very little focus on local multiplayer, especially from big-budget companies. Even Halo 5: Guardians will mark the first time that a Halo game does not let you go through the campaign in split-screen mode. It is now mostly indie game developers that are keeping couch multiplayer alive.

To see roughly how many local multiplayer titles were on today’s latest consoles, we used Co-Optimus – a site that covers games with cooperative gameplay elements. Below is what we came up with:

PlayStation 4

  • 38 games that support up to 4 local players
  • 3 games that support up to 3 local players
  • 59 games that support up to 2 local players
  • ~15% of the library offers couch co-op gameplay.

Xbox One

  • 2 games that support up to 8 local players
  • 1 game that supports up to 6 local players
  • 20 games that support up to 4 local players
  • 76 games that support up to 2 local players
  • ~21% of the library offers couch co-op gameplay.

Wii U

  • 1 game that supports up to 8 local players
  • 8 games that support up to 5 local players
  • 16 games that support up to 4 local players
  • 3 games that support up to 3 local players
  • 46 games that support upt o2 local players
  • ~11% of the library offers couch co-op gameplay. Note: This does not include Wii games playable thanks to backwards compatibility.

As you can see, it cannot be said that there is an emphasis on local multiplayer this day and age. It is also worth mentioning that, although the Wii U has the lowest percent, some of the best couch co-op games in the last few years have been created for that console.

Games like Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Brothers 4, Mario Kart 8, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are only a handful of the many Wii U titles that not only have couch multiplayer, but scored high as well.

As we mentioned earlier, the good news is that indie developers are doing an awesome job of providing these local co-op experiences. This isn’t surprising considering that these same developers grew up with Donkey Kong Country, Golden Axe, TMNT: Turtles in Time, and other great multiplayer titles from back in the day.

If gamers started showing (with their money) that we still care about local multiplayer, perhaps the big companies will listen. As our numbers point out, however, that doesn’t look to be the case anytime soon.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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Three Free And Reliable Online Resources For Game Designers

Game design resources onlineWhen one thinks about the App Store or Wii gaming library, some pretty amazing games come to mind. From Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, to Hearthstone and Infinity Blade, both devices have proven themselves capable of delivering experiences worth recommending.

For every one of these good titles, however, there are hundreds and hundreds of uninspired, cheaply-made games appropriately deemed “shovelware.”

This is really typical of the internet, and it’s no different when it comes to learning resources. With so much low-quality content out there, finding good, trustworthy resources can be a real challenge sometimes.

That is why we have assembled a list of three trustworthy online resources with content made by authors and developers who know what they’re talking about. Whether you’re a game designer, artist, programmer, writer, producer, or anything else, we’re confident that you’ll find something useful on the following sites:

1. The GDC Vault

It’s no surprise that the people behind Game Developer’s Conference, the world’s biggest game industry event for professionals, also provides an amazing collection of resources.

From game design tips and technical guides, to inspirational talks from some of the most influential figures in the gaming industry, there’s no shortage of content on this site no matter what how you’re involved in game development.

If you also prefer getting valuable info in a form other than text, look no further. According to the site there are more than eight thousand audio files, videos, and synced presentations spanning thousands of hours. They are notably all chosen by the GDC advisory board, which means you’re only getting the best talks and guides.

New content is also released on a weekly basis, which means you can keep learning from the latest talks in this fast-paced industry of ours.

Site: http://www.gdcvault.com/free

2. Gamasutra

Founded in 1997, Gamasutra has since then served as one of the best online sources for all things video game development.

This site is especially useful for developers, both new and veteran, because it not only offers learning resources but also other useful content. This includes a great “News” section where you’ll find the latest gaming news, blogs, industry articles, and more.

The “Jobs/Resume” section on this site is also one of the best collections of positions currently open at game companies and studios across the globe.

Gamasutra also does a good job of providing postmortems and other published work by developers detailing their experience while working on their project. This includes blogs where users can share their thoughts and opinions on different gaming topics, be it criticism on crunching, a controversial issue in the industry, and more.

All in all, you’ll be hard-pressed to find as good an online resource as Gamasutra that provides the same variety of news and information.

Site: http://www.gamasutra.com/

3. Pixel Prospector

Although anyone can benefit from this treasure trove of content, indie gamers may find it the most useful. Pixel Prospector has dedicated itself to helping independent gamers who, whether they received some form of game development education or not, are hungry for information that will help them make their dream project not only come true, but actually succeed.

In a sea of sites who offer resources, but are also covered with ads and affiliate links, it’s also great knowing that Pixel Prospector is non-commercial. In other words, they’re willing to help aspiring game developers even if they don’t get a single dime for it.

Here you’ll find a great list of categorized resources, allowing you to find the perfect guides just for you. This also includes videos in different languages, in-depth tutorials, and lists of recommended graphics programs, software tools, and more.

And while the game development, graphics, and other sections are great, it’s the marketing guides you’ll definitely want to look into. It’ll help you realize just how much more work you have ahead of you, even when your game is completed, if you want the game to be a commercial hit.

Site: http://www.pixelprospector.com/

Stand out in the crowded and lucrative field of video game design by enrolling in one of our intensive, hands-on game design programs taught by industry-leading faculty. Learn more on our Game Design Discipline page and apply today.

 

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Phasing Out The News Truck

Remote Editing of News Events

For years, live and up-to-the-minute coverage of news and events has been both essential to capturing viewers’ attention and very expensive to produce. In today’s multimedia world, this is more important than ever, as nothing drives viewers to a TV station’s social media feed like breaking news and live footage of current events.

Traditionally, TV stations send a live truck, which usually transmits by satellite or microwave, to the scene of breaking news or a large local event. Live trucks are expensive themselves, costing in the six figures in most cases, and maintenance/repairs aren’t cheap either. They’re also large and stuffed full of heavy equipment, making fuel expenses a monthly drain. Insurance isn’t cheap, and one accident can send rates through the roof.

Remote Production Improves Efficiency and Lowers Costs

For all of these reasons, most local stations can only afford one, maybe two live trucks. Stations in larger markets may be able to afford more, but they often have more breaking news to cover at one time. Both big and small stations sometimes have to decide which newsworthy event they won’t cover live.

Aside from the costs of operating a live truck, they’re problematic in other ways. Because of the vehicle’s size, it often takes a long time just to find an appropriate parking space that isn’t in some other station’s way, or breaking some sort of local ordinance. More than one news team has discovered that by the time they parked the live truck and set up the equipment, it was too late to cover the event live and they might as well just get video and return to the station.

Enter Remote Production

Remote production uses either dark fiber or IP circuits to send multiple signals back to the station with a high level of security and efficiency. According to a recent IABM article, dark fiber in particular is useful for transmitting large amounts of high-resolution, uncompressed video, something that would be expensive and slow to upload via a data plan or most wifi connections. It does so with very little loss of data, so video quality isn’t compromised, making it an ideal form of transmission for television.

When dark fiber isn’t available, telco-improvised IP circuits can be substituted. With the right amount of bandwidth and number of circuits, efficiency can be similar to that of dark fiber. IP links are scheduled by bandwidth, allowing station’s to send back multiple video feeds at once. Like dark fiber, they require less equipment and fewer personnel to operate.

Saying Goodbye to the Conventional Live Truck?

Some broadcasters have found remote production to be so successful, they no longer need to use cumbersome, gas-guzzling live vehicles (or they only do so occasionally). By multiplexing camera and microphone outputs onto one dark fiber circuit, reporters and production assistants can quickly send footage back to the station’s servers, where it can be edited in a fully functional edit bay.

An edit bay at the broadcaster’s central location, with access to a wide variety of equipment and knowledgeable team members, is a better place to pack a story than a cramped live truck with limited resources, where production team members might be distracted by other duties. Plus, the reporter and other personnel aren’t scrambling to produce a package and beam it back to the station, while also trying to prepare for a live shot. This improves the production of live coverage as well as edited footage that runs later.

Possible Concerns

According to a recent IABM article, despite its advantages, some industry insiders worry that remote production has a downside. One possible problem is that the people editing the package back at the station may not have quite the same grasp of the event as the reporters who are actually there. Commentary from the reporter can give the station’s editors, as well as the viewers, a better understanding of what’s going on at the scene. The fact that reporters and photographers are free to continue covering the story also helps them to gain more insight that they can pass on to colleagues back at the home base.

Significant Cost Savings and Improved Efficiency

Not only do packages turn out better when produced at the broadcaster’s home base, but not struggling to piece together a package in a cramped live truck frees up reporters, photographers and production staff to continue covering the news or event. Meanwhile, the broadcaster saves money on transportation, fuel costs, and maintenance on the truck.

The station is also usually able to send fewer production personnel to the event. A recent TVNewsCheck article describes how a European broadcaster sent 200 people to the 2008 Beijing Olympics in order to cover the event live. But with remote production capabilities, in 2012 they were able to send only 40 people to London to cover that year’s Olympics.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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How To Save Time And Money: Remote Production

Remote News Production

Live or up-to-the-minute coverage of news events is expensive for TV stations, but also essential in today’s fast-paced world of viral videos and many big stories breaking on Twitter.

TV needs to offer high-quality video from the scene of a breaking news event to grab and hold the attention of easily-distracted viewers. However, production costs and quality issues are a constant problem.

Is Remote Production Technology Right for You?

Right now, many broadcasters are wondering if a dark fiber or IP circuit connection can help cut down on costs. These connections allow the transmission of multiple signals, including large amounts of unprocessed HD video, in a quick and efficient manner. Equipment is small and portable—no bulky, hard to maneuver, gas-guzzling live truck required. Often only the reporter and one photographer are needed to cover a big event (similar to the number of personnel needed to cover one story that isn’t for live broadcast). Stations can simultaneously cover as many events as they have reporters.

Up-Front Costs Vs.Long-Term Costs

Dark fiber and IP circuits can be expensive. Dark fiber is usually obtained through a local telecom company—Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink are the current leaders in the field. In some areas, there are also independent companies in the growing market for dark fiber (which appeals to a wide variety of business clients, not just those in the broadcast industry).

If you have more than one provider in your area, compare prices. Be sure to ask about maintenance costs, who foots the bill if a cable is damaged, and what the company’s track record is with installation or end-user problems.

If dark fiber is not an option in your area, consider IP circuits. These are booked by bandwidth, so your station can use them for multiple things: sending video, sharing a network connection, and so on. Video and audio are sent back to the broadcaster’s home base quickly and easily, with no need for a huge satellite truck and staff.

Both options can be expensive up-front, and the reality may be that your station simply can’t afford it right now, but it may be something you consider in the next few years.

Keep in mind that while your equipment cost may be high initially, and there are some maintenance costs involved with any technology, dark fiber and IP circuits may be cheaper to maintain than a satellite truck, depending on your current costs.

These technologies prevent high fuel costs, time wasted struggling to maneuver a large vehicle into an appropriate parking place (or three) while news is happening, the potential for accidents/liabilities, and the need for multiple employees to run to one news scene. In the long run, remote production will usually save the station money.

An Alternative to a New Live Truck

If your station is considering adding a new live truck or replacing an old one, you might consider investing in dark fiber or IP circuits instead.

A recent Business Insider article reports that connecting a “large client” with dark fiber can cost anywhere from $50,000-150,000. However, dark fiber have clients in many fields, including businesses that are larger than most local television stations.

Depending on your needs, the acquisition of a dark fiber link could be about the same as what you’d spend on a live truck. Depending on a variety of factors, live trucks can cost anywhere from $90,000 on the low end to half a million dollars on the high end.

Additional Benefits

Aside from saving money, the station can produce better packages. Editing in a tiny truck with limited equipment prior to—or in between—live shots is not ideal. Back at the station, if a piece of equipment breaks, there are usually multiple spares you can use instead. If you don’t know how to solve a problem, there is often a colleague available to help. Out in the field, this isn’t usually the case.

Additionally, sometimes reporters, photographers, and other staff are distracted by difficulties at the scene (“You better move this truck right now or you’re getting a ticket!”) or further breaking news. Sending video back to the station for editing allows for a much higher quality ending product, often in less time.

Preventing Miscommunication

One concern is that colleagues back at the station might misunderstand some point the journalist was trying to make in his or her story since they are not on the scene, experiencing things for themselves. To prevent misunderstandings, make sure to send instructions along with your script. Try to describe the atmosphere of the scene. Adding some notes can help the editors back at the station, who may not have captured the essence of the breaking news or event in quite the same way you did. A quick phone call can help clear up any misunderstandings.

If it turns out that, despite your best efforts, a colleague back at the station didn’t understand something, and the video isn’t quite matching what you’re talking about, try to roll with it. Make some effort to refer to the cover video that’s playing or contents of the package that just ran, and get back on track as smoothly as you can.

Not the Best Solution for Extremely Large Events

Once you have more than 25 camera feeds, broadband costs start to rival those of booking time on a satellite. There’s also the increased possibility of technical difficulties jamming up the whole operation.

For such an extremely large event, you will probably want to use a live truck, at least in addition to remote production technologies. However, most small and medium market stations will rarely, if ever, find themselves in such a situation.

Most of the time, remote production will save the station time and money, and allow for a higher quality level of production.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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An Actor’s Secret Sauce: Shakespeare

Learning Acting Based On Shakespeare

Much has been made of the recent flood of British-trained actors being cast in American roles. In the last few years, Henry Cavill was cast as Superman, Christian Bale played Batman, and David Oyelowo portrayed American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., among many other Brits who landed distinctly American parts. Hollywood at large considers British actors more versatile, more professional, and more mature than their American counterparts. There are many reasons for that opinion, but the most common explanation is that young British actors are better trained, and the foundation of British actor training is Shakespeare.

He is the greatest playwright in the English language, and the undisputed most produced playwright of all time. Knowledge of Shakespeare is important for any working actor in order to make a living, and the acting lessons learned from performing Shakespeare can be applied to future roles.

What is it about these classical plays that make them so useful for actors?

An Exercise in Understanding

In the PBS TV show In Search of Shakespeare, acting teacher and playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings says, “if you can perform Shakespeare, you can do almost anything.” Her assertion comes from the fact that Shakespeare’s text requires skills to unlock; skills that easily translate to modern script work.

On the surface, nothing about Shakespeare is familiar to contemporary readers. The words are uncommon, the rhythm of the sentences is antique, and to make interpretation more difficult, Shakespearean characters often speak in descriptive metaphors and similes that disguise their literal meaning. An actor must do intense detective work to understand Shakespeare’s language and then communicate their understanding to an audience.

Full-Body Workout

Most of Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted into film and television works, but at its purest, Shakespeare is performed for the stage. After familiarization comes the development of a performance, and there is no greater challenge for an actor than performing Shakespeare. The plays were written over 400 years ago and meant for performance on a barren stage. Today, actors have the responsibility of bringing complicated characters to life and unraveling convoluted plots for audiences that may have difficulty understanding the text.

Therefore, to ensure effective storytelling, Shakespearean actors are instructed to use all of their natural tools. Voice, physicality, facial expression, and thought are all used to communicate a character’s intention to the audience. Additionally, the unusual structure of Shakespearean dialogue forces actors to consider their pacing and cadence, which increases their awareness of timing. Over the course of a career in Shakespeare, this all-around approach to acting teaches thespians to think critically and creatively about their characters, and leads to consistently moving performances.

Proof in the Plum Pudding

The flood of British actors in American film and television is nothing new, but it is becoming more pronounced. Ian McKellan, Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier, Helen Mirren, and Patrick Stewart are some of the famous Brits who honed their acting skills on Shakespeare before becoming A-list Hollywood stars. Asked how Shakespeare prepared him for a career in film, Stewart said, “I think that the experience that we get in making a 400-year-old text work is exactly what you need for giving credibility and believability to fantasy, science fiction, and the like.” Can anyone argue with Professor X?

Perhaps the inaccessibility of Shakespeare is precisely what makes it such a great acting exercise. The characters, situations, and language are so foreign that no modern actor can literally relate, so they must lean on their learned techniques to act the parts. It is possible to be a good actor without knowing Shakespeare, but an examination of the British model of Shakespeare-based training suggests that it may not be the wisest approach.

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How to Audition For a Commercial

How to audition for a commercial

Konstantin Stanislavsky once said, “There are no small roles, only small actors.”

He was a theatre man and lived before the age of the television commercial. Were he alive now, his opinion might change, because most commercial roles are indeed very short. Most television spots are only 30 seconds long, total. That means that an actor is on screen for maybe 20 seconds, and in that time they are expected to inhabit a character, tell a story, and sell a product.

Many traits come into play when an actor is selected for a role in a TV commercial including look, personality, and acting ability. In order to nail a commercial audition and become the next Dos Equis man or Flo the Progressive Insurance lady, actors first need to know how to audition for a commercial.

Preparation

Commercial auditions are different than most theater and film auditions. They are shorter, lasting only 2-3 minutes. The script is more concise, leaving the actor to inhabit the character and fill in the blanks for the audience. Also, and perhaps most importantly, commercials have an ulterior motive of selling a product to viewers. Correct preparation before a commercial audition can make or break an actor’s chances of being cast.

Although the sides may only be released hours or days in advance, be as familiar with the copy as possible. Know the words as well as possible, and prepare several different interpretations. Casting directors and advertisers will often want to see different takes on the characters in their ads and having more than one read prepared is good form. It should be noted that the reads should all have a positive, uplifting feel to them. Most television marketers want to impart a general feeling of well-being to their audience because anger and sadness just do not sell well.

Before heading off to the audition, actors should make sure they have their headshot, resume, and character-appropriate clothing. Wearing clothes that make an actor look like the character can give directors a peek at how an actor will fit in the commercial. Obviously, someone selling hiking gear will dress differently than someone selling luxury cars, so try to match the character. Finally, always leave plenty of time and arrive early if possible to reduce stress.

In the Audition Room

First, as you sit in the waiting room, take a moment to focus on the task at hand. Be prepared to execute what you have rehearsed upon entering the room because there will not be an abundance of time. Often, commercial casting is a fast-paced and hectic affair. Try not to let the nervousness of others around you, including the casting director, influence your frame of mind.

Once in the casting room, the first request will be a slate, directly to the camera. This is the first chance that the company’s marketing directors see the actor, so make the most of it. Slate your name confidently and pleasantly to impart a positive vibe from the start.

Next, the CD may ask for a full body shot or a full body turn, side shots or pictures of you in profile. This is so they can get a sense of how your entire body looks on camera. Again, be confident, they called you in for the role because you are a match for their character. There is nothing to be self-conscious about.

Last will be the actual read. Even though commercials are short, they are never rushed. Commercial actors are always under control, not matter what the circumstances of the script may be. Do not rush the dialog, or speak too slowly, a relaxed actor will always speak at an appropriate pace.

After the first read, be prepared to receive notes. Pay special attention to the director’s words and ask clarifying questions if needed. This is the perfect time to bust out an alternative interpretation that you prepared the night before. Finally, thank everyone and leave with a smile. Starting on a positive note and ending on a positive note will only help your chances of being cast.

This may seem like a lot of advice just for a short audition, but with practice and careful attention it will become second nature. Maybe Konstantin was right, even small roles like commercials require large amounts of acting skill.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Acting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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Five Games Of 2015 We Thought Would Be Good, But Are Actually Great

Surprising video games of 2015

When you look back at any of the “Most Anticipated Games of 2015” lists written up last year, you’ll usually find the same games repeating (such as Batman: Arkham City). These hyped games were certainly worth looking forward to. The ones that already released as of this writing were, for most of us, worth the wait.

However, it just wouldn’t be a good year for gaming without plenty of surprises, and so far 2015 has had a good number of them. Even games that we knew had plenty of potential still surprised us when we finally played them and found them to be amazing. The following is a list of such titles that were on the radar, but still managed to blow us away…

Rocket League

This is a game that everyone is talking about. Yet, few know it’s actually a sequel to a 2008 game called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. Rocket League is definitely a better name, even if people always have to ask what it is about when they hear it. The best answer, of course, is “soccer but with cars”.

This addicting game released in July of 2015, and since then has received a lot of praise for being both simple to understand but very fun to play. Even though it won a lot of awards before releasing, including PlayStation Universe’s “Best Sports Game of E3” and GamingTrend’s “Best Multiplayer Game of E3,” few could have predicted that it would be downloaded more than 5 million times only a month after releasing.

Bloodborne

FromSoftware’s Dark Souls games became popular last generation for offering us a satisfying level of challenge other big-budget games did not. For this reason, Bloodborne was always an anticipated title, but not everyone was expecting it to become one of the highest rated PlayStation 4 games thus far.

Currently holding one of the highest Metacritic scores of games released in 2015, Bloodborne has been lauded for offering the same “tough but rewarding” gameplay of the Dark Souls games, but with an even more disturbing (and often frightening) atmosphere. Even the man in charge of Sony’s UK branch admitted that Bloodborne exceeded their expectations when it comes to sales numbers.

Pillars of Eternity

Obsidian Entertainment has a short but impressive history of working on popular games, including Fallout: New Vegas and South Park: The Stick of Truth. In 2012, they successfully acquired enough funds via Kickstarter to make a new RPG in the vein of old series like Baldur’s Gate and Planetscape: Torment.

This game was Pillars of Eternity, a computer title that has been hailed as one of the best isometric RPG games to release in years. The visuals, gameplay, and storytelling have all has been praised, earning it an aggregate Metacritic score of 89. It’s one thing to create a great RPG game for PC, but another to develop one that simultaneously feels like a fresh experience while also harkening to the great classics from late 90s.

Splatoon

There’s been a long-lasting problem for Nintendo the past few years when it comes to new IP. New titles like The Wonderful 101 and Zombiu, despite receiving decent reviews, didn’t sell as well as hoped. Many third party developers have ditched the Wii U since only 1st party titles with the names “Mario” and “Zelda” sell well on the platform.

Enter Splatoon, a game featuring a unique world with new characters that people can’t stop talking about. Since this is Nintendo we’re talking about, it took many by surprise to see them not only release a “shooter,” but also have it sell well across the globe and receive great reviews. The experimental decision to release free content at a steady pace after release has also proven successful for attracting new players and keeping the rest coming back for more.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest is the perfect example of a sleeper hit. We say this because the opportunity to promote this game was put off in favor of other titles. For example, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare opened Microsoft’s 2014 E3 conference, even though Yusuf Mehdi said they considered using Ori first. Even without all the attention, Moon Studio’s title released to critical acclaim from fans and critics alike.

Review sites who have given Ori and the Blind Forest high scores say it was due to the excellent storytelling, visuals, level design, and gameplay. From start to finish, it is a captivating (and often challenging ) game, enough that some are calling it “a classic metroidvania title.” Moon Studio has already mentioned that Microsoft is interested in a future installment, seeing as Ori and the Blind Forest became profitable for them within a week after launch.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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The Personalization of News

The personalization of broadcast news

While news broadcasts are still aimed at the masses, broadcasters are finding new ways to personalize how viewers get their news. After watching the evening newscast, viewers can follow a story on the station’s Facebook page or sign up for text updates on its website. Not only does this keep viewers engaged by giving them more of the stories that interest them (and less of the ones that don’t), it also gives broadcasters data they can use to produce more relevant stories.

General Broadcasts, Personalized Updates

News broadcasts contain a mixture of news about politics, sports, health, weather, business, and local events. Not all of these stories are interesting to everyone in the audience, but with websites and social media pages, TV stations can make it easier for viewers to get more info about the topics that do interest them. When the digital video revolution first began, viewers still had to visit a broadcaster’s website or  search for a topic on YouTube to learn more, but now TV journalists are finding new ways to seek out audience members.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

Social Media Personalization

Viewers who want more info after seeing a package on the local news can check the station’s Facebook page or Twitter feed for a link to the story. Even though the link may only show the same video from the earlier newscast, by liking or commenting on it, audience members can get updates as they become available—even in between newscasts, as most broadcasters post breaking news in ongoing stories as it becomes available. Aside from getting more information from the broadcaster, they can read comments from other viewers and, in some cases, learn more about a topic through the anecdotes of other viewers (although comments on social media should probably be taken with a grain of salt).

What does this mean for the broadcaster? More viewer interest in future stories or updates on previous packages, more opportunities to sell ad space, and the chance to engage with viewers.

Not Just a Social Media Phenomenon

While social media is great for personalizing the news experience, many stations also offer text or email updates. Again, personalization is key. Viewers who just sign up for updates without specifying what topics or stories they want, often get deluged with so many emails/texts that they quickly opt out.

Due to this issue, most stations now offer a customized experience for audience members who want to sign up for digital updates. They’re asked what topics they want to receive updates about—sports, weather, the stock market, etc.—and sometimes what kind of updates they want on those topics. For example: do you want a text every time your station covers a story about sports, or do you only want updates about your local football team? How about your local football team plus major national stories about baseball?

Not all TV stations offer this level of customization for subscription alerts, but the more specific they make the process, the more likely it is that viewers will stick with their updates.

Other Ways Broadcasters Can Personalize the News Experience

While it’s not yet possible to tailor whole TV broadcasts to specific viewers, that could eventually happen in the digital platform, with websites like Reuters already attempting to curate news for each viewer. Last year the news organization released an app called Reuters TV, which chooses news based on subscribers’ usage data, location, and whether they want short, medium, or long videos.

The downside is the app comes with a monthly fee, and some viewers might prefer to find their own news for free. It’s also currently only available for iOS devices.

Is this an option for local TV stations? Many have their own apps, but most couldn’t afford the cost of curating algorithms or support for such a sophisticated endeavor. Most local stations would also balk at the idea of charging for their app. Broadcaster apps are usually valued for the wealth of data they provide, and the opportunity to sell advertising.

While a fully curated app may not be possible for most smaller stations, some level of customization usually is. When a viewer downloads a broadcaster’s app, he or she is often asked to give the app permission to do all sorts of things, including using the device’s location and other data. Some versions of local TV apps can use this information to recommend stories to each user or decide which updates are most important to that particular user.

[su_note]For more on how to personalize the news experience in a multimedia world, please click here.[/su_note]

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How To Personalize News For Viewers In A Multimedia World

How to personalize your news for viewers

Every day, broadcasters struggle for new ways to stay relevant as viewers spend more time watching video online than on TV. According to a 2014 Time article, more than 2.5 million homes have no cable or broadcast signal, and use a computer for all television viewing.

Using Social Media to Keep Viewers Updated on Stories of Interest

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to mean the demise of broadcast news. Many viewers already engage with local TV in multiple ways—watching some news on TV, and following stories online for breaking news or updates. Checking a station’s website for more information has given way to following/liking/retweeting a broadcaster’s TV coverage of news. A viewer who follows a TV station’s website may see some of its content pop up in his or her news feed, depending on the social network, the amount of time the viewer actually engages with the broadcaster, whether the broadcaster spends money to boost its posts, and other factors.

When a viewer likes or comments on a post, he or she will usually receive updates as others comments or the station adds more news. Even with notifications turned off, audience members are more likely to see posts they’ve commented on or liked appear in their news feeds.

Stop Repeating Social Media Links and Start Engaging with Viewers Instead

How can broadcasters take advantage of this?

Instead of just encouraging viewers to “follow us on Twitter/Instagram, like us on Facebook!”(which most people have heard so much it’s become background noise), ask viewers to share their opinions or personal stories on a topic.

For example: “Do you agree with the mayor that the intersection of Main Street and Fifth Avenue is dangerous and needs a stoplight installed? Have you ever had a close call or accident there? If so, we want to hear about it. Just click on this story on our Facebook page to comment, or Tweet to us at…”

You can increase engagement by promising to share some of the social media posts about a topic on a later news broadcast. This not only serves to gain likes/follows for individual posts, it also encourages audience members to continue watching your newscasts. Plus it draws in friends and followers of the viewers who comment.

Using Subscription Text/Email Alerts Wisely

Many TV stations offer a service that allows viewers to sign up for news updates, previously by email but now mostly by text. In theory, this is a great way for audience members to keep up with news when they’re away from a TV, or between news broadcasts.

In practice, many subscribers ditch the service if they start getting updates too often, or about things that don’t interest them. Some people have no interest in hearing about a reality star’s dress at a film festival, while others would rather hear about that than the new tax law. Nobody wants to get updates every five minutes.

Update subscriptions should ask viewers how frequently they want to get updates, what topics they want updates about, and what level of importance they assign to updates of each subject that interests them.

Curated News: Broadcast Television’s Future?

Last year, Reuters released an app that promised to collect news stories of importance to the individual user, essentially offering to put together an individual newscast for a subscription fee. While most TV stations can’t afford to do the same with their own apps yet, news apps can offer some level of personalization. Apps often offer a treasure trove of information about the people who download them, and that data can be used to recommend more relevant stories.

Talk to your app’s designer or IT person about ways to personalize your TV station’s app. What permissions do you currently require when users download it? Can you use their location to recommend the stories they would find most interesting? What about recommending news based on their web searches or their answers to questions they’re asked when first installing the app? If your app does not ask for permission to access to the user’s activities outside the app, can you still take the end users’ search and reading patterns within the app to recommend stories each user would find most interesting?

If nothing else, make sure you are collecting and saving solid data from your app. This will come in handy if you need information about audience demographics, which stories are most popular, and what features of the app are used the most.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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The Increase in Native Advertising in Broadcast Journalism

Native Advertising in Journalism

According to a 2014 Pew Research report, the lines between public relations/marketing and news are becoming increasingly blurred, with news giants like The New York Times and The Washington Post jumping on the sponsored content bandwagon.

What is Native Advertising?

Native Advertising, also called sponsored content, describes paid content to promote a product, but produced to look somewhat like a news report. Before the digital age, these were called advertorials—magazine or newspaper ads with headlines that were meant to look deceptively like actual news. But with consumers’ increasing reliance on the internet, so-called “sponsored content” became popular. Now when you browse through your local TV station’s website, next to the latest weather report you might see a mortgage company ad with a newsy-sounding headline like, “Why Are High Earners Living Paycheck to Paycheck?”

The Problem with Native Advertising

The main complaint about sponsored content is that it often looks so much like a real news story that some readers might be confused.  This is especially true with the latest trend—the advertiser pays the broadcaster to write a headline and content, so it sounds more like a legitimate news story.

How Obvious is Paid Content?

Many native advertising pieces are easily identified as such. As a general rule, any headline that includes the words “shocking”, “can’t believe” or “jaw-dropping” is probably paid content. Many of these ads are also eye-catching, with blinking lights, dancing pumpkins or elves, or badly edited before-and-after photos. One could argue that most consumers could easily discern between a legitimate piece of journalism and a dancing pumpkin ad, regardless of the headline.

However, the move toward more sophisticated content means the distinction is sometimes more difficult, even for skeptical consumers. Take the earlier headline about high-earners living paycheck to paycheck, for example. In the current economy, many broadcasters have produced legitimate packages about the increasing numbers of high earners who find themselves in financial distress due to an underwater mortgage, job loss, etc. This could be one of those stories, but if you click on the link you’ll find yourself routed to a website that attempts to sell you financial planning services.

With a decrease in over-the-top headlines and low-quality pictures and a move toward more professional-looking paid content, the confusion is increasing for consumers. A recent Digiday article cites a study in which 62% of respondents didn’t realize they were looking at an ad when shown “sponsored content” for a cheese company.

How Labeling Affects Consumers’ Interpretation of Native Advertising

The Triplelift study in the Digiday article goes on to show that the way sites label their paid content affects consumer confusion. “Advertisement” was the most clear in alerting readers that they were viewing an ad, with almost half of respondents (48.5%) correctly identifying paid content. “Presented by” and “promoted by” were most confusing, with only 15.5% and 11.2%, respectively, identifying the paid content as ads.

This piece of data is of particular concern to broadcasters, whose TV news segments are often “presented by” an advertiser. For example, the sports segment of your local five o’clock news broadcast might be sponsored by a local sporting goods store. That doesn’t mean the store is paying for any particular content; they’re simply paying to sponsor that part of the broadcast. Consumers who both watch TV news and read about it online might think the same holds true for “sponsored” content on a TV station’s website.

Not Just an Issue for Broadcasters’ Websites

That brings us to another trend in sponsored content: paid advertising on news shows made to look like legitimate interviews. A recent Boston Globe article describes a 10 o’clock news broadcast, which included an interview with the founder of a razor company. The interviewer asked the founder questions, as he would have in a legitimate news gathering situation, but the razor company paid for the time, and the segment ran in the commercial break slot.

The problem highlighted in the Globe article stems from a lack of identification of the “reporter” in the segment. He was not identified as working for the razor company, and as a result, viewers, especially those new to the telecast, might not have realized he was biased in his approach to the story. The article also points out that even a reporter working for a broadcaster might soften his or her approach to interviewing a subject about paid content, lobbing softball questions and avoiding issues that could make the company look bad.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

 

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How Broadcasters Can Balance Paid Content with News Reporting

Sponsored Content in Journalism

Sponsored content continues to grow, with a Business Insider article predicting native ad spending will reach $7.9 billion this year. This is especially true for the broadcast news industry, where paid content is increasingly common, and evolving past rapidly shifting photos and sensational headlines.

Why It’s Important to Handle Sponsored Content Correctly

The results of a Reuters report shed light on one of the main problems with native advertising: many audience members (about one-third) feel deceived or let down by the content. While about half of respondents admitted they could live with sponsored content in exchange for free news, around 25% have a lower opinion of news outlets that use this type advertising.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever clicked on what they thought was a legitimate news story, only to wind up staring at an ad or online store. While some paid advertising is fairly obvious (anything that screams “insane” in the headline, bouncing cartoon characters, and poor photo editing are good tip-offs), other sponsored content is more subtle. One trend is to pay the news site to write the content, so it sounds more like a “real news story.”

Benefiting From Native Advertising w/o Alienating Audience Members

Being up front about sponsored content is the best policy. Many broadcasters’ websites have a “stories that might interest you” type section, typically under the current story or off to the side. It’s increasingly common to see links to other legitimate news stories mixed into this section with sponsored content, but this approach can frustrate and annoy audience members.

Instead, make a separate “might interest you” section and mark it as “sponsored content.” Often these notices are in very tiny print. While that may irritate a few consumers, it also makes the people paying for the advertising happy. Sticking the disclaimer off to the side makes it seem less “hidden”, even if the print is small and the reader misses it on the first few passes. Pale gray lettering is the most common, probably because it’s hard to distinguish from the white background on most news sites.

How Labeling Affects Consumers’ Experience of Native Advertising

In a recent TripleLift study, 62% of people shown a native ad for cheese didn’t realize they were looking at an ad. When it was labeled as an “advertisement”, only 23% of respondents even saw it, but “presented by” attracted the interest of 39% of viewers, and “sponsored by” was seen by 29%.

Another question asked respondents which label made it most clear that the content was an ad. 48.5% chose “advertisement” for that question, closely followed by “sponsored by” at 43.7%. “Promoted by” was the least clear, at 11.2%.

While the most-seen terms are better for advertisers, they’re also preferable to consumers. The study shows 34% of respondents liked the term “advertisement” the least for sponsored content, followed by “promoted by” at around 30% and “presented by”, which drops to around 13%. “Sponsored by” was the least-disliked term at only 10.2%. If you want viewers to see your native ad and respond positively, “sponsored by” seems to be the best way to describe it.

Don’t Forget About Other Types of Sponsored Content for Broadcasters

Although sponsored content is considered part of the digital domain, broadcasters have other options for using native advertising to improve revenue. Stations can sell time in commercial breaks for interview-style ads, sometimes produced by the broadcaster itself for a client. In this situation, it’s important to make it clear that this is sponsored content and the interviewer is not an unbiased journalist. A recent Boston Globe article explains how easy it is to lose credibility when you fail to make branded content clear with an “interview” format.

Regardless of how you choose to sell sponsored content on your TV station, try to discourage the client from doing a live shot at their business location.  Anyone who’s worked in broadcast journalism probably knows  how quickly a live shot ad can go wrong, but here’s an example…

A small-market station was advertising the grand opening of a local store with a live shot from its parking lot. After explaining that the segment was a paid advertisement for the retailer, the interviewer dutifully asked the store’s manager some softball questions about all the “great deals.” The manager wanted to point out all the free food he was giving away, and he asked for a shot of the buffet table. The photographer complied, and zoomed in on a giant sliced ham—just as a swarm of flies also zeroed in on the pork. Suddenly the buffet table didn’t exactly look appetizing.

If something unexpected happens during a live shot on a news story, that’s just part of reporting the news. But if you’re being paid to make a sponsor’s product look good, the advertiser might end up blaming you for circumstances beyond your control. Often advertisers think a live interview is a great idea for an advertisement, but remind them that live TV is unpredictable and they will have much more control of the content if it’s all pre-recorded. This will also help you make sure the ad is correctly identified as sponsored content.

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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