Author: Zeke

The Past in the Present: Why Games Set Long, Long Ago Matter

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The beauty of video games is that they can take you to any point in space and time you can possibly dream up. Want to run a cobalt trading operation between two regions of the Milky Way? Elite: Dangerous has you covered. Want to play as a mutant monster hunter caught in the middle of an empire-wide war? Look no further than The Witcher franchise.

But if you’re a game designer, there’s a strong case to be made for setting the action in a real-world, historical setting. To illustrate, we’ll delve into the example of World War I as a setting for games.

“Where Are All the Good World War I Games?”

It’s an interesting question.

The number of games set in a post-apocalyptic future is gigantic. Game developers have also seen a lot of success using World War II as the backdrop — in fact, the list of WWII games is longer than you could shake a bayonet at.

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On the other hand, the list of World War I games that have ever been created since the infancy of video gaming is surprisingly stark (and of those, the majority are flight sims).

There are some very valid arguments to be made as to why The War to End All Wars isn’t an ideal setting for a video game (or, at least, less ideal than WWII), and they’re perhaps deserving of their own separate article. But suffice it to say, nobody thought a game about processing paperwork in a grey, pseudo-Soviet setting was a thrilling idea until “Papers, Please” came along.

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If the idea of turning one of the darkest, bloodiest and most senseless wars in recent history into fodder for a video game sounds like it would be in bad taste … well, it doesn’t need to be that way.

Preserving a Fading Time

While the principle purpose of video games is entertainment, it’s not the only benefit that can come from playing them: they’re also a medium for education.

Continuing with our WWI example, very few — if any — among us can truly appreciate the realities of WWI. An interactive medium like gaming, perhaps even more so than extensive reading about the war, has the capacity to help us empathize with the situation in which millions of soldiers found themselves.

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The reason this is both poignant (when handled right) and important is that this is a monumental world event that is quickly fading from living memory — the last surviving veteran of World War I, Florence Green, passed away in 2012.

Two reasons game developers shy away from this period? Firstly, it’s a war from which there are comparatively fewer records, first-person accounts or artifacts from which to draw inspiration. Secondly, it was a very complicated war from a political standpoint, set it a world markedly different from our own (the political climate behind the second World War are more readily understandable, and it’s easier to differentiate between the heroes and evil parties).

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But these are also precisely the reasons why video gaming should step up to the mantle and represent this time for the benefit of modern players (and it’s not as if there isn’t a market for gamers who want to see historical accuracy in games).

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If done well, any historical games — not just those set around WWI — can be a big win all around: profitable for developers, entertaining for players, genre-pushing for the industry and preserving a little slice of history to boot.

Identifying Trends for Art and Profit

It may well be that non-RTS games set around WWI are fundamentally difficult, but that era does serve as a good case study and opens up a wider discussion on how public interest in certain historical periods influences the game industry.

It’s little surprise that COD and Battlefield games set in the Middle East dominated the charts during the 2000s, given the real-world events of that decade. Outside of modern warfare, we’re seeing a lot of Viking-inspired games coming out on Steam this year — it could be the case that this trend is being fueled by the spectacular HBO show “Vikings” and the success of the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise.

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Or, alternatively, the slew of archeological findings from that period may have spawned a resurgence in public interest, which in turn has shaped gaming and movie trends.

Whichever way around it may be, it’s our job as game designers to identify such trends and deliver a quality gaming experience around them, ideally before everyone hops on the trend and it becomes oversaturated. After all, it would be somewhat foolhardy to make a COD-esque FPS in the current market.

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But if you can be the first to identify a nonfiction story or era that has yet to receive an amazing game treatment?

That’s the holy grail right there.

Cinematography Jobs: How to Shoot Stylish Wedding Videos

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If you’re studying cinematography or currently between jobs, there are plenty of opportunities outside of the world of film to lend your talents and make some money along the way.

One of the most enjoyable – and lucrative – is shooting wedding videos.

But it’s also not without its pressures, especially given that you may be the sole party responsible for capturing exceptionally personal footage (and there’s only one opportunity to get it right.)

Luckily you’re a cinematographer, ergo you’re already far more qualified than the bride’s drunk Uncle Tom. So, let’s get started!

1. Communication > Videography

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Poor communication skills won’t only create a bad impression (and therefore stymieing future recommendations), but it’ll also leave you woefully under-prepared for the couple’s big day.

No two weddings are alike, and the same goes for the couple’s expectations. Will there be any outside-the-norm events they want you to capture? Has the groom got a special surprise he wants you to be there for? Any particular guests or parts of the venue that need extra attention?

Even just agreeing on the times you’ll be there and shooting need to be established long in advance so that everyone is on the same page.

This doesn’t just stop at the couple, either. It’s imperative to speak to the venue, too, and find out the rules, regulations, logistics and possible restrictions that you may face on the day. Same goes for the DJ or band, although for different reasons (more on this later.)

And when the day is done, you job isn’t. There’s an element of customer aftercare in wedding videography; naturally you’ll  want to carry out editing and post-production work, but also ensure they’re happy with the footage you deliver. If you’d set up expectations properly in the initial steps, this should be easy to achieve and you’ll be rewarded with a glowing testimonial.

2. Pack for Expedience

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By all means pack your car with as much videography equipment as you like, but bear in mind that when the action starts, it’s no understatement to say that you’ll be running around like a lunatic. Capturing a wedding video is a full-contact sport!

To help you get from one side of the venue to film the bride’s make-up session to the other side of the venue to film the groom’s side of the wedding party, try to limit yourself to no more than a single camera and two lenses (three, at a push.)

You can always return to the car during brief reprieves to swap out gear ahead of the evening’s festivities.

3. Two Halves of the Equation

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A wedding photographer need only worry about light; you’ve got the envious job of not only capturing video, but audio too.

Avoid the crying baby at the back of the venue, use multiple audio recording devices (especially if the one in your camera isn’t great) and consider putting a lavalier on the groom and/or wedding officiant – be sure to allow for extra setting-up time to arrange this!

The other consideration to make is the evening’s entertainment – needless to say, bands and DJs can be louder than your portable mics can handle without peaking. If possible, ask the act if you can plug directly into the PA system (not always doable, but great if you can.)

4. Hit the Same Beats as the Photographer…

… but keep out of their way! Definitely liaise with the photographer before the ceremony if you get the chance, but either way, don’t get under their feet when the fun begins.

Giving the photographer room to move comes with another benefit: the more you blend into the background, the more relaxed the couple will be. Being constantly aware that you’re being recorded is enough to make anyone paranoid!

Otherwise, your aim as a videographer is to capture the same key moments that the photographer will be aiming for, albeit in live-action format.

5. Keep Calm and Carry On

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The run-up to the ceremony itself can be the most tense and nerve-wracking moments of anyone’s life. Don’t let the atmosphere get to you personally; a videographer running around in a fluster only exacerbates things.

Stable video is also the main goal – given that tripods aren’t usually effective (aside from the main ceremony), it’s doubly imperative that you remain as calm as possible while in the eye of the storm. Stay focused, keep tabs on the key players, and identify the best shots. The happy couple are counting on you.

Have any great tips for creating the best wedding video? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Actors We Bet You Didn’t Know Were Military Veterans

100720-N-4930E-578 WASHINGTON (July 20, 2010) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Rick West, second from right, joins Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 1st Class Cassandra L. Foote, left, Chief of Naval Operations Sailor of the Year; Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Shalanda Brewer, Navy Reserve Sailor of the Year; Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Ingrid Cortez, Fleet Forces Sailor of the Year and Operation Specialist 1st Class Samira McBride U.S., Pacific Sailor of the Year, in saluting the American flag to kick off a night of entertainment provided by the U.S. Navy ceremonial guard and Navy Band at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Abraham Essenmacher/Released)

Elvis Presley. Clint Eastwood. Charlton Heston.

These may be the first few names that spring to mind when you think of famous actors who served in the military, but it goes without saying that there are many, many more … a lot of whom you probably never knew were veterans in the first place!

In celebration of Veterans Day, we rounded up a list of six surprising and inspirational stories of actors that you probably didn’t know were also veterans.

1. Leonard Nimoy

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Rank: Sergeant

Years Served: 1953-1955

Although known in legacy primarily for his portrayal of Spock in “Star Trek,” the road to sci-fi stardom was a winding one for the late, great Leonard Nimoy. He appeared in a huge number of B-movies and TV shows as a supporting actor before landing the role that would make him an intergalactic name. Before this career-defining role, Nimoy supported himself selling vacuum cleaners, working in an ice cream parlor, driving a cab, and serving in the Army Special Reserves.

Nimoy was in good company on the set of “Star Trek,” because one of his costars was also a veteran…

2. James Earl Jones

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Rank: First Lieutenant

Years Served: 1953-1955

Shortly before embarking on his 60-year career in film (having decided he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor), the voice of Vader had joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps.When the Korean War broke out, Jones was commissioned to establish a cold weather training command in Colorado. He reportedly both enjoyed the assignment, and excelled at it.

We like to imagine the military spent most of this period trying to figure out how to weaponize his voice.

3. Morgan Freeman

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Rank: Airman 1st Class

Years Served: 1955-1959

Freeman’s acting career began at the young age of nine, and he came out of the gate swinging with a string of drama competition wins and lead performances in plays. It was enough to attract a partial drama scholarship at Jackson State University, but he curiously turned it down to instead enlist in the U.S. Air Force as a radar repairman.

Like James Earl Jones, we can safely assume that the military tried and failed to weaponize Freeman’s dulcet tones. After four years of service, he returned to acting and the rest, as they say, is history.

4. Bea Arthur

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Rank: Staff Sergeant

Years Served: 1943-1945

Strangely, the “Golden Girls” star flatly denied ever having served in the military multiple times over the course of her life, and often acted baffled whenever the rumor was brought up in interviews.

Whatever the reason for the denial, military records later revealed that Arthur did indeed serve for 30 months in the Marine Corps, first as a typist and then later as a truck driver.

Arthur is also the only female veteran-turned-acting-celebrity that we found. If you know of more, please tell us in the comments below!

6. Jimmy Stewart

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Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served: 1941-1968

One of America’s most-loved golden era actors is also the highest ranking actor in military history. Jimmy Stewart was an exceptionally accomplished pilot, and he also established a pilot training school that is estimated to have trained over 10,000 pilots during World War II!

Stewart refused any publicity attracted to him due to his heroic war efforts, flew uncredited in numerous bombing missions deep in Nazi Germany, and often went out of his way to make sure he was involved in highly dangerous active combat (few commanding officers wanted to put the A-list actor in harm’s way, and Stewart was often relegated to desk assignments).

Somewhat understandably, after nearly three decades of service very few of his chosen film roles had anything to do with war or military themes.

In honor of Veterans Day and all those who have served our country: You’re all heroes to us, and the New York Film Academy offers our heartfelt gratitude.

081108-N-5549O-035 MILWAUKEE (Nov. 8, 2008) Ship's Navigator Lt. j.g. Shaina Hayden renders honors to the national anthem during the commissioning ceremony for the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) at Veterans Park in Milwaukee, Wis. Freedom is the first of two littoral combat ships designed to operate in shallow water environments to counter threats in coastal regions. (U. S. Navy photo Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien/Released)

From Kevin Smith to Ava DuVerney: 7 Filmmakers You NEED to Follow on Instagram

Social media isn’t just a tool for film promotion or connecting with fans. As a visual and performing artist, social media can also be a tool for your own inspiration and growth! To that end, we’ve rounded up seven established filmmakers on Instagram who are guaranteed to inject a little inspiration into your news feed.

1. Kevin Smith

Instagram Handle: @ThatKevinSmith

Followers: 864k

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The big man in a hockey shirt who needs no introduction. No matter whether you love or hate his unique brand of cult comedy, his very candid Instagram account is wholly deserving on a list of filmmakers everyone should follow.

What to Expect: A bucket of geek culture, behind-the-scenes snippets and pizza.

2. Morgan Spurlock

Instagram Handle: @MorganSpurlockNYC

Followers: 15.5k

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Multi-talented writer, filmmaker, documentarian and political activist who you’ll probably know from one of the most impacting documentaries of last decade: Super Size Me.

What to Expect: The family life of a filmmaker laid bare, and a (not wholly-surprising) lack of burgers.

3. TIFF

Instagram Handle: @Tiff_Net

Followers: 45k

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The official account of the Toronto International Film Festival — and even by global festival standards, it’s an impeccably maintained Instagram account.

What to Expect: Simply gorgeous film-related eye candy.

4. Emmanuel Lubezki

Instagram Handle: @Chivexp

Followers: 354k

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Quite possibly the finest cinematographer currently active, having knocked it out of the park with an entire string of masterpieces, one after another (namely “Children of Men,” “The Tree of Life,” “Gravity,” “Birdman” and “The Revenant”).

What to Expect: Pure poetry.

5.Radiohead

Instagram Handle: @Radiohead

Followers: 773k

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Not technically a “filmmaker” per se, but we absolutely had to include the audiovisual masters here owing to the exceptional shorts and imagery they frequently share on Instagram.

What to Expect: A lot of surreal food for thought to get your creative juices flowing, from both the band itself and talented fans.

6. Lee Daniels

Instagram Handle: @TheOriginalBigDaddy

Followers: 548k

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The multi-award winning director and producer behind “Precious,” “Monster’s Ball” and “The Butler.”

What to Expect: A lot of heart, a lot of humor, plenty behind-the-scenes clips from Lee’s current show “Empire” (and a few candid celebrity shots thrown in for good measure).

7. Ava DuVernay

Instagram Handle: @Directher

Followers: 390k

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The first black female ever to have won the Best Director Prize at Sundance (for her second flick “Middle of Nowhere”), and also the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe (for her work on “Selma”).

What to Expect: A real inside look into the life of a director (warts and all!).

May your Instagram feed be full of inspiration!

How Graphic Design for Women’s Brands Has Changed — and Why it Needs to KEEP Changing

In its early history, graphic design — and indeed marketing in general — was a male-dominated profession. The ethos for branding a female-centric product generally ended at “use a pink color palette and soft lines, then call it a day.”

Thankfully, we’re long past those days. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.

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Good graphic design — particularly within the sphere of branding — should speak to your target demographic. One thing to bear in mind is that “female” isn’t a demographic, much less a character trait: it’s simply one physiological aspect of an individual.

Here are some ideas on how to keep your graphic design work progressive, positive, and pertinent when working on elements for women’s brands.

Gender Isn’t a Personality Trait

Gender may be a driving force behind the sale of certain individual products and services (such as leg razors and moisturizer, but even then not necessarily). However, the graphic design and branding behind such products needs to reflect the actual nature and benefit of said product (i.e.: a super-close shave or a superior skin care routine for instance) and not just that it’s a “girl’s product.”

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It’s an age-old tenet of good marketing, but for some reason it frequently gets lost here: focus on why product X will make their life better. Don’t try to assume what their life is.

A superb example of this can be seen in the branding behind the Feminist Times magazine (soon to relauch). As noted in this in-depth dissection, the design choices were carefully made to clearly express what kind of content readers could expect, while at the same time not pigeon-holing who their readers were: “While primarily aimed at women, [art director Lucy Newman] says the site aims to appeal to ‘nonconformists of all ages, genders and backgrounds’ and bring feminism to a wider audience. It’s a sparse design: strong deep colours are coupled with greys and black, sans type and a grid layout. Embellishment is kept to a minimum, presumably to let the controversial editorial do the talking.”

Newman goes on to elaborate that: “The overall concepts that needed to be embodied in the design and imagery were: daring, radical empathy, warmth, inclusive (not aspirational), home made (around the kitchen table), iconoclastic, irreverent fun, punk, political. A movement that you can join and join in. It meant designing a look and feel which is anti-lifestyle and in some way anti-taste, if that is the right word, which is an interesting challenge in itself.”

And, as noted previously, it was a conscious design choice to forego the stereotypical curved lines and pink/purple hues that are often deemed the “feminine” hallmarks of graphic design.

The Rise of Femvertising

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a big push towards “female-empowerment” advertising, and you’re no doubt already thinking of Dove even before this sentence ends.

At the height of parent company Unilever’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” the company was estimated to be earning $30 for every $1 it spent on the drive, which is an unprecedented feat in marketing and one that was hailed as a game-changer when it came to marketing towards women.

Eventually, however, the campaign drew criticism from those who began to suspect that the Dove campaign was becoming both manipulative and patronizing.

For consumers, the sense that a company is genuine is key, and when it comes to graphic design this extends to how much photoshopping and airbrushing is done. No matter how skilled the designer, manipulations will be scrutinized … and doubly so if you’re working on a campaign called “Real Beauty” and then extensively photoshopping the “real women” featured (the reason that is in quotes is that there is some debate as to whether Dove may have used undeclared actresses).

What does this mean for the rest of us? It highlights that consumers can spot disingenuous pandering from a mile away, and both graphic designers and the wider marketing industry need to be more conscious of this going forward. This is especially true now that the idea of “femvertising” is now approached with slight apprehension on the consumer’s side.

Hope for the Future

As the medium of graphic design continues to evolve, we have no doubt that the diversification issue will improve too, simply by proxy; the number of women getting into graphic design as a career choice is growing. At the prestigious CSM university in London, 70 percent of the graphic design students are now female (compared to 50 percent during the ‘90s), and we’re seeing a similar pattern in our own graphic design program.

And long may it continue.

Because if corporations want graphic designers who can intuitively and genuinely speak to consumers who happen to be women, they’d do well to hire more graphic designers who happen to be women.

NYFA Around the World: Latest Industry News from Our Film School Alumni

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Just as the hearts of parents swell with pride and a little bit of heartbreak as they watch their children head off to film school, we too get a little teary-eyed when watching our students graduate before going off to make waves in the working world!

Successfully completing one of the most intense film school programs in the world is a feat worth celebrating in and of itself, so we’re doubly proud whenever we see headlines featuring our alumni’s names.

Here’s a round-up of just a few of the feature films and shows our alumni have been working on that have either just hit the screen or are coming up imminently this fall.

“Kevin Can Wait” – Michael Soccio

Comedian and actor Kevin James (who you’ll recognize from his hit show “The King of Queens” and feature film “Grown Ups”) recently took to the stage for an informative and delightful talk as part of our Guest Speaker Series, and in tow was NYFA’s very own directing alumnus Michael Soccio.

As explained on the panel, Soccio channeled everything he learned about directing into becoming a better writer, and has collaborated with James on a number of projects including the aforementioned smash successes “King of Queens” and “Hitch.”

But the successes don’t stop there. As of this week, Soccio and James have been commissioned by CBS for a full a full 22-episode season of their newest comedy “Kevin Can Wait.”

Kevin might be able to, but we sure can’t!

“Insecure” – Issa Rae

Following her graduation from NYFA, the hugely talented Issa Rae went on to establish the hit YouTube series “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl.” It garnered her a quarter of a million subscribers (with the individual episode view counts numbering in the multiple millions), leading her to be recognized with a Shorty Award for the series.

It also caught the attention of HBO, who admired her sheer grit and determination in producing the show almost singlehandedly. A two-year deal followed, and as of this month we’ll be seeing the first of Rae’s HBO work with the release of “Insecure.”

There’ll be eight episodes in total (which began airing Oct. 9) and we applaud HBO’s decision to focus on diversity within its programming.

They definitely hired the right girl for the job.

“The Magnificent Seven” – Manuel García-Rulfo

Mexican-born García-Rulfo originally majored in communications and went on to pursue a career in that industry, but he couldn’t shake off a nagging thought: his real passion was acting.

In a brave move, he ditched everything he’d worked towards and decided to go back to studying, this time at NYFA. It was a move that was to pay off — big time.

Since 2006, García-Rulfo has starred in a slew of features and shorts. What could be considered as his “big” break, however, was a role in the brilliant “From Dusk Till Dawn” TV series between 2014-2015. He’s using that momentum to go from strength to strength, having received prominent screen time as The Outlaw in the this fall’s “The Magnificent Seven,” now in theaters.

“Amanat” – Sanzhar Madiyev

It’s with great honor and privilege that we’re able to report that alumnus Sanzhar Madiyev has appeared in a movie that has been nominated (and is looking like a strong contender to win) the 2017 Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

“Amanat” was screened in May in Madiyev’s native Kazakhstan to great reception, and NYFA will be reporting on its wider international successes in the coming months.

And Madiyev is not the only NYFA graduate involved in an Oscar nominated film…

“Sparrows” – Atli Fjalarsson

“Sparrows” is a dramatic, endearing coming-of-age story set in Iceland, and is the country’s own entry into next year’s Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.

A celebration of both Icelandic culture and an intricate tale of the 16-year-old Ari (played by Fjalarsson), “Sparrows” is already gaining traction ahead of the Oscars thanks to two critically-acclaimed screenings at TIFF and the San Sebastian Film Festival this year.

We pay a huge debt of gratitude to all our alumni who fly the NYFA flag into their successful careers. Share your NYFA success story in the comments below — we love hearing from you all!

Screen Love: The On-Screen Couples We’re All Rooting For This Fall

Very few among us could have predicted the sad end of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s 12-year relationship, which has left many fans searching for romantic hope on the silver (and small) screen. Here are some on-screen couples who can help you believe in love again this autumn!

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” — Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy

Fans of the Bridget Jones franchise have had to wait some time for the third installment, but we’re happy to report it has been more than worth the wait. What’s not to love about the bumbling Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth locked in a perpetual state of “will they/won’t they”?

This time around, there’s a second guy in the mix and the mystery as to who’s the father of the titular baby drives the plot forward with purpose. We won’t spoil it here, but if you loved “Mamma Mia!” or any of the previous Bridget movies, you’ll relish the time spent back with old friends.

“La La Land” — Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, again

Stone and Gosling have become quite the on-screen duo, having proven very convincing chemistry-wise in the past with “Crazy, Stupid Love” (2011) and “Gangster Squad” (2013).

This time they’re back for the musical flick “La La Land,” which is set for release in December. Thanks to a unanimously praised opening at the Venice Film Festival, it already stands at a near-perfect 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics particularly enamored with the sizzling performances of the leads (with Stone’s already garnishing Oscar buzz).

There should be a rule that dictates if you appear as an on-screen couple three times in a row, you are obligated to get together in real life. After all, the fans have come to believe it.

“Orange is the New Black” – Alex Vause and Piper Chapman

The show that got us out of our post-“Breaking Bad” hangover.

It has been a few months since the Netflix-dump of the entire fourth season, and now that the dust has settled, it’s high time for a re-watch — given the mileage to be had from that emotional roller coaster. The tempestuous relationship between Alex and Piper took something of a backseat compared to previous seasons, but comes back to the fore in the penultimate episode. We’ll have to wait until next June to find out whether they’ll ever stop hitting the self-destruct button on the relationship that has gotten us completely hooked.

As a romantic side note, Samira Wiley — who played Poussey Washington — has just announced her engagement to OITNB writer Lauren Morelli. The latter only realized she was gay during the process of writing the lesbian romance subplots of Poussey’s story. There’s a real off-screen love story to keep romance alive!

“Victoria” – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

One of the finest period dramas to come out of Britain in recent years, Victoria covers the formative years of the country’s most alluring monarchs.

With exquisite attention to detail in the costume department and sets along with a superb performance from Jenna Coleman (who you may recognize as Clara from “Doctor Who”), what really steals the show is Victoria’s endearing relationship with Prince Albert … and particularly how such a love can survive given the power struggles that engulf them at every turn. And better yet, audiences can enjoy the fact that this is all inspired by one of the most famous real-life couples in recent European history.

Outside of online streaming, North American viewers will have to wait until it airs on PBS in January to see why it has become one of this year’s most-watched shows across the pond.

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” – Rebecca Bunch and Josh Chan

Paradoxically, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is simultaneously the brightest and darkest comedy to have hit our small screens in the past year. It’s outright hilarious in a wacky way and peppered with delightful musical numbers, but at the same time centers around the (frankly disturbing) topic of obsessive stalking.

If you liked “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Ally McBeal” or “Flight of the Conchords,” you’ll love “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” And this on-screen … couple? couples? dysfunction?… will give you ample time to ponder the meaning of true love. Get caught up if you haven’t already, because season two will be airing in late October. And if the romantic implications of the season one finale are anything to go by, things are going to get very interesting, indeed!

“Me Before You” — Louisa and Will

One of this year’s biggest Hollywood success stories (having grossed $200 million against a budget of just $20 million), the DVD is now out for romance fans who missed it in the theatres. Again, we won’t spoil anything, but this is one of those couples … let’s just say, imagine Nicholas Sparks turned up to 11 — you’ll need a lot of tissues.

We hope these on-screen couples can keep the flames of romance burning for you throughout the fall. What are your favorite on-screen couples coming to TV or film this season? Let us know in the comments below!

10 Cinematography Tricks for Working With Only Natural Lighting

When asked why he preferred shooting with all-natural lighting, Stanley Kubrick simply replied, “Because that’s the way we see things.”

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It’s a trend that’s growing in filmmaking. The excellent “Dallas Buyers Club,” for instance, used only all-natural lighting during filming. This sounds like it might make things difficult, but it actually came with its own benefits. Director Jean-Marc Vallee stated that the actors didn’t have to worry about hitting their marks to keep within lighting zones, so it offered a lot more creative freedom for the cast. The sheer heat of artificial lighting rigs was also not missed!

Whether you’re shooting with natural light simply because you’re on a budget or for stylistic reasons, we’ve got some tried and tested tricks on how to get the best out of it.

When Shooting Indoors:

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  • If the room has windows, it’s generally a bad idea to shoot towards them. This will lead to overexposure and a nasty, bleached-out effect to the background (as well as anything in front of the windows being underexposed). Rather than wrestle between the two extremes, place place the camera adjacent to the window — to get more of a sidelight. This provides natural lighting from the window and avoids blow-out. This is extra important when interviewing for documentaries!
  • Load up on gel sheets. Specifically, ND gel. When applied to windows, it really cuts down on the amount of daylight and makes exposure a lot easier to manage (more on how ND filtering works here)
  • Aside from lighting itself, the most important thing in any cinematographer’s lighting kit are reflectors.  We cannot understate this: they’re definitely vital outdoors, and even more so when shooting inside using only natural light. It’s by far the easiest way to manipulate and maximize whatever lighting you do have to get rid of problematic shadows. Note: You may find it difficult to get a proper return if you are reflecting indirect light.
  • Shake it up. You can’t always manipulate the light exactly to your liking, so manipulate the subject instead. Extreme planning before a natural light shoot is important so as to not waste time on the day, but be mindful that it’s sometimes best to scrap what you had on paper if it’s not looking right in the camera. Reposition everything if you must, and be mindful of those shadows as you go.
  • Scrims are your best friend. Scrims will not change the quality of light from hard to soft, but it will knock down the intensity by diffusing light. Diffusion may be your best friend.

When Shooting Outside:

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  • Take advantage of blue hour and golden hour. Blue hour refers to the sliver of time after the sun disappears over the horizon but the sky is still lit, while golden hour is well known to filmmakers as the hour leading up to sunset (or an hour after sunrise). Blue hour is really handy for when you want to illustrate that it’s nighttime but don’t have any way of lighting a scene during actual darkness, and golden hour simply makes everything look gorgeous. There’s even a website that helps you plan for it in advance. That all said…
  • It’s not all about the golden hour. Keeping track of the sun is a very important factor in outdoor filmmaking, but you’ll also need to be conscious of what might get in between you and the sun at any moment — i.e.: clouds. While there’s not much you can do about the weather, you can note down any trees or buildings that might cast shadows at any given time (ideally when you do your first location scout).
  • Make sure everyone on the crew is prepared ahead of time. As with shooting indoors, you don’t want to be spending any more time than necessary setting up a shot or running through lines with the actors, especially when the sun is rapidly heading towards the horizon.
  • Make use of flags. Just as reflectors give you better control of how much light is going where, you’ll often find yourself in a situation where you’ve got too much light (particularly during summer day shoots). Flags — or cutters — are sections of thick black cloth stretched around a metal frame that allow you to block out sections of light and add some dramatic contrasting to the shot.
  • Pay attention to color and emotion. Getting the optimal amount of light is one thing, but getting the right “flavor” is another altogether. Be sure to check out our guide to color design, since a clinically perfect shot without any emotion whatsoever isn’t very compelling.

So there we have it: Hollywood-style cinematography without a Hollywood budget.

Got any of your own tricks on working with natural light? Any lessons you learned the hard way while out in the field? Hit us up in the comments below and share with the class!

Screenwriting 101: What Plagiarism Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Protect Yourself From It

Plagiarism is rare — at least when we’re talking about the screenwriting industry.

The only reason it seems so prevalent is that the few occasions in which it does occur at the top level — cases like Shia LaBeouf’s fall from grace, for instance — and usually result in huge amounts of press and gigantic court settlements.

The harsh reality, however, is you’ll be fighting hard to get your script noticed by anyone in the industry, meaning that plagiarism is likely to be the least of your worries. That’s the bad news. On the bright side, the incentive for a production company to steal work that lands on their desk and erase the writer’s name is virtually zero. The nature of the screenwriting business somewhat automatically protects your work: there’s no shortage of people with a screenplay to sell; the risk of being caught out with plagiarism is high; and the financial penalties for plagiarism can be crippling.

That all said, just because being struck by lightning is a very rare event doesn’t mean it never happens — and it is marginally more likely to occur when entering into less-than-reputable screenwriting competitions. So be careful, and do your due diligence in research ahead of time.

We thought we’d compile some tips on how to deal with the situation should you ever be unlucky enough to find your screenwriting work has been plagiarized.

And first up, we’ll start with something that gets to the root of the issue:

Busting the “Poor Man’s Copyright” Myth

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It’s an old and enduring token of wisdom: If you want to copyright your screenplay, mail a physical copy to yourself.

The idea here is that the US postal mark will prove ownership of the mail inside and provide a certifiable date which will defend against any accusations of plagiarism from works after this date.

Problem is, it’s flawed on every level.

We’ll put aside the fact that the system is less than failsafe — it’s not hard to manipulate an envelope — or that this defense has never been successfully employed in court to win a copyright case. The reason mailing yourself your script doesn’t copyright your work is that there’s absolutely no need to: anything you create is already copyrighted to you.

You don’t even need to put the © symbol anywhere on your script — and it’s often seen as a sign of an amateur to do so — because your copyright is already inherent. All adding the symbol does is remind anyone viewing your script that it’s the intellectual property of someone else. Anyone in the industry will take this as a given anyway, while an intentional plagiarist isn’t going to be deterred by a symbol.

But let’s assume you’ve become aware of someone who hasn’t just taken your idea (more on that later), but has copied whole chunks of your text. Now what?

Fighting Against Screenplay Plagiarism

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Really, the best cure here is prevention.

Many networks or corporations won’t even look at screenplays or concepts by unknown writers without an agent. This is not because it’s some kind of closed cabal, but simply because they’re covering their own backs. In copyright cases, it nearly always comes down not to how similar the screenplays are, but whether or not it can be established that the defendant was aware of the other person’s work — or had contact with them along the way.

So, many networks and corporations won’t look at unsolicited ideas or manuscripts in the first place because this reduces the chances of their being successfully sued further down the line to virtually zero.

What this means for you in the writer’s seat is that not only will finding a good agent improve your marketability, but it’ll also offer you the same protection that the corporations enjoy. When dealing through an agent, everything gets recorded. Which is just the way it should be — and the way you want it.

But if you have identified a real case of suspected plagiarism and are writing solo, here’s a very helpful flowchart detailing the best approach at responding to the person whose work you find under their name (it’s intended for authors, but the advice is fairly universal).

Afraid of Accidental Plagiarism?

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As a writer, you’ll no doubt recognize this very common scenario: you describe the brilliant screenplay you’re working on to a friend, only for her to reply with, “Hmmm, that sounds just like Movie X.”

Horrified, you look it up on IMDB or Wikipedia. You’ve never even seen the movie in question, but sure enough, you find it does indeed follow a pretty similar plot to your idea.

So, should you be worried about being sued for plagiarism?

Nope. Because you can’t actually be sued for plagiarism; that’s an ethical issue, not a legal one.

What you can be sued for is copyright violation, and it’s very difficult to commit this crime accidentally; this covers ripping off character names and entire passages of text, not expressing the same idea in a different way. Ideas, after all, are not copyrightable.

Simply having a similar plot (or even the same plot in most circumstances) does not constitute copyright violation. As we’ve covered previously, just as there are only seven notes with which to make songs, there are only so many plot archetypes and tropes with which to create a satisfying story. Every writer is inspired by works that have gone before their pen hit the page, and being inspired is far from violating copyrighted works. Think of the overt similarities between the TV show “House” and the “Sherlock Holmes” canon, for instance.

In fact, if you’re genuinely worried about mistakenly violating copyright, you’re precisely the type of person who’s least likely to do it.

So go forth and write! Strive for originality, but be aware that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

And that’s not a bad thing.

 

5 Brilliant Screenplays That Were Rejected … Repeatedly

In an industry dominated with rejection, sometimes a single “yes” is all it takes to change the face of cinema forever. Here are five truly groundbreaking movies that, for some studios, were a little too groundbreaking…

1. “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Despite being a quickly rising star in Hollywood at the time, Quentin Tarrantino had a lengthy battle in trying to get any studio interested in his follow up to “Reservoir Dogs.”

Why “Pulp Fiction” was Rejected: According to Columbia TriStar executive Mike Medavoy, the script was “too demented.” TriStar initially optioned the film and was even in talks to produce it, but then did a 180 by declaring, “This is the worst thing ever written. It makes no sense. Someone’s dead and then they’re alive. It’s too long, violent, and unfilmable.”

Very few studios were willing to touch a movie featuring heavy heroin use, and the search for a new backer was extensive before Miramax picked it up.

2. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

Initially dubbed “The Adventures of Indiana Smith,” even the attachment of industry superstars George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wasn’t enough to garner significant studio interest.

Why Indiana Jones was Rejected: It wasn’t actually Lucas’ screenplay that lead to it being rejected by every single studio in Hollywood, but more the fact that he was asking $20 million to make it. Paramount ended up footing the bill and Lucas shrewdly negotiated a five-film contract; it ended up grossing nearly $400 million at gross and is frequently heralded as the best action-adventure movie of all time.

3. “Back to the Future” (1985)

Another ‘80s classic that nearly got passed up entirely (incidentally, “Back to the Future” ended up sharing the same budget and box office gross as “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).

Why “Back to the Future” was Rejected: It was either too family-friendly or not family-friendly enough, depending on who you asked. Pretty much every major studio rejected the screenplay, with Disney advising that a film alluding to mother-son incest was not “appropriate under the Disney banner,” while Columbia thought it was a “really nice, cute, warm film, but not sexual enough.”

The great Steven Spielberg always loved the script, however, and committed it to Amblin Entertainment as soon as he was able. The rest, as they say, is history — but it nearly got titled “Spaceman from Pluto.”

Naturally, Spielberg replied to the memo and told Sid Sheinberg that he had to be joking. The suggestion was never mentioned again.

4. “The Usual Suspects” (1995)

Now listed by the Writer’s Guild of America as the 35th greatest screenplay of all time, the ultimate mystery crime thriller nearly became as elusive as Keyser Söze.

Why “The Usual Suspects” was Rejected: Much like “Pulp Fiction,” the non-linear plotline of this screenplay completely baffled studios. After numerous rejections (and nine different drafts), the only company who would touch it was a European financing company. Somewhat surprisingly, director Bryan Singer managed to make the movie a masterpiece despite only having a $6 million budget.

5. “Casablanca” (1943)

The curious case of “Casablanca”: a screenplay rejected by numerous agencies 30 years after it had already become one of the world’s finest movies.

Why “Casablanca” was Rejected: It wasn’t rejected the first time around. But in 1982, freelance writer Chuck Ross wanted to see whether movie agents would recognize the screenplay if he sent it out again … and if not, would they recognize its greatness?

It was a clever experiment. Ross retitled the script “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” (the title of the original play on which “Casablanca” was based) and sent it out to 217 different Hollywood agencies.

The results?

  • 90 returned the screenplay because they weren’t looking for submissions.
  • 33 agents recognized the script immediately.
  • 8 spotted a similarity with the 1943 classic, but didn’t spot it was exactly the same.

However, 38 of the 217 read and rejected the classic script. Among the feedback Ross received, agents claimed there was “too much dialogue” and that the storyline was “too weak.” One even suggested it needed “a professional polish.”

But funnier still is that three agencies loved it and wanted to turn it into a movie.

It just goes to show: even the best screenplays on the planet get rejected. All it takes is just one “yes.”

Do you have an interesting experience of taking a project through many rejections to find success? Let us know in the comments below!

Change the World: 5 Documentaries That Made a Difference (for Better or Worse)

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To change the world is a big goal, and yet documentary film can sometimes bring this goal within reach. One of the greatest strengths of the medium of documentary filmmaking is its ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist, as well as to bring an issue or a slice of society to a wider audience’s awareness.

The documentary format is generally meant to reflect impartially on its subject, but quite often the filmmaker influences events during the course of shooting … and on some occasions, the documentary itself ends up changing the world in a very tangible way. Here are five documentary films (plus some honorable mentions) that did exactly that.

*Warning: may contain spoilers.

1. “The Thin Blue Line” (1988)  

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Heralded by many as one of the greatest documentaries ever committed to celluloid, “The Thin Blue Line” followed the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Filmed by ex-private detective Errol Morris, the documentary showed categorically that the case was corrupt through and through.

Did it change the world?

The documentary stirred massive awareness in the public regarding the case, which caused intense scrutiny on the ruling and led to the case being reopened. A year after the documentary screened, Adams was exonerated and released. This film may have had the largest impact on the life of just one man and his family, but its greater message is clear: even in the face of the entire judicial system, one man and a camera can make a difference.

Honorable Mention: The trilogy “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” shot in 1996, 2000, and 2011, which strongly influence the real-life case of The West Memphis Three.

2. “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006)

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This is the famous Academy Award-winning documentary charting former VP Al Gore’s campaign to raise awareness about global warming to citizens across the country. Producer Laurie David took on the project after being bowled over during one of Gore’s lectures, realizing that it could go on to inspire a wider audience.

Did it change the world?

David’s prediction was a success, given that his documentary inspired an outcry of conversation about global warming not just in the U.S. but around the world. According to an Oxford University study, three out of four people who had seen the film reported to have changed their consumer habits as a result.

3. “Blackfish” (2013)

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Seaworld has long been famous for its use of orcas in public entertainment, but what are the repercussions of keeping orcas in captivity? That’s the central question behind the 2013 documentary that got everyone talking — and got the Seaworld marketing staff a little hot under the collar.

Did it change the world?

In addition to countering many myths about orcas long held by the public (many of which were encouraged by SeaWorld itself), the documentary hit its mark; Seaworld profits, share values and attendance numbers tanked following the release of “Blackfish” — and SeaWorld is still struggling to revitalize its public image. While the top brass claimed this has all had nothing to do with “Blackfish,” they subsequently announced in March this year that they were ending all orca performances, and just this week it was reported that SeaWorld has official phased out its orca breeding program.

Honorable Mention: “The Cove,” which received an Academy Award for best documentary in 2010 and prompted a huge drop in Japanese dolphin fishing.

4. “Super Size Me” (2004)

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In which Morgan Spurlock famously ate at McDonald’s every day for a month, ingesting three meals per day at the chain (and nothing else). When asked if he wanted that meal supersized?  He had to say “yes.”

Did it change the world?

While one critic pointed out we all already knew that fast food is bad for you and many others highlighting that nobody should consume 5,000 calories a day without exercising, the documentary showcased the dramatic effect of this diet in a way that truly captured the public imagination. This film prompted a wider public discussion about the role of fast food chains in society. After the film’s release, McDonald’s removed the “supersize” option from their menu six weeks after the film’s premiere (while claiming it wasn’t a response to the film). They also added salads to their menu.

Honorable mention: 2005’s “McLibel” documentary, a David-and-Goliath tale covering the much maligned lawsuit of the same name.

5. “Triumph of the Will” (1935)

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Not all documentaries are a force for positive change. Some are used as propaganda, which is a stark reminder of just how influential and important a documentary can be — and why it’s critical that documentary filmmakers learn and practice their craft carefully.

“Triumph of the Will” is an example of how documentary film can be manipulated for dubious ends. Starring none other than Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Viktor Lutze, and other Nazi leaders, this WWII documentary was arguably one of the most effective propaganda films ever made.

Did it change the world?

The response to the film was monumental, and immediately after its release gained the Nazi party countless numbers of additional supporters and sympathizers. Leni Riefenstahl, the director, went on to be heralded as one of the finest female filmmakers of the 20 century mainly owing to technical and stylistic innovations in “Triumph of the Will,” but she was also demonized for her associations right up until her death in 2003 (aged 101). Dubiously honorable mention: Riefenstahl’s follow up propaganda film, “Olympia,” which covered the Hitler-attended 1936 Olympic Games, and is also recognized for its technical innovation (if not the content).

For better or worse, the impact these documentaries have made remind us all of the immense power and responsibility of documentary filmmakers. Whatever stories you choose to tell, remember that your film might just change the world.

More documentaries to consider that did their part to change the world: “Making a Murderer,” “The Jinx,” “Titicut Follies” and “Gasland.”

Has your life been strongly impacted or changed by a documentary film? Do you plan on making a film to change the world? Let us know in the comments below!

5 of the Best iPhone Lens Kits (2016 Edition)

iPhone lens kits may seem like an usual topic, but there are some great reasons to pay attention to these accessories.

At the New York Film Academy, our photography programs offer an in-depth investigation and exploration of the artistic and technical skills required to take your photography work to a professional level. Our programs focus on the practical elements of photography and train our students in the proficient use of the most state-of-the-art cameras and techniques in their field.

Yet, it’s very practical to acknowledge that many amateur and professional photographers these days are also using their personal mobile devices to snap pics, whether for personal or experimental use. So why not find creative ways to apply what you’re learning in photography school to every picture you take with the same passionate level of thought and care, even if you’re simply using your iPhone?

While an iPhone camera is no match for a Canon, Nikon HDSLR, or SONY mirrorless camera, we realize that personal iPhone photography is a large part of many of our lives. After all your hard work in photography school, you’re probably longing for ways to bring some of what you’ve learned into every aspect of your life. So we’ve compiled a list of some lens kit ideas to help you bring your photography school mindset to your iPhone photography.

The results of this low-fi solution are consistently surprising, so if you want to experiment with your iPhone photos, scroll on to discover seven iPhone lens kits that represent the best value for money.

1. Camera Lens Kits for iPhone 6 – The Best of the Best

All iPhone lens kits featured below are compatible with the iPhone 6/6s and Plus models, and usually fit on any model of phone. We listed Amazon prices for guide only – NYFA is neither compensated or endorsed by Amazon or any manufacturer featured.

Photojojo Iris Three Lens Set

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RRP: $69.99

Contains: Mount plus wide, fisheye and macro

A sturdy piece of kit with billeted aluminium casing, the Photojojo 3-in-1 lens package is very well thought-out. Simply affix the mount onto the phone (it’ll work with any phone, even with a case) and switch out the lenses as needed – the mount itself converts into a small carry case.

Mpow 3 in 1 Clip-On Kit

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RRP: $13.99
Contains: 180 degree fisheye, 0.67X wide angle, 10x macro

A 3-in-1 lens kit for under $15? You read that right. And not only is it easy on the wallet, it’s also ridiculously good in the quality department too, fitting beautifully close to the iPhone’s camera (and presumably Android models also, though we’ve not tested that).

The image quality is superb thanks to the high-clarity glass and that perfect fit, though the clamp system — while efficient in terms of easy removal — can get in the way a little bit.

If you’re looking for a more discrete solution, it’s time to check out:

Photojojo Magnetic Lens Kit

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RRP: $49
Contains: Fisheye, telephoto, wide/macro

Another excellent product from Photojojo, and it’s a shade cheaper than the Iris set listed above. The difference between the two is that this Cell Lens pack attaches to your phone magnetically (with or without case), and are cleverly designed to not cover your phone’s in-built flash. We’ve not seen a difference in image quality between the two sets during testing — all three lenses offer a remarkable level of fidelity and sharpness.

Downside: while the magnets are strong and won’t damage casing, they will slip or fall off completely if knocked and therefore may not be suitable for rigorous shoots. We also cannot guarantee that the magnets won’t damage other models of phones outside of iPhone/Android (some phones have their own magnets around the camera lens for image stabilization).

Olloclip 4-in-1

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RRP: $79.99
Contains: Clip plus fisheye, wide-angle, 10x and 15x macro

It’s one of the more expensive iPhone lens kits on this page, but it’s also the only one that has won awards. And rightly so.

With each lens weighing in less than an ounce, this is unparalleled image quality combined with a quick on-off action thanks to the clip (and it also covers the front lens, too). Additionally, it comes with three wearable pendants to keep the whole kit easily accessible.

A very elegant, secure design that features some really impressive optics. The only con is that this one is iPhone 6 only.

CamKix Ultimate Kit

RRP: $42.99
Contains: 8x telephoto, fisheye, macro/wide angle, tripod, phone holder, hard case, velvet soft case, cleaning cloth

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more all-encompassing lens kit at a cheaper price. Given the amount of equipment that’s thrown in, the CamKix package offers outrageous value for money (we love that telephoto lens!) but it’s not quickly deployable – you need to affix the hard case before you can add a lens, and you’ll probably want to use the tripod for telephoto stabilization. On the plus side, that does mean it’s compatible with all phone models.

There is no replacing the quality and artistry of images you can create with your Canons, Nikons, or SONYs, but we hope this has given you some ideas for your mobile pics.

Have you found creative ways to apply what you’ve learned in photography school to mobile devices or your personal image making? Let us know in the comments below!

Graphic Design Tips for Creating a Killer App Icon

With over 50,000 apps and an additional 20,000 games submitted to the iTunes App Store every month, it’s never been more desirable to have an icon that not only grabs a casual browser’s attention but also communicates everything the app is about. After all, aside from a title, the icon is pretty much the only thing you’ve got to entice people to want to know more.

Whether you’re trying to make your own app stand out from the crowd or are looking to gain icon design work from publishers, there are definitely rights and wrongs to bear in mind when designing an icon.

Today, we’re looking at the right ways to make your icon … well, iconic.

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Creating an Icon: The Process from Start to Finish

First up, you’ll want to take a look at two very important design guides: the one for iOS and the one for Android. While the design principles remain the same (and you’ll likely use the same iconography for both stores), there are subtle differences in the required technical specifications for your final images.

Ready to go? Then let’s move on to:

Scoping the Competition

We’re going to assume for a moment that your app has at least a little competition and that there are similar apps already out there. If your app is a one-of-a-kind original serving a niche that nobody else has capitalized on yet, well done!

Otherwise, take an impartial look at your competition and see which icons look most appealing as you scan down the app store. Don’t think about it too much, just note down the ones which particularly leap out at you. When you go back and re-examine the list with a more critical eye, we can guarantee that the ones you ignored went with the safe and obvious design choices, while the others did something a little different (though still clearly communicating the app’s function).

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Don’t be afraid to take things in a different direction – as long as the app’s purpose is clearly defined through the icon, you can go as abstract as you like. A few other useful things to bear in mind:

Universal Appeal: Whatever imagery you use, make sure it won’t cause confusion (or worse, offense) in any other culture or country.

Focus on the Main Feature: Another to-do app that stands out from the masses is Swipes. Coupled with the name itself, this is an icon that conveys exactly what you can expect from the app:

So, if in doubt, focus on either a) the app’s selling point, or b) the app’s major function, and you’ll be starting on solid ground.

As for the design itself…

Settling on Color

Firstly, go monochrome. That’s right: design your icon in black and white first. Because if it still works without any color embellishment, you’ve almost definitely got a strong design.

When it comes to implementing some hues, however, it pays to look at the wider industry. With the exception of Snapchat (one of the very few ultra-popular apps to have a yellow icon) and a handful of greens, the overwhelming majority of apps fall into either the red or blue spectrums. Virtually zero inhabit the tertiary colors in between.

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There’s nothing to say you can’t buck this trend with your own magenta-meets-bottle-green design, but know that countless millions of marketing dollars have been spent by the companies above in figuring out what consumers respond to best.

And lastly, the golden rule of icon design:

Trim the Fat

Once you’ve got a rough idea of how you want your icon to look and perhaps even a few drafts in the bag, it’s time to pare it down as much as you can before the message starts getting lost.

Got text in your icon? Try one letter only, a la the Vine, Tumblr or Facebook icons (which use the first letter of the app along with strong typography to get the brand across). There are a few apps that break with tradition, but on the whole it adds way too much visual noise and doesn’t lend itself well to scaling.

Going back to color, it’s optimal to stick to two complementary colors. The exception to this rule of thumb is with gaming apps, in which a multitude of colors (usually representing a sprite or scene in the game) is the norm.

In short: keep the design simple and the message clear.

Happy designing!

PS: As a closing tip, always work in vectors for easy, loss-free scaling. You’ll want to export your finished design in a number of different sizes, since a 120x120px logo scaled up rarely looks good!

Sports Photography: Lessons We Learned From the Rio Olympics (That Can Apply Anywhere)

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Sports photography is a skill and an art form that is never out of season. As we move into the awesome spectacle that is the NFL’s 97th annual season, it’s time to seize the good opportunity to assess and apply some fantastic sports photography lessons that were highlighted this year by the 2016 Rio Olympic games. These are universal sports photography tidbits that can be applied towards our wider photographic efforts — whether you plan on snapping some of your favorite NFL players, or simply want to learn to approach your craft with the heart of a champion.

Today’s tips and tricks apply mainly to sports photography, but many can be used across the board. Ready?

On your marks, get set…

… Go!

Prepare Like an Athlete

Rio de Janeiro - Simone Biles, ginasta dos Estados Unidos, durante final em que levou medalha de ouro na disputa por equipes feminina nos Jogos Olímpicos Rio 2016. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Because you’re going to be doing your own fair share of running around!

Whether you’re shooting at a race track, high school athletics meet or the Olympics themselves, you’re going to want to shoot at a number of different locations, all with different lighting, angles and crowds to deal with. That’s sports photography 101.

Ergo, extensive pre-planning — as with any photoshoot — is key.

Make sure you can physically get between locations in the time allotted, as well as exactly where to be for the best shots. Many of these will require dramatically different gear, too, so factor this into your planning.

It’s also essential to make sure your equipment is within event regulations. For instance, the 2012 London Olympics prohibited lenses longer than 30cm or tripods — you don’t want to turn up and find half of your equipment is banned! 

Crowd In, or Out?

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The Olympics rarely suffers from a dull and unengaged crowd, but for smaller sports events (or music festivals), you probably don’t want a bunch of empty seats or people not watching the thing you’re shooting in the background.

As a sports photographer, you’ll want to find the angle that best captures the drama and suspense of your sport. If you want to exclude the crowd from the shot and focus solely on the action, you’ve got a few options open to you: get as high as possible and shoot downwards, get as close and tight to the athlete as possible with a telephoto lens, or lower the f-stop to to bring the focus forward and exclude the background.

If all else fails, move yourself to a different position and shoot from an angle that removes the problem altogether. After all, we do call it sports photography for a reason: don’t be afraid to focus on the sport!

Know Your Sport

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Obviously you’ll want to know who’s who in whatever event you’re shooting in your sports photography adventures, but getting to know the athletes themselves and their behavior can pay dividends.

The more research you do ahead of the game, the greater the chances of nabbing that perfect sports photography shot.

The sports photography guru David Black recalls the preparation he took to get a “wow” photo of Michael Phelps during the 2004 Athens games: “I had memorized Michael’s freestyle stroke pattern and knew that he would take a breath two strokes after the 50-meter mark. Knowing this, I picked an appropriate upper-level camera position so that I could shoot slightly above the splashing water and capture a single image of Michael’s face. It was his last breath before sprinting to win a gold medal.”

Convert to Black and White

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Black and white is common in a wide variety of photographic disciplines, but it’s criminally underused in sports.

Part of the reason for this is that most sports are a highly colorful affair, from the vivid greens of a pitch to the blues of a pool and the detailed uniforms of the athletes. Sometimes however this can be overwhelming, especially if there are a lot of other visual elements such as crowds and seating in the background.

If you’re about to discard a shot that suffers from this, try converting it to black and white first – you might just find that it transforms from something that’s way too busy to a sports photography photo worthy of framing.

Panning

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Working with high-speed movement? Panning with the subject is a superb technique that can really deliver the goods with a beautifully crisp subject against a blurred background (capturing that sense of motion), but it also requires a lot of practice and determination.

Your choice of shutter speed is crucial to a good pan shot, and largely depends on how fast your subject is moving, but a good starting point is around 1/20 second and adjusting from there. Move with your subject and keep them in the frame, and only then press the shutter once you’ve got a fluid and consistent motion (remembering to follow through after the shutter closes, as if you’re swinging a baseball bat).

A tripod will help massively with this, but only if the subject’s movement is going to be predictable — otherwise, handheld with a light lens is the way forward (and is good to practice regardless).

Distance from your subject is another consideration to watch out for in sports photography; it’ll be more difficult to center the shot when close up (since the subject will appear to move faster), so try to get back from the track or up in the grandstand to make life a little easier.

Lastly, unlike most other static shots, you don’t want a clean background for a pan. The entire purpose it to have a lot of things blurring in the background, and for that you’ll need a lot of things in the background!

Don’t be disheartened if everything turns out blurry nine times out of ten — it’s a technique even the pros don’t nail with any consistency. Which leads us onto our final sports photography tip (and one that works for any field of photography).

Need 10 Good Photos? Take 10,000.

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Okay, maybe the ratio isn’t quite that extreme, but more is definitely better than less.

After all, digital film is very cheap these days…

… get snapping!

Free Resources to Improve Your English Language Skills

Looking to improve your English language skills? You’re not alone: according to TESOL, around 1.5 billion people are currently learning the English language around the world. You’re in good company!

There’s no better way of improving your English than by speaking and reading it as much as possible, but there are some useful resources online that can help you along the way…

… and best of all, these are all totally free.

1. Project Gutenberg and LibriVox

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Many of the best books ever written are copyright free and publicly available online. Project Gutenberg has over 50,000 books, many of which formatted ready for Kindle and other readers.

But wouldn’t it be more useful if you could hear a native English speaker read them to you?

Luckily, LibriVox has made that possible. They’re aiming to have every book in the public domain turned into audiobooks by volunteers, and there are already thousands of titles on the site. That’s not only entertaining and culturally valuable — it’s very useful for learners of English!

2. Play Scrabble Online

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Whether you play against the computer or an English speaker on the other side of the world, playing Scrabble in your spare time is a fun way of learning individual words and getting your brain actively thinking about how they’re constructed.

Most online scrabble sites are free — here’s eight of them to check out (though please note we cannot guarantee the security of any site on that list).

3. YouTube

Many use YouTube purely as a source of cat-related entertainment, but it’s also a great portal for learning English.

There are plenty of fun ESL channels that can augment your English studies, and YouTube’s own translation subtitles on other videos is making the entire platform more accessible to non-English speakers.

4. Conversation Exchange

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We can’t say this enough: the fastest way to learn English is by practicing with a native speaker as often as possible.

That doesn’t mean you need to go into a bar and start talking to random strangers (which would be terrifying). Instead, try it out from the comfort of your own home or dorm. Conversation Exchange helps you find and connect with a native English speaker to chat with either via text, audio, or video chat.

As your confidence builds, you can even use the service to find language partners in your area to talk with face to face.

5. Go Mobile

Now, instead of texting each other,  you can text other people.

With the many apps out there design for ESL students, it’s never been easier to practice and learn on the go. Combined with an effective study plan, these eight apps can help you support the learning process and improve your confidence along the way.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and remember that every word you speak, write or read in English gets you one step closer to fluency.

Good luck!

Graphic Design 101: What Makes for Strong Branding, and Why You Need It

Look at the red square below, and think of a beverage.

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If you were thinking of Coca-Cola, you’ve just experienced the power of branding.

Today, we’ll be addressing three core questions: what is branding, what goes into good branding, and why is it important in the first place?

Let’s begin with:

What Exactly Is Branding?

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To the uninitiated, it’s a buzzword thrown around by men in grey suits in marketing board meetings.

In reality, the concept of “branding” is as old as the hills — and can make or break a business. when done well. (Think of the case of corporate rebrands.)

The German city of Cottbus selected this as their logo from a nationwide design contest, then paid 8,000 Euros for the privilege.

Even a single knitwear seller on Etsy can get a tangible benefit from solid branding.

So what is branding?

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Firstly, it’s a topic on which thousands of books have been written and about which hundreds of seminars have been held. Branding is, essentially, the subjective nature of design combined with the hard-line science of business, so it’s a very peculiar concept and one that isn’t easy to sum up in a nutshell.

We’ll start with this definition from Entrepreneur.com: “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”

What this means is that all imagery and aesthetics should be translatable across the board. If the company logo is totally different from the look and feel of the website, which is different again from all the avatars and headers used on social media, then that isn’t branding: it’s a mess.

From a graphic design point of view, this is what separates “branding” from simply “making a logo.”

While the logo is nearly always the core asset (and the first place to start), it should be designed with wider use in mind:

 

  • Does it work in black and white (in case it gets used by a newspaper)?

 

  • Can a horizontal version of the logo be made for promotional items like pens?

 

  • Does it sit nicely on a letterhead?

 

  • Will it work on the various social media platforms the company may operate?

 

  • Does it work when rendered extra small (such as on business cards)?

 

  • Is the main font used in the logo (if any) legible enough that it can be applied to other promotional copy?

These are just a few of the things that should be going through a graphic designer’s mind when crafting a logo and thinking about the overarching design.

The key here is that even if the layout or image specs change, the look and feel of the branding should be consistent across all of the company’s output (both internally and publicly).

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But this raises an even bigger question:

What Makes for Good Branding?

Alongside consistency, there are a number of factors that are seen as hallmarks of good branding.

Memorable. Not only should it be easy to draw the company logo from memory (see the above Cottbus logo for an example of how it isn’t done), but it should stick in the mind of the public in such a way that they instantly recognize it the next time.

Key Colors. A corporate color palette should be adopted across all branding to help boost cohesion. This is generally only one or two complementary colors, but it isn’t unheard of to have more.

Strong Typeface. While the logo itself may not contain text, a feature of strong brand identity is a typeface (or perhaps two) that is used across all promotional copy. This should be clear, legible, and compatible across both PC, Mac and mobile.

Consistent Image Style. Outside of the logo vectors, you might be using other images throughout the website and on social media (especially if the company is product-centric). Whether you use line art, illustration, or modeled photography, it should possess the same look and feel across the board.

Uniqueness. All of the above is well and good, but if someone beat you to the punch with something very similar you’re always going to be stuck in their shadow. It’s important to do your research and create something original.

There are infinite ways to achieve the above, and we see exceptionally innovative examples of this in the marketing world frequently (as well as some terrible examples of branding that are so bad they gain their own publicity).

But all of this boils down to our final, and possibly most crucial, question:

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Why is Good Branding Important?

Simply put, good branding increases sales. If it didn’t, companies wouldn’t pay design agencies thousands (if not millions) of dollars to overhaul their branding every decade or so.

For a small company just starting out, good branding can help them get noticed. For a giant multinational corporation, it can help build brand trust and retain dominance in an increasingly competitive market.

In short: branding is for everyone, and you can’t afford to forego it.

7 Killer Tips for Gorgeous iPhone Photography

Gorgeous iPhone photography is attainable. In the past, we’ve demonstrated that it’s entirely possible to shoot an entire feature film using nothing more than an iPhone, so it’s of little surprise that straight photography with an iPhone can yield very impressive results — if you know how to use the device to its greatest advantage.

Artistic, high-quality photography can be achieved with an iPhone. It’s enough to make you wonder when we’ll stop calling the super computers in our pockets “phones” and think of something more appropriate. Everything machine? Infinity box?

While we work on our new iPhone nickname, read on to discover seven game-changing iPhone photography tips that’ll help you compete against the DSLR pros…

1. Always Use Two Hands

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Each iteration of the iPhone is lighter than the last — and while that’s great for general practicality, it’s somewhat detrimental to stability when trying to take a steady shot. Always use two hands to keep the phone as still as possible. This simple trick can really make or break a shot.

2. The Gorilla Grip Tripod is Worth Its Weight in Gold

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If using two hands isn’t enough to get the steadiness you need for a shot, an iPhone-specific tripod is the perfect solution. These tools are affordable, portable, and can help you achieve angles and framing that you might not otherwise have a chance to try.

3. Put the Headphones to Good Use

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Let’s face it: the iPhone’s headphones aren’t the most impressive audio devices on the market — but they do come with a little-known feature: the “volume up” button doubles as a camera remote! This is a very handy alternative to a selfie stick if you’re using a tripod or want to be in the shot.

4. Understand the Shutter Button

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It’s simple, right? You press the big button, and it takes a photo.

Not quite. It’s worth noting that the shutter only activates when you remove your finger from the button, not when you press it. If you’ve ever noticed slight motion blur on a shot even though you’re convinced you were perfectly still, it’s probably because you began moving just after pressing the button and assumed the shot was done.

5. Forget the iPhone’s Zoom Feature

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Because it’s a weak feature, on the whole — this is one of the areas in which a smartphone will never compete with a tooled-up DSLR.

If you must zoom in on a subject and can’t simply move closer to it, consider taking the shot as standard and applying zoom in post instead. It’ll look marginally better than the in-built zoom feature, which maximizes every tiny movement and loses a lot of sharpness. That said, there’s an even better solution…

6. Invest in a Lens Kit

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As smartphone photography has increased in popularity, so has the market for lens kits that can attach effortlessly over your phone’s camera. If you’re serious about getting the very best from your iPhone shots, a lens kit is vital.

In this day and age, you’re spoiled for choice and can easily blow $500-$1000 on iPhone lenses, but even a $30 three-in-one kit with a fisheye, wide angle, and macro lens will dramatically improve your results.

Just remember: if you’re going in for an iPhone lens kit, you’ll likely have to replace it every few years as the dimensions of the phone evolve.

7. Everything You Learn at Photography School Still Applies

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All the ”rules” and best practices you’ve spent so much time studying still work on an iPhone. You’re still taking photos with a camera, after all!

Everything you know about composition, finding unique angles and perspectives, identifying interesting subjects, working with lighting and exposure, and exercising great technique are all still ingredients to a good photo — no matter what you’re shooting with. Think of the iPhone as simply another industry-standard tool to master and add to your repertoire as a photographer.

So, get out there and put your photography skills to good use! Remember the golden rule of great photography: the more you shoot, the more likely you are to produce great photos. One of the key benefits of taking photos with your smartphone is that you generally always have it on you. So shoot often and have fun!

Any great iPhone photography tips we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule

How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule

Given that it can quite literally make or break a production, the value of a good shooting schedule cannot be understated.

“But I’m not working on a multi-million dollar shoot,” many students of filmmaking cry. Or they protest, “I don’t have time to plan everything in advance.”

Herein lies the rub: whether you’re working on a summer blockbuster or a $500 short with a couple of friends, planning a shooting schedule will not only save you a lot more time than you put into it, but it’ll also make the experience a whole lot easier (and, ergo, more enjoyable).

You probably don’t have the luxury of a three-month shooting window. If anything, the more pressed for time you are, the more you need a shooting schedule.

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Don’t make the mistake of heading out to set determined to work it out as you go. A good shooting schedule will reflect in the quality of your finished production, so here’s a helpful guide on how to implement one.

Tips on Planning a Production Schedule

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to go ahead and assume you’re scheduling for a short or feature film (though much of the advice applies to TV scheduling too).

Get Everyone on the Same Page

You’re busy. Your assistant director is busy. The sound guy is busy. The cast are all off on other jobs.

We understand it. You’re busy.

All the more reason why it’s imperative to try and get as many of the pre-production staff as possible into an initial meeting, where you can discuss scheduling. And yes, this meeting in itself can be a feat of scheduling!

The aim here is to cut down on the amount of information you’ll have to relay to people not present for the initial meeting. There’s nothing worse than setting a preliminary schedule only to have to start from scratch when you later find out the cinematographer is unavailable for your proposed shooting week.

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Thankfully, in this day and age it’s easier to keep people in the loop…

There’s an App For That

Alongside the staples like Skype and Google Docs (if you’re not using cloud sharing in pre-production, start!) you’ll want to invest in a few killer scheduling apps. The main ones to check out are:

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ShotPro ($40) – more for pre-visualization than scheduling, but this will help you tie together your workflow ahead of the shoot.

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Shot Lister ($20) – available on iPad and iPhone, the Shot Lister app has long been a go-to for even professional filmmakers who want to compile a schedule for an entire crew (with the ability to edit in real-time.)

Read more: NYFA’s essential iOS & Android Apps for Filmmakers

Along with your favorite storyboarding and screenwriting suites, those two apps alone will take the sting out of the scheduling tail. With these downloaded, let’s move on…

The Fun Begins

With as much of the pre-production crew in one place and a blank calendar in front of you, it’s time to start … but where?

From the bottom up. Start by “lining” the script. Go through every single line of the screenplay and mark down every actor, extra, prop, costume, vehicle and special effect you’ll need, then compile that information into one long list.

From here, the next logical step is to transcribe your list onto breakdown sheets. These are key items in the planning process, giving you an at-a-glance look of what is needed for each individual scene.

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Breakdown sheets are fairly self-explanatory and easy to fill out. And as luck would have it, we’ve got a breakdown sheet template you can download!

Filling the Calendar

With a breakdown sheet for every scene, you can begin organizing the shoot itself. Start by grouping together scenes that can most easily be shot back to back, in one location. Disregard the chronology of the script; very few productions film in order from the beginning of the screenplay to the end. It’s all about efficiency.

Another golden tip is to aim to do all of your exterior scenes, as well as anything involving extensive special effects or crowd work, at the start of the shoot. If the weather conspires against you or anything else goes awry, you’ll be able to reschedule for later on. Leaving exteriors to the end of your shoot schedule is a sure way to tempt fate.

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Be prepared to cut shots, too. While you should try and shoot scenes from multiple angles wherever possible to give you extra options in the editing suite, don’t be under the illusion that you’ll have time to shoot everything on your storyboard. Always be on the lookout for things that can be sacrificed.

And lastly…

Add 10%

It’s a rule that has served many a filmmaker over the years: whatever time you think you need, add 10 percent.

That applies to the number of days on the schedule and to the length of each individual day, because there’ll always be something that crops up: setting up or breaking down the set taking longer than expected, a sudden rain cloud halting production for half an hour, an actor wanting to experiment, or simply forgetting to budget time for lunch and breaks!

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Scheduling a film shoot can seem like a herculean task, but tackling it one little bit at a time will help you conquer the dragon with as little headache as possible.

Best of luck, and don’t forget to offer your own advice learned along the way in the comments below!

Is Method Acting Truly Over? Jared Leto’s Joker

Make no mistake about it: the technique known as method acting has played a huge part in the history and evolution of the acting profession, and there are many venerated method actors still producing exceptional works today.

But does method acting have a place in the future of the industry?

That’s the question raised in a recent Atlantic op-ed entitled “Hollywood Has Ruined Method Acting.” It’s a bold claim, and one that is worthy of unpacking.

But first, what is method acting?

NYFA New York’s acting program chair Glynis Rigsby feels it’s important to recognize that this, in itself, is an important question: “’Method acting’ is typically aligned with the work of Lee Strasberg as separate and distinct from the many phases of Stanislavski’s work, Michael Chekhov, Sandy Meisner, Stella Adler and others. (Stanislavski had a system, Strasberg had a method).”

What made Strasberg and “the Method” distinct among  American acting techniques was an emphasis on intensely experiential, personal work — that can be gruelling physically and emotionally. This is usually what American audiences associate with “the Method,” in contrast to Russian innovator Stanislavski’s system, which also emphasized the actor’s use of imagination to portray their roles.

Why So Serious?

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The Atlantic uses the oversaturated news about Jared Leto’s method acting during his turn as The Joker in “Suicide Squad” as a springboard for discussion, pointing towards how tales of his antics during production — sending cast members used condoms, forcing the crew to call him “Mr. J”, and marathon-watching tapes of real violence — has bombarded media reporting about the film.

And while the accuracy of these stories has been called into question, there’s no doubt whatsoever that they have generated more column inches than is warranted or necessary. As an unimpressed Esquire writer put it: “Can Jared Leto shut up about his method acting in ‘Suicide Squad?’ We get it.”

That was written long before the movie even came out. There have been even more press interviews since where the topic has been crowbarred in, to the point where it’s rare to see Leto’s name printed as anything less than “Method Actor Jared Leto.”

Alongside the fact that this is an annoyingly (and increasingly) popular marketing trick and arguably little else, the wider charge here is that it creates the illusion that there is no such thing as good acting without suffering.

As Angelica Bastién notes in her Atlantic piece, a huge deal is made of the extremes of method acting (think DiCaprio’s tribulations during “The Revenant”). The issue here is that this sometimes happens to the exclusion of all else during the marketing — and critical examination — of a film.

Blood, Sweat and Weight Loss

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The main problem with this phenomenon is that when a high-profile actor claims to be a “method actor,” this is meant to signal to the media that they have accomplished “a performance worth paying attention to.” And that doesn’t necessarily follow.

That’s not to say that Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t a fine actor (because he is), but many industry insiders and actors feel that the Academy shouldn’t base their awards decisions on who lost the most weight for a role that year — or who slept in how many dead animal carcasses during production.

Bastién also makes a compelling case in her article for the gender disservice perpetrated here, too; when you think media talks of “strong” method performances, it’s nearly always males that come up — and acting “manly” in some physical way.

This overshadows exceptional performances by many female method acting giants (think: Melissa Leo in “The Fighter,” Jessica Lange, Ellen Burstyn), and raises the question whether a casting director, producer, or audience would have as much patience with a female lead pulling shenanigans in the name of “method acting” like Leto. Female method actors are arguably often ignored.

But all of this, of course, sidesteps the question of whether method acting in reality is the same as method acting in the media — and whether drawing attention to an actor’s preparation should matter when it comes to experiencing their performance.

Stanislavski’s Tool Box

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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: method acting is not a magic bullet that will instantly makeyou a better actor. It’s a tool to be used with specificity, purpose, and discipline.

Constantin Stanislavski is seen as the father of modern acting, but his pioneering advances in the craft are often glossed over and he gets referred to simply as “the guy who invented method acting.” As we learned above, this is a misconception: Stanislavski’s innovations later inspired Lee Strasberg to create the robust and demanding style we think of as method acting.

Stanislavski himself was keen to urge students to find their own paths rather than rigidly follow his example, and had many more ideas to offer to an actor looking to expand his or her toolbox.

So Is Method Acting Over?

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No. At least, not in the sense it’s the last we’ll hear of it in the media. And we hope that conscientious actors will continue to carefully apply their method skills in safe and smart performance choices. Method acting still has a place in the profession, as long as the story is put first and the spectacle of a performance (or related hype) remains secondary. Ultimately, it’s the performance — and not necessarily the actor’s way of working — that audiences remember.

If method acting is a discipline that works for you, it may be prudent to take a leaf out of Daniel Day-Lewis’ book: do the work and let your performances speak for you.

Beyoncé Music Video Evolution: 5 Cinematography Lessons

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Beyoncé may have begun her career as just one member of a commercial RnB band, but Beyoncé has evolved over the past two decades to become the most powerful woman in entertainment and a master of all trades: singer, songwriter, dancer, producer, and business woman.

But Queen Bee has another talent that is frequently overlooked; Beyoncé has an amazing knack for great cinematography when it comes to her music videos.

September 4 marks Bey-Day, so it’s a fitting time to look back on the evolution of a pop icon with five of the most cinematically brilliant Beyoncé videos to date.

Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)”

The one that put an already unprecedented career right into the stratosphere. With over half a billion views on YouTube, “Single Ladies” will always be a timeless icon of Beyoncé at her best.

Female empowerment is a hallmark of both Beyoncé’s songwriting and music videos, but she’s also got a penchant for black and white cinematography.

Coupled with a clever use of lighting to effectively remove the set entirely, the stark imagery and clean lines accentuate the exceptional dance choreography by putting it front and center. And while there are a few cuts in the video edit, the “Single Ladies” video was shot in one take — making the finished product even more of a technical marvel.

The golden lesson for filmmakers here is that less is often more.

“Run the World (Girls)”

While we all love a bit of stripped-back Beyoncé, she can also take it to feature film-like extremes to great effect, and the video for “Run the World” is a classic example.

Implementing a strong visual theme reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” universe, everything here is cranked up to 11: alongside the usual dance-heavy routine, we’ve got an insane amount of extras, special effects, location and costume changes, props, fire, water cannons, and floodlights.

Oh, and a lion for good measure.

The color pallet is also eclectic, with bright block coloring of the girls’ outfits playing in contrast to the muted tones of the wider set and the monochrome outfits worn by the male extras.

The camera work in “Run the World” is worth singling out, too, since it’s effectively a master class in exploiting visually interesting angles. At one point (the 3:17 minute mark) it even shoots upside down.

The only thing stopping all this turning into a jumbled mess of visuals is a clinically perfect approach to the editing, with every shot exactly as long as it needs to be.

“7/11”

Aaaand we’re back to Beyoncé at her most basic. In fact, it’s the least technical music video she’s ever produced…

… because sometimes, the best approach is to just grab a camera and start filming.

From a musical standpoint it’s perhaps not Bey’s most well known track, but the video itself serves as a delightfully goofy reminder that, above anything else, filmmaking should be fun.

“Formation”

Beyoncé’s most political (and arguably controversial) video output to date, with more than a few overt references to Hurricane Katrina and racial tensions across the country.

The video was directed by Melina Matsoukas, a Grammy Award winner who has worked with Beyoncé on a number of occasions since 2007. Matsoukas stands firmly behind the idea of substance mattering far more than expensive equipment: “It’s not necessary for a quality video. A good video has the right visuals, a well conceptualized story and should be exciting and elicit reaction.”

With “Formation,” all those boxes are well and truly checked.

“Lemonade”

With the release of this year’s unanimously praised “Lemonade,” the queen of reinvention managed to push the envelope of innovation even further by putting out a 60-minute conceptual film to support the record.

Divided into 11 chapters incorporating poetry by Somali poet Warsan Shire, we couldn’t possibly explore the entirety of the visual extravaganza that is “Lemonade” in this short post. But suffice to say, this piece draws you in with impressive set pieces and a delicate yet purposeful handling of the divisive themes presented throughout. While “Lemonade” often delves into the poetically abstract, it never loses the viewer to outright obscurity and the pacing keeps things moving through both the light and dark of the album.

If this is the direction Beyoncé is heading for the next stage of her career, we’re all about it.

Here’s to 35 more years. Happy birthday, Queen Bee.