film production

How to Find Space to Improvise in the Filmmaking Process

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

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

It All Starts With a Solid Shooting Schedule…

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

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

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

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

Read: How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule

Let Your Budget Work For You!

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

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

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

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

Take Breaks to Refresh Yourself & Your Team

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

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

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

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

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

How to Network in the Film Production World

In reference to leaving his day job and surrounding himself with other filmmakers to perfect his craft, the great Tarantino once said, “if you run the hundred-yard dash with people much faster than you, yeah you might come last, but your time will be better than winning against slower competition.” Producing a film is far from a solitary feat and the ability to learn from others is a basic, albeit critical, part of improvement. So, what better way to increase your chances of success in an industry that practically invented the saying “it’s all about who you know”, than networking?

Here are a few tips on how to get started:

Social Media

Just as instinctive as it may be to utilize a dance studio to learn how to dance, one should similarly consider social networking sites for – as the name suggests – networking. When even the most introverted of all introverts is merely a click, swipe, and/or double-tap away from deep-diving into the biggest room full of people: otherwise known as the Internet, ‘tis indeed a great time to be alive.

Sites like LinkedIn are a sure-fire way to get connected to those who share your professional interests, but there are some other lesser-known networking sites specifically catered to professionals in film and media. Sites like Shooting People share similarities with LinkedIn, whereby users’ profiles are more like extensive portfolios; but unlike the latter, they have a strong emphasis on collaboration and allow users to work on one another’s projects. Similarly, Movidiam and Mandy.com cater specifically to those in film and media and also provide a great platform for finding work.

That said, don’t underestimate the connective power of mainstream sites like Facebook. Joining industry-specific groups is key. Not only will these groups give you access to a supportive community of fellow producers and filmmakers to learn from, but once you turn your event notifications on, it’s on!

Events

Social media might allow for reach and immediacy, but there’s a real gravitas in the connection between human beings in the flesh that cannot possibly be translated or outweighed by virtual alternatives. However, using social media to get you these face-to-face meetings is crucial. Once you’re following key industry people and are part of several online communities, invitations to industry events are going to be commonplace. Use this! Do as successful producer Jane Applegate does and “…attend as many mixers and workshops as possible” – something she swears by when prompted on the value of networking.

Intern, Volunteer, and Gain Experience

Find production companies, film festivals, and film shoots that will accept interns or volunteers. Do what you can — run errands, grab coffee, anything. Exposing yourself to every bit of the filmmaking process in live action will only increase your knowledge on producing films in the real world; whilst offering valuable industry connections and great career prospects.

Make Friends

Networking differs from the act of making friends in that its main purpose is to increase your arsenal for career advancement. The act of making friends, however, has a genuine intention behind it and something rarely synonymous with the entertainment industry – longevity. Authentic connections between likeminded people can stand the test of time and be of great benefit to all parties involved. Take advantage of being a student at NYFA where you’re constantly surrounded by others who share your passion for film and reach out to classmates. You never know, the friends you make in class may just be the same ones standing beside you on the stage as you give your Oscars speech.

Listen. Be Humble. Be Kind.

None of the aforementioned strategies will ever be of use to you without practicing these throughout:

Listen – people are most susceptible to giving their best if they feel they’re being heard. Listening to others will only ever open your mind up to more opportunities.

Be humble – as Socrates says, “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Everyone can teach you something if you’re open to it.

Be kind – positivity breeds positivity and people react accordingly. The best way to create an atmosphere you can prosper in is to give what you wish to receive. Plus, it just feels good to be kind!

So, go forth with these in mind and you’re bound for success. Happy networking!

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.

Editing Like an Oscar Winner: Why Learn Avid Media Composer?

by NYFA Instructor Igor Torgeson

Avid Editing

With a new semester beginning, students at NYFA campuses are starting their first introduction to Avid’s Media Composer system.  Hard drives are being formatted, project directories are being created, and folks everywhere are wondering to themselves “What is YCbCr anyway?”

As Post Production instructors, we often get the asked how Media Composer became the software of choice at the New York Film Academy. I can only assume that question is also asked at the many film schools where Media Composer is the required software.

This uniform approach to editing software comes from three basic facts about Media Composer that have been consistent since the 1990’s and look to continue to be true for at least the next five to ten years.

1. Avid Media Composer is the Industry Standard Editing Software.

All of the films nominated the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2018, as well as all the films nominated for Best Editing for 2018, were edited using Avid Media Composer.

If you’re going to be working in feature films or episodic television, Media Composer is simply the standard for editing software.  Post facilities are set up to use Media Composer and that is the expected workflow.

2. Proficiency in Avid Media Composer Translates to Proficiency in Other Editing Platforms

Students sometimes find the first few sessions with media composer a bit challenging, as the interface does very little to inform you what everything is and what it does. This is a legacy of the software’s creation by engineers for technically-inclined individuals.

The thing to remember, however, is that all the other Non-Linear Editing software on the market is at least in some part inspired by or reacting to Media Composer. That means the general workflow of every platform is the same.  Media gets into the software. A window allows the editor to view and listen to the media.  The editor chooses the media to include in the show and places it in a timeline, which can be viewed in another window.  This is the same in every platform!

Once an editor becomes comfortable with this process in Avid Media Composer, moving to other platforms becomes easier, as the switch is simply a matter of finding the same tools in the new software, as well as understanding which tools the new platform has automated or eliminated.

3. Avid Editors Earn More Than Editors On Other Platforms

Of course, success as an editor is first and foremost a result of talent, skill, and experience — whatever the platform. Nevertheless, the data shows that there is a positive difference in income for Avid editors. For students hoping to move into editing, or at least have a gig that can pay well between other projects, Media Composer is the clear choice.  According to Payscale.com, the median nationwide salary for an editor with Avid skills is over $50,000.  For an editor with Premiere skills, $37,475. In Payscale’s survey, Premiere editors topped out at $53,727, top Avid editors made $105,126!

According to Glassdoor.com, Avid Editors in major markets, depending on experience, can expect even higher salaries, getting to over $135,000 annually. The same site currently lists Premiere Editor positions for $40,000 to $51,000.

For gigs and on an hourly basis, Avid Editors expect between $45 and $75 an hour.  Final Cut Pro Editors fare even worse — Glassdoor currently lists a Final Cut Pro Editing position for $20-$22 an hour.

As we saw above, once an editor learns Avid, it’s relatively easy to shift to a new platform.  So not only does an editor have an economic advantage by knowing Avid, in the absence of Avid jobs, it’s easy to shift to another software, even if it means a lower rate for a while.

Sweeteners

So with those three basic facts in mind, Avid Media Composer has been the clear choice for editing software.  Avid has also sweetened the deal a bit for students and New York Film Academy in particular.  First, Media Composer is available to students for about $10 a month, which is an enormous discount off the retail price.  Second, Avid has partnered with NYFA to make us an Avid Learning Partner, which allows us to offer our students the possibility of earning Avid User Certification (if they successfully pass the exam).  

With those things together, our goal continues to be giving students a thorough training in Post Production, on industry standard software, with a competitive advantage when entering the marketplace.  And maybe even a passing knowledge of YCbCr.

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.

Social Media Mistakes Actors Make

With 2.07 billion active users on Facebook, 330 million on Twitter, and 467 million on LinkedIn, many aspiring and established actors are promoting their work on social media sites.

If you’re hoping to utilize your social media accounts to make new connections and build a fanbase as a professional actor, you’ll have to engage with people on one or more social media site.

With that said, many of us are warned about the potential pitfalls of social media As an aspiring actor, you’ll want to be on top of your game when promoting yourself on social media because each decision you make can impact your acting career significantly.

Want to be ahead of the game? Follow these seven tips and tricks to help create a lasting social media presence.

1) Start Small

There are many different social media platforms, but that doesn’t mean you need to have a presence on all of them. Start with one or two you are familiar with and build your presence on those accounts.

For example, start off by creating your Facebook fan page or Twitter handle. Take the time to learn tricks and techniques that will help you grow a following on those sites before adding another.

2) Stay Away From Controversy

Don’t post anything lewd, crude, or otherwise inappropriate. You are trying to be marketable and professional. Causing controversy results in neither of those things.

Stick by this golden rule: if you wouldn’t want your grandparents to see it, you probably shouldn’t post it. If you’re not sure about a post, get a few opinions from friends and colleagues

3) Remember to Do Basic Grammar Checks

Everyone occasionally makes mistakes, but constant misspellings or incorrect grammar could distract from your acting chops. Remember, if you want someone to take your acting seriously, you have to consider every post you make as a reflection of your professional self.

Remember to carefully proofread your posts and have another person take a glance as well.

4) Mix It Up

Don’t just post all text posts or constantly show off videos. Give your audience variety with text, picture, and video posts. All fans like something different — some may enjoy videos, some pictures, and some may like a little bit of everything.

Make sure you take the time to create fun and engaging posts of all types for the best results.

5) Make Your Posts Meaningful

Don’t post something just to post!

First, consider how meaningful your post is to your “brand.” Does it benefit you or your target audience? Does it contribute something unique and essential to your brand? If not, then don’t post something as filler.

6) Don’t Leave People in the Dark!

While you shouldn’t post something for the sake of posting something, you also don’t want to abandon your social media presence for weeks or months at a time.

Make a regular schedule to commit yourself to and make sure your followers are aware of when new posts will appear.

7) It’s Not All About You

Believe it or not, it’s actually helpful to not talk about yourself all of the time.  Sure, you need to be comfortable with promoting yourself, but you also don’t want to come off as egotistical. People enjoy seeing actors who are compassionate , hardworking, and human.

Brag about your latest role, but also praise fellow actors and productions you recently enjoyed.

 

Looking for a more permanent boost to your acting portfolio? Browse our acting program and other areas of study.

10 Documentary Essentials


Today’s 21st century documentary filmmaker has more tools than ever available to them. The cameras are smaller and offer higher resolution. The audio equipment is smaller and hears better than ever. Editing software is intuitive and easy to learn and use. Those are the sort of broad stroke items which are essential to successful documentary film shooting.

Documentary film crews are significantly smaller than a narrative feature crew. This means everybody on a doc crew should know how to operate all the gear, and be able to take on any job in a pinch.

This article is not about any of that stuff. Instead, it’s about the smaller things you will need along your journey to becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Here are 10 absolute must-haves on any shoot, the base minimum for professional-level work.

  1. Flashlight – You never know when you will be in low light conditions or the dark, wrapping after a shoot, prepping before a shoot, lost a nut, somebody else lost their phone … you get the idea. The point is that a flashlight is an essential tool for every filmmaker.
  2. Hat – When you are outside shooting in the sun a hat is another piece of essential equipment, and it can help in a light rain too. It keeps you cooler and keeps the sun out of your eyes. I recommend a full brimmed hat, rather than a baseball cap, to protect the back of your neck. Keep $20 hidden in the crown for emergencies.
  3. Belt – I like to wear a belt so that my tool pouch is always where I expect it to be. I can clip various items to my belt (see glove clip) including my flashlight. It provides easy access to immediate use items, and allows hands free carrying, and frees up your pockets for items best kept secure. Holds up my pants too.
  4. Sturdy Shoes – these are one of the best investments you can make. On the set you will be on your feet for long periods. Having good shoes will save your feet, make you more comfortable, and protect you from injury. A foot injury can keep you off the set for weeks, if not months.
  5. Gloves – Good leather work gloves are an inexpensive insurance policy against hand injuries and burns.
  6. Glove Clip – this holds your gloves on your belt for immediate and easy access.
  7. Pouch – I would say that a First AC pouch is best. If you have so much stuff that a First AC pouch is too small you have too much stuff to carry.
  8. Pen – see below.
  9. Paper – A pocket-size notebook will allow you to take notes and record details. Yes, this is an old school, analog way of making notes, but phone batteries run out and writing things down imprints them into your memory. Think of it as a way to cross-check the work. Documentary filmmaking is, by its nature, an exploration — with plenty of room for extemporaneous events. Record new questions and ideas as they come up to help you make your documentary the best it can be.
  10. An iron-clad plan and the ability to adapt it to changing circumstances – One of the most important things you can bring to your documentary shoot is an open mind and insatiable curiosity about your subjects, and finding the truth of the story. You should have a plan (and a point-of-view, of course). You should know about how long you expect to spend interviewing that person, or shooting that activity. Your research will have given you a strong foundation of what to expect and where your documentary is going. But don’t be so rigid in your preconceived agenda that you aren’t open to unexpected new information, or serendipitous occurrence in the field. It is better to have the footage and not need it, than to turn away and wish you had it later in the editing room.

 

Want to know what else you’ll need to know on a professional set? Learn documentary filmmaking at New York Film Academy.

Written by James Coburn

How Film School Can Help Your YouTube Channel

YouTube ChannelWhether you are putting together a web series to showcase your comedic talents or nurture dreams of being the next beauty, gamer, or  film vlogger superstar, having filmmaking skills will help your YouTube channel achieve a professional look. Camera skills, the ability to work with sound, lighting, and actors, and good editing skills, all lend themselves to creating content that inspires viewers to subscribe instead of moving on to someone else’s offerings.

Starting Strong and Slick

Most viewers determine whether they will watch a YouTube video in the first few seconds, according to WikiHow, so it’s vital that your intro is compelling and professional. Whether you use music, title cards, voiceover, or a teaser, film school gives you the production, design, and editing skills you need to pull a viewer in and keep them from looking for the next big thing.

Looking Good

The delight of YouTube is in its endless choice and variety for the viewer, which is of course the challenge for the content creator. Bad camera work and lighting can give a viewer an excuse to find what they’re looking for elsewhere, so why give them that excuse? Film school teaches you the technical aspects of using your camera and of how to work with lighting, both natural and artificial, so that you can make the most of your budget, as it grows with your channel.


Sounding Good

“Bad video is forgivable. Bad audio is not,” declares this No Film School article. But as it goes on to say, recording clean audio is not easy, and fixing it in post-production is also not easy. As with camera work and lighting, you can teach yourself through trial and error, but in film school you will learn from the trial and error of others, and start with a firm footing that can minimize wasted time and disasters.

Directing and Acting

Finding the right actors and directing them to achieve your goals is no easy task. Film school can teach you where to find actors, what to look for in the hundreds of headshots and resumes, how to conduct auditions, and finally how to direct them to help you achieve your goals.

And for actors, having some experience in front of the camera is vital to connecting with your audience, so that they feel that they know you. As we talked about in this article, acting for the camera is very different from acting on stage. There is an intimacy demanded by the camera for film and television that is at least as important for YouTube since so many people watch it on small personal screens.

Meeting Collaborators

Connecting with compatible and talented people is no small thing. We can’t say it enough: Filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and the connections you make in film school with both your instructors and your classmates will likely prove invaluable. As your YouTube channel grows, you will be glad you have people to call on to help you produce a steady stream of quality content for your millions of YouTube subscribers!

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!

9 Stages of Pre-Production

The first day of shooting on a movie set is never the first day that film is being produced. Days, and sometimes weeks, months, years, or—in the case of James Cameron’s “Avatar” or Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”—decades can go by from the beginning of a film’s inception to when cameras just start rolling. The production and subsequent post-production processes of a movie can be shorter, longer, or about the same, but neither can exist without pre-production—the work that goes into a film before any images are recorded.

Pre-production, like the filmmaking as a process as a whole, is complicated and can be daunting for independent filmmakers. Here are nine stages—each with their own subdivisions of tasks and labor—that should be included in your pre-production process if you want to ensure a steady, fruitful film shoot from day one.

Finalize a Shooting Script

While movies are magical, they don’t come out of thin air. Even before the pre-production process starts, you need an idea, and often a fairly polished screenplay to work off of. But when it’s crunch time, you need to finalize that screenplay and convert it to a shooting script—one that reads for the director, cinematographer, and camera crew as well as it does for the actors. Tweaks and whole scenes may be edited, added, or deleted at anytime (sometimes even in post-production!) but for the most part your shooting script should be ready to shoot by the time the director first calls action.

Storyboards & Shot Lists

Storyboards & shot lists go hand-in-hand with shooting scripts—creating a visual interpretation of the screenplay for the director and cinematographer to reference and prepare for. While some directors know exactly what they want in their hand and can draw it themselves, usually storyboard artists are hired to bring the story to life. Once a film is seen—even in black-and-white sketches—it comes alive in a way that the entire crew can see and gives them a concrete vision to strive for.

Find the Right Crew

While some crew positions might already be attached or recommended for a project, and other positions, like your writer and storyboard artist, could be hired very early in the process—you should work to get the entire team rounded out before pre-production gets too involved. After all, these are the women & men who will be carrying out a lot of these tasks, and the sooner they are involved in the creative process, the more valuable their input will be. All of filmmaking is a collaboration—not just the shooting!

Location Scouting

You may need to tailor your storyboards to your location or vice-versa, so finding them early is key. Many hands-on producers & directors may want to do this themselves, but often the smartest thing to do is hire a professional location scout who already has locales in mind or knows how to find original ones perfect for your script. If you’re shooting in a studio or soundstage, you’ll want to find the right one early and make sure it’s not booked before you can lock it in—treat them as you would reception halls for your own wedding! Finding real world locations early is just as important because you’ll want enough time to process the necessary permits & paperwork.

Create a Proper Budget (and Stick to It!)

By now you should be finalizing your budget, to make sure you can find the gear and afford the locations you want to use. Sometimes this is the professional thing to do; sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do because you’re not working with any credit or financial backers willing to give any more than they already promised. This is never the most fun part of pre-production, but very often it’s the most important.

Choose Your Gear

Are you shooting digitally or going old school with some 16mm film? Or are you saving money and shooting the entire film on your iPhone? Once you have the answers to these questions you can acquire your gear—often from a rental house. After your first film you may establish a relationship with a particular rental house and can negotiate discounts and figure out just exactly what your budget will allow when it comes to peripheral equipment. Maybe you can afford that ultracool fog machine after all!

Clear That Red Tape

Once you know what gear and locations you want, you’re going have to get into the paperwork—namely, permits and insurance. Permits are required from municipal governments to shoot on public property and location agreements are typically needed for use of private homes—especially if you’ll need to move furniture or equipment around or repaint the walls after the shoot, etc. You’ll also need insurance to protect yourself in the event you or one of your crew members accidentally do damage to the location or your rented film equipment. Finally you may need to cover your crew and cast as well—better safe than sorry!

Find the Right Cast

With your dominos falling in place you’re going to need to finally decide on your cast—this could feel impossible, no matter how many actors your audition. You might be frustrated you can’t find the perfect person for the role you envisioned in your head, or maybe you found two equally brilliant performers and you’re pulling your hair out trying to decide between the two. Either way, auditioning early and often and even employing a casting agent to find even more performers, possibly from outside your locality, will go a long way towards giving your movie the perfect cast.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Sometimes finding the perfect cast could make a filmmaker overconfident, leading them to put too much responsibility on their cast to be self-sufficient. Actors need their director just as much as the crew does, and working with them both one-on-one and as an ensemble is a vital part of the pre-production process. Holding table reads and rehearsals weeks before shooting will ensure that when the camera is ready to the roll, your cast will be giving the performance your movie truly needs. This extra time before the shoot also allows the cast to develop a genuine chemistry that will not go unnoticed by your audience.

These are just nine simplified stages of a complex, multifaceted pre-production process. Often these steps will be done simultaneously and in any variety of orders. Just remember that if you’re confident and prepared you can get through any hurdle and tell the story you’ve always wanted to tell. New York Film Academy offers courses in production and filmmaking with the overall philosophy of learning by doing—so the best way to get through pre-production is to learn the skills first and then master them with experience and resolve.

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!]

The_Last_Jedi_poster

“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

4 Things Students Should Know About the Movie Production Industry

1. Successful people never make it alone.

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How many times have we heard ad nauseam that it’s all about who you know? Those who are at the top now, likely didn’t get there working in a vacuum. They rose through the ranks with others they trusted to collaborate with in reaching their goals. They have a team.

Start by engaging with others not just at school but at workshops, festivals, and seminars. Like-minded people will gravitate towards each other. Folks in the industry often work together and respect one another enough to keep building a professional relationship for their mutual benefit. If you are a writer, find a producer who is willing to work hard with you, and the same goes for directors and actors. Build your team, knowing that these people will fill the critical roles needed to make your films a success.

2. You are the director of your career.

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You’ve heard that opportunity strikes when luck meets preparation. This increasingly digital industry, where we now have access to a plethora of media platforms for storytelling, is primed for you to create your own content.

Gone are the days where filmmakers could rely on studios to greenlight their projects and get the whole team on board. In the age of social media and reality television, an artist often has to have a certain level of presence to even be considered. Create a strong body of work so you can attract an audience and position yourself to be able to make better career making decisions. Become a content creator, and you can become the director of your own career.  

3. Learn the secrets of outsourcing.

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A common misconception of a director or showrunner is that they are the “boss,” when in reality there should always be 4 or 5 trusted people who provide critique or are better skilled in one area or another. Whatever your position, know when to seek the expertise of others who will only make your project better. You’ll always have a blind spot, and your own talent and skill will have a chance to serve the project best when you are successfully collaborating with the talents and skills of the others on your team. Outsourcing for different aspects of your filmmaking process, whether it is for budgeting, animation, or coaching your actors, is one of the tried and true secrets to successful production.  Mentors, film networks, and other resources can fill in these gaps for you.

4. Know the basics of storytelling.

While we can all agree that the fundamentals of storytelling are important to being a filmmaker, just as critical is knowing where you fit in the story that is actually taking place on set. Oftentimes, graduating from film school will leave you chomping at the bit to be hired as producer, director, or any other position of leadership. The truth is, your professional journey has only just begun. You are more than likely going to take on a PA role before doing anything else. How you handle what may feel like a lowly position is training ground for your future. Whatever your role is on set, it’s a critical one — or you wouldn’t be there. Every step of the way, you are paying dues—and all of it is a part of your story. Exhaust all of your opportunities to do what is expected, do it well, and always go the extra mile. Create your own track record, and be the hero in your story, where the only way to go is up.

Learn more about producing for film, television, and new media at the New York Film Academy.

A Q&A With NYC- based Independent Producer Jane Applegate

There’s more than one way to break into the film industry. We’re curious about how other people are making it work, and eager to gain insight and inspiration from interesting success stories. We sat down with independent producer Jane Applegate. Jane Applegate is the founder of The Applegate Group, creators of The Applegate Network. Here, she sheds some light on her own career trajectory and what it’s like to work as an independent producer on her own terms.

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Photo provided by Jane Applegate.

NYFA: Hi, Jane, thanks for sharing some of your story with our student community! Can you tell us how long have you been an independent producer?  

Jane Applegate: I made a transition from writing and producing business news shows and cable documentaries to working on independent films in 2004. In 2006, I produced a short documentary about a theater program in Bosnia run by a professor at Dartmouth College. That project, “Much Ado About Mostar,” launched my independent film career.

NYFA What did you do prior to starting your own company? For how long?

JA: I started my career as a journalist, writing for the San Diego State University Aztec, an alternative weekly newspaper called the Reader, and then several newspapers and magazines in San Diego — including the San Diego Union. I joined the staff of the Los Angeles Times in 1983 as an investigative reporter specializing in white-collar crime. It was a challenging and rewarding job, but after a few years and winning some major awards, I decided I didn’t want to glorify criminals. I was offered a chance to revive a weekly small business column in the late ‘80s, when millions of people had lost their jobs and were trying to start their own businesses. My “Succeeding in Small Business” column was a big hit and went into syndication. The popularity of my practical, how-to column lead me to writing books, hosting a radio show for CBS, and speaking all over the world. I quit my job to start The Applegate Group Inc. in 1991.

NYFA: Can you talk about your transition from working for a corporation to working independently?

JA: I loved working in the newsroom and feeling the excitement of covering the news, but I wasn’t a very good employee. I questioned my bosses and was considered a bit of a troublemaker. I decided to start my own multimedia communications company because the LA Times wouldn’t let business reporters accept speaking fees and I needed to make more money.

Our company was the first to produce multimedia content about small business owners for bigger news outlets. We started a streaming video website — Small Business TV — with help from CNN, and produced web, video, print and live events for big corporations including Sprint, American Express, Wells Fargo, Verizon, Cox and Bloomberg. The biggest challenge was leaving behind my well-paying corporate clients and a job as a vice president of production for a big company to break into the indie world. I had to start out as a producer’s assistant for $100 a week. Starting at the bottom was the only way to break into the independent film world when I didn’t have the money to produce my own films. I was passing out carrots at craft services and handing out meal money — very humbling — on my first film, but I learned that my production skills were totally transferrable from TV to film.

NYFA: Do you think there is a unique experience to being a woman producer?

JA: I think women must work harder and be smarter than men to get ahead in the entertainment business. People in the TV and film world tend to hire their friends, their college buddies and people they know socially. Women have a tougher time getting jobs, but once they get a foot in the door things are easier and you can move up the ladder.

NYFA: What types of projects do you produce? Are there criteria that you use to decide which projects you’ll take on?

JA: I’ve produced a variety of projects from music videos to short films to independent features. I’m now producing a TV pilot for a Caribbean cable network. The writer-director, Mariette Monpierre, won a pitch contest and needed to attach a New York City-based producer with experience to secure the funding for a pilot. We’re deep into pre-production and will be shooting “Caribbean Girl NYC” in May for Flow, which is based in Barbados. I’m at a point in my career where I can be very picky and only work with creative, lovely people who I respect and admire.

NYFA: In your opinion, what makes a good producer? Is there a certain skill set that you think up-and-coming producers should focus on developing in order become successful?

JA: Producers must be able to multitask — kind of like a plate spinner at the circus. There are always plates falling and crashing, so you also need to have steady nerves and a great sense of humor. When things are going wrong on set, I always remind people that we are not curing cancer — we are making a film or show, and it is supposed to be fun. Good communication skills are also important. Being a careful listener is critical. Just letting people vent when they are upset or angry can diffuse most combustible situations. I always have a clip board or a notebook to take notes during a shoot. Leaving a notebook on the craft services table is also a good idea for producers. Encourage people to write down their problems and then review and prioritize what needs to be done at the end of the day.  Knowing how to use production software programs is also a good hard skill. I’m learning how to use Movie Magic Scheduling very late in my career.

NYFA: How can students make the best of their NYFA film school experience? How would you suggest they go about building their producing career?

JA: I didn’t go to film school, but my daughter, who is now an accomplished film editor, did. I think school teaches you how to work on a team and how to delegate responsibilities. Production is a team sport. Studying film theory is great, but it won’t help you get a job. I think everyone in school should get as much real world experience as possible. Volunteer to work on set with directors you admire. Work on as many films as you can, especially short films, which are quicker to produce. If you are not in film school, work on as many different projects as you can. I recommend setting up a profile and using Staffmeup.com to find production work. You can make it through one day and move on.

NYFA: How valuable is networking and can you offer any tips to students?

JA: Most of my jobs and opportunities have come through networking. I’m a member of the Producers Guild of America and New York Women in Film and Television. I attend as many mixers and workshops as possible. I also teach workshops on creative financing, marketing and best production practices. My network of business friends is growing all the time. People know that I’m always open to making introductions and connections. When you connect two people and something great comes of it, they both remember and are usually happy help you connect with someone you need to meet.

NYFA: Is your career progressing as you had hoped it would?

JA: I have been very fortunate to work on a variety of wonderful projects from music videos to live corporate events. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to take big creative and financial risks. Some have paid off, others not, but it’s been a wonderful ride.

NYFA: And lastly, what are some of your hopes for the future?

JA: I would love our Caribbean pilot to be a hit and lead to a full series. Future episodes would take us to shoot on the four islands where the principal characters are from and I’d love to visit more Caribbean islands. I’m also working with friends on two feature projects, one based on a best-seller by a Greek author and the other about Sylvia Beach, the American bookseller who published James Joyce’s controversial and banned book “Ulysses.”

Many thanks to Jane for sharing a bit about her producing career with the NYFA community! To learn more about Jane and to follow her work, visit her websites www.theapplegatenetwork.com and www.theapplegategroup.com. Ready to launch your own journey into the world of film producing? Check out NYFA’s Producing School.

 

How to Get Big Production Value Out of a Little Budget

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

Choose Your Set Piece Scene Wisely

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

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

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

Focus Carefully

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

Be Kind to Those Working for Free

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

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

Do It Yourself/Never Sleep

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

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

Why Do So Many Actors Turn to Producing?

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In this article about the benefits of self-producing as an actor, we considered Orson Wells, who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane, the 1941 film often hailed as the greatest ever made. While not every actor excels at so many aspects of filmmaking, many actors turn to producing in order to have more control over their careers, as well as the projects in which they’re involved.

The joys of wearing many hats

Taking a look at George Clooney’s Smoke House Pictures, you see that he and the other well-known actors jump from acting to directing to both. Clooney starred in the Jodie Foster directed “Money Monster,” while he will direct the upcoming “Suburbicon” starring Matt Damon. Smoke House also produced The Academy Award winning “Argo,” directed and starring Ben Affleck. Wear many hats and you will have many more opportunities to work.

Keep the Jobs Coming

Drew Barrymore started her production company Flower Films with Nancy Juvonen in 1995, which produced many films in which she has starred including “Never Been Kissed,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and the cult hit “Donnie Darko,” which she stepped in and saved when it was struggling to find backers. Longevity is not easy for any actor, and can be particularly tough for women in the biz. Having your own production company certainly helps mitigate the age factor. Barrymore stars in the new Netflix series “The Santa Clarita Diet,” for which she also serves as one of its executive producers, as does her co-star and on-screen husband Timothy Olyphant.

Producing Diversity

Diversity behind the scenes helps ensure traditionally neglected stories get told, which in turn creates more nuanced roles for diverse actors. Salma Hayek formed her production company Ventanarosa in 1999, which produced the Oscar-winning Frida, as well as the Emmy-winning Ugly Betty. Viola Davis (JuVee), Kerry Washington (Simpson Street), and Will Smith (Overbrook) are just a few of the actors of color who work behind as well as in front of the camera to create diverse and dynamic images.

Busting Out of Type

Actors can be constrained by their looks, their gender, their body type and the roles that made them famous. Clint Eastwood might have spent the rest of his life doing westerns if he hadn’t started his production company Malpaso Productions. According to Wikipedia, “Play Misty for Me” was the first film “to give Eastwood the artistic control he desired.” Named the most successful actor/producer by TheRichest, Eastwood has produced such diverse films as “Hang ’em High,” “Mystic River,” and “Million Dollar Baby.”

Making a Difference

Although many actors begin producing in order to take control of their career destinies in front of and behind the camera, others are simply interested in expanding the quality and scope of the industry. A good example of this is Brad Pitt and his production company Plan B, which he founded with Jennifer Anniston, and now runs with Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn writes that Plan B “has gained traction in recent years as one of the most significant entities supporting auteur-driven work in the United States.” From the academy-award winning “12 Years a Slave,” to this year’s underdog Oscar winner “Moonlight,” Pitt proves himself a star who is more than willing to step out of the picture to produce great films.

There are so many great actor producers. Let us know your favorite in the comments below, and contact New York Film Academy to learn more about producing and acting for film.

What Does A Production Designer Do?

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

There On Day One

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

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

Doing the Homework

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

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

Making the Story Come Alive

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

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

Is Production Designer The Role For You?

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

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

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

Filmmaking Lessons You Only Learn When You Study Abroad

Studying abroad opens your mind to new ideas and your eyes to new perspectives. For filmmakers, it is especially useful to look at the world as if you are seeing it for the first time, and to be able to translate that freshness to your audience. Now, more often than ever before, that audience is an international one. Here are a few lessons that can only be learned by stepping out of your comfort — and time — zone.

Seeing the world through a new lens.

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Travel, if it is done well, can be both disorienting and inspirational — setting you up for a great learning experience! Studying filmmaking in another country exposes you to a new culture, shaking you out of your biases and helping you to see new stories in the world around you.

The Hollywood way is not the only way.

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Although it is sometimes difficult to see past the Hollywood giants, filmmakers from around the world have made their marks on American cinema. Consider the work of Akira Kurosawa (Japan), Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog (Germany), Peter Jackson (New Zealand), and Guillermo del Toro (Mexico), to name just a few. Studying in the countries of your favorite directors can offer insight into the histories and landscapes that influenced them, and can also help you gain an understanding of their international appeal. Not to mention, that you might discover new inspirations and influences of your own.

Making your way in a global market.

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Globalization has forced the film industry to reinvent itself, according to The Hollywood Reporter. As international box office sales continue to increase, having an understanding of foreign markets will be vital for filmmakers. According to Wikipedia, China has become the biggest market after the United States and Canada in terms of box office dollars, while India actually sells the most tickets worldwide (at a lower cost). India is also considered the largest film industry in the world, followed by Nigeria and the United States. Breaking away from your hometown tendencies to live and work in a culture whose tastes differ from your own can help you create films that are compelling to global audiences.

Having friends in far-away places.

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More than ever, making blockbusters involves an international group effort. A glorious example of this is the magical 10-year collaboration between Americans and Brits on the Harry Potter films. Studying abroad is a great way to learn to collaborate with people from around the world, and make connections that may serve you well in the future.

NYFA offers study abroad opportunities and filmmaking workshops in cities from Berlin to Mumbai. Check out our international campuses and study abroad programs, and prepare to take off!

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Have you studied in a country other than your own? How did study abroad influence your work as an artist? Tell us about your study abroad experience in the comments below!