Author: New York Film Academy

6 Tips for Working With an Editor

As a director, you may have trouble putting your baby in another’s hands. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about your project for years. But working with an editor will be a vital part of being a professional filmmaker, and learning how an editor works can help your film be its best. Here we offer six tips for establishing a relationship with the person who holds the keys to turning your countless hours of hard-earned footage into a film.

  1. Choose your editor wisely.

You will likely be spending a lot of time with your editor, and there may be tense moments of disagreement, so be sure you choose one you like! It’s important that you get along as well as respect their work. As quoted in this MovieMaker article, Michelle Morgan (L.A. Times) gives this important bit of wisdom: “You should never hire an editor that you don’t want to sit and have a beer with.”

  1. Let your editor do her job.

Perhaps the biggest mistake a director can make is to micromanage the editing process. Besides the fact that you’ll be stepping on the toes of your editor, who is an artist in her own right, you’ll be less likely to allow for the objectivity of a person who has come to the project relatively late, and who can look at it with fresh eyes.

  1. Learn how to edit.

This may sound contradictory to the above, but learning what’s possible in the editing process can help you avoid missteps. “I love working with directors who have an understanding of editing,” editor Joi McMillon told MovieMaker, “because I feel like a lot of times when they ask me to do something, and I say, ‘I would love to do that but you don’t necessarily have the material to make that happen,’ they understand.”

  1. Give your editor a room of her own.

Having a quiet room of one’s own is crucial to the creative process, and this is particularly true for your editor. Perhaps this is your first film and super low budget, but packing your editor into a space with lots of distractions is going to hinder her work.

  1. Remember the editor is there to serve the story too.

If you find yourself constantly doubting your editor and question her decisions, it may help to remember that she is also there to serve the story. You did not bring her on board to be an automaton, but as a skilled artist who can serve your story best if she is allowed to work with some degree of freedom.

  1. Give postproduction room to breathe.

Rushing the postproduction process will likely cause thoughtless decisions to impact your film. As The 6 Stages of Editing as a Film Director hints, “Never be afraid to let the first cut ‘rest’ for a few days so everyone involved can see it with fresh eyes.”

Filmmaking is a stressful, deadline-driven business, but you will do your film a disservice if you do not allow a little breathing room, so that you and your editor are not forced to make snap decisions that you’ll regret when you see the finished product on a big screen, with an audience to witness!

Unexpected Places for Finding Your Next Monologue

Whether you act primarily in theatre or on camera, there will come a time when you are asked to perform a monologue. Instead of dusting off that old piece you’ve been performing for years, or turning to a book of monologues that every other actor you’re up against is also clutching, why not look for something fresh? Not only will it be more engaging for you, but an unexpected monologue will be more likely to impress and delight that important casting director or agent.

How to avoid the expected:

Of course there are no hard and fast rules in auditioning — what works for one actor, casting director, agent, and so on, will likely vary vastly. But in general, it’s probably a good idea to steer clear of overdone monologues. If the person you’re auditioning for starts mouthing the words with you, it may prove disheartening.

So perhaps you might check in with the lists of overdone monologues at MonologueAudition.com, before you commit.

Look to your favorite films:

Sometimes actors pick monologues that are overdone because they feel like only a classic scene will prove one’s talents. But pretty much every movie has a scene when someone talks for a minute or two — and that’s a monologue. It’s often an important moment in the story when the character is wanting something desperately from the other character and in the process they reveal their most private feelings.

We often don’t notice monologues as such because they are in the context of conversation. If the conversation is interesting, you’ll not notice that one person has had center stage for a minute or two. Try it! Watch any movie you love, and pay attention to the key scenes. There will likely be a monologue in there!

And never fear, if the interlocutor interjects with an “mm hmm,” or “right on,” you can just accept that kind of encouragement as nonverbal, or simply cut it out completely.

So the first thing to remember is that monologues can be buried in plain sight, and the second thing to remember is that you can often find a good one simply by doing a little editing.

 

Don’t limit yourself to plays and screenplays:

In this persuasive article called Why You Should Have 20 Monologues, Karen Kohlhaas offers some examples of unexpected places to look for monologues — including interviews with famous writers, artists, astronauts, or even everyday people who might be in the news or interviewed over the course of a documentary. But she reminds us, “Make sure you end up with a clear beginning, middle, climax and end.”

Importantly, Kohlhaas urges actors to embrace the challenge. “Looking to someone else to choose material for them puts actors in a passive position — which they are in too often in this business!”

It might take a little more work to look for monologues outside the monologue sites and books, and to do a little editing to make them right, but the process will likely make that monologue meaningful for you and special for your audience.

In what unexpected places have you found your best monologues? Let us know in the comments below! Ready to learn more about acting? Enroll at the New York Film Academy’s Acting School today.

How to Style Your Cinematography like Steven Spielberg

From “Jaws” to “The Color Purple,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg has given us many of the most iconic moments in cinema. We have already extolled the genius of Spielberg in this previous NYFA article, but today we examine some of the specific cinematographic techniques he employs to achieve such spectacular results to help inspire your own cinematographic stylings.

Sideways tracking shot

A sideways tracking shot follows the movement of the characters. Although it is a classic technique, Spielberg makes it his own. “Spielberg adds considerable visual texture to the shots by putting all manner of objects and extras between the camera and the two main subjects, to enhance the richness of the frame and the visual perception of movement,” writes this LA Video Filmmaker article.

Spielberg also uses the variant of having the actors approach the camera after tracking, ending in a close-up, as exampled by the scene in “Jaws” when the camera tracks Brody and his wife to the fateful boat.

Introducing a character

As the below video essay details, Spielberg often uses either action or fraction (glimpses of body parts or features) to introduce his protagonists, and some of his most memorable introductions employ both. Think of one of the most iconic character introductions of all film time: to Indiana Jones in the first “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

[Spielberg how to introduce characters: ]

The long take

A long take, aka a “oner,” is a continuous shot played out in real time. Unlike other directors, Spielberg’s long takes tend to be less stylized and more emotionally driven. As this No Film School article puts it, “Spielberg disguises these long takes in a number of ways, allowing audiences to become immersed in the dramatic energy of the scene without feeling the kinetic energy of the camera.” For some examples from everything from “Saving Private Ryan” to “Jurassic Park,” check out this video by Tony Zhou.

Over the shoulder

Over the shoulder shots are common enough in cinema, but Spielberg uses dramatic and claustrophobic over the shoulder shots to create effects that push the boundaries of classic cinematographic framing. The dramatic shot uses a wide lens, making the character in the foreground look bigger than the other character, which conveys a feeling of dominance. The claustrophobic shot increases the amount of shoulder in the frame, pushing the main subject away from center. This article offers some “pretty pictures” to illustrate these techniques in “Amistad” and “Munich.”

Frame within a frame

A cinematic frame within a frame utilizes physical objects–mirrors, windows, doors, power lines–to divide the frame and create striking composition. In “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” Spielberg and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, use a circular lamp fixture, and in “Minority Report,” they use a headset held by one of the characters in the foreground. The novelty of these framing devices suggests how you can use everyday objects for brilliant aesthetic effects.

What are your favorite examples of Spielberg cinematography? Let us know in the comments. Learn more about cinematography at the New York Film Academy.

4 Prototypes That Will Help You Survive The Road Towards a Successful Game

By Felipe Lara – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design

If you have led a team in the development of a new game, you probably felt at some point like the clown in the illustration above: trying to entertain people, while juggling 10 things at the same time, trying to navigate through a flimsy thin line without falling, and pulling your team along for the ride.

The fact is that making games is risky business. There is no way around this, but prototyping the right things will help you reduce risk greatly.

The main risk is of course figuring out what game you should build – what combination of game mechanics, compelling art, storytelling, and social will attract players and keep them engaged long-term. But this major risk is composed of many smaller risks: Do your game mechanics engage players? Does your game run smoothly in the delivering platform? Does your game stand out from the competition?

Although there is no way to getting rid of all risk, you can reduce and keep your risks in check before too many of them pile up and bog down your game.

This process of figuring out what product we should build is what is called product discovery. In the last few years, new methodologies have emerged that have changed the way we look at this process: lean startup, design thinking, rapid prototyping, user-centered development. These all utilize prototyping and user-testing as essential tools to help us learn what is the right product to build, how to connect with our users, and reach our goals. For a big picture view of product discovery I recommend this presentation by Teresa Torres, a coach and consultant who helps companies figure out how to build the right products.

I want to focus on 4 prototypes that will help you create a game with long-term engagement and growth. I talked in previous articles how successful games and experiences need to go through four steps: first stand out, then connect with players at an emotional level, then engage them so you can keep them for longer time, and finally get them to help you grow. Each of these steps has at least one major risk:

  • Is your game going to stand out in the crowd?
  • Will players who see your game care about trying it out?
  • Will your mechanics keep them engaged?
  • Will they talk about your game with their friends and recommend it?

The 4 prototypes below will help you validate potential solutions to overcome each of these steps:

1. Concept Art.

It might sound strange to list concept art as a prototype, but the right concept art can be a very useful tool to test two of the foundations of a successful game: how to stand out and how to connect emotionally with your target players.

In reality, players do not connect to games and experiences exactly because of the art itself, but rather because of the attitudes and points of view that the art reflects which resonate with them. Art alone will not sustain players’ interest; the “cool look” factor wears off quickly and needs to be accompanied by game mechanics and stories that continue reinforcing the points of view and theme that got players’ attention in the first place.

However, art is the easiest way to explore and start testing which themes resonate with your target players and which ones don’t. Finding the right theme and the right representation of it, will take you a long way towards standing out and connecting quickly with your players.

2. Core loop.

Having a core loop that does not engage players is probably your highest risk — and one of the most common causes of failure.

All games have a core set of activities that the player repeats over and over to advance through the game. These repeatable activities are usually called loops, and are the engine that keeps the player’s interest going. If this core loop does not keep the players’ and fulfill at least some of their initial expectations, they will quit and your game will be like a leaky bucket that needs to be refilled with new players constantly.

Needless to say, it is much harder to reach any success with a leaky bucket. I have seen many developers trying to add more and more features to their games, hoping that these features will cover the hole in their leaky core loop. The problem is that more features rarely solve the problem, and fixing the core loop is much more complicated and expensive once it is interconnected to a bunch of secondary features. In the end, they would have been better off if they had taken care of their core loop before adding a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

Prototype your core-loop and make sure it works before trying to add more features!

3. On-boarding experience.

Once you have an engaging core loop, you need to make sure that players get to it. This means that the onboarding experience — the time since your players first start playing your game until the time they get to the core loop — needs to be as smooth and engaging as possible.

Having an engaging core loop won’t help if players quit the game before getting to it. Prototype and test your onboarding experience.

4. Social loop.

There is a sequence of social activities that happen around games that go viral or form a strong player community: players are compelled to share the game or the results of the game with their friends, which in turn are compelled to start playing the game and tell other friends about it.

These activities are sometimes structured as part of the game mechanics inside the game, like in “Clash Royale,” where the core mechanics of the game involve playing with other players, joining clans, etc. But social loops can also happen outside of the game itself. In games like “Minecraft” or “Little Big Planet,” players create their own content and share it in forums and social networks, and although these activities happen outside of the game, they effectively promote the game to others.

Social loops outside of the game are harder to measure, but even looking at number of social media posts and likes can veer you in the right direction. If you care about having a game that can grow its user base organically without a highly expensive marketing campaign, you need to prototype and test your social loops.

Conclusion

Risk is part of the thrill of making new games and experiences, but building the right prototypes at the right time can help you keep your risks in check before they get out of hand and you fall into the sharks.

The 4 prototypes above are important because they help you test and validate how your game will engage players, but they are not the only ones. In the end, prototyping is about mitigating risks and the general rule is that you need to build the prototypes that tackle your higher risks first; this could be more related to the technology, or to your business model, depending on what you are innovating on.

What prototypes do you consider the most important ones? Let me know in the comments.

Learn more about game design at the New York Film Academy Game Design School.

Stanley Kubrick & One-Point Perspactive

The title “one-point perspective” is so evocative of what the technique actually does: changing your perspective.

Hi, my name is Miguel Parga, and I’m a filmmaking teacher at the New York Film Academy. That sounds almost like I’m introducing myself at a Filmmakers Anonymous meeting and I guess that’s not far from the truth. Those of us who have the film bug understand that when you’re into film, mere marginal involvement is never good enough. It often turns into an obsession. For me it’s an addiction.

Fellini said: “Film is a disease. It’s cure: more film.” He was right.

But what is it exactly that we’re addicted to? For me, it has a lot to do with the way films make me see the world in a different light.

A one-point perspective shot is when all the horizontal lines in your frame, if you were to extend them infinitely, would disappear into a point, usually at the center of the frame. That’s the vanishing point. Think about looking at a train track disappearing in the distance.

It’s no secret to those who know me that one of my favorite filmmakers is Stanley Kubrick.

Kubrick used the shot endlessly, both static and moving. Here are some examples.

Humans don’t usually see the world in one-point perspective. It happens, but it’s not that common. If you’re in a room, your eye line usually sits a bit above where it would have to be for the lines in the room to disappear into one vanishing point in the center.

In order for this to happen ,  you have to lower your gaze by about a foot.

Go ahead. Try it. Get up. Go to the middle of the room, then crouch down about a foot, and look at the room from that vantage point.

Different right? Now, walk around looking for shots.

You just forced yourself to look at the world in a different way. This is what Kubrick is making you do. Whether you want to or not, he’s forcing you to do it.

Remember that scene in “Dead Poets Society,” where Robin Williams tells his students to get up on top of his desk, just to remind themselves that they must look at the world from a different point of view?

Kubrick and his one-point perspective shots force you to look at the world differently. When you crouch down, you’re looking at the world from the point of view of somebody of that height – a child perhaps. In this way the director forces not only a change of perspective, but a psychological change as well. He wants you to look at the world through the eyes of a child.

He wants you to remember what the world looked like from that height, when your imagination was open, and you saw the universe with new eyes.

Now go watch some movies! Kubrick ones!

 

The Right Concept Art Will Save You Money: 4 Steps to Develop

By Felipe Lara – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design

A good piece of concept art can be used as a prototype to test one of the essential elements that your game will need to succeed: You’ll need to connect emotionally to your player. Spending on concept art is sometimes viewed as a luxury or even a distraction, but if done correctly, concept art will save you money and put you in the right direction towards developing a successful experience. In this article, I’ll dive into the significance of art, and four steps to develop effective concepts.

We all have game ideas; some good, some bad. But having an idea is far from having a concept. A concept is something more concrete and more developed, and when it is done right, it is practically a prototype that will help you validate the foundation of your game or experience: the emotional connection with your players.

Finding an Emotional Connection

One of the most important qualities of a successful game is the ability to connect emotionally with players. If you are able to connect with players and involve them emotionally through your game, you are practically on the other side. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many hurdles that can take your project off track, but you have achieved a fundamental requirement: the ability to connect and be relevant.

In a previous article I talked about the 4-step sequence that successful games follow: stand out, connect, engage, and grow. In this article, I am going to talk about how, by doing concept development the right way, you can figure out and validate early on if your game concept has the potential to stand out and connect with your target players.

The Role of Art in Your Game

The art of a game is the window to all its other elements. You access the mechanics, stories, and social features through characters, environments, and user interfaces. The right art style will help you engage your players and communicate the humor and fun of your game mechanics, or the drama of your story. The wrong one will be more of a hurdle than a helpful connector and amplifier. The right art style will also help you stand out and connect with players by communicating the mood, emotions, and theme of your game.

Concept Art as a Prototype to Validate Emotional Connection

The right concept art will reflect all the good qualities of your game: the emotions it creates, its core story, and its theme. Even if the core mechanics or story details are not represented in your concept art, the emotions resulting from them will be present. This is why the development of concept art can be a great tool to test if players connect with the basic theme and emotions of your game. Developing concept art can be a faster and cheaper way to test and validate one of the foundations of a successful game: emotional connection.

4 Steps to Create the Right Concept Art

  1. The first step is defining who is your target player, what are your goals, and what is your point of view (or the reason you care about making this game).
  2. The second step is to define a theme that your players resonate with. The only way to know if your theme resonates with an audience is by testing: pick a few members of your audience and talk to them about your theme, see if they relate with it. Remember that theme is not a topic, but rather an opinion about a topic. People don’t resonate with a topic by itself like “zombies in a post-apocalyptic world.” People resonate with views about the world that those topics make easy to represent — and that they agree with. For example, in the case of the topic “zombies in a post-apocalyptic world,” a possible theme would be “only the cut-throat can survive in the world.”
  3. Once you have defined your theme, pick an art style that also resonates with your audience, and brainstorm some ideas about possible mechanics, stories, and social interactions. I am not arguing for being a copycat regarding the art style. It is about narrowing down possibilities and starting from solid concrete examples pointing in the right direction. Once you have those, you can innovate within clear parameters. As with theme, the only way to know if your art style will resonate with your audience is by showing them pictures of similar art styles.
  4. Finally, with a clear theme, a ballpark idea about the art style, and ideas about story, mechanics, and social interactions; create a piece of concept art. This piece should represent your main activity or conflict, and your theme. Once you have something concrete, get feedback from your audience and iterate from what you learn.

If you follow these four simple steps, you will end up with a concrete piece of concept art that connects with your audience and can help you as a guide or compass throughout development. You will not have a game yet, but you will have a good foundation to build one and something concrete that can guide your decisions for the rest of the development process.

Ready to learn more about game design? Find more info about New York Film Academy Game Design including student work here.

Scheduling Screenwriting: How to Find Time to Write

Great writers often insist the best way to improve your writing is to keep practicing your craft. We all know that devoting time to writing is at least half of the effort, but how do you make the time to write? It’s easy to say that you’ll get to it when you can, but for too many writers that ends up never happening.

In need of a push to find time to schedule your screenwriting? Here are some classic tips that will help you crank out those some-day award-winning first drafts.

Create Goals

Whether you are hoping to finish your movie-length drama script or just want to write a one-act play, setting reasonable goals can help you finally finish any writing project. While free-writing is fun and great for generating ideas, having short and long-term goals can ensure that you finish your creations and beat writer’s block.

Your goals can be based on an amount of words per day or how long you should devote to writing daily. Make sure you set yourself a goal that is specific, and doable!

Set a Consistent Time to Write Daily

Routine is a writer’s best friend, believe it or not!

Even writing for a little as five or 10 minutes a day can help keep the ideas flowing. This technique works best when you set your writing time the same exact time per day. If you are most alert at 8 a.m. then write at 8 a.m. If you like to write at night, then write at night.

No matter what, keep it consistent for the best results — and write every day!

Keep a Notebook Around … Always

Think about all of the time you spend waiting at the doctor’s office or before a class starts. You have a lot more spare time than you might think!

If you take public transportation or carpool often, spend the time of the ride writing down your latest ideas and drafts. Jot down some dialogue ideas when you overhear interesting snatches of conversations around you or see something inspiring. For the nights when you come up with your next brilliant idea just before you go to sleep, keep a notebook on your nightstand to capture the ideas before you drift away to dream.

Devote a Space Specifically for Writing

It’s tempting to tell yourself that you can just write your next script while passively watching television, but let’s be honest: you probably will end up not writing at all. Instead of trying to cram writing in alongside other activities, carve out an oasis of space and time strictly for your writing.

Once you’ve found the perfect spot, play your favorite music or write in total silence. Just like keeping a consistent goal and time for your writing helps you dedicate time and mental clarity to writing, creating a writing space strictly for writing will help you eliminate distractions. Do not allow your cell phone or pet to interrupt your flow!

Soon you’ll be looking forward to shutting yourself away to create new scripts every chance you can.

Do It Online

Another great way to boost your skills, keep yourself motivated, plug into community, and motivate yourself to finish projects on time is to enroll in an online screenwriting course, like those at New York Film Academy. You’ll be receiving the expert instruction of working, professional screenwriters, but with the added bonus of just enough flexibility to be able to carve out your own writing schedule. Best of all, there’s an online course for whatever you’re working on:

While making time for writing is important, having a support system to help you grow unleashes your fullest potential.

The New York Film Academy immerses screenwriting students in an interactive curriculum. From small writing workshops to teaming up with filmmakers, the program is perfect for taking talent to the next level.

5 New Ways to Execute Old Stories

From reboots of classic television series to new spins on known movies, franchises, remakes, and old stories keep resurfacing in Hollywood for better or for worse. So what’s the secret to revamping familiar stories?

While there are a lot of ways to execute old stories, here are five approaches to reviving old tales that will help make your own adaptation a success. (For a great example, check out Magnificent Seven starring NYFA alum Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.)

1. Add New Twists

If you plan on revisiting a well-known story, ask yourself a lot of what-ifs to get new ideas.

What if the main character was of a different gender?

What if the story was told from another character’s perspective?

What if the time setting was different?

What if at least half of the supporting characters were female?

Even the tiniest details can make a big difference when it comes to imagining something new.

2. Make it Modern

Having old characters react to or live in the modern world is a fun way to recreate an old tale.  A story’s lessons are what tend to speak the loudest to an audience, so show how versatile the lessons and themes can be by setting a remake in contemporary times.

One great example a timeless story finding applications in many retellings is the various adaptations of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813. The Bridget Jones’s Diary series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Bride and Prejudice, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are just a few examples of adaptations with a modern time period or cultural update.

No matter what story you want to retell, having classic themes and characters interact in the modern world or with modern ideas can be a smash hit.

3. Challenge Harmful Stereotypes

A lot of old stories have problematic themes that might have been acceptable at the time, but aren’t now. If you’re building on or reimagining a dated story and run into racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the story, consider how you can challenge or transform these elements. Leave out the harmful stereotypes, or update the story to draw awareness to a social justice issue.

For example, leave the days of having a charming prince rescue a helpless maiden and have her rescue him. Allow for more opportunities for diversity characters to thrive in your story for something fresh and much-needed in the world of entertainment.

4. Don’t Copy What Others are Doing

Don’t feel the need to conform to the way other people approach adaptations. Sure, there are expectations that people may have about how a familiar story should be approached, but doing the same exact thing as other retellings gets very boring.

If you have a new idea or something unconventional to bring to your genre of focus, then take a chance on it! You never know if it will work until you test it out for real!

5. Have a Clear Focus

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself why you want to remake an old story. Too many people try to revive an old tale without taking the time to realize why they want to remake it.  Are you doing it because you have a genuinely thought-out take to the story, or are you just feeling pressured to do what other creators are doing? Share the idea with trusted colleagues who can help you shape your adaptation into something special and truly innovative.

Finding your creative spark doesn’t have to be hard. The New York Film Academy offers 15 programs for up-and-coming creative minds. Explore professional-level programs in the visual and performing arts today.

Self-Care Tips for Actors from New York Film Academy

From your physical health to your emotional well-being, not taking care of yourself as an actor will make it hard, if not impossible, to give your best performance. And if you are acting in front of the camera, every stress and strain will show! Here, we compiled a few tips to help you look and feel your best — great for your career and your psyche!

What goes in must come out.

Eating unhealthy foods or using substances and alcohol can all wreak havoc on your skin, damage your body, and make emotional stability and clarity on set or on stage very difficult.

To keep fit and healthy, this Backstage article suggests you eat a good breakfast, and keep your energy level up by eating small healthy snacks throughout the day. And as for exercise, “The most important thing is to move your body at least 30 minutes a day minimum.”

Photo by Kate Trysh from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-blur-close-up-daylight-241456/

Rehearsals and long shoots are not always conducive to getting the rest you need, but you should try to unplug and put yourself into bed at reasonable hours whenever possible. Not only will sleep help you avoid unsightly dark circles, but it’s necessary for emotional stability.

Speaking of emotional stability, ABC Entertainment Executive Director, Casting (NY) Marci Philips’ book “The Present Actor” is full of wonderful advice that ranges from the practical to the esoteric. Perhaps none is more important than what she has to say about the use of alcohol, drugs and other self-destructive behaviors that “may be a quick fix now but will inevitably and viciously bite you in the *ss.”

Empower yourself.

Let’s face it, being an actor sometimes feel very disempowering, which is why so many actors turn to producing. In every actor’s career there may be busy times and not so busy times. You may not always be booking jobs, or not the jobs you want.

So why not give yourself your dream job? Create a web series with your friends, write and produce a play, put together a short film, or find a new way to evolve new media entertainment.

As this article suggests, “Don’t just wait for the phone to ring. Submit yourself for projects through online casting sites like Backstage,” and “Find out if any films are shooting on location in your area. Do some digging. Your local film commission will have all this information.”

Perfect your craft and find a community.

Acting classes and workshops will of course help you to rock that big break when it comes, but they will also get you out of the house and meeting like-minded people.

As this article puts it, “We are in this together, and without a community, it is not only harder to find a job, it is too isolating. Face it, we don’t ‘act’ alone unless we only want to be in one-person shows.”

Self-care does not equal selfishness.

Sometimes the best way to care for yourself is to care for others. Volunteering to serve in your community is a great way to get out of your head and stop fretting about your own woes. It will also give you the opportunity to practice compassion, which will help you be a better actor and human being.

Ready to take care of your dreams and learn more about acting? Check out our acting for film programs at the New York Film Academy.

How to Be a Star in Game Industry Design Meetings

For aspiring game designers, we have created three tips to help you excel in design meetings in the game industry. Check it out:

  1. Make It About the Player
  2. Playtest Notes Beat the HIPPO
  3. Know the Canon

 Make It About the Player

Your job as game designer is firstly to be an advocate for the player. You make decisions based on what will be best for the experience of the person playing your game.

The primary way you know what the player wants is by playtesting with your actual players (the target audience for your game). Playtesting with your teammates and friends is nice, but you really want to test with people who don’t know you to get real feedback.

When in design meetings, frame your statements through the lens of what the player wants rather than what you think is cool or what is trending on Gamasutra.

Under the category of not-widely-known, check out the Gamer Motivation Survey by Quantic Foundry. You can use this to understand yourself as a gamer and get recommendations for games you might like to play.

You can also read this article about “7 Things [Quantic Foundry] Learned About Primary Gaming Motivations From Over 250,000 Gamers.”

Playtest Notes Beat the HIPPO

… That is, if you document what you observe in playtests as objectively as possible.

Some companies, like Microsoft Games, have dedicated user researchers, whose job it is to create playtest reports for the team to follow. Regardless of how you get the notes in design meetings, you want to reference them — as opposed to your own opinion — when talking about how to solve a design problem.

This means you would say things like, “Players keep getting stuck at this point on the map. I think we should provide a weapon drop here for them to keep it moving,” instead of, “I think it would be cool to have more weapons.”

This technique is not only professional-grade, but it is also important when dealing with the “HIPPO” in the room — the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.” Solid info from your playtests makes it easier for everyone to get on the same page.

Know the Canon

The word “canon” means “a collection of sacred works.” You hear the word used to describe the canon of great literature and film and music, but there is also a canon of great games.

As an aspiring game designer it is important that you know the great games, and play as many as possible. When you are in game industry design meetings, your colleagues will be mixing and matching points about game mechanics, art direction, story arcs, and other elements of a variety of different games. You want to understand what they are saying and be able to contribute.

Most of the games that come up will either be in the canon or were heavily influenced by the canon. Importantly, the canon includes great video games but also a diversity of lesser-known games that broke important ground — e.g. “Atari Adventure” is a simple game that influences the entire action-adventure genre, including all the Zelda games.

What is the canon, you ask?

While there is no definitive list, here are some good sources to read:

  1. 25 Video Games Every Game Design Student Should Play Before They Graduate
  2. Time Magazine’s “The 50 Best Video Games of All Time
  3. Metacritc’s “Best Video Games of All Time”

Finally, related to the canon: two titans of gaming education, design, and writing, NYFA Game Design Chair Chris Swain and Jeremy Bernstein recently took NYFA’s Twitch show “Schooled” to give their list of “10 Games You Should Play Before You Graduate from Game School.”

We highly encourage that you catch the episode here:

The two created their best games list because, as Swain puts it, “Designers are constantly brainstorming and incorporating bits of mechanics from other games. So it’s important to play and understand lots of different kinds of games so you can hang tough in these meetings. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather food for thought for a variety of different kinds of games and genres. You actually need to play lots more than what we talk about in the Twitch episode, but those games are a great foundation.”

Throughout the episode, two themes emerged: “innovation” and “gameplay over graphics.” The show kicks off with Swain introducing “Adventure” for the Atari 2600, the game that invented action adventure, top-down scrolling, fog of war, and easter eggs. He shows how it provides “primitives” for the whole action adventure genre including the “Zelda” series, “Uncharted” series, and even the “Grand Theft Auto” series.

Bernstein underscores the value of playing tabletop games as game design student, making the point that playing board games forces aspiring designers to get hands-on with rules, procedures, mechanics, and adjudication, intimately and in ways that are not accessible when playing digital games.

We have included their list of games below and encourage you to play them all.

# Title Platform Video Link
1 Adventure Atari 2600 https://youtu.be/LQZDRELOqoI
2 Dungeons and Dragons Tabletop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FeiNEsLElA
3 Tetris Soviet DVK-2 https://youtu.be/O0gAgQQHFcQ
4 Blokus Tabletop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LDM0xFDCFY
5 You Don’t Know Jack PC https://youtu.be/VheFU03JqAY
6 Sim City PC https://youtu.be/A54blk-ojA4
7 Dune 2 PC https://youtu.be/EiJLOjeyDxs
8 Magic the Gathering Online Tabletop https://youtu.be/GIlS4WwXoSM
9 Wii Sports Wii https://youtu.be/zqaPFAZS1K8
10 Pokemon Go Android https://youtu.be/vvFVBXLsBcE

To recap, here are three things you can do to be a star in game industry design meetings:

  1. Make It About the Player
  2. Playtest Notes Beat the HIPPO
  3. Know the Canon

All of them take a lifetime to fully master, so just jump right in by making games, playtesting games, and playing lots and lots of games.

Ready to learn more about game design? Study at the New York Film Academy’s Game Design School.

Film Technique: How A Master Uses Image Systems

An image system is an image or a motif that is repeated during a film. The audience is watching it but they’re not aware of it. The image system is there, but the director hides it enough so that the audience is not really aware of what they’re looking at, unless somebody points it out.

But wait a minute … if the audience is not aware of an image system, then what difference does it make?

Aha! Great question. Well, just because an audience is not aware of an image system doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect them.

Images have the power to bypass the part of the brain that does the judging and get straight to the part that feels. This is one of the things film does very well, and an image system is one of the way in which it does it — a highly effective way. We hide the images in plain sight, so that the brain can’t analyze them and catalogue them. In that way, they affect you without filters, raw.

The image system usually reinforces a thematic concern of the film by repeating an image that has connotation for the story. Let me explain: The film “Casablanca,” for example, has an image system of prisons.

There’s an airport tower light in Casablanca that rotates like a prison guard tower light, as if it was searching for somebody. This reinforces the idea that the residents of Casablanca are prisoners in their own country.

The characters are often seen through bars, or through the shadows of bars. There are even scenes in which characters are wearing stripes.

This is all part of the design of the film, and as you watch it, you don’t really notice it. You can watch the entire film and never become aware of the image systems. (Now that I’ve pointed them out, next time you see the film, you’ll notice for sure!)

Another one of my favorite image system examples is “Michael Clayton.” In “Michael Clayton,” written and directed by Tony Gilroy, the color red represents the truth. (At least that’s what I think. I’ll have to ask Tony one of these days.) And as the tagline of the film suggests, in this story, the truth can be adjusted.

There’s a book in the film that plays an important part in the story. This is a book that the son of the protagonist is reading, that he wants his dad to read. The book has a red cover.

There’s a scene in which Walter, one of the main characters of the film, is talking to the woman he’s in love with on the phone. He’s wearing a red robe. She talking on a red phone. She’s talking from a room that has red wallpaper.

Right before the scene starts the director shows you an image of a farm in the winter. Most of the frame is white with snow, except for a big red barn.

Michael, the protagonist, finds a major clue to the murder of his friend, in a document his friend had photocopied and bound. The binding of the document is red.

Inside of Walter’s fridge there’s nothing more than a bottle of champagne and some containers of red jello. The inside of the van that takes away the equipment from a failed restaurant venture Michael is trying to auction off, is red.

Over and over, the color plays an important part of the story. Mr. Gilroy masterfully inserts the image system into the fabric of the film and you’re never really aware he’s doing it.

Here’s another instance, and this might be stretching it a bit, but I’m going to go for it anyway: the protagonist’s son, the only thing true and pure in his life, is a read head.

When you’re watching the film, you don’t notice these things unless you’re looking for them, and even then, they can be so subtle it can still be hard to identify them. I sometimes play a game with my students. I tell them there’s an image system in the film. I explain to them what an image system is, but I don’t tell them what it is, and 90 percent of students can’t figure it out, even though they’re looking for it.

Once I point it out, they can see it no problem.

This is because the image system works best when you’re not aware of it, when your brain can’t edit it and interpret it. It affects you in a much more powerful way. Once I point it out then it loses most of its power: Now you can identify it as a device. (My apologies to Mr. Gilroy for spoiling the fun. His film is superb and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, spoilers or not.)

It is the mark of the amateur filmmaker to show you the metaphor up front, to make it visible. To say, “Look, this means something!”

The pro puts the metaphor somewhere in the back, to enhance the story, but never leads with it. The story always comes first. Remember that. Story, story, story.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can have some fun with the other stuff as well.

NOTE: All production stills are the property of Warner Brothers and used here for editorial purposes only.

 

SERVICE INDUSTRY: How to Work with Cinematographers

“What can I do for you?”  

The above question is the first thing I ask my director.  You, the director, answering it ensures that you’ll get the most out of me – your cinematographer or DP (director of photography).  

Before you meet with your cinematographer, you should have a good grasp of what the film is about and the story you want to tell. What do want your documentary to look like? Start with visual references (documentaries, narrative films, still photos, paintings, etc.) ready to show and discuss. After reading the script or treatment, it’s the first thing a cinematographer will want to talk about.

As a visual artist, my job is to translate words and concepts into images. Cinematographers bring loads of ideas to the table. Once I know what a film is about, I shift into visual hyper-drive.  

In the meetings — there will be more than one — you’ll want to discuss the tone of the movie:  Should it be pretty or gritty? Formally composed or “fly-on-the-wall?” Some handheld work perhaps? Why? Will the subject matter benefit from cool, somber tones, or warm, inviting colors?  

Once you’ve discussed tone, your documentary film is well on its way to visual coherence. Some directors just like to chat and pull up images to discuss. Others spend a considerable amount of time preparing a lookbook. Either is okay. It’s whatever works for you.

The style of your film is comprised of more technical questions – the different modes of documentary (See Bill Nichols “6 Modes of Documentary”) beg for different approaches.

Some questions to answer for yourself and communicate to the DP:

  • What lenses will best depict the characters?
  • Is the style up close and personal or are we taking a long view?
  • Will the interviews take place in a home, a workplace, or some neutral ground?  
  • Are you thinking formal compositions, or something more edgy?  
  • If there are re-creations, will they be stylized or realistic?
  • Finally, and not least important, you’ll want to discuss visual metaphors and transitions that serve to link the sequences.  

But what about “shooting from the hip,” some will ask? Let me share an experience I had in the field.

A while back, I was starting a documentary television series that, in addition to archival footage, involved interviews, re-creations, and establishing shots. In pre-production, we spent some time discussing the re-creations, but the director and producer weren’t ready to discuss overall tone. I knew it would come back to haunt us.

On day one, our first interviewee waited patiently while we went back and forth about the location, then the background, then the lighting. It was decided the lighting should be soft with strong contrast. It became the interview tone for the show. We met later to clarify things going forward and avoid further embarrassment of the interviewees watching a confused approach.  There were new challenges for sure, but the solutions were more intuitive for me because the tone and style were set.

The DP is the director’s confidante, the “ace-in-the-hole,” the side-kick to the superhero. But most importantly, he/she is the director’s collaborator, who wants to help make the best documentary film possible. To do that, communication is key.

Ready to learn more about documentary filmmaking? Check out the New York Film Academy’s Documentary School.

Written by Carl Bartels. Bartels is a director and cinematographer whose credits include “Taken,” “The Fantastic Four,” and “Greedy Lying Bastards.”

How to Learn From Other Filmmakers by Watching Films

Anyone with dreams of becoming a successful filmmaker has probably seen a good number of movies in their lifetime — in fact, for many of us, watching movies inspired our own desire to make them.

If you’re a movie buff who wants to take their cinephilia to the next level, try these useful exercises to help you improve your knowledge about filmmaking and pick up new skills and inspiration — all while watching films!

  1. Study the filmmaker’s use of their signature trademarks.

Many filmmakers have their own distinct patterns that can be seen across their works. This can include anything from specific types of shot to a focus on certain body parts.

For example, if you’re watching a Michael Bay movie then you can expect — you guessed it — explosions and fast action scenes.

From Hitchcock’s voyeurism effect and Tim Burton’s dark color schemes to Spielberg’s iconic extreme close-ups, the best filmmakers have trademark methods we’ve come to know and love. Watching their masterpieces to study why they rely on the same techniques is a great way to start developing your own style.

  1. Do a shot breakdown of an important scene.

If there’s one exercise that every ambitious filmmaker has to do at least once in their life, it’s the shot breakdown.

Although it’s a long and arduous process, it’s one of the most effective ways of mastering the complex language of film.

More importantly, you’ll gain a stronger understanding of editing when you consciously watch with the question in mind of why filmmakers and editors chose to cut where they did. A shot breakdown is also great way to study and learn the basic shots and angles in the industry and their best uses.

  1. Focus on camera movement.

The director’s role is to position the camera where they think it will better capture their vision on film. Pay attention to where the camera is and the distance between the camera and subjects. Why did the filmmaker go from a very wide shot to a close zoom for a specific moment? Asking and answering these questions as you watch a film will help you make your own decisions when it’s time to choose how your camera will tell your stories.

  1. Pay attention to new things.

The power movies have to enchant us is all due to the numerous elements filmmakers have at their disposal. Of course, directors want all these parts and pieces to blend together so well that audiences are too busy being captivated by the story to notice how or why the movie is keeping their attention so firmly. But as someone who hopes to improve their own craft while watching films, you should be able to shift your focus to notice and study new elements of the films you watch.

How are they using sound to sculpt a mood? What is going on with the lighting? Shadow? Texture? Are there subtle changes in grade/coloring? Does a certain color continue popping up, and does it have any symbolic meaning? What role does the landscape, city, or setting play? Camera angle?

The list goes on and on. Challenge yourself to notice and question new elements as you watch film to try to understand the choices the filmmakers made behind the scenes.

  1. Examine the most important character action.

There’s a reason why the film industry pays its leading actors well: They’re often the part of a film the audiences connect with first, embodying the characters who drive the story forward and delivering performances that bring scripts and storyboards to life.

Everything audiences see characters do on screen — and includes background extras — plays a part in telling the story of a film. That is why a director’s style with actors plays such an important role in guiding the story.

Who can forget the way Joker laughs in “The Dark Knight”? Or the way Frodo looks at Sam when refusing to destroy the ring at the end of “The Return of the King”? These moments came out of a collaboration between the director and the actors. As you watch, ask yourself how you would direct your actors to reach the performance you envision.

  1. Watch a new movie thrice.


When a good movie comes out that you want to learn from, watch it the first time purely as a cinephile. Throw all your knowledge and vocabulary out the window so you can simply be entertained by the film’s story and mood.

During the second viewing you can focus on the things we covered above to sharpen your understanding of excellent filmmaking.

The third time you sit to watch the film is to catch things you didn’t before, such as foreshadowing, what background characters are doing, and how sets are arranged.

 

How do you learn while watching films? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’re ready to learn even more, study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

The Art of the Long Take

If there’s one thing every aspiring filmmaker should consider if they want to achieve success, it’s learning to take chances and be persistent. Not giving up on risky creative ideas is what separates the good films and their makers from the great ones.

Right now, people can’t stop talking about the latest Star Wars film to release — a franchise that wouldn’t exist if the young George Lucas hadn’t gambled his career at the time to see his vision come to life.

Such is the essence of the long take, a technique that offers great benefit to those willing to put in the effort and take a chance.

Risk = Reward

When you consider that today’s movies are made up of several thousand editing cuts, putting together typical shots comes with enough challenge. But while a typical final cut rarely exceeds three seconds per shot, a true long take can last several minutes — or even last for an entire film, as in “Russian Ark” (2002).

These tracking takes involve complicated camera movement, countless hours of rehearsing, and enormous amounts of patience, as a single mistake forces the team to prepare and shoot the scene all over again.

Of course, long takes almost always stand out from the rest of the film when done right. Whether it’s an elaborate action sequence or an establishing shot, viewers love watching a scene unfold without any visual interruptions. This is why many directors pay close attention to long shots, even if it might cost them valuable time and resources.

The Many Uses of a Long Take

There are many ways this powerful technique can be used in filmmaking

A common one is for an establishing shot that introduces the audience to a new scene or location. Since there aren’t any cuts, a long take smoothly draws us into the space via continuous look at the setting and moving parts. For example, the first shot in 2015’s “Spectre” lasts a breathless four minutes as we follow a masked man moving through a Dios de Los Muertos party and up onto a rooftop before revealing the identity of the man we’ve followed.

Long takes are also a fantastic tool for when a director wants to instill suspense into a scene. The best example is also one of the earliest uses, in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil,” as we begin by watching a man place a timebomb in the trunk of a car that then drives through busy city streets. The long shot allows tension to simmer as the audience waits to see when and where the clock will run out.

Many action directors strive to create intense scenes through the use of complex choreography that goes uninterrupted. If you’ve seen 1992’s “Hard Boiled” then you no doubt remember the incredible shootout scene as two men blast away several mobsters while moving down corridors, using an elevator, and tearing the place apart.

These are only a handful of the various uses of the long take.

Recipe for your Long Take

If you’re a fan of long takes and hope to utilize one in a project one day, we applaud you. The following are a few questions to ask yourself before jumping in:

  1. Do You Need A Long Take?

Although an exciting challenge, the long take shouldn’t be used just for its own sake. In other words, take time to evaluate your planned film and decide where, if at all, a long take would be the optimal choice. It’s better you realize early that a long take won’t actually make the scene more impactful.

  1. Are Your Actors Ready?

There’s more pressure on actors when one mistake can lead to hitting the reset button on a scene lasting several minutes and you may need extra preparation and rehearsal. You should make sure you have enough time available to budget in everyone’s schedules for rehearsals prior to shooting.

  1. Do You Have The Equipment?

Unless the action will be circling the camera like in 1992’s “The Player,” you’ll need a budget or access to the essential equipment that will enable the camera movements to allow for a long take. You’ll also need audio equipment that can pick up sounds throughout the take as well as the ability to light the entire thing so it looks good. NYFA students have access to one of the largest equipment libraries in the world, so your time spent training here may provide the perfect opportunity to create the long take you envision.

  1. Can Your Crew Handle It?

Composing long takes requires extra effort from everyone involved, and that is doubly true for your crew members who are handling the camera equipment. If they’re up to the task, make sure you plan for breaks between long takes so exhaustion and stress doesn’t play a role in ruining a long take and leaving your team upset.

What are your favorite long takes in films? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

Social Media Mistakes Actors Make

With 2.07 billion active users on Facebook, 330 million on Twitter, and 467 million on LinkedIn, many aspiring and established actors are promoting their work on social media sites.

If you’re hoping to utilize your social media accounts to make new connections and build a fanbase as a professional actor, you’ll have to engage with people on one or more social media site.

With that said, many of us are warned about the potential pitfalls of social media As an aspiring actor, you’ll want to be on top of your game when promoting yourself on social media because each decision you make can impact your acting career significantly.

Want to be ahead of the game? Follow these seven tips and tricks to help create a lasting social media presence.

1) Start Small

There are many different social media platforms, but that doesn’t mean you need to have a presence on all of them. Start with one or two you are familiar with and build your presence on those accounts.

For example, start off by creating your Facebook fan page or Twitter handle. Take the time to learn tricks and techniques that will help you grow a following on those sites before adding another.

2) Stay Away From Controversy

Don’t post anything lewd, crude, or otherwise inappropriate. You are trying to be marketable and professional. Causing controversy results in neither of those things.

Stick by this golden rule: if you wouldn’t want your grandparents to see it, you probably shouldn’t post it. If you’re not sure about a post, get a few opinions from friends and colleagues

3) Remember to Do Basic Grammar Checks

Everyone occasionally makes mistakes, but constant misspellings or incorrect grammar could distract from your acting chops. Remember, if you want someone to take your acting seriously, you have to consider every post you make as a reflection of your professional self.

Remember to carefully proofread your posts and have another person take a glance as well.

4) Mix It Up

Don’t just post all text posts or constantly show off videos. Give your audience variety with text, picture, and video posts. All fans like something different — some may enjoy videos, some pictures, and some may like a little bit of everything.

Make sure you take the time to create fun and engaging posts of all types for the best results.

5) Make Your Posts Meaningful

Don’t post something just to post!

First, consider how meaningful your post is to your “brand.” Does it benefit you or your target audience? Does it contribute something unique and essential to your brand? If not, then don’t post something as filler.

6) Don’t Leave People in the Dark!

While you shouldn’t post something for the sake of posting something, you also don’t want to abandon your social media presence for weeks or months at a time.

Make a regular schedule to commit yourself to and make sure your followers are aware of when new posts will appear.

7) It’s Not All About You

Believe it or not, it’s actually helpful to not talk about yourself all of the time.  Sure, you need to be comfortable with promoting yourself, but you also don’t want to come off as egotistical. People enjoy seeing actors who are compassionate , hardworking, and human.

Brag about your latest role, but also praise fellow actors and productions you recently enjoyed.

 

Looking for a more permanent boost to your acting portfolio? Browse our acting program and other areas of study.

10 Documentary Essentials


Today’s 21st century documentary filmmaker has more tools than ever available to them. The cameras are smaller and offer higher resolution. The audio equipment is smaller and hears better than ever. Editing software is intuitive and easy to learn and use. Those are the sort of broad stroke items which are essential to successful documentary film shooting.

Documentary film crews are significantly smaller than a narrative feature crew. This means everybody on a doc crew should know how to operate all the gear, and be able to take on any job in a pinch.

This article is not about any of that stuff. Instead, it’s about the smaller things you will need along your journey to becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Here are 10 absolute must-haves on any shoot, the base minimum for professional-level work.

  1. Flashlight – You never know when you will be in low light conditions or the dark, wrapping after a shoot, prepping before a shoot, lost a nut, somebody else lost their phone … you get the idea. The point is that a flashlight is an essential tool for every filmmaker.
  2. Hat – When you are outside shooting in the sun a hat is another piece of essential equipment, and it can help in a light rain too. It keeps you cooler and keeps the sun out of your eyes. I recommend a full brimmed hat, rather than a baseball cap, to protect the back of your neck. Keep $20 hidden in the crown for emergencies.
  3. Belt – I like to wear a belt so that my tool pouch is always where I expect it to be. I can clip various items to my belt (see glove clip) including my flashlight. It provides easy access to immediate use items, and allows hands free carrying, and frees up your pockets for items best kept secure. Holds up my pants too.
  4. Sturdy Shoes – these are one of the best investments you can make. On the set you will be on your feet for long periods. Having good shoes will save your feet, make you more comfortable, and protect you from injury. A foot injury can keep you off the set for weeks, if not months.
  5. Gloves – Good leather work gloves are an inexpensive insurance policy against hand injuries and burns.
  6. Glove Clip – this holds your gloves on your belt for immediate and easy access.
  7. Pouch – I would say that a First AC pouch is best. If you have so much stuff that a First AC pouch is too small you have too much stuff to carry.
  8. Pen – see below.
  9. Paper – A pocket-size notebook will allow you to take notes and record details. Yes, this is an old school, analog way of making notes, but phone batteries run out and writing things down imprints them into your memory. Think of it as a way to cross-check the work. Documentary filmmaking is, by its nature, an exploration — with plenty of room for extemporaneous events. Record new questions and ideas as they come up to help you make your documentary the best it can be.
  10. An iron-clad plan and the ability to adapt it to changing circumstances – One of the most important things you can bring to your documentary shoot is an open mind and insatiable curiosity about your subjects, and finding the truth of the story. You should have a plan (and a point-of-view, of course). You should know about how long you expect to spend interviewing that person, or shooting that activity. Your research will have given you a strong foundation of what to expect and where your documentary is going. But don’t be so rigid in your preconceived agenda that you aren’t open to unexpected new information, or serendipitous occurrence in the field. It is better to have the footage and not need it, than to turn away and wish you had it later in the editing room.

 

Want to know what else you’ll need to know on a professional set? Learn documentary filmmaking at New York Film Academy.

Written by James Coburn

Paid Script Coverage Services – The 2 Biggest Benefits and Drawbacks

Screenplay

Script coverage, it’s been said, is one of those things about the film industry that nobody really learns about until they’re actually in the industry. Usually you’re introduced to script coverage at your first gig, or even internship, by way of your boss or higher-up handing you a script (or a PDF these days) and a Word document containing the script coverage template from the lucky person who wrote script coverage before you got there.

So, it’s fair to surmise that most people who write script coverage, or read scripts for a living, probably learned from reading the script coverage of their predecessor at a production company or studio or agency — each of which, by the way, has its own unique way of doing it.

Does the script coverage include a synopsis? How long of a synopsis? A critique section? If so, is it free-form, prose critique, or is it a series of boxes to check off and score, like “Plot,” “Character,” “Conflict,” etc.? Is there an analysis grid? Does it include a logline? Up top, does it indicate the writer’s name? The submission date? Does it indicate who submitted it?

While the templates and methodologies can be as different as the different entities doing the script coverage, one basic purpose is common to all script coverages:

Script coverage saves a producer, agent, or otherwise busy film industry “somebody” from having to read the actual script.

In other words, script coverage is a glorified “book report” of a screenplay or teleplay, designed to provide “the skinny” about a script, in order to save someone higher up from having to read the actual script.

In the past, generally pre-1996 or so, script coverage was an in-house thing only. That is, the only entities doing script coverage were agencies, production companies, studios, and producers. Script coverage was an internal document designed to stay internal, and not necessarily get back to the screenwriter whose script was covered.

But with the rise of the internet, script coverage became available as a tool for screenwriters and filmmakers, who could use to improve their screenplay. For a price.

Script readers were no longer only to be found in agencies and studios and production companies, or working with name talent. They were now taking their trade online, and exchanging their time and critical chops for money.

So now there’s a virtual cottage industry of script coverage companies spanning the internet, ranging from the good to the bad, from the expensive to the cheap, from professional work to hatchet jobs.  

Traditionally, receiving script feedback on one’s own screenplay — feedback of any kind — has never been a super easy endeavor. Prior to paid script coverage services, a screenwriter would generally rely on her writer colleagues, writers group, mentors, or friends and family, to provide her with insight into her work.

But with the rise of the world wide web also came the rise of online meetups and writers groups and screenwriting forums. Now it’s more accessible than ever to find communities and like-minded folks to help you with your screenwriting. And standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all those methods and options, free and otherwise, is the service of paid script coverage.

Full disclosure: I’ve run the script coverage service Screenplay Readers since 1999. But while I’m a huge advocate of paid script feedback for my own writing, and am a huge fan of it because it’s my business, I have to make one thing super clear: I’m an even bigger advocate of getting as much free feedback on your work as possible before paying for any script coverage.

Paid script coverage isn’t for everybody, but here’s my take on the two biggest reasons it can help, and the two biggest reasons why it might not be right for you:

Biggest Benefit #1: It gives your script a “dry run” for the real submission process.

90 times out of 100, or even more frequently, if you’re sending in your script to an agency, producer, or production company, your script isn’t getting read. An immutable fact of the film business since time immemorial has been that everybody wants in. And I mean everybody. And everybody thinks they can write a script.

The result is studio and agency inboxes are crammed with spec scripts from unknown writers. Heck, many are crammed with spec scripts from known writers, both regularly employed and underemployed ones.

There’s just. Too. Many. Screenplays.

But for those lucky few who do get their scripts read, you, the screenwriter, will likely never read the script coverage that script readers writes about your script. So you’ll never know what criticisms that script reader had, and you’ll never have a chance to address them, or an opportunity to make those changes or fixes that could make the difference for a future script reader.

By paying for script coverage from a reputable screenplay coverage company, you get to read the coverage. You get to soak in all the criticism, good and bad, all the details, all the big-picture notes the script reader had, any and all concerns with the script finding an audience, you name it.  

This sort of “dry run” is invaluable, as most screenplays are given only one chance to make a good impression on whoever may be reading it. An assistant or script reader, or even an agent or producer, isn’t going to read your script twice, unless you’re a name writer. And even then, a second read is a longshot. (In most of those cases, you’ll be lucky as a name writer to get even a second “skim.”)

Biggest Benefit #2: A person you don’t know synopsizes your script.

Nearly all script coverage includes a synopsis section, where the person reading the script boils down your story into a page or two, listing just the major beats and developments so that the person reading the script coverage later can get a good idea of what the actual story is.

As writers working alone, or even with a co-writer, we often get too close to our material. We start to see the trees, yes, but the forest can be elusive after staring at the page for two or three years. That is to say, while you’re on the third draft, hard at work on polishing the dialogue, you may have long ago stopped looking at the overarching story — and that story may need drastic attention. A complete stranger reading your screenplay and providing notes in the form a script coverage synopsis can a huge benefit for a writer because having that synopsis, in essence, brings back the “forest” — the “bird’s eye view.”

And the best part of that is that it doesn’t even matter if the script reader gets your synopsis “right.” That is, if they get all the beats of your story down pat, and the synopsis is spot on, you win because you know your material is clear and your story is coming across.

But even if they get it “wrong,” weirdly enough, you still win because you learn which parts of your script aren’t making themselves clear. A “wrong” synopsis beat gives you a chance to zoom in on that beat and make it clear. Better yet: make it idiotproof so that it’s unmissable to all but the most sloppy of readers.
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Biggest Drawback #1:  Expense.

There’s a key reason that aspiring screenwriters are the second most common film industry folks stepping off the bus and trying their hand at the grand ole Hollywood film industry. That key reason? Screenwriting is cheap — that is, the bars to entry, the expenses associated with giving it a try: they’re low. All you need is a laptop, some free screenwriting software, and some imagination. Don’t get me wrong: Talent is still vital, and skills take time and money and resources to hone, but the bare bones bar to entry for simply giving it a try is low.

Now compare that bar to entry for aspiring cinematographers and directors, where you kinda need to have a not-small pile of expensive gear, or a film or two under your belt. Because screenwriting is such a relatively inexpensive craft to try your hand at, it stands to reason that there are vastly more low-income aspiring screenwriters than there are middle/upper-income aspiring screenwriters.

So that means, for the majority of aspiring screenwriters, paying a script coverage company for feedback may be out of the question. Plus, many aspiring screenwriters decide that it really makes no sense to pay for coverage if they’re just a few clicks away from an online writers group or a writers meetup that can provide feedback and help them grow as artists in many other ways — not the least of which is in social connections which may pay off later.

Biggest Drawback #2: Anonymous readers.

Script coverage companies, by and large, work with mysterious readers who you know nothing about, and the company’s not telling you. My company and a few others break this rule, posting names and bios and pics of our team on our site. But by and large, if you’re paying for script coverage, you’re likely going to have your script read by a reader you know nothing about, and whose qualifications are a mystery.

On the one hand, not knowing who your reader is can cast some doubt on the integrity of your notes, sure. But on the other, it might not actually be all that bad; Consider that if you ever send your script into a studio or agency, you’ll probably never know the identity or qualifications of anybody reading your script at those places, either. Still, when receiving feedback on your screenplay, knowing who’s doing it, what their background is, and what their qualifications are can count for a lot.

So what does it all mean? Well, I can only tell you what it means for me. For me, it’s awesome to get super-focused, super-detailed feedback on my work, as screenwriters can only grow — in my opinion — with copious feedback. But paying for script coverage isn’t for every screenwriter, especially those who just don’t have the resources.

I believe in what we do at my script coverage company, and I believe in the quality of the script feedback we’re providing our customers, absolutely. But I also believe in the importance of networking, and writers groups, and collaborating with other writers on other projects. Without those things, without those people, I wouldn’t be half as a good a screenwriter as I am now.

Guest Post Written by Brian O’Malley of Screenplay Readers

How Film School Can Help Your YouTube Channel

YouTube ChannelWhether you are putting together a web series to showcase your comedic talents or nurture dreams of being the next beauty, gamer, or  film vlogger superstar, having filmmaking skills will help your YouTube channel achieve a professional look. Camera skills, the ability to work with sound, lighting, and actors, and good editing skills, all lend themselves to creating content that inspires viewers to subscribe instead of moving on to someone else’s offerings.

Starting Strong and Slick

Most viewers determine whether they will watch a YouTube video in the first few seconds, according to WikiHow, so it’s vital that your intro is compelling and professional. Whether you use music, title cards, voiceover, or a teaser, film school gives you the production, design, and editing skills you need to pull a viewer in and keep them from looking for the next big thing.

Looking Good

The delight of YouTube is in its endless choice and variety for the viewer, which is of course the challenge for the content creator. Bad camera work and lighting can give a viewer an excuse to find what they’re looking for elsewhere, so why give them that excuse? Film school teaches you the technical aspects of using your camera and of how to work with lighting, both natural and artificial, so that you can make the most of your budget, as it grows with your channel.


Sounding Good

“Bad video is forgivable. Bad audio is not,” declares this No Film School article. But as it goes on to say, recording clean audio is not easy, and fixing it in post-production is also not easy. As with camera work and lighting, you can teach yourself through trial and error, but in film school you will learn from the trial and error of others, and start with a firm footing that can minimize wasted time and disasters.

Directing and Acting

Finding the right actors and directing them to achieve your goals is no easy task. Film school can teach you where to find actors, what to look for in the hundreds of headshots and resumes, how to conduct auditions, and finally how to direct them to help you achieve your goals.

And for actors, having some experience in front of the camera is vital to connecting with your audience, so that they feel that they know you. As we talked about in this article, acting for the camera is very different from acting on stage. There is an intimacy demanded by the camera for film and television that is at least as important for YouTube since so many people watch it on small personal screens.

Meeting Collaborators

Connecting with compatible and talented people is no small thing. We can’t say it enough: Filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and the connections you make in film school with both your instructors and your classmates will likely prove invaluable. As your YouTube channel grows, you will be glad you have people to call on to help you produce a steady stream of quality content for your millions of YouTube subscribers!

Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

Top 5 Pieces of Gear You Need for Travel Video and Photography

As a photographer or a videographer, traveling to locations outside of where you live is sometimes inevitable, so don’t leave yourself unprepared for the road! A lack of planning can lead to damaged, lost, or dirty equipment.

We’ve outlined the top five pieces of gear to use when traveling with photography and video equipment. With these essential pieces in place, you’ll be well on your way to keeping your equipment safe, and ensuring you get the best shots that you can get — no matter where you travel.

Travel Bag or Backpack

Sony Bag

Film Video Sony Bag Lens Camera Photography

A bag or backpack to carry your camera body, lenses, and other photography accessories is a must when you are traveling for work. It’s worth it to invest in a backpack that is specifically made to handle photography equipment, with specifically design compartments and special materials built to protect and encase your equipment. Don’t make the mistake in throwing your equipment in whatever bag you have available, because the chances of your gear getting damaged will be pretty high.

When selecting a backpack, there are a few components you will want to have to help keep your equipment organized. A standard photography backpack will have padded, internal dividers to hold multiple lenses, as well as the camera body. External pockets are great to hold accessories like USB cords, batteries and chargers, memory cards, and cleaning kits. Depending on your budget and needs, some backpacks can also carry mono- or tripods, tablets or laptops, and may include a rain cover.

If you need help selecting a backpack that fits your needs, read Carryology’s article, “The Best Camera Backpacks Buyer’s Guide 2017.”

Memory Cards and Memory Card Readers

Memory Cards
It’s a good idea to always keep extra memory cards on hand. Every photographer has their own preference when it comes to brand and size, but keep two or three extra handy. Nothing is more disappointing than damaging or losing the only memory card that’s with you.

Card Reader
A standard USB memory card reader is also a great tool for you to have while you are traveling. USB is a lot more common, and gives you the flexibility to use it on more devices. You can connect to any laptop or tablet no matter where you are located.

Mono and Tripods

 

Tripod

Mono and tripods are essential to capturing a great photograph in all different types of situations. Why should you use one?

If you are photographing nature or animals, you could be there for hours waiting for the right shot. If you are using a telephoto lens, they tend to get heavy. They are also difficult to steady and could lead to blurry photos. Tripods help reduce unwanted movement when you are trying to get creative with close-up shots. The list of reasons to use a tripod when photographing and traveling is endless.

If you don’t have the room to carry a tripod, you can also use a monopod, or a tabletop tripod or clamp.

Cleaning Gear  

Cleaning gear is sometimes an afterthought, but you should always keep a kit in your bag. No one wants to be on location for a shoot only to find a grease spot or a large piece of dust on the lens.

Rocket blowers and brushes are great to have because you can dislodge dust from the camera lens or from inside the camera body. There are more extensive cleaning kits that include lens pen, cleaning tissues, and microfiber wipe clothes.

Power Strips

When you are traveling, access to multiple outlets may be out of the question. If you have camera batteries or other items to charge, it can be difficult to charge everything at once. A collapsible power strip is a great solution: it is easy to carry, can fit in any camera bag, and you can plug in multiple items.

Monster Outlets to Go 4 plugs into one outlet, but allows you to charge up to four items at one time. The design allows you to wrap the cord securely around the flat power strip for easy traveling.

Whether you are staying stateside or traveling internationally, you should always be prepared. The photography gear outlined above will help you protect your equipment, keep it clean, and get the best photographs possible.

What photography or video gear do you have to have when you are traveling? Let us know below! And learn more about photography at the New York Film Academy.

Photography Backdrops You Can Find Anywhere

Photography Backdrops You Can Find Anywhere

A good photographer can find a great backdrop, no matter where they are in real time. They look at their surroundings, the type of lighting that is available, and their subject. To ensure the best photographs possible, no matter the location, we’ve highlighted some backdrops that you can find anywhere.

The best part is that some of these backdrops won’t cost you anything! Now you can have some great results without breaking the bank.

Neutral Backdrops

Nothing says simplicity like a neutral backdrop — whether it’s stark white, grey, or black. Photographers who are just starting out may be able to work on a project like professional headshots, but may not have the backdrop and mounting equipment they need. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of your surroundings. A clean wall can be sufficient.

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Neutral backdrops, like the one featured above, allow the audience to really focus on the subject. Let the subject and the details speak for itself in the photograph, don’t rely on a backdrop to add to it.

If you have the time to prepare before a shoot and you’re working on limited funds, here are some other neutral backgrounds that you can use:

  • Painters’ drop clothes
  • White paper rolls
  • Brown packing paper
  • Drawer lining paper

Textured Backdrops

Textured backdrops, like a brick wall, are a great alternative to neutral, plain backgrounds. Brick walls can be found just about anywhere you go, and are perfect for impromptu photo shoots. Red or whitewashed brick walls will add an artsy, weathered look to photos and serve as a textural counterpoint your photography subject.

If you are feeling adventurous, try out other textured backgrounds including:

  • Garage doors
  • Barn doors and walls
  • Shiplap walls
  • Metal or wood fences
  • Corrugated metal walls

Textured

Graffiti

Graffiti is one of those things that you can find no matter where you are in the world. It might come as a surprise, but graffiti can make a great photography backdrop when it’s used correctly. Place your subject in front the graffiti, focus on the subject, and blur the graffiti in the background. Or you can blur your subject in the foreground to focus on the graffiti.

For more ideas on photographing graffiti, Widewalls’ “Top 10 Street Art Photographers” examines photographers who capture street artists and their graffiti artwork.

Nature

Nature is a beautiful backdrop for photography, especially when the sun is setting and the light is just right. Just like using graffiti as a backdrop, there is so much a photographer can do with nature. It doesn’t matter if you are an amateur or professional photographer — take a chance and experiment with your subject, the lightning, and different angles. Need some inspiration for nature shots? You can use the following as a backdrop for your photography:

  • Fields
  • Parks
  • Mountains
  • Beaches
  • Lakes, rivers, or streams
  • Forests

What are you waiting for? It’s time to hop in your car or on your bike to find a backdrop that will make your photographs really stand out.

Do you have any special backdrops for photography that you can find just about anywhere you go? We would love to know below! Learn more about photography at the New York Film Academy.