Filmmaking

The Evolution of Space Movies

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July 20 marks the 48th anniversary of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon — prompting the well known quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But that wasn’t the first or last time that space played a major role in motion pictures.

Today, we’ll look at some significant moments for space in film, beginning with the New York Film Academy itself.

In celebration of the 48th anniversary and the launch of JSWT, here’s a list of space movies in Hollywood and how they’ve evolved over the years.

“Apollo 13” (1995)

Ron Howard directed the 1995 docudrama space adventure, “Apollo 13,” featuring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. The film dramatizes the 1970 mission for American’s third Moon landing. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise aborted the mission, after an on-board explosion left the astronauts without most of their oxygen supply and electric power.

“Apollo 13” was considered a technically accurate movie—Howard sought NASA’s assistance in astronaut and flight controller training for the cast. Howard even had permission to film scenes aboard a reduced gravity aircraft to give a more realistic feel to the movie.

The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound.

“Mission to Mars” (2000)

“Mission to Mars,” directed by Brian De Palma, takes place in 2020 when a manned Mars exploration mission goes wrong. An American astronaut, played by Gary Sinise, coordinates a rescue mission to save those who were on the exploration missions.

The film employed special effects that involved the NASA spacecraft and Martian vortex, which were created by various digital effects companies. More than 400 technicians were involved in the production of special effects, which ranged from visuals to miniatures, and animation.

“Gravity” (2013)

 

What happens when a space shuttle is destroyed after mid-orbit destruction? Director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 movie, “Gravity.” Sandra Bullock and George Clooney portray two American astronauts who are stranded in space and can’t return home because of their damaged space shuttle.

The cinematography, musical score, Bullock’s performance, visual effects, and the use of 3D all contributed to the critics’ positive reviews. “Gravity” received 10 Academy Award nominations and won seven, and was awarded six BAFTA Awards.

“Interstellar” (2014)

“Interstellar” is a movie focusing on the survival of mankind—a team of astronauts travel through a wormhole to find a new planet that can sustain human life. The science fiction film was directed, co-written, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. The movie’s cast included Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, and Michael Caine.

The film was shot on 35 mm in anamorphic format and IMAX 70 mm in Alberta, Iceland, and Los Angeles. Extensive practical and miniature effects were used in the film, and Double Negative created additional effects.

“Interstellar” won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Production Design.  

“The Martian” (2015)

Matt Damon portrays a stranded astronaut in the 2015 film, “Martian,” directed by Ridley Scott and based on Andy Weir’s novel, “The Martian.” The film follows Damon, whose character is presumed dead and left behind on Mars, and struggles to survive while others attempt to rescue him.

Twenty sets were built on a soundstage in Budapest, Hungary, and Wadi Rum, Jordan was also used as a backdrop for filming. The movie won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and nominated for seven Academy Awards.

NYFA & NASA

Did you know the New York Film Academy has worked with NASA?

In 2014, the New York Film Academy collaborated with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help raise awareness for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

NYFA, NASA, and Northrop Grumman used visual storytelling to give the audience insight into the development of JWST. The telescope is scheduled for completion and launch in 2018 — and JWST will replace the famous Hubble Space Telescope. New technology will allow scientists to continue studying galaxies, the formation of stars and planets, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Do you have a favorite movie about space? Let us know below! Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

5 Unconventional Life Lessons That You Can Learn at Film School

Film school is unlike any other educational experience in its multidisciplinary demands to master technical skills, collaborate with others, critique your own and others’ work, balance ideas with practicalities, and so much more. If you work hard, you can leave film school with the skills to make great films. But not only that, you’ll also graduate film school having learned some brilliant life lessons that can help you both on and off set.

1. Point of view.

Seeing the world from the perspective of people unlike yourself is key to making great films — and being a good human.

Although the Internet is cluttered with DIY info on filmmaking, only film school will force you to learn your craft in a hands-on, supportive and critical environment, away from your cheerleading friends and family. 

2. Beyond desire there must be hard work and time.

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Film school requires a commitment of not only money, but also time. And time is exactly what’s needed to master a craft.

As this IndieWire article puts it, “Depending on who you ask, researchers currently contend that it takes anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Whether those numbers are perfectly accurate is moot; the takeaway is that filmmaking, like painting, athletics, playing the piano or being a rocket scientist, takes a massive amount of time and dedication to master.” Film school gives you the opportunity to study and practice your craft.

3. Success depends on collaboration…

And collaboration depends upon your ability to communicate your ideas in a clear and compelling way. There are many walks of life that benefit from great communication skills, but few other educational tracks demand excellent communication as film does.

As we stressed in this previous article, “Filmmaking is a communal craft.” It can’t generally be approached in solitude the way you might in writing novel or painting a canvas.

To ensure your crew and talent understand and feel motivated to help you capture your vision for the screen, you must be able to walk the line between communicating passionately and clearly, which is a fine line to walk!

4. Freedom within constraints.

There is tremendous freedom allowed in film school, but it is within the structure of classes and projects and under the supervision of teachers who are experts in their field. Negotiating the territory between complete freedom for experimentation and limitations placed on you by deadlines, budget, and project parameters might very well be the most important lesson you can learn as a creative person.

As this IndieWire article put it, “When you rebel against film school it’s therefore often a sign that film school is working; an indication that you’re defining your own values and your own unique view of cinema.”

5. Don’t fear failure.

We know this intuitively or we’ve heard it out of the mouths of those we admire: we learn more from our failures than our successes. Film school gives you a chance to learn this lesson before you get out into the real world where mistakes and failures can cost millions.

By giving you the opportunity to try things that you might not get a chance to try again — crazy things that no producers would ever back you on — and succeed or fail, you will be the better for running the risk.

What have been your greatest life lesson takeaways from your time in film school? Let us know in the comments below! And, if you’re just about ready to begin a new film school adventure, apply today for the New York Film Academy.

 

Celebrating People With Disabilities in Film & Television

On July 9, New York City hosted the 3rd Annual Disability Pride Parade. We at NYFA love diversity and wanted to take the opportunity to highlight people with disabilities in film and television, past and present. And to appreciate the industry’s growing interest in employing actors with disabilities to tell stories of people with disabilities.

Micah Fowler

Micah Fowler of the current hit TV show “Speechless” is the Grand Marshal of this year’s Disability Pride Parade. Born with cerebral palsy, Fowler started acting when he was five. In a Vulture interview Fowler said, “I think it is sad that less than two percent of actors on screen are themselves actually disabled. Growing up a huge television and movie fan, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of representation of both disabled actors and disabled characters being portrayed on television. So I am so very excited that ‘Speechless,’ a prime-time network-television show, conquers both of those missing links by having both an actor actually living with cerebral palsy as a main character and by having a ‘character’ in the storyline living with a disability.”

Deanne Bray

This deaf actor, discovered dancing with “Prism West,” is best known for starring in the title role in “Sue Thomas F.B.Eye,” based on the real life of a deaf agent who worked for the F.B.I. as a lip reader.

Lou Ferrigno

The bodybuilder turned “Incredible Hulk” in the iconic ’70s TV series lost most of his hearing when he was a child. According to DeafLinx he attributed much of his ambition and success to his disability: “It forced me to maximize my own potential.”

Kitty McGeever

McGeever was the first blind actor to star in a British soap. Having trained at RADA, she lost her sight at the age of 33, shortly before landing her role on “Emmerdale.” She described her character as “naughty” and “manipulative in the extreme” to the BBC, and added Lizzy “uses her disability to her advantage and then disregards it to her advantage whenever and whichever way she chooses.”

Daryl Mitchell

Mitchell was an established actor before a 2001 motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. With support from friends, including Denzel Washington and Chris Tucker, he has continued his career and now stars in “NCIS: New Orleans.” He is an advocate for employing actors with disabilities. In an Ability Magazine interview Mitchell says, “You meet with these Labor Department guys, and you can tell everybody is enthused and ready to go. That’s the main thing, really. Their willingness to fly out from Washington and see us in Los Angeles and speak with us says a lot about them. But it’s really a matter of what we need to do, what we’re willing to do as people with disabilities. We need to be more boisterous. We need to let the world know that we’re here.”

NYFA welcomes people with all kinds of abilities. Check out our acting, filmmaking and producing programs, and start changing the face of film and television today!

Get Started With Storyboarding Software

There’s an old saying that goes, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Well, there’s no such thing as totally free storyboarding software. However, there are several programs that offer free, limited versions that will give you a taste of how the program works before you commit to purchasing it.

Many of the programs offer similar features like drag and drop editing, drawing, feedback and other collaboration tools. Most also give you the option to save the project as a PDF that can be printed or shared digitally.

Storyboard Pro is used by studios worldwide and it is a robust program that allows you to do all of your work in one program — from thumbnails to camera angles. Toon Boom currently offers a 21-day trial of the program that allows you to explore the full program before committing to the hefty $38 monthly subscription price.

Plot was created by Adrian Thompson, who drew on his previous experience creating animated videos to design a quicker way to organize and revise storyboards. Plot is free for your first three projects and you can work with one collaborator. After that, it is $8.30 per month for unlimited projects and several features that don’t come with the basic, like unlimited projects and collaborators, print and PDF exports, and email support.

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Frustrated animators also gave rise to Boords. Tom Judd and James Chambers of Animade came up with the software to streamline the layout process. If you just want to do some basic storyboarding and sharing, Boords offers team collaboration, drawing and photo uploading, and sharing through PDFs and team links.

The ACMI Generator is a free, basic storyboard creator. You can build your own storyboard or look through the gallery of uploads from other creators to get inspiration. Hosted by The Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s website, the program requires you to register with the site first if you want to save your storyboards.

Storyboard That has templates for creating books, films, comics, etc. The basic version has built-in scenes, characters, shapes, and other items that allow you to put together full storyboards pretty quickly. There are several subscription plans that offer features like collaboration and sharing.

Well, maybe some things can be had for free. Storyboard Fountain and Video StoryBoard Pro are both free and are pretty solid options if your budget is tight.

Storyboard Fountain is open source software available for most operating systems. It offers in-line script editing, drawing tools, and the developers are working on export capability for FinalCut and Premiere. The drawing tools are designed to respond to Wacom sensors as well.

Atomic Learning’s Free Video StoryBoard Pro is freeware software that features the ability to create, save, and print storyboards. However, it does not come with much support.

Ready to go from storyboarding to shooting? Check out How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule. Thinking about exploring animation? Get started with The Best Free/Open Source Animation Software.

Learn more about filmmaking and animation at the New York Film Academy.

 

 

Stars Protecting the Earth: Celebrities Who are Environmental Activists

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Summer is a time for playing in Earth’s beautiful spaces, near oceans and lakes or in mountains and forests, so we thought we would pause to honor those celebrities who look beyond their own star-status to protect our environment.

By using their considerable wealth and influence to create public awareness, create organizations, make films to highlight dangers, or teach by example with glamorous green homes and environmentally friendly vehicles, celebrities who care make a big difference! Today, we celebrate the environmental contributions of some names and faces you’re sure to recognize.

Matthew Modine

NYFA Board Member and award-winning actor Matthew Modine is a passionate crusader for protecting the earth. The actor, who currently stars in Netflix’s Original Series “Stranger Things,” has actively promoted environmental causes in many ways, from serving as a guest editor for Metro’s Earth Day edition to founding the Bicycle For a Day movement. As Modine said in his Metro piece, “Environmental compassion, if it is to have any tangible significance, requires vigorous minute-by-minute action by each and every human we share the Earth with.”

Ted Danson

Beaches on oceans and lakes are prime spots for summer fun, and there is perhaps no one on this list who has dedicated himself so consistently to issues concerning Earth’s water than Ted Danson, the man who won our hearts as the lovable recovering alcoholic bartender on “Cheers.” Danson focuses his environmental attentions on all aspects of this life-sustaining natural resource. He even helped write an educational book on the subject called “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”

Daryl Hannah

She’s the iconic mermaid of “Splash” and an activist who’s not afraid to create waves! Hannah has been arrested several times for her activism, including during protests against the Keystone Pipeline. She lives off the grid, drives a biodiesel car, and blogs about environmental issues at DHLoveLife.com. She was also the executive producer of “Greedy Lying Bastards,” a 2012 documentary that hits hard at climate change denial.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Following the tremendous success of “The Titanic” (1997) and his leap to superstardom, DiCaprio established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, “dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants.” The non-profit organization focuses on global warming, preserving Earth’s biodiversity and supporting renewable energy. It also produces web documentaries to promote public awareness such as “Water Planet” and “Global Warning.”

Pearl Jam

It’s not only actors who’ve embraced environmental concerns, but also bands like Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam crisscrosses the globe on tours, doing their best to minimize their negative impact. According to One Green Planet, “Pearl Jam has also partnered with numerous organizations to help offset the carbon emissions of the estimated one million fans driving to and from the band’s concerts and provides information about other initiatives on their website. In 2011, Pearl Jam was named 2011 Planet Defenders by Rock The Earth for their environmental activism and their large-scale efforts to decrease their own carbon emissions.”

Cate Blanchett

In the land down under, the Elvin ruler of “Lord of the Rings” fame “lives off the grid in a ‘green’ house.” During her time as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Blanchett “spurred the installation of solar panels on The Warf Theater,” according to One Green Planet. “She is also responsible for the theater’s installation of one of the world’s largest rainwater collection systems.”

Brad Pitt

Besides being the quintessential A-list celebrity and tabloid focal point, Pitt has an ongoing interest in environmental concerns, especially having to do with sustainable architecture. He narrates “Design: e2,” a PBS television series focused on worldwide efforts to build environmentally friendly structures. In 2007, as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Pitt founded Make It Right to organize housing professionals to finance and construct sustainable, affordable houses in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, and has since expanded its mission to create and promote “healthy homes for communities in need.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many celebrities in the entertainment industry that have used the spotlight to promote environmental activism. Margaret Atwood, Robert Redford, Sting, and James Cameron are just a few of the other names that could have been on this list.

Tell us your favorite environmental celebrities in the comments, and we at NYFA wish you a green summer!

Ready to learn more about visual and performing arts? Check out the many program offerings available right now at NYFA.

6 Great Movies to Watch for the 4th of July

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After a long hot day of barbecuing and baking in the sun, you might want to step inside the cool dark indoors with a patriotic movie or two. To celebrate the 4th of July this year, we’ve compiled a list of Independence Day-themed films that are sure to satisfy every kind of craving: patriotism, thrills, alien invasions, disillusionment and more!

1. “Independence Day”

How can you resist coming together to fight alien invaders? This 1996 proto-summer blockbuster set the standard for well-hyped and fun movies exploding into theaters mid-summer. And, as ABC News put it, the film “sent Will Smith’s career into the stratosphere with a fist to an alien’s kisser and one simple line: ‘Welcome to Earth!'”

2. “Jaws”

This 1975 thriller based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel set out to be — and was — a tremendous hit. It also made Steven Spielberg a very rich young man, a household name, and powerful enough in the industry that he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. (That turned out to be “Close Encounters,” which he nursed with the help of “Jaws” star Richard Dryfus.)

Perhaps you’ve never seen this classic (gasp) or it’s been a while, and you’re like, “What’s the killer shark flick got to do with the 4th of July?” Well, just take a look at the opening scenes and you’ll realize that it’s the impending holiday that sets up the tragedy: A small town’s denial of the danger in the face of losing vacationers. Some might even say that the true force of evil here is greed, not a bloodthirsty shark.

3. “Born on the 4th of July”

Here’s a movie that might raise some patriotic eyebrows. A young Tom Cruise won his first Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of real-life disabled vet turned anti-war activist Ron Kovic. This 1989 film, set during the Vietnam War, offers a different take on patriotism: one that supports dissent.

4. “The Patriot”

For a more traditional take on patriotism, there’s this 2000 epic directed by Roland Emmerich, and starring Mel Gibson, Chris Cooper, and Heath Ledger.

Sure, the movie was blasted for taking liberties with history, but most critics agree that it represents America’s ideals, if not its reals. Not to mention the nods for gorgeous cinematography and a monster performance by Gibson. And considering the fact that it’s set during the Revolutionary War, we couldn’t very well leave this one off the list.

5. “National Treasure”

And, lest you feel we’ve gotten too serious on this list, we offer a touch of the absurd and over-the-top ridiculous. Nicolas Cage, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger, and Sean Bean star in this 2004 heist-with-a-twist: they must steal the Declaration of Independence as their first step on a high-stakes treasure hunt.

6. “John Adams”

This 2008 HBO miniseries about the first 50 years of the United States is for those who prefer to shun the sun this holiday weekend and binge-watch while learning a little American history.

Based on David McCullough’s best-selling biography and supported by a stellar ensemble cast that includes Paul Giamatti,  Laura Linney, and Stephen Dillane, “John Adams” has more Emmys under its belt than any other miniseries in television history.

What movies are you planning to watch this weekend? Let us know in the comments, and Happy 4th of July!

Ready to learn more about filmmaking? Apply to the New York Film Academy.

The Rise of Superhero Films

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“Wonder Woman.” “Iron Man.” “The Avengers.” “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The past decade or so has seen an influx of superhero films based on comic books — major big-studio movies starring the highest-paid actors in the world (think Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Downey, Jr.) and outperforming any other movies released. This week, the world will enjoy a new addition to the superhero film repertoire: “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” featuring the work of NYFA alumnus Francesco Panzieri on special effects!

While 1990s blockbusters like “Jurassic Park,” “Titanic,” and “Braveheart” were standalone epics based on books or historical events, today’s highest-grossing films are primarily superhero movies, based on a combination of factors such as escapism, cutting-edge special effects, and an older, wealthier population of comic-book fans.

The most significant, and grim, factor behind the rise of superhero movies has been the economic crash of 2008. There were popular superhero movies prior to this, such as “Spider-man” and Christopher Nolan’s excellent “Batman” series reboot, but following the economic downturn — in which many people lost their jobs and homes — superhero movies went into orbit.

People suddenly wanted escapism into a different world where the hero always triumphed and where distinctions between good and bad were easy to tell. Blockbuster epics with tragic endings like “Braveheart,” and “Gladiator” fell out of fashion, as no one wanted to compound the grim economic situation with an equally depressing movie. Comic-book superhero movies, in which the hero triumphs over evil, became more appealing to the general public. (While our economic downturn is not as severe as the Great Depression, it’s notable that the popularity of comic books in the 1930s mirrors the popularity of superhero movies today.)

With the rise of computers, special effects have become more realistic and believable — something that previously limited superhero movies. Compare the stiff, lumbering shark of “Jaws” — a movie that had exceptional special effects for its day — to the beautifully computer-generated creatures and atmospheres of today’s superhero movies.

Special effects designers have a wider range of options to work with, as well as better software and technologies, than they did 20 years ago. Need Captain America to soar to the heavens? Stand the actor in front of the green screen and virtually create the sky behind him. Need Ant-Man to fly through Iron Man’s suit and sabotage it? That can be achieved realistically as well.

Whereas “Titanic” required a replica ship, today’s computer generated imaging can produce entirely believable superhero action scenes through the digital manipulation of pixels.

The third factor in the popularity of comic-book superhero movies is the older age of the audience. Today’s superhero movies — even if they’re rated PG-13 — are primarily made for adults who grew up on comic books and now have a disposable income. These adults are mostly Generation X-ers and Millennials who read comic books as children during the 1970s-1990s and now have the money to see films and buy paraphernalia. While kids can beg Mom and Dad to buy movie tickets and Mom might possibly agree, adults can always purchase tickets and attend films — creating a great source of potential viewers who have fond childhood recollections of their comic book superheroes and villains.

What are your favorite superhero films? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re ready to learn more about creating incredible films, study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

Here’s What It’s Like to Work for Walt Disney Animation Studios

For many who grew up watching Disney movies the opportunity to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios would be an incredible experience. Many aspiring animators wonder what it’s like doing what you love at the most accomplished and iconic studio in the world. To prepare for what could one day be your dream come true, here’s an idea of what you can expect:

Working for Walt Disney Animation Studios is all about…

Taking Big Risks

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No company has ever reached worldwide recognition by only playing it safe. People who want to make an impact know that success doesn’t come from only doing what’s expected. To truly stand out and raise the bar you have to be willing to take risks and hope it pays off.

No one knows this better than Darrin Butters, an animator who has worked on Walt Disney Animation Studio hits like “Tangled,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Frozen.” During a recent talk at the New York Film Academy 3D Animation School, Butters spoke about how the slow sloth scene from “Zootopia” required going against the top principles of good animation. Despite this, the scene ended up being one of the highlights of the film and well worth the risk.

Giving Your Best To Make Disney The Best

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Most would agree that Disney wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the Disney Renaissance. During this era lasting between 1989 to 1999, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced hit after hit with no signs of stopping. Some of the most admired animated films were created during this time, including “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Hercules.”

The animators that worked for Disney at the time inspired today’s animators to do one thing: make Disney the best. Working at Walt Disney Animation Studios means remembering that the competition is fierce, so you must always do better than before. Of course, it also requires passion and love for animation to walk under Mickey’s wizard hat while on your way to work each day.

Remembering The Fundamentals

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Whether you prefer working with 3D graphics or prefer 2D drawings, there’s a place for you in animation. This is because no matter how 3D-dominated the industry gets, animation will always need people who know the fundamentals. No one understands this better than Eric Goldberg, a man who has worked in the industry for 25 years.

With animated TV shows and movies like “Looney Tunes” and “The Simpsons” under his belt, Goldberg knows the importance of mock up, character design, and other animation tasks originally done by hand. During his exclusive preview of “Moana” at the New York Film Academy’s LA campus, Goldberg expressed that all animators who want a future at big studios like Disney should remember that many fundamentals of animation have held true for decades. It’s why a 2D animator like him can survive in a 3D animation world like today.

Doing Whatever It Takes & Loving It

 

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There’s nothing like watching a finished animated film after countless hours of hard work have been poured into it. While a lot of people assume creating animated characters and worlds is all fun and games, animators know how much hard work is required to make something special. If you’re not willing to push yourself in order to come up with something unique and creative then perhaps working for the “Mouse” isn’t for you.

In a guest post on Chronicle Books, Maggie Malone of Walt Disney Animation Studios talked about how one of the artists went above and beyond while working on “Wreck-It-Ralph.” This artist was tasked with building the world for the Sugar Rush candy go-kart scenes. In order to make sure her candy world was authentic and reliable, she spent weeks creating actual models out of real candy. This resulted in a deliciously wonderful scene that might’ve never looked as good if she hadn’t put in the extra mile.

What are your goals as an animator? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about 3D animation and visual effects at the New York Film Academy.

Game Storytelling: 3 Rules of Thumb That Work

By NYFA Instructor Felipe Lara

Adding storytelling to your game can help you connect emotionally to your players, add meaning to the experience, and increase long-term engagement. But stories can become more of a nuisance if not implemented properly. Following a few rules of thumb will help you add storytelling that does not clash with the rest of the experience.

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Why Story

As I mentioned in a previous article, a combination of good art and fun game mechanics is a very effective way to attract players and create immediate engagement. But even good game mechanics can get repetitive and tedious over time unless they are accompanied by a larger meaning or drive, which is often provided by other elements like story and social connection.

Events are much more meaningful if they are tied to a larger story. When playing basketball, scoring a basket is fun, but the experience is much more meaningful and powerful if that basket is the winning basket at the end of a game against a long-time rival team, even more if winning will let us get a scholarship to a renowned college … and will make us the first in our family to get a college degree … which will eventually let us to help our family get out of poverty and … you get the idea.

What is so powerful about stories is that they can wrap up the combination of ideas and emotions that form our experiences in ways that we can easily understand and link to our values and other experiences in our lives. A story can turn an abstract goal into something that relates to our values and views of the world.

Here are three rules of thumb to help you determine if you have a story that works to make your game more compelling without annoying players:

Rule of Thumb 1: Start with a Clear Conflict

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There is one single element that fuels a good story: conflict, says Evan Skolnick in his excellent book “Video Game Storytelling, What Every Developer Needs to Know About Narrative Techniques.” He is right. Story is not a lot of blah blah blah, it is not fueled by details about characters, feelings, and places, it is fueled by conflict, by someone wanting something and not being able to achieve it because of something else. Make that conflict clear as soon as you can in your game.

The more your players can relate to the story’s conflict and to what is at stake, the more compelling your story will be for them. The faster you can introduce your players to that conflict and why it matters, the easier it will be for them to find meaning in the activities and goals they need to complete.

The conflict you show your players first doesn’t need to be the only one. It doesn’t even need to be the main one, but it should be the one that helps the player makes sense of what he/she needs to do in the game next.

Rule of Thumb 2: First Do, Then Show, Then Tell

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There is an old axiom in Hollywood that says: “show don’t tell.” If you want to communicate how courageous a character is, don’t say it: Instead, show the character doing something courageous.

In the same book for video game storytelling I mentioned above, Evan Skolnick says that in games, where the players are active participants, this axiom can be modified to: “do, then show, then tell.”

If you want to communicate how courageous and powerful a character is, give her powerful abilities and give her big challenges to face. Instead of telling the player the attributes of her character, let her experience them herself.

If you cannot find a way to communicate story through actions, then use visuals as a second option — and only if there is no other way of conveying important information that your player needs in order to make sense of what she is doing, say it through dialogue or text.

Rule of Thumb 3: Keep It Simple and Minimal.

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The right story makes the game more intuitive, but to do that it needs to be simple. It can get deeper and more complex as the game progresses, but the primary goal is to make your game’s goals and rules easier to connect with and easier to understand. If the story is not making it easier to play, chances are it is not the right story.

The story should also be kept to a minimum.

One of the main mistakes that game developers make when adding story is trying to communicate at the beginning of the game all the background of the story to the players. Players generally do not care about your story details or your characters until they are more invested in the experience as a whole. It is important to provide meaning, but you don’t have to provide the player with more information than the bare minimum to make your immediate goals and activities make sense.

The worst thing you can do is present your player with a bunch of information that they don’t yet care about. Long dialogues and explanations are usually skipped and all your work will be in vain.

Start simple, and add complexity only if the rules and goals of the game require it.

Evan Skolnick divides story facts into three categories: first, facts that you need to know right now to understand what you need to do in the experience; second, facts that will be important later in the experience but you don’t need to know yet; and third, facts that maybe add flavor but are not essential at any time in the experience to understand what you need to do.

As a rule, the only information you really need to give the player is the one related to the first category. Save the rest for later and even then try to convey it first through actions and visuals.

Chess

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Let’s look at chess as an example. It may be an extreme case but it exemplifies the points I am making.

The conflict is simple and easy to understand: you are a king with a court and an army, your enemy is another king with his own court and army and you need to defeat him. There are other details in the story about who is in your court, which characters are important and powerful, how big is your army, etc., but all that information is communicated through actions and visuals:

  • You know who your enemy is because your team is one color and your opponent is the opposite color.
  • You know that there are different characters because your pieces have different shapes.
  • You know who is in your court and how powerful they are because your different pieces have different attributes and behaviors, and some of these attributes prove to be more powerful.

The story in chess is simple and minimal. It helps us make the rules and goals of the game more intuitive; like the fact that only knights on horses can jump other pieces, or that the most important piece is the king — but the game does not give us additional information that is not essential to understand what to do next.

Conclusion

Story is an important tool to help us add meaning and connect emotionally to an experience. But the wrong story could turn into an annoyance to the player. By following these three rules you can avoid wasting time and resources developing stories that don’t help your game:

  1. Introduce a clear and easy to understand conflict as soon as you can.
  2. Communicate your story through actions first, visuals second, and only as a last resort through dialogue and narration.
  3. Keep the story simple and minimal, give you player only the information than helps him/her understand what he/she needs to do in the game at that point.

National Pride Month: Movies and Stories That Deserve an A+ on Pride

“Angels in America”

This sweeping, breathtaking six-part HBO miniseries covers a number of important issues facing the LGBTQ+ community in the mid-1980s, including the rise of AIDS and lack of access to both knowledge and treatment regarding the HIV virus.

Based on the 1993 Tony Kushner play “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” this series delves into the lives of gay individuals in New York City and examines how politics, social change, and the terrifying AIDS epidemic affects the LGBTQ+ community.

“Angels in America” garnered much critical acclaim, winning multiple Golden Globe and Emmy awards; it was the most-watched made-for-cable film in 2003.

“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”

This 1994 Australian comedy-drama film follows the adventures of two drag queens and a transgender woman who attempt to cross the vast Australian Outback in a van named “Priscilla.” It became a surprise cult classic worldwide, especially in the LGBTQ+ community, for its positive and empathetic portrayal of queer and transgender characters.

The film was so popular that it was made into a Broadway musical and also referenced during the 2000 Sydney Olympics Closing Ceremony, where a replica tour bus was adorned with a giant stiletto heel during an Australian popular culture scene.

“Viva”

Set in Cuba, “Viva” is a 2015 Spanish-language Irish drama written by Mark O’Halloran and directed by Paddy Breathnach. It stars newcomer Hector Medina as Jesus, a young gay hairdresser who dreams of being a drag performer.

Jesus’s life is turned upside down when his father, who abandoned him in childhood, comes back to live with him and is blatantly intolerant of Jesus’s drag queen activities.

The clash between father and son is portrayed well; Jesus’s father must come to terms with his son’s sexuality. “Viva,” the Irish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, made the December shortlist of nine films but was ultimately not nominated.

“Milk”

Gay rights activist Harvey Milk is spotlighted in this 2008 biographical film, which follows the career of Milk as he becomes the first openly gay person to be elected to California public office.

The film stars Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as Milk’s assassin. Directed by Gus van Sant, “Milk” covered a number of important LGBTQ+ issues, as Harvey Milk fought for gay political rights against major opposition.

“Milk” ultimately received eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Penn).

“But I’m a Cheerleader”

While this satirical 1999 romantic comedy looks campy on the outside, it covers some important LGBTQ+ issues. Natasha Lyonne plays a high school cheerleader who is sent to conversion therapy camp as a cure for her lesbianism. She eventually embraces her sexuality and falls in love with another camper.

The film explores gender and sexual identity within a given social construct (the strict rules of the camp) as well as within a larger society (the outside world, which is much more accepting of homosexuality).

What are your favorite films and plays that celebrate LGBTQ+ pride? Let us know in the comments below!

Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

 

The Evolution of Film Over Time — A Brief History

Have you even noticed how much films have evolved during your lifetime? Over the past few decades, film technology has made major advancements. Just  compare the original “King Kong,” made in 1933, to the recent remake made in 2005.

Notice how lifelike the CGI King Kong looks in comparison to the stop-motion King Kong in the original film.

Here are some other films that have been remade … can you spot the changes in filmmaking technology?

“War of the Worlds”

“The Thing”

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

“Casino Royale”

“The Karate Kid”

“The Mummy”

“Ocean’s 11”

While some changes to filmmaking technology and the craft of filmmaking might be obvious, there are other things that are not so apparent. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the more subtle ways that filmmaking has changed over the past century.

Shorter Shots

James Cutting, a psychologist at Cornell University, was a panelist for the Oscars’ “Movies in Your Brain — The Science of Cinematic Perception” discussion in 2014, and has been studying perceptual and cognitive processing. Cutting examines how the brain’s processes relate to film components such as editing, frame rates, projection, and scene and narrative structure. He has been looking at shot duration over the past few years, and has found that the average duration of a shot is consistently shorter now than it was a decade ago.

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In an interview with “Wired,” Cutting said that the average length of a shot in 1930 was 12 seconds. Today, the average length is only 2.5 seconds. You may notice that in older films, directors added at least 1.5 seconds to each crowd scene, so the audience has time to look around and see who was  in the shot. That isn’t the case today.

Attention spans may have something to do with shorter shots and the different patterns as well. It’s human nature for someone’s attention to waver, no matter how hard we try to focus. According to Cutter, “People flake out every few seconds. You fluctuate in and out, and there’s a natural pattern to this.”

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Cutter argues — and some film scholars disagree — that different patterns of shots found in today’s films go better with natural fluctuations in human attention because each new shot forces the audience to refocus their attention. There is a fine line though: films with too many short shots require too much attention and films with too many long shots may allow the audience’s attention to wander. A strategic mix of short and long shots will help keep the audience engaged and entertained.   

Of course, there are obvious exceptions. Both “Birdman” and “Gravity” have almost no visible cuts at all. However, both films take advantage of modern technology to move the camera in ways that would have been impossible even a few decades ago.

More Motion

Motion and action in a film help keep the audience’s attention. Have you ever watched an action movie and noticed your heart beating fast? Was your adrenaline pumping hard? It’s your body’s physiological response to motion within a shot. Filmmakers carefully and intentionally craft the motion we see on screen, to match the dramatic intensity of the scene.  

 

Changing Light

Modern, digital technology has allowed filmmakers to maintain better control over a more dynamic range of light. Movies today are often shot with much less light than their predecessors, allowing for more naturalistic effects. Take “Collateral,” for example, which was shot in the nighttime streets of LA with mostly natural light. Additionally, modern films are often much darker, than films made in the gold age of Hollywood. And even the application of color has been adjusted to suit the taste of modern audiences. As Cutter explained in his interview, bright colors have stayed the same but interestingly dark colors have gotten darker.

An example of this is “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” Notice that some  shots from the trailer, are extremely dark with only small focal points of light in the frame. Filmmakers use this technique to control where the audience looks and what they see.

Other Factors

There are other factors that have played a part in how film has evolved such as Blu-ray discs and IMAX theaters. Audiences can now also watch movies on smartphones, tablets, and computers, and stream movies through platforms such as Netflix.

Of course, these are just the changes in visual style that have been been made possible by new technologies. Perhaps the biggest changes are those brought about by changes in society. But that’s the subject for another article.

What do you think are the most impressive innovations in film over the last century? Let us know in the comments below! If you’re ready to learn more about filmmaking, study at the New York Film Academy.

NYFA Conservatory: Why a 1-Year Program Is Your Next Life-Hack

We’ve all heard inspiring rags-to-riches tales of celebrities who found their big break by being discovered in malls or whisked away from their ordinary job by a chance encounter with a talent scout, director or agent. While we can’t deny this fairy tale does sometimes come true in real life, for most professional visual and performing artists the road to success is paved with hard work — and excellent training. If you’re considering the arts, you may want to consider updating your training.

Whether your dream is to make magic behind the camera, on the screen, or in post-production, don’t wait for a chance encounter with fate: you can take matters into your own hands by pursuing hands-on training in the skills you’ll need to change your own life and learn to be an artist.

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Daydreams Come True

It’s never too late to pursue your dream, but it’s important to understand what tools you’ll need along the way. It can seem like there’s a huge gap between daydreaming at your day job and actually living your dream. The good news is that there is one secret weapon that can help you find your footing as you develop professional skills while saving time: a conservatory program.

Why a Conservatory?

Picture spending all day every day doing only what you love, all while working closely with and learning from people who are experts in what you want to do. That’s a conservatory: intensive artistic training in a creative environment designed to push aspiring artists to develop their skills to the highest level.

A conservatory program is a little bit different than traditional college. Rather than requiring classes in a core curriculum of all subjects, a conservatory allows students to focus exclusively on their subject. The intensive focus allows conservatory students to develop a unique depth of understanding for their craft and receive specific training relevant to their specialty in the arts.

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Why NYFA?

At the New York Film Academy, our conservatory programs offer students from all backgrounds the training and experience they need to rise to a professional level and build a body of original work. The New York Film Academy’s conservatory is unique because we believe in “learning by doing.” That defines everything we do, and our hands-on instruction helps our students learn to handle the real-world challenges of their chosen industry, whether that’s a working film set, an animation studio, a photography studio, or a Broadway stage. In one or two years at NYFA, students complete more training in less time through an intensive, project-based curriculum crafted to prepare professionals for the real world.

Hands-On Learning

Starting on day one, we put our conservatory students in real-world situations, whether that’s behind the camera, in front of the camera, or working with software to create their own digital works of art. Learning hands-on challenges our students to learn to think on their feet, adapt and problem solve — all skills that are essential for work in the arts. Collaborative projects allow our students to work together, build a strong network, and learn to see their chosen craft from every angle.

Industry Teachers

Our students learn from a faculty of working professionals who are still active in their fields. This means that our instructors offer a direct line to the heartbeat of current industry trends and provide vital insight to the business side of the professional arts.

Incredible Locations

If you’re excited about the idea of spending a year or two changing your life through one of NYFA’s conservatory programs, check out our campus locations:

NYFA New York

If you are looking for a sense of adventure, choose a conservatory program at NYFA New York City. Our campuses at 17 Battery Place and 26 Broadway place students in the heart of one of the world’s most diverse cities, the home of independent film, the proving ground for actors, and the theatre capital of the world. For the artistic soul, New York City is alive with unimaginable hope and inspiration, and students will recognize the setting of many beloved films and television series shot in the city, from “The Godfather,” “Ghostbusters,” “Taxi Driver” and “Do the Right Thing” to “Madmen,” “Broad City,” and “30 Rock.”

NYFA Los Angeles

NYFA Los Angeles is in the heart of Hollywood, the birthplace of American cinema and the heart of the film industry. From the sunny and inspiring city to the nearby beaches and mountains, students are in the perfect place to create their own original projects in the same city that served as the location for countless classic and contemporary films and television shows, from “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Graduate,” “Tangerine,” and “Nightcrawler” to “Star Trek,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Broke Girls.” And NYFA students have unique entertainment industry opportunities, such as working on the prestigious Universal Studios backlot and in Warner Brothers facilities. 

NYFA South Beach

“The Gateway of the Americas,” Miami is a city of diverse culture, sun, and energy, with gleaming white beaches, turquoise ocean waters, a beautiful Art Deco district, and a famed nightlife and restaurant scene that draws visitors, artists, and industry leaders from around the world. Located in the heart of the gorgeous South Beach neighborhood of Miami, NYFA South Beach offers conservatory students the opportunity to make art while exploring one of the most vibrant cities in the U.S. Miami has served as the location for many major films and television shows, including “Scarface,” “The Birdcage,” “Jane the Virgin,” and 2016’s Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, “Moonlight.”

NYFA Australia

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The New York Film Academy Australia has two campuses, in Sydney and Gold Coast, where conservatory students can can attain their CUA60615 – Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media or CUA51015 – Diploma of Screen and Media.

NYFA Australia: Gold Coast

Our Gold Coast (Queensland) campus is located in a state-of-the-art facility in Southport, directly across from the Gold Coast Broadwater with a popular waterfront promenade, large estuary and attractive parklands. We also have our own production studios on-site at the renowned Village Roadshow Studios, where our students have the opportunity to do their production work in the backlot, the filming location of international blockbusters including “San Andreas,” “Unbroken,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “The Shallows,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” among many others.

NYFA Australia: Sydney

Australia’s largest and most famous city, Sydney is considered the jewel of the Southern Hemisphere, with one of the most beautiful harbors, great surf beaches, a magnificent opera house, and an eclectic film and music scene that adds to rich cultural environment. NYFA students have access to premier facilities and equipment and can create their own work throughout Sydney’s beautiful beaches, iconic buildings, historic landmarks, award-winning restaurants, and a uniquely vibrant culture. Sydney has served as the location for numerous blockbusters such as “The Great Gatsby,” “The Matrix,” “Stealth,” “Babe,” “Crocodile Dundee,” “Wolverine,” “Mad Max The Road Warrior,” and “Mission Impossible II.” 

Have you enrolled or completed one our conservatory programs? Let us know about your experience below! Learn more about our conservatory programs and continuing education at the New York Film Academy.

A Guide to Getting Your First Film Made (On The Cheap)

Alright, so you’ve just graduated and you’re eager to make your first feature film. And you’re broke. Let’s just assume everyone reading this is broke. Where do you go from here?

Here are some tips to help you get started on your quest to create your own low-budget feature film, outside of the comfort of school:

Rule #1: Make a List of Everything You Have

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So you have a script written, but you need actors, a cinematographer, editor, costumes, craft services, and maybe even a director.

We all know that filmmaking is expensive, but if you’re a first-time filmmaker on a shoestring budget you’re far from a Hollywood level of production quality. So take some time to make a list of all the locations, equipment, actors, crew members, or props you might already have access to for little or no costs at all.

See if any of your friends have time or tools. Got a camera? That’s somewhere to start! And once you’ve made a list of everything you have that you can make a film with, that leaves…

Rule #2: Make a List of Everything You Need

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Reverse budgeting works: figure out what or who you need. That’s all a budget is. Now, itemize everything and everyone on that list. Do your research. Figure out how much you’re able to get for cheap or zilch.

There are three ways people pay for the budgeted line items:

  • pay now (cold-hard cash)
  • pay later (deferred payment based on profits made from the film)
  • pay through product placement (sometimes referred to as “in kind,” or the “you scratch my back/I scratch yours” deal).

Rule #3: Locations Are Expensive

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Ever wonder why so many low-budget movies seem to take place in just one location? Rodrigo Cortés’s “Buried.” Steven Knight’s “Locke.” Steve McQueen’s “Hunger.” Michael Snow’s utterly sublime Wavelength. Even Barry Jenkin’s Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” with a story that takes place throughout many decades in a character’s life, only has a handful of on-screen set locations throughout.

Every time you add a location to your story, you add in more costs and even more time. Keep that in mind when budgeting. Always remember your paperwork too. Paperwork is super important.

Rule #4: Sound is King

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You may be fretting about whether you have the most streamlined, high-tech, newest and hottest camera on the market for your first film project, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: Having good sound is equally important.

Just look at any documentary to see how good-quality audio can make a professional difference. You can find more creative solutions to shoot compelling visuals with a cheaper camera or very little lighting equipment, but audiences will be far less forgiving if your audio is impossible to listen to.

Rule #5: Have the Rights to the Music

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If you know someone who can do your soundtrack, if you can hire someone for cheap, or if you can make music yourself, go that route for sure.

But definitely, definitely do not use music that you have no rights to.

There are so many urban myths surrounding fair use laws and licensing, but the simple truth is that you can’t use anyone else’s music effects or soundtrack without their permission. Charles Burnett’s “The Killer of Sheep” wasn’t released for nearly 30 years for this very reason.

Get permission in writing if you can.

Rule #6: Thinking On Your Feet Is Okay

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If you went to film school or made some short films in the past, you’re probably well aware that it is often the case that things don’t go as planned when on set or in the editing room.

You may have spent months or even years writing the perfectly crafted script or creating storyboards and shot lists that are detailed to the teeth, but all of that is likely to change any given minute you spend on set. Let’s be real: problems happen all. the. time.

All legendary filmmakers have had to deal with this. What is their secret? They see these “problems” as creative opportunities. And as most film junkies know, some of the best scenes in movie history were completely improvised.

Rule #7: Marketing

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For most filmmakers, this is the hardest part. You’ve spent sweat, blood and tears making your baby, and now you need to deliver it to the people.

The toughest part after your film is made is getting people to care. We wish there was a catch-all tip for marketing indie movies, but there isn’t. However, we will say that marketing is something you need to be thinking of from day one, when you first begin writing the script. Throughout the process, reach out to professionals and hire a professional if you can.

What is your best advice for first-time feature filmmakers? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

 

First Day of Summer: 5 Awesome Movies To Watch Before Starting Your Summer At NYFA

Are you starting a course at NYFA this summer and wondering how best to use your time before you come for class? Here’s a tip — celebrate the summer doing what you love: watching films!

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There’s no happier way to spend a summer afternoon than by watching an awesome film with popcorn and a cold drink. Here are some fun movies you might want to check out to beat the heat.

1. “The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants” (2005)

At first this may sound like the average teen movie: four girls who are going to be separated for the first time over the summer all promise to stay in touch with each other. While shopping, they come across a pair of jeans that fits each of them perfectly, and they decide to share the pants among their group over the course of their summer holidays.

Yet the traveling pants serve another purpose: to teach the girls important lessons and infuse their lives with magic, miracles and the things that matter. This is a film about love, heartbreak, identity and facing adulthood that you won’t forget too soon.

2. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997)

If romantic comedies or drama aren’t up your alley, and you like the taste of thrill, this horror/mystery flick may be what you need.

Once again, we have a group of four teenagers. This time, they’re covering up a car accident. A year later, they are stalked by a murderer. Drawing from the urban legend of The Hook, this film’s got quite a cult following, with two sequels and a great soundtrack of rock songs to chill out to.

3. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008)

Of course, you can’t go wrong with a Woody Allen comedy flick. Here, two American women are on a trip to Barcelona, where they encounter an alluring artist who’s into both of them … as well as his ex-wife.

Complete with a beach holiday in beautiful Spain, polyamory and stellar acting, this film has a dreamy and intoxicating quality that’s perfect to watch in summer.

4. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)

If you like road trips, this film is a safe bet. Meet the dysfunctional Hoover family, who are convinced that the youngest member, Olive, needs to win a beauty pageant. To that end, they embark on a cross-country journey in a VW bus.

Hilarious and heartbreaking, this gem of a film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two, including the prize for Best Original Screenplay.

5. “500 Days of Summer” (2009)

Not a summer film per se, but it deftly examines a lot of themes connected to our idea of an ‘endless summer’: true love, a perfect relationship, this period of joy we’re convinced shall never end, intoxication, childhood daydreams and so on. The film reverses the typical ‘boy meets girl and falls in love’ trope where the boy is hopelessly in love and the girl isn’t and is told in non-linear flashbacks.  This is a film about wanting something you can never have and being okay to live without it. Summers always end, but we need to keep on living and this movie will show you how.  

What’s your idea of a perfect summer? Are there any other films you need we should add to the line-up? Let us know in the comments below! Spend the summer studying visual and performing arts with NYFA.

6 Unlikely Superhero Film Hits

Superman was the first superhero to grace the silver screen back in the 1940s. Since then the Man of Steel has had many incarnations, as have Batman and Spiderman — from camp TV shows to blockbuster movie franchises. But, in recent years,  there are  a few surprise superhero hits that, when first proposed, likely caused more than a little head scratching. To honor National Superhero Day, we celebrate the lesser-known superhero movies that may inspire you to delve deep into comic book obscurity to create a superhero movie of your own!

1. “Hellboy” (Dark Horse Comics, 2004)

Guillermo del Toro passed up a shot at directing the third “Harry Potter” film “because he nurtured a need to bring Mr. Mignola’s colossal, monstrous-looking, Twizzler-colored champion to the screen,” according to a NY Times review by Elvis Mitchell. Mitchell congratulates del Toro for keeping the “drizzly, musty gothic ambience” of the source material while giving it his own quirky spin:

“The writer and director Guillermo del Toro has brought a similar woozy, disconcerting melancholy to his film adaptation, and his obvious affection and affinity for that dankness alone would make “Hellboy” worth seeing. But Mr. del Toro lets loose with an all-American, vaudevillian rambunctiousness that makes the movie daffy, loose and lovable.”

2. “Deadpool” (Marvel, 2016)

He has the power to regenerate — his limbs as well as the X-Men franchise. This R-Rated blockbuster proves comics are not just for kids. Returning to the source material, the movie has the titular character breaking the fourth wall — unusual behavior for a filmic superhero and one that worked; a sequel is in development.

3. “Dr. Strange” (Marvel, 2016)

Perhaps the most unlikely part of the story of this worldwide blockbuster is that, after 30 years, it finally got made. But Dr. Strange has always been a superhero outlier. Wikipedia quotes the historian Bradford Wright as saying, “Never among Marvel’s more popular or accessible characters, Dr. Strange still found a niche among an audience seeking a challenging alternative to more conventional superhero fare.”

4. “Watchmen” (DC Comics, 2009)

As the Telegraph notes in a review, “In the annals of Hollywood development hell, the long-anticipated Watchmen ranks high on the list of movies that almost didn’t get made.”

Besides the development SNAFUs, director Zack Snyder created a difficult not-for-kids superhero film. The Telegraph writes: “As well as extreme violence — arms are sawn off, heads are hatcheted, blood spurts in gushers, necks are twisted and broken, a woman is brutally beaten and raped — ‘Watchmen’ also pushes the envelope with an explicit superhero sex scene between Night Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) that Snyder admits borders on pornography and which he filmed to the accompaniment of Leonard Cohen’s anthem ‘Hallelujah.’”

5. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Marvel, 2014)

As Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers wrote in his review: “Maybe you never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel comic franchise that wilts in the shadows while Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers get all the love. Maybe you think a big-*ss movie about wanna-be Marvel icons isn’t worth your time.

“Snap out of it. Guardians of the Galaxy does the impossible. Through dazzle and dumb luck, it turns the clichés of comic-book films on their idiot heads and hits you like an exhilarating blast of fun-fun-fun.”

6. “Ant-Man” (Marvel, 2015)

CinemaBlend ranked Ant-Man #24 on its 30 Best Superhero Movies list, and noted that, “Just like they did the previous year with Guardians of the Galaxy, 2015’s Ant-Man took an obscure character from Marvel’s library and turned them into a hit at the box office. The Peyton Reed-directed flick featured Scott Lang as the Tiny Titan working to harness the Pym Particle technology and make up for his criminal past with Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne’s help. By adding plenty of humor and incorporating a heist into the story, Ant-Man turned out to be anything but small when it came to enjoyability …”

What superhero would you like to see hit the big screen? Let us know in the comments below. And learn how to make your own films at New York Film Academy.

Entertainment Trailblazers in LGBTQ+ Activism

The entertainment industry has its share of human rights activists, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. Whether for queer or trans rights, these amazing individuals have stood up for what they believed in. Here are a few entertainment individuals whom the New York Film Academy salutes as pioneers in the field of LGBTQ+ rights.

Ellen DeGeneres

DeGeneres famously came out on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1997 before staging her own coming-out on her sitcom “Ellen.” Her coming-out-of-the-closet episode, entitled “The Puppy Episode,” received some of the show’s highest ratings.

She became the first openly lesbian actress to play an openly lesbian character on television. Since then, DeGeneres has had a hugely successful career, hosting both the Academy Awards and the Grammys as well as her own daytime talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” She continues to remain a crucial advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 from Barack Obama.

George Takei

Beloved as “Star Trek’s” Lieutenant Sulu, Takei officially came out in 2005 to oppose then-California governor Arnold Schwarzanegger’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation. Takei’s use of social media — he has over 10 million followers — has made him a pioneer in using Facebook to advance LGBTQ+ rights. Additionally, he is active in state and local politics. In 2014, he won the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)’s Vito Russo award, given to openly gay media professionals who have made important contributions for the LGBTQ+ community.

Laverne Cox

Transgender actress and comedian Laverne Cox first rose to prominence playing Sophia Burset on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” She became the first openly transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy in the acting category, as well as the first transgender person to have a wax figure of herself at Madame Tussauds.

In 2017, she became the first transgender actress to play an openly transgender character in CBS’s “Doubt.” Her success and activism has sparked conversations about transgender acceptance.

Parvez Sharma

This New York-based Indian filmmaker became famous in the LGBTQ+ community when he released his documentary “A Jihad for Love,” about gay and lesbian Muslims. He received the GLAAD Media Award in 2009 for his efforts.

A celebrated journalist who commentates frequently on CNBC and MSNBC, Sharma was named “one of the 100 gay men and women who have helped shape our culture during the year” by OUT Magazine in both 2008 and 2015.

Emily Rios

Latino and lesbian actress Emily Rios stars as an openly lesbian character on FX’s “The Bridge.”

“I’m gay, personally, so being Mexican and a lesbian — this is why I love the character because I deal with the same type of things with my own family,” Emily said in an interview. But her character doesn’t just focus on issues surrounding LGBTQ+ rights. “I want it to be an incidental thing, which is what happens in our everyday life.”

How will you be celebrating Pride Month? Let us know in the comments below.

The History of Drive-In Movie Theaters (and Where They Are Now)

Many people hear stories of their grandparents going to the drive-in theater for a Friday night hangout, but do you know the history of the classic movie experience?

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Though there were drive-ins as early as the 1910s, the first patented drive-in was opened on June 6, 1933 by Richard Hollingshead in New Jersey. He created it as a solution for people unable to comfortably fit into smaller movie theater seats after creating a mini drive-in for his mother. Appealing to families, Hollingshead advertised his drive-in as a place where “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

The success of Hollingshead’s drive-in caused more and more drive-ins to appear in every state in the country, and spread internationally as well. Drive-ins gained immense popularity 20 years later during the 1950s and ‘60s with the Baby Boomer generation. There were over 4,000 drive-ins throughout the U.S. and most were located in rural areas. They maintained popularity as both a space for families to spend time with each other as well as an affordable date night option.

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Drive-ins could only show movies during certain times of the year and were dependent on having decent weather. During the ‘70s, people downsized their cars during the oil crisis in order to save money on the inflated cost of gas, making it uncomfortable to watch movies at the drive-in. To make up for lost revenue, drive-ins began losing their family-friendly atmosphere by showing exploitation films like slasher horrors as well as adult content. The development of the VCR made it more appealing to stay at home and watch movies without paying for a movie at the drive-in.

Slowly, drive-ins began to lose their appeal. In order to have an effective drive-in, it had to be on at least 15 acres of land. Economically speaking, it became more practical for owners to close down their drive-ins in order to sell their land to developers to build malls or multi-building complexes.

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Even though drive-ins are not nearly as popular as they used to be (with some arguing that they will be obsolete within the next decade), there are still drive-ins in business throughout the country. Modern drive-ins vary, but many show current films as well as older films. A lot of them also plan double feature nights. Just like a classic drive-in and a regular theater, they sell refreshments like popcorn, candy and soda. Some even have playgrounds for families to entertain their children.

For now, there are over 300 drive-ins still in operation. Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania have the most drive-ins still in operation in the U.S., with each state having almost 30 left. Unfortunately, Hawaii, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Delaware, and Louisiana no longer have any that are still in business. But no matter the fate of America’s drive-ins, they will always be a nostalgic and cultural icon.

Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is one of the most iconic superheroes in the world and has a large, faithful fan base. Bursting into the world in 1941, the Amazonian was an instant hit with comic book lovers everywhere. Even people who aren’t avid comic readers still adore the genius design and storyline. And now, the 2017 DC Comics film adaptation has smashed box office records.

As Forbes reports, “‘Wonder Woman‘ made even more over the weekend than originally estimated. It opened not with $100.5 million, but rather with $103.1 million … That makes it the biggest opening weekend ever for a female director.” (Want to learn more about female directors and gender inequality in the film industry? Check out our infographic.)

Wonder Woman was the third hero to get her own comic book after popular appearances in “All Star Comics #8” and “Sensation Comics #1” and is still regularly circulating in her own comic books, movies and TV appearances.  But even her biggest fans may not know these five awesome facts about her extraordinary history!

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1. Wonder Woman was partially based off of the creator’s wife.

Besides women’s suffragists, Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton) based the first female crime-fighter on his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston. Elizabeth was a psychologist as well as an attorney, often helping her husband with Wonder Woman projects. The couple was also responsible for creating the very first prototype of the lie detector test.

2. Wonder Woman never wore a skirt.

In earlier issues, Wonder Woman seemed to be wearing a skirt. Surprise, it’s not a skirt! Wonder Woman was actually sporting culottes, or split pants with flowing bottoms, making them appear like a skirt, so she could be both practical and feminine. But no matter what she wears, Wonder Woman is always in style!

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3. She used to reform, not kill criminals.

Marston was inspired by the Suffragette Movement and believed having more women in charge of national and global affairs would lead to a more peaceful world. Wonder Woman would send many female villains to Reform (Transformation) Island after capturing them. Her hope was to have them return to the “true nature of women” and to bring peace to society with a women-run Earth.

4. The Lasso of Truth was based off of Marston’s lie detector prototype.

Wonder Woman uses her Lasso of Truth to force villains to be truthful and obedient, even using it to provide evidence in court. But did you know it was based on a real-life invention? Marston and Elizabeth’s lie detector invention directly influenced the creation of her famous Lasso of Truth. The prototype correlated heightened blood pressure with lying and guilt, but courts would not accept it as a reliable measure of guilt.

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5. Wonder Woman is the daughter of Zeus, Greek god of the sky and ruler of Olympus.

Though Wonder Woman’s first origin story said her mother Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira sculpts her daughter Diana out of clay, praying to the gods of Olympus for her clay–crafted child to come to life, the recent “DC Comics: Rebirth” series tells a different story. Queen Hippolyta only told the story to hide the truth: that Zeus is actually Wonder Woman’s father. This makes Wonder Woman a demigod like Hercules and explains the source of her mighty power.

What are your thoughts on the premier of “Wonder Woman” this week? Let us know in the comments below. Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

10 Tips for Making More Polished Student Films

Let’s be honest: Many student filmmakers don’t have the time, money, or knowledge to produce a film of professional quality. Students at the New York Film Academy have access to high quality camera, lighting and sound gear, but it never hurts to know a few extra tips and tricks to create a more polished looking film on a shoestring budget.

Check out these student film hacks, below:

1. For Static Shots: Get yourself a tripod. Seriously. When you need a shot to be static, having a rock steady tripod really makes a difference.

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2. For Moving Shots: Build a homemade dolly. Get your hands on a couple of PVC pipes, fasten some tiny wheels (like from your old skateboard) to a wooden plank and you have yourself a homemade dolly on the cheap.

3. For Smooth Handheld Shots: Can’t afford a steadicam? Build your own. Homemade steadicams can be surprisingly affordable.

4. Work with Natural Light: It’s been said by many professional cinematographers that the best lighting is provided by nature. Just check out the stunning work of cinematographer Nestor Almendros on “Days of Heaven,” for which he won an Academy Award. All it requires is the discipline and patience to be at the right place at the right time of day.

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5. Work with Practical Lights: Practicals are the actual lamps and lighting fixtures found on location. As much as we would all like to use professional lighting units, that’s not something a shoestring budget usually allows for. But a well-placed practical not only creates a natural lighting effect, but gives you the added flexibility of turning the light on and off during the shot. In addition, cheap dimmers can be purchased at almost any hardware store and will allow you to creatively set the light intensity you want. If you’re shooting indoors, check out how available lamps look on screen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_50Yy1vDT8

6. Diffused Lighting: Naked bulbs are perfect when you want hard-edged shadows, like a basement scene in a horror film. But if you’re looking for softer lighting, there are a number of inexpensive products that can replace the need for expensive gels. Wax paper and frosted shower curtains are just two examples. These items are not only cheap, they’re lightweight, can be cut into any size you need, and are easily disposable when you’re done.

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7. Sculpting and Shaping Light: One of the keys to lighting well is sculpting and shaping the light. On professional movie sets, this is done with a grip kit. Grip kits contain flags, nets, silks and scrims — expensive tools used for this purpose. But with a little ingenuity, cheap substitutes can be found. Here are just two examples: When you need to block light from part of the set, black poster board can be cut and bent into any shape you need. It has the added advantage of being lightweight, enabling you to hang it in place with painters or gaffers tape. And aluminum foil can be wrapped around a light to focus it into a spotlight or even a pinhole of light.

8. Balancing Colored Light Sources: When mixing daylight with artificial light, the results can sometimes look unprofessional because daylight is bluish (colder), while lamp light is more red (warmer), and fluorescent lights tend to be green. You may like this fruit salad of color, but if you want a more professional look you’ll want the color of your light sources to match. One way to achieve this is to replace all the light bulbs with daylight-balanced bulbs. You can purchase these at a lighting supply store but less expensive versions can often be found at supermarkets and drug stores.

9. Everything Looks Good in Black and White: This may be more of a opinion-based tip, but even with the noisiest, grainiest, lowest quality of video cameras, black and white can act as a last-minute savior! Black and white will also cure problems of mismatched color from your lighting sources.

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10. Cheap Lighting Effects: Need your actors to look like they are being lit by a TV screen or a fireplace? These effects can be easily produced with some inexpensive supplies. Randomly moving a piece of black poster board in front of a soft source of light can reproduce the intermittent flickering of a TV screen. The traditional method is to put a piece of blue gel over the light.

Similarly, by taping strips of orange gel to a broomstick and then gently waving it in front of a soft source of light, you can reproduce the flickering of a fireplace. In both cases, sound effects can go a long way to enhance the effect. Until you have the resources and funds available to get your hands on the gear the pros use, these hacks will do the trick.

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By the way, it isn’t just student filmmakers who can benefit from these tips — low budget and indie filmmaker have used these low-budget techniques for decades. And don’t let these tips be the end of your experimentation: With a little imagination and ingenuity, you can come up with all kinds of startling effects.

Ready to learn more about filmmaking? Check out the New York Film Academy’s programs in filmmaking.

 

How to Get Into Film Festivals

At the New York Film Academy, students in our filmmaking program learn from the best. Starting on day one through hands-on experience, students learn how to write, shoot, direct, and edit their films. At the end of each filmmaking course, NYFA students have the opportunity to screen their films, open to the cast, crew, friends, and family.

Students don’t have to stop there though. There are many opportunities for students to submit their films to festivals. We have some tips for you to help you get into film festivals.  

Pay Attention

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When you are submitting to a film festival — it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small — pay close attention to all of the submission rules and regulations of the festival committee. Each festival has its own specific set of rules, and it’s important to show the festival committee that you can follow direction.

In an interview with “The Huffington Post,” Elliot Grove, independent film producer and founder of the London Raindance Film Festival, said that a lot of filmmakers end up annoying film festival programmers.

Make sure you read all the rules and regulations for submission before you pick up that phone or send an email to the festival committee. You’ll also want to make sure that you understand the overall tone of the festival, and that the work that you are submitting is reflective of that.

When it comes down to it, there are many factors that determine whether a film will be accepted into a film festival or rejected. Think about quality of the screenplay, subject matter, color correction, and sound mixing when you are submitting a film.

You should also try and submit to film festivals early to avoid paying any late fees. Each film festival has three waves of submissions: early, regular, and late. Prices during early deadlines are at their lowest, whereas submitting late could cost you a ton of money.

Pick the Right Festival

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Again, it comes back to paying attention to details. Each film festival has its own focus and it’s important that you understand that focus before you start submitting your material. When you are looking at the different types of film festivals, you need to think about the genres that will be there and your audience. Also, does the festival have a theme for that year? These are all important factors that you should think about when you are picking the festival.

Test the Film Out Before Submitting  

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Strive to make your film as perfect as possible before you submit it to a film festival. If you feel like something is off, or something in the film could be improved, fix it before you send it off. We know you want to get your film finalized so you can see the audience’s reaction and receive some gratification, but impatience leads to mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to do a live screening with a test audience. You may need a venue, projection and sound equipment, but you’ll be able to watch the audience react to your film and receive their feedback instantly.

You may be able to tweak your film based on the audience’s positive feedback and criticism. It’s extra work for you to do before submitting it to a film festival, but in the end, it would be worth it to do a test screening.

Do you have any tips for submitting films to festivals? If so, let us know below! Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.