directing

Forgotten Best Pictures: 6 Oscar-Winning Films You’ve Never Heard Of

How many films can you name that won the Academy Award for Best Picture? Probably quite a few, if you think hard enough, but could you name most of them? Or even half of them?

Among the ninety films that won the Best Picture Oscar, many have been forgotten by modern movie audiences, even if being the toast of Hollywood for one glorious night, or even several years after before fading from cultural memory. Here’s just a few:

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Directed by F.W. Murnau, this movie won Best Unique and Artistic Picture at the first ever Academy Awards in 1929 (Wings won for Outstanding Picture; both categories were replaced by the modern Best Picture category.) It also helped Janet Gaynor, who later played the lead in A Star is Born (1937), win the first ever Best Actress Oscar. If you’re curious to see cinema history, the film is available to watch on YouTube in its entirety.

Cimarron (1931)

Starring Academy Award-nominees Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, this pre-code western was RKO studios most expensive project up to that date. In addition to Best Picture, the film took home two more Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay (for Howard Estabrook who later adapted David Copperfield in 1935) and Best Art Direction (for Max Rée who later worked on John Ford’s Stagecoach.)

Grand Hotel (1932)

Adapted from a Broadway play by by William A. Drake, this lavish romantic drama was Hollywood’s biggest film of the year and one of the first production to bring together an ensemble of several A-list actors — in this case, Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, and Joan Crawford! It was remade twice in the first two decades after its release, and screenwriting juggernaut William Goldman tried unsuccessfully to adapt it in the 1970s. To date, it is the only film to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture without being nominated in any other category.

Cavalcade (1934)

In addition to Best Picture, Cavalcade won Best Director for Frank Lloyd and Best Art Direction for William S. Darling at the Academy Awards. Diana Wynyard was nominated for Best Actress but lost out to up-and-coming star Katherine Hepburn. The epic drama depicted the life and times of English citizens in the first quarter of the 20th century as the world transitioned into a more modern society. In 2002, Cavalcade was preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The second biopic to win Best Picture was The Life of Emile Zola, the 19th-century French novelist who penned J’Accuse in response to the imprisonment of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. The film received ten Academy Award nominations, winning Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Joseph Schildkraut, who portrayed Dreyfus. The lead role of Zola was played by Paul Muni, who had already won the Oscar for playing Louis Pasteur a year prior.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Lost Weekend is probably not the first film that comes to mind when people think of Hollywood legend Billy Wilder. Nonetheless, the film was nominated for seven Oscars and won four: Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director and Best Screenplay for Wilder, who shared the latter with co-writer Charles Brackett. These were the first two Academy Awards Wilder won, but not his last. The film noir also shared the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival.

2019 Academy Awards: The Nominees for Best Directing

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s nominees for Best Achievement in Directing:

BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee

Lee has been a figure in American cinema since his 1986 feature debut, She’s Gotta Have It, which was adapted into a television series in 2017. Many of his films have examined race relations, urban life, political issues of the 20th and 21st centuries, and the role media plays in modern society. In 1983, Lee won the Student Academy Award, and has since been nominated for an Oscar five times, though this is the first time he’s been recognized for his Directing. BlacKkKlansman is up for Best Picture and stars John David Washington and Adam Driver as 1970s NYPD detectives exposing the Ku Klux Klan.

Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski

Pawel Pawlikowski is a Polish filmmaker who has helmed several award-winning documentaries and feature films, including Ida, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2015. At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Pawlikowski won the Best Director prize his latest film, Cold War. In addition to Best Directing, Cold War is up for two other Oscars — Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film. Cold War is a period film loosely based on Pawlikowski’s parents, who fell in love and played music in Europe during the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West.

The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos

Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has been making a name for himself since his 2009 film, Dogtooth, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. His film The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell, was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. His period dramedy The Favourite has generated a lot of buzz since its release, with ten Oscar nominations in total, including Best Picture and three Acting nods for its main cast of Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman. Colman in particular has become a favorite for her leading role as Queen Anne.

Roma, Alfonso Cuarón

Alfonso Cuarón is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having ten nominations total and two wins to date, including Best Film Editing and Best Directing for his 2014 space epic, Gravity. His oeuvre has been varied throughout the years, including Great Expectations, Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men. Roma, a favorite in this year’s Oscars with 10 nominations, is a semi-autobiographical story set in the early 1970s and shot in stark black-and-white.

Vice, Adam McKay

Adam McKay has had an unconventional path to prestige filmmaking. The Philadelphia comedian failed his audition to be on Saturday Night Live but earned a spot on its writing staff and eventually became the show’s head writer. He had an instant chemistry with cast member Will Ferrell, and eventually wrote and directed several films starring the actor, including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers. His career moved to the next level with 2015’s The Big Short, which earned him the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Directing. His newest film, Vice, starring Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney, has eight Oscar nominations, including three nods for McKay.

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

4 Tips for Getting Full-Time Work in Corporate Video


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

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

1. Know your Audience

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

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

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

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

2. Invest in Yourself

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

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

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


3. Become a Brand

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

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

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

4. Follow Up … And Follow Up (Again)

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

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

“Hi [First Name] –

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

Here you go: [insert link]

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

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

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

 

Article by Mike Clum.

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

Our 2018 BAFTA Predictions

While the Oscars are still a few weeks away, the 71st British Academy Film Awards are finally upon us. The ceremony will be hosted by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley on February 18, at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.

The BAFTAs are one of the major award shows of the season. Because so many actresses, actors, and filmmakers come from the United Kingdom, the nominations and winners often overlap with many of the Golden Globe and Oscar categories. However, because the Academy is made up of different voters, sometimes the results can be wildly different.

Here then are the nominees for some of the major categories, along with our best guesses at who will be taking home the BAFTA award bronze mask statue this weekend — though like always, anything can happen.

The BAFTA Award
Leading Actress
Annett Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

While Margot Robbie is considered the favorite for the Oscar in this category due to her stellar performance in the wildly enjoyable I, Tonya — the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan isn’t as much of a cultural milestone outside of the United States. This may give the edge to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, star of Lady Bird, a film with near perfect critical acclaim.

Leading Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kayluuya – Get Out
Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Our Predicted WINNER: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

It’s hard to bet against Daniel Day-Lewis, especially in a thoroughly British role that may also be his last. But Winston Churchill is about as legendary as you can get in Great Britain, and Oldman’s performance as the Prime Minister in his finest moments has already won several awards.


Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour
Laurie Metcalfe – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

While Day-Lewis may not win, his co-star Lesley Manville certainly has a good shot just for being able to go head-to-head with him in several scenes, matching his intensity and emotional subtlety every time.

Phantom Thread

Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread

Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot of momentum behind Sam Rockwell this season for his complex performance as a bigoted cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That momentum might be too much for any of the other very talented actors in this category, including co-star Woody Harrelson.


EE Rising Star Award

Daniel Kaluuya
Florence Pugh
Josh O’Connor
Timothee Chalamet
Our Predicted WINNER: Tessa Thompson

Daniel Kaluuya made a huge splash with his haunting starring role in Get Out, but we’ve got to give the edge to Tessa Thompson, the talented American actress who is quickly becoming an A-list movie star thanks to her scene-stealing performance in Thor: Ragnarok.

Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson

Editing
Baby Driver – Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Blade Runner 2049 – Joe Walker
The Shape Of Water – Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Jon Gregory
Our Predicted WINNER: Dunkirk – Lee Smith

The editing in all of this year’s nominees was impressive, but Dunkirk’s style was a crucial part of the narrative — telling the evacuation of Dunkirk in three distinct timelines cut back-and-forth. The epic World War II film will probably come away with at least one award this weekend, and odds are it’ll be this one.


Special Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For The Planet Of The Apes
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water is essentially a classic romance tale, except one of the romantic leads is a computer generated seven-foot fish creature. By making the character not only believable but emotionally relatable, the special effects team for The Shape of Water more than proved they’re worthy of this year’s award.


Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Ben Davis
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water – Dan Laustsen

Blade Runner 2049 is a dark horse in both the Special Effects and Cinematography categories for its fully realized portrayal of a near-future America, but The Shape of Water will probably come ahead in both. The film is a visual marvel in multiple ways, and slides between multiple styles and genres with ease.


Adapted Screenplay

Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death Of Stalin
Matt Greenhalgh – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Simon Farnaby & Paul King – Paddington 2
Our Predicted WINNER: James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Paddington 2 is a smash success and both Aaron Sorkin and Armando Iannucci are screenwriting legends, but Call Me By Your Name manages to adapt the 2007 novel of the same name in a way that preserves all its raw emotion that audiences can’t help but be affected by.


Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Gerwig is making history as only the fifth woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and her film Lady Bird is easily considered one of the best of the year. It’s had a tougher time at the BAFTAs, so if the overall film gets recognized it’ll have to be here for its remarkable screenplay.

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Animated Film
Loving Vincent
My Life As A Courgette
Our Predicted WINNER: Coco

All three films are visual works of art, but it’s hard to bet against Pixar and their soulful, supernatural masterpiece about a 12-year-old boy trapped in the land of the dead.


Documentary

City Of Ghosts
I Am Not Your Negro
Icarus
An Inconvenient Sequel
Our Predicted WINNER: Jane

Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is a hero and legend to naturists and to her fellow Britons alike. Jane, the 2017 documentary about Goodall, has already picked up several festival and critics awards and will probably get the BAFTA as well.


Outstanding British Film

Darkest Hour
Death Of Stalin
God’s Own Country
Lady Macbeth
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Paddington 2

There might not be anything more loved and more British than Paddington 2, a film with a rare 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. While all of the other nominees could win as well, especially Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards or the Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, the world really needed an adorable teddy bear in a raincoat —again— and Paddington 2 delivered.

Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Director
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water leads the BAFTA nominations with twelve total — and it takes a masterful director to bring all of these nominated elements together into a fantastical tour-de-force. Guillermo del Toro already picked up a Golden Globe for his efforts, and while his competition is stiff, he’ll most likely pick up a BAFTA as well — even if the film falls short in other categories.


Best Film

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape of Water



It cannot be overstated just how important the Second World War is to modern Britain, and both films in this category dealing with the subject —Dunkirk and Darkest Hour — do so in masterful ways. For different reasons, Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards have connected with and sparked conversation for their audiences. But The Shape of Water has a slight advantage over its competition with its overwhelming amount of nominations this year, as well as its perfectly executed fairy tale with just enough of a twist to make it unique. It doesn’t hurt that avid movie buff Guillermo del Toro also managed to make the film a love letter to cinema. Look for this film to take home the biggest BAFTA of them all.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Super Bowl Sunday: Innovative Ads That Have Changed the Game & What You Can Learn From Them

Apple’s “1984”

There’s two types of people that watch the Super Bowl—those who want to watch football, and those who want to watch the commercials. Either way, that’s a lot of people—the NFL’s championship game is typically highest-rated event of the year, and 19 of the top 20 most watched TV broadcasts of all time are all Super Bowls (the M*A*S*H finale being the only exception at #9.)

It’s hard to stand out from the crowd of countless ads that have aired in the previous 51 games, though dozens have managed to become iconic—including the dancing Pepsi bears, the Budweiser frogs, and the screaming squirrel.

But only a few commercials have actually changed the game when it comes to advertising or filmmaking, introducing new concepts and employing out-of-the-box techniques. By doing something unique and influencing future spots for years to come, these game-changing ads are lessons in themselves.

Here’s five such Super Bowl ads, and what you can learn from them:

1. Apple’s “1984”

“1984” is possibly the most famous commercial of all time, Super Bowl or not. Released the same year as both the Summer Olympics and the 1984 cinematic adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” it was a relevant short film that audiences easily identified with, and introduced Apple’s Macintosh desktop PC, which would shortly go on to revolutionize the home computer lifestyle.

The commercial, while signifying major change, was also a short film — a dark, moody, science fiction epic directed by the perfect person for the job, Ridley Scott. Scott was fresh off his own dark, moody, science fiction epics “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”

To this day, the “1984” commercial is a testament to spectacle — influencing countless advertisements that went very, very big to make themselves heard.

Apple's "1984"

Apple’s “1984”

2. GoDaddy’s Teaser Ads

GoDaddy, the company that web hosts and sells and registers domains, doesn’t typically offer highbrow advertisements; indeed, they’ve gotten a lot of flack for tasteless, sexist commercials on more than one occasion. Several of these have been rejected for the Super Bowl, so GoDaddy’s marketers came up with an innovative solution — using their 30 seconds of Super Bowl time to advertise their full-length, real commercials online.

By playing teasers of their actual ads, GoDaddy made a name for itself purely on buzz, while also incorporating social media into advertising well before most of the industry had caught on to the Internet’s potential in such regards. While their actual content was nothing worthy of emulating, this unique innovation has led to an entire industry of “commercials for the commercials.”

3. Coca-Cola’s “Mean Joe Greene”

One of the earliest iconic Super Bowl ads came in 1979, though it had already premiered a few months earlier before making a splash during the big game. This Coca-Cola ad featured NFL star “Mean” Joe Greene chugging a bottle of Coke in the halls of a football stadium before tossing his towel to a 9-year old fan.

The heartwarming moment was a perfect storm of Americana, celebrity, and — of course — football. By using a celebrity most of the television audience already idolized and combining it with a cute kid and some good ol’ fashioned sentimentality, the advertisement formed the basis for countless imitators, including other Coke ads.

If a commercial can give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, the “Mean Joe Greene” ad argues, then maybe so can the product it’s advertising?

"Mean" Joe Greene

“Mean” Joe Greene

4. Nike’s “Hare Jordan”

Michael Jordan was as famous for his TV commercials as he was for his basketball skills, but the “Hare Jordan” spots that advertised his Nike-brand Air Jordan sneakers took marketing to a whole other level. By appearing on screen with an animated Bugs Bunny in modern-day “Looney Tunes”-style shorts, Jordan changed yet another game.

Cutting edge special effects and combining live action with animation was typically only seen in the movies (and in the latter case, only very rarely.) By putting money and unique visuals into their advertisements, Nike proved the investment could be worth it. The ad first hit the Super Bowl in 1992, when computer-generated effects were just hitting the mainstream but were still a rarer, more expensive option than traditional hand-drawn animation.

The ad ended up being a harbinger of the special effects-heavy commercials that would follow in the next two decades as CGI became cheaper and easier to implement. A Super Bowl doesn’t go by these days without several CGI-assisted commercials, but Nike’s hand-drawn/live action combo “Hare Jordan” can be considered the grandfather of them all (and the predecessor to Jordan and Bugs Bunny’s feature-length collaboration, “Space Jam.”)

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

5. Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl”

For 10 years, the Doritos approach to their Super Bowl ads was to hold a “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, where anyone could film and submit their own Doritos commercials. The winner of the contest would have their amateur project aired for TV’s biggest audience.

The ads were highly successful. By opening up their commercial pitches to millions of amateur filmmakers, Doritos also had way more choices to choose from than any advertising firm could offer. And audiences could connect to the DIY-style low-budget ads — it was a democratic solution that showed that anyone could potentially be seen or heard.

Aspiring filmmakers, advertisers, and just funny people who liked Doritos instantly had a shot at the big time. In the age of YouTube and Instagram stories, Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign couldn’t be a more relevant, decentralized way of telling stories — even if those stories were selling Nacho-flavored tortilla chips.

Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl"

Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl”

 

Interested in learning the skills to make your own Super Bowl commercial one day? Check out NYFA’s filmmaking program here.

SERVICE INDUSTRY: How to Work with Cinematographers

“What can I do for you?”  

The above question is the first thing I ask my director.  You, the director, answering it ensures that you’ll get the most out of me – your cinematographer or DP (director of photography).  

Before you meet with your cinematographer, you should have a good grasp of what the film is about and the story you want to tell. What do you want your documentary to look like? Start with visual references (documentaries, narrative films, still photos, paintings, etc.) ready to show and discuss. After reading the script or treatment, it’s the first thing a cinematographer will want to talk about.

As a visual artist, my job is to translate words and concepts into images. Cinematographers bring loads of ideas to the table. Once I know what a film is about, I shift into visual hyper-drive.  

In the meetings — there will be more than one — you’ll want to discuss the tone of the movie:  Should it be pretty or gritty? Formally composed or “fly-on-the-wall?” Some handheld work perhaps? Why? Will the subject matter benefit from cool, somber tones, or warm, inviting colors?  

Once you’ve discussed tone, your documentary film is well on its way to visual coherence. Some directors just like to chat and pull up images to discuss. Others spend a considerable amount of time preparing a lookbook. Either is okay. It’s whatever works for you.

The style of your film is comprised of more technical questions – the different modes of documentary (See Bill Nichols “6 Modes of Documentary”) beg for different approaches.

Some questions to answer for yourself and communicate to the DP:

  • What lenses will best depict the characters?
  • Is the style up close and personal or are we taking a long view?
  • Will the interviews take place in a home, a workplace, or some neutral ground?  
  • Are you thinking formal compositions, or something more edgy?  
  • If there are re-creations, will they be stylized or realistic?
  • Finally, and not least important, you’ll want to discuss visual metaphors and transitions that serve to link the sequences.  

But what about “shooting from the hip,” some will ask? Let me share an experience I had in the field.

A while back, I was starting a documentary television series that, in addition to archival footage, involved interviews, re-creations, and establishing shots. In pre-production, we spent some time discussing the re-creations, but the director and producer weren’t ready to discuss overall tone. I knew it would come back to haunt us.

On day one, our first interviewee waited patiently while we went back and forth about the location, then the background, then the lighting. It was decided the lighting should be soft with strong contrast. It became the interview tone for the show. We met later to clarify things going forward and avoid further embarrassment of the interviewees watching a confused approach.  There were new challenges for sure, but the solutions were more intuitive for me because the tone and style were set.

The DP is the director’s confidante, the “ace-in-the-hole,” the side-kick to the superhero. But most importantly, he/she is the director’s collaborator, who wants to help make the best documentary film possible. To do that, communication is key.

Ready to learn more about documentary filmmaking? Check out the New York Film Academy’s Documentary School.

Written by Carl Bartels. Bartels is a director and cinematographer whose credits include “Taken,” “The Fantastic Four,” and “Greedy Lying Bastards.”

How to Learn From Other Filmmakers by Watching Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Do a shot breakdown of an important scene.

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

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

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

  1. Focus on camera movement.

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

  1. Pay attention to new things.

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

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

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

  1. Examine the most important character action.

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

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

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

  1. Watch a new movie thrice.


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

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

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

 

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

The Art of the Long Take

If there’s one thing every aspiring filmmaker should consider if they want to achieve success, it’s learning to take chances and be persistent. Not giving up on risky creative ideas is what separates the good films and their makers from the great ones.

Right now, people can’t stop talking about the latest Star Wars film to release — a franchise that wouldn’t exist if the young George Lucas hadn’t gambled his career at the time to see his vision come to life.

Such is the essence of the long take, a technique that offers great benefit to those willing to put in the effort and take a chance.

Risk = Reward

When you consider that today’s movies are made up of several thousand editing cuts, putting together typical shots comes with enough challenge. But while a typical final cut rarely exceeds three seconds per shot, a true long take can last several minutes — or even last for an entire film, as in “Russian Ark” (2002).

These tracking takes involve complicated camera movement, countless hours of rehearsing, and enormous amounts of patience, as a single mistake forces the team to prepare and shoot the scene all over again.

Of course, long takes almost always stand out from the rest of the film when done right. Whether it’s an elaborate action sequence or an establishing shot, viewers love watching a scene unfold without any visual interruptions. This is why many directors pay close attention to long shots, even if it might cost them valuable time and resources.

The Many Uses of a Long Take

There are many ways this powerful technique can be used in filmmaking

A common one is for an establishing shot that introduces the audience to a new scene or location. Since there aren’t any cuts, a long take smoothly draws us into the space via continuous look at the setting and moving parts. For example, the first shot in 2015’s “Spectre” lasts a breathless four minutes as we follow a masked man moving through a Dios de Los Muertos party and up onto a rooftop before revealing the identity of the man we’ve followed.

Long takes are also a fantastic tool for when a director wants to instill suspense into a scene. The best example is also one of the earliest uses, in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil,” as we begin by watching a man place a timebomb in the trunk of a car that then drives through busy city streets. The long shot allows tension to simmer as the audience waits to see when and where the clock will run out.

Many action directors strive to create intense scenes through the use of complex choreography that goes uninterrupted. If you’ve seen 1992’s “Hard Boiled” then you no doubt remember the incredible shootout scene as two men blast away several mobsters while moving down corridors, using an elevator, and tearing the place apart.

These are only a handful of the various uses of the long take.

Recipe for your Long Take

If you’re a fan of long takes and hope to utilize one in a project one day, we applaud you. The following are a few questions to ask yourself before jumping in:

  1. Do You Need A Long Take?

Although an exciting challenge, the long take shouldn’t be used just for its own sake. In other words, take time to evaluate your planned film and decide where, if at all, a long take would be the optimal choice. It’s better you realize early that a long take won’t actually make the scene more impactful.

  1. Are Your Actors Ready?

There’s more pressure on actors when one mistake can lead to hitting the reset button on a scene lasting several minutes and you may need extra preparation and rehearsal. You should make sure you have enough time available to budget in everyone’s schedules for rehearsals prior to shooting.

  1. Do You Have The Equipment?

Unless the action will be circling the camera like in 1992’s “The Player,” you’ll need a budget or access to the essential equipment that will enable the camera movements to allow for a long take. You’ll also need audio equipment that can pick up sounds throughout the take as well as the ability to light the entire thing so it looks good. NYFA students have access to one of the largest equipment libraries in the world, so your time spent training here may provide the perfect opportunity to create the long take you envision.

  1. Can Your Crew Handle It?

Composing long takes requires extra effort from everyone involved, and that is doubly true for your crew members who are handling the camera equipment. If they’re up to the task, make sure you plan for breaks between long takes so exhaustion and stress doesn’t play a role in ruining a long take and leaving your team upset.

What are your favorite long takes in films? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

A Q&A With New York Film Academy Filmmaking Alum Jacob Hayek

New York Film Academy Filmmaking alumnus Jacob Hayek decided to use his NYFA thesis project as an opportunity not only to tackle tough contemporary issues, but also as an opportunity to take the international film festival community by storm.

So far this year, Hayek’s film “The Jim Crow Holocaust” received a fantastic collection of accolades from international festivals. The nominations and wins include Best Short Screenplay, Best Rising Star, and Best Ensemble Cast at the Monaco International Film Festival; 2nd Best of the Fest, Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Actor at Feel the Reel in Glasgow; Best Short Film, Best Short Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress at WIND International Film Festival, Los Angeles; the Golden Palm Award at Mexico International Film Festival; and more at the Transylvania Cinema Awards in Romania, the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival in the U.S., the Bucharest Shortcut Cinefest, and the Sochi International Film Festival in Russia. Whew!

Hayek found time in his busy festival schedule to chat with the NYFA blog about his film and his recipe for success after film school.

 

The Jim Crow Holocaust

The Jim Crow Holocaust

NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?

JH: Well, believe it or not, the last thing I wanted to be before I chose to become a filmmaker was a professional wrestler. When I graduated high school, I was sort of discovering what I wanted to do with my life. I got a job at McDonald’s, which taught me a lot about what I didn’t want to do. I was going back and forth between being a pro wrestler and a filmmaker. One day I thought back to my childhood and realized I love telling and creating stories, particularly movies. For fun, I decided to write a short screenplay to see if I was good at making a movie. I absolutely loved the experience, and that’s when I decided to become a filmmaker.

I searched for a ton of film schools in the New York area; I thought it’d be a good way to start. What drew me most to NYFA was that it threw you right into filmmaking. Whenever I set my mind to something, and my Dad can confirm this for sure, I’m like a bulldog: When I get my jaws on something, I never let go. I wanted a school that didn’t linger on, but made us work under that pressure and realism that you only get on a set. That’s what I love about NYFA. It’s for those who are really driven and committed to their craft, and who will get the type of education that won’t drag on like others. It’s shock and awe. Only the best can make it.

NYFA: Why filmmaking?

JH: I love the idea of making an incredible story and bringing it to life for all to see. Making an amazing film requires the most vigorous of research and knowledge. It’s one of the best ways to learn.

NYFA: For our current filmmaking students, can you tell us about navigating your transition out of school? Any advice?

JH: My advice to them would have to be, just keep jumping into it. The more experience you gain, the better you become. Make as many connections as you can, make as many movies as you can to master your craft, and yes it’s going to kill you knowing this might not be your best work, that you made mistakes that could’ve been avoided, but never let it get you down. The reason we fall is so we can learn how to get back up. And if your ideas don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough.

NYFA: What inspired “The Jim Crow Holocaust” and how did you go about bringing this film to life?

JH: It was originally a very short film about a little girl sewing a scarf back together for a little boy who was bullied. I was coming up with ideas for a thesis film before I officially enrolled in NYFA. One day my Mom said to me that I was the product of an Arab and a Jew: My father being Lebanese and my mother being born a Jew. In light of all the recent events happening in the Middle East, it hit me that that’s a rare combination today. I decided to make the boy a Syrian Muslim and the girl Jewish. As the election here happened, I added the events of a future with Trump as president and the mass hate encompassing America.

In comparison to many thesis films, mine was beyond ambitious. I co-produced the film with my father. We had actors come from Virginia all the way to Alaska to be in this film. That, and we had to have a ton of extra actors. The one thing that kept this film going was the amazing people who helped us make it, from crew to actors, and the need to create a story about the issues going on today.

NYFA: Your film has inspired an amazing response at film festivals internationally. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, and how you found the right festivals for this film?

JH: It came as quite a shock to be honest. We sent the film to multiple festivals to see where it could go. The very first festival we applied to (Monaco International) nominated us and we ended up winning. From then on, we were on a streak. We were both nominated and won awards in countries like the U.K., Mexico, Romania, Russia, Japan, and here in the U.S.

Don’t limit yourself at first, achieve all you can. You’d be surprised the kind of doors that can open for you.

NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful for preparing you for your work on “The Jim Crow Holocaust”?

JH: Yes it was. It taught me just how hard it is to make a movie, and that it shouldn’t be taken lightly. I learned that you need to know the rules and the reasons for them if you’re ever going think outside of them.

NYFA: What is next for “The Jim Crow Holocaust”?

JH: Because of the amazing reception the film has received, we’ve decided to turn it into a feature film. We’re going to take our time, do everything right, and create a film for the whole world to see. The screenplay is complete and we’re getting ready to pitch it to studios.

NYFA: Are there any other projects you are currently working on that you’d like to tell us about?

JH: In addition to “The Jim Crow Holocaust,” I’m currently writing a short screenplay for Director/Cinematographer Earl Stepp of “Isomnija.” I’m also writing a few screenplays for other future projects, as wells as video promotions for well known companies and their products. My father and I started a production company together called Birds of Prey Films, and we intend to make it the best there is.

Interested in learning the art of filmmaking? Check out the hands-on programs the New York Film Academy has to offer here!

Star Wars Sequels 101: How Do “The Last Jedi” Filmmakers Build On “The Force Awakens?”

[NOTE: This isn’t spoiler heavy, but if you still haven’t seen “The Last Jedi” and you want to go in cold Porg-y, er… turkey, you should bookmark this for later. Also, what are you waiting for? Go see it already!]

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“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”, the most anticipated movie of the year (and then some), has finally come out and now critics and fans can scrutinize each and every individual moment for decades to come. But besides who Force-choked who and which CGI creature will be the hottest new toy, “The Last Jedi” answered a more technical question for film buffs—what did Episode VIII do to build on Episode VII?

While “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” isn’t really an original movie in itself—in fact it’s the (obviously) seventh movie in the series—it did hit a reset button for Star Wars in numerous ways. So it’s easy to see how “The Last Jedi” is a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” more than it is the eighth movie in the Skywalker Saga.

And sequels normally get a bad rap, though “The Last Jedi” is in good company considering “The Empire Strikes Back”—another middle chapter in a Star Wars trilogy—is considered by many to be the greatest sequel of all time.

So how, from a filmmaking perspective, did “The Last Jedi” build on “The Force Awakens?” Here’s just a few, broad examples:

Production Design

Hollywood titan J.J. Abrams was lauded for his direction in Episode VII—namely because he responded to the artificial looking CGI-heavy prequels by bringing grit and texture back to Star Wars. A full, beat-up Millennium Falcon was built for the movie, which was shot often on location and fully built sets as opposed to large swaths of green screen. This dirtier, rougher version of space is kept in the look of “The Last Jedi”—whether on Luke’s isolated island or the remote planet covered in dusty red salt. If you can feel an image you’re really only seeing, the filmmakers are doing their job.

Film Score

It’s pretty much a given that any new Star Wars film needs to retain the iconic themes John Williams first wrote in the 1970s, but to stand out on their own these movies should offer new melodies we’ll be able to hum to. “The Force Awakens” introduced us to “Rey’s Theme” as well as “Kylo Ren’s Theme”, strong motifs that hold up alongside classics like the “Imperial March” and the “Binary Sunset/Force Theme.” “The Last Jedi” is a little scarce on completely new soundtrack entries—though it does have a motif for new character Rose—but it recalls the best music of “The Force Awakens” throughout, using it in several powerful scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren. As the story progresses so does their relationship, and the mixture of their themes accentuate this narrative.

Screenplay – The Story

One of the criticisms of “The Force Awakens” was that it imitated the original trilogy too much, failing to set itself apart. However, a benefit from this was that it created a broader simple story of heroes vs. villains that “The Last Jedi” could then develop and subvert. Now that the audience is familiar with the characters, screenwriter and director Rian Johnson was more free to complicate the narrative, jumping around between solar systems and even including flashbacks, a cinematic technique that’s rare for the Star Wars series. Like famous sequels before it, including “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather Part II,” a more complicated story gives more thematic weight and allows for more emotional nuance for the audience.

Screenplay – The Characters

The narrative wasn’t the only thing complicated in this sequel. Now that Episode XII allowed us to know the new characters in the series, we can find out more about them in more subtle ways. Rey was a mysterious loner who discovered enormous power in “The Force Awakens”; here, she learns how to grapple with such power and we see how shaped she is by never knowing her parents. Kylo’s internal conflict is made more real and evolves from broad angst to a scared child who thought his uncle was going to kill him in his sleep—that would mess anyone up! Even more minor characters, like Supreme Leader Snoke, benefit from the foundation “The Force Awakens” built. In the previous film, Snoke was quickly painted in a hologram as an ominous villain. In “The Last Jedi,” we see just how overwhelming his power in the Dark Side of the Force can be, as well as his knowledge of and hatred for original trilogy protagonist Luke Skywalker. By inferring more backstory, it places characters like Snoke more firmly in the world and makes their actions more palpable and believable.

Casting

“The Force Awakens” was notable in its diverse casting—bringing more women and minorities to a genre of filmmaking historically dominated by white men. “The Last Jedi” continues this tradition by introducing the characters of Rose & Paige Tico, played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran and Vietnamese actress Ngô Thanh Vân, respectively. It also introduces Vice Admiral Holdo, a complex leader of the Resistance played by Academy Award nominated actress Laura Dern. Seeing Laura Dern and the late Carrie Fisher—two women over 50—play powerful leaders making heroic wartime decisions—is something rarely seen in Hollywood blockbusters, but something that needs to be seen more and more if cinema is to remain culturally relevant. If the upcoming, untitled Episode IX wants to retain its worldwide audience, it needs to continue this tradition of casting people and faces from every corner of the globe.

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

Cinco de Mayo: 7 Amazing Filmmakers from Mexico

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Mexico City is the fourth largest production center in North America (after LA, New York, and Vancouver), and Mexican filmmakers have had great success with their Hollywood films — think “Gravity” and “Birdman” — at recent Academy Awards. For Cinco de Mayo, we celebrate Mexican films and filmmakers of the past and present.

Alfonso Cuarón

Cuarón was the first Latin American to win the Academy Award for Best Director for “Gravity” (2013), which he co-wrote with his son Jonás Cuarón, a filmmaker in his own right. In fact, there are three Cuaróns to watch out for in the film industry, as Carlos Cuarón, Alfonso’s brother, is also a director and screenwriter. The brothers wrote the international hit “Y Tu Mamá Tambien” (2001), a sexy road movie set against a landscape of Mexican society and politics. Cuarón also directed “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004).

Alejandro González Iñárritu

As one of the “Three Amigos of Cinema” along with Alfonso Cuarón and  Guillermo del Toro, Iñárritu enjoys a great reputation at home and abroad. He followed in Cuarón’s footsteps by scooping up the Academy Award for Best Director for “Birdman” (2014), which also won for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro is famous for his dark and fantastic aesthetic involving imagery from fairytales, Catholicism, and mythology. A Guardian article about the 2008 “Hellboy” sequel quotes del Toro as saying, “I find monstrous things incredibly beautiful, in the way that the most beautiful carvings in Gothic cathedrals are the grotesque carvings. If I were a mason I would be carving gargoyles. I’m absolutely head over heels in love with all these things.” The beautiful “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) won three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Emilio Fernández

Fernández was a dominant figure in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema (1936-1959). His dark and melodramatic film “María Calendaria” (1944) won the top prize at Cannes and, along with “Flor Silvestre” (1942), starred the prestigious Hollywood actor Dolores del Río and featured cinematography by internationally-acclaimed Gabriel Figueroa. Other celebrated Fernández films were “La Perla” (1945), “Enamorada” (1946), and the American-Mexican production “The Fugitive” (1947), directed with John Ford.

Luis Buñuel

 

Although this famous surrealist director is Spanish, he spent many years in Mexico, winning for it the Palm d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Festival for “Viridiana.” His Mexican period includes “Los Olvidados” (The Young and the Damned) (1950), a story about impoverished children in Mexico City that launched him back on the international film scene with a Best Director Award at Cannes after several years of disappointment, and “Él,” which did poorly at the time of its release but has since found acclaim.

Michel Franco

Franko’s bullying-themed “After Lucia” won a top prize at Cannes in 2012, where Tim Roth was one of the judges, and persuaded Franco to make “Chronic” with Roth as a male end-of-life caregiver (2015). In a Guardian review, Franco is quoted as saying, “How can we understand life without thinking about dying?”

Gerardo Naranjo

In an article at Reuters celebrating the rebelliousness of today’s young Mexican filmmakers, Naranjo is quoted as saying: “It is important to recognize the mastery of the older generation … Cuarón, Iñárritu, they found a way to protect their projects and that is the hardest thing to do in the United States. The industry finds ways to limit creativity over and over.” After gaining attention from Hollywood studios for his 2011 film “Miss Bala,” he has struck out on an independent path with his forthcoming “Viena and the Fantomes” (2017), starring Dakota Fanning.

Do you have a favorite film or filmmaker from Mexico? Let us know in the comments below, and Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Women’s History Month: Women to Know Behind the Camera

Who are the first people you think of when you hear “successful director, screenwriter, or producer”? Unfortunately for a lot of people, they may only know male names — but there are important women to know behind the camera. We’ve previously discussed gender inequality in film, but how can we all help to make more inclusive improvements in the entertainment industry as a whole? Start by educating both yourself and others about notable women who work tirelessly to bring you amazing film. 

In honor of Women’s History Month and bridging the gender gap in the entertainment industry, the New York Film Academy spotlights seven women who are behind-the-scenes of your favorite TV shows and movies:

Haifaa Al-Mansou

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The first Saudi female filmmaker, Haifaa Al-Mansour is a controversial director to some. Her films “Who?,” “The Bitter Journey,” and “Women Without Shadows” have touched on sensitive topics regarding women’s issues. Regardless of hate mail and criticism for being “unreligious,” Al-Mansour is unafraid to make outstanding films with touchy topics. One of her recent projects has been writing and directing the upcoming film “Mary Shelley,” set to release this year.

Julia Roberts

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You know Roberts for her roles in “Pretty Woman,” “Notting Hill,” “Runaway Bride,” and “Mystic Pizza,” but did you know she has also produced a few films? Alongside Canadian director Patricia Rozema and screenwriter Valerie Tripp, Roberts was in charge of producing the movie adaptation of the American Girl character Kit Kittredge called “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.” Roberts also produced the films for the American Girl characters Felicity and Samantha. She has also produced “Extraordinary Moms,” a TV documentary about motherhood as well as the film “Jesus Henry Christ.”

Mira Nair

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Starting her career off as an actress, Nair transitioned into directing a variety of different films including documentary shorts, full-length films, and more. She owns the production company Mirabai Films, which has produced specific films on Indian culture for a broad audience. The accomplished India-native most recently directed the Disney film “Queen of Katwe, about a young Ugandan girl who dominates the world of competitive chess.

Diablo Cody

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The “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body” writer wears many hats, including screenwriter, producer, actress, and former exotic dancer. Cody’s writing often features a female character with daily insecurities and issues who also has an underlying major struggle. In the New York Times, Cody said, “The attitude toward women in [the film] industry is nauseating. There are all sorts of porcine executives who are uncomfortable with a woman doing anything subversive. They want the movie about the beautiful girl who trips and falls, the adorable klutz.”

Ava DuVernay

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DuVernay is an indie writer, producer, and director of all kinds of film mediums including TV shows, movies, and documentaries. She has been nominated for four Golden Globes and two Academy Awards for her work. Recently, her documentary “The 13th” has been a hit success on Netflix and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Political Commentary. DuVernay’s film “Selma” received critical acclaim and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture.

Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Wachowskis)

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Formerly known as the Wachowski Brothers before both coming out as trans women, the Wachowskis wrote and directed “The Matrix” and their sequels as well as other ground-breaking sci-fi films. You may know works such as “V for Vendetta,” the film adaptation of “Cloud Atlas,” and “Jupiter Ascending,” all films the sisters have written and directed.

Who are your favorite female film directors? Let us know in the comments below! And check out NYFA’s directing programs to learn more about becoming a film director.

5 Great Filmmaking Podcasts for Film Buffs, Nerds, & Everyone Else

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Not all filmmaking podcasts are created equal. Browse the TV & Film category on iTunes and you will quickly be overwhelmed by the quantity and variability of quality. We’ve done the ear-work for you and found six podcasts that bring together practical information, behind-the-scenes insight, and great conversation to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of filmmaking.

1. WTF with Marc Maron

This may not be strictly a filmmaking podcast, but Maron‘s lengthy conversations with such influential directors as former NYFA guest speaker Ron Howard and self-producing comedians such as Louis C.K. are so in-depth, personal and full of stories about the biz and how projects get made, that you are unlikely to find a more educational show. Besides, we’re pretty sure no filmmaking podcast can say they interviewed Obama while he was president.

2. Filmspotting

A couple of guys geeking out, arguing about and analyzing movies to within an inch of their lives is what this film-crazed podcast is all about. Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen offer their dedicated listeners to best-of lists and lively arguments about the good, the bad and the unsung in cinema. You would have to be a professional film buff not to discover a new title in every show. A favorite episode includes a hotly debated review of “Ruby Sparks,” best-of movies-about-writers lists, and a marvelous analysis of “The Mirror as part of their Iranian Cinema marathon.

3. The Treatment

Film critic Elvis Mitchell always manages to get his illustrious guests to open up and talk intimately and intelligently about their craft. This is a show where you will hear multiple sides to the filmmaking story, for example, one episode features an interview with “Captain Fantastic writer/director Matt Ross and another with Captain Fantastic himself, actor Viggo Mortensen.

4. Monetizing Your Creativity

Canadian hosts Marvin Polis and Fred Keating interview actors, cinematographers, writers, producers, curators of film fests, and many more. Although it is not dedicated to filmmaking, you will find many charming, informational and succinct interviews that focus on “the success principles common to all disciplines.” Check out “Fargo” cinematographer Dana Gonzales (#110), and documentary filmmaker Viveka Melki (#104 to get a taste of this unique podcast’s wide-angle approach.

5. IndieWire – Screen Talk

This is a podcast for those who want to know how things work in the indie film world and beyond. Hosted by IndieWire‘s chief film critic Eric Kohn and Thompson on Hollywood‘s Anne Thompson, this no frills podcast fills you in on film fests, new releases and awards ceremonies big and small. Recent episodes consider subjects as diverse as the Foreign Language Oscar Shortlist and Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Do you have a favorite filmmaking or film buff podcast? Let us know in the comments below. To learn more about filmmaking, contact us for more information about NYFA’s Filmmaking School.

Technical Tips for First-Time Filmmakers

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

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

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

Framing and Camera Work

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

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

Casting and Acting

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

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

Directing

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

Editing

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

Sound & Music

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

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

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

5 Things We Can Learn From New Director Richard Tanne

The year 2016 has been very kind to Richard Tanne. In January he debuted his first feature, “Southside With You,” an unauthorized bio-pic of White House royalty; the current first couple’s first date. He secured two up-and-coming actors, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyer, to portray the young Obamas. Tanne even got the film into John Legend’s hands: Legend signed on to executive produce and wrote a song for the film entitled “Start,” coming off his Oscar win for “Glory,” a song he wrote with rapper Common for the film “Selma.

Tanne is on a roll, and there’s a lot aspiring filmmakers, writers, and producers can learn from the actor-turned-director. If you are an aspiring filmmaker looking to learn, we always recommend a combination of learning by doing, and learning from the best. There is always some wisdom to be gleaned from the successes of others. Here are five simple, universal lessons we think our students can learn from Richard Tanne’s recent project, “Southside with You.”

1. Follow Your Passion

Tanne first heard the Obama’s love story during the 2008 election, but it wasn’t until he fell in love himself that he began to revisit the story. “There’s something special about the way the president and the first lady look at each other, and it’s something we’ve seen since the beginning of their rise to prominence. Their connection seems authentic and deep and vibrant. That’s a rare thing in life, and I think it’s an even more rare thing for public figures.”

Years later, after falling in love himself, Tanne realized, “…it wasn’t just kind of a meet-cute story about falling in love. It was also about finding that person who makes you a better version of yourself.”

Producer Robert Teitel said, “When I first met Rich, I remember telling him: ‘I think you were born to do this movie.’ I sensed very early on that the film had been completed in his head for such a long time. There’s nobody but Rich who could tackle it.”

Tanne took the opportunity and ran. He started searching for partners to produce the film with him, which leads us to another valuable lesson…

2. Share Your Work

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Tanne began to pitch the character of Michelle Robinson to Tika Sumpter. He sent her a one-page, handwritten outline, and Sumpter was instantly interested. The actress says of that time, “I don’t care if I play Michelle or not. My main goal was to get the film made.” But, if Sumpter did get the role, she already knew whom she wanted to play her character’s mother.

She had been friends with Vanessa Bell Calloway for some time. At one point Sumpter drove over two hours to see Calloway perform her one-woman play “Letters from Zora: In Her Own Words.”

The two actresses had been told over and over again how similar they looked to one another. It seemed like a natural fit.

Once Calloway read the script, she flew herself to Los Angeles for a sit-down meeting with Tanne, saying, “If you think anyone else is playing this part you’re crazy.” Tanne couldn’t believe Calloway was still auditioning. “Just look at ‘Coming to America,’” he said, “look at ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing.’” Tanne cast her and, with just Mr. Obama left to cast, most of the hard casting work had already been done for him.

3. Work With What You’re Given

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Speaking of micro-budgets, it’s rare to do a period piece on a small budget. Even more scarce is a good period piece done with little money. “Southside With You” is set in the summer of 1989 in Chicago. Tanne’s hands were tied as far as locations. The date was real and many people know all the stops the first couple made. The museum was easy enough to retro-fit, as museums often don’t really change. The old community center and movie theater are, for the most part, fixed in look, too.

But what really sells the era is the soundtrack. “Since we didn’t have the money for tons of period details,” Tanne said, “We had to evoke the period in subtler ways. One way to do that was to make the movie look and sound like a movie from the 1980s, so you’d already be in the space.”   

“We knew we wouldn’t have large crane shots, showing us whole neighborhoods where we would need tons of kids wearing retro clothing and streets lined with vintage cars. We just had smaller moments, smaller details to evoke the period, everything from the blanket fabrics on Barack’s chair or Michelle’s family’s couch to the cassette tapes in Barack’s car. We used the 1980s-era Baskin’ Robbins sign in the ice cream store. And there are certain parts of the city that have not changed at all.”

4. Be Prepared

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Tanne knew time was going to be of the essence. Shooting a feature on location, with a micro-budget, in 17 days, meant that not one second could be spared. He asked the actors to be off book weeks before they came to set. Across continents, the actors rehearsed over Skype. When they came to set everyone was prepared. Instead of covering two to three pages a day, they were able to cover 10. The film finished on time and on budget.

5. Use Your Success as a Springboard

Tanne isn’t resting on his laurels.

Yes, “Southside With You” won big at Sundance. It’s Tanne’s first feature. It’s hitting theaters this weekend, and many might be tempted to kick up their heels and revel in their success — but Tanne is already working on two new projects.

First, Tanne is working on an unannounced Pixar film that he has been writing for the past couple of years. Second, Tanne is already writing his next feature, “The Roman,” about Julius Cesar. IMDB describes the project as, “An origin story in the vein of ‘Batman Begins’ that envisions the future dictator as a young general in the Roman army in a rarely discussed period of his life. Kidnapped by Cilician pirates and enslaved on their prison island, Caesar escapes with his men, and the decisions he makes during this time directly affect the political and social upheaval happening in Rome.”

Any more great insights for new directors? Share your tips in the comments below!

 

Words of Wisdom from Paul Feig

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Recently, we had an opportunity to sit down with Paul Feig, famed director of Spy, Bridesmaids, and the recent re-launch of Ghostbusters. Feig is also an actor, producer, and screenwriter. He’s worked every job there is in the industry. We asked if he had any advice for students at the New York Film Academy and this is what he had to say…

  1. Now is the Time to Start

Paul Feig: “If you’re starting as a filmmaker now, you are doing it at the greatest possible time. Coming up, when I was trying to do it, just to shoot a movie was prohibitive because you had to get film—and film costs a ton of money—and how do you get all this stuff together? And then, if you were lucky enough to have enough money to make it, how do you possibly distribute it? Even just post-production costs a fortune, and then you’ve got to distribute it.”

Unless you choose to shoot on film, which you absolutely should try at least once, you may never know the struggle of perfectly timing your shots, so you don’t run out of footage. Today, with the advent of digital filmmaking, you do not have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to shoot your idea. There’s no better time than right now to begin your career because…

  1. You Already Havethe Materials

Paul Feig: “Now, with this cell phone sitting on the desk, I can shoot a high definition movie. All of these takes [can be] downloaded into my computer. My computer comes with non-linear editing software.”

If you buy a computer or touch screen phone, chances are you’ve got all you need to make a short or even feature film. Both Tangerine and 9/Rides were shot on iPhones. Both films had major festival releases and helped launch their director’s career.

  1. The Internet is Your Friend

Paul Feig: “And then the INTERNET. You can literally distribute your movie to the entire world by hitting an upload button.”

In other words, don’t take for granted the easy access to potential fans. The Internet is all around, and it’s easy to forget what a valuable resource it is. In fact, the UN just declared the Internet a human right, which means more people than ever are using it. Shouldn’t they be using it to watch your films?

  1. No Disclaimers

Paul Feig: “The fact that you’ve made it doesn’t mean it’s great. Hopefully it will be, but you’ve got to be really hard on it. You’ve got to let people around you be hard on it. You’ve got to work it; work it because once you put something out there, you want it to be your calling card. You don’t want to have to go, ‘Oh yeah, well it would be better, but we didn’t do this or that…’

No disclaimers. That was the biggest lesson I learned when I was at film school. We would show our student films and you would get up and say ‘Oh, no, the reason [was] we didn’t have this…’ And my teacher wouldn’t let you talk. He’d just say, ‘No disclaimers. The audience doesn’t care.’”

Your audience doesn’t know you or the blood, sweat, and tears you put into making your film. All they know is they came to be entertained. So, when you screen your film, don’t tell viewers about the struggle, and try to get people who can be brutally honest. By putting your film through a rigorous screening you’re helping to ensure its success in the real world.

  1. Story First

Paul Feig: “What they care about is a great story with great characters. They don’t care if it looks professional. If you capture them and intrigue them with a great story and great characters then you are a filmmaker and you will be found.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about the story you’ve told. Do the characters pull on the heartstrings? Is the audience pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong? If you can create that kind of magic then you can truly call yourself a filmmaker.

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.