How To’s

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

The Beginner’s Guide to the Filmmaking Process

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After watching a great movie, few people ever sit back and think about how much work it took to make. They may check out how much the actors were paid or what kind of budget the film worked with, but it’s impossible to know what it truly takes to make a film until you’ve been through the process yourself.

Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker or just want to get an idea of the movie-making process, here’s a very basic breakdown of how a film is made. Think of this as the beginner’s guide to the filmmaking process:

Step 1: The Idea

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Every movie you’ve ever seen first started with an idea in someone’s brain. Although things change as a project goes on, the story you come up with in the beginning will serve as the foundation on which everything else will be built. Start thinking about the kind of story you want your film to tell and all the important story elements involved: plot, characters, conflict, etc.

Our tip: Ideas pop into our heads unexpectedly! Be sure to always carry your phone or writing equipment to take down any cool ideas that enhance your story.

It’s also a good idea to create a folder in which you save newspaper and magazine articles, snippets of overheard dialogue, notes on characters you see on the street, and even dreams. You may not know what to do with these things now but the day will come when you do.

Step 2: The Script

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The script is where you’ll put down the story, setting, and dialogue in linear form. This important tool will be used by the rest of the team to know what’s going to happen in the film. You’ll also be using your own script as reference throughout the process as well since you may need to refresh yourself on certain actions, dialogue lines, and more.

Our tip: Don’t be afraid to make changes to the script even after you think it’s ready. More often than not, better ideas will come to you well after this stage in the filmmaking process.

And don’t be afraid to let your actors improvise, whether it’s in rehearsal or on the set. You may be surprised at what your actors are able to imagine from their character’s point of view. This is especially true for filmmakers who may not be great with writing dialogue.

Step 3: The Storyboards

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A storyboard is a sequence of drawings that represent the shots you plan to film. We highly recommend this process because it helps you visualize each scene and decide on things like camera angles, shot sizes, etc. You’ll discover your storyboard’s true value when it helps communicate what you’re trying to go for to other people on the set.

And for those of you who think, “I can’t draw,” photographing your storyboards can be a quick solution. Your camera phone works fine for this. Just take a couple of friends to your location and tell them, “You stand here, you stand there,” and take pictures. Take lots of pictures. From lots of different vantage points. Then select the ones you like best and there’s your storyboard. Doing this has the added advantage of showing you what’s really possible. Because we often draw storyboards, then discover to our disappointment, that we’d have to demolish-+ a wall to get the perspective that we’ve imagined.

Step 4: The Cast and Crew

Assembling your team can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. We recommend you take as much time as needed to find the right people for your film. For crew members, be sure to consider their past work and experience, and request showreels or any examples if available. You should also hold auditions to find the best actors and actresses for your roles.

Our tip: Don’t feel obligated to include friends and family in your project. This is your film, which means choosing the best people for the job. Hopefully your acquaintances are professional enough to accept when you don’t think they’re a fit for your project.

Step 5: The Locations

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You may need to construct sets for a setting you’d like to have. But for scenes where an actual location will do, you’ll need to do some scouting to find the best spots. Take a camera with you and do as much traveling as possible, snapping shots of places you think will serve as the perfect setting for particular scenes.

Our tip: Always consider the space required by the cast and crew. Don’t choose a cramped, narrow space where only the actors will fit well and not the cameras, lights, etc.

Step 6: The Filming

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It all comes down to this. To prepare, be sure to have a shoot script ready along with an organized schedule of what will be filmed when. Give yourself plenty of time to shoot scenes so that you’re never rushed and can accommodate for changes or problems. It’s common for a scene that will last one minute in the final cut to require more than five hours to film.

Our tip: If time permits, try filming the same scenes from new angles. This way, you’ll have more footage to work with that can keep your viewers engaged.

Step 7: The Post-Production

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If you thought filming took time, you were wrong. Post-production is when you edit all your footage to create a rough cut of the film. Once done with the rough cut, you’ll begin adding things like sound effects, music, visual effects, and color correction. This process will require the use of editing software — if you’re not confident, feel free to find/hire an experienced editor.

Our tip: Before you polish up your rough cut, show it to people whose opinions you can trust. It’s better that you find out what isn’t working now rather than when your audience is watching the final version.

Ready to become more than a beginner? Study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

 

How to Get Big Production Value Out of a Little Budget

For independent filmmakers and those just starting out, managing production value can be tricky. You want your film to look and sound great, and that often takes a lot of money — but it doesn’t have to. In this previous NYFA article, we offered a zero-budget checklist for filmmakers, which included some great advice on how to spend your time and resources. Today we offer advice on getting the most production value bang for your buck.

Choose Your Set Piece Scene Wisely

In a low-budget film, one or two high-production-value scenes can really make a difference to the overall effect. It is important to choose those scenes carefully, with thought to the characters and what is vital to their trajectory in the film, as well as what is logistically possible in your circumstances.

In this guest-written article at No Film School, filmmaker Joshua Caldwell tells how he made his feature film “Layover” for just $6000: “If you know how to pull it off for no money, you can allow for a few scenes that look expensive but were actually the cheapest scenes we shot.”

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Caldwell gives a “trick” for making the set-piece scene work, and that is to not require dialogue (because dialogue requires multiple takes), and to keep the action simple. If you don’t have the money to shut a place down and hire a bunch of extras, you have to shoot the scene guerilla-style, and he gives an example: “There’s a scene in the film where our main character Simone meets up with a friend and they go to a club in Hollywood. The club is packed, it’s busy, it’s fun, colorful and dark, and our editor, Will Torbett, edited the hell out of it. Feels like we owned that club. But we didn’t. We got permission to be there with our camera and film but nothing else.” But because he only required his lead to dance and have a good time (at a pivotal moment), he got all that was required. “It became the perfect character-based set piece and it really increases the production value of the film.”

Focus Carefully

A tidbit to keep in mind when planning your shots: If you’re going to have people in the frame who aren’t your actors (as in the club scene described above), make sure they’re not focused on or you might need them to sign a release form.

Be Kind to Those Working for Free

Successful low-budget film feats are often made possible by cast and crew working for free. Spending time looking for talented students to gain experience while working on your film is one part of the production value formula, and being kind to them is another. This ProVideo Coalition article reminds you to think about your cast and crew and to not scrimp on their bodily needs and comfort. In the short film “Love and Robots” the filmmakers put a large part of their tiny budget into the costumes, because it was vital to the production value, but they were also aware that, for the actors, “home-made costumes that cover the entire body and face are hot, fatiguing, difficult and just plain claustrophobic. Breathing is a chore.”

Being empathetic to your cast and crew can make the current film the best it can be and help you to gather people for your next project. Providing craft services and a little down time makes all the difference. “Crews eat a lot during 12 hour + days. But having time to sit, eat and drink really restores body and spirit for the non-paid crew. … If you provide for your crew you get twice the work!”

Do It Yourself/Never Sleep

Markus Rothkranz does it all: producer, director, effects artist, model maker, matte painter. In an article at Creative Cow, he discusses the creative freedom that comes with wearing so many hats: “I learned that in the art of filmmaking, you usually raise a lot of money for a project and then hire many people to make the show. It’s a system that works but it’s not for me. In my world, I tend to believe that it is possible to make $100 million movies on $10 million. … “Today, I write, direct, build the sets and the models, set the lights, often act as my own DP and I find a creative freedom in this. It helps that I never sleep!”

Do you have tips for squeezing the most production value out of a lean budget? Let us know in the comments below. And check out NYFA’s filmmaking programs to get learn more about how to make your own films.

How to Use Crowdfunding Sites Like Kickstarter & Indiegogo to Fund Your Film

Nothing speaks to the independent filmmaking spirit quite like crowdfunding. Not only can you get your project made without relying on traditional top-down sources, but also a successful campaign demonstrates your film’s marketability to potential distributors. Not all crowdfunding campaigns have the built-in fan base of the wildly successful “The Veronica Mars Film Project,” so we’ve gathered some tips and resources to help you make sure your crowdfunding campaign reaches, or even surpasses, its goal.

Do Your Homework

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As we mentioned in this article comparing crowdfunding sites, you need to know the particulars of the platform and choose accordingly. Kickstarter and Indiegogo both have track records of funding successful filmmaking projects, and looking at their film and video specific project pages makes clear that trending projects include feature films, documentaries and shorts. GoFundMe, on the other hand, has gone in another direction with the majority of its campaigns being personal rather than creative. Also, keep in mind that Indiegogo allows users to collect and keep funds as the campaign proceeds, while Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing game, where you must choose a deadline and a minimum goal that you must meet in order to collect funds.

Hit the Ground Running

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Do your research and have everything in place before your campaign starts. Whatever platform you choose, spend some time perusing projects, especially those that seem similar to your own. Both the successes and failures can help you.

Also, try to line up PR before launching. Doing the work before the campaign clock starts ticking will give you a better chance of success. According to this article at CrowdCrux.com, gaining the interest of strangers is most likely to occur within the first three days of launching: “At this stage, you will be in the recently launched tab and if you hustle and get supporters early, you can become a trending project.” After that window, it gets much harder.  

Never Underestimate the Power of a Good Story

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Setting up your project page with a clear, concise, and compelling story including visuals and a realistic budget is vital. According to Kickstarter’s Creator Handbook, “there are some basic questions you should answer including: ‘Who are you? What are you planning to make? Where did this project come from? What’s your plan, and what’s your schedule?’” In other words, you want to transmit your passion and excitement to potential backers, while assuring them that you are qualified and capable of bringing the idea to life.

Attract the Low Rollers

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Remember that the beauty of crowdfunding is that many backers with shallow pockets can take the place of one or two execs with deep pockets — but, they will also want return on their investment. According to this Entrepreneur.com article, the most popular pledge amount at Kickstarter is $25, so you want to make sure “the affordable perks don’t run out too fast, or you risk losing potential backers who can’t afford steeper offerings.”

Filmmakers are lucky to have built-in social media minions in the way of cast and crew. However, don’t rely on them to come up with their own mini-campaigns. Give them shareable items that they can customize for their own network. Most Kickstarter campaigns don’t go viral, but that doesn’t mean they don’t succeed. Don’t be shy to reach out to friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances and everybody you can think of that might be interested.

Have you managed a successful crowdfunding campaign? Tell us your experience in the comments below. And learn more about filmmaking and producing with a variety of short- and long-term programs at the New York Film Academy.

What You Can Learn From Great Movie Openings

All movies aim to grab the viewer right from the start and keep their attention for the next couple of hours, but great title sequences can be the secret weapon to help a filmmaker achieve that goal. Great title sequences help set the scene, give insight into the main character, or set up the emotional tone for the film. The title sequences below are just a handful of the innovative openings great designers have created for films in a variety of genres.

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Saul Bass brought his graphic designer’s touch to the opening sequence of Otto Preminger’s “The Man with The Golden Arm” (1955) and helped change title sequences from a simple list of credits to another part of the storytelling. His philosophy was that films should engage the audience from the first frame and “create a climate for the story that was about to unfold.”

Catch Me if You Can” (2002) uses a fantastic animated sequence to visually sum up the film’s main character and theme. The bold color block animation by Oliver Kuntzel and Florence Deygas is a loving nod to the work of  Saul Bass, who designed sequences for Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese, among others.

The beautifully choreographed opening to “Raging Bull” (1980) features the lone figure of Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) warming up in the ring as flashbulbs pierce the haze of cigar smoke. The viewer has a ringside view and the ropes of the boxing ring give us the sense that LaMotta is a caged animal and we are lucky to be on the opposite side of the ropes from him. Title designer Dan Perri came up with the idea of mashing the two words of the film’s title together on screen to emphasize LaMotta’s driven, angry character.

Iginio Larandi designed the title sequence for “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” (1966), using stills from the film, a Western-style font, high contrast colors, and an animated horse and rider galloping along to Ennio Morricone’s theme that conjures up the sounds of the Wild West.

Disney’s 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” uses a cleverly animated series of stained glass windows and a traditional narrator to explain the curse and open the storybook  world of magic, curses, and princes who need to find the meaning of love.

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Hawley Pratt’s opening to Blake Edwards’ “Pink Panther” (1964) was so popular, the cartoon panther was used in theatrical shorts, comic books, and a cartoon series. Henry Mancini’s theme song became instantly tied to the Pink Panther character.

And of course, no discussion of title sequences would be complete without mentioning the iconic James Bond openings. From Maurice Binder and Trevor Bond’s sequence for “Dr. No” (1962) to “Spectre” (2015), the franchise has always combined striking graphics, visual effects, and music that set the tone for the film and immediately engages the audience.

Want to know more about graphic design? Check out NYFA’s article Five Famous Graphic Designers Who Changed the Industry Forever. To learn more about filmmaking, visit New York Film Academy’s Filmmaking School.

What Does A Production Designer Do?

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Production designers may not be as well-known outside the film industry as directors, writers, and producers, but aspiring filmmakers learn very quickly that movies can never go from idea to the big screen without a talented production designer. If you’re a creative person with sharp visual awareness and great design skills, this career path might be perfect for you. To help you explore this option, here we’ll answer the first important question when considering production design: What exactly does a production designer do?

There On Day One

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As the head of the art department, the production designer is in charge of making sure each shooting location is perfect, prepared, and on point with the vision of the film. Film is a language of visual storytelling, and so the visuals captured by the camera matter immensely. Your locations, sets, costumes, lights, etc. all work together to create a world on screen, and this world is a crucial part of telling your film’s story. Having an incredible script and cast of actors onboard won’t be enough if what the audience will be looking at doesn’t tell a cohesive story. This is why the production designer’s job starts during pre-production alongside the director and producer of the project. The production designer takes the writer’s work, the director’s vision, and the producer’s plan, and synthesizes it into a visual story.

Together, the pre-production team formulate ideas and plan for the visual context that will be used to tell a captivating story. This includes deciding on colors, themes, compositions, and other visual elements that work best to evoke the emotions, themes, and actions of each scene and the project as a whole. With their strong knowledge of art and design, including color theory, lighting, and more, the production designer will have a significant influence on the final look of the movie — and, indeed, on how the audience experiences the story.

Doing the Homework

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Once the desired look and feel of the movie has been decided, it is up to the production designer to make it happen. This begins with research. Production designers help identify which places and assets will be needed to create the right atmosphere for each scene. Whether it’s a sci-fi adventure set in the year 3000 or a story about the conquest of England by Vikings a thousand years ago, the product designer makes sure every detail is considered when crafting a believable set.

Another big responsibility left in the hands of the product designer is the budget. They play a big hand in calculating the cost of materials and resources needed, including any CGI elements required for the movie. More often than not, the production designer is responsible for helping to steer a production around the common pitfall of a misallocated budget. Many film projects fail to bring a story to life in an enthralling way simply because money was spent unwisely, leaving certain departments with little to work with. Production designers must keep the whole film and the whole budget in mind at all times.

Making the Story Come Alive

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After countless design sketches and discussions with art directors, the art team is finally ready to turn all those drawings and ideas into reality. Since the art department is usually the largest on any film set, the product manager must have good management skills to make sure everything is being made with the same creative vision. This includes working with set designers, illustrators, graphic artists, wardrobe supervisors, set decorators, propmasters, makeup artists, special effects supervisors, and more.

Like any creative project, things don’t always go as planned. A product designer is often called upon to come up with quick, effective solutions on set, all while making sure the whole team stays motivated, creative, and productive. The best product designers have enough patience to lead their team amidst script changes or unexpected issues so that each milestone is reached no matter what.

Is Production Designer The Role For You?

As you can see, product designers hold a position of unique and important responsibility within a film. As a production designer, you’ll be expected to be fully present and fully engaged from start to finish, working long hours every step of the way in order to make sure the movie looks as intended. Without the production designer’s organization, creativity, and knowledge, every area of the art department would have trouble staying focused and on the same page. And without a cohesive design, the look of a film may not be strong enough to tell its story.

If you’re confident in your artistic abilities and boast a great amount of imagination, then the career path of production design may be just right for you. Even though it’s a demanding and exhausting job, few gigs in the industry offer more creative expression, fulfillment, and control than that of product designer.

What appeals to you most about working as a production designer? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about film production at the New York Film Academy’s Filmmaking School.

To Film Fest or Not to Film Fest: Creative Approaches to Distribution in the Digital Age

Film festivals used to be the only way for indie filmmakers to find exposure and, if lucky, a distributer. But with the explosion of video on demand (VOD), filmmakers have real choices to make: Should you premiere your project in a film fest? Should you release your film online in tandem with your film fest premiere? Or do you skip the film fest and concentrate your efforts on marketing your VOD release?

Here we offer insights into several alternatives to help you make the right choice for your project.

Option 1: Submitting to the Film Fest

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The film fest is the time-tested route for indie filmmakers to garner accolades and maybe even grab a distributer. NYFA maintains a comprehensive list of film festivals here. However, if you’re spending a huge chunk of time and money applying to festivals and not getting in, or not winning the awards, you may need to switch up your strategy.

Option 2: Getting Noticed Online

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It can no longer be assumed that film fests will deny entrance based on a film’s online status. In fact, this Raindance article suggests some film fests actively look to places like Vimeo to source films for their lineup.

Vimeo (as opposed to YouTube) is the professional choice for filmmakers. Even if a particular festival does not consider previously released videos, many more accept submissions as password-protected Vimeo links. Withoutabox streamlines the process of submitting online.

Option 3: Simultaneous Release

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Ok, so you got into a film fest, now how can you make the most of it? Take a cue from Sundance, who premieres select films on demand and at the festival simultaneously. This ensures a wider audience and a longer life for your film while taking advantage of the festival’s promotion.

Option 4: Straight to VOD

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Amazon Video Demand and Quiver Digital (which bundles on demand across several platforms including iTunes) offer obvious alternatives to the film fest. And, as Beyond the Film Festival demonstrates for the Pacific Northwest, there are also regional outlets that can get your film in front of eyeballs.

Option 5: Distribution DIY

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In the current VOD world, a filmmaker can take distribution into his or her own hands. As howtosellyourmovie.com puts it: “The films that get distribution packages don’t need distribution packages.” In other words, distributors don’t tend to take chances, and will gladly vie for projects that demonstrate their marketability.

A Cannes winner will not have much trouble finding a distributors, but these days, it’s not clear if it needs one. The big festival winners can have almost instantaneous worldwide distribution and fame via VOD. For example, Amazon creates “Demand Stars” by offering a million dollars shared profits (on top of the chosen revenue package) to its most popular television shows and films.

Secret Option 6 – Infinity?

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No matter what route you choose, it’s important to make your product appealing. A distributor is not the magic bullet any more than is uploading your film to Amazon. The difference these days is that you, as filmmaker, can take a lot more control of your film’s destiny and profits. And you have more options.

Do you have creative distribution stories to tell? Let us know your experiences in the comments below. And learn more at New York Film Academy’s Filmmaking School.

How to Hone Your Individual Style as a Filmmaker

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In a time when everyone wants to be the next great filmmaker, the task of standing out can seem daunting. The following are a few things every aspiring filmmaker should consider in order to develop their own style and make a name for themselves in the film industry.

Practice, Practice, Practice

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It’s a silly thing to try discovering your own voice as a filmmaker when you’re not even actively making films. It’s like trying to decide what kind of painter you want to be before creating enough works to know your strengths and weaknesses along with what you like. In other words, honing your individual style takes time and practice.

These days, there’s no excuse not to get behind the camera and see what you’re capable of doing. With today’s technology, you can grab a digital camera or even your smartphone and start learning how you want to one day convey your stories to your future audience. This goes beyond only doing film assignments in school and messing around with personal projects of your own.

Find Out What Tools and Techniques You Prefer

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It’s impossible to sharpen your individual style without understanding which techniques work best with your ideas. In fact, some of the most prominent and iconic filmmakers in our industry can be defined in part by the type of lenses they use. A film made by Stanley Kubrick, one of the most influential directors in cinematic history, will almost always employ wide-angle lenses, which arguably help his numerous long tracking shots evoke more emotion.

The more you play with different tools and techniques, the sooner you’ll nail down the combination of things that will make your films unique. You might find that the stories you want to share can make use of extra long takes, also like Kubrick. We also recommend learning what kind of lenses work best for particular types of movies.

Think About The Ideas You Want To Convey

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Honing your own style goes beyond the technical elements of filmmaking. Once you’ve mastered all the popular camera shots every filmmaker should know, you need to decide why you’re using them in the first place. Almost all of the biggest names in Hollywood showed a trend in terms of ideas and themes they preferred having in their stories, and so should you.

By studying Alfred Hitchcock’s films you’ll notice many recurring plot devices and themes he used throughout his career. These elements, along with his incredible talent as a director and producer, are what helped make him take the movie industry by storm. Film is arguably one of the most powerful storytelling mediums we have today — take advantage of this by injecting some of yourself into your work.

Become Effective At Communicating Your Vision To Your Team

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As an aspiring filmmaker, it’s important for you to realize that making movies is a team effort. Where some TV and cartoons portrayals might give the false impression that a director simply sits in a tall chair and yells action, a real-life director is responsible for many, many things — including making sure that everyone on the team understands the vision, the goals, and the strategy to be achieved. A good director is able to get the cinematographers, actors, and the rest of the crew on the same page so the script comes to life as intended.

There’s nothing worse than having an amazing idea in mind that doesn’t come through in the final cut solely because you failed to communicate it to your team. Getting good at communicating your ideals will help you hone your individual style by seeing it come to fruition time and time again. This is vital whether it’s your first film project or you already have a few under your belt.

What have you discovered about your individual style and voice as a filmmaker? Interested in learning more about New York Film Academy’s filmmaking programs? Let us know in the comments below!

Technical Tips for First-Time Filmmakers

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Every person dreaming of becoming a professional filmmaker had that same special moment: You were watching perhaps one of your favorite films of all time when suddenly you thought, “I want to make movies too.”

Of course, not everyone who has this moment actually ends up following through with their goal. This is because anyone can see a great movie and think they can make something just as good, if not better. But the reality is that filmmaking requires dedication, hard work, and a great deal of problem-solving. First-time filmmakers must grapple with this reality, and not let the challenges of filmmaking overcome its rewards.

To help first-time filmmakers through their challenges and joys on the set of their first movie, we’ve rounded up some helpful advice on some of the more important elements of filmmaking. We hope this helps first-time filmmakers keep their vision clear and their chins up as they make their dreams of movie magic a (sometimes hard-won) reality.

Framing and Camera Work

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When actually filming your scenes, you have a wide variety of choices for framing your shots. Here we cover only 12 of the many camera shots that everyone involved in filmmaking should know . While there are exceptions, using the same type of shots throughout your scenes will result in a dull experience.

Instead, study the different types and purposes of the repertoire of shots you can use. By becoming familiar with different shots and incorporating them into your work, you’ll learn how to establish the rhythm of a scene along with the point of view. Tracking shots, pans, and zoom-ins are are also very powerful tools when used correctly.

Casting and Acting

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Many young filmmakers, when casting, put too much emphasis on the physical appearance of the actor. They often make the mistake of casting someone who “looks” the part, rather than the better actor. “The Graduate is a good example. The main character of Benjamin Braddock, was described in the book as looking like Robert Redford and not at all like Dustin Hoffman. But Mike Nichols had the courage to cast Dustin and, as a result, the movie is a classic.

Many young directors are seem to be fearful of casting actors more experienced than they are. They fear that the actor will see that they don’t know what they’re doing and embarrass them. But this is the furthest thing from the truth. If an experienced actor takes a role in your film, it is because they share your desire to make the picture better.

Directing

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Directing a picture can be a challenging experience, even for professionals. However, when you’re inexperienced and not only directing but also producing, catering, being your own assistant director and even being the transportation captain, it can be downright overwhelming. As a result, inexperienced directors often make the mistake of letting their minds wander while the camera is rolling. As soon as they call “ACTION,” they start to think to themselves, o kay, I have this shot, so after this I’ll move over there to get that shot and I have to remember to get that prop ready and don’t forget to call t he location about the schedule change tomorrow and… “CUT!” Then they find themselves in the editing room wondering, “where was I when that was happening because that is not what I wanted in the shot.” The New York Film Academy encourages our students to be in the moment, clear their minds while the camera is rolling. Because no matter how much they’ve prepared, if it’s not happening while the camera is rolling, you didn’t get it.

Editing

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Here’s a little trick NYFA New York City’s Chair of Filmmaking, Claude Kervin, recommends for those times when you get stale from watching a scene over and over and over: Flip the image left to right. Copy the scene and have the software create a mirror image. Part of the reason we feel stale is that we are anticipating every rhythm and movement in the scene. Flipping it left to right adds just enough new information to make our brains feel that we’re watching the scene anew!

Sound & Music

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A good movie requires the perfect combination of images and sound. In fact, sound is often your most powerful tool for conveying emotion to the audience and making sure they feel what you want them to feel. Without sound, it’s much more difficult nowadays to create a mood for your scenes.

While sound effects and dialogue are important, music also plays a vital role in delivering a captivating film experience. Music is also used to create an emotion, and different music works better for specific moods. Our advice: Watch a few movies from different genres and pay attention to the sounds and music they chose. Sound and music are infinitely adaptable to tone, style, and genre, and you’ll find that what worked great for “The Lord of the Rings” wouldn’t be very effective in a horror or romantic comedy.

Do you have any solid advice you’d like to offer first-time filmmakers? Let us know in the comments below!

3 Filmmaking Lessons from Animals with GoPros

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Animals with GoPros may not have gone to film school or won any Oscar awards, but they may have something to teach us about filmmaking.

Filmmakers strive to create visual experiences that are both relatable and impacting. Usually, the this is accomplished by weaving a story told through the eyes of different people. But what about seeing the world through the eyes of an animal?

With the help of technology, scientists are now able to attach cameras onto wild animals in order to learn more about them. For the first time, we can see how animals behave and survive while completely free of human influence.

The following are a few lessons aspiring filmmakers might be able to learn from watching footage recorded by animals with GoPro cameras:

1. The Perfect Location Is Out There

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It’s one thing to envision the perfect location in your mind, and quite another to actually find it. The fact is, one of the biggest (and most enjoyable) challenges in filmmaking is finding a location that not only serves the needs of your story but can also accommodate your production. Many filmmaker are forced to alter their scripts when the perfect location eludes them.

But sometimes, the answer may be to not give up too soon. When the National Geographic Society attached their Crittercams to a wild animal, they obtained more than just information on the animal itself; they collected environmental data and were continually astounded by the gorgeous locales these animals find. If you fail to find the perfect spot for a particular scene, don’t let it be because you cut your search short.

2. Perspective Is Important

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Imagine walking through a field where there’s only waist-high wheat as far as the eye can see. The golden colors contrast with the bright blue sky and white clouds, creating a gorgeous view. Now imagine that same field as a small animal, or even a child. The tall, seemingly-endless fields of wheat may evoke a sense of claustrophobia or fear of never finding your way out — or worse, the fear of running into a predator.

The lesson is simple: there’s power in perspective. Every future filmmaker should work to understand why each of the common camera shot types are important and how to best utilize them to tell their story. The best filmmakers know which shots work best to instill a specific emotion into their audience. Read our camera shots piece to learn more about popular camera shots and why they are useful.

3. Understand Social Interaction

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If there’s one thing you’ll discover by watching GoPro animal footage, it’s how social most species of animals are. From whales and penguins to wolves and gorillas, animals all over the planet interact with one another to the point where they even form their own societies! Vampire bats, for example, have colonizes ranging in the thousands that still manage to maintain a basic social structure and hierarchy.

The lesson to learn from animals? How people interact matters. Social context matters. The story beyond an individual character matters. This is why most movies receive a negative reception usually also have a cast of actors who are terrible at displaying genuine emotion. In other words, they fail to convince because you can tell they’re pretending. It’s when actors interact with one another and their world in a moving and believable way that you have viewers completely entranced by the characters. To achieve that as a filmmaker, it’s important to root your story in an environment and social context that audiences can understand.

Have a favorite animal movie or life lesson? 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!

Writing a Film Business Plan: What Should I Include?

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Film business plans. Whether you’ve learned how to make one in film school or not, it’s likely that it’s an essential aspect of your production that you could be overlooking at your own risk.

Those involved in making movies tend to be creative folk and view spending hours pouring over figures on a spreadsheet as anathema to the craft. Even some of the pros dread this unavoidable task… and don’t think that you’re not “pro” enough to get away without doing one.

Even if you’re operating on a micro-budget, it’s still a good idea to get to grips with the best practices of compiling a solid film business plan. It’ll help keep you right on path, it’s good practice for your future career, and it might just help you see the bigger picture and drive you to finish the project.

Today, we’re going to take the sting out of the tail by offering some guidance on how to get started.

You’ll also be pleased to hear that it’s nowhere near as arduous a task as it may seem, which brings us onto our first business plan tip:

However You Start, Make Sure You Start

As is often experienced in screenwriting, putting pen to paper in the first place is usually the hard part. Once you get going, you find your brain kicking into high gear (sometimes to the extent that it’s hard to stop typing!)

The same is true of film business plans. Initially, you might feel like the proverbial rabbit in headlights with no idea how you can possibly account for what you might be spending in the future. However, by starting with the very basic and known figures you do have, you’ll slowly begin to break the back of the spreadsheet and the rest should follow naturally.

And remember, you can always go back and revise things, so don’t be afraid to start jotting down random numbers with the intent to refine them at a later date.

Consider Your Audience

Not the movie’s audience; we’re talking about the people who are most interested in your film business plan.

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Don’t make the classic mistake of assuming investors and potential production collaborators want to see every dime and nickel accounted for, because they really don’t.

What they want you to answer as concisely (and accurately) as possible is this: How are you going to sell the movie, and what will be the return on investment?

And that’s it. Everything else is secondary.

Of course, you’ll probably want to keep a more detailed plan for your own reference and that can be produced if requested, but strip out extraneous details that won’t be of interest to an investor (they don’t want to know the hourly rates of every show runner working on set; they just want to know how much it’ll all cost.)

There are a few more sub-sets of this question that you’ll probably tackle along the way, including:

  • How are you spending the cash?
  • Why is this film sellable right now?
  • What is your sales/marketing strategy?
  • What share of the proceeds will you receive?
  • What share of the proceeds will investors get?
  • Are there any perks to investing in this film?

Thinking about these questions will get you ready to pitch your movie efficiently at the drop of a hat, and will help shape your business plan as you put it together. There are a number of other questions over on the Raindance website which you can expect investors to ask, so do check those out.

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And on the topic of how to go about answering a potential investor’s concerns…

What Should I Include?

The following is by no means exhaustive (and not all of it may be necessary for your particular business plan), but here’s the meat and potatoes that most filmmakers use to convey their pitch:

Outline: A very brief summary of the screenplayideally just your loglineand some key figures regarding financial requirements. Bullet points regarding your previous work (or any notable team members) may be of benefit but only if they really are selling points, otherwise, brevity is preferred.

Shooting Schedule: A detailed plan outlining every expected cost behind each scene of the screenplay, including any props needed, cost of travel to locations, and compensation to crew members. A highly important part of the business plan which you may want to work on with the rest of the team, this will be the foundation of an accurate budget projection.

Production Budget: The shooting schedule total, plus the overall production expenditure of the movie.

Marketing Plan: The movie’s target demographics, how you’re going to get it in front of them, and how much that advertizing will cost, as well as conversion rates between how many people you’re expecting to reach and how many of those will go see the movie/buy the DVD.

Distribution Plan: The costs, profits, and expected reach of physical media sales (and the same for online streaming.) If you have details regarding the profits you’re hoping to make from rights sales, this is the place to add them.

Revenue/Profit Projections: Based on extensive market research (rather than guesswork or comparing your film to something similar that was released back in 1992), here you’ll get the chance to really hook the investor by outlaying expected profits and how much of those they’ll receive.

Letters of Intent: A hugely valued part of the business plan which can really pull an investor. Don’t just stop at crew members; letters of intent from other investors really inspire confidence, and don’t forget to also hit up relevant insurance companies covering the production.

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You’ll want to close the package off with your executive summary—one or two pages delving more extensively into why the screenplay is a winner, the talent working on the movie and why the investor would be a fool to miss out (although not in those words, obviously!)

In Conclusion…

Rather than seeing your film business plan as an unavoidable headache, instead see it for what it is, i.e the tool you need to attract funding. Sounds a lot more alluring that way, doesn’t it?

Stay focused and get your film business plan nailed down as a matter of priority. The sooner you do, the sooner you can focus on the task at hand: getting to work on your big idea.

Best of luck!

Learn more about the Film School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Find A (Good) Film Producer

Or, more importantly, how do you find the right producer for your film?

It’s a daunting prospect for any filmmaker, let alone for independent filmmakers who may not have a huge collection of previous box office successes with which to market themselves. And in this scenario, finding a good producer is even more importantwhile just about any producer may be able to get a production financed, will they be able to go the extra mile and market it successfully to the right audience?

Getting the movie made is only half the job, and getting it seen is arguably the more important half.

And of course, this is a two-way street. Simply finding a producer who you feel would be perfect for the project is no guarantee that they’ll want to get on board; as writer and director Ryan Koo puts it, “Finding a producer is like dating: you need to spend some time getting to know the other person, and you’re not going to like everyone you meet. Nor is everyone going to like you back.”

Assuming you’ve already crawled through IMDB and the like to construct a longlist of possible matches, here’s the NYFA guide to:

Finding the Right Film Producer

Super producer Kathleen Kennedy.

Super producer Kathleen Kennedy might not be the right producer for your microbudget feature.

The operative word here is ‘right’, and ultimately, only you can decide on who qualifies for that distinction but the following tips will at least help you begin whittling down the list in search for ‘the one.’

Avoid Pigeonholing

If you’re looking to craft a movie which centers around the theme of, say, addiction and substance abuse, don’t discard any and all producers who have never tackled the topic before since it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to undertake it.

Also consider that just because a producer has worked on a number of titles similar to your own doesn’t mean they’ll want to retread the same ground againin fact, the converse is usually true.

Finding a Kindred Spirit

Given all of the above, it’s often wise to ignore producers who have worked in similar genres or themes and instead focus on those who share the same essence (for what of a better word.) Do they draw from the same influences? Approach storytelling in a similar manner? Do the kind of work you admire as an independent filmmaker? If their previous work makes it clear that they share the same sensibilities as you when it comes to making movies, you’ve potentially got a match.

Do Your Homework

This will come naturally in the process of finding out if they appear to be on the same page as you creatively, but you’ll also want to dig a little deeper and find out where they are in their career. It’s not uncommon for new filmmakers to make the mistake of trying to contact those who have retired from the industry, and it’s also a poor use of time to reach out to someone now working on multi-million dollar productions expecting them to drop everything to work on a micro-budget movie. The same goes for most producers who are working full time for a particular studio.

Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry’s Atlanta-based Tyler Perry Studios offers opportunities for filmmakers from the area.

Location, to a lesser extent, is also a factor for considerationwhile the producer being based on the other side of the planet isn’t necessarily a locked door, it makes sense to focus your search (at least initially) to your local area.

Word of Mouth

Tying into the idea of casting your net locally, never forget the power of a personal recommendation. Proportionately speaking, most matches between directors, screenwriters, and producers are forged thanks to personal introduction and very few arise from random emails fired into the aether.

Attend Film Festivals

Don’t feel like you’ve got any contacts to hit up? Get yourself to as many film festivals and screening events as you possibly can, and that’ll soon be rectified. You’ll be surprised at how many golden opportunities arise in extremely strange ways…casually mentioning you’ve got a killer screenplay about the civil war to a key grip at an after party who then goes on to mention it to an agent who just so happens to have a client looking for a writer who’s got a killer screenplay about the civil war, et cetera.

Producers Reception 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

A group of producers at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival’s Producers Reception.

These million-to-one occurances happen nine times out of ten in an industry as close-knit as filmmaking, so get out there and start making ripples (while being courteous to everyone you meet, given that you don’t know who may be the catalyst to turn one of those ripples into a wave.)

And most importantly of all…

Be Courteous to the Producer

As a screenwriter or director, you’ll no doubt be familiar with that dreaded line: “Oh, that’s neat! I’m something of a writer myself…will you read my screenplay?”

Effectively this is what a producer gets on a daily basis, ad nauseum. And while it is his or her job to read and select screenplays, it doesn’t negate the fact that when you email a producer you’re asking them to give their time for free.

You may have already figured out that they’re a good match for you, but you should strive to make it as easy as possible for them to do the same. A full script is industry standard, but becoming increasingly popular is the idea of a “presentation package.” This typically includes a director’s statement, mood reel, any stills or promo shots available (compiled into a ‘cookbook’), and all related contact info and social media links…and definitely make sure you’ve got a strong logline!

This generally only applies to outreach that has been previously welcomed; with unsolicited inquiries, a simple two-paragraph email explaining the movie and why you’re contacting that particular producer is preferable. No need to send the full screenplay until it’s invited.

Above all, keep your initial contact brief, to the point and free from any kind of gimmickry. Even if things fall through, if your professionalism leaves a lasting impact it may earn you a coveted recommendation.

With a bit of luck and perseverance, you’ll hopefully find a perfect match with your producer-to-be. Best of luck!

PS: Before you write a single email, be sure to get intimately familiar with what a producer actually does! Our previous guide on the topic is a great place to start your research.

Learn more about the School of Producing at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Market Your Film On Social Media: 8 Rules To Live By

Social media marketing.

Few words strike quite as much dread in a filmmaker’s heart than these, save for perhaps “film business plan,” but today we’re going to cut through the noise and help you get to grips with this essential task (even if you’re fresh out of filmmaking school.)

Each different social media platform comes with its own best practices and foibles, but here are eight surefire tips that work across the board when it comes to marketing your film using social media.

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1. Be Personal

Unless you’ve been entrusted with running the official Twitter feed for Sony Pictures, you don’t need to adopt an ultra-formal tone.

People are more likely to respond positively to other people rather than corporate entities. For that reason, it’s even preferential to write in first person on social media (unless it’s a large group project), but at the very least make sure people know there’s a real person behind the account, and who that person is via the bio.

2. Give Something Back

You don’t want to lose the followers you’ve fought hard to attract, and you want to attract as many as possible.

To facilitate this, make sure you give something back to those who do take the time out to follow you—either physically via giveaways, or with exclusives to behind-the-scenes footage, cast interviews, desktop wallpapers and movie poster downloads… anything really, as long as your feed isn’t full of requests asking fans to do things for you (or repeated pleas for more followers.) That’s not likely to get the casual browser to hit that “follow” button.

3. Cast Takeovers

This idea works particularly on Twitter, in which you have one of the cast members take control of the movie’s official account to host a Q&A with followers. It may sound daunting, but trolls are few and far between (and there’s a mute button for that reason.) 99% of the time it’s a really fun experience for everyone involved, generates a lot of buzz, and lets fans know you’re keen to connect with them on a personal level.

4. Share Smart Content

Obviously sharing thing that will inflame the imaginations of your followers is social media 101, but how best to find said content in the first place?

Don’t overlook Google News; set up a few notifications for topics related to your movie, and you can be among the first to share it the second something intriguing lands in your inbox.

And an even better tactic is to share content you’ve created yourself—if that blog post, infographic, quiz, movie poster, or other piece of interesting content is hosted on your movie’s official website, you’re sending people in the right direction by sharing it!

5. Consider Outsourcing

If the thought of juggling myriad social media accounts and put into practice all of the above sounds daunting—or you simply don’t have the time—then don’t throw out the idea of hiring an expert if you’ve got the budget for it. After all, your time probably is better spent doing what you do best. That said…

6. Ask Questions

Before you let anyone near your social media accounts, draw up a long and detailed list of questions that they should be able to answer in full, especially when it comes to which films they’ve worked on before (they could be the best social media managers on the planet, but if they don’t know a lick about movie marketing, they won’t be much good to you.) Even once you’ve found someone you can trust implicitly with representing you and your movie online, do check in from time to time and make sure everything is going in the right direction.

7. Plan Your Budget

You may be thinking that you can skip budget planning if you’re going DIY with your social media management, but you’ll still be selling yourself short not to allocate some funding in your business plan for exposure.

You can get very far without spending a dime as long as you’re willing to pour a lot of time into it, but eventually it’s a case of diminishing returns. Consider throwing just a little money behind paid ads and sponsored posts (particularly on Facebook, through which it’s becoming increasingly tricky to reach even your own followers.)

8.  Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Marketing your film on social media might sound like a mammoth task, and if you look at it on a macro scale, it can be.

But don’t let hesitation keep you from getting your hands dirty. Unless you’re explicitly going out to spam and harass people (don’t), there’s not a lot of harm you can do by getting out there and experimenting. Conversely, you’re hamstringing yourself if you never actually start…

… so fire up the social machine, treat people like fellow human beings, have fun and good luck!

Learn more about the Film School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How NOT To Make A Movie: 5 Tips Every Amateur Ignores

Over the past year, we’ve shared a lot of great tips for those who are just getting started with filmmaking as a hobbyist, along with more advanced advice aimed at those who have already graduated from filmmaking school.

However, there are some fundamental nuggets of wisdom that frequently go ignored by newcomers (for reasons that nobody can quite figure out), setting back their progress by a considerable amount. Here are five of the most useful filmmaking tips that should never be overlooked, no matter your current level of experience.

1. Don’t Scrimp on Audio…

Spending the lion’s share of your budget to shoot on high quality (and really expensive) film stock will probably go unnoticed and unappreciated by 99% of the people watching the finished product. Shoddy audio quality, on the other hand, will ruin the watching experience for the same 99%.

audio mixing tips

Even if the audio sounds okay-ish in your studio cans while you’re in the editing suite, it doesn’t guarantee the same audio track won’t sound dreadful through massive speakers during a public screening, or even just a mid-grade TV.

Certain audio problems can be a real nightmare (if not impossible) to fix in post production, so don’t hamstring yourself from the get go—invest in good audio equipment before shooting, or hire a sound engineer who has their own and knows how to get the best out of it. A great sound editor who can make the final mix balance beautifully will also pay dividends in the long run.

2. …and Definitely Don’t Scrimp on Acting Talent

From the start, we need to state two things: filmmaking should be deeply enjoyable, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t become friends with those who you work with.

While keeping this in mind, however, you should also exercise extreme caution if you limit your casting choices to solely your close circle of friends. You’ll end up giving them unnecessary passes for their less-than-impressive work, unless your friends happen to be professional actors in the first place (in which case, capitalize on your good fortune!).

hire an actor

Sure, hiring people who are trained in the field may cost you a bit, but again you won’t regret investing in real talent. A really good way to keep overheads low, without sacrificing on quality, is to buddy up with some acting school graduates—chances are they won’t charge an arm and a leg, are actively interested in expanding their body of work, and have a lot of talent ready and raring to go.

3. Listen to Outside Perspective

Okay, it’s admittedly paradoxical to list advice about taking advice on an article discussing advice newbies don’t actually listen to. However, not taking on board constructive criticism is one of the most common pitfalls a headstrong filmmaker fall afoul of.

Film_Director_and_Crew

Don’t let this be you. If your DP, or lead actress, or any other professional you’ve hired has an idea on how a particular aspect of the production under their remit should be handled, take it on board. Same goes for any feedback you get from test screenings.

4. Don’t Just Make it Up As You Go Along

On a movie with a huge budget and in a world where time costs money, everything is planned to the Nth degree ahead of the shoot. Meetings with the director of photography are held ahead of time, extensive rehearsals with the actors are conducted, locations are scouted, the script is all but finalized, shot lists planned, and storyboards drawn up.

Why should your production be any different?

storyboarding

Good planning costs nothing, so don’t just turn up on set and expect to get good results by muddling through the day. This often-ignored fundamental of filmmaking feeds into our final piece of advice…

5. Take Yourself Seriously

Again, filmmaking should be inherently fun (even if you’ll encounter moments in which you’ll want to tear your hair out!), but just because it’s fun doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat your own efforts with reverence.

It’s very common for new filmmakers to denigrate themselves, thinking that just because it’s their first short or that they’ve “only got a tiny budget,” their output doesn’t matter. It does, and you should treat your work the same as if you’d been commissioned by Hollywood to produce a multi-million dollar summer blockbuster.

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In short, don’t compare your chapter one with someone else’s chapter twenty. Put your heart and soul into it no matter what your limitations, and take pride in your achievements.

Best of luck!

 

7 Essential Books on Filmmaking and Directing

Even if you’re at the top of your game or currently getting hands-on at an intensive filmmaking school program, it can pay dividends to do some additional learning behind the scenes.

Thankfully, for those who live and breathe the craft, there are more than a few excellent books in which to immerse yourself and get even further ahead of the game…

… in fact, it could be argued that there are too many to choose from. With this in mind, join us as we separate the wheat from the chaff with:

7 Best Books on Filmmaking and Directing

The following is a summary of the best filmmaking books written by filmmakers, for filmmakers. Naturally, any list of this kind features a certain level of subjectivity, but all of the below are industry renowned titles and come highly recommended.

The Filmmaker’s Handbook

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The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age (2013 Edition) by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus

A staple of filmmaker’s bookshelves for well over a decade, the latest edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook has revitalized all of the essential knowledge which it has become known for and brought it right up to date. If you don’t own this book already, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

On Directing Film

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On Directing Film (1992) by David Mamet

David Mamet is heralded for both his on-stage work (for which he has won Pulitzer and Tony prizes) and also his work on the screen, having ratcheted up a couple of Oscar nominations. As such, Mamet has more than a few nuggets of wisdom to share throughout the pages of On Directing Film, making it a mandatory read for directors… or really, anyone working in film.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1999) by Peter Biskind

While not a manual on filmmaking, Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders is essential reading in order to fully understand the foundations on which modern-day Hollywood was built. We could have chosen any title by this highly engaging cultural critic – Down and Dirty Pictures is also highly recommended – but Easy Riders is a great place to start.

Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics

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Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics (Fifth Edition, 2013) by Michael Rabinger and Mick Hurbis-Cherrier

Another must-read for either those at filmmaking school or looking to make a career hop over to the director’s seat. What isn’t covered on the profession in this book could probably fit on the back of a postage stamp. From start to finish, this truly is one of the most comprehensive books ever written – and frequently updated – on the art and science of directing.

How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000

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How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail) by Bret Stern (2002)

Coupled with one of the more authoritative, traditional tomes on filmmaking listed here, Bret Stern’s very liberating approach to the topic will have you on the road to becoming an indie maverick in no time. How To Shoot a Feature Film For Under $10,000 is guaranteed to revolutionize your approach to problem solving (and hopefully make you a much better filmmaker in the process.)

On Film-Making

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On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2005) by Alexander Mackendrick, edited by Paul Cronin

Alexander Mackendrick’s seminal volume on the craft of filmmaking has long been an industry standard text, and one that has helped countless individuals find their own cinematographic eye and achieve success in directing. Following the great director and teacher’s death in 1993, the various handouts he would give to his students were collated by Paul Cronin and presented in this book (with a foreword from Martin Scorsese.)

In the Blink of an Eye

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In the Blink of an Eye (2nd Edition, 2001) by Walter Murch

As a thought-provoking treatise on the practicalities and aesthetics of cutting film, In the Blink of an Eye is a book everyone who works in editing should read. Don’t be put off – this isn’t a technical manual on the hows of editing, but more of a meditation on the whys.

Read any other excellent books on filmmaking that we should be checking out and including here? Don’t hesitate to drop your suggestion in the comments below, and let’s chat books! And check out NYFA’s filmmaking programs to learn more about movie making.

How To Become A Filmmaker: 5 Golden Rules

There’s no one ‘true’ path that can lead you to filmmaking success, but there are certainly a lot of best practices that can make the road a lot less bumpy.

If you’re at the beginning of what might feel like an impossible journey, don’t be daunted. Plenty of budding filmmakers have stood in the exact same place and gone on to great heights. Here’s five good rules of thumb that will get you on your way.

1. Don’t Go It Alone

There are more than a few hobbies you can take up solo, such as painting or writing.

Filmmaking is not one of them.

Technically speaking, it’s not impossible to handle all of the duties incorporated with making a film yourself, but you’re likely to find it a frustrating experience and not one that results in stellar work (which is why it’s hard to name any features which have a one-person film crew.)

How to become a filmmaker

A far more productive approach – even on ultra-indie, zero budget projects – is to find a few people who are as passionate as you. It doesn’t even matter if none of you have any experience; you’ll learn by doing a lot quicker with more people on board, and also have a great deal more fun doing so.

But what about taking things to the next level? For that, it’s important to recognize that:

2. Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

While anyone can be a filmmaker simply by virtue of picking up a camera and shooting film, becoming a professional filmmaker is a different thing altogether.

In an ideal world, those born with natural talent would be noticed right from the get go and thrust into the limelight. Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world, so it’s important to have your own long-term plan in place. That may mean spending a lot of time working low-end runner and camera jobs before being given more senior roles, although attending filmmaking school and gaining recognizable qualifications in the field can put you way ahead of the game.

filmschool tips

In short, lucky breaks will undoubtedly come your way but don’t hang your hat on the hopes that they’ll arrive any time soon. Focus on honing your talent and putting in the hours, and the opportunities will fall into place naturally.

With that in mind…

3. Revel In The Small Victories

It’s always easy to compare your Chapter 1 with someone else’s Chapter 20, but ultimately it’ll get you nowhere.

Your career in filmmaking will, hopefully, be a long one and filled with many ups and downs along the way. Be sure to not give yourself too hard a time when things go wrong, and remember to enjoy those blissful moments in which everything comes together… even if it’s something as simple as having a choice of filter pay off in the final cut.

4. Don’t Just Shoot. Read.

These days, even being extraordinarily talented at the art of filmmaking isn’t enough. To really succeed in the industry, you also need to keep on top of the industry itself, and that includes all of the goings on in terms of trends, business developments, and who all the movers and shakers are.

film industry blogs

Reading the trade publications – things like Variety, Hollywood Reporter or TV Week – are a great place to start, but they aren’t exactly cheap. However, you can always make your own RSS feed using an app like Feedly to create a morning reading list of free blogs that cover industry news.

5. Be Kind to Others

The last bit of advice – and one that anyone can live by – is a fairly easy one to put into practice.

It may feel like Hollywood is a gigantic behemoth of an industry, and in terms of the money it generates, it is. However, it’s a surprisingly small place when it comes to making a name for yourself; it’s a community of sorts, and one in which your reputation is your main calling card. Karma spreads wildly, both good and bad, so be sure to put your best foot forward going in.

More than anything, pay it forward. If someone drops your name and hooks you up with a sweet filmmaking gig, don’t forget to do similar favors to others.

filmmaking community

It’ll cost you nothing, and either way, the filmmaking community is a great one…

… let’s keep it that way.