How To’s

How to Write a Killer Spec Script That Sells

Write first, sell later.

That’s the mantra of a spec scriptwriter.

The practice of writing a spec – or “speculative” – screenplay in the hopes that it’ll later become optioned has quite the precedent; and at certain points in cinema history, it even drove the entire industry.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was one of the first instances of an original spec script sale, going for $40,000 in the 1960s. That’s equal to $2.7 million in today’s money.

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“Good Will Hunting” earned $675,000 for then-unknown Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. “American Beauty” and “Thelma & Louise” picked up $250,000 and $500,000 respectively.

While the market for spec scripts is in a slight trough at the moment, it’s predicted to return in force — so it pays to get ahead of the game.

The Benefits of Working Spec

Spec scripts can be a quick way to a substantial payday. Generally, the script will be forwarded to a number of buyers who are likely to be interested (usually handled by an agent), and if all goes well a bidding war ensues. This is the best possible scenario, because the amounts of money slung around can get insane.

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Widely circulating the script can be a double-edged sword, though; if it fails to garner interest, it’ll be on record as a script that the entire industry passed on. As you can imagine, it’s then very difficult to do anything with it at that point.

But not all is lost! If the script is good but just not quite marketable enough, it could lead on to some lucrative assignment work.

In short, even if your spec script doesn’t get optioned, there’s no finer way of getting your name out there. So let’s focus on how to maximize your chances of nailing it.

1. Presentation

Needless to say, it’s the substance of your script that’ll attract a sale. But it’s the presentation that can kill that sale before a studio even flips the cover.

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Nothing screams “novice” more than a fancy binder, non-standard font, a writer’s Twitter handle and copyright notices all over the title page, and a multitude of pictures and artwork. Refrain from using anything other than 12-point courier and include only the title, your name, and email address on the title page.

If you really can’t quell the burning desire to jazz it up, print it on heavy weight paper. That’s as far from standard as you should venture.

2. It’s ALL About Page One

Conventional wisdom tells us we need to grab our readers within the first few pages of a script.

With a speculative script, it’s more like page one.

As mentioned in our previous post on Billy Wilder’s screenwriting tips, you not only need to “grab ‘em by the throat and not let go,” but you also need to do the following before you get to the bottom of the first page:

  • Establish genre.
  • Set the tone.
  • Introduce your protagonist.
  • Convey their problem and/or objective.
  • Describe the time and place of the journey’s start.

Not only does all of that need to happen in the opening page, but also each and every element needs to be established in an enticing way.

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How this is achieved entirely depends on your individual story, but it’s worth saving the above checklist and referring to it often. If you miss any of those beats, then revisit, rewrite and revise.

3. Don’t Chase Trends

Ask any producer what their biggest bugbear is when it comes to vetting unsolicited scripts, and it’s likely to be the weary feeling of getting yet another vampire script.

Replace vampire with zombie, superhero, young adult, space noir or whatever else might be the trend du jour.

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There’s a big difference between keeping your eye on the market (which you should definitely do as a writer) and trying to rehash whatever was big last summer. There are two very good reasons why you shouldn’t do this: first, it will put you in a huge slush pile with competitors who are doing the same thing, and secondly, if something’s already big you’re probably too late to the game. Executives are planning for what’s going to be big in a couple of years (which is how long it takes to move from optioning a screenplay to getting it into a theater), not what was popular in the last couple of years.

Plus, chasing trends is soul destroying for most of us. And that brings us onto the last, and possibly most important, point:

4. Focus on Writing, Not Selling

Just because the end goal is to get the script optioned (ideally for a decent chunk of change) doesn’t mean that you should put the cart before the horse.

A good script is a sellable script, and everything you learned at screenwriting school is still true; avoid lengthy exposition, define clear character motives, establish strong tone and plot, and make sure your structure is tight.

Writing a great story and making sure it displays your heart and soul is its own reward, but also makes it infinitely more sellable by its very nature.

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In short, never forget the spec script mantra:

Write first, sell later.

Hone your screenwriting skills with our variety of screenwriting degree programs, workshops, and courses. Taught by industry-leading professionals, our workshop-based programs give aspiring writers practical experience in script writing. Learn more about our programs on our Screenwriting School page.

21 Films to Watch Before Going to Film School

If you’re about to begin film school, consider this your essential viewing guide. Below is a list of classic and modern films, in no particular order that should be registered in any film student’s filmography database. Whether for its directing, cinematography, acting or groundbreaking animation and special effects, if you haven’t seen some of the movies on this list, be sure to start “studying.” Just think, at least it’s not a boring novel or math.

godfather

Scene from “The Godfather”

1. The Godfather I & II

Let’s just get these two masterpieces out of the way, as they’re both necessary viewing for any human being—let alone film students. Considered one of the best crime dramas of all time and arguably the greatest films of all time, this Francis Ford Coppola saga is a showcase of an incredible cast, directing, score, cinematography, story…well…let’s just say it has it all. Feel free to skip The Godfather III if you don’t have time. As you will see below, there are plenty of films to see before then.

2. Citizen Kane

Director Orson Welles was only twenty-five when he revolutionized filmmaking in this 1941 classic. Pay particular attention to its cinematography, music, and narrative structure, which were completely innovative for its time and still hold up today.

Scene from "8 1/2"

Scene from “8 1/2”

3. 8 ½

Enter a world like no other in Italian director Federico Fellini’s dreamlike, abstract adventure of a filmmaker who finds himself in a crisis with both his next film and his personal life.

4. Annie Hall

Woody Allen takes the Romantic Comedy to a whole other level in this 1977 Academy Award Winning Best Picture. With its originality and hilarity comes a relatable tale of realistic expectations in relationships.

Scene from "Duck Soup"

Scene from “Duck Soup”

5. Duck Soup

The Marx Bros at their finest. This comedic masterpiece is packed with witty one-liners and slapstick that’ll hold up for centuries to come.

6. Back to the Future

Great, Scott! Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale set the tone for 80’s movies with this story of a teenager who accidentally goes back in time in a Deloreon and winds up potentially altering his own existence.

7. The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di biciclette)

Perhaps one of the best films from the Italian Neorealism era, this simple yet powerful story follows a poor father in post-World War II Rome searching for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job, which was to be the salvation of his young family.

8. Ghostbusters

A group of scientists unfit for the private sector go into business busting ghosts. The overall nuances of comedic timing and all around enjoyment makes this 80s classic a must see. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!

Scene from "Goodfellas"

Scene from “Goodfellas”

9. Goodfellas

Considered one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest films, this 1990 crime drama sets the bar on “wise-guy” films with its incredible acting performances, soundtrack, directing and unforgettable personalities.

10. Raging Bull

There may not be a better pairing in acting for film than Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Scorsese delivers another knockout with this 1980 adaptation of boxer Jake LaMotta’s personal memoirs.

11. Rocky

Adrian, I did it! Sly Stallone made his career by writing and starring in this boxing drama about an Italian southpaw from South Philly.

Scene from "Taxi Driver"

Scene from “Taxi Driver”

12. Taxi Driver

Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader take us into the mind of a PTSD Vietnam Veteran looking for a purpose in the slums of 1970’s New York City.

13. Forrest Gump

Despite his mental simplicities, there’s really nothing that Forrest Gump can’t or hasn’t accomplished.

14. Shawshank Redemption

“Get busy living or get busy dying.” Profound words from this epic film about a man who must survive prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering his wife.

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THE THIRD MAN, Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, 1949

15. The Third Man

Mandatory viewing for those interested in learning more about film noir. Orson Welles delivers with his acting chops in this 1949 British film, which is praised for its score, cinematography, and acting performances.

16. Vertigo

Pioneer of the dolly zoom shot, Alfred Hitchcock proves that he is the master of the psychological thriller.

17. Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino masterfully displays to the world how to take several simple stories and intertwine them into an unforgettable film.

Scene from "Groundhog Day"

Scene from “Groundhog Day”

18. Groundhog Day

Ever feel like you’re trapped in the same day over and over? That’s precisely the dilemma with Bill Murray in this Harold Ramis comedy / drama, and it just so happens to be on Groundhog’s Day.

19. The Shining

Here’s Johnny! If you ever want to get a full understanding of the effects of cabin fever, be sure to watch this Stanley Kubrick thriller starring a deranged Jack Nicholson.

Star Wars

Scene from “Star Wars: A New Hope”

20. Star Wars

Probably the most popular movie franchise in existence, George Lucas created an empire with this wonderfully creative sci-fi, with plenty of metaphors and iconic characters.

21. Casablanca

Storytelling at its best. Humphrey Bogart is forced to choose between his love for Igrid Bergman and helping her Czech Resistance leader husband escape the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

It doesn’t end there. Below is a continuation of recommended viewing for incoming film students.

Seven Samurai

Gone with the Wind

On the Waterfront

Jaws

Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället)

The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups)

Psycho

Toy Story

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Die Hard

Chinatown

Rear Window

North by Northwest

12 Angry Men

Jurassic Park

Alien

Amélie

Fantasia

Fight Club

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Matrix

Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella)

Amadeus

Full Metal Jacket

La Dolce Vita

Bowling for Columbine

Lawrence of Arabia

2001: A Space Odyssey

Memento

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

A Clockwork Orange

Apocalypse Now

Blade Runner

L’Avventura

City of God (Cidade de Deus)

Do you think film students should watch your favorite movie before going to film school? Let us know which film you think deserves to be on this list and why.

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Fictional Books Being Turned into 2016 Films

2016 has shown no departure, thus far, from the successful trend of adapting social media-exploding, literary best-sellers into ultra hyped, big screen affairs. Consider Room, Emma Donoghue’s conceptual, suspense novel, which was released this year as a film, garnering four Oscar nominations and one win. More of 2016’s paper-to-screen transformations have come and gone—perhaps to slightly less fanfare than Room—including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and How to Be Single. Right now, Me Before You, the film adaptation of a novel by the same name, is playing in theatres, and coming up, see childhood classic, The BFG, and recent addition to the Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, both films that transform youthful, heartwarming stories into magical worlds on screen.

Too often, it seems that the time to read a new book has passed before it gets turned into a movie or someone spoils the ending; this is your opportunity to get a leg up on Hollywood. The following novels are in the development stages of film adaptation, some further along than others, none of which, however, are anticipated to be released before 2017. As such, you have until New Year’s Eve (at the very least) to slide on your glasses, curl up on the couch, and dive deep into these treasured tales.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Ava DuVernay

This revered, classic novel is headed for the screen once again. In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry—along with her younger brother, Charles Wallace, and her friend, Calvin— searches for her father after he has mysteriously disappeared during an experiment with the fifth dimension of time travel. Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, is on board to direct the Disney film. Jennifer Lee, who wrote and co-directed Frozen, is writing the adaptation.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Getty Images

Listed by the New York Times as one of the “Ten Best Books of 2013,” Americanah is themed around hardship and racial tension. It follows a man and woman in love as they emigrate, separately, to London and the United States, as well as their difficult endeavors, those stemming from domestic obstacles and those related to multi-continental relationships. The film adaptation is underway, being produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment Inc., set to star David Oyelowo, the Golden Globe winning Selma actor, and Lupita Nyong’o, the Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave actress.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready player one

Set in the year 2044, this dystopian sci-fi novel follows protagonist, Wade Watts, as he searches for happiness and fortune in a mysterious, virtual universe, battling friends and foes along the way. With Steven Spielberg signed on to direct the film version, “it’s a big deal. Any time a best-selling, fan-favorite novel gets a big screen adaptation, it’s a big deal. When the two happen to combine, as they will for 2018’s cinematic translation of Ernest Cline’s pop culture saturated book Ready Player One, you guessed it, it’s a big deal.” (CinemaBlend.com)

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

emma stone

One of two novels by best-selling author Matthew Quick currently being adapted to the big screen (in wake of the 2012 film adaptation of Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook), Love May Fail is the feminist-empowering, dynamic tale of a woman, scorned by her cheating husband and general loss of faith in humanity, who sets out to rediscover herself. The film belongs to the Columbia TriStar division of Sony Pictures with Emma Stone set to star.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

leonard peacock

The other Matthew Quick book heading for Hollywood is Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, the story of a single day in a teenager’s life, specifically the day he has decided to put a gun in his backpack, take it to school, kill his best friend, and kill himself. Channing Tatum is producing the film, while Mike Vukadinovich is set to write the screenplay.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

THE GOLDFINCH

In this insanely popular, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, parent-less Theo Decker moves into his wealthy school friend’s luxurious New York City apartment, growing up to love art and experience life from a unique perspective. The acclaimed screenwriter Peter Straughan will be handling the adaptation, while Warner Bros. and RatPac Entertainment will produce it. For some thoughts on casting, see Entertainment Weekly’s dream picks for the film.

Iluminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

illuminae

“Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents” instead of prose, this action-packed inter-planetary epic is perhaps made most unique by its heroic protagonists, Kady and Ezra, a freshly broken-up couple who must work together if they want to live (GoodReads). After Warner Bros. and Plan B Entertainment announced that they had acquired the rights to Illuminae in 2015, the film has remained in development…as in, no information has been released about casting or the artistry of the adaptation.

Honorable Mention

In case you’re a non-procrastinating, jedi speed reader, or you’re interested in reading the novel forms of film adaptations coming out this year, check out the following books: The Lost City of Z by David Grann, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Silence by Shusaku Endo, Nerve by Jeanne Ryan, and Inferno by Dan Brown.

Writing a Film Business Plan: What Should I Include?

Picture of calculator, glasses, and papers

 

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

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

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

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

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

However You Start, Make Sure You Start

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

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

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

Consider Your Audience

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

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

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

And that’s it. Everything else is secondary.

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

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

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

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

Calculator and pen

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

What Should I Include?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31-365 (Year 8) Accounts

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

In Conclusion…

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

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

Best of luck!

[su_note]Learn more about the Film School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

How To Find A (Good) Film Producer

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Right Film Producer

Super producer Kathleen Kennedy.

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

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

Avoid Pigeonholing

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

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

Finding a Kindred Spirit

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

Do Your Homework

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

Tyler Perry

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

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

Word of Mouth

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

Attend Film Festivals

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

Producers Reception 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

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

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

And most importantly of all…

Be Courteous to the Producer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social media marketing.

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

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

1. Be Personal

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

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

2. Give Something Back

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

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

3. Cast Takeovers

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

4. Share Smart Content

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

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

If you know where to look, there are plenty of online tools and resources to help you craft and customize your content, like Canva and their free Online Facebook Ad Maker.

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

5. Consider Outsourcing

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

6. Ask Questions

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

7. Plan Your Budget

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

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

8.  Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

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

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

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

[su_note]Learn more about the Film School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

5 Movies That Will Never Happen (No Matter How Badly You Want To See Them)

Welcome to development hell. Today, we’re looking at movie concepts that have not just languished for years but decades, but don’t look as if they’re any closer to escaping the singularity. Each of the following projects is a good example of how, even with the perfect vehicle and players, sometimes things don’t line up in Hollywood like we wish they would.

But hey, let’s hedge our bets here—they did end up making The Life of Pi after all, so maybe “never” is too hasty a word.

However, the following five projects are all ones that have been marinating in different Hollywood studios or stuck in pre-production cycles for so long that we’ve just about given up on the hope of seeing these movies come to life (but we’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong!)

A Live-Action Akira Adaptation

Akira motorcycle

It’s been nearly 30 years since the original animated spectacle, but those waiting for a live-action adaptation of the Manga cult classic are still being kept on tenterhooks.

The rights to make it have been with Warner Bros. since 2002, but none have yet to come anywhere close to even getting the project off the ground despite multiple attempts. The latest rumors, however, do look interesting—if the current plans don’t get abandoned once again, we may get not just one but three Akira movies…

… directed by Christopher Nolan no less, and written by one of the Daredevil showrunners. None of this is substantiated in any way at present, and work doesn’t appear to have started.

The Hyperion Cantos

hyperion cantos

Dan Simmons’ hugely celebrated sci-fi masterpiece has long been considered unfilmable owing to its huge scale… and huge is something of an understatement.

The four books making up this Canterbury Tales-esque space opera take place over millennia, with multiple protagonists sharing flashback stories set in a massive range of exotic locales. And given that each book ends in a cliffhanger, there’s no real way to divide the Hyperion Cantos and still provide a satisfying cinematic experience.

Far too large to cover in one movie or arguably even a trilogy, and no studio has committed to taking on the expense of doing it justice. Not even the fans who have been teased with half-rumors of film rights being repeatedly sold over the decades can decide how they’d like to see it done (or what portion of the quadrilogy should be covered.)

After a few years of no news, however, a very recent development has landed. Hyperion has just been picked up by the SyFy channel—not for a movie, but for a miniseries.

Fans remain apprehensive.

Bill & Ted 3

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter from Bill and Ted

This is one that we perhaps should be a little more optimistic for, but if the loveable duo ever do grace our screens once again, we’ll probably be waiting for a few more years to come (on top of the twenty-four we’ve already been waiting.)

Reeves and Winter have always been chipper at the prospect of bringing Bill and Ted back, and appear to have been working hard all these years trying to pull a script together. And it’s not as if the market for 80s and 90s nostalgia and reboots isn’t fertile (hello Ghostbusters), so it looks like all the pieces are in place to make this happen…

… though despite starting concerted efforts back in 2010, there’s still no evidence of even the script having been finalized.

Possibly time to stop holding your breath, dudes.

A Live-Action Adaptation of The Jetsons

Jetsons space car

 

A feature-length adaptation of everyone’s favorite space-age TV family, which ran from 1962 to 1987, has been in the works for over 30 years now.

We did get a lackluster animated feature in 1990, but given that it neatly finished off the family’s story arc and no new TV shows have followed since, nobody seems able to come up with a fresh script. Plenty have tried, and apparently continue to do so.

Unlike the other movies on this list, the bigger question here—and possibly the reason for its tepid status—is whether there’ll even be an audience for it if it does make it to theatres.

Stranger still is the possibility that Kanye West may be the creative director of the project, though he’s since stated it was just an informal conference call that lead to this rumor.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2

Robert Rabbit in handcuff

For the longest time, many key Hollywood players were trying to figure out how to make a Roger Rabbit sequel while still preserving the magic of the original—a movie with a very unique style that may have owed a lot of its success to the time it was released.

But just when it looked almost certain that things were moving forward, all hopes of the loosely titled Who Discovered Roger Rabbit movie entering development faded with the untimely passing of Bob Hoskins (who was interested in reprising the human lead.)

Even if this one sees the light of day, it probably won’t be anything like what fans of the original are hoping to see.

And of course, it has to be said that there’s still a glimmer of hope for all of these titles. The Warcraft video game adaptation has finally escaped development hell after ten years and is due next year, and Mad Max: Fury Road proved that sometimes it’s worth the wait. 

Got any other movies that you’d give your right arm to see even though the chances are slim? Know anything about the above titles that we don’t? Don’t be shy—share all in the comments below!

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

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

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

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

1. Don’t Scrimp on Audio…

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

audio mixing tips

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

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

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

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

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

hire an actor

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

3. Listen to Outside Perspective

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

Film_Director_and_Crew

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

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

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

Why should your production be any different?

storyboarding

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

5. Take Yourself Seriously

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 16.13.16

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

Best of luck!

9 Essential Books on Filmmaking and Directing

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

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

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

9 Best Books on Filmmaking and Directing

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

The Filmmaker’s Handbook

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

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

On Directing Film

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On Directing Film (1992) by David Mamet

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

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

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

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

Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics

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

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

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

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

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

On Film-Making

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

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

In the Blink of an Eye

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

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

Making Movies

Making Movies by Sidney Lumet (1995)

Legendary director Sidney Lumet didn’t see filmmaking as magic, so this magician was more than happy to share his secrets. Lumet wasn’t just a visionary–he was very much a workman, and believed having a clear, firm control of his set would lead to a smooth production that would allow everyone, from crew to cast, to do their best. The five-time Oscar nominee backs up his ideas with sample shot lists and schedules and other practical templates filmmakers can use to this day.

Rebel without a Crew

While Mexican director Robert Rodriguez is now more known for his blockbuster epics like Alita: Battle Angel and the Spy Kids movies, Rodriguez first rose to prominence with his independent film El Mariachi, which he shot with only $7,000. One way he saved money was by serving as his own editor, cinematographer, writer, producer, director, and film scorer–roles he still fills for many of his much higher-budgeted films to this day. His guerilla-style, ultra low-budget take on indie filmmaking is detailed in his book Rebel without a Crew, a must-read for filmmakers who don’t have millions of dollars at their disposal to make the movie of their dreams.

Rebel without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez (1995)

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

5 Golden Rules to Becoming a Filmmaker

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

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

1. Don’t Go It Alone

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

Filmmaking is not one of them.

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

How to become a filmmaker

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

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

2. Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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

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

filmschool tips

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

With that in mind…

3. Revel In The Small Victories

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

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

4. Don’t Just Shoot. Read.

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

film industry blogs

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

5. Be Kind to Others

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

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

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

filmmaking community

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

… let’s keep it that way.

How To Find The Best Documentary Film Job For You

This article is intended as a reference and does not represent a guarantee or implication that NYFA graduates or others reading this article will obtain a job in their chosen career nor can salary be predicted since each job and the salary associated with it depends on the individual attributes of each applicant and on circumstances not within the control of any applicant.

It’s never been easier to become an amateur documentary filmmaker, with some even managing to create acclaimed documentaries, despite not having a crew (such as the successful environmental documentary Gasland.)

That all said, this lower barrier to creating documentaries, simply from a technical and creative standpoint, has increased the competition dramatically to break into the field on a professional level. Your odds are even more stacked against you if you’re not surrounded by a talented team, and numerous disciplines are required to bring your vision to life.

Training at documentary filmmaking school help get you closer to your goals of creating quality work, but following graduation you’ll need to decide which type of team member you’d like to become, if you want to become a professional. To aid in this regard, scroll down for an exploration of the main roles in documentary filmmaking and the career paths some people follow.

Documentary Filmmaking Jobs: Career Paths

Producer

documentary production jobs

The role of a documentary producer – or any producer, for that matter – is hotly contested, but simply put the producer is the person who makes it all happen. Nearly always responsible for fundraising and developing the overall idea, quite often in charge of pulling together the necessary crew, and occasionally getting hands-on with other tasks such as editing and camera duties.

Documentary Producer Career Path:A general understanding of the industry as a whole as well as the various disciplines within the field can be gained at documentary filmmaking school, but some documentary producers learned about the industry on their own and made careers for themselves through hard work, starting in low-level, even unpaid, production assistance jobs and then tried their hand at producing and learnd most of what they know through experience and trial and error.

Pros: Depending on contracts, you’ll get the lion’s share of the project’s revenue…

Cons: … if there’s any to share.

Researcher

film researcher salary

Naturally, any film project dealing with non-fiction material can benefit from a professional researcher who can get arms-deep in the subject matter and communicate all the pertinent information to others on the team. Such professionals usually work in factual TV programming for a network rather than on feature length documentaries, though many undertake work in both fields in order to keep their income stream even.

Documentary Researcher Career Path: Hard graft. Junior researchers are increasingly working for little or no pay (often as a runner) before being offered contracted positions. It’s not uncommon for someone with no experience in filmmaking but with a high degree of knowledge in a niche subject to be hired as an advisor for large projects.

Pros: There’s a good chance you’ll get to travel a lot with the job, which some researchers relish.

Cons: As mentioned, it’s tough to break into paid work (and that work can be sporadic.) The job can also be extremely high pressured with long working hours and tight deadlines.

Director of Photography

cinematography jobs

Also known as a documentary cinematographer, a DP works closely with the documentary’s director and/or producer in order to bring the vision of the project to life. The responsibilities involved with cinematography are arguably the biggest of the whole project, and being both highly creative and extremely knowledgable from a technical standpoint is necessary for the role.

Documentary Cinematographer Career Path: There are numerous paths to working up to a DP position and we’ve covered them in further depth here, but suffice to say it takes a lot of perseverance and grit.

Pros: The perfect role for those who live and breath documentary filmmaking and love to inject their own personality and creativity into their work.

Cons: The success – or failure – of a project often lies squarely on your shoulders.

Documentary Sound Designer

sound designer jobs

While the director of photography is in charge of all the visual elements of the documentary, the sound designer is – as you can probably guess – the master of audio. From scoring the documentary to making sure all interviewees are audible and mastering the final mix, the sound designer is instrumental in bringing balance and mood to a documentary project.

Sound Designer Career Path: Any kind of audio engineering training and/or qualifications can help attract interest in your services. Starting off small is often the way to go, beginning as a runner, then boom operator, then junior mixer and onwards.

Pros: As a central part of the team, the job satisfaction of a perfectly executed final mix can be exhilarating.

Cons: If you think it’s all about having fun in an editing suite, just wait until you have go through the teeth-pulling exercise of seeking copyright clearance for a hundred different pieces of audio.

Writer

Screenwriter salary

The concept of a non-fiction documentary having a writer is one that puzzles those outside of the industry, but there is indeed a call for them – while the definition can be fairly fluid, voice overs and narration are usually the documentary writer’s main remit, alongside working with the director and editor to shape the narrative of the film as a whole.

Documentary Writer Career Path: There’s really no set road to success here, especially given that the producer/director on a project often wears the writer’s hat themselves. That said, if a dedicated writer is needed on a documentary, those with an existing screenwriting portfolio will be favored for the job.

Pros: You’re offered all the same benefits by the Writers Guild that your fiction writing cousins enjoy.

Cons: Having to explain, over and over, that just because a documentary has a writer doesn’t mean it’s ‘made up’.

Camera Operator

camera operator jobs

Naturally, a documentary team will be somewhat stuck without at least one person who knows how to work a camera. Working directly under the director of photography, the camera operator in a documentary setting often has to think fast to get the best out of the unscripted events unfolding in front of them.

Camera Operator Career Path: Any time spent at filmmaking school in order to learn the ins and outs of key equipment will benefit a budding camera operator, alongside gaining experience in the specific field – i.e news, film or documentary – the operator is pursuing in the long term.

Pros: No two days will ever be the same, with projects often seeing you travel far and wide to cover diverse subject matter (especially if you’re a gun for hire). Work is relatively plentiful too once you’ve built a network of contacts.

Cons: Time and budget constraints can often make it a challenging job.


 

Want to explore further jobs in the wider industry? Check out our earlier guide on jobs in film.

Learn more about our 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking Program.

The Best Sites for Green Screen Video Footage

Using green screen — or chroma keying — is a great way of reducing costs and making your film project fantastic, even if (or especially if) you’re on a budget. It can also make it possible to create footage and effects that wouldn’t normally be possible without an extensive amount of travel or costly set design.

Green Screen Set

We’ve previously covered the best practices of chroma keying as part of our broadcast journalism resources, but that leaves the question of where to get green screen footage from. Luckily, there are many companies out there that will provide you with whatever green screen footage that you need, from exotic locations to stock animal footage and beyond.

Some offer one off-sales while others run via a membership scheme, and there are even some sites which provide green screen footage free of charge. We’ve gathered 11 of the best sites for green screen video footage:

The Best Sites for Green Screen Video Footage

11. Motion Array

Motion Array offers over 160,000 stock videos, with various pricing plans available. Video footage includes everything from beautiful landscapes to office backgrounds.

The free option offers 1GB of storage while the $29/month plan offers 10GB and the $192 annual plan offers 20GB. 

10. Shutterstock Video

With over 2 million royalty-free videos and one of the most popular names on this list, Shutterstock makes for a useful site to use when thinking about greenscreen. The company has a wide range of categories to choose from including aerial shots, celebrities and time-lapse footage.

best sites for green screen video footage

You can either choose to download a single video at a time or you can select a bundle:

Low definition starts from $79 for 5 videos, standard definition starts from $299 and HD videos starts from $369. The site does offer 4k quality videos, but these are not currently included in a bundle and cost $299 per video.

9. Hollywood Camera Work

This site provides some free VFX Plates to download and test. It’s especially useful for film school students as there are some interesting shots that can be used to hone your skills, such as an embassy shoot out or an F15 fly over. It also has different effects like sunglasses reflections.

Hollywood camera works

There are some caveats for allowing you to use the clips, like linking back to the website rather than the video page and not hosting the videos yourself, but other than that, they are free to use.

The videos have been uploaded in HD at 1080p and 720p and the aspect ratios are provided. The site also confirms what ratio has been used so you can get the perfect shot.

8. Green Screen Films

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Green Screen Films offers an alternative if you are looking to use the footage for a commercial. It provides you with stock footage that can be used with the background of your choice, and there’s a range of options to filter through (including business, touch screen, and animals.) There is also the option for the site to create a video of your choosing.

Prices range from $19 for web quality to $129 for HD Broadcast.

7. Video Blocks

Video Blocks gives you the option of using one of their backgrounds or providing your own background for the footage provided. The stock green screen footage ranges from live dancers to studio sets, with clips being 100% royalty-free (and there are no hidden fees).

Green Screen royalty free

Users have unlimited downloads and the videos are regularly updated. Additionally, there are long term contracts, so you can keep the downloaded content indefinitely.

6. Dissolve

This site is for more professional projects, providing high-quality footage that can be used in advertising, corporate videos, and more alongside green screen footage. The site also provides great usage ideas to help you along.

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At $50 per clip, this site may not be for the filmmaker on a budget, but the quality of the clips is outstanding.

5. iStock

iStock is a popular site now run by Getty Images, and with that provides the type of quality you would expect from the stock conglomerate. It allows first time users to download one video for free, but thereafter charges for each download.

istock green screen

You can either chose to purchase credits at a cost of $30 for 3 credits or you can subscribe for a monthly discount. While pricey, the videos you purchase are royalty-free.

4. Pond 5

Pond 5 offers all sorts of stock photography and green screen footage. Like some of the entries above, it provides the video.

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The downloads are all royalty-free and you can search for the video you want using filters to whittle down the options. Prices are on a video by video basis but at $69 per download, the downside is that Pond 5 is fairly expensive.  

3. Green Screen Animals

Green Screen Animals offers what it says on the tin – videos of animals that you can superimpose onto any background you wish. Whether it be a roaring lion or an American bullfrog, this site can provide you with your exotic animal requirements.

green screen animal

Pricing varies quite a bit, but as an example, the cost of using the bullfrog video for an advertisement is an eye-watering $2,700 (which reflects the uniqueness of the footage).

2. Dreamstime

This site provides a wide variety of professional SD and HD royalty free footage, including 2D and 3D animation, travel footage, and animal footage. The pricing is based on a credit system, with SD quality costing 15 credits and 4k resolution costing 90 credits.

green screen stock footage

Although this is a British site, you can buy credit packages through PayPal for as little as $15.73 for 11 credits.

1. Footage Island

Footage Island is a YouTube channel that provides totally free footage for various projects, both personal and professional – perfect for those creating projects at film school. The uploader provides a wide range of handy green screen essentials such as flag animation, logo animation, surveillance security camera overlays, and things of that ilk.

youtube green screen

If the above sites are too expensive then you can always learn How To Create a Green Screen on a Budget. Know of any great sites for green screen video footage that we might have missed out? Help out the filmmaking community by letting us know in the comments below.

Interested in upping your game in the film industry? Check out New York Film Academy to learn more about the world’s most hands-on, intensive film programs.

How To Make A Website For Your Film

How to create a website for your film

It’s no surprise that in an age where everything is accessible through the touch of a screen, your existence is basically void without a website. So when it comes to promoting a film, sure, posters do a great job and have been a quintessential part of the process, but unless you’re identifiable on the Web, your audience reach will seriously suffer. I mean, there are only so many public bathroom doors and telegraph poles you can physically get to with hard-copy ads. Even if you had the funds to go as big as billboards, having a website instantly multiplies your chances of international stardom.

But don’t be discouraged by the technicality that goes into creating a website, because lucky for you, many wonderful tech-whizzes who’ve come before you have taken care of the hard part. Building one from scratch can be done without any HTML coding knowledge or graphic design skills. Here are 4 simple steps on how to get started:

1. Find A Web Host

Put simply, web hosting is when a company provides a location for you to place your website and makes it available to the world. Web hosts generally require a small monthly payment (usually around $3-$4 per month) but most of them also provide a service to register your domain name and easily install popular Content Management Systems (CMS) (we’ll explain what these are in a minute). Choosing a good web hosting service really comes down to your budget and how extensive your website’s requirements are, but your options are endless so a little research will go a long way.

2. Get A Domain Name

Your domain name is basically your identity or address on the Web e.g. thisisyourwebsite.com. It should be as simple, short and straight-forward as possible. Domain names can only be used once so when you register yours, you may have to try a few combinations to get something that hasn’t already been taken. Useful Tip: adding the word “film” or “movie” at the end of your film title is quite common as it’s simple yet still unique e.g. avengersmovie.com.

3. Install WordPress

WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS), an application that allows you to build your website by essentially adding and managing content i.e. images, videos etc. The 3 platforms currently dominating the Web are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla but WordPress comes out at top as the most popular:

CMS Systems

And for good reason – it’s not only the easiest to use for non-tech-savvy individuals but it’s also free and offers tons of themes/layouts to choose from, along with great plugins that allow you to add all sorts of functionality (from search engine optimization to contact forms) without having to know any coding.

Almost all reliable web hosts have integrated a one-step WordPress installation option so just click away and you should be able to access your new WordPress site right away. The first thing to do after logging into WordPress is to choose a theme/layout to start building your site. WordPress usually has specific themes for specific website topics, including ‘movie website’ themes like so:

Avatar Website

Filmstar website

Twilight website

You can pay for themes that look fancier with greater functionality but don’t dismiss the free ones before checking them out – there are some killer free ones that still look high-grade and professional.

4. Add content & build pages

As complicated and high-tech as some big-budget Hollywood film websites may appear, they’re always short and simple when it comes to information and content pages. The standard things they’ll always include, however, are as follows:

  • A trailer
  • Release date information
  • Synopsis/storyline
  • Awards and nominations and/or critics’ ratings
  • Names of cast, crew members and all companies/studios involved
  • Images and videos of the main cast
  • Social media buttons and icons

Crash website

Boyhood website

Wolf of Wall Street website

Generally everything else is optional. It’s really up to you to add things like “About” pages or further information on the making of the film etc. Keep in mind, however, just as you would with a promotional poster, you don’t want to give too much away; focusing on powerful and artistic visuals is the key to instantly grabbing their attention and ultimately making them want to watch the film.

With that in mind, one thing you’ll most definitely want to get well-acquainted with is plugins. Plugins help you optimize the functionality of your site and make it look awesome whilst making life much easier for the user. Here’s a list of the Top 100 WordPress Plugins by Tom Ewer that should come in handy.

So there you have it! You’ll be well on your way to becoming a critically-acclaimed filmmaker in no time with your kick-ass website – with the added bonus of knowing you could always pursue graphic design or web development if that fails.

Best Websites for Promoting Your Film Online

So you’ve worked your way through film school, studied the craft from every angle and thrown everything you’ve learned at your debut film. Over the course of a few months, you see your creative vision come to life; the pieces slowly fall into place, and when they do, you have a polished film that you’re proud of and ready to show the world.

But that’s only half the battle. An arguably bigger challenge lies before you: actually showing it to the world.

best websites for promoting your film online

But don’t throw in the towel just yet. Scroll on and discover…

The Best Websites for Promoting Your Film Online

Filmmakers go to film school to study filmmaking – of course – and as a result are great at making films. On the other hand, the principles of marketing don’t always come second nature to creative types, but it’s an important side to the business filmmaking that can make or break a project.

Luckily, it’s now easier than ever to give your film the marketing push it needs thanks to these five great film promotion websites.

1. WithoutABox

WithoutABox is a widely renowned service that comes with a number of features, including avenues for self-distribution and a space to upload trailers and promo packages. But the biggest pull for filmmakers is that the site makes it exceptionally easy to submit to over 850 of the main film festivals around the globe, filterable by location, genre and entry fee (with prices ranging between no cost at all and $75.)

Film festival submission list

Signing up for the site itself is totally free, and it’s as useful for those who have finished screenwriting school as it is for filmmakers.

2. Short-Filmz.com

Made a short which you want to get out there? Head on over to Short-Filmz.com, fill out the two-minute submission form and you’ll be one step closer to finding your audience.

Film distribution resources
The site accepts submissions of every genre and displays them prominently on the homepage for prospective viewers, and singles out notable works for further promotion. It is also hosting a short film contest which is voted on by visitors. While the amount of traffic the site garners isn’t off the chart at present, it is noted for its curation quality by human editors and certainly worth the time it takes to list your short.

3. Sonnyboo’s TV Outlet List

Peter Ross, A.K.A Sonnyboo, has long been a champion of independent filmmaking, having been selflessly providing great resources to those out in the field since 1999. His TV Outlet page is a great example – a very comprehensive list of shows and networks that are actively seeking shorts, along with a concise description of what they’re looking for and how to submit.

4. IndieReign

As we’ve covered previously, Netflix is the golden bullet for an indie filmmaker trying to get their work seen, but it’s almost impossible to get listed and the rewards aren’t often as good as you might imagine. That’s where IndieReign comes in.

indie filmmaker promotion

A young start-up company designed to champion indie works and put power back into the hands of creators, IndieReign strikes a fine balance between sites like YouTube and Netflix by allowing indie filmmakers to upload their work directly. Aside from a 30% fee going to the site, all profits from sales and rentals go directly into the filmmaker’s PayPal account – given how intuitive and easy the platform is to work with, it makes for a great place which you can direct potential viewers to (assuming you’re not offering your film for free).

Know of any more killer websites for promoting your film online? Help out the community by leaving your hot tips in the comments below!

**For more tips on promoting your film check out our article on How to Make Movie Posters to Promote Your Film.

How To Make Movie Posters To Promote Your Film

how to make a movie poster

You’ve managed to give up every social occasion that’s come your way in God knows how long; sacrificed all that income and more sleep than should be allowed for someone trying to maintain their sanity… and it all comes down to this – the masterpiece your inner creative genius had envisioned all along. Your film is brilliant and the only thing left is to share your art with the world. That or you’ve been the lucky one assigned to create the introduction to so-called genius’ masterpiece. Either way, promotion is imperative so first things first – you must make a poster.

Films have been promoting themselves with posters since the age of dawn – well, since around 1900 when French magician Georges Méliès produced the first motion picture, to be precise. Point is, it’s a tradition that lives on for good reason. We’re a visual species we are and a poster can be the best way to captivate an audience and leave them wanting more.

“So how should I go about making one?” I hear you ask. Well, here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

  • If you haven’t already, create a mind-map of your target audience and the message you want to send out
  • With the above in mind, think of some layout designs i.e. fonts, images, colors etc. that make your poster really pop
  • Research, research, research! The Internet is a wonderful thing and can give you an endless amount of information on different color schemes, font sizes or image placement and what they connote in order to send the right message
  • If appropriate with the theme and concept, make sure to get some great photo images of the main actors to include in your poster – audiences like to know who they’ll be seeing on screen
  • Get inspired – social networking platforms like Pinterest are amazing for design inspiration.

Here are a few examples:

> Movie Posters

> Minimalist Movie Posters

> Best Movie Posters

> Classic Movie Posters

> Overly Dramatic Disney Movie Posters

  • Get acquainted with editing software like Adobe Photoshop. I cannot stress enough how useful this tool can be for any task related to design – not to mention the money you’ll save doing it yourself.
  • Useful Tip: Use 300dpi resolution and CMYK color format. Also, every country has a different specification for movie poster sizes but the standard U.S. size is 27 inches in width x 40 inches in height, commonly referred to as “the one sheet”.

Here are some helpful guides on using Photoshop to make your poster:

> 12 Beginner Tutorials For Getting Started With Photoshop

> How To Design A Movie Poster In Photoshop

> Creating A Composite Movie Poster: Photoshop Tutorial

> Movie Poster Style Color Grading – Photoshop Tutorial

And also some handy links to free movie poster templates compatible with Photoshop:

> Film Poster Template

> Movie Poster Template

> Thriller Movie Poster Template

Whether you’re the all-encompassing filmmaker wanting to create your own movie poster or you’ve been assigned the job of creating one for someone else, these tips will ensure you get a good start in doing the film/masterpiece justice. And remember, keep it relevant – the poster is essentially the introduction to what the audience should expect from the movie so stick to a central theme. And lastly, be creative!

How to Pay For Film School: Student Financing Options

It would be disingenuous to pretend that attending film school – or any higher level education, for that matter – isn’t a costly endeavor. At the same time, it should be recognized that the costs associated with attending film school should be considered as a great investment rather than an unnecessary expense; graduating from film school can accelerate your whole career to follow and lead to better paying work, faster.

how to pay for film school

But the question of how to pay for film or acting school in the first place remains, and it’s one of the biggest concerns most prospective students have. Luckily, there are numerous ways to ease the financial burden. The main two for most students are loans and grants.

Student Loans for Film School

In the absence of a personal sponsor (i.e a family member willing to cover costs), most students rely on student loans to cover the bulk of the tuition fees and living expenses alongside part-time work in some cases. In fact, around 60% of the country’s 20 million college students rely on student loans to see them through.

The idea of taking on any kind of loan can be a daunting one, but bear in mind that a student loan can be one of the most affordable types of credit anyone is likely to be offered during their lifetime. Certain types of federal loans – given directly to the student by the government – are actually offered without any interest while attending school, these are known as ‘subsidized’ federal loans, so you won’t begin accruing interest on the loan until you begin repayment 6 months after you have completed or left the program. However, given that the government pays the interest for you in this scenario, subsidized loans are naturally more tricky to apply for as you’ll probably have to provide evidence that you’re really in need of the money. All applications for Federal student aid start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The Financial Aid staff is available to assist with this application and can be contacted by emailing: financialaid@nyfa.edu

Federal loans

Unsubsidized federal loans are made available to nearly every student who applies, and the interest rates are still remarkably low. And regardless of whether it’s a subsidized or unsubsidized loan, in most cases you won’t need to start paying it back until six months after you graduate.

How Much Will I Receive for my Student Loan?

There really isn’t a blanket answer to this question that wouldn’t run over multiple pages. This is mainly because the amount you’re eligible for varies on a wide number of factors, the main ones being:

  • Whether the loan is subsidized
  • If the US Department of Education determines you to be a dependent or independent student
  • To what level of education you’re studying (mainly under or post-graduate)
  • Your demonstration of financial need

In addition, the maximum limits for borrowing are set by Congress and are subject to change in any given year, but at the time of writing loan limits range between $5,500 to $12,500 depending on the factors listed above. Before borrowing, you should be clear on the total amount you will be required to re-pay and all repayment option available to you. The best course of action is to speak to one of our friendly Financial Aid experts who’ll be able to provide more personalized information and assist further.

Private Student Loans

While private loans offered specifically for studies come with attractive interest rates, they usually cost more in the long run than any kind of federal loan.

That said, if the maximum amount being lent by the government doesn’t quite cover your expected tuition fees and living expenses they can be the most affordable way to ‘top up’ your borrowing. Just be very aware of all the terms, rates and fine print before signing on the dotted line (as with any financial contract), and make doubly sure you understand the repayment terms and the implications of lapsing on these. More information on Private Loans can be found here.

Film School Grants and Scholarships

Who doesn’t like free money? That’s essentially what grants and scholarships are, but of course there are a few hoops you’ll need to jump through in order to find out if you’re able to get some. Once again, it largely depends on personal circumstance and the best thing to do is speak to the Financial Aid department. As an overview, the main distinction between grants and scholarships is that the former is usually awarded to those who are struggling financially, and demonstrate significant financial need, whereas scholarships are given to those who have displayed extreme academic prowess prior to applying.

Federal Pell Grants are offered to students that have completed a FAFSA and have been determined by the US Department of Education and the Financial Aid office at NYFA to be eligible for this grant program. Federal Pell Grant funds are gifts from the government and are not repaid. Grant awards vary per year and may range between $500 and $6,195 per calendar year.

Additional resources include State grant awards as well as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG). The Parent PLUS loan program is another option.

NYFA is a proud member of the Yellow Ribbon program, a voluntary grant program which supplements the educational benefits given to veterans under the Post 9/11 GI Bill – factoring in the combination of educational benefits and tuition assistance offered by NYFA, it’s often the case that all of the veteran’s tuition fees are covered. Similar tuition assistance are offered to those who are registered with a disability, and the New York Film Academy also offers tuition assistance to students demonstrating financial need.

film school scholarships and grants

All in all, there are plenty of options out there for those wondering how to pay for film or acting school. All that remains is to check out the various options based on your individual situation, decide which is best for you, then prepare to embark on the biggest turning point of your career in cinema.

BFA Film vs BA Film: Which Is Best?

An amazing career in filmmaking often starts with a great education, and prospective students have more than a few options to choose from in this regard. Since the great rewards that come with having a high profile degree often require years of study to attain, the decision of which film degree to go for can be a huge one (and, of course, it is not one that should be taken lightly.)

BA vs BFA Filmmaking

One of the biggest crossroads which prospective film students find themselves at involves the differences between the BA and BFA film programs. If you’re currently asking yourself “BA vs BFA Film: which is best for me?”, read on as we discuss the distinctions between these two popular filmmaking degrees.

BA vs BFA Film Programs

Both the BA and BFA film degrees are designed to give students of the craft a deep understanding of what goes into creating a movie masterpiece, as well as how the industry as a whole operates. With this in mind, does it particularly matter which one you choose?

BA or BFA Filmmaking

In one sense, not particularly; both are recognized qualifications and will set you up for career success following graduation. But if you’re a very motivated student who wants to dig a little deeper and get more out of your time at film school, you’ll probably fare better embarking on a BFA in film.

Benefits of Choosing a BFA

The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, as the name implies, provides a slightly more in-depth study of the craft (as a whole) and as a result is more intensive.

This is evidenced by the fact that a BFA degree can take longer to complete than the BA equivalent – usually four years vs. three years – though it should be noted that BFA Film degrees can be completed in three years when done on an accelerated basis (i.e. three semesters per academic rather than two).

BFA Filmmaking degrees

One of the added benefits of undertaking an accelerated BFA degree is, of course, the time saved; you’ll be able to start your career a year early and begin the process of gaining internships and netting paid work while standard BFA Film students are still completing their final year. A natural follow-on from this is the financial benefit of saving on tuition and living expenses which would have been otherwise used up by a fourth year of study.

Other considerations that should be made when weighing up your options include:

  • Will you be able to work with numerous film formats, e.g. 16mm, 35mm, HD and RED Dragon?
  • Does the course structure only cover a single aspect of the filmmaking process, or will you get the chance to master screenwriting, directing, producing and editing for a more well-rounded understanding?
  • Does the film school location allow for a variety of shooting locations?
  • Is the program solely grounded in academic/theoretical study, or will you be learning through actually making films during the course of the year?
  • Will you graduate from the program with a polished and usable portfolio of completed film work which you can use to gain professional work?

Our own BFA in Film program – conducted at our Los Angeles campus – is worth checking out since it ticks all the right boxes in terms of offering a well-rounded learning experience. Students will also delve deep into liberal arts and science courses to help supplement the core understanding of the filmmaking process; students won’t simply learn how to shoot film, but will also gain an in-depth knowledge of how and why certain techniques are (and have been) used.

bfa-film-1400x500-2

Ultimately, a filmmaking student should be looking to find his or her own cinematographic ‘voice’, and a BFA Film degree can help you achieve just that. If you’re exceptionally motivated and ready to begin the first step of an intensive journey in film, head over to the program page and check out the full details of what might be the biggest turning point of your career.

How to Watch ‘The Interview’ Online

By now you’ll have already heard the massive furore that was caused by Seth Rogan’s The Interview, the North Korean-lampooning movie which sparked an international diplomatic headache. As a unique and surprising turn of events, the release controversy may end up going down in history and studied at film schools as a case study for years to come, and at the very least it raises some pretty huge questions about the nature of parody and how best to respond to terrorist threats.

But for now at least, the dust has settled and the movie has finally been released… albeit in online streaming format only.

So, how to watch The Interview? Putting aside the fact it’s getting lukewarm reviews, you probably want to watch it to see what all the fuss was about. Here, we talk you through your online streaming options.

How to Watch The Interview: Online Streaming

how to watch the interview online

Firstly, you’ll be wondering how much The Interview costs to stream. Here you’ve got two options – if you want to rent it (for up to 48 hours), it’ll cost you $5.99 or you can buy an unlimited pass to ‘own’ the stream for $14.99.

Here’s where to see it:

Sony’s House (Ideal Desktop Option)

Sony has set up a website specifically for streaming the movie – head over to SeeTheInterview.com with your credit card at the ready, and you’ll be watching it in no time.

We’ve tested it in most desktop browsers and it performs fine, although it should be noted that payments are being handled by Stripe and that they don’t offer support for PayPal (or anything else that isn’t one of the major card names).

Google Play

If you’re looking to stream on a portable device or tablet, Google Play is probably your best bet aside from YouTube (see below). The Google Play app will work on some iDevices as well as nearly all Android devices, and is an excellent choice for playing it on your TV: hook it up with either Roku, Nexus TV or the new Chromecast dongle and you’re good to go.

YouTube

It’s not everyone’s first choice for renting/buying feature length movies, but Sony seems like they’re trying to change that by offering The Interview on YouTube.

To get it there, head over to YouTube’s official portal for buying or renting movies. This will work in a desktop browser (again, we’ve tested most of them and it streams fine) or through the YouTube apps for Apple TV, Playstation and Xbox.

And speaking of Xbox…

Microsoft’s Stream

Microsoft have put The Interview up for those who have a Windows 8-powered phone or tablet, and it’s also accessible through the Xbox. You can also watch it via Xbox Video on any standard desktop web browser – Windows or Mac OS – but you’ll need a Microsoft account to sign in to first.

Here’s the link to The Interview on the Xbox Video site: video.xbox.com/movie/the-interview/

How to Watch The Interview in the UK

Don’t live in the US or Canada? Bad news for those wanting to stream The Interview: you can’t.

Probably to the real-life Kim Jong Un’s delight.

 

Any of the options listed above only work if you’re connecting with a US/Canadian IP address, and can pay with a credit card from one of those two countries. Of course, there are ways and means around those restrictions, but they’re quite laborious from a technical standpoint and can get a little fuzzy when it comes to the legalities. Speaking of which:

A Word of Warning…

Given both the confusion of where to watch The Interview as well as the fact that it’s available for online streaming only, there have been reports of plenty of spammers and scammers trying to take advantage of this. It should be noted that if you find The Interview available anywhere other than the above listed locations, chances are very high that it’s not an authorized source and you’re putting yourself at risk of both malware and illegal copyright infringement by clicking such links. These sites are used for speed dating. If you’re still considering breaking the law in an attempt to watch it for free, ask yourself if wading through a thousand spammy websites and dead links before you find a working stream is worth it just to save a few bucks.

 

So that’s how to stream The Interview online (legally!) Have you seen the movie yet? If so, what did you think of it? If not, why not? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!

The Best Cinematography: A Look At Slumdog Millionaire

Composite image from Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire was an expected David that became an unstoppable Goliath during the 2009 Academy Awards, picking up several Oscars including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Accepting the Best Cinematography award was the film’s director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle. Mantle has worked with Slumdog director Danny Boyle before and since his win, has shot 28 Days Later, Millions, 127 Hours, and Trance. He’s also a frequent collaborator with Lars Von Trier, having DPed on Dogville, Manderlay and Antichrist. Some of his recent work has been the nuts-and-bolts sci-fi flick Dredd and Ron Howard’s adrenaline-fueled biopic Rush.

Slumdog’s win in the Cinematography category was seen as a big win for digital filmmaking, as large portions of the film were shot digitally. However, a lot of the movie was shot traditionally, in 35mm. Part of the reason the film mixed formats was Danny Boyle’s eccentric style—he is a visually inventive director who likes to push against the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. He and Mantle were also not new to digital—28 Days Later was shot in the lower quality MiniDV.

However, there was a more tangible logic to the decision, especially concerning the scenes set in the Mumbai slums. Shooting on location in the cramped, crowded real-life slums was important to Boyle, who wanted to faithfully capture the mood and place of the community. Feeling that large, Hollywood-sized 35mm camera rigs would draw unwanted attention and disrupt the natural routines of the neighborhood, Boyle tasked Mantle with finding a suitably low-key digital camera setup.

Quickly realizing MiniDV was an inadequate format for naturally lit on-location shoots, Mantle eventually settled on using the Silicon Imaging SI-2K Digital Camera. The camera had 11 stops of range allowing for a broad latitude of highlights and shadows while still remaining small and compact enough for Mantle to bring into the slums. The camera was an advanced novelty at the time, recording uncompressed raw footage to a nearby laptop in 2K quality as opposed to capturing specifically formatted images.

Children running through the alley in Sumdog Millionaire

Once they selected the SI-2K, the crew got to work customizing it for Slumdog’s shoot. The camera’s body—its processing hardware—was replaced by laptops that could be worn in discreet backpacks, greatly increasing the mobility of the lens itself. The crew also attached a gyro to the lens, allowing Mantle to move the camera in all sorts of directions at quick speeds without jarring the image, creating a look somewhere between handheld and Steadicam. Mantle operated the camera this way himself, which many cinematographers opt not to do, and has been praised for his ingenuity and skill with the unique rig.

Before shooting, the new camera system was tested in hot saunas to replicate the Indian climate. They quickly realized the heat and humidity were very dangerous to the expensive equipment, and forced the crew to pack the camera’s laptops with forty-five pounds of dry ice being continuously replenished each day. All of this extra effort was well worth it, and Mantle achieved the emotionally intimate look at the Mumbai shantytowns that Boyle had hoped for.

The SI-2K was primarily intended for these difficult scenes—Boyle planned to use 3-perf Super 35mm for the majority of the shoot. However, the director was so impressed with Mantle’s skill with and the look of the digital camera that it was used for more and more of the shoot. The cheaper, easier medium also allowed Boyle to experiment and get more footage than the budget could have afforded had they kept to 35mm.

Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire

Other cinematographic techniques used in the film include the replication of India’s game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The TV phenomenon has a look all of its own, with lighting and camerawork unfamiliar to most film styles. The game show was the narrative centerpiece of the film, so combining the looks was essential for the crew.

Slumdog Millionaire also concludes with a Bollywood-style dance number at the very end of the film. While the rest of the movie is much more resembling of a typical Danny Boyle, Western-style production, the filmmakers felt a Bollywood number would fit and was somewhat expected in such a thoroughly Indian story. Its energetic direction and upbeat style matched the tone of the film’s happy ending and the sequence feels surprisingly part of a whole, and not a jarring post-credits gimmick.

The movie used five different film stocks in total, combining them in a way that was both seamless and diverse. The brightly enhanced colors and dynamic use of shadows and range created a distinctive look for the film that also enhanced the emotions of the young characters, tying Slumdog’s cinematography in with its storytelling. Its cohesive mastery over these filmmaking techniques makes it no surprise the film won both Best Cinematography and Best Picture.

Dev Patel and Freida Pinto dance in Slumdog Millionaire

Interview with Five-Time New York Film Academy Alum Tanner Cusumano

While it’s not uncommon for students at the New York Film Academy to come back to further their studies, filmmaker Tanner Cusumano has the distinction of attending our film camps five times in a row. The experiences enabled him to write, direct, and edit several short films that have appeared in a number of prestigious film festivals.

We recently sat down with Tanner to talk about his experiences at the New York Film Academy, what he learned over the course of his five summers at the Los Angeles campus, and how he’s applying the skills he acquired to his current projects. Check out the 4 minute teaser video below and scroll down to read the full transcript of his interview.

TRANSCRIPT

Hi, my name is Tanner Cusumano and I’m a five-time New York Film Academy alum.

NYFA: How did you into filmmaking?

TANNER CUSUMANO: My grandfather was really into film, just as a hobby. He originally worked for the Department of Water and Power. So I’d go over to his house and he would just do like little skits with his little camcorder and that’s how I kind of got started. And I think I was watching TV and there was an ad actually for the New York Film Academy and I was like “Oh, that sounds interesting.” And then I went on your guys’ website and looked up a couple of your programs. That’s how I actually got started at NYFA.

And then I went the first year and really liked it. Then I went the second year and really liked it. And did that five times. [laughs]

NYFA: Anything else that influenced your decision to pursue filmmaking?

TC: When I realized I loved film it was the second year at NYFA on the backlot and I just realized that I was just so happy. I was like telling my actors what to do and we were dealing with all these problems that arise on set. But it’s a fun stress, it’s a fun environment. That’s when I realized I really loved film.

NYFA: Why did you decide to pursue directing and producing?

TC: What got me interested in directing and producing and why I started to follow that path was I just love telling stories. Like I was working…you start with this idea. Something that’s in your head. Something totally original. And then you do a script, you know, you write a script. Then you take it to the next level. You go through pre-production. Then you flush it out and create these characters and the characters emerge. Then you go and do the location scouting and you make it this whole enterprise, this huge film from just this one idea that you’ve had. And there’s something really cool about that. That you can start from this one idea and make this whole film about it. And going through the whole process of location scouting, planning a budget, casting, getting your crew, dealing with actors; the whole process is something that is just fun. You know, it’s something that I enjoy. It’s very unique and it definitely beats working at an office in a 9-5 job. I think everyone has something, like a career they’re drawn to and I think you find it when you realize that whatever you’re doing makes you happy. And that’s what I found in film.

NYFA: What influenced your decision to attend the NYFA Advanced Program?

TC: I would say before I loved film, I was intrigued by it. If that makes sense. So when I saw the New York Film Academy ad and I read about, I was like “Oh, you get to film on the backlot, that looks fun.” [laughs] And you’re with other high school students so it’s a fun high school summer thing. But it turns into something more than that. The program turns into something where I realized, when you’re working on set, how much I enjoyed it and it makes sense. Like, “Wow, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I would say I was intrigued by film before NYFA, I fell in love with film at NYFA.

One of the reasons I ended up going to NYFA was access to all the equipment. When I first started in the tween program I was a middle schooler. I didn’t have access to any of these lights or sound equipment or cameras or anything. I had a little mini DV camcorder. And being able to have access…you know, when I was a student, an HD camera was a big deal in regards to dolly track, c-stands, everything that makes a production possible, I didn’t have access to. And being a student at the New York Film Academy gives you access to all that equipment, which I think is a big deal.

NYFA: Why did you decide to attend so many times?

TC: The first program I did, I believe it was the two-week Tween program. So that was all filmed on the backlot. And I met a lot of really cool people and had access to a lot of really great equipment that was better than what I was working with at the time, which was just a mini DV camcorder for my home videos. And then I come to NYFA and they give me this HD Panasonic, which is just huge at the time. This was like 2006 so an HD camera was a pretty big deal. So that was really fun and I was like, “OK, I’ll do it again next year.” And I was talking to one of the teaching assistants who was like, “You know, there’s this really great program. It’s called the Six-Week Advanced Program where we give you a truck full of equipment and you can pretty much do whatever you want.” And I was like, “That sounds awesome.” And then, when I was in ninth grade, I was the youngest person in the advanced program and I remember talking to one of the TAs and I was like, “I want to go kind of crazy with this. I want to go film on the Queen Mary.” And they were like, you can film wherever you want. So the first film I did I actually filmed at the Queen Mary in Long Beach and we talked to them and they were actually very familiar with NYFA, they gave me a discount because I was a NYFA student and they were really accommodating to us because NYFA built a good reputation with them. And I found that in a lot of the places we filmed, NYFA had a really good reputation.

And I kept coming back, I think I did the advanced program three times. And the reason I kept doing it is because I don’t really know anywhere else where a high school student could get a truck full of equipment and just having professors tell you, “Go do whatever you want.” And that creative control…a lot of the students made really great films. My films went on to a lot of film festivals and a lot of other classmates had their films at a lot of film festivals as well. And it’s a really unique program and me enrolling in that program really allowed me to get in touch with my inner director and allowed me to explore things I wouldn’t be able to do before and is a reason why I love film so much.

NYFA: What did you learn from the Advanced Program?

TC: I think one of the major things is how to deal with actors. The first advanced program I did we actually held casting auditions, we had people come in from LA and we held auditions in the NYFA offices. The first time I didn’t really know what I was doing. We had instructors and stuff who would teach us methods on how to cast actors and all that. And I think that in order to find an actor that’s really right for the part, you have to look for the right things and I think I was looking for the wrong things at first. I was looking more for who looked the part and not really who became the character, and who fit the part best. So that’s important. A lot of it’s experience. You know, learning who’s good in a room, but not necessarily who’s good on set. Like who gives a really good audition, but isn’t necessarily able to perform on set. Those are things you can kind of tell in an interview and in follow-up auditions and reads and things like that.

Also in dealing with locations—I guess this is more of a producing issue—but some of the other locations…I think in the last advanced program I did we had an issue with the location where we ended up scrambling and we had to find a backup location. And I think being put in these situations are things people have to deal with this, but dealing with it in high school, being able to deal with the location dropping out on you, having to deal with having an actor drop out on you at two in the morning, something I actually had to deal with. Like the day before the shoot. So I’m scrambling at two in the morning to see who can I find to be on the set at 8AM. These are all things that a high school student, when you go to college or you go on and further your studies and have these experiences, it puts you that more ahead than everyone else.

NYFA: What was it about NYFA that kept drawing you back?

TC: I think what kept drawing me back to NYFA, coming five times in a row, I think definitely the teachers. I’m still friends with a lot of the teachers today. They were so incredible, they taught me so much. The equipment, being able to have the amazing equipment I had in high school and able to build an amazing reel for colleges and just for my overall career was very beneficial. The people you meet, the other students, are extremely talented. I had classmates who made these amazing films, absolutely incredible films. And they’re off doing great things, one of them is working at Google. It’s a really great experience, the high school programs.

NYFA: What was the collaborative process like?

TC: For the pre-production aspect of a film, you work with mostly your classmates. They read through your script and I want them to be brutal, like tear this thing apart because now’s the time. And so pre-production, it’s mostly your classmates and that’s the best way to flesh out a film I think. To go with your class, figure out the issues, fine-tune. And then when you get closer to casting, my classmates’ insight was invaluable to say, we’re going over the whole project and like, “Ok, what do you think of this person?” “Oh, I didn’t really like them.” “Oh, I really liked that person.” And you go through and you identify and find…and when you’re going through, they make points you necessarily wouldn’t have thought of.

Then later on when you go through, when you get past casting and you go through and you’re on set. It does become, the actors become more involved. One thing I like to do is when you get some takes in and the characters, the actors get comfortable with their characters, improv is a really interesting way, I think, for them to get in touch with their characters more and I’ve gotten some really great scenes just from characters, or from actors becoming their characters and kind of improv’ing a little bit. That’s an interesting technique. But the collaboration with my fellow students, and also the teachers, the teachers would come on set and would give their insight and be like “I think you should be doing this better. This could be improved.” And that’s really helped. So the collaboration from the teachers at NYFA and also my fellow students were invaluable.

NYFA: Are you still friends with some of those students?

TC: Oh absolutely. I’m friends with pretty much all of my classmates from the advanced program. It was interesting because they kept doing it every year as well. There was a friend of mine who did it pretty much every single year I did and so every year we would come back and we would work on projects together and that was a lot of fun. One of the actors who I had a really good connection with, actually I’m thinking of putting in a new film of mine and he was really something else. He was in the first film that I did at NYFA, the first advanced film that I did at NYFA. And then he was on, I guess it wasn’t really Broadway, he was in Las Vegas in the show Beatles Love and he had the main part. So I went to go see him and I was like “Oh my god, he’s like the main guy!” So that was really cool and I have a role in mind for him actually coming up.

NYFA: How do you feel about the international student body at NYFA?

TC: In the advanced class, there was, it was mostly from out of state. I think I was the only student from California, so that was really cool. We had one student from Egypt. But NYFA is a really international school, which I think is fantastic. It provides a lot of different viewpoints and culturally it’s very interesting. But that was one of the great things about being a student, like meeting all these different people. I wish the advanced program had more international students. People in the advanced program are from a lot different areas, like all different states, so that was really interesting in seeing their perspective and them flying out here. It was really cool. If everyone was from California, they’d probably all be commuters, which would be boring. I was a commuter and it was boring. But they were all in the dorms, in the Oakwood dorms, so that was fun.

NYFA: Is NYFA hands on?

TC: The New York Film Academy is incredibly hands on. I remember the first day I came into class I was expecting a boring lecture, just like “Okay, here’s the basics of film” and you’re doing diagrams and not really getting your hands on equipment. We got our hands on equipment day one. The first hour I was at the school they were bringing in cameras for us to play with. And I say play with, but the way, I think, you learn cinematography and the way you learn is through experience, you know? I don’t think a textbook fully can explain how to do a lighting set-up, how to do these certain things. I think that you have to do it yourself. A teacher has to show you and then you learn with your hands. And I think that’s what NYFA understands. I think that’s what’s so unique about NYFA is that you learn with your…it’s a hands-on experience. I remember second week, we were laying dolly track and we were gripping and we’d have a teacher actually direct a scene so all the students would experience the different roles besides the director because of how important that is on a set. Even if you’re directing, you need to know what all the other departments do. And so I remember we were gripping and switching positions, I would do sound, I would grip, I would do the sleigh, I’d be the camera, I’d be first AC, I would do everything. And that’s what so important about the New York Film Academy is that you get all these hands-on experiences and that’s how you learn.

NYFA: How did you feel about the instructors at NYFA?

TC: Whenever I was having an issue with a film, I was having an issue with my story, with a location, no matter what I was dealing with, if I asked one of my professors for help, they knew exactly what to do. And the fact they were all working in the industry, the fact that they were all seasoned veterans, seasoned professionals is something that I don’t think you can get a lot of places. I think that’s what makes the New York Film Academy so special.

NYFA: What was the benefit of having access to the Universal Studios backlot?

TC: The New York Film Academy having access to the Universal backlot is a big advantage. I actually tried to film there myself for a side project and they said, “Yeah, you need a million dollar insurance policy and like $50,000.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s not happening.” But the fact that when you’re a student at the New York Film Academy, you get full access. You have dolly track, you have lights, you have pretty much anything you can imagine, and the backlot, which is absolutely incredible. So I remember, it’s really a surreal experience when you’re walking around the backlot where they shot these incredible films. You can’t even begin to start to name all the incredible things they’ve shot there. But it’s a really special experience to film there.

NYFA: What’s the benefit of being in Los Angeles?

TC: The whole film industry is in Los Angeles. That’s what I think is so special about the LA campus. I think it’s really good that NYFA has a campus in LA. I’m kind of biased, but I think the LA campus is the best. [laughs] But all the studios are here. Whether you’re a directing student, you want to emphasize in directing, you want to emphasize in acting, I think you should be in LA. And being in LA, having access to internship opportunities, having access to the Universal backlot, gives you a lot more opportunities than being somewhere else.

NYFA: What skills did NYFA help you to develop as a filmmaker?

TC: I think what the New York Film Academy helped me develop the most for is being able to command a set. As a director, that’s extremely important. I started in the tween program which is a lot of middle schoolers. I don’t know how to effectively control a set. But I think that each year you learn more and more how to talk to actors, how to direct actors, how to treat a crew. If a crew doesn’t respect you as a director, that makes your shoot a living hell. So I think that when I’m going into a college thesis film shoot and having the experience of the New York Film Academy for those five years, I was able to go in there and effectively talk to my actors, talk to my crew, effectively command the set, which is a crucial skill for a director.

NYFA: In your career thus far, is there one moment that stands out?

TC: I would say there are two moments in my career that really stood out, which I think I couldn’t have done without the New York Film Academy. The first moment was when my film was accepted to the Santa Barbara Film Festival, which was a really big deal. The reason that that film festival in particular was so special to me was when you get accepted into…actually, I wasn’t even in the student section, they put me in shorts, so I was competing with college students even though I was a high school student at the time. What was so special is that they gave you a special badge that gives you unlimited access to the whole festival. I remember this was the year The Artist came out. I got to go walk on the red carpet with all of the actors, like Leonardo DiCaprio and all the big actors and artists. And I got to sit in the front row during The Artist Q&A because I was a filmmaker and you get treated like royalty there. And having that from like a high school student film from NYFA was a pretty amazing deal. That was a really special moment for me.

The second thing is probably, I would say when I got my first job. I had an internship at Warner Bros. for the television show The Mentalist. Even though this isn’t a traditional…how should I put this? I got the experience from NYFA in the sense of how to be respectful and how to do a good job on set. I worked in the production office for The Mentalist, but I also got to go on set occasionally.

NYFA: What have you worked on since NYFA?

TC: The last film I made at the New York Film Academy was a film called Amanda, it was about teenage drinking and driving and that film went into a lot of festivals. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I pretty much copied everything I learned from NYFA in order to make that film. And it worked perfectly! And that was in a lot of film festivals. That was actually my favorite film I’ve done so far. After that, I did a lot of internships. I did an internship at Warner Bros. with The Mentalist and then the summer after that I worked for Warner Bros. again for the TV show Gotham on Fox. So I was a writer’s PA for that and I worked for them for them for several weeks. And then right now I’m working on a documentary, a feature length documentary about Fisker Automotive and a short film that I’m working on, that I’m still flushing out now, that I hope to have done by January.

NYFA: Do filmmakers have a responsibility to pursue social issues?

TC: I think that film is a very powerful medium and I think that filmmakers do have a responsibility to explore certain social issues and connect taboos in society. I think that’s what’s so important about film is that it really influences society and it can cause change. And I think that if you look at the film Bully, that was a big feature film, it was a documentary about bullying going on at this elementary school. I think it had a big impact and that it got people talking about an issue. And I think now schools have certain measures about dealing with it and they show these films and I think that filmmakers should be proactive and try and have their films give awareness to and have discussion about certain issues.

NYFA: Do you have any advice for young filmmakers?

TC: Part of being a student director and a student producer is really stretching a dollar, you have to know how to do that. You have to ask. Seriously. I’ve very rarely paid for a location. A lot of the times—people would think I’m crazy—so Tanner, we have to get a house. OK, we’re going to go door to door and knock and see who’s going to say yes. “Tanner, no one’s going to just let you film in their house, they don’t know you, they’re not going to let a huge student film crew walk into their house.” Every time that I’ve had to film either an interior house or exterior house location, I just knocked door to door, asked if we could film there, take a look around, and they said yes! It didn’t cost me anything. The only thing I had to pay for was the permit, which usually comes with a student discount. And, you know, people get afraid to ask, but I think especially in Los Angeles, I think people seem really eager to help out student filmmakers. And as long as you treat them with respect, you don’t damage the property, and you just show them how passionate you are about a project, they’re more likely to help you.

NYFA: What types of films interest you?

TC: Traditionally, I’ve done dramas. I’ve made films that are kind of depressing dramas. [laughs] But I’ve secretly wanted to do a comedy, so I’m trying to come up with a really funny script. But I’ve typically done dramas just because I think it’s good to do a film that can have some sort of impact and have people talking about it and hopefully, you know, inspire some sort of change or inspire someone to do something differently. But I think that can actually be done through comedy as well if it’s not…I think a lot of the comedies these days are not so much about like social issues, but are just dumb, stupid comedies. Like if you look at, I’m trying to think of a good example…I don’t know if you guys have ever seen the film Sullivan’s Travels. I would say that’s kind of a comedy, but it has a social message behind it. So I want to do a comedy with social messages behind it and I feel a lot of the comedies today are just about stupidity and that’s not something I’m a fan of. But I would say I’m drawn to films that have some sort of message that can inspire social change.

NYFA: Is there an advantage to being a young filmmaker?

TC: I’m not sure, honestly. I think I was fortunate to get into film at a young age. Because I started so young, I feel I’m a little step ahead of everyone else, but I don’t necessarily think there’s an age limit to get into film. I think that what’s important is that you’re passionate about it and you give it a 100%. I think that getting into it at an early age is an advantage to you, but I don’t think there’s necessarily a limit.

NYFA: Any final thoughts on aspiring filmmakers?

TC: I would say take the program seriously. Give it a 100% and don’t slack off. Be passionate and never give up.