How To’s

Building Your Brand as a Filmmaker

Building a Brand as a Filmmaker

Scorsese. Tarantino. Sometimes a name alone can signify a brand. We can instantly identify signature styles, techniques, work ethic, personality traits, and many other unique qualities or images associated with those names because of the brand they’ve built as filmmakers.

Building a brand is creating your own identity among the many millions of other filmmakers out there trying to do the same thing. It’s about differentiating yourself from everyone else and giving people a story about you and what you offer – otherwise known as your reputation.

Laptop Filmmaking

Terms like “personal branding” can repel artists like the plague. but the reality is business can be just as much a part of filmmaking as the art – particularly in our current digital landscape where information is ubiquitous, and every man and his dog has a platform to vie for your attention.

Seeing as filmmaking is synonymous with storytelling, building your brand isn’t as daunting a task as you may think — in a way, it’s telling the story of yourself. With that in mind, the most important things to portray through your brand are:

      Who you are

      What it is you do

      How you go about it, and

      Where you’d like to go

Once you’ve worked out the answers, think about the audience you want to target — one that will best respond to your own style and sensibilities. Establishing a niche is important so as to reflect what qualities you want people to associate with you – your filmmaking identity (FI) – and to manifest that through:

      Your products and services – films, talent etc.

      Your relationships – with crew members, agents, other filmmakers, basically anyone you interact with really

      Your communications – your social networking, business cards, website etc.

Social Media

Although the current digital landscape has exponentially increased the number of accessible filmmaking voices to compete with, it’s also simultaneously broadened your reach.

As mentioned above, social networking platforms are one of the most basic yet critical components to marketing your FI. If you have a production company, establish a logo and other design elements that correspond with the adjectives you want your audience to associate you with, and be sure to feature this on all of your digital mediums (and non-digital, like your business card). When it comes to branding, consistency is key. So make sure things like the color concept, font, showreel, ‘about me’ sections etc. throughout Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or any other platform you choose to market yourself on stay relatively similar. And don’t forget to engage!

Creator of Instagram filmmaking community @filmmakersworld, Emanuele Giannini, thinks of the platform as today’s digital portfolio for filmmakers and claims it’s a great way to “build an audience, attract new business, and collaborate online.” Platforms like it are also a great way to build relationships and learn from the best. Because your brand is tied to the emotions or impressions people have of you, your relationships and the way you communicate and engage with others will always play a big part.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be authentic. In fact, always be sure to showcase your individuality and uniqueness. But remember:  Filmmaking is rarely a solitary job, so presenting a positive brand through social media can multiply the chances of networking with industry people who’ve never met you to reach out with opportunities.

When all is said and done, a brand won’t garner much positive attention if you’re not putting great care and effort into your work. So be sure to always be working on your filmmaking skills first and foremost, continually honing and evolving your voice. Then go forth and build that filmmaking identity – tell your story and make it great!

How to Use Sound to Heighten Emotions in a Film

The introduction of sound was perhaps the most dramatic advancement in the history of film. From chilling sound effects and atmospheric music to the witty dialogue between two characters, our favorite movies just wouldn’t be the same had they been made in the silent era. Just like the tremendous effort it takes to get the right shots and put them all together in post, adding sound effectively require immense creativity, skill, and attention.

Sound design and scoring adds a powerful layer of meaning to what we see on screen, creating a mood and making the story more impactful and memorable. For both the aspiring filmmaker and sound expert looking to work in film, here’s how the three major types of sound in film are used to heighten emotion — and remember, sometimes there’s no better way to get a response from the audience than by having moments with no sound at all:

Sound Effects

The world is full of sound, and we as humans are very sensitive to what we hear. One of the most powerful uses of sound in film involves simply interpreting and conveying how natural (or everyday) sounds affect how we feel. Sound also works to affect mood by simulating reality and creating illusions.

For example, if a woman is shown sitting alone in her room with a book, the average viewer will absorb a completely different mood if 1) we hear children playing in the background or 2) we hear loud thunder and rain. Pouring rain accompanied by frightening thunder makes us feel anxious even though they are sound effects added by a talented editor. When the woman then hears a booming knock on her door, you can bet a sound designer chose the perfect sound to give viewers a startling, curious effect.

Dialogue

You may not have realized it, but dialogue is a very powerful way in which sound is used to heighten emotions in film. Dialogue is an incredibly effective way of getting the audience introduced to a character, hooked into a story, or transported to a different state of mind. The way two or more characters on screen speak to one another makes all the difference for your audience, and it’s an important consideration if you want the right mood for your story. It’s not only what your characters say, but how they say it.

We can’t think of a better example than when we first meet Vito Corleone in The Godfather. After the balding man explains the awful situation about his beaten daughter, we might expect Corleone to show some sympathy, maybe even outrage. Instead, Marlon Brando’s excellent voice and line delivery helps give the immediate impression that Corleone is no ordinary man; he is actually insulted by the man’s request. The manner of speech in which dialogue is delivered, and Marlon Brando’s iconic vocal choices in character, are great examples of how dialogue can serve as an essential tool if you’re using sound to influence a scene’s atmosphere.

Music

Close Up Shot of Girl Wearing Black Wired Headphones Photo by Gavin Whitner (musicoomph.com)

Music is one of the most powerful elements a filmmaker can call upon when it comes to leveraging sound to craft atmosphere in film. Audiences may have grown accustomed to hearing moving symphonies during war scenes, and completely different music when the secret admirers finally confess their love to one another, but the fact that in reality we don’t have music accompanying major moments in our life makes this film convention all the more compelling. It’s a powerful way to tap into the emotion you’re trying to convey.

Use music carefully in your film to not only cue viewers into how to feel, but to also get an emotional response. For example, horror movies are famous for using music to create tension just before a jump scare or horrifying moment, and pacing the music of your film score with silence can have a profound effect. If you really want to play with the audience’s emotions, consider mixing things up to. For example, Scorsese’s brilliant choice of an upbeat song during a montage of corpse after corpse in Goodfellas made those scenes more jarring and impactful than if a somber track had been played.

What are your favorite examples of a powerful use of sound in cinema? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

How to Find Space to Improvise in the Filmmaking Process

Who could forget Heath Ledger’s Joker applauding Gordon in The Dark Knight or Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter making the “hsss” sound in The Silence of the Lambs? Whether it was an actor being spontaneous or the team unexpectedly having to rework a scene on the spot, improvisation is a fun and occasionally necessary part of filmmaking. Beyond the many hours behind writing screenplays, planning shots, and preparing scenes, you’ll find that some of our favorite film moments weren’t originally planned.

If you’ve ever been involved in a film production, then you know how crazy schedules can get. This means that if you want room for trying out spontaneous ideas while filming your own project, you’ll have to find time for it in your schedule. Fortunately, there are a number of time management tips to consider if you want to create some extra space for these opportunities.

It All Starts With a Solid Shooting Schedule…

There’s no better way to tackle a creative endeavor as demanding as filmmaking than with a plan of attack — with the understanding that things will almost certainly not always go as planned, and improvisation may be required!

Even if you’re project doesn’t have a large scale of time and dollars on the line, a good shooting schedule will usually directly impact the quality of your film. Thus, you can kiss any room for improvising goodbye if a poor shooting schedule has you pressed for time while you juggle tasks that need to be done and should have already been completed.

A good start for an effective production schedule is making sure your team’s key players sit down and make decisions. These days it’s easier than ever to all stay on the same page, thanks to online communication and project tools like Slack and Google Hangouts.

A rule of thumb in the film business is to plan for extra time — be it more days in a month or hours in a tough shooting day — so you can prepare for the unexpected, and leave space for opportunities to play.

Read: How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule

Let Your Budget Work For You!

If you’re a student or new to filmmaking, chances are your first big projects will have pretty limited funds. Even so, it’s important to make sure your budget will meet your main project goals — especially if you plan on having one or two expensive scenes that will impact viewers.

So what does budget have to do with making room for improvising? The better you are at planning according to your budget (and sticking to it), the more breathing room you’ll have during production.

In other words, staying on budget means the entire production will be more relaxed and focused because there’s room for emergencies, extra takes, etc. A rushed, stressful day with an entire team worrying about going over budget or not getting paid will certainly put a damper on things. The less pressure everyone feels while working, the more likely you or someone else will be comfortable enough to offer a fresh, creative idea on the spot — like Don Corleone’s cat in The Godfather.

Read: How to Get Big Production Value Out of a Little Budget

Take Breaks to Refresh Yourself & Your Team

Going with the idea of keeping your team fresh, there’s no better way than to plan for moments where you set the project aside and let your batteries recharge. On a union project breaks are mandated, but even student and non-union projects can benefit from this practice. Breaks can make a world of difference; just like that terrible essay or exam you rushed through due to being exhausted and anxious, your film’s quality will be affected by how strung out you let yourself become during production.

From fueling creativity to increasing work productivity, there are countless studies that convey the importance of taking breaks and practicing self care even in the midst of a hectic or high pressure situation — like working on a film set. Setting aside time for the crew to eat and relax, or an entire day where you can stop to do things you love, will have you coming back with refreshed energy, creativity, and stamina.

If you plan for breaks, taking a break won’t feel like a waste of time; it is a productive part of your schedule. You wouldn’t be the first filmmaker who has a brilliant idea or solves a problem during the time they set aside to NOT think about the project!

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

Ready to learn more about Filmmaking? Check out New York Film Academy’s degree, conservatory, and short-term Filmmaking programs.

4 Tips for Getting Full-Time Work in Corporate Video


Every year tens of thousands of students across the country graduate with film degrees and get ready to join the workforce. Some of these graduates will go on to enter the film industry, while others will move into the rapidly growing corporate media landscape. More and more corporations and marketing companies are hiring and developing
video production in-house.

While a film degree or certificate from a school like the New York Film Academy is a huge step towards becoming employable in corporate video, there are additional things you can do to optimize your ability to get full-time work. This article outlines five tips for getting a full-time job in the corporate and commercial video industry. Here they are:

1. Know your Audience

Working in corporate video is very different than trying to get work in traditional filmmaking. In filmmaking, the end goal of the process is to output content that will sell to a distributor or be a commercially viable product for entertainment audiences. In corporate video, however, you are primarily aiming to make content that will please a client’s expectations and solve a real world business problem. In order to optimize your ability to work in this sector of the video production industry, you must align your priorities with those of the company you’re aiming to work for.

People hiring in corporate video will care about your ability to:

  • Understand the theory and process how marketing works (lead generation, brand awareness, sales, etc)
  • Be able to think of and develop video ideas that solve problems within any of these areas of marketing and sales
  • Develop marketing messaging and video concepts that align with business goals
  • Develop thoughtful brand-centric creative writing
  • Present ideas, storyboards, and concepts to clients
  • Shoot & edit in a way that matches the client’s or company’s overall brand standards and guidelines
  • Communicate respectful and empathetically with clients
  • Handle varieties of projects at once and work quickly

Understanding the goals and priorities of your hiring audience will inform your interviews, resume building, and overall strategy for finding work. Start to embrace the above points and skills.

2. Invest in Yourself

Hands-on training is a powerful way to build serious experience and stand out amongst other candidates. Beyond the four walls of school there are a variety of other investments one can make to build your network and create ongoing opportunities for full time work. Utilizing some of the following, while not essential, can help develop your career, skills, and ultimately make you a more valuable & hireable professional.

  • AMA or AAF: Groups like the American Marketing Association (AMA) or American Advertising Federation (AAF) allow you a great opportunity to create one-on-one relationships with both potential marketing employers and people who could refer you to others for work.
  • LinkedIn Premium: Linkedin is a great tool to network within corporate America. Linkedin Premium affords you the ability to network even deeper by messaging hiring managers, sending portfolios, and with other powerful tools to help you get in touch with just about any marketing or business professional.
  • Redbooks: Redbooks is a database of targeted decision makers and potential hiring managers of ad agencies and brands. With over 250,000 decision makers from 14,000 agencies, you’ll have the direct contact information of just about anyone in marketing. Having this will allow you to network, send work examples and resumes.
  • Hands-On Workshops: You can never be too experienced to get your hands back on production tools to hone your skills. Keep your skills relevant and honed, and also do some valuable networking and resume building.

There are hundreds of other things you can invest in to help build your career, but the above are great ways to get in front of the right people — which at the end of the day is one of the most vital aspects of getting full-time work in corporate video.


3. Become a Brand

Just like a company must brand and market themselves in order to sell their products, you as a video professional must brand and market yourself to find full-time work. This means you must have the ability to package your skills, communicate your experience, and have the tools to effectively market yourself. The following tools will be valuable:

  • A Simple Website: Creating a simple website through SquareSpace or WordPress can help bring all your information together into one place. Making a website shows you can put the effort in, and shows you’re serious about your craft. Include contact information, work examples, your resume, and references.
  • Completed Social Media Profiles: Create all the relevant social media accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, Tumblr, etc) and upload all of your video examples and other information to these sites. Add your contact information and experience, as well as linking to your website.
  • Logo: Have a simple logo that represents who you are. It can be as simple as just a text-based logo of your name, or something more artistic. Either way, having a simple logo can help your resume pop, and help make your overall professional brand be engaging.
  • Demo Reel: Your demo reel is essential in summing up your video production capabilities and experience. Have this easily accessible on your website and resume so that employers can quickly get an idea of your skills. Make your demo reel 60 seconds in length and speak to the experience that relates to the type of work you’re aiming to get.
  • Relevant Video Examples: Demo reels don’t always tell the full story. If you’re aiming to work at an ad agency, have example videos of commercials you’ve directed, or web marketing videos you’ve produced. Having this in addition to your demo reel on your website is essential.

The above are the basic branding and marketing tools for your professional brand, and should be updated even after you find your first full-time job. They should evolve with your career and be ongoing tools for you to communicate your value.

4. Follow Up … And Follow Up (Again)

Of course, you must apply and reach out to potential job creators after you have your resume and demo reel, etc. But if you think you’re just going to apply to a job or email a manager once and immediately get a job, think again. Working in corporate video is competitive and it requires consistent and respectful follow-ups to the companies and agencies you’re trying to be employed by.

In business development, 80 percent of sales happen after five follow-up attempts, and finding work is essentially sales — so don’t be bashful in sending follow-up emails or making follow-up calls to jobs or companies you’ve applied to. However, don’t be annoying or spammy, as you might create the opposite effect. Here’s a simple follow-up email script that will help increase your ability to engage a hiring manager:

“Hi [First Name] –

How are you? My name is [Full Name] and I’m following up regarding the video position I applied for last week. I understand you have a lot going on, but I wanted to say hello and send you another example of my video work for your consideration.

Here you go: [insert link]

Let me know what you think. If you’d like to speak with any references, let me know and I can send any email introductions. I appreciate your time!”

The above approach does not apply to every situation, but in general is a solid starting email template for following up with a manager. Remind them of your name, that you applied, and send them something referenceable like a new video link or a particular project you’ve done.

Between knowing your audience, investing in yourself, building your brand, and mastering the follow-up, you’ll be in a great position to land a full-time job. Stay engaged throughout your studies at NYFA, and network with fellow graduates. Whatever happens, never give up, as there is incredible opportunity in the corporate video industry.

 

Article by Mike Clum.

Mike Clum is the founder of Clum Creative, a corporate video production company that employs 10 full-time video production professionals.

Film Technique: How A Master Uses Image Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Learn From Other Filmmakers by Watching Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Do a shot breakdown of an important scene.

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

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

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

  1. Focus on camera movement.

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

  1. Pay attention to new things.

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

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

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

  1. Examine the most important character action.

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

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

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

  1. Watch a new movie thrice.


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

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

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

 

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

11 Things to Keep in Mind When Picking Film Locations

If you’re a filmmaker on a tight budget, you may not be able to afford the best locations, and hiring a scout can be a very expensive proposition. At the same time, you don’t want to compromise your story by choosing a location that lacks authenticity, is inconveniently located, doesn’t give you enough time to shoot, or presents technical problems like traffic noise or excessive crowds.

So what’s the way out of these dilemmas? The answer: do your research, be resourceful and put in the legwork. Here are a few helpful tips for picking a film location:

1. Interior Locations

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Shooting in a tiny location can be a nightmare. There’s no place to stage your equipment in any organized fashion, costing you time when hunting for something as simple as the slate or a roll of gaff tape. In addition, it’s almost impossible for the crew to work efficiently without getting in each other’s way — sometimes all non-essential crew need to leave the set to avoid being in the shot!

Tiny locations often result in actors not having a quiet space in which to change clothes or concentrate on their lines. Lastly, the added chaos can often result in needless mistakes and miscommunication.

So make sure you have adequate space for your scene and have each department designate a part of the location as their space. Your AC should have a clean and quiet place to store lenses and upload footage. The lighting department needs space to organize their lights, cables and accessories. The same goes for almost every department. Organization will always pay off dividends when you’re under time pressure.

2. Exterior Locations

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Shooting outdoors presents its own set of difficulties.

One common mistake has to do with noise. Filmmakers unfortunately have a habit of turning off their ears when scouting a location. Later on they return to shoot and find out they’re in the flight path of an airport or there’s the roar of a highway just a few blocks away. You may not hear the noise when you’re scouting, but the microphones do. This can vary depending on the time of day, so scouting your location during the same time of day that you plan to shoot is critical.

This obviously goes for the direction and quality of the sunlight as well. Your location might have looked great at 1 p.m. when you scouted it, but at 9 a.m., you’ll discover the sun is backlighting all your shots and making it impossible to get an exposure. Finally, it is critical during scouting to find convenient facilities nearby, so cast and crew don’t have to travel several blocks looking for restrooms or changing rooms. And if you’re really on top of your game, listing the nearest hospital is a simple way to safeguard your shoot in case of emergencies.

3. Interior/Exterior Locations

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When shooting on private property, permits are not required — just permission from the location owner or legally designated manager. But you may still need to notify local law enforcement. On more than one occasion have robberies and other crimes been acted out from the script without any warning given to local authorities. Sometimes pedestrians see the robbery but not the camera or crew and call 911, and police will burst onto a set ready to stop a crime that’s not really happening. In this case, notifying the proper parties isn’t just good filmmaking — it’s an issue of safety.

4. Permits

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If you’re using small, lightweight equipment, chances are you don’t need a shooting permit when filming on public streets. However, if you are blocking traffic, limiting access to a business, staging an action scene or a scene of violence, you may need to only acquire a shooting permit from the local government.

Many inexperienced filmmakers are intimidated by the process of acquiring permits simply because they’ve never done it before. But once you’ve obtained a permit, you will find that it’s not so bad at all, and will make you feel much more secure on set. In many cases, parking permits come with it, allowing you to park your vehicle in convenient places outlawed to the general public. Finally, as mentioned above, notifying local law enforcement officials will prevent scary misunderstandings.

5. Company Moves

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If you’ve worked on a few shoots, you’ve no doubt discovered that the most time consuming part is moving from one location to another. Nothing is more frustrating than being stuck in traffic when you’re already behind schedule. This is why one of the most important aspects of the assistant director’s job is to schedule locations in close proximity to each other. Once a film’s most important location is found, it’s not uncommon to schedule everything else for that day somewhere in the vicinity.

6. Authenticity

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Few things can ruin the illusion of your film more quickly than a location that’s not authentic-looking. If your scene calls for a hospital set and you’re hoping that your apartment is going to be a credible substitute, forget it. No one’s going to buy it.

If you need to be, be flexible in your script. Perhaps the patient is being treated at home. Perhaps the scene can be rewritten and staged outside the hospital. Or maybe the scene can be shot in a space that passes for a visitors’ lounge. Although you may not wish to compromise your vision, it’s not going to help your story if a fake-looking location takes the audience out of the moment.

7. Resourcefulness

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While the above statement is true, it doesn’t mean finding a real hospital is impossible — if you put the time into researching locations and do the legwork of checking each one. I’ve been astounded at the hard-to-get locations film students have acquired simply because they made the effort to check out all possible alternatives. This includes not only hospitals but airport terminals, train stations, courtrooms, farms, castles, you name it.

If you need a specific location — a bar, for instance — and you wait until the last minute, don’t be surprised if the owner takes advantage of your desperation and charges you through the nose. On the other hand, if you take the time to check 10 or 20 bars in advance, the odds are good that you’ll find at least one cordial owner willing to let you shoot there for free.

8. Courtesy

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Even though you may have gotten the location owner’s permission, there’s little to stop them from changing their minds at the last minute — if you give them a reason to. Most location owners are nervous about inexperienced filmmakers damaging their property. So it’s always a good idea on the day of the shoot, before you start dragging your equipment through the door or moving expensive and delicate furnishings around, for the director to enter the location and assuage any of owner’s fears, reassuring them that the crew has been directed to treat the location with the utmost respect.

If something needs to be moved, ask the owner to move it or to supervise you moving it, so they see that you are going to treat their location as if it were your own. If you have heavy gear, like dollies and C-stands, it’s not a bad idea to lay down paper to protect the floor. And beware of putting tape on the walls and wooden floors. You don’t want to have to pay to have an entire parquet floor refinished because you peeled off a small strip of varnish. Location owners may oblige you if you’re courteous, but they’ll never cooperate if you’re rude.

9. Thinking Creatively

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You may have two houses in your script but that doesn’t mean you need two locations. The same house may be used for both locations, provided you don’t have to use the same room twice (although even this can be done with a bit of creative set dressing and a can of paint). The same goes for two restaurants, two apartments, two offices or any other duplicate location. In fact, with a little creativity, even the dining room can be dressed to look like a restaurant. This works especially well if the scene allows for lots of close-ups.

With a bit of creative lighting and blocking, you’d be amazed what you can pull off.

10. Location Photos

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When scouting locations, it’s a must to bring along a camera. Take shots from all different perspectives and try to remember to shoot a panorama if possible. This is very helpful, especially if you’re showing the location to someone who hasn’t been there before. A panorama can tie together all your individual shots, in a way that makes the geography more comprehensible. It’s also not bad idea to take video these days, considering many of us carry around 4K cameras in our smartphones now.

11. Unexpected Contingencies

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No matter how well you plan, there’s always the chance that something unforeseen is going to happen on the day of your shoot. Maybe a water main breaks and now a construction crew is making a racket outside your set. Or someone is mowing their lawn a block away and it’s ruining all your dialogue tracks. Road construction could be blocking the vehicle carrying your actors to the set. There’s a transit strike. A delivery truck parks across the street during your scene and now your shots won’t match with what you shot earlier. The list is endless.

Of course you can’t anticipate everything, but there are some things you can investigate the night before or even the morning of your shoot. Check the weather forecast. Check travel alerts and road conditions in your area.  If your city has a main energy provider, like Con Edison, they probably have a website where street work is listed, so check those, too. And in the case of a noisy lawnmower or a unsightly truck, remember #8: always be courteous. Sometimes asking nicely is all it takes to save the day.

In Summary

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Picking the right film location can be complicated work, which is why you must plan and budget it correctly, and as early as possible in the pre-production process. As soon as the script is approved, begin the research and the process of filing for permits. At the same time, be ready to compromise and improvise, and try to find a balance between the two. Make the best use of your resources. If you follow these suggested tips, you’re sure to come up with something that suits your artistic vision as well as fits your budget.

 

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. Apply here.

 

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. 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!