How To’s

9 Tips for Writing a Film Review

Whether you are an actor, a filmmaker or a film geek through and through, writing film reviews can help hone your ability to think critically and watch movies with a response that goes deeper than “That movie was awesome!” And for you future film reviewers out there, it’s never too soon to start. Here are nine tips on how to write a film review that people will want to read.

1. Watch the film at least once.


Once is necessary twice is preferable. Taking notes is also a good idea and will help the writing process by making it easy to refer to your in-the-moment thoughts and reactions.

2. Express your opinions and support your criticism.

Professional reviewers do not shy away from telling their readers whether they thought the movie was good, bad, or indifferent; in fact, readers come to rely on those reviewers whose tastes reflect their own when deciding whether or not to spend their time and money. Professional reviewers also have watched a lot of movies and can express why and how they came to their criticism. Be sure to back up your thoughts with specifics–a disappointing performance, a ridiculous plot, beautiful cinematography, difficult material that leaves you thinking, and so on.

3. Consider your audience.

Are you writing for a fan site, a national news outlet, or a Teen Magazine? Knowing who your readers are can help you decide what elements of the movie to highlight. You should also adjust your writing style to fit the target audience.

4. Know the Actors’ portfolios.

Many casual filmgoers will be inspired to see a movie if a favorite actor is in it, so you should probably spend a little space talking about the performances: seasoned actor in a new kind of role, brilliant performance from a rising star, excellence despite a lackluster script, dynamics in an ensemble, and so much more can be said about the actors in any given film.

5. Call out directors, cinematographers, special effects.

This is where your film geek can really shine. Tell your readers about the highlights or missteps of directors, cinematographers, costume designers and CGI magicians. What worked, what surprised, what fell short of expectations, are all great questions to address in the body of your review.

6. No spoilers!

Give your readers some idea of the plot, but be careful not to include any spoilers. Remember the point of a good review is to get people interested in going to the movie. Don’t get over excited and ruin it for them!

7. Study the professionals.

As with all writing endeavors, the more you read the better you will be. And when you read film reviews that you like (or don’t like), think about why. Use your critical eye to think about why one reviewer has a hundred thousand followers and another only has two. Be sure also to read the publications where you’d like your writing to appear as a template for your own reviews, and don’t forget to read the submission guidelines!

8. Reread, rewrite and edit.

Edit your work; your opinions will not be taken seriously if you misspell the director’s name or can’t put together a grammatically correct sentence. Take the time to check your spelling and edit your piece for organizational flow.

9. Find your voice.

The best reviewers have a distinct personality that comes across in their writing. This does not happen overnight, so take every opportunity to write as an opportunity to develop your own style and voice that will grab reader’s attention and keep them coming back for more.

Ready to learn more about filmmaking? Check out the New York Film Academy’s many program options.

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Movies to be Excited About Premiering at Cannes Film Festival 2017

It’s that time of year again! On Wednesday, May 17th in the seaside town of Cannes, France, the renowned international film festival will kick off. The festival was created in 1939 by the French Minister of National Education and Fine Arts, Jean Zay, along with other political figures. The only international film festival at the time was the Venice Mostra; however, the 1938 competition was said to have been influenced by Adolf Hitler, who put pressure on the judges to name a Nazi propaganda film as the winner. The point of the new festival by Zay was to introduce a “film festival for Europe in which art would no longer be influenced by political maneuvering.” Unfortunately, the first festival was put on hold and eventually cancelled upon news that Hitler had invaded Poland.

Despite its rocky beginnings, the Festival de Cannes (officially titled in 2002) continues to be one of the most celebrated and impressive international film festivals in the world. While the festival takes place in Europe and features many European films, many American actors and directors have been a part of it. Some include Natalie Portman (“A Tale of Love and Darkness”), Jeff Nichols (“Loving”), Tommy Lee Jones (“The Homesman”), Julianne Moore (“Maps to the Stars”), and Joel and Ethan Cohen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”).

This year’s festival promises an impressive crew of directors and actors, and they are all anxious to go home with the Palme d’Or (the Cannes’ highest award). The films are provocative and entertaining; however, it is apparent that a political message has made its way into this year’s lineup. Every year in May, the film industry suddenly zooms in on a small resort town in France: Cannes, home of what is arguably the world’s most famous film festival. This year, the celebrations will be especially extravagant as the Cannes Film Festival celebrates turning 70. Here are a few movies that will certainly make a splash this year.


“The Beguiled”

Sofia Coppola puts a feminist twist on the 1971 Clint Eastwood film about an injured soldier trapped in a girls’ boarding school, focusing on the bonds between women at the school instead of the male narrative. The soldier, played by Colin Farrell, becomes entwined in the affections of several women (played by Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Claire Danes). It’ll be interesting to see how Coppola frames the movie around women’s friendship as opposed to the previous male viewpoint. As Coppola told Entertainment Weekly, “The main crux of the story is about the dynamics between a group of women all stuck together, and then also the power shifts between men and women.”

While not a politically-charged film, Sophia Coppola’s newest film is generating a lot of buzz at the Cannes this year. The film boasts a full cast, including Nicole Kidman (“Australia”), Colin Farrell (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”), Kirsten Dunst (“Marie Antoinette”), and Elle Fanning (“Maleficent”). A remake of the 1971 classic starring Clint Eastwood, this creepy thriller is sure to send some chills down the spines of the Cannes’ audience.


“Twin Peaks”

After David Lynch’s disastrous 1992 Cannes debut of “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” the director chose to stay silent on his classic series for two decades. Now he’s premiering two new episodes of the show at the festival. Cannes has traditionally ignored television, but now it’s reluctantly embracing not only TV shows but virtual reality showcases and even series from Netflix. “Twin Peaks” isn’t the only TV show to premiere at Cannes; Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake” will screen a few episodes as well. It’s a paradigm shift for the intensely traditional film festival that has long favored artistic and indie productions.

“Sea Sorrow”

Directed by Vanessa Redgrave, this documentary also deals with the European refugee crisis. The 80-year-old Oscar-winning actress was shocked by the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed upon the shore became one of the most iconic photographs of the decade. Redgrave drew parallels between the refugee crisis and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The title of the film derives from “The Tempest” as well: “Our sea sorrow,” recites main character Prospero to his daughter Miranda, telling her of the dramatic escape they made from Milan when Miranda was only three.

Set to show during the Special Screening section, this documentary stars Ralph Fiennes (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”), and depicts the current refugee crisis in the Middle East. It is the directorial debut for actress Vanessa Redgrave (“Mrs. Dalloway” and “Letters to Juliet”). The documentary highlights the importance of filmmakers finding a story they believe in.


“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman pair up again for this artistic thriller-horror film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”). Farrell plays a brilliant surgeon who becomes drawn into the life of a dysfunctional teenage boy; Kidman, who stars in an incredible four Cannes-selected films, plays his wife. It’ll be fascinating to see how the dynamic between Farrell and Kidman shifts in this narrative, as they also play love interests in “The Beguiled.”



Netflix quickly made itself known in the world of film, winning the Academy Award for best documentary for “The White Helmets.” Now Netflix is taking on the Cannes Festival with their newest film “Okja.” From the mind of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”) and starring Tilda Swinton (“Doctor Strange”), the film depicts a young girl who will risk everything to save her animal friend from a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The film discusses animal cruelty and the things that separate – and don’t separate – man from animal. It also stirred some controversy when Cannes insisted the film premiere at the festival, while Netflix wanted to stream the film to their online customers. The short feud highlights the question of where film festivals fit in the digital age of film.

“Happy End”

Also in competition this year is the newest film by director Michael Haneke. Haneke made film industry buzz after his film “Amour” won the Palme d’Or in 2012 and the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2013. Set in Calais, France, the film follows a family’s drama during the European refugee crisis. This film is set in Cannes itself and tells the timely tale of a middle-class family’s method of dealing with the refugee crisis in Europe. It’s directed by Michael Haneke, who previously won the prestigious Palme D’Or (the festival’s highest prize) for both “Amour” and “White Ribbon.” Film critics are interested to see if Haneke will win the prize again, which would make him the only director to win it three times. Despite the title, rumor has it this film does not have a happy ending.


“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”

With the Paris Agreement and the mainstreaming of alternative energies, it seemed like the world agreed on climate change – and was on the way to fixing it. However recent statements by President Trump have made the world concerned about the United States’ role in the fight to stop global warming. Many attribute the current focus on climate change to Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Now, over 10 years later, and with the fate of the planet hanging in the air, Gore releases his sequel to bolster support for the end of greenhouse gas emissions. The film is set to show during the Special Screening section, but we are sure it will ruffle some feathers this year.

“120 Battements par Minute”

Set in Paris in the 1990s, this French film by director Robin Campillo (“Eastern Boys”) follows the efforts of the Parisian group Speak Out. The organization started in 1989 and works to dispel the stigma and apathy surrounding the AIDS crisis. Campillo’s film depicts the organization in a drama starring Adèle Haenel (“The Unknown Girl”) and Nahuel Pérez Biscayart (“All Yours”). While the story is fiction, former president of Speak Up, Philippe Mangeot, was a consultant for the script.

Do you picture yourself at the Cannes festival one day? Check out this interview with NYFA alumni and Cannes winner, Maul Gohel. The Cannes Film Festival will take place May 17th – 28th in Cannes, France.

What are you most excited about in this year’s Cannes? Let us know in the comments below, and learn filmmaking at New York Film Academy!

Cannes 2017: Best Celebrity Sightings at Cannes

Each May, the entertainment industry turns its eyes to the beautiful resort town of Cannes, France, not only eager to see the film festival’s media offerings, but to see the stars. One of the top film festivals in the world, Cannes attracts celebrities from actors to directors, from singers to producers. To help you prepare for this year’s celebrity spotting at Cannes, we’ve listed here some of the A-listers whose presence is hotly anticipated at this year’s festival:

Nicole Kidman

Kidman is involved in four official selection titles at this year’s Cannes, which will likely make her this year’s star. She is starring in two films that are in competition (“The Beguiled” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) and two films out of competition (“How to Talk to Girls at Parties” and “Top of the Lake: China Girl”). Though they are not related to Cannes, Kidman is also starring in a popular HBO mini-series “Big Little Lies” and has a part in the upcoming “Aquaman” film. It looks like 2017 is Ms. Kidman’s year!

Colin Farrell

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.28.43 PM

Across from Kidman is her co-star in two Cannes films, both in competition: Colin Farrell. Over the past year Farrell has upped his game, starring in a Harry-Potter-universe film (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) and a dark science-fiction comedy by director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”). Colin is teaming up with Lanthimos again in his newest drama, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Farrell also plays the part of the Union soldier in Sophia Coppola’s new thriller at Cannes, “The Beguiled.”

Kristen Stewart

by celebrityabc on Flickr

by celebrityabc on Flickr

Stewart has come a long way since her days in vampire teen-flicks, starring in two films by French director Olivier Assayas (“Personal Shopper” and “Clouds of Sils Maria”). Now she is making her directorial debut at Cannes 2017 with her short film “Come Swim” (part of the 70th Anniversary Event section). Stewart’s previous beau and “Twilight” co-star Robert Pattinson will also be in attendance for the film “Good Time,” which is in competition for the Palme d’Or.

Alejandro González Iñárritu

As a director, producer, and screenwriter, Mexican-born Iñárritu has made his mark in the film scene. He won the Academy Award for best picture in 2015 for his film “Birdman” and directed Leonardo DiCaprio in his Oscar-winning performance in “The Revenant.” Iñárritu also won best director for both films and even won best director at Cannes for “Babel” in 2006. This year, he is screening his newest film, “Carne Y Arena,” (or “Flesh and Sand”) — which is the only film in the Virtual Reality section of the festival. Based on true accounts, this exhibit allows the viewer to experience the life of a refugee.

Tilda Swinton

by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton will also be in attendance for her starring role in “Okja.” The new sci-fi is directed by Bong Joon-ho, who previously directed another sci-fi with Swinton, “Snowpiercer” (2013). “Okja” will become the first Netflix film in a Cannes festival, and tells the story of a young girl who tries to protect an animal friend from a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The film also stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Lily Collins.

Barkhad Abdi

The Somali-American actor and director made his debut in “Captain Phillips” (2013), playing alongside Tom Hanks. His performance as the pirate leader earned him a nomination for best supporting actor in the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and he won that category at the BAFTA Awards. Abdi stars in the newest Safdie Brothers’ film at Cannes, “Good Times.” This crime drama about a bank robber also stars Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Emma Thompson

Of all the British actors to make their way into the hearts of Americans, Emma Thompson is one of the most beloved. She has starred in multiple classics, such as “Love Actually,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Brave,” and the “Harry Potter” films, and voiced a character in the newest adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast.” Her filmography goes on and on, and her newest addition to the list will be showcased at Cannes this year in competition: “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” has an all-star cast, including Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Dustin Hoffman.

Adam Sandler

by celebrityabc on Flickr

by celebrityabc on Flickr

Speaking of Adam Sandler, some of you might think that Cannes is the last place you would see this slapstick comedian. However, critics insist that Sandler isn’t playing his normal roles in “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).” The film follows an estranged family that comes together in New York City for an event with their artistic father. Sandler has delivered some endearing performances in films before, such as “Click” and “Reign Over Me.” Perhaps he will wow audiences at Cannes this year and establish himself as a serious actor.

Julianne Moore

Moore is not a stranger to the Cannes festival, having won the award for best actress in 2014 for David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars.” Her newest film at Cannes, “Wonderstruck,” is based off an illustrated young adult novel of the same name. It is a dual story that follows two deaf children, and also stars Michelle Williams. Like the other popular streaming-service, Netflix, this will be the first time Amazon has had a film in the Cannes festival.

David Lynch

The Cannes festival has long resisted the inclusion of TV shows in their lineup; however, it looks like this year will be an exception. David Lynch has been a part of the festival before, screening his prequel film to the “Twin Peaks” series, titled “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” (1992). The film did was not received warmly, but this has not deterred Lynch from coming back. The first two episodes of his “Twin Peaks” reboot will premiere at this year’s Cannes in the 70th Anniversary Events section. Will the show be met with acceptance or more criticism? Find out soon!

There will be plenty of other friendly faces at this year’s Cannes … who are you excited to see? Who do you hope will win? The Cannes Film Festival will take place May 17th – 28th in Cannes, France. Learn more about filmmaking at New York Film Academy.


Mother’s Day: 4 Different Mother Stereotypes in Film

With Mother’s Day around the corner (May 14 – don’t forget!), we find ourselves remembering some of the most famous mothers in film. Whether it is an independent film or a Hollywood blockbuster, a mother character is almost always in the picture. They are loving and kind, fierce and intelligent, but can also be strict, overbearing, even psychotic. No matter the archetype, it cannot be denied that mothers play a huge role in some of history’s biggest films.

Here are four different stereotypes of mothers in film.

Spoiler Alert — this article may contain some movie spoilers. If you haven’t seen these great films, watch them now!

1. The Best Friend

While a mother will always be a mother, her relationship with her children changes as they grow up. The Best Friend movie mother begins to lose control of her children, and must become something different for them: a friend. This doesn’t mean they do everything together and get along all the time. Quite the opposite. The mother is usually controlling and feels helpless in the face of having no authority. But she will always be there to support her daughter as a friend. For example, Sally Field in “Steel Magnolias” and Shirley McClain in “Terms of Endearment.” The image of McClain’s character and her daughter (played by Debra Winger) lying in bed together is an iconic image and shows the closeness of their relationship.

While the mothers and daughter may not always see eye to eye, they are in constant contact with each other and talk like friends. Strangely, these two films have similar tragic endings as well (grab the tissues!).

2. The Supermom

Perhaps the most popular movie mom stereotype, the Supermom is also the broadest because of how many different types of Supermoms there are. They can be everything from a housewife to a business woman, however one thing always rings true: they will fight like hell for their family. Take Molly Weasley (Julie Walters) in the “Harry Potter” films. In the clips below, she protects her daughter from the crazed Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).

Or Etheline Tenebaum (Angelica Houston) from “The Royal Tenenbaums.” A single mother who “kept the house and raised the children, and their education was her highest priority.”

There is also Mary Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (played by Donna Reed), who helps save her husband when he has money problems and could go to jail.

No task is too big for whatever challenges she faces. The Supermom is always loving, strong, unyielding, and will do anything for their family.

3. The Overbearing Mother

On a different end of the movie mother spectrum is the overbearing mother. She wants what is best for her child, but that often means what she thinks is best. She will ignore her child’s wishes, dreams, or personality to force them into something they are not. The mother may have good intentions, but it will always result in a rift between them. The child will sometimes run away, resent his/her mother, or even do drastic things to exert their individuality. How the mother controls her children varies. For example, Annette Bening’s character in “American Beauty” is a powerhouse of control. She uses passive aggressive remarks and insults to show her disapproval of her daughter.

The character of Mrs. Bennet, played by Brenda Blethyn, in “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) forces her daughter Elizabeth to marry a man she doesn’t love (until her father steps in to save her).

In the world of animated film, the mother from “Brave” (2012), is a perfect example of a controlling mother. She tries to teach her headstrong and rebellious daughter Merida how to be a lady, and even tries to force her into an arranged marriage.

Luckily, this story ends more happily, with mother and daughter learning more about each other and finally coming together.

4. The Psycho

The most extreme movie mother stereotype is the psychotic mother, who takes overbearing to a whole other level. She controls her children through psychological and even physical abuse, sometimes driving the children themselves to commit terrible acts. The first example that comes to mind is, of course, Mrs. Bates from “Psycho” (1960). While we learn at the end of the film that Mrs. Bates was not the real killer, her life before she became a skeleton in the cellar is not a pretty one. She was controlling with her son Norman, abused him psychologically, and wouldn’t let him have relationships with other women because of her crazed jealousy. She even killed herself and her lover, leaving Norman all alone to fill the void she left in his life. Though we never see Mrs. Bates on screen, the scene below with her voice over shows the true psychotic nature of this mother.

Another example is the characters of actress Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) in the 1981 film “Mommie Dearest.” Based on a memoir by Crawford’s daughter Christina, the film shows the psychotic downward spiral her mother takes as she goes from star to has-been. She torments her children, locks Christina in a pool house, and physically abuses them when they do anything wrong. The famous scene below depicts Joan screaming at Christina for hanging her expensive dresses on wire hangers and then beating her with one. The line “No wire hangers!” later became a classic movie quote.

Trigger Warning: the following video clip depicts domestic violence against children and contains some disturbing images.

The mother from the 1976 “Carrie” is perhaps the epitome of the psychotic mother. Played by Piper Laurie, Carrie’s mother abuses her daily. She teaches a strict religious doctrine, won’t allow her daughter to date, hits her, and will even lock her up when she does something wrong. Unfortunately, the mother’s psychosis leads her to try to kill her daughter, who uses her powers to defend herself.

Does your current film project include a mother? Does she fit into one of the above movie stereotypes, or is she something brand new? Tell us about her and don’t forget to call your own mom this Mother’s Day!

NYFA Community: 9 Great Alumni Films to Watch

The diverse, international NYFA community is made up not only of our hard working and hard dreaming students, but also of incredible alumni who have taken their skills and created awesome films. We are always excited and proud to see our alumni make strides in their careers. To celebrate some of the incredible work that’s been done recently, we’ve rounded up a list of great recent films made by NYFA alumni. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out these films — and the alumni success stories that go along with them:

“Hellion” (alumnus Tanner Beard)

Since graduating from both the 8-Week Filmmaking Workshop and 4-Week Acting for Film Workshop, Tanner Beard has been busy building a lengthy list of credits. On top of directing, producing, and writing a Spaghetti Western titled “6 Bullets to Hell” through his production company Silver Sail Entertainment, Beard has produced the critically-acclaimed “Hellion,” starring Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis. Beard also served as executive producer of three films under iconic director Terrance Malick and producer Sarah Green.

“The Thinning” (alumnus Michael Gallagher)

Since attending NYFA Filmmaking Summer Camp at age 13, Michael Gallagher has started the YouTube channel TotallySketch, directed the television mini-series “Interns,” “How to Survive High School” and “The Station,” and produced three films; “Smiley,” “The Thinning,” and “Internet Famous.”

When it comes to advertising your work across the social media highway, Gallagher suggests that “you only get so many favors. I knew that the first thing I asked, I knew it had to count. I went in with my first video. I planned it out and made this attack plan and I just carpet bombed everyone I knew asking, ‘If you ever do one thing for me promote this video.’ ”

Yo soy un Politico” (alumni Susana Matos and Javier Colon)

New York Film Academy alumni Susana Matos and Javier Colon have just finished their latest film “Yo soy un Politico” (I am a Politician). The film follows an ex-convict who wants a job where he can make a lot of money without putting in a lot of work, so he decides to run as governor of Puerto Rico. Next, Matos and Colon are working together on getting the funding for “Who Cares?,” a road trip dramedy with the tone of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Their goal is to begin pre-production at the end of this year.

“Hands of Stone” (alumnus Jonathan Jakubowicz)

After graduating from New York Film Academy nearly 20 years ago, Venezuelan-born director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s tackled the story of boxer Roberto Duran (played by Edgar Ramirez) and his legendary trainer, Ray Arcel (played by Oscar Winning actor Robert De Niro) in his new film “Hands of Stone.” Impressive! Jakubowicz’s advice to young filmmakers: “There are no excuses why you haven’t made your first film. If you feel you are ready, do it. And do a feature. You will learn more from a feature than from 30 shorts.”

“Money” (alumnus Martin Rosete)

After starting the 2-Year Filmmaking Program in 2007, Spanish director Martin Rosete is hot on the festival circuit with the release of his latest film “Money,” an elegant thriller that talks about human greed and how money (and the lack of it) can affect different individuals from different backgrounds.

Rosete says that his time spent at NYFA “helped me a lot in understanding the way things are in the industry, in the U.S.; and the fact that we were literally shooting every week also helped in having the opportunity to try different things without any fear of failing. That is really important to be prepared for the real world after your studies are over, and I am really happy to have had that opportunity.”

“Unsullied” (alumnus Simeon Rice)

In the 10 years since he last played in the NFL, Simeon Rice (also a New York Film Academy graduate) made tentative strides in the world of independent filmmaking. Rice says, “You can’t prepare for something like making a film. The hope is people connect with it, but that’s an abstract thing. You can be the best actor in the world, but you still might not get the part. You can make the best film in the world, but that doesn’t mean people are going to see it.”

“Billy Bates” (alumna Julie Pacino)

New York Film Academy Filmmaking graduate Julie Pacino, along with writer-director partner Jennifer DeLia, went on a cross-country tour with their feature film “Billy Bates,” a film that dives deep into the mind of an enigmatic artist and the arduous, psychological madness that goes into his creative approach. “It’s essential to know all aspects of filmmaking,” said Julie Pacino. “I learned that in the short I directed. It’s just as important to know the business side as it is to knowing your actors and crew.”

“Deadpool” (alumna Ashley Maltz)

NYFA Producing graduate Ashley Maltz is an Executive Assistant at 20th Century Fox. Moving over to Fox’s feature film division, Ashley’s first major project was working on the incredibly successful and critically acclaimed “Deadpool” as an executive producer.

“Birth of a Nation” (alumna Jane Oster)

Jane Oster has served as an executive producer on the Sundance favorite “Birth of a Nation.” Next she is producing “Brighton Beach” and “Serial Dater.”

Ready to learn more about filmmaking? There’s a program for you at NYFA’s Film School.


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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.”


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.

National Pet Day: Our Favorite Pets in Movies

April 11 is a red letter day for all pet owners. Whether you’re a dog person or a cat lady or you prefer raising white mice, National Pet Day is the perfect day to shower your pets with love and gratitude for all the happiness they’ve given you over the years. And the entertainment industry is the perfect place to look to celebrate pets. Perhaps you can make the day even more special by watching a movie that features your favorite animal or bird that the main characters. Here are our picks.


1. “Two Brothers” (2004)

This is a brave and heart-rending film about two tiger cubs, Kumar and Sangha, who are separated as cubs but finally reunite after a series of misadventures. Set in 1920s Cambodia during the period of French colonization, the period aesthetics are top notch and the film balances humour and heartache brilliantly.

2. “Garfield: A Tail of Two Kittens” (2006)

Following the success of its prequel, “Garfield: The Movie” (2004), this is a hilarious pet movie and features two Garfields. One Garfield is the titular cat from the comic strip most of us have grown up with who lives in the suburbs with frenemy dog Odie and his owner Jon, and the other Garfield is the heir to Carlyle Castle and lives in luxury. Due to a mishap, the two cats are switched and what follows is sheer insanity. This is sure to be a hit with kids.

3. “Marley And Me” (2008)


A beautiful romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, “Marley and Me” covers 14 years of a dog’s life. In fact 22 different Labradors were used to play the part of Marley. Marley teaches the couple, and later their children, several important lessons and makes their lives fun, meaningful and exciting. This is the perfect pet-centric movie to watch with your family and pet dog(s).  

4. “Dunston Checks In” (1996)

An entertaining family flick, the movie follows adventures of an orangutan Dunston who befriends the sons of the hotel manager of a five star hotel and causes all manner of trouble and mischief. And here’s the secret about the adorable Dunston: he’s a very accomplished jewel thief.

5. “Babe” (1995)

Based on Dick King-Smith’s novel “The Sheep Pig,” this movie explores complex identity issues by following the story of a pig who wants to be a sheep dog. There is something intensely relatable about this film, and it has garnered critical acclaim, having been nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture.

6. “War Horse” (2011)

If “Black Beauty” and “Moby Dick” were your favorite childhood classics, this Steven Spielberg movie won’t disappoint you. Starring big names such as Jeremy Irwine, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston, the movie is set in the backdrop of the First World War and looks at the bond between young Albert and Joey, his thoroughbred bay horse.

7. “Jungle Book” (2016)

jungke book

For many of us, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” contained a secret world of wild nature, a orphan boy raised by wolves, a ferocious tiger and a friendly bear. The recent Disney rendition of the same captures Kipling’s rich imagination vividly and brings your favorite childhood animals to the big screen.

8. “Zootopia” (2016)


The ultimate animation film for the animal lover, “Zootopia” is a richly realized anthropomorphic world and details the unlikely friendship that slowly develops between a rabbit police officer and a cunning red fox. Using animals as metaphors, the movie comments on several societal issues in an entertaining and thought provoking manner. The movie even won an Oscar for the Best Animated Feature Film.

So what are your favorite movies featuring animals? Did our list of movies miss out on your pet? Let us know in the comments! And if you’re ready to learn how to make your own professional animal films, study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

How to Incorporate History in Your Work: Filmmaking Lessons from NYFA Florence

In the historic city of Florence, your filmmaking opportunities are endless. Florence is where the Renaissance began, a cultural movement that inspired some of the most significant artistic contributions of all time. Awaken your inner Michaelangelo and bring your ideas to life in one of Italy’s most film-friendly cities, at NYFA’s Florence location! It’ll be the best educational investment you’ll ever make.

Florence is the perfect city for artists of all mediums. This is especially true for filmmakers. The creative roots of Florence run deep, a claim proven by its vast collection of art. There are so many sights, sounds, and cultural icons around to create perfect scenes for historical films. Throughout its entire history, Florence has attracted groundbreaking creative minds due a nourishing blend of the beautiful atmosphere and a vibrant artistic culture. You, too, can become a part of that tradition and inspire your own Renaissance!


Florence is the hub of the New York Film Academy in Europe. In 2008, the Government of Tuscany and the Tuscan Film Commission invited NYFA to offer our world-renowned programs in the historic center of Florence. NYFA Florence is located in the neighborhood of Santa Croce, whose curved streets are the remnants of the amphitheater built 2,000 years ago! This iconic Florence location is just steps away from the Piazza Santa Croce, one of the city’s most prominent squares and historical landmarks. The plaza is home to the Basilica of Santa Croce, which features sixteen beautifully decorated chapels and tombs of many illustrious Italian figures, including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, and Enrico Fermi.


And historical films are just one option — you can enhance and enliven any genre of film with the visual treasures of Florence. Why not film your own romance in Florence and the surrounding countryside of Tuscany? Films like “Under the Tuscan Sun” can serve as an inspiration as you explore ways to use the backdrop of Florence to support a love story, a comedy, or a tale of transformation.

In Florence, your filmmaking opportunities are only as limited as your imagination. The city is home to many beautiful and inspiring sights, including to Piazza del Duomo, or “cathedral square.” Let your audience absorb your story though the eloquent architecture and scenery of Florence. Create a film that is a psychological thriller, a mystery, or a thought-provoking spiritual quest and incorporate shots of old cathedral architecture. Go to Santa Maria Novella and shoot a vintage mass to add a touch of the gothic to your film. These religious structures give your audience a direct taste of history through a setting most people are otherwise familiar with. You won’t be able to find rare sights like those in Florence anywhere else.


Florence is the home of artistry and architecture. The city features the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval-looking bridge that has stood the test of time. Historians believe it was built during Roman rule. The Ponte Vecchio even survived World War II Hitler’s rule when he ordered all of Florence’s bridges to be torn down. Just one shot of it can take your audience back in time — or forward, as you use the unique scenery of Florence to set the stage and help you create your own world through film. With some clever shoots and costume design, you can utilize Italian history, fabulous art, and iconic architecture as you build a new vision to share with the world.


As you can see, the New York Film Academy’s Florence location has so much to offer its students. Take advantage of every sunny day you can to film in Florence’s best quality of light. This opportunity is golden for those looking to make the most out of their education. Make the best of your film education and say “carpe diem” to Florence!

Interested in studying with NYFA Florence? Learn more!

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


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


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, 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


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


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 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.

How to Hone Your Individual Style as a Filmmaker


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


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


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


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


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!

Black History Month: Blazing Trails in the Entertainment Industry Part I

Celebrated annually in the United States and Canada in February, Black History Month is a dedicated time to honor impactful people and events in the black diaspora. And while there have been countless contributions of African-descended people to world history, here at NYFA, we’re recognizing those who are blazing trails in the entertainment industry as they pursue their craft.

On the heels of the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards (SAG) and as we gear up for Oscar season, we’ve compiled a list of five history-makers to watch right now in 2017. So without further ado, drumroll please…

1. Mahershala Ali

An Oakland, California native, Ali was raised Christian by his mother, an ordained minister, before converting to Islam and changing his last name from Gilmore to Ali. While attending St. Mary’s College of California on a basketball scholarship, Ali decided to go into acting and landed an apprenticeship at the California Shakespeare Theater. He went on to enroll at NYU, where he earned a master’s degree in NYU’s graduate acting program.

Until this year, Ali was perhaps best known for his appearances in “House of Cards,” “Luke Cage,” “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,” “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Now, Ali’s performance as a supporting character in “Moonlight,” which follows the coming of age of an African-American gay youth, earned him the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor in December 2016. This was followed by the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor and an Oscar nomination in 2017.

2. Issa Rae

This former NYFA student was born Jo-Issa Rae Diop in Los Angeles to a pediatric doctor from Senegal and a teacher from Louisiana. Eventually attending Stanford University, where she majored in African-American Studies, she wrote and directed plays, music videos, and even a mock reality series while still in school. Fellow Stanford classmate, Tracy Oliver, would eventually produce “Awkward Black Girl” and star on the show.

After accepting a fellowship with The Public Theater, Rae joined Oliver in taking classes at New York Film Academy, while they continued to develop and produce “Awkward Black Girl” for YouTube, raising $56,249 through a Kickstarter campaign to release the rest of the first season due to popular demand. Rae continued to write, produce, and edit original content on her YouTube channel, working on Ratchet Piece Theater, ”The ‘F’ Word,” ”Roomieloverfriends,” and ”The Choir.” Rae partnered up with Pharrell to premiere season two of the series on his YouTube channel, ”iamOTHER.” Rae also began releasing other content on her original channel, predominantly created by and starring people of color In 2013, she began writing a comedy series pilot with Larry Wilmore, which was eventually titled ”Insecure” and was picked up by HBO. This year, the show — which Rae also produces — earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a TV Comedy or Musical.

3. Ava DuVernay

Hailing from Long Beach, California, Ava DuVernay attended UCLA, where she majored in African-American Studies and English. Pursuing journalism at the start of her career, she was assigned to cover the O.J. Simpson trial, eventually turning to public relations and opening up her own firm, The DuVernay Agency, while producing documentaries to learn and hone the craft.

Her feature films include “I Will Follow” and Martin Luther King Jr.-based “Selma.” She was the first African-American woman to win Best Director at the Sundance 2012 festival for her feature, “Middle of Nowhere.” In 2010 DuVernay began AFFRM (the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement), her own company to distribute films made by or focusing on black people, after which she later rebranded the company under a new name, ARRAY, to include a focus on women filmmakers as well.

Most recently, DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which explores the 13th amendment abolishing slavery and our nation’s disproportionate incarceration of African Americans in prisons, was met with critical acclaim, as it sheds light on America’s history of racial inequality.

4. Raoul Peck

Born in Haiti and fleeing the Duvalier dictatorship as a young boy with his family to Kinshasa, Congo, Peck studied electrical engineering and economics at Berlin’s Humboldt University before attaining a degree in film from the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin. With a focus on socio-political themes in his documentaries and narrative films, Peck is well known for his feature films “Man by The Shore,” about the Haitian Duvalieriste regime, and “Lumumba,” which covers Congolese independence from Belgium. Both of these, along with his other films, were produced through his production company, Velvet Films.

In 2016, amidst the political and racial strife in the U.S., Peck released his “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on 30 pages of an incomplete manuscript by renowned African-American writer James Baldwin, which examines race in America from the Civil Rights era to the Black Lives Matter movement. This documentary has already earned him an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature.

5. Viola Davis

Born in St. Mathews, North Carolina, Viola Davis attended Rhode Island College and The Juilliard School, where she studied drama. After years of playing supporting roles in both television and film, it was Davis’ one scene in the film adaptation of “Doubt,” starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, that earned her Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Soon after, Davis was inducted into The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Davis’ role in “The Help” earned her two SAG awards, a second Academy Award nomination, a BAFTA nomination and a Golden Globe award. Currently starring in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” she is the first black woman of any nationality to earn a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.  

While 2016 has been quite a busy year for Davis — she starred in and executive-produced the courtroom drama ”Custody” as well as performing in the DC Comics adaptation “Suicide Squad” — it was her role opposite Denzel Washington in “Fences” that won her the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, yet another SAG Award, and her third Academy Award nomination. As she is continuing to expand her work behind the scenes through her production company JuVee Productions, Davis has just put a comedy series into development with ABC.

Stay tuned for a list of five more people to watch as we continue to honor Black History Month at NYFA.

5 Feature Films to Watch for Black History Month

As American cinema expands to tell stories from a wide variety of cultural experiences, we’re seeing more and more authentic African-American stories hit the big screen. This goes both for documentaries and features. While Hollywood still has a ways to go before it achieves racial equality, the industry has made many strides in recent years. Just look at some of the titles, plots, directors, and cast members that have come out and received recognition in the past decade. In fact, make that your unofficial homework: Since February is Black History Month, you have all the more reason to be extra conscious of films that portray what it’s really like to be black in America.

Here are five feature films released in the past five years to binge-watch this month:

“Fences” (2016): “Fences” follows the story of a black garbage man named Troy who lives in Pittsburgh during the 1950s. The Oscar-nominated film is based off of a Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson play that debuted in 1983 as part of the Pittsburgh Cycle. The Pittsburgh Cycle was Wilson’s series of 10 stage plays capturing the black experience in 20th century America, with a play representing each decade. Wilson, who was a prolific black playwright from Pittsburgh, wrote the play to shed light on the lives of working-class African-Americans.

With middle class America steadily declining and racial justice movements like Black Lives Matter gaining momentum, now could not be a more perfect time for “Fences.” Plus, just look at the cast: Denzel Washington (who also directed it), Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, and recent NYFA Guest Speaker and Master Class Lecturer Russell Hornsby.


“Selma” (2015): You can’t have a Black History Month film list without including a biopic of Martin Luther King, Jr. This award-winning film, directed by Ava DuVernay, follows MLK’s efforts to achieve equal voting rights for African-Americans. The most visible part of that campaign involved marching from Selma to Montgomery, in Alabama, in 1965 … hence the inspiration for the movie’s title.

“Selma” will feel especially timely right after the 2016 presidential election and recent rallies and marches. In MLK’s day, marches were just business as usual. “Selma,” which was written by Paul Webb, stars David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, and Tim Roth. There’s even an Oprah cameo, so keep your eyes peeled.

“Race” (2016): Once upon a time, black athletes faced overt racism off and on the field. “Race” shows how African-American runner Jesse Owens dealt with such discrimination. The year is 1936 and Owens has one goal: to become the world’s best track and field athlete in history. But when he heads to the Olympics, he’s suddenly up against not just homegrown American racism, but Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship.  

TheWrap critic Inkoo Kang praised the film. In her review of “Race,” she wrote, “The Jesse Owens to cheer on here is, sure, the fastest man in the world, but also the canny would-be celebrity who knew exactly how to bet on himself in a world that had little use for his dignity and intellect. If that’s not an inspirational story, I don’t know what is.”

“Dear White People” (2014): This satirical comedy-drama was written, directed, and co-produced by triple threat Justin Simien. It explores the lives of four African-American students at a fictional Ivy League college. There, undergraduate experience is less like “Animal House” than it is a battlefield for students of color. But the real controversy starts when a biracial student named Samantha White gets elected as the head of a traditionally all-black house on campus. Unlike the aforementioned films, which ground racial struggles in the past, “Dear White People” reminds us how race still affects Americans today.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012): Now for a movie from a child’s perspective. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a coming-of-age story about a six-year-old black girl named Hushpuppy. Hushpuppy is just starting to understand her place in the world as she grapples with more than many children do at her age. For one thing, her father’s health is fading fast. Then there’s the health of her bayou community, which is falling prey to flooding caused by global warming. Young actress Quvenzhané Wallis gives a stunning performance in her challenging role as a little black girl who’s anything but a stereotype.


What films will you be watching during Black History Month? Let us know in the comments below!

Q&A with NYFA alumna Jessica Myhill

New York Film Academy 1-Year Filmmaking Program alumna Jessica Myhill recently completed a short film that beautifully expresses her perspective on studying at NYFA. We had the chance to sit down with the South African filmmaker to discuss her video, her inspirations, and her experiences with student life at our New York City campus. Whether you are a current NYFA student or are considering joining our community, read on and be sure to check out her NYFA video!


Hi Jessica, thanks so much for sitting down to answer our questions! We’re excited that you’re here to share your story with fellow NYFA students.

Before we talk about the short film you’ve created and shared with us, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to New York Film Academy?

I struggled with finding a school which suited me. Many universities or filmmaking schools I was looking at in my own country were too theoretical. I have always learnt best in an extremely hands-on environment. In high school I co-founded a film club with some friends and could already see that if you put a camera in my hands, I will start learning.

It’s amazing how much the New York Film Academy has packed into one year of school! I have had the opportunity to learn how to use all sorts of cameras starting from a 16mm Camera to the Red camera. I have written, produced, directed and edited about 10 short films and I have been a crew member for other directors and even acted in one or two films along the way. I have met and worked with so many people from all around the world which has been by far the most fulfilling thing for me as an artist. The collaborative nature of the New York Film Academy is one of my favorite aspects of the school!

What has surprised you the most about your classes at NYFA?

I have always been extremely passionate about nearly every creative medium. This made the diversity of what we got to learn very exciting for me. In high school I was very involved in art and theatre, thus the acting and production design classes were some of my favorites of course.

Do you have a favorite NYFA moment?

It was the shoot of my classmates thesis film (the last film we filmed in my class). I was the cinematographer, one of my favourite roles. After many challenges and setbacks we had trying to shoot this film, this final reshoot was such an awe-inspiring experience. The director was prepared and everyone was just working together so well. I could see all my classmates growth and also my personal growth in trusting and managing the crew as well as my general understanding about the craft of cinematography. Most importantly, it was such a joy to see how much we bonded as a group of individuals

What has been your greatest challenge at NYFA, and how did you overcome it? What advice would you give your fellow filmmaking students?

Constantly coming up with ideas was extremely hard. I had a major period of writer’s block while trying to come up with an idea for my final film. I overcame it by bouncing ideas around with friends and family. I think it’s important in any creative field to know how to access your creativity. If you are visual, start drawing. If you get inspired by other films, watch lots of film. Learn what inspires you and do that until you come with ideas.

Most importantly, you must trust yourself. Everyone has powerful stories to tell. One just has to learn how to access them.

How do you feel your approach to storytelling has changed over the course of your studies?

Writing for film is challenging, as I sometimes forget to include information that only I know but that the audience may not be aware of. I realized that the craft of writing is learning how to take the audience on a journey. You have the pieces of the puzzle and you have to build it in the most interesting way to really make the final picture even more beautiful and impactful.

What inspired you to want to create your short film about your NYFA experience?

My family were organizing a Catch Up Fundraiser while I was in New York to celebrate as well as update my supportive community of my latest endeavors.

We decided that it would be good idea for me to record a message to summarize my NYFA experience, especially as I could not be at the event [in South Africa]. I set up and recorded an interview with the help of my classmates.

While I started planning and assembling the video, I was compelled to keep adding and expanding the visual elements to paint the picture of my journey more vividly.

In your video you mention what a significant role your community has played in your pursuit of filmmaking. Why is community important in film?

Filmmaking, in my opinion, is the most collaborative art form there is. Not only is it many different types of crafts and artists joining together but it also is a way of connecting with many ideas from the world and making it into a form of art.

You share in your video that you really discovered a lot of value in studying along with NYFA’s very diverse, international students. What is your biggest takeaway from meeting students from around the world?

Learning about the different cultures of my classmates was extremely interesting. I learnt we are different culturally in what we eat and wear and our traditions. The universal truths of what we all relate to become very clear – especially in film where these themes are explored often. It did make me see home differently and I have returned to visit South Africa with a huge appreciation of the weather, the food and the general spirit of the people.

Did you discover any new artistic inspirations from other cultures?

I fell in love with “Chunking Express” directed by Kar-Wai Wong. I admire how he captured the feeling of loneliness in such a visually stylized way.

What was it like studying film in a country other than your own?

It was character building to say the least. Living away from my family and living alone for the first time really forced me to grow. I had found a good support system in New York which eased the burden of being an international student living on a very weak currency.

What’s inspiring you right now?

I am inspired by the active responses to the current injustices of our society. It reminds me of the truth of this quote by Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”


What’s your favorite film?

“American Beauty”!

Any last thoughts you’d like to share that we missed?

I think it is important that more females go into filmmaking. I am so glad to see many strong females around me in this industry, but we need more.

It is also important that females allow themselves to be treated in the same way males are treated. If you are a gaffer and are able to carry lights, carry them instead of allowing a man to do it for you even if their intentions are good.

Equality in this field starts with people treating female filmmakers the same way as they treat male filmmakers.

Jessica, thanks so much for sharing your insights and your NYFA story. Congratulations on completing a lovely film. We can’t wait to hear about what you’re up to next!

Lights, Camera, Travel: The Importance of International Education for the Visual Arts

Through social media and emerging technologies it’s become so easy to connect with friends from all over the world, offering the illusion that the world is small. When you travel, you realize that the world is actually quite vast and there is so much to explore. And like many other artistic disciplines, the visual arts are heavily influenced by environment and geography. But what’s included in the visual arts?

Visual arts encompass many fields, influence, and inspirations, and international education can feed a person’s work for years to come. In our own visual arts programs like cinematography, photography, illustration, and graphic design, studying in an international community or location will enrich your studies as you experience local architectural, environmental, and industrial arts, as well as the folk arts and culture — ceramics, jewelry, woodwork and paper (book arts anyone?).

So how can international travel play a role in your visual artistry? We’ve got some ideas listed below. International education:

1. Provides perspective.


Whether traveling domestically or internationally, travel forces us out of our comfort zones. And for visual artists, the world provides a diversity of landscapes from which we can be inspired. From the rolling hills in a California countryside, to a sprawling Brazilian metropolis, the world is a canvas. From it, we can draw inspiration and in turn contribute by making our own mark. Whether sculpting or painting, or even designing urban spaces, exposure to different countries and cultures — both the good and the uncomfortable of it — forces us to increase our knowledge and open up our perspective.

2. Builds courage.


Being thrown into unknown situations and learning how to come out on the other side takes courage! Not only have you survived, but you’ve become a little more independent, self-reliant, and perhaps more importantly, self-reflective. It takes courage to step into the unknown and even more to survive. This newfound courage can easily spill over into other areas of your life, where suddenly, playing around with that new idea — a new brush stroke, an additional sketch — doesn’t seem so scary. You’ll find that it becomes easier to stretch yourself, to dare yourself to take those experimental leaps that it seems none of the other artists are doing, and yet you are inspired and driven to do it. International education helps to build your courage to dig deeper into your authentic self.

3. Enhances Creativity


The more time spent immersed in foreign experiences, the more flexibility and depth you are able to bring to your art. But the key here is immersion. While you may not necessarily experience cultural immersion on a trip to a Cancun resort, going there and spending time with local schoolteachers may do the trick of offering you an authentic perspective of life in a different place and culture. Traveling exposes you to different experiences while forcing you to problem-solve in a foreign environment, and at times in a foreign language, while you build alliances with people who may be very different from you. Traveling teaches you how to develop creative solutions. Add this to your education, and you are learning on a whole other level. Creative problem solving is a skill built out of necessity, that has the potential to beautifully elevate your artistic palette as well as your understanding of the world around you.

4. Exposure to the interconnectedness of art.


There are connections everywhere, and the more you travel, the more you realize that the world is a patchwork of seemingly very different people who fundamentally want a lot of the same things. International education encourages the discovery of interconnectedness — in art, in knowledge, in people. And visually speaking, seeing some of the bastions of life translated in another culture expands your definition of them. Church might have a universal definition, but architecturally it is expressed a myriad of ways from Spain to Senegal. In Japan, animation has exploded with new forms being developed regularly that can be borrowed from and built upon. Like Monet and his seascapes, the relationship between artist and his or her environment can provide a fascinating artistic oeuvre.

How has international education, studying abroad, or studying in an international community helped you develop your visual art?

6 Takeaways from 2016: What Last Year Taught Us About Filmmaking

It’s that most wonderful time of the year, and here at the New York Film Academy, we’re taking a quick look at some of the enduring lessons from 2016. This past year saw a lot of interesting twists and turns in the entertainment industry, with some tried and true lessons borne out and some new truths unearthed, so we’ve distilled six takeaways from 2016 that we hope help you prepare for your filmmaking endeavors in the New Year. Cheers, 2016 — thanks for the memories, and for teaching us these principles of filmmaking!

Franchise, franchise, franchise.


From the endless array of comic book universe movies to Star Wars and Harry Potter, if there is a minor character or dark alley that didn’t show up in an earlier movie, give them their own feature. Done properly, these films are opportunities for fresh takes on old characters or explorations of the series universe that reveal a whole new side of things. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” brought the Harry Potter series’ wizarding world to the U.S. and gave viewers a closer look at Newt Scamander and the days before the rise of Lord Voldemort. “Star Wars: Rogue One” targets an adult audience that grew up with the original Star Wars films who will get the references to other films in the franchise.

Is it a remake when it’s totally different?


An all-female “Ghostbusters”? “Pete’s Dragon” and “The Jungle Book” retooled for the 21st century? In some cases, only the name of the movie bears any resemblance to the original. Using a familiar franchise in a completely different way may raise the ire of die-hard fans, but reboots can also attract a new audience. Younger viewers who might be turned off by the 1977 version of “Pete’s Dragon” with its musical numbers or the 1984 version of “Ghostbusters,” were drawn into the fast-paced action and edgy humor of the 2016 films.

Family-friendly fare fills the house.


Of the 10 highest-grossing films for the year, four were children’s films and four were comic book-related films with a PG-13 rating. With the price of ticket sales climbing and the temptation of other forms of entertainment, it can be hard to get audiences in theaters. Family-friendly films earned their share of the box office and, of course, product tie-ins helped studios expand their profits. As filmmakers and studios investigate more interactive experiences, this is an audience eager to reciprocate.

There’s no question that women (and female characters) can carry a picture and that gender inequality in the industry must be addressed.


In the past, many producers argued that movies had to have a strong male lead to draw an audience, but the film industry is starting to admit that this is not the case (and, honestly, never was). Slowly, we’ve seen the industry begin to respond to the call for gender equality. Through 2016, “Bad Mamas,” “Ghostbusters,” “Moana,” “Zootopia,” and other films with female leads were among the 25 top-grossing films of the year. The misguided argument that only men can draw in an audience will, we hope, remain firmly an error of the past.

Orange and teal is still a thing; drones are taking off.


Heavily saturated films with orange and teal color grading are still part of the look that will characterize films from the early 21st century. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” “Deadpool,” and “Captain America: Civil War” enveloped viewers with a sense of foreboding thanks to the dark wash and heavy use of blues in the grading. Drone cinematography is another piece of technology that has been getting more use in films as costs went down and quality improved. From amateur filmmakers to big-budget Hollywood films like “Captain America: Civil War,” drones supplied a lot of the aerial footage we saw on screen in 2016

Tell ‘em A Good Story


This one never goes out of style. With so many other entertainment options from streaming services that let the audience binge-watch season after season of a show to immersive video games competing for the audience’s time and money, the film industry has responded with what it does best— good, old-fashioned storytelling. Exploring the comic book universe and its seemingly endless opportunities for cross-overs and different storylines featuring bankable characters may be a natural fit for the binge-watching, extended viewing era. Smaller films and independent features have gone back to the heart of storytelling and start with empathetic characters in compelling situations. Whether it is romance (“Lala Land”) or a heist (“Hell or High Water”), a screenplay with characters the audience can root for is the foundation of any good film.

Lessons from J. K. Rowling: How to Build a Successful Film Franchise

With “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” already projected to dominate the box office with at least $70 million in ticket sales, it’s hard not to reminisce about the time when Harry Potter ruled Hollywood. Harry Potter remains one of the most successful movie franchises in history, surpassing the likes of Star Wars and Batman and falling second only to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s quite an achievement. So how did it happen, and what goes into building a successful movie franchise?


As an aspiring moviemaker, perhaps your dream is to one day captivate millions of people across the globe with your own franchise. Bear in mind that this is an accomplishment far easier said than done, but the truth is that franchises certainly have a place in the entertainment industry — and they always will. So it’s absolutely worthwhile to study what goes into creating a franchise like the one based on J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

With Harry Potter and other major film franchises in mind, we’ve summarized four of the most important elements that go into a successful franchise:

Appeals to All Ages


“The Lord of the Rings” is another movie franchise like Harry Potter that was adapted from books and found great success. But while it is considered by many to be the best fantasy series ever made, it didn’t have the same appeal for all age groups due to its more dense backstory, the darker world, etc.

The Harry Potter franchise, on the other hand, was created with the goal that children, teenagers, and parents alike would all be able to get something from it. From the first book/film all the way to the last, relatable things like friendship, hope, and love are represented through a magical world with peculiar people and creatures that appeal to a wide range of ages and personalities.

When considering your own movie franchise, remember that the more people your films appeal to, the greater your chance of success.

Has a Story With Characters That Grow


In the original “Star Wars” trilogy, many characters grew throughout the adventure. We saw Luke Skywalker go from a nobody on a farm, to a rebel fighter, and finally a Jedi hero. Since we were there when his journey started and saw him mature when faced with adversity, we can feel like we had a part in his growth and triumph.

In “Harry Potter,” this same element of the hero’s journey and a character’s full arc is also very prevalent and powerful. The original book/film was aimed at children and featured characters around 10 years of age. But by the end, Harry and the rest were teenagers — just like all the loyal fans of the books and films who grew up alongside their favorite characters.

We’re not saying your characters have to age throughout your franchise. Rather, the takeaway is that it’s important to allow your audience to feel like they can relate and grow alongside your characters. Make sure your viewers can witness your characters evolve and mature, as this will drive the audience’s emotional involvement and make them eager to see where your story takes them next.

Have Relatable Characters & Basic Archetypes


How is it that Disney managed to turn one of their theme park rides into a high-grossing franchise? We’re of course talking about the Pirates of the Caribbean, a runaway hit that’s bred a movie empire. Arguably, part of the success of this franchise can be attributed to its characters, who are firmly rooted in basic archetypes. One example is the hero, Will, who is on a quest to save the girl he loves from a crew of evil pirates. The archetype of the hero, the villain, the wise mentor, etc., can be found in great stories all over the world, and there is a reason that audiences respond to these archetypes. Tap into this powerful storytelling tool with your own future movie franchise.

Relatable characters and well-drawn basic archetypes are arguably one of the biggest reasons the Harry Potter franchise took the world by storm. You have so many characters that, despite living in a magical world, have relatable problems such as fear of girls, homework, etc. They feel familiar to the audience, like old friends. Eventually there are also mature issues that arrive, all while these characters become involved in a traditional tale of good vs. evil. It’s irresistible.

Want your franchise to succeed? Try fitting in archetypes that resonate with most people while creating characters that people can relate to and care about.

Take Them To Another World


Right now, the by-the-numbers most successful (and largest) franchise of all time is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Among the many reasons all these movies are a hit, the biggest one also applies to the comics that inspired them: they transport you somewhere else. You may be on Earth while watching “The Avengers,” but while you’re caught up in the story there are heroes and villains ready to fight for the future of the world.

Children and adults alike who love Harry Potter know what we’re talking about. From the moment viewers board the Hogwarts Express and arrive at the wizard school, they immediately feel enraptured by a world of magic and mystery. The characters still face relatable situations like mean teachers, but in Harry Potter your teacher is a cold, secretive wizard. It’s another world.

When planning your franchise, we suggest spending plenty of time creating the world your story and characters will take part in. It might just be helps viewers fall in love with your film.


What other elements do you notice in your favorite franchise? Let us know in the comments below!

Technical Tips for First-Time Filmmakers


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


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


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 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.



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


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 Films About The “New World” to Watch This Columbus Day

At NYFA, our students come from over 120 countries around the world. So Columbus Day may not be a very familiar holiday for many in our community. And with Indigenous Peoples’ day on the rise as a potential replacement for Columbus Day, this controversial national holiday is an excellent opportunity dig into some big questions about culture, transformation, and change. And what better way to do that than to watch some worthwhile films?

We rounded up some well-crafted movies featuring North and South America around the time of the first European expeditions and colonies, for our students’ consideration. Here are three compelling films you won’t want to miss, each capturing a noteworthy, complex, and multi-dimensional portrayal of the New World. These films may not feature Columbus, but they do explore the question of what the “New World” meant from a few different perspectives.

1. “The Mission” (1986)

Acting giants Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons portray two Spanish Jesuit missionaries with equal passion but strongly differing views on how to protect the South Indian tribe they serve from Portuguese slave traders. “The Mission” is a poignant, intense, and exquisitely rendered film that visual and performing arts students can absorb and study on many levels. 

2. “Apocalypto” (2006)

Director/writer Mel Gibson and partner Farad Safinia’s imaginative portrayal of the Mayan Empire on the verge of collapse vividly calls a lost civilization, language, and way of being to life, with action-packed suspense and lush jungle settings all along the way. The audience follows Jaguar Paw, whose village has been ransacked by a the Mayans for human sacrifices, as he struggles to free himself from a terrible fate as a captive and reunite with his wife. It’s an interesting interpretation of a lost world.

3. “The New World” (2005)

This visually stunning Terrence Malick piece centers on the familiar, fictional love story between the historical characters of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, during one of the British Empire’s initial explorations of the New World. What this film offers is a unique tone and ambiance that bring this raw, wild point of history to life in alternately sumptuous and grim visual language that only Malick can speak. History buffs will also appreciate the inclusion of Pocahontas’ real-life husband, John Rolfe, in the plotline.

Honorary Mention: “Shakespeare in Love” (1998)

True, the action of this film doesn’t take place in the New World — instead, “Shakespeare in Love” centers in 1590s London. This period piece centers on the young and passionate writer, Shakespeare, as he explores a brave new world: falling in love. While this may not seem directly connected to Christopher Columbus or the New World, the British colonies — especially Virginia — do play an important role in a critical plot-twist. Besides, do we really need an excuse to watch this 1990s masterpiece that snagged seven Oscars and changed the way a new generation saw the immortal bard?

We hope this Columbus Day presents you with valuable opportunities to look deeper and go further with the questions and passions that drive us all to create visual and performing art. So immerse, enjoy, and learn from some noteworthy films.

What films are inspiring you this week? What does the New World mean to you? Let us know in the comments below!


3 Filmmaking Lessons from Animals with GoPros

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

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

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

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

1. The Perfect Location Is Out There

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

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

2. Perspective Is Important

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

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

3. Understand Social Interaction

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

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

Have a favorite animal movie or life lesson? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule

How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

Tips on Planning a Production Schedule

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

Get Everyone on the Same Page

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

We understand it. You’re busy.

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

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

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

There’s an App For That

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

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

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

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

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

The Fun Begins

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

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

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

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

Filling the Calendar

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

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

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

And lastly…

Add 10%

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

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

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

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