Author: Jack Picone

Ten Iconic Films Written by Screenwriting Legend William Goldman 

William Goldman, one of Hollywood’s most influential screenwriters for several decades, passed away early November 16, at the age of 87. 

In addition to writing several famous (and infamous) major motion pictures across a wide variety of genres, Goldman cemented himself as an authority of Hollywood screenwriting when he published Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983. In the book, Goldman not only shared with readers his mastery of all things writing — story, dialogue, character — but his incisive, honest look at Hollywood’s modern studio system in the 60s and 70s, and what it would eventually evolve into over the next few decades. 

His rounded, honest view of the system that gave him great success was both cynical and appreciative, from the ground level as well as a bird’s eye view from the top, where he laid out and accepted both the good and the bad of the massive and powerful industry that produced an artistic medium he very much loved. 

Here are just some of the films he contributed to the Hollywood canon:

Misery

Director Rob Reiner and producers of the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Misery, in which a psychotic fan ties her favorite author to her bed and forces him to keep writing, felt like they needed to dial back the horror of the book to make the film more palatable for mainstream audiences. In the novel, the character played by Kathy Bates severs the foot of the author played by James Caan, rendering him unable to escape.

What screenwriter William Goldman came up with as a solution was perfect, and became an iconic Hollywood moment. Rather than sever his foot, Goldman had Bates smash Caan’s ankles with a sledgehammer – less bloody and less gory, but somehow in its specificity, even more brutal to watch. Goldman was proving a valuable lesson in screenwriting: sometimes less is more.

Harper

Goldman had already finished the script to the hardboiled detective movie Harper, starring Paul Newman, but producers needed a scene to play over the opening credits. Goldman quickly came up with a simple, but poignant moment — the disgruntled PI getting ready in the morning, realizing he was out of coffee, and reusing an old filter from the trashcan. In one quick dialogue-less moment, Goldman established the get-it-done character of his protagonist before the opening credits had even finished rolling.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Goldman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on this seminal western that paired together two of Hollywood’s most charismatic and popular leading men — Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The film highlights the genre-bending abilities Goldman seemingly wielded without breaking a sweat, going from comedy to thriller to drama to even musical from scene to scene without ever missing a beat. 

Chaplin

Chaplin was a star-studded biopic in 1992 that portrayed the life and career of silent film megastar Charlie Chaplin, and was one of that year’s most prestigious films, with a talented cast, incredibly high production values, and direction by Richard Attenborough. While it received mixed reviews, it was one of the first major dramatic roles for the young comic actor Robert Downey, Jr., who was nominated for his first Academy Award for his work.

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far was also directed by Richard Attenborough, and was an epic World War II film with a large-for-its-time budget and loaded cast that featured stars from other Goldman films like James Caan and Robert Redford. In a genre overstuffed with classics, A Bridge Too Far managed to make a name for itself for its wide scope and intense battle sequences, especially since, unlike many of its brethren, it focused on a major historical loss for the Allied Forces.

Marathon Man

Marathon Man, like some of Goldman’s other screenplays, was adapted from a novel he wrote himself. As a book, and later as a film, it attracted the attention of producers and critics alike for its stark violence and themes of Nazi war criminals still existing in society decades after the end of World War II. A major casting coup for the gritty thriller was Sir Laurence Olivier as the antagonist, who earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

Maverick

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Marathon Man is Maverick, a big-budget western comedy adapted from the 50s television series of the same name. The film reunites Lethal Weapon’s director Richard Donner and star Mel Gibson (and a cameo from Danny Glover) at the height of their Hollywood powers and proved to be a definitive audience-pleasing popcorn movie in a year full of tough competition. 

The Stepford Wives

The science-fiction horror film The Stepford Wives challenged the norms of gender dynamics between husbands and wives and, when it was released in 1975, received only moderate success. It has however gained a solid cult status over the decades, and was even eventually given a big budget remake starring Nicole Kidman in 2004. The term “Stepford Wife” itself has now become slang for the type of doting, robotic homemaker featured in Goldman’s script.

The Princess Bride

“Anybody want a peanut?” 

That’s just one line out of dozens from the eminently quotable screenplay Goldman wrote for The Princess Bride, itself an adaptation of a novel he wrote with the same name. Ostensibly a comedy, the film also plays with genre, and has firmly rooted itself in the hearts of multiple generations of film and adventure lovers. Can you imagine a world without the line, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”??? 

Of course you can’t… it’s “”inconceivable!!!”

All the President’s Men

Goldman won his second Academy Award for the screenplay adapted from the book All the President’s Men, written by the journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal. The film, which is still regarded by many as one of the greatest of all time, takes the real-life investigation of newspaper journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they run up directly against a Nixon administration fighting to stay in power. Who would’ve thought its themes and even plot points of cover-ups and political corruption would be more resonant than ever forty years later? 

There are several other fantastic films written by William Goldman in his decades-spanning career, too many to list. Watching them all would not only be a great source of entertainment, but a Master Class in screenwriting from the man himself. 

RIP William Goldman – your contributions to cinema will not be forgotten.

 

H40: The Five Timelines of Michael Myers and “Halloween”

Cue the haunting piano music: Michael Myers is back in theaters this October with a brand new Halloween sequel. In true 21st century filmmaking fashion, this sequel is also somewhat of a soft reboot – a sequel that is technically in the same timeline, but retains many of the classic beats (and the title) of the original.

But which timeline? The Halloween franchise first began in 1978 as an independent horror film written and directed by John Carpenter (and produced and co-created by Debra Hill) and was an instant classic. The silent, hulking serial killer Michael Myers became a Hollywood icon as he murdered babysitters and their boyfriends in a painted William Shatner mask. Halloween quickly spawned a series of sequels, spin-offs, and remakes — all of which interweave with distinct continuities.

Here then, are five different timelines of the Halloween franchise in its first 40 years — who knows how many more retcons will come about in the next four decades!

Timeline #1
Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

This could be considered the original timeline, as it incorporates the first six films of the franchise (with one exception, which we’ll get to.) The first two films are very closely linked, filmed close together, with the same leads, taking place all in the same night (October 31, natch.)

After a brief departure from Halloween III, the real star of the franchise — Michael Myers — came back due to popular demand. He wasn’t joined by lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis, however, who had gone onto movie stardom in the 80s with smash hits like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda. Fortunately for the producers, veteran actor Donald Pleasance, a big get for the first two films, stayed and helmed the series as Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis for the next three films.

Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Laurie Strode, was killed off-screen in a car accident and the fourth film shifted focus to Laurie’s niece, Jamie Lloyd. Halloween 4 was released ten years after the original, in 1988, and quickly followed up with Halloween 5 in 1989.

The timeline finally came to an end in 1995, with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The movie expanded the franchise’s mythology and dove deep into the supernatural, dark mystical side of Michael Myers. One of its stars was a very young Paul Rudd playing Tommy Doyle, a character from the first two films. The movie ends with the death of series constant Dr. Loomis, and was dedicated to the memory of Donald Pleasance, who died just a few months before its release.

Timeline #2
Halloween III: Season of the Witch

The reason the franchise is called Halloween and not Michael Myers is because John Carpenter envisioned the series as an anthology of distinct horror stories, each set in their own universe with nothing to do with each other — much like Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and the Cloverfield films.

However, the huge success of the first film led to a direct sequel, Halloween II, which came out in 1981. This film started the notion that Michael Myers was superhuman, which was continued and explored in the rest of Timeline #1 (see above.)

But by the third film, Carpenter finally wished to move away from Michael Myers and the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, came out in 1982, and had none of the cast or characters from the first two films. It was also a completely different story — about evil Celtic magic from Stonehenge and androids that wish to kill the trick-or-treating children of a Northern California suburb.

Halloween III most certainly doesn’t take place in the same universe as Michael Myers. In fact, one of the characters in the movie is watching a commercial for the original Halloween, meaning the Jamie Lee Curtis films are just as fictional in the world of Season of the Witch as it is in ours.

Timeline #3
Halloween, Halloween II, H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween: Resurrection

It was only three years in between Halloween 6 and H20, but filmmaking was already evolving and Wes Craven’s Scream had upped the horror genre for moviegoers everywhere. In 1998, to celebrate two decades since the dawn of Michael Myers, the franchise released another sequel, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the role of Laurie Strode for the first time since 1981.

With the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, the series had to retcon her character’s death, and so this film takes place after Halloween and Halloween II — but NOT Halloweens 4, 5, and 6. While this brings Laurie Strode (and presumably, Dr. Loomis) back to life, this change in the continuity did not bode well for Nurse Chambers, a character played by Nancy Stephens in the first two films. She appears again as the character in the opening scene of H20, where she is quickly dispatched by a middle-aged Michael Myers.

By the end of the film, Myers has attacked Laurie Strode and her family, but is decapitated by her to make sure he never comes back. He does come back, however, in the film’s sequel, Halloween: Resurrection.

Halloween: Resurrection, released in 2002, is very much of its time, with a story revolving around webcams and the Internet, and the then-brand-new medium of Reality TV. It also stars Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes, who might play the only character in any of the timelines to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.

The film opens with a cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis, once again portraying Laurie Strode, who dies for a second time in the franchise — this time on screen as she falls from the roof of a psychiatric hospital.

Timeline #4
Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009)

Sound familiar? These two films take the exact same titles as the original two, but they are 100% remakes in the truest sense of the word, and which was very much in fashion at the time. Fresh off his critical gorefests House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie decided to tackle the Michael Myers franchise next, remaking Halloween in 2007.

Dr. Loomis is back, this time played by yet another British veteran actor, Malcolm McDowell. Zombie’s Halloween has much more focus on Michael Myers before his breakout and All Hallow’s Eve killing spree. It’s also more of a tension-builder and slower horror film, very much in style then and even still now.

The film received mixed reviews but made a decent amount of money at the box office, enough to warrant a direct sequel and the tenth film overall in the franchise. This new Halloween II harkens closer to the convoluted plotlines of Halloweens 4-6 than it does the original sequel though, dealing with hallucinations and flashbacks and revealing, like Timeline #1 eventually does, that Laurie Strode is actually the sister of Michael Myers. It ends with the death of Dr. Loomis (that makes two for him) and with Laurie now committed to a psychiatric hospital (that’s twice for her.)

Timeline #5
Halloween, Halloween (2018), ???

After considering a sequel to Zombie’s films or yet another reboot, the rights holders and producers of the franchise decided to do a sequel to the original Halloween. This film, once titled Halloween Returns, would have followed the first two, just as 4-6 did in Timeline #1. Soon indie director David Gordon Green and frequent collaborator Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride) came on board to work on the film.

In the writing process, Halloween II was taken out of the continuity, so that this sequel, which takes place forty years after the original (and twenty since the release of H20) is a direct sequel to only the original Halloween, and ignores the events of every other Halloween film that follows it.

The film will harken back to the original in plot and tone as well, as Myers will slowly make his way around town on Halloween night, picking off babysitters and anyone else who gets in his way.

It also brings back, once again, Jamie Lee Curtis as character Laurie Strode, who, as far as we know, isn’t the sister of Michael Myers. Whether Laurie Strode will die for the third time in the series or live for yet another sequel remains to be seen.

It’s doubtful Busta Rhymes will be back to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.

10 Inspiring Latinx Movies You Need to Watch

National Hispanic Heritage Month lasts from September 15 through October 15 and celebrates the contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans to the heritage and culture of North America and beyond, whether it be through films, music, books, art, or more.

Originally lasting a week and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it was later expanded into a full month in 1988 and signed off by President Ronald Reagan. Events related to National Hispanic Heritage Month include the El Barrio Latin Jazz festival in the Bronx and events hosted by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

One of the most visible contributions of Latinx and Hispanic Americans are the films made for and about Hispanic culture. There are countless films that cover a wide array of genres, themes, and topics. It would be impossible to name all of them or rank even the best of them, but here is a list of just ten Latinx movies that need to be watched:

Amores perros

Amores perros is a 2000 drama thriller featuring an early breakout role for Gael García Bernal and was the first feature film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu is now one of cinema’s most unique, talented voices — the first person since 1950 to win back-to-back Oscars for Best Director (for his films Birdman and The Revenant) and only the third director ever to do so.

Pelo malo

Pelo malo is a 2013 drama from Venezuela about a boy named Junior who is constantly trying to straighten his curly, unruly hair. Written and directed by Mariana Rondón, the film was critically praised for its exploration of adolescence, mother-child tensions, gender identity, sexuality, and other themes in the context of Venezuelan culture. Its release in 2013, shortly after the death of Hugo Chavez, also pivots the film in an important, transitional moment for the nation.

Sin País

Sin País is a documentary short that tells the story of Sam and Elida, who are deported from the United States and try to reunite with their son. Released in 2010, it is more relevant than ever in today’s contemporary political climate — although it is more an emotional story about humanity than a political disquisition on immigration.

Frida

Directed by Julie Taymor, Frida stars Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina and tells the true story of Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo. Kahlo was a fascinating figure in the art world, all the more notable for being a woman in a time where culture was very much dominated by men. The same could be said to be true for Hollywood, which made the film — also produced by Hayek, who picked up an Oscar nom for her acting in the movie — all the more important for both female and Latinx voices.

El secreto de sus ojos

The 2009 crime drama El secreto de sus ojos is a co-production between Argentina and Spain and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The epic nonlinear story tells of two officials investigating a rape and murder case over the span of 25 years. El secreto de sus ojos has been voted one of the top 100 greatest motion pictures since 2000 by a BBC poll of international film critics.

Biutiful

While nearly every one of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films could be included on this list, Biutiful is especially notable for the lead performance by star Javier Bardem. Bardem received high praise for his acting in the film, and his Oscar nod for Best Actor was the first nomination ever given to a performance that was entirely in Spanish.

Selena

Selena is a 1997 biopic telling the tragic story of the eponymous Tejano music superstar who was murdered in the prime of her career. Eventually becoming the 13th highest-grossing musical biopic of all time, Selena might be most notable for launching the career of Jennifer Lopez, whose acting and musical fame skyrocketed and hasn’t abated since.

Y Tu Mamá También

Y Tu Mamá También is a 2001 Mexican coming-of-age drama about two teenagers who take a road trip with a 20-something woman. Critically hailed at the time of its release, the film is also notable for helping launch the careers of its stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, as well as writer-director Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón instantly became one of Mexico’s most prominent directors, following the film up with series-highlight Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and later directing Children of Men and sci-fi epic Gravity.

City of God

City of God is a 2002 Brazilian crime drama directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund and adapted from the 1997 novel written by Paulo Lins. The film depicts the growth of suburban crime in a Rio de Janeiro suburb over the course of several decades, and was an instant critical hit, eventually earning four Academy Award nominations. It was later followed by the spiritual sequel City of Men.

El laberinto del Fauno

El laberinto del Fauno may be the purest expression of Mexican writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s dark, whimsical aesthetic. The film, which found huge mainstream success in the United States as Pan’s Labyrinth, combines historical drama with fantasy in telling the story of a young girl living in Spain five years after its Civil War. The film was nominated for and won countless awards after its release, including winning three Oscars, and certified del Toro as one of Hollywood’s strongest, most successful voices.

Interested in making a film of your own one day? Find more information on the programs offered by the New York Film Academy here.

17 Great Silent Movie GIFs from @SilentMovieGIFs

You might be following Puppy Twitter, Weird Twitter, or Cupcake Twitter, but are you following Silent Movie Twitter?

If not, you might be missing one of its best accounts, @silentmoviegifs. Created in January 2016 by Don McHoull (@dmchoull), @silentmoviegifs is literally what it says it is: GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) of visually compelling or hilarious moments from the earliest days of film. These GIFs include everything from stop-motion animation, to the earliest camera tricks of Hollywood’s first cinematographers, to epic stunts by Buster Keaton and sleights-of-hand by Charlie Chaplin.

McHoull first got the idea of making these GIFs available to the wider internet after seeing a trending GIF on Reddit from The Bellboy, featuring Buster Keaton cleaning a nonexistent window. McHoull, a film buff, was excited to see a century-old comedy still attracting millions of views, but was dismayed at the poor image quality of the GIF.

Since he possessed a Blu-ray set of high-quality Buster Keaton short films, and Photoshop, McHoull took it upon himself to provide the internet with better-looking GIFs from the Silent Era. After all, the two types of media are a match made in heaven: “Silent movies translate really easily into GIFs,” McHoull told NYFA, “because the jokes and the ideas being expressed are all being done a purely visual way.” He made sure to add, “Not to discount the role of music in the silent cinema experience.”

McHoull quickly found an online audience eager to see highlights from the Silent Era they may have otherwise never thought to seek out. As of June 2018, @silentmoviegifs has nearly 60,000 followers, including Guillermo del Toro, Rian Johnson, Natasha Lyonne, Taika Waititi, Edgar Wright, Patton Oswalt, Seth Rogen, and Neil Patrick Harris.

He continues to source his GIFs from Blu-rays and DVDs, proving that the preservation and restoration of older film is essential to remembering the art form in its very beginnings. He uses YouTube and other lower-res sources if he must, but adds that Toronto’s video stores are a “secret weapon” of his.

“In particular one, Bay Street Video, has a very good selection of silent films for rent,” McHoull revealed. “Video stores and silent films are both things that a lot of people would regard as obsolete, but for me at least they still offer something that their supposed replacements don’t.”

Not all of his GIFs are straight clips from silent films. McHoull will also take the time to painstakingly create supercuts of particular actors or genres. One of his latest projects includes a supercut of elaborate train stunts from the Silent Era, before CGI and other special effects could really be used to simulate such sequences. When asked if he had a favorite GIF, McHoull told us it was difficult to say, but named one of his most time-consuming supercuts — an evolution of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character.

Starting with McHoull’s Evolution of the Tramp then, here is just a small sample of some of our favorite GIFs from @silentmoviegifs:

Charlie Chaplin

Buster Keaton

Clara Bow

Louise Brooks

Willis O’Brien

Charlie Chase

Laurel & Hardy

Gloria Swanson

Mary Pickford

Charley Bowers

Fritz Lang

Dorothy & Lillian Gish

Auguste Lumière

 

Lois Weber

Sessue Hayakawa

Greta Garbo

Harold Lloyd

These are just a few gems from @silentmoviegifs. NYFA encourages everyone to check out the account for the rest. McHoull is the first to tell you he isn’t in this for fame and fortune, and recommends other Twitter accounts to silent movie buffs as well, including @MoviesSilently and @silentlondon.

He’d also tell you not to limit yourself to Twitter, recommending YouTube as a great source for silent movies, as well as Imgur and Reddit (including his own subreddit), telling NYFA that when it comes to GIFs, they have several technical advantages over Twitter.

Watching the earliest movies put to film is a great way to study and learn the art of cinema, and any serious film student should consume as many silent films as they can, however they can. And the next time you’re in Toronto, maybe rent a few from Bay Street Video.

 

5 Films That Feature the Staten Island Ferry

Most tourists visiting New York City typically ignore the southernmost borough, Staten Island. In fact, many New Yorkers who’ve lived in the city their whole lives have never been, either. However, the boat that takes 24 million people per year from Manhattan to Staten Island and back again — the Staten Island Ferry — is one of the city’s most famous, most visited landmarks.

Traveling between the Big Apple’s two island counties by boat is a tradition that goes all the way back to the 1700s, when Cornelius Vanderbilt made his first profit sailing fellow Staten Islanders to downtown Manhattan. The iconic orange fleet of ships have been in service nearly as long, and are as much a fixture of New York Harbor as the Statue of Liberty. Look out the windows from New York Film Academy’s Battery Park campus in downtown New York City, and chances are you’ll see a ferry or two making their way to port, just yards away from the school.

It’s no surprise then that the Staten Island Ferry has appeared in many New York-based films. Sometimes, the ferries provide the setting for a key scene, sometimes they make brief cameos as part of the city’s backdrop, sometimes they’re the focus of the movie.

In the fourth film of Blumhouse’s Purge franchise coming out this summer, Staten Island takes center stage as the testing grounds for The First Purge. Don’t be surprised if the borough’s namesake ferry makes an appearance or two before Purge Night reaches dawn. In the meantime, here are five other films that predominantly feature the Staten Island Ferry:

(Warning: may contain spoilers!)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

The second act centerpiece of Peter Parker’s very own entry in the MCU was so epic and action-packed that it became the focus of much of the film’s marketing and film trailers. Far from his friendly neighborhood in Queens, and far from the skyscrapers he could web-sling to for escape, Spider-Man found himself in the middle of New York Harbor battling Michael Keaton’s villain, the Vulture.

After the ferry is completely split in two, Spider-Man must work quickly to hold the entire, massive ship together with his own webs and Spidey-strength. At the end of the day, the ship is saved and its passengers kept dry, but only after some help from Marvel’s other iconic New Yorker, Tony Stark.

Working Girl

Working Girl was a box-office smash in the 1980s, back when Hollywood wasn’t completely dominated by superhero and sci-fi franchises. The romantic comedy, directed by legendary Mike Nichols, starred Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver, and Harrison Ford.

Griffith’s sympathetic lead, Tess McGill, is a secretary from Staten Island who, like a lot of Staten Islanders, commutes every morning to Wall Street for work. The film’s iconic opening sequence featured Griffith, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, taking the Ferry along with an army of morning commuters. The scene featured Carly Simon’s Let the River Run, which ultimately went on to win the Oscar for Best Song and solidified the Staten Island Ferry’s place in Hollywood history.

Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

The title may not ring any bells, but 1967’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door?, originally titled I Call First, is legendary for being the first feature film by director Martin Scorsese. Starring a very young, fresh-faced Harvey Keitel, the film deals with Catholic guilt as well as love and heartbreak for Italian Americans in downtown Manhattan, themes that would be even more fleshed out six years later in Mean Streets.

The film centers around the relationship between Keitel’s character, J.R., and his unnamed love interest, played by Zina Bethune. The audience’s engagement with these two characters relies on a key opening scene in the film — a lengthy, sometimes awkward conversation where the two leads meet while commuting on the Staten Island Ferry. In its own twisted way, it may even be one of Hollywood’s first meet cutes.

Notably, Scorsese’s first feature was filmed over several years, originally as part of his student film. Prolific Hollywood director Martin Brest also shot his student film, Hot Dogs for Gauguin, on the Staten Island Ferry, starring then-unknown actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman — solidifying the Ferry as a go-to location for New York film students.

Ferry Tales

While the Staten Island Ferry is a huge attraction for tourists visiting New York City, its greatest use is transporting commuters back and forth across the harbor. Many Staten Islanders work in Manhattan, whether as Wall Street brokers, with the NYPD, or in any number of white- and blue-collar jobs. These commuters often take the ferry every morning at the same time, and start to recognize one another and even form friendships.

In 2003 the documentary short Ferry Tales was released, featuring the stories of some of the women who got to know each other in the powder room of the ferry while getting ready for work in the city. These women came from all sorts of diverse backgrounds but, for twenty-five minutes each morning, bonded over their shared commute and shared stories both with one other and with the documentary crew, including subjects as heavy as divorce, domestic violence, and the struggles of single motherhood.

Early in the 2001 filming of the documentary, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 occurred, giving everyone on the ferry — and the film crew — an unobstructed front row view of one of the most horrific attacks to ever occur on American soil. Along with appearing in and winning several film festivals, Ferry Tales went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 2003.

The Dark Knight

Technically, the Staten Island Ferry doesn’t appear in Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film. Instead, the third act climax revolves around the Gotham Island Ferry — two, in fact. However, you wouldn’t need an eagle eye or be from Staten Island to recognize the iconic orange ships — with the exception of the first word painted on the side, these boats are Staten Island Ferries both inside and out.

Whereas most of Gotham City in The Dark Knight was filmed in and based on Chicago, the island boroughs and harbor were more clearly modeled on New York — a trend that was even more fleshed out in the third film, The Dark Knight Rises. The final, master plan of Heath Ledger’s Joker involved strapping bombs to two escaping ferries — one loaded with innocent evacuees, the other with convicted felons. The Joker gave each group the opportunity to save themselves by blowing up the other boat. Christian Bale’s Batman held faith that neither side would give in so easily, and was ultimately proven right, much to the Joker’s disappointment. It’s a safe bet to assume the real life commuters of the Staten Island Ferry would make the same choice.

Interested in studying film or acting just yards away from the Staten Island Ferry? Check out the programs New York Film Academy has to offer HERE.

The Academy Awards: Our Favorite Cinematography Wins of Last 10 Years

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

While the acting and Best Picture awards typically dominate the buzz and conversation leading up to the Academy Awards, the cinematography category often has — quite literally — the showiest nominees. While typically the director has a say in how a film will look, as well as how specific shots will be laid out, their director of photography is usually the one tasked with creating this look.

Lighting, camera angles, camera movement, focus, and depth of field are just some of the choices a film’s cinematographer will make, with or without the director’s input. They will also have a say in the types of film stock and camera equipment used on set. All of these decisions culminate in a film’s final look, which is why it’s the director of photographer who will take home the Oscar when a film wins the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

While all of the nominees made the short list because of their unique, harrowing, complex, or gorgeous looks, here are just some of our favorite wins from the past decade:

Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda

Ang Lee adapted the novel Life of Pi and perfectly captured its otherworldly tale of a young man trapped in the middle of an ocean with a tiger. The movie is bright, colorful, and larger than life. In addition to taking place mostly on water, it incorporates magical islands and neon-infused skies, making it one of those films that should be illegal to watch on your phone. This deserves the 4K widescreen TV treatment at the least. No wonder it managed to beat out cinematography legend Roger Deakins’s outstanding work on the James Bond smash hit, Skyfall, as well as the other nominees in 2013.

Check out Life of Pi co-star and New York Film Academy alum Vibish Sivakumar here

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

La La Land – Linus Sandgren

Another colorful entry in this list is 2016’s La La Land, though the backdrop was less ocean fantasy and more theatrically artificial Los Angeles. But by combining traditional filmmaking techniques with modern sensibilities, Sandgren managed to put the audience in the world of writer/director Damien Chazelle’s making. La La Land earned multiple nominations and was a certified hit that left smiles on lots of faces.

La La Land

La La Land

Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki

With nearly the entire action thriller taking place in space, you’d think there wouldn’t be much to shoot outside of star Sandra Bullock in an astronaut suit — but that’s partly why Lubezki’s work on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is so impressive. By using outer space as negative space, Lubezki was able to capture a loneliness and isolation on levels rarely seen in cinema. Conversely, by using the bright blue Earth as a massive, larger-than-life backdrop in certain shots, the film never lost its sense of place, even as Bullock drifted aimlessly into a black nothingness.

Gravity

Gravity


Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki 

Lubezki won a second consecutive Oscar for his work on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, a film comprised of several long, complicated takes edited together to look like a single, continuous shot. This technique was used to some extent in Lubezki’s previous film Gravity, as well as Children of Men, but it was here where he really mastered the technique, transforming it from a mere gimmick into a statement about acting, theatre, and filmmaking in itself.

Birdman

Birdman

The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki

Emmanuel Lubezki appears frequently on this list because he became the first person to ever win three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography in a row, a distinction that shows just how brilliant he is behind the camera. His third win came for The Revenant, again directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, and again filled with seemingly endless one-shots. Even more impressive was that The Revenant used only natural lighting and was shot nearly entirely outside in the wilderness on very cold days. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, The Revenant manages to be one of the most gorgeous looking films of the last decade.

The Revenant

The Revenant

Who will win this year’s award? Could it be Roger Deakins for his expansive work in Blade Runner 2049? Or Dan Laustsen’s grimy fairy tale noir look for The Shape of Water? Or maybe Rachel Morrison, the Black Panther cinematographer and first ever woman nominated in the category for her work on Mudbound? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Interested in studying cinematography and taking home an Oscar or three yourself in the future? Check out New York Film Academy’s cinematography programs here.

 

Our 2018 BAFTA Predictions

While the Oscars are still a few weeks away, the 71st British Academy Film Awards are finally upon us. The ceremony will be hosted by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley on February 18, at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.

The BAFTAs are one of the major award shows of the season. Because so many actresses, actors, and filmmakers come from the United Kingdom, the nominations and winners often overlap with many of the Golden Globe and Oscar categories. However, because the Academy is made up of different voters, sometimes the results can be wildly different.

Here then are the nominees for some of the major categories, along with our best guesses at who will be taking home the BAFTA award bronze mask statue this weekend — though like always, anything can happen.

The BAFTA Award
Leading Actress
Annett Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

While Margot Robbie is considered the favorite for the Oscar in this category due to her stellar performance in the wildly enjoyable I, Tonya — the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan isn’t as much of a cultural milestone outside of the United States. This may give the edge to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, star of Lady Bird, a film with near perfect critical acclaim.

Leading Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kayluuya – Get Out
Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Our Predicted WINNER: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

It’s hard to bet against Daniel Day-Lewis, especially in a thoroughly British role that may also be his last. But Winston Churchill is about as legendary as you can get in Great Britain, and Oldman’s performance as the Prime Minister in his finest moments has already won several awards.


Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour
Laurie Metcalfe – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

While Day-Lewis may not win, his co-star Lesley Manville certainly has a good shot just for being able to go head-to-head with him in several scenes, matching his intensity and emotional subtlety every time.

Phantom Thread

Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread

Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot of momentum behind Sam Rockwell this season for his complex performance as a bigoted cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That momentum might be too much for any of the other very talented actors in this category, including co-star Woody Harrelson.


EE Rising Star Award

Daniel Kaluuya
Florence Pugh
Josh O’Connor
Timothee Chalamet
Our Predicted WINNER: Tessa Thompson

Daniel Kaluuya made a huge splash with his haunting starring role in Get Out, but we’ve got to give the edge to Tessa Thompson, the talented American actress who is quickly becoming an A-list movie star thanks to her scene-stealing performance in Thor: Ragnarok.

Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson

Editing
Baby Driver – Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Blade Runner 2049 – Joe Walker
The Shape Of Water – Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Jon Gregory
Our Predicted WINNER: Dunkirk – Lee Smith

The editing in all of this year’s nominees was impressive, but Dunkirk’s style was a crucial part of the narrative — telling the evacuation of Dunkirk in three distinct timelines cut back-and-forth. The epic World War II film will probably come away with at least one award this weekend, and odds are it’ll be this one.


Special Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For The Planet Of The Apes
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water is essentially a classic romance tale, except one of the romantic leads is a computer generated seven-foot fish creature. By making the character not only believable but emotionally relatable, the special effects team for The Shape of Water more than proved they’re worthy of this year’s award.


Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Ben Davis
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water – Dan Laustsen

Blade Runner 2049 is a dark horse in both the Special Effects and Cinematography categories for its fully realized portrayal of a near-future America, but The Shape of Water will probably come ahead in both. The film is a visual marvel in multiple ways, and slides between multiple styles and genres with ease.


Adapted Screenplay

Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death Of Stalin
Matt Greenhalgh – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Simon Farnaby & Paul King – Paddington 2
Our Predicted WINNER: James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Paddington 2 is a smash success and both Aaron Sorkin and Armando Iannucci are screenwriting legends, but Call Me By Your Name manages to adapt the 2007 novel of the same name in a way that preserves all its raw emotion that audiences can’t help but be affected by.


Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Gerwig is making history as only the fifth woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and her film Lady Bird is easily considered one of the best of the year. It’s had a tougher time at the BAFTAs, so if the overall film gets recognized it’ll have to be here for its remarkable screenplay.

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Animated Film
Loving Vincent
My Life As A Courgette
Our Predicted WINNER: Coco

All three films are visual works of art, but it’s hard to bet against Pixar and their soulful, supernatural masterpiece about a 12-year-old boy trapped in the land of the dead.


Documentary

City Of Ghosts
I Am Not Your Negro
Icarus
An Inconvenient Sequel
Our Predicted WINNER: Jane

Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is a hero and legend to naturists and to her fellow Britons alike. Jane, the 2017 documentary about Goodall, has already picked up several festival and critics awards and will probably get the BAFTA as well.


Outstanding British Film

Darkest Hour
Death Of Stalin
God’s Own Country
Lady Macbeth
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Paddington 2

There might not be anything more loved and more British than Paddington 2, a film with a rare 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. While all of the other nominees could win as well, especially Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards or the Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, the world really needed an adorable teddy bear in a raincoat —again— and Paddington 2 delivered.

Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Director
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water leads the BAFTA nominations with twelve total — and it takes a masterful director to bring all of these nominated elements together into a fantastical tour-de-force. Guillermo del Toro already picked up a Golden Globe for his efforts, and while his competition is stiff, he’ll most likely pick up a BAFTA as well — even if the film falls short in other categories.


Best Film

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape of Water



It cannot be overstated just how important the Second World War is to modern Britain, and both films in this category dealing with the subject —Dunkirk and Darkest Hour — do so in masterful ways. For different reasons, Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards have connected with and sparked conversation for their audiences. But The Shape of Water has a slight advantage over its competition with its overwhelming amount of nominations this year, as well as its perfectly executed fairy tale with just enough of a twist to make it unique. It doesn’t hurt that avid movie buff Guillermo del Toro also managed to make the film a love letter to cinema. Look for this film to take home the biggest BAFTA of them all.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Super Bowl Sunday: Innovative Ads That Have Changed the Game & What You Can Learn From Them

Apple’s “1984”

There’s two types of people that watch the Super Bowl—those who want to watch football, and those who want to watch the commercials. Either way, that’s a lot of people—the NFL’s championship game is typically highest-rated event of the year, and 19 of the top 20 most watched TV broadcasts of all time are all Super Bowls (the M*A*S*H finale being the only exception at #9.)

It’s hard to stand out from the crowd of countless ads that have aired in the previous 51 games, though dozens have managed to become iconic—including the dancing Pepsi bears, the Budweiser frogs, and the screaming squirrel.

But only a few commercials have actually changed the game when it comes to advertising or filmmaking, introducing new concepts and employing out-of-the-box techniques. By doing something unique and influencing future spots for years to come, these game-changing ads are lessons in themselves.

Here’s five such Super Bowl ads, and what you can learn from them:

1. Apple’s “1984”

“1984” is possibly the most famous commercial of all time, Super Bowl or not. Released the same year as both the Summer Olympics and the 1984 cinematic adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” it was a relevant short film that audiences easily identified with, and introduced Apple’s Macintosh desktop PC, which would shortly go on to revolutionize the home computer lifestyle.

The commercial, while signifying major change, was also a short film — a dark, moody, science fiction epic directed by the perfect person for the job, Ridley Scott. Scott was fresh off his own dark, moody, science fiction epics “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”

To this day, the “1984” commercial is a testament to spectacle — influencing countless advertisements that went very, very big to make themselves heard.

Apple's "1984"

Apple’s “1984”

2. GoDaddy’s Teaser Ads

GoDaddy, the company that web hosts and sells and registers domains, doesn’t typically offer highbrow advertisements; indeed, they’ve gotten a lot of flack for tasteless, sexist commercials on more than one occasion. Several of these have been rejected for the Super Bowl, so GoDaddy’s marketers came up with an innovative solution — using their 30 seconds of Super Bowl time to advertise their full-length, real commercials online.

By playing teasers of their actual ads, GoDaddy made a name for itself purely on buzz, while also incorporating social media into advertising well before most of the industry had caught on to the Internet’s potential in such regards. While their actual content was nothing worthy of emulating, this unique innovation has led to an entire industry of “commercials for the commercials.”

3. Coca-Cola’s “Mean Joe Greene”

One of the earliest iconic Super Bowl ads came in 1979, though it had already premiered a few months earlier before making a splash during the big game. This Coca-Cola ad featured NFL star “Mean” Joe Greene chugging a bottle of Coke in the halls of a football stadium before tossing his towel to a 9-year old fan.

The heartwarming moment was a perfect storm of Americana, celebrity, and — of course — football. By using a celebrity most of the television audience already idolized and combining it with a cute kid and some good ol’ fashioned sentimentality, the advertisement formed the basis for countless imitators, including other Coke ads.

If a commercial can give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, the “Mean Joe Greene” ad argues, then maybe so can the product it’s advertising?

"Mean" Joe Greene

“Mean” Joe Greene

4. Nike’s “Hare Jordan”

Michael Jordan was as famous for his TV commercials as he was for his basketball skills, but the “Hare Jordan” spots that advertised his Nike-brand Air Jordan sneakers took marketing to a whole other level. By appearing on screen with an animated Bugs Bunny in modern-day “Looney Tunes”-style shorts, Jordan changed yet another game.

Cutting edge special effects and combining live action with animation was typically only seen in the movies (and in the latter case, only very rarely.) By putting money and unique visuals into their advertisements, Nike proved the investment could be worth it. The ad first hit the Super Bowl in 1992, when computer-generated effects were just hitting the mainstream but were still a rarer, more expensive option than traditional hand-drawn animation.

The ad ended up being a harbinger of the special effects-heavy commercials that would follow in the next two decades as CGI became cheaper and easier to implement. A Super Bowl doesn’t go by these days without several CGI-assisted commercials, but Nike’s hand-drawn/live action combo “Hare Jordan” can be considered the grandfather of them all (and the predecessor to Jordan and Bugs Bunny’s feature-length collaboration, “Space Jam.”)

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

5. Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl”

For 10 years, the Doritos approach to their Super Bowl ads was to hold a “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, where anyone could film and submit their own Doritos commercials. The winner of the contest would have their amateur project aired for TV’s biggest audience.

The ads were highly successful. By opening up their commercial pitches to millions of amateur filmmakers, Doritos also had way more choices to choose from than any advertising firm could offer. And audiences could connect to the DIY-style low-budget ads — it was a democratic solution that showed that anyone could potentially be seen or heard.

Aspiring filmmakers, advertisers, and just funny people who liked Doritos instantly had a shot at the big time. In the age of YouTube and Instagram stories, Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign couldn’t be a more relevant, decentralized way of telling stories — even if those stories were selling Nacho-flavored tortilla chips.

Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl"

Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl”

 

Interested in learning the skills to make your own Super Bowl commercial one day? Check out NYFA’s filmmaking program here.

9 Stages of Pre-Production

The first day of shooting on a movie set is never the first day that film is being produced. Days, and sometimes weeks, months, years, or—in the case of James Cameron’s “Avatar” or Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”—decades can go by from the beginning of a film’s inception to when cameras just start rolling. The production and subsequent post-production processes of a movie can be shorter, longer, or about the same, but neither can exist without pre-production—the work that goes into a film before any images are recorded.

Pre-production, like the filmmaking as a process as a whole, is complicated and can be daunting for independent filmmakers. Here are nine stages—each with their own subdivisions of tasks and labor—that should be included in your pre-production process if you want to ensure a steady, fruitful film shoot from day one.

Finalize a Shooting Script

While movies are magical, they don’t come out of thin air. Even before the pre-production process starts, you need an idea, and often a fairly polished screenplay to work off of. But when it’s crunch time, you need to finalize that screenplay and convert it to a shooting script—one that reads for the director, cinematographer, and camera crew as well as it does for the actors. Tweaks and whole scenes may be edited, added, or deleted at anytime (sometimes even in post-production!) but for the most part your shooting script should be ready to shoot by the time the director first calls action.

Storyboards & Shot Lists

Storyboards & shot lists go hand-in-hand with shooting scripts—creating a visual interpretation of the screenplay for the director and cinematographer to reference and prepare for. While some directors know exactly what they want in their hand and can draw it themselves, usually storyboard artists are hired to bring the story to life. Once a film is seen—even in black-and-white sketches—it comes alive in a way that the entire crew can see and gives them a concrete vision to strive for.

Find the Right Crew

While some crew positions might already be attached or recommended for a project, and other positions, like your writer and storyboard artist, could be hired very early in the process—you should work to get the entire team rounded out before pre-production gets too involved. After all, these are the women & men who will be carrying out a lot of these tasks, and the sooner they are involved in the creative process, the more valuable their input will be. All of filmmaking is a collaboration—not just the shooting!

Location Scouting

You may need to tailor your storyboards to your location or vice-versa, so finding them early is key. Many hands-on producers & directors may want to do this themselves, but often the smartest thing to do is hire a professional location scout who already has locales in mind or knows how to find original ones perfect for your script. If you’re shooting in a studio or soundstage, you’ll want to find the right one early and make sure it’s not booked before you can lock it in—treat them as you would reception halls for your own wedding! Finding real world locations early is just as important because you’ll want enough time to process the necessary permits & paperwork.

Create a Proper Budget (and Stick to It!)

By now you should be finalizing your budget, to make sure you can find the gear and afford the locations you want to use. Sometimes this is the professional thing to do; sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do because you’re not working with any credit or financial backers willing to give any more than they already promised. This is never the most fun part of pre-production, but very often it’s the most important.

Choose Your Gear

Are you shooting digitally or going old school with some 16mm film? Or are you saving money and shooting the entire film on your iPhone? Once you have the answers to these questions you can acquire your gear—often from a rental house. After your first film you may establish a relationship with a particular rental house and can negotiate discounts and figure out just exactly what your budget will allow when it comes to peripheral equipment. Maybe you can afford that ultracool fog machine after all!

Clear That Red Tape

Once you know what gear and locations you want, you’re going have to get into the paperwork—namely, permits and insurance. Permits are required from municipal governments to shoot on public property and location agreements are typically needed for use of private homes—especially if you’ll need to move furniture or equipment around or repaint the walls after the shoot, etc. You’ll also need insurance to protect yourself in the event you or one of your crew members accidentally do damage to the location or your rented film equipment. Finally you may need to cover your crew and cast as well—better safe than sorry!

Find the Right Cast

With your dominos falling in place you’re going to need to finally decide on your cast—this could feel impossible, no matter how many actors your audition. You might be frustrated you can’t find the perfect person for the role you envisioned in your head, or maybe you found two equally brilliant performers and you’re pulling your hair out trying to decide between the two. Either way, auditioning early and often and even employing a casting agent to find even more performers, possibly from outside your locality, will go a long way towards giving your movie the perfect cast.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Sometimes finding the perfect cast could make a filmmaker overconfident, leading them to put too much responsibility on their cast to be self-sufficient. Actors need their director just as much as the crew does, and working with them both one-on-one and as an ensemble is a vital part of the pre-production process. Holding table reads and rehearsals weeks before shooting will ensure that when the camera is ready to the roll, your cast will be giving the performance your movie truly needs. This extra time before the shoot also allows the cast to develop a genuine chemistry that will not go unnoticed by your audience.

These are just nine simplified stages of a complex, multifaceted pre-production process. Often these steps will be done simultaneously and in any variety of orders. Just remember that if you’re confident and prepared you can get through any hurdle and tell the story you’ve always wanted to tell. New York Film Academy offers courses in production and filmmaking with the overall philosophy of learning by doing—so the best way to get through pre-production is to learn the skills first and then master them with experience and resolve.

Star Wars Sequels 101: How Do “The Last Jedi” Filmmakers Build On “The Force Awakens?”

[NOTE: This isn’t spoiler heavy, but if you still haven’t seen “The Last Jedi” and you want to go in cold Porg-y, er… turkey, you should bookmark this for later. Also, what are you waiting for? Go see it already!]

The_Last_Jedi_poster

“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”, the most anticipated movie of the year (and then some), has finally come out and now critics and fans can scrutinize each and every individual moment for decades to come. But besides who Force-choked who and which CGI creature will be the hottest new toy, “The Last Jedi” answered a more technical question for film buffs—what did Episode VIII do to build on Episode VII?

While “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” isn’t really an original movie in itself—in fact it’s the (obviously) seventh movie in the series—it did hit a reset button for Star Wars in numerous ways. So it’s easy to see how “The Last Jedi” is a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” more than it is the eighth movie in the Skywalker Saga.

And sequels normally get a bad rap, though “The Last Jedi” is in good company considering “The Empire Strikes Back”—another middle chapter in a Star Wars trilogy—is considered by many to be the greatest sequel of all time.

So how, from a filmmaking perspective, did “The Last Jedi” build on “The Force Awakens?” Here’s just a few, broad examples:

Production Design

Hollywood titan J.J. Abrams was lauded for his direction in Episode VII—namely because he responded to the artificial looking CGI-heavy prequels by bringing grit and texture back to Star Wars. A full, beat-up Millennium Falcon was built for the movie, which was shot often on location and fully built sets as opposed to large swaths of green screen. This dirtier, rougher version of space is kept in the look of “The Last Jedi”—whether on Luke’s isolated island or the remote planet covered in dusty red salt. If you can feel an image you’re really only seeing, the filmmakers are doing their job.

Film Score

It’s pretty much a given that any new Star Wars film needs to retain the iconic themes John Williams first wrote in the 1970s, but to stand out on their own these movies should offer new melodies we’ll be able to hum to. “The Force Awakens” introduced us to “Rey’s Theme” as well as “Kylo Ren’s Theme”, strong motifs that hold up alongside classics like the “Imperial March” and the “Binary Sunset/Force Theme.” “The Last Jedi” is a little scarce on completely new soundtrack entries—though it does have a motif for new character Rose—but it recalls the best music of “The Force Awakens” throughout, using it in several powerful scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren. As the story progresses so does their relationship, and the mixture of their themes accentuate this narrative.

Screenplay – The Story

One of the criticisms of “The Force Awakens” was that it imitated the original trilogy too much, failing to set itself apart. However, a benefit from this was that it created a broader simple story of heroes vs. villains that “The Last Jedi” could then develop and subvert. Now that the audience is familiar with the characters, screenwriter and director Rian Johnson was more free to complicate the narrative, jumping around between solar systems and even including flashbacks, a cinematic technique that’s rare for the Star Wars series. Like famous sequels before it, including “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather Part II,” a more complicated story gives more thematic weight and allows for more emotional nuance for the audience.

Screenplay – The Characters

The narrative wasn’t the only thing complicated in this sequel. Now that Episode XII allowed us to know the new characters in the series, we can find out more about them in more subtle ways. Rey was a mysterious loner who discovered enormous power in “The Force Awakens”; here, she learns how to grapple with such power and we see how shaped she is by never knowing her parents. Kylo’s internal conflict is made more real and evolves from broad angst to a scared child who thought his uncle was going to kill him in his sleep—that would mess anyone up! Even more minor characters, like Supreme Leader Snoke, benefit from the foundation “The Force Awakens” built. In the previous film, Snoke was quickly painted in a hologram as an ominous villain. In “The Last Jedi,” we see just how overwhelming his power in the Dark Side of the Force can be, as well as his knowledge of and hatred for original trilogy protagonist Luke Skywalker. By inferring more backstory, it places characters like Snoke more firmly in the world and makes their actions more palpable and believable.

Casting

“The Force Awakens” was notable in its diverse casting—bringing more women and minorities to a genre of filmmaking historically dominated by white men. “The Last Jedi” continues this tradition by introducing the characters of Rose & Paige Tico, played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran and Vietnamese actress Ngô Thanh Vân, respectively. It also introduces Vice Admiral Holdo, a complex leader of the Resistance played by Academy Award nominated actress Laura Dern. Seeing Laura Dern and the late Carrie Fisher—two women over 50—play powerful leaders making heroic wartime decisions—is something rarely seen in Hollywood blockbusters, but something that needs to be seen more and more if cinema is to remain culturally relevant. If the upcoming, untitled Episode IX wants to retain its worldwide audience, it needs to continue this tradition of casting people and faces from every corner of the globe.

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

No, Not Lenny!: 5 Ways The Simpsons Can Keep Harry Shearer

Simpsons fans around the world woke up this morning to news that veteran comic actor Harry Shearer may be leaving The Simpsons at the end of this season. While a vague tweet is hardly confirmation, fans have known for years now that it was only a matter of time before someone from the core cast left before the show had run its insanely long course. Shearer has been the most vocal of cast members about the show’s record-length run and a decline in quality that has riled fans since the late 90s and even spawned entire podcasts.

The Simpsons was just recently renewed for at least two more seasons, and it’s hard to imagine the show continuing on without trademark characters like Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Dr. Hibbert and Lenny (no, not Lenny!) While it can theoretically continue, it just wouldn’t seem right for a Shearerless Simpsons.

As students are challenged to do at our producing school, we’ve decided to conduct a thought exercise using real world cases and hypothesize 5 ways The Simpsons and Harry Shearer can find a happy middle ground and keep him and his beloved rogue’s gallery of Springfieldians (and Rigellians) on the show. One option not included on this list is raising his salary even higher than the millions he already takes in a year, as the salaries of the rest of the cast would also then need to be raised, and the only thing keeping The Simpsons still on the air is that it is profitable. Another option is just ending the show with Shearer. While this makes sense, the show has already been renewed and frankly nothing short of nuclear war is ending the sitcom’s run anytime soon. A third option we simply won’t consider is letting Shearer sail off into that good night, because a Springfield without Principal Skinner is a Springfield we cannot stand.

1. Reduce His Role(s)

Harry Shearer has been around a while (it’s been over thirty years since Spinal Tap!) so you can’t blame the guy for wanting to relax and enjoy his mill-diddily-illions. But maybe he can still come in here and there so that Springfield still seems full of his characters and the world continues to feel whole. A Smithers line here and a Reverend Lovejoy joke there can go a long way. We may not get any more Mr. Burns-centric episodes, but there’s already been about fifty—we can probably get by without more.

2. Make It Easy For Him

The cast still get together for table reads so writers can hear the script out loud and alter the drafts accordingly, a tradition that the show has held on to since the late 1980s. Maybe the producers can compromise and let Shearer sit them out, having another cast member or someone else fill in for the table reads. Also, with the millions the show generate, they can probably afford otherwise absurd accommodations, like setting up audio equipment in Shearer’s house. He can record his lines from anywhere in the world and never even have to put on his pants. That beats any pension plan we’ve got!

3. Pay Him More Than Money

So clearly throwing money at Harry Shearer wouldn’t work, if he is truly willing to walk away from Fox’s cash cow. But Fox still has something Shearer doesn’t necessarily have—broadcast power. Maybe as part of his contact they can agree to greenlight and commit to a passion project of Harry’s—a movie, television show, live act, anything. He has the money to make these on his own but he can’t necessarily distribute them to the masses as easily. Maybe he wants A Mighty Wind sequel? We sure do!

4. Use the Power of Editing

If Shearer is indeed gone for good, perhaps we can still salvage his characters. After 26 seasons and 600+ episodes, there are probably hours of deleted scenes and outtakes including his roster. Maybe scenes in new episodes can be written about this additional footage, incorporating a Flanders line from 1996 that never saw the light of day. Also, catchphrases like Burns’ “Excellent!” or Dr. Hibbert’s chuckle could be replayed and used. It’s cheap but we’re desperate here!

5. Cast “Harry Shearer”

Supposedly if Shearer does leave, an option Fox is considering more so than eliminating his characters all together (or, God forbid, killing them off in-universe with some kind of boogie woogie superflu) is replacing Shearer with other voice actors. This seems sacrilege (Lunchlady Doris has never been the same since beloved voice actor Doris Grau passed twenty years ago) but it does seem to be a better option than Springfield with a reduced-population. There are certainly very talented voice actors and impersonators who can come very close to imitating cartoon voices, even if it takes a small team of actors to replace one very talented man. It’s not ideal, but if Harry Shearer ultimately does call it quits, we might be very grateful for Sheareresque replacements.

The Best Cinematography: The Life And Work Of Andrew Lesnie

Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie with his Oscar

Oscar-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie died of a heart attack on April 27, 2015. While relatively young at 59, his work in the film industry was monumental and will leave a lasting impact that will continue on for generations.

Lesnie was born in Sydney, Australia in 1956. While attending film school in Australia, he worked his first professional gig on the Richard Franklin film, Patrick, as an assistant camera operator. After graduating, Lesnie worked as a cameraman on a TV magazine show, allowing him to shoot constantly in a wide variety of locations and situations, helping him hone his skills as well as learn cinematography techniques and tricks.

Sheep from Babe: Pig in the City

From there, Lesnie found ample work in Australian films and television, building up a steady and solid resume. His big break came in 1995, with the release of Babe, the family-friendly film starring a talking pig. Scripted by Australian filmmaker George Miller, Babe was a smash hit and in turn brought Lesnie a heap of fame. He later went on to shoot its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, as well as the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy Two If By Sea.

However it was his collaboration with New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson that immortalized Lesnie’s contribution to film and showed the world his own unique “cinematographer’s eye.” He was selected to shoot the game-changing Lord of the Rings trilogy. Pre-production for the films lasted several months, as Lesnie worked closely with Jackson to plan and construct the trilogy’s elaborate sets, as well as plan work out the films’ trickier shots. These included playing with perspective and other cinematography tricks to faithfully and realistically capture the significant size differences of the trilogy’s fantastical characters. To aid this process, Lesnie and Jackson used computer previsualization programs to accurately plan the necessary frames and angles.

Return of the King

Lesnie was also instrumental in crafting the trilogy’s trademark color scheme, a palette of earthy browns and greens that helped turn Middle Earth into one of the most grounded, lived-in cinematic worlds this side of the Star Wars galaxy. To achieve the look of the films, Lesnie shot on film, using tungsten-balanced stock and a variety of Arri cameras, including the Arriflex 435, Arriflex 535, and ArriCam Studio 35mm, all paired with Zeiss Ultra Prine Lenses.

Not only gigantic financial successes and a pop culture phenomenon on the level of Star Trek and Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings films were critically adored as well. The third entry, The Return of the King, won all eleven Academy Awards it was nominated for, tying the all-time record for wins. Lesnie picked up a Best Cinematography Oscar for his efforts on the trilogy.

His career did not end with the Oscar, though. The monumental success of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy brought Lesnie a wealth of fame and accolades. His projects that followed expanded in scope, including Peter Jackson’s afterlife drama The Lovely Bones and epic remake King Kong. Lesnie also served as director of photography for the blockbusters I Am Legend, The Last Airbender, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in addition to reuniting with George Miller as part of the live action unit for Happy Feet.

Ian McKellan and

When Peter Jackson signed on to direct The Hobbit, Lesnie came aboard as cinematographer. Like its Lord of the Rings predecessors, the film was expanded into another trilogy, yet—filmed a decade later—proved to be a totally different beast. The Hobbit trilogy was not only shot digitally, on the RED Epic camera, but also in 3D. On top of that, it was shot at a rate of 48 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24, practically unheard of for major motion pictures. By shooting and screening at the faster frame rate, motion blur was greatly reduced—giving the film almost a video-like feel—which theoretically helps the brain process 3D easier and make it more enjoyable to watch. Shooting in a radically different format meant lighting and even framing differently, as stereoscopic cameras were used with dual lenses.

While The Hobbit trilogy wasn’t as unanimously revered as the original Lord of the Rings films, it was hard for anyone to deny the incredible visuals Lesnie produced. His final film was The Water Diviner, starring Russell Crowe, and the industry and movie buffs alike must mourn the loss of work he will no longer provide. However, the footage he did manage to shoot during his time will not be forgotten and his work will inspire generations of cinematographers and filmmakers for decades to come.

5 Ways Film School Makes You a Better Screenwriter


While some people are naturally great storytellers, or can strike up a conversation with just about anyone, writing can seem as foreign to them as flying a helicopter. Others seem to be born ready to write, naturally gifted with a pen or a keyboard. For either group, film school is a great tool to perfect—or just introduce—the skills needed to be a strong screenwriter.

Whether you’re a student who wants to focus on directing, editing, or other behind-the-camera skills, or someone who wants to draft the next great screenplay, film school can provide you with numerous advantages.  And if you’re one of those natural-born writers who’s been gifted with screenwriting skills, you might be surprised to find what classes can even offer you. Here are just five examples of how film school can help you become a great screenwriter.

Deadlines

Some writers thrive on deadlines, unable to get their gears turning until the clock is ticking and a draft is due at midnight. Others see deadlines as giant chains shackled to their creativity, hindering them from any productivity. However, film school, like Hollywood itself, lives and dies by deadlines. Being forced to write, even when you don’t feel like it, is a gift unto itself. Most writers agree that quantity leads to quality, and deadlines, if anything, produce quantity. You may not want to get started, but once you do you’ll find yourself surprised at how hard it is to stop.

Re-writes

If you’re the picky type of writer who abhors deadlines, there’s a good chance you’re equally repulsed by re-writes. A lot of writers start off writing because it’s fun—once it becomes a duty, it loses its flavor. Re-writing can taste just as stale, considering you’ve already brought to life the world and characters you intended. If writing is the creative, fun part then re-writing is the laborious, begrudging part. By forcing you to constantly re-visit and re-write your screenplay, film school makes you put in the work you may not want to, but ultimately rejoice in. Suddenly that world you had so much fun sketching in broad strokes has become a fine-tuned masterpiece ready to be put on screen.

Collaboration

If you went to film school to learn to direct, produce, edit or other filmcrafts other than writing, you may get frustrated when you’re forced to script something for yourself. After all, most of Spielberg or Scorsese’s great films were someone else’s drafts—why should you be any different? However, getting a feel for the craft of writing will help you in whatever aspect you choose to work in down the line. Knowing where a scene started on the page will only help you bring it to life on camera. Conversely, if you intend to primarily be a screenwriter, learning the other crafts will inform you how to put your words to page in a way that will best facilitate their filming down the line. Filmmaking is a collaboration through and through, and screenwriting is no exception.

Expanding Your Worldview

Working with other film students isn’t just essential to learning the art of collaboration—it will also expand your worldview. Chances are the high school and lower grades you’ve attended consisted mostly of students with the same background as yourself. Going to a film school with a diverse body of students, especially schools like the New York Film Academy with undergraduates and graduates from all over the world, offers you a window into numerous worlds and lifestyles. Even passively working and socializing with an eclectic group of artists and students will broaden your characters, themes, settings, and writing in general. That’s something no book or YouTube video can ever hope to gift you.

Learning the Rules to Break the Rules

Many writers and filmmakers fancy themselves rebels and trendsetters—not bound by the rules of everyone else. Maybe they’re right. But rules can never be effectively broken until they’ve been mastered. When conventions are shunned in writing and filmmaking in a thought-provoking and progressive way, it is because they are being used as a tool by the artist. Rules shouldn’t be broken for their own sake—they should be molded and made into something new. A statement is being made merely by changing the form—how effective that statement is depends entirely on how the form is changed. Film school teaches you the way other writers and the industry craft a screenplay. Once you’ve mastered that, playing with the conventions will be easier and more meaningful.  Simply put, it’s up to you what to build and how to build it. Film school gives you the best tools and materials to start building.

Check out our screenwriting programs at the New York Film Academy today!

The Best Documentaries – Nine Films of Alex Gibney

Alex Gibney

On the short list of current documentary filmmakers that can create a world of buzz with a new film, Alex Gibney is near the top. Born in New York City in 1953, Gibney went to film school after getting his bachelor’s degree from Yale University. The son of a journalist and stepson of a Reverend, his films often show great concern for finding the inherent truths of their subjects, while also possessing a moral compass that orients Gibney’s relationship to both the subject and the audience. The following are nine documentaries from Gibney’s filmography that illustrate the work he’s done for the form.

1. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Based on the 2003 best-seller of the same name, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room depicts and analyzes the Enron Corporation’s headline-making collapse due to massive corruption at the highest levels and the epic scandal that followed. Gibney’s film, released in 2005, includes interviews with Enron executives and other employees, as well as stock analysts and reporters, including the book’s authors, Bethany McLean and peter Elkind. Released in 2005, Enron was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary in 2006.

2. Taxi to the Dark Side

Gibney didn’t win the Oscar for Enron, but he did the following year for Taxi to the Dark Side, which documents the horrific story of an Afghan taxi driver tortured and beaten to death by American soldiers while in prison. The film broadens its subject to the American policy on torture and enhanced interrogation and, by interviewing political and military experts on both sides of the issue, examines the ethics of torture as well as its effects on pop culture and its relation to the Geneva Convention.

Taxi to the Dark Side DVD cover

3. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Released in 2008, Gonzo tells the story of groundbreaking journalist/author Hunter S. Thompson, using interviews with friends and family to add insight into the enigmatic writer’s life. The documentary was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the WGA’s Best Documentary Screenplay award, and is one of the few documentaries with a Grammy nomination, for its album notes co-written by Johnny Depp and Douglas Brinkley.

4. Freakonomics

The Freakonomics movie was four short documentaries packaged together, all based on stories depicted in the best-selling book of the same name by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Each documentary had a different director, including Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki and Rachel Grady. Gibney directed the second segment, “Pure Corruption,” which concerned match fixing in Sumo wrestling, a scandalous yet prevalent feature of the Japanese sport. Freakonomics premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010.

5. Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Released in 2010, Casino Jack tells the story of Jack Abramoff, the D.C. lobbyist who went to prison for orchestrating a massive bribing scandal involving him and several lobbyists, politicians and congressional staffers, including a Congressman and two White House officials. While focusing on Abramoff, a conman and schemer, Gibney takes a broader look at the corruption embedded in the nation’s capital and its inner workings.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money

6. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

At first glance, Client 9 seems to be another of Gibney’s intensive looks at political corruption at the highest levels. While that is certainly an important component of the film’s DNA, Client 9 is a more personal look at one individual, former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer, whose meteoric rise and White House aspirations collapsed under his epic prostitution scandal. Client 9 premiered in Spitzer’s home state at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010.

7. We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Gibney again tackles the darkest corners of the current political climate, but rather than taking a broad view or a specific look at an individual, he takes focus on an organization—WikiLeaks. The documentary covers the history of WikiLeaks and the context that led to its creation, including a 1989 hacking of NASA and a timeline of WikiLeaks’ major whistleblowing efforts, culminating in Chelsea Manning’s leak of classified war footage and documents. A story about WikiLeaks and a story about its founder, Julian Assange, go hand-in-hand, but Gibney interviews several people, including Manning, and uses previous interview footage of Assange himself.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

8. Finding Fela

Gibney narrows his focus again to a single individual for Finding Fela, offering an intimate look into the fascinating life and career of musician Fela Kuti. The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2014.

9. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Currently airing on HBO, which produced the film, Alex Gibney’s Going Clear is adapted from Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name. Once again Gibney tackles a powerful institution and the controversy that surrounds it—this time the Church of Scientology. Gibney uses provocative footage of Scientology conventions and meetings, and interviews prominent ex-Scientologists, many either famous or former high-ranking members of the group. Gibney also includes footage from one of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s rare interviews. Before airing on cable, Going Clear premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, continuing Gibney’s streak of event-filmmaking.

Scientology church from Going Clear

Interested in telling stories of your own? Check out our documentary school programs today!

The Best Cinematography: A Look At Birdman

Michael Keaton in Birdman liquor store

By the end of this year’s Academy Awards, Birdman winning Best Picture wasn’t much of a surprise. Earlier in the ceremony, it had already picked up Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Directing and Best Cinematography. The Cinematography award went to the film’s director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, giving him a record-tying two Oscars in a row in the cinematography category. Lubezki had won the year before for the stunningly shot Gravity.

Like Gravity, and other films Lubezki shot, including Tree of Life and Children of Men, Birdman is known for its long takes—single, seemingly unedited shots of several minutes or more in length. In fact, Lubezki and writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu worked very hard to make Birdman seem like it was shot entirely in a single, continuous take. This was achieved by combining several long takes and making their transitions as hidden and seamless as possible. For the most part, it was successful, and is considered a major factor in Birdman’s considerable award season praise.

While the film used camera tricks and illusion to make Birdman seem like a two-hour-plus single take, it still involved several long shots that are incredibly difficult to film in a practical setting. According to Lubezki, most shots are around ten minutes in length with the longest take around fifteen. Even a single one of these takes would be considered a daunting and possibly unnecessary task in a production.

How did the Birdman team (Birdteam?) pull this off? With lots of practice. A proxy set resembling the labyrinthine backstage hallways of the St. James Theatre—where Birdman is set—was built in Los Angeles before filming began. It was there that Iñárritu and Lubezki blocked out each shot, playing Birdman’s jazzy, drum-based score in the background to help set the tone. By plotting and practicing each long take, the filmmakers were able to figure out how and where they could hide their shot transitions, as well as get an idea of where to stage their actors and place their lights. They realized for the more difficult shots, visual effects would be needed to help with the transition.

Zach Galifinakis and Michael Keaton in Birdman

Shooting and combining these takes were assisted in the mobility of the Steadicam, which Lubezki employed throughout filming. The cinematographer has become well known for his intense handheld shots, and Birdman was no different. He personally operated the camera for many handheld shots and relied on veteran Steadicam operator Chris Haarhoff for Steadicam shots, working with him and directing him in real time to better capture the improvisational production of the film and respond to the actor’s movements and unpredictable natural lighting. A 2nd AC would also follow the operator for some shots to spot necessary camera moves.

The cameras used in Birdman included the Arri Alexa and, for the handheld and Steadicam shots, the Alexa plus. The Alexa M was used for some remote and extreme handheld work, using a custom-built backpack holding an external recorder, its batteries, and a wireless transmitter. The primary lenses used were Leica and Zeiss Master Primes. While many cinematographers would avoid using extremely wide lenses for close-ups, Lubezki, considered a master with wider lenses, did not hesitate to use the Zeiss Master Prime 12mm and similarly wide lenses even for tight close-ups in the claustrophobically shot film, creating many memorable and intimate images.

Michael Keaton shirtless in Birdman

Camera movement wasn’t Birdman’s only technical feat. Iñárritu did not shy away from using strong colors like red, blue and green to enhance the drama of the film. Blue and red were used in particular on stage in the play-within-the-movie. Scenes shot outside, with the theater exterior just yards away from Times Square and a memorable scene in the heart of Times Square itself, meant the filmmakers had to work around New York City’s omnipresent artificial lighting.

Lighting proved particularly tricky considering the long, varied takes—without the safety net of cutting, Lubezki had to hide his lights out of frame very carefully. In typical cinematic shots, not only do cinematographers take pains to hide the physical lighting equipment and cables out of frame, but also must maintain the angle of their source within a camera move—shadows or other lights could betray the artificial sources if a shot is not blocked and choreographed correctly. During Birdman’s long takes, with shots often showing 360 degree angles of the set, maintaining this lighting continuity was an epic struggle.

Not only did Lubezki find the right placement for his lighting equipment, he had his grip team constantly move them during the shot, with the lights dancing just out of frame and moving along with the actors, Lubezki, and the camera operator. They would move not only heavy, superhot lamps but also the gels and diffusions bouncing their light and shadows, all to maintain the illusion of a natural source within the shot. This needed to be done for every single take of nearly every single shot in Birdman.

Naomi Watts in Birdman

To minimize lighting equipment and allow for what Lubezki called “a ballet” of hustling and shifting crew members, Lubezki pushed the Alexa to a ISO of 1280 with the aperture open wide. By making the camera more sensitive to light in this way, Lubezki reduced the need for larger and more elaborate lighting setups, giving the camera, actors, and crew more freedom and room to move around within each tracking shot.

Lubezki and Iñárritu also employed the use of lens flares to add visual texture to Birdman. By having lens flares on the film’s copious wide-angled close-ups, Lubezki was able to soften the image, lowering the contrast and making the actors’ more intimate scenes prettier and more emotional.

Simply put, Birdman was more than just a string of gimmicky long takes. If the Oscar for Best Cinematography was given on a purely technical level, Birdman would be more than worthy of it. If the Oscar was awarded based on artistry and how beautifully shot a film is, then Birdman would be more than worthy of it. The Oscar, however, is given based on a combination of both these qualities. Birdman was more than worthy of it.

MIchael Keaton Emma Stone Birdman hospital scene

Interested in shooting movies one day? Check out our cinematography school classes today!

13 Simpsons Scribes Who Became Hollywood Screenwriters

The Simpsons celebrated its 25th anniversary as its own sitcom recently, continuing its record as the longest running primetime sitcom in television history. Since that inaugural pilot, a Christmas special about the Simpsons finding their family dog, there have been over 550 episodes of the show. Lots of episodes means lots of screenwriters, many of whom are fresh out of screenwriting school, and The Simpsons’ writers’ room has been a revolving door of some of Hollywood’s top talent since day one.

Conan O’Brien got his start writing Simpsons episodes. Judd Apatow and Brad Bird worked as story editors for several years. The following 13 writers of Simpsons episodes went on to script some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. Not included on this list are the multiple writers of The Simpsons Movie. Also not included are successful screenwriters like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who co-directed The Interview, who were invited to write a Simpsons episode after their big break. Most of these 13 cut their teeth on the classic series before using that resume booster to land a feature gig, for better or worse.

1. Wallace Wolodarsky

Together with Jay Kogen, Wolodarsky wrote several of the series’ classic episodes during The Simpsons’ first four seasons. On his own, Wolodarsky later wrote the Rainn Wilson comedy The Rocker, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, and the hit animated film Monsters vs. Aliens.

2. Jon Vitti

Jon Vitti has written the second largest amount of Simpsons episodes, a whopping twenty-five, most of them during the series’ earlier, golden era. His animation roots came in handy when he moved on to writing features. Vitti scripted both live action/CGI hybrids Alvin & the Chipmunks and Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and wrote the in-production Angry Birds movie, a CGI adaptation of the wildly popular video game.

3. Jennifer Crittenden

Jennifer Crittenden also wrote for The Simpsons during its glory years, and has racked up several Emmy nominations throughout her prolific career in television. She also made the leap to the big screen, co-writing the romantic comedy What’s Your Number? starring Anna Faris and Chris Evans.

4. Mike Reiss

Together with Al Jean, Mike Reiss not only wrote for The Simpsons but was also its showrunner for two seasons during the height of its critical praise. After creating The Critic and other series, Al Jean returned to The Simpsons where he has been showrunner ever since. Reiss tried his hand at animated features, writing the screenplay for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

5. Don Payne

Don Payne co-wrote over a dozen episodes of The Simpsons from 2000 – 2013 with his writing partner, John Frink, namesake of the show’s resident nutty scientist. Payne moved on to writing blockbuster superhero films, including My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Thor, and the story for its sequel Thor: The Dark World. Tragically, he succumbed to cancer in 2013, and his last episode for The Simpsons, “White Christmas Blues,” was dedicated to his memory.

6. Ken Levine & 7. Dan Levine

Ken Levine and David Isaacs were already veteran TV writers when they scripted episodes of The Simpsons. In addition to working on 1980s classics Cheers and M*A*S*H, they also wrote films Mannequin 2: On the Move, and the Tom Hanks, John Candy comedy Volunteers.

8. Larry Doyle

Larry Doyle wrote seven episodes for The Simpsons, as well as the Ben Stiller comedy Duplex and Bugs Bunny feature Looney Tunes: Back in Action. However, he’s probably best known for his novel I Love You, Beth Cooper, for which he also wrote the screenplay adaptation.

9. Brent Forrester

Brent Forrester is another veteran of TV comedy, having written for The Ben Stiller Show, King of the Hill, and The Office, which he also produced and directed. He also scripted four of The Simpsons’ classic episodes around the same time he wrote his only feature—The Stupids, starring Tom Arnold. He’s currently working on a screenplay for Mindy Kaling, The Low Self Esteem of Lizzie Gillespie.

10. Joshua Sternin & 11. Jeffrey Ventimilla

Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia wrote two of The Simpsons more famous episodes before moving into Hollywood features. Together the pair have scripted the Ben Affleck holiday comedy Surviving Christmas, The Rock vehicle Tooth Fairy, the live action/CGI hybrid Yogi Bear and the computer animated kids film Rio.

12. David H. Steinberg

David H. Steinberg is the exception to the rule on this list, having written mostly movies and only one episode of The Simpsons, which first aired this year. Before that, he scripted American Pie 2 and its direct-to-video sequel American Pie Presents: The Book of Love, as well as the similar-styled comedy Slackers.

13. David Mandel

David Mandel got his start writing for the 1990s’ other sitcom classic, Seinfeld, but also co-wrote an episode of The Simpsons. He’s also scripted the big-budget adaptation of The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers, as well as Eurotrip and Sacha Baron Cohen’s controversial feature, The Dictator.

How To Self-Distribute Your Film

Producing and filming an independent movie is laborious work, though not impossible. And while bringing your vision to life outside the studio system might seem difficult, you’ll find it’s exponentially harder to get that vision to the masses. There’s a reason there is a huge industry dedicated entirely to distribution—the dissemination of movies in formats of all types. Doing it on your own is almost impossible.

However, with technological improvements and the decentralization of the Internet, more and more artists have turned to self-distribution. Some have it easier than others. Comics like Louis C.K. and filmmakers like Kevin Smith have found success putting distribution in their own hands, but they also benefitted from built-in audiences and closer sources to financing. If no one has ever heard of you, let alone your movie, you’re in for a serious undertaking. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

1. Get Attention

While streaming and video-on-demand are growing in popularity, booking movie theaters is still vital for most unseen movies to get seen. If you haven’t picked up a distributor after major festival screenings, it’s probably up to you. Your first goal should be to find a talented graphic artist who shares your vision. Make art—posters, flyers, etc.—for your film that catches the eye while also conveying its tone or mood or theme. You’ll also need a skilled editor to craft a movie trailer that will get your movie noticed. Art and trailers aren’t just necessary for social media or buzz, they will also grab attention in theater lobbies and as windows to your film on streaming websites. Most importantly though, they’ll help you raise money.

2. Get Money

Distribution is more expensive than you would probably guess, and depending on your production’s budget, could actually cost more than it did to make the movie. Renting theaters and paying for prints and ad materials rack up big costs. You may also find the need to hire assistance even if you’re distributing on your own. Use platforms like Kickstarter and more traditional grassroots campaigns to raise initial startup cash. Use your sweet trailer and posters to make people want to get involved. Find those interested in what you have to say or patrons of the arts or wealthier citizens who would like to see their name in the credits!

3. Get Ads

You’ve got the art and you’ve got the money to make prints so it’s time to get the word out. Theaters want ad materials well in advance because if people aren’t seeing your movie, it’s costing them money too. Ideally you could keep them in good shape and reuse them if you’re moving from city to city, but it’s hard to keep perishable material safe in the hands of strangers. You’ll probably just have to pay for more copies, so be prepared. And remember to get them early.

4. Get Social

Social media is the best way to gain buzz around your film. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—anything you can get your hands on that will get your story to the masses. Share your trailer and your cool poster. Post photos from the set or from your tour or time at festivals. Post your thoughts, even if unrelated to the film, just to keep your name and the name of your project in the air. Also, use your networks to find your audience. What cities or types of people seem to gravitate towards your project? When you self-distribute your distribution is limited—that makes efficient targeting very important.

5. Set Good Dates

Choosing the right release dates for your theatrical and online releases are key. You want to avoid the Fall and early Winter because the films with awards season buzz are already hogging the spotlight. You’ll also want to avoid sharing dates with major releases that are going to suck up all the audience, or, conversely, release concurrently with a film you think will turn off your potential audience so they’ll see yours instead. Counter-programming is a vital tactic used by distributors—if everyone is seeing the new sci-fi blockbuster, your low key drama would make a great alternative. And don’t forget to think small. If you’re doing one- or two-time screenings, choose Mondays and Tuesdays, days when an audience isn’t likely to be doing something else.

6. Go On Tour

Touring with your film may seem old school—it was originally done to save money on costly film prints, and has fallen out of fashion as digital prints have made distribution cheaper. But it’s a great way to focus resources and meet your audience in person, forging a stronger connection. Use social media and your art to keep locals in the know and go city-by-city, staggering your dates while building word of mouth.

7. Do Q&As

If you’re touring with your film, don’t just make it a series of run-of-the-mill screenings. Organize a Q&A, talking to your audience after the screening. Guest speakers make screenings more exciting and give people more incentive to come out and see it. You can also engage better with your audience and learn from them, increasing your buzz as well as teaching you how to better target a larger crowd

8. Stream

Once you feel your theatrical run has run its course, you should get your film online to stream. You can also make home video releases on DVD and Blu-Ray, though the format is quickly falling out of fashion. Distributing online later in the game is smart because it prevents potential piracy and forces people to come out to the theaters to see your film first. However, once you do go online, you’ll reach a much, much larger audience, especially considering all those who wanted to see your film but weren’t in the cities of your release. You can post on sites like YouTube, which isn’t as discriminating as companies like Netflix or Amazon, though it may give your film a less “professional” demeanor. But it’s a start.

9. Team Up

If you can’t make headway with the big companies like Netflix and Amazon, there are interesting and innovative organizations and companies you might have better luck with. Groups like Indieflix and Createspace back your film with screenings and streaming and help raise awareness of your project. Some, like Indieflix, have models that allow you to get paid for each minute your film is streamed. For self-distributors, organizations like these are becoming a must.

10. Be Prepared to Work

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. You may be physically and emotionally drained after finally getting your project on film or video, but if you’re going to distribute yourself you have to prepare for a great deal more effort. There’s a reason those with cash will pay someone else to do it for them. But if you’re an artist with no other choice, you’ll have to muscle through it. It’s not all bad though—self-distribution allows you to connect with your audience in a way many filmmakers never get to. And what’s making art and movies if not an attempt to connect?

2015 Oscars: A Look At The Documentary Short Subject Nominees

Oscar statue

The Documentary Short category often gets overlooked during the hype and blitz of the Academy Awards, but the films nominated for the Oscar are almost always powerful and important. Because they are cheaper to finance than features, documentary shorts often tackle subjects that are obscured from mainstream media, or tell deeply personal stories that resonate with a humanity that can be lacking in the movies of the other categories.

Documentary Shorts can come from career filmmakers or those making their first project after studying documentary filmmaking in film school. This is the first nomination for all of the producers and directors up for the Oscar this year. Their subjects are varied but united in their compassion for mankind, from thousands of war veterans to the life of a single infant. Here is a look at the other works these filmmakers have made before their shot at the golden statue.

Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry – Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Documentary Short Subject Nominee Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 chronicles the crisis center that handles military veterans, which account for 20% of all suicides in the United States each year. In addition to directing Hotline, Ellen Goosenberg Kent has directed the documentaries One Nation Under Dog and No Dog Left Behind, as well as TV docs Wartorn: 1861-2010, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, The Addiction Project, The Music in Me, Too Hot Not to Handle, Middle School Confessions, and Brett Killed Mom: A Sister’s Diary, among others. She has also produced Real Sex for HBO.

Producer Dana Perry has also produced Sex: The Revolution, Paramedics, and Motown 40: The Music is Forever. She had directed Top Ten Monks, Boy Interrupted, The Drug Years, And You Don’t Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop, and VH1 Presents the 70s.

Aneta Kopacz – Joanna

Documentary Short Subject Nominee Joanna

Joanna tells the heartbreaking story of a mother facing a terminal disease who writes a blog for her young son, hoping to impart some lessons and wisdom before she passes.

This is the only film credit Aneta Kopacz has to date, though she was given special thanks in the credits for Get Low, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray.

 

Documentary Short Subject Nominee Our Curse

Our Curse is a Polish film directed by Tomasz Śliwiński, whose child was born with a very rare and incurable disease known as the Ondine’s Curse. He chronicles the struggles he and his wife have caring for their sick baby and the toll it takes on their own lives. He and his wife, Maciej, have no other credits but the making of this heartbreakingly personal film.

Gabriel Serra Arguello – The Reaper (La Parka)

Documentary Short Subject Nominee The Reaper

The Reaper tells the story of Efrain, who’s worked in a slaughterhouse for 25 years, gradually changing his worldview on life and death. Director Gabriel Serra Arguello has worked as the AC on Tiempos Felices and the cinematographer on Año Nuevo and Xinantecatl.

J. Christian Jensen – White Earth

Documentary Short Subject Nominee White Earth

White Earth takes place in North Dakota during an oil boom that is attracting many people looking for employment in a harsh economy. Unfortunately the winter proves even harsher. The film documents the struggle of an immigrant mother and her three children facing the situation head on.

J. Christian Jensen often acts as his own cinematographer, and has shot and directed documentary shorts including Between Land and Sea, Solitary Plains, Alpha & Omega, and Out of Body.

Any winner this year will be deserving of the prize. Check out our looks at the nominees for Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Documentary Feature.

The Best Cinematography: Exploring The Light And Dark In Pan’s Labyrinth

Eyeballs in hands in Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth is very much a Guillermo del Toro film. The 2006 historical fantasy is loaded with the Mexican filmmaker’s pet themes, and includes creatures and designs personally conjured up by del Toro and bearing his signature style. The look, in particular, of the film helped bring to life perhaps the purest version of del Toro’s vision.

The director of photography tasked with putting this vision on screen was Guillermo Navarro, who succeeded enough to win the Academy Award for Cinematography for his work. Navarro is a Mexican cinematographer whose credits include Desperado, From Dusk til Dawn, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Jackie Brown, Spawn, Stuart Little, Spy Kids, Zathura, Night at the Museum, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, and Pacific Rim. He is known for his use of vivid blues and yellows that dominate his images. Having worked with del Toro before on the Hellboy films and others, he was a perfect choice to shoot Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Crew & Camera

Pan’s Labyrinth was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, its production being 78% Spanish and 22% Mexican. Because Pedro Almodóvar was shooting Volver at the same time, much of del Toro’s Spanish crew was unavailable to work on the shoot. He and Navarro had to put together a film crew with mostly strangers and inexperienced workers, and had no idea what to expect. It ended up working wonders for the team. Since the crew wasn’t set in their habits, Navarro was able to use them any way he saw fit. This was a great benefit considering the American grip & electric system they used in Mexico was much different from the system European crews were accustomed to.

Shooting in Spain also afforded the crew a 5 ½ day work schedule and a slower working pace, which allowed Navarro the time to set up scenes and shots in a more deliberate fashion. Principal photography was wrapped in three months.

Navarro went to Spain with his own Moviecam Compact cameras that he owned and used for all of his shoots, as well as his personal Arri 435ES lenses. Two lines of Zeiss lenses were used, Ultra Primes and Variable Primes, depending on what the shot called for.

A lot of the film’s equipment was homemade from Spain. Navarro got a lot of use out of a small crane nicknamed the “puchi,” appropriated from the English “push in.” The crane allows a single operator to move the camera in a variety of ways with great freedom. Navarro grew very fond of the tool, even purchasing his own for his work in LA. He often operated it himself during the shoot, with his frequent and trusted collaborator Jaromir Sedina simultaneously wielding a Steadicam. When a scene required more camera height than the puchi could provide, Navarro opted to use a taller Technocrane. For some of the tight, heavily forested areas where it was hard to find room for lights, the crew used a sausage-shaped illuminated balloon that could float over the set and light it from above.

Sergi López as Vidal in Pan's Labyrinth

Light & Dark

Navarro used three film stocks—Vision 250D, Vision2 500T, and Vision2 200T, depending on what was being photographed. The crew shot a lot of day for night, especially in the forests where it was very difficult to artificially light. By underexposing these scenes three to four stops, Navarro not only created night, but gave it an eerie presence that fit the film’s fantasy elements. He purposefully kept lighting effects that could only be attained with sunlight, which jarred the image when it passed itself as night, creating an aura of experimentation one might usually find in cinematography school.

Because of the awkwardly-shaped spaces of the fantasy sets, Navarro had to be creative with his lighting, finding places to put his lamps that also didn’t disrupt the image. A lot of light was strictly attained by bouncing it into the set. For certain scenes, the crew also drilled tiny holes into the walls of the set and placed little lights into the spaces. In the tunnel of the giant frog scene, Ofelia’s face was lit with a fiber-optic light attached directly to the camera.

For much of the film, Navarro used more darkness than actual light, using his lamps and bounce boards to bring just enough of the image out of shadow. Del Toro and Navarro are of very similar minds when it comes to the use of darkness, and Pan’s Labyrinth was the perfect project for their style. They frequently took advantage of modern film stocks’ ability to be highly sensitive to light. While they used an abundance of shadow, they still needed to carefully add a lot of light to make sure the highlights they wanted to show came through. The crew learned that for many scenes, they couldn’t even go by the light meter, as they were so far down in the F-stop range that it was irrelevant to measure.

Making it even more difficult was that the crew was using a digital intermediate and high-definition dailies, where contrast isn’t as defined as it will look on film. The crew had to rely on del Toro and Navarro’s gut intuition, and place faith in the fact that they knew what they were doing and weren’t permanently obscuring the beautiful imagery of Pan’s Labyrinth in shadow. Fortunately for the audience, their gut intuition was right.

Encountering a creature in Pan's Labyrinth

2015 Oscars: A Look at the Nominees for Best Original Screenplay

From birds to boys to everything in between, the Best Original Screenplay nominees for this year’s 87th Academy Awards are a diverse, intriguing mix. Most of the writers up for the Oscar have competed for the award before, so it’s anyone’s game. Here is a look at some other works by the Best Original Screenplay nominees and what led them to their Oscar-nominated screenplays, essential reading for any screenwriting student or aspiring screenwriter.

Birdman – Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

While this is the first Oscar nomination for the other writers of Birdman, writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was previously nominated for Best Writing and Best Directing for his 2006 film Babel and is up for Best Directing and Best Picture this year.

He has also scripted his upcoming film The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. AGI has also written his film Biutiful with Birdman co-writers Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo and all four nominees are currently scripting the upcoming Ed Helms television series The One Percent for Starz.

Boyhood – Richard Linklater

This is Richard Linklater’s fifth Oscar nomination, counting his nods for Directing and Best Picture for his 12 years in the making masterpiece, Boyhood. He was previously nominated for Before Midnight and Before Sunset, which were in the Adapted Screenplay category as they are based on Linklater’s original screenplay, Before Sunrise.

He’s also written most of his own films, including Slacker, Dazed and Confused, The Newton Boys, Waking Life, Fast Food Nation, A Scanner Darkly, Bernie and his upcoming effort, That’s What I’m Talking About.

Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

This is Frye’s first nomination and Futterman’s second—he previously got the nod for his work on Capote.

Frye is a veteran screenwriter, having scripted films since the 1980s. His credits include Something Wild, Amos & Andrew and an episode of HBO’s Band of Brothers. He was also script consultant on Lars Von Trier’s experimental film Dogville.

In addition to Capote, Dan Futterman has written for the television shows In Treatment and Gracepoint.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

While this is Hugo Guinness’s first Oscar nomination, Wes Anderson has received five others, including his nods this year for Directing and Best Picture. His other nominations include two other Original Screenplay nods for The Royal Tenebaums and Moonrise Kingdom and a Best Animated Feature for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Anderson’s other screenwriting credits are exclusively for his own directed films, including Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and again for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Hugo Guinness’s story credit for The Grand Budapest Hotel is his only writing credit to date, but he also did art and voice acting for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

This is Dan Gilroy’s first screenwriting credit, though he has been writing for Hollywood since the early 90s. His brother is successful screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy. Some of Dan Gilroy’s credits include Freejack, Chasers, Two for the Money, The Fall, Real Steel, and The Bourne Legacy.

Check out our other pages for a look at the careers of this year’s Best Documentary Feature nominees and Best Cinematography nominees.