The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.
Lee has been a figure in American cinema since his 1986 feature debut, She’s Gotta Have It, which was adapted into a television series in 2017. Many of his films have examined race relations, urban life, political issues of the 20th and 21st centuries, and the role media plays in modern society. In 1983, Lee won the Student Academy Award, and has since been nominated for an Oscar five times, though this is the first time he’s been recognized for his Directing. BlacKkKlansman is up for Best Picture and stars John David Washington and Adam Driver as 1970s NYPD detectives exposing the Ku Klux Klan.
Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski
Pawel Pawlikowski is a Polish filmmaker who has helmed several award-winning documentaries and feature films, including Ida, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2015. At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Pawlikowski won the Best Director prize his latest film, Cold War. In addition to Best Directing, Cold War is up for two other Oscars — Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film. Cold War is a period film loosely based on Pawlikowski’s parents, who fell in love and played music in Europe during the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West.
The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has been making a name for himself since his 2009 film, Dogtooth, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. His film The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell, was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. His period dramedy The Favourite has generated a lot of buzz since its release, with ten Oscar nominations in total, including Best Picture and three Acting nods for its main cast of Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman. Colman in particular has become a favorite for her leading role as Queen Anne.
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuarón is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having ten nominations total and two wins to date, including Best Film Editing and Best Directing for his 2014 space epic, Gravity. His oeuvre has been varied throughout the years, including Great Expectations, Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men. Roma, a favorite in this year’s Oscars with 10 nominations, is a semi-autobiographical story set in the early 1970s and shot in stark black-and-white.
Vice, Adam McKay
Adam McKay has had an unconventional path to prestige filmmaking. The Philadelphia comedian failed his audition to be on Saturday Night Live but earned a spot on its writing staff and eventually became the show’s head writer. He had an instant chemistry with cast member Will Ferrell, and eventually wrote and directed several films starring the actor, including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers. His career moved to the next level with 2015’s The Big Short, which earned him the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Directing. His newest film, Vice, starring Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney, has eight Oscar nominations, including three nods for McKay.
Scorsese. Tarantino. Sometimes a name alone can signify a brand. We can instantly identify signature styles, techniques, work ethic, personality traits, and many other unique qualities or images associated with those names because of the brand they’ve built as filmmakers.
Building a brand is creating your own identity among the many millions of other filmmakers out there trying to do the same thing. It’s about differentiating yourself from everyone else and giving people a story about you and what you offer – otherwise known as your reputation.
Terms like “personal branding” can repel artists like the plague. but the reality is business can be just as much a part of filmmaking as the art – particularly in our current digital landscape where information is ubiquitous, and every man and his dog has a platform to vie for your attention.
Seeing as filmmaking is synonymous with storytelling, building your brand isn’t as daunting a task as you may think — in a way, it’s telling the story of yourself. With that in mind, the most important things to portray through your brand are:
–Who you are
–What it is you do
–How you go about it, and
–Where you’d like to go
Once you’ve worked out the answers, think about the audience you want to target — one that will best respond to your own style and sensibilities. Establishing a niche is important so as to reflect what qualities you want people to associate with you – your filmmaking identity (FI) – and to manifest that through:
–Your products and services – films, talent etc.
–Your relationships – with crew members, agents, other filmmakers, basically anyone you interact with really
–Your communications – your social networking, business cards, website etc.
Although the current digital landscape has exponentially increased the number of accessible filmmaking voices to compete with, it’s also simultaneously broadened your reach.
As mentioned above, social networking platforms are one of the most basic yet critical components to marketing your FI. If you have a production company, establish a logo and other design elements that correspond with the adjectives you want your audience to associate you with, and be sure to feature this on all of your digital mediums (and non-digital, like your business card). When it comes to branding, consistency is key. So make sure things like the color concept, font, showreel, ‘about me’ sections etc. throughout Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or any other platform you choose to market yourself on stay relatively similar. And don’t forget to engage!
Creator of Instagram filmmaking community @filmmakersworld, Emanuele Giannini, thinks of the platform as today’s digital portfolio for filmmakers and claims it’s a great way to “build an audience, attract new business, and collaborate online.” Platforms like it are also a great way to build relationships and learn from the best. Because your brand is tied to the emotions or impressions people have of you, your relationships and the way you communicate and engage with others will always play a big part.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be authentic. In fact, always be sure to showcase your individuality and uniqueness. But remember: Filmmaking is rarely a solitary job, so presenting a positive brand through social media can multiply the chances of networking with industry people who’ve never met you to reach out with opportunities.
When all is said and done, a brand won’t garner much positive attention if you’re not putting great care and effort into your work. So be sure to always be working on your filmmaking skills first and foremost, continually honing and evolving your voice. Then go forth and build that filmmaking identity – tell your story and make it great!
The entertainment industry continues to grow at a rapid pace — according to Stephen Follows, a data researcher in the film industry, more than 700 films were released across the U.S. in 2016 alone. What is even more surprising is that the number that Follows reported doesn’t even include film festivals, private screenings, and other types of showcases such as broadcasts of opera or theatre productions.
And even while the number of films keeps growing, the amount of original television content continues to peak. In an article published by Variety, writer Maureen Ryan wrote that there were more than 450 scripted original programs released in 2016.
Don’t expect the expansion of movies and television shows to slow down any time soon. The entertainment industry continues to dominate a complicated, turbulent world. But when it comes to creating these stories, what are the differences between filming for a movie and television show?
Most television series are created with the idea that the show will be around for an extended amount of time. Typically, writers intend for each episode to have a small story arc that often ties in with a larger story arc told over the course of a season or more.
This added amount of time allows writers to develop characters that are more in-depth and have greater dimension. Additionally, there can be a much larger cast over the course of a series because of the time afforded for an audience to get to know them. Tension can be ratched up between characters and other story elements much more slowly than in a feature film as well.
A budget for a movie is usually bigger than a budget for a television series. In Hollywood, more money can mean more and stronger special effects, more high-profile talent in front of and behind the camera, and more diverse and exciting locations to film on.
Besides a few notable exceptions, television series don’t normally have the same type of budgets that movies do. This forces directors, producers, and screenwriters to be more creative with the storyline and character development, as well as scale back the effects and scope of their projects. This is a good reason why Wonder Woman and Spider-Man may have giant CGI supervillains while Daredevil and Luke Cage will fight mostly fairly straightforward stunt actors.
Viewing a film in a theater can be a very different experience than watching one from your couch at home. Television series, outside of events like Comic Con, are almost never seen in such a way. Scaling your story so that it can work on a screen as tiny as the smallest smartphone then is an important thing to consider when producing a television series as opposed to a movie.
Additionally, when it comes theatrical releases, viewers don’t have the same time commitment they may give to a television series. Shows give the audience flexibility in a way a movie can’t — you can pause the television show whenever you want, and or resume it at another time. Viewers may binge watch an entire series in one weekend, or take months or even years to get through the entire story. In a theater, an audience is more-or-less committed to sitting through and experiencing the whole thing in one sitting.
This is important when considering certain plot and narrative elements. If you’re worried certain story choices may scare off your viewers, you might want to make sure you pace these moves in a smart way in a television series. If it’s in a film, you may get away with it for the whole two hours!
These are just a few key differences between longform and shortform cinematic storytelling. And, of course, movies and television series (especially these days) also share many similarities. If you’re interested in learning the craft of filmmaking for either, or both, of these mediums, check out the programs offered by the New York Film Academy today!
Cue the haunting piano music: Michael Myers is back in theaters this October with a brand new Halloween sequel. In true 21st century filmmaking fashion, this sequel is also somewhat of a soft reboot – a sequel that is technically in the same timeline, but retains many of the classic beats (and the title) of the original.
But which timeline? The Halloween franchise first began in 1978 as an independent horror film written and directed by John Carpenter (and produced and co-created by Debra Hill) and was an instant classic. The silent, hulking serial killer Michael Myers became a Hollywood icon as he murdered babysitters and their boyfriends in a painted William Shatner mask. Halloween quickly spawned a series of sequels, spin-offs, and remakes — all of which interweave with distinct continuities.
Here then, are five different timelines of the Halloween franchise in its first 40 years — who knows how many more retcons will come about in the next four decades!
Timeline #1 Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
This could be considered the original timeline, as it incorporates the first six films of the franchise (with one exception, which we’ll get to.) The first two films are very closely linked, filmed close together, with the same leads, taking place all in the same night (October 31, natch.)
After a brief departure from Halloween III, the real star of the franchise — Michael Myers — came back due to popular demand. He wasn’t joined by lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis, however, who had gone onto movie stardom in the 80s with smash hits like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda. Fortunately for the producers, veteran actor Donald Pleasance, a big get for the first two films, stayed and helmed the series as Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis for the next three films.
Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Laurie Strode, was killed off-screen in a car accident and the fourth film shifted focus to Laurie’s niece, Jamie Lloyd. Halloween4 was released ten years after the original, in 1988, and quickly followed up with Halloween5 in 1989.
The timeline finally came to an end in 1995, with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The movie expanded the franchise’s mythology and dove deep into the supernatural, dark mystical side of Michael Myers. One of its stars was a very young Paul Rudd playing Tommy Doyle, a character from the first two films. The movie ends with the death of series constant Dr. Loomis, and was dedicated to the memory of Donald Pleasance, who died just a few months before its release.
Timeline #2 Halloween III: Season of the Witch
The reason the franchise is called Halloween and not Michael Myers is because John Carpenter envisioned the series as an anthology of distinct horror stories, each set in their own universe with nothing to do with each other — much like Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and the Cloverfield films.
However, the huge success of the first film led to a direct sequel, Halloween II, which came out in 1981. This film started the notion that Michael Myers was superhuman, which was continued and explored in the rest of Timeline #1 (see above.)
But by the third film, Carpenter finally wished to move away from Michael Myers and the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, came out in 1982, and had none of the cast or characters from the first two films. It was also a completely different story — about evil Celtic magic from Stonehenge and androids that wish to kill the trick-or-treating children of a Northern California suburb.
Halloween III most certainly doesn’t take place in the same universe as Michael Myers. In fact, one of the characters in the movie is watching a commercial for the original Halloween, meaning the Jamie Lee Curtis films are just as fictional in the world of Season of the Witch as it is in ours.
Timeline #3 Halloween, Halloween II, H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween: Resurrection
It was only three years in between Halloween 6 and H20, but filmmaking was already evolving and Wes Craven’s Scream had upped the horror genre for moviegoers everywhere. In 1998, to celebrate two decades since the dawn of Michael Myers, the franchise released another sequel, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the role of Laurie Strode for the first time since 1981.
With the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, the series had to retcon her character’s death, and so this film takes place after Halloween and Halloween II — but NOT Halloweens 4, 5, and 6. While this brings Laurie Strode (and presumably, Dr. Loomis) back to life, this change in the continuity did not bode well for Nurse Chambers, a character played by Nancy Stephens in the first two films. She appears again as the character in the opening scene of H20, where she is quickly dispatched by a middle-aged Michael Myers.
By the end of the film, Myers has attacked Laurie Strode and her family, but is decapitated by her to make sure he never comes back. He does come back, however, in the film’s sequel, Halloween: Resurrection.
Halloween: Resurrection, released in 2002, is very much of its time, with a story revolving around webcams and the Internet, and the then-brand-new medium of Reality TV. It also stars Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes, who might play the only character in any of the timelines to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.
The film opens with a cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis, once again portraying Laurie Strode, who dies for a second time in the franchise — this time on screen as she falls from the roof of a psychiatric hospital.
Timeline #4 Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009)
Sound familiar? These two films take the exact same titles as the original two, but they are 100% remakes in the truest sense of the word, and which was very much in fashion at the time. Fresh off his critical gorefests House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie decided to tackle the Michael Myers franchise next, remaking Halloween in 2007.
Dr. Loomis is back, this time played by yet another British veteran actor, Malcolm McDowell. Zombie’s Halloween has much more focus on Michael Myers before his breakout and All Hallow’s Eve killing spree. It’s also more of a tension-builder and slower horror film, very much in style then and even still now.
The film received mixed reviews but made a decent amount of money at the box office, enough to warrant a direct sequel and the tenth film overall in the franchise. This new Halloween II harkens closer to the convoluted plotlines of Halloweens 4-6 than it does the original sequel though, dealing with hallucinations and flashbacks and revealing, like Timeline #1 eventually does, that Laurie Strode is actually the sister of Michael Myers. It ends with the death of Dr. Loomis (that makes two for him) and with Laurie now committed to a psychiatric hospital (that’s twice for her.)
Timeline #5 Halloween, Halloween (2018), ???
After considering a sequel to Zombie’s films or yet another reboot, the rights holders and producers of the franchise decided to do a sequel to the original Halloween. This film, once titled Halloween Returns, would have followed the first two, just as 4-6 did in Timeline #1. Soon indie director David Gordon Green and frequent collaborator Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride) came on board to work on the film.
In the writing process, Halloween II was taken out of the continuity, so that this sequel, which takes place forty years after the original (and twenty since the release of H20) is a direct sequel to only the original Halloween, and ignores the events of every other Halloween film that follows it.
The film will harken back to the original in plot and tone as well, as Myers will slowly make his way around town on Halloween night, picking off babysitters and anyone else who gets in his way.
It also brings back, once again, Jamie Lee Curtis as character Laurie Strode, who, as far as we know, isn’t the sister of Michael Myers. Whether Laurie Strode will die for the third time in the series or live for yet another sequel remains to be seen.
It’s doubtful Busta Rhymes will be back to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.
It’s the story we just can’t seem to get enough of [SPOILERS AHEAD for those who’ve never seen any version of the A Star is Born!!!!!!!] – an alcoholic male star discovers a talented yet unsuccessful woman, they fall in love, he boosts her career, her stardom eclipses his own, his demons get the better of him, and just as his decline carries the risk of taking her down with him, he commits suicide. But the tragic love story has always been about more than just about the romance – A Star is Born has also been a deeper exploration of the Faustian bargain of fame and the balancing scale on which success sits on the opposing end of loss.
In short, it’s a story that’s been irresistible for Hollywood’s storytellers and thus never dies. It’s no surprise then that A Star Is Born has undergone yet another rebirth – now its fourth official version – under the hands of Bradley Cooper in his directorial debut. George Cukor’s 1932 film What Price Hollywood? is largely considered to be the original prototype of A Star Is Born (Cukor went on to direct the 1954 remake) but it’s different enough to warrant its exclusion from the franchise. Throughout its number of versions over the span of eight decades, the basic plot remains quite consistent to where the exact line “I just wanted to take another look at you” occurs in each film.
But with each remake, the current generation making the film molds the skeleton of the plot to its own culture and style, and reflects an adapting perspective of stardom and the entertainment industry. So, let’s dive in and take a look at the first three films and how they evolved through each iteration:
A Star is Born (1937)
Directed by William Wellman and starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the “original” A Star is Born came at a time where Hollywood had room to be hopeful and self-reflective; it both acknowledged the industry’s veneer and endorsed it. Gaynor’s character, North Dakotan farm girl and aspiring actress Esther Blodgett, has a distinct origin story – an important characteristic of movie stars of that era.
Esther’s stage name is changed to Vicky Lester and she’s given a makeover to boost her star quality. The film largely focuses on a relatively young film industry during a time where it became a beacon of light for Americans amidst the Great Depression, promoting a message of “anyone can become a movie star” despite (and because of) the way in which it could completely manufacture such adored Hollywood personas.
A Star is Born (1954)
Directed by What Price Hollywood?’s George Cukor, this adaptation starred Hollywood legend Judy Garland as Esther Blodgett, alongside James Mason, who plays leading man Norman Maine. Among other key changes in detail from its predecessor in order to suit the time, the most obvious difference is that it’s a musical. Moreover, as opposed to Esther in 1937 whose aspirations lay specifically in becoming an actress, Garland’s character has more of a vague goal of becoming a successful singer.
Cukor’s remake also takes some tonal shifts, focusing more on character development and the relationship between the two protagonists. Unlike the 1937 film where Norman is quite aggressive and lacks introspection, the Norman of 1954 is a much more sympathetic character who is refined and self-aware. His sincerity makes Esther’s love for him more tragic, thus creating a more effective climax.
This adaptation also garnered more interest in the real life stories behind the scenes than other versions, namely due to Judy Garland’s tumultuous career at the time. Four years after her contract suspension with MGM following a suicide attempt, A Star is Born was intended to be her big comeback. Interestingly, Garland saw herself as both the talented, ingenuous star Esther and the older, fading star Norman, which propelled her powerful performance.
Despite the immense popularity and critical acclaim of the movie, her status as a film star never fully recovered after losing the Oscar to Grace Kelly – a controversial topic to this day.
This remake was directed by Frank Pierson and stars Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson as Esther Hoffman and Norman Howard. The changing of the protagonists’ surnames was a subtle, yet necessary adjustment to feel more relevant to the 70s, much like the strategic move to supplement alcoholism with cocaine addiction. But what became the most significant change in this film was changing the leads from Hollywood celebrities to rock stars, as this new type of fame during that era bred its own legend of success and failure with the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.
Additionally, with the UN declaring 1975 as International Women’s Year during a decade that revolutionised the women’s movement, Streisand’s Esther reflected more of a freedom and confidence that her previous iterations may never have imagined. She’s the most self-assured of the protagonists and also proposes to Norman, whilst hyphenating her last name in the final tribute scene as opposed to announcing herself as “Mrs. Norman Maine.”
Despite some mixed reviews – most negative ones attributing Streisand’s actual fame to the overshadowing of Kristofferson’s performance and subsequently, his character – she is the only actress to have won the Oscar for her portrayal of Esther. Unless, of course, Lady Gaga follows her next winter with a win for her lead role in the newest A Star is Born remake. The buzz is already undeniable.
Peter Rainer is a lecturer at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles (NYFA-LA).
Rainer is also the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor and can be heard regularly on NPR’s Film Week on KPCC-FM. He was one of three finalists in 1998 for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism and is a three-time winner of the Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award for Best Online Film Critic. Rainer is also president of the National Society of Film Critics and has appeared as a film commentator on CNN, ABC News World Tonight, Bloomberg Radio, and Nightline.
Additionally, Rainer has served as film critic for New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, New Times Los Angeles and Los Angeles magazine. His writings have also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and GQ. He has also written and co-produced two A&E biographies–on Sidney Poitier and John Huston–as well as co-authoring the 1977 film Joyride. He has served on the main juries for both the Venice and Montreal film festivals.
Rainer continues to immerse NYFA students with decades of film history, knowledge, and insight.
Rainer’s Roundtable at NYFA
In this series, Peter Rainer sits down with NYFA students and discusses film production, critique, and the filmmaking process.
Rainer on Film
With Rainer on Film, Peter Rainer dives deeper into film trends with video essays that incorporate clips from films as well as behind-the-scenes photos and footage. In its debut episode, the film critic discusses films of the 1960s and 1970s. In the second episode, Rainer moves on to the films of the 1980s.
The NYFA Hour on Popcorn Talk
Popcorn Talk Network is the online broadcast network with programming dedicated exclusively to movie discussion, news, interviews, and commentary. In The NYFA Hour, the New York Film Academy hosted an array of knowledgable industry personalities, with multiple guest appearances with Peter Rainer.
In the episode below, Rainer joins host Pegah Rad to discuss the art of film critique and how cinema has changed since he started writing about the movies:
The Back Lot – NYFA Podcast
The Backlot podcast aims to offer our students and you, the listener, expert insight into the film and entertainment industry through top notch instructors and A-list guests. Check out the July 22, 2019 episode where guest Peter Rainer discusses the Hollywood artists we lost in 2018.
The film industry is brimming with roles that contribute to the creation of fun, unforgettable experiences. While a typical moviegoer is well aware of what writers, actors, and directors do, if there’s one position that often gets overlooked, it’s that of producer.
Producers are there from start to finish, overseeing the film’s production while usually filling a number of roles. From budgets and schedules to helping to cast the right actors, they are expected to make big decisions during every stage of filmmaking. Producers are also one of the main creative forces in production, often seeing their own vision and ideas come to life on the big screen for many to view.
But with a complex role comes a variety of compensation options that aren’t always as straightforward or risk-free as other jobs in the industry:
A development fee is what a producer might get paid for their pitch and thoughts during the time that the studio is filling other key roles, such as screenwriters, and figuring out if the project is worth greenlighting at all. As mentioned, many project pitches are abandoned by studios before they can move from development to production, which means producers will need to take their project elsewhere.
Development fees are up to the studio and vary. Where one producer is getting $15,000 for their input during development, another may receive up to $60,000 or more. At the end of the day, the amount of cash a producer makes across an entire film production — starting with this development fee — relies heavily on both the producer’s participation and previous experience.
If a studio does decide to move forward with a film, producers can expect to receive a guaranteed fee. This payment is also up to the studio and thus can also range widely — a normal estimate is somewhere between $100,000 and $400,000. The power a producer has when it comes to negotiating their production fee relies on a number of factors, but perhaps the most important is how impressive their resume is.
The more box office hits and critically acclaimed films a producer has been a part of, the more leverage she or he has for getting a good deal. Also important is how involved the producer plans to be during productions — performing more services means you should get more money. This payment is also not usually given all at once and is instead divided throughout a film’s production. For example, a producer may receive 20% of the total production fee before principal photography, 50% during photography, and then the rest after.
Most producers are also promised a cut of the film’s profits. Again, how high of a percent you get usually depends on your reputation and level of success. The truth is, the average producer doesn’t expect to make a lot of money from profits considering how much of it gets divided up among other players who were involved in the process.
For example, movie theaters usually get to keep about fifty percent of gross revenues. What’s left is often used to repay the costs of making the film in the first place, including added interest since the money was likely borrowed years ago. In short, producers may obtain back-end points (i.e. percentage on profits) on net profits, at the most. However, some post-release profits to look forward to — if the producer has a share in the copyright of the film — are things like DVD and rights to streaming services like Netflix.
Bridge Between Art & Business
A common misconception in the film industry is seeing producers as these high-stakes gamblers who often bet all their chips on ideas, either earning nothing or become millionaires. The truth is, being a producer is all about using your knowledge and experience to minimize risk and maximize opportunity. As the bridge that connects the artistic vision with the business goals of the film, it’s on you to help foster creativity and build relationships while making sure the project stays on a promising financial course.
If you want a role that requires both imagination and strategic thinking while letting you work closely with people trying to impact audience’s lives with memorable films, look no further. It also doesn’t hurt that you’ll likely make very good money if you know what you’re doing.
Interested in taking classes at the producing school at New York Film Academy? Check out more informationhere.
Although it’s usually the big-budget films raking in the cash and getting all the commercial attention, film’s greatest strength as a source of entertainment for its variety. When the market is saturated with enough A-list actors and adrenaline-fueled blockbuster rides, many look to independent films for fresh faces, stories with creative risks, and more. The following movies recently striking a chord are just the latest icing on the cake that is the current indie film industry:
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
You know you’re dealing with a good documentary when it not only sits at the top 15 highest grossing non-fiction films of all time but also beat four Disneynature documentaries despite a smaller theatrical run. Using a tone both elegant and tender, director Morgan Neville helps capture minister Fred Rogers’ magical ascent in television while embodying what children’s programming should be about.
As Ari Aster’s first feature, this supernatural horror film does more than give viewers a scare. Toni Collette’s character creates a memorable look at the grieving process as she struggles to cope with several deaths in the family. Critically acclaimed and standing as American independent entertainment company A24’s highest-grossing film worldwide, Hereditary sets a high bar for horror films looking to provide tension and terror through means other than your average shock tactics.
Jordan Peele put on the director’s hat for the first time with this indie horror film that earned its spot among the ten most profitable movies of 2017. Viewers praised the film’s excellent mix of humor and its creative visual style. Perhaps most importantly, Get Out does what horror films do best: provide an entertaining story that touches on real world issues — in this case, racism.
The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s drama film tells the story of a restless mother and her young daughter as they do whatever it takes to avoid homelessness. Strong performances and a powerful, sensitive look at poverty in today’s America earned this movie a number of notable nominations, including a spot on the National Board of Review’s and American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the Year lists. (One of The Florida Project’s producers is Darren Dean, a NYFA producing school instructor.)
A Quiet Place
Grossing $332 million worldwide after being made with a budget of around $20 million, this sci-fi horror film has been the talk among scary flick fans in 2018. Writer/director John Krasinski’s reliance on visual storytelling paid off as his use of silence and excellent sound design, along with strong performances help drive its eerie atmosphere. Notable figures such as Stephen King and Nick Allen specifically praised the expressive silence that allowed viewers to feel terror not through words but mostly from the expressions of the characters alone.
Craig Gillespie’s biographical film recounts the story of Tonya Harding, the American Olympic figure skater connected with the brutal attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan one day before the Ladies Singles competition the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The film earned numerous nominations, including a win for Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Academy Awards, and was praised for its great execution of humor and tragedy thanks to its strong, emotional performances.
Directed by Dee Rees, this American period drama follows two World War II veterans — one black, one white — as they battle against racism and PTSD in their post-war life. Widely praised for its strong cast, Mudbound earned many nominations, including four at the 90th Academy Awards, and led to Rachel Morrison becoming the first woman ever nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar.
The Big Sick
One of the top grossing indie films of 2017, The Big Sick is a romantic comedy based on the actual romantic beginnings of writers and interethnic couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. Audiences and critics both enjoyed the film’s original spin on a true love story that succeeded despite illness, cultural differences, and more. Director Michael Showalter’s film turned a $5 million budget into a $56 million box office worldwide, while also earning several dozen awards and nominations.
With television adequately keeping up with the vastly different business model that became necessary with the advent of the internet and digital culture and consumption, it’s no surprise it’s now able to attain huge production budgets, incredibly rich and complex narratives, and Hollywood’s biggest actors – things that were previously only seen in films. Consequently, as an awards ceremony exclusively focused on television, the Emmys are now bigger than ever. Let’s look at some of the trends emerging from this year’s list of nominees:
This is by far the most dominant trend among the nominees this year. Diversity and inclusion of previously marginalized communities are not only being represented at an all-time high among recognized programs but they’re at front and center, with many of the protagonists being LGBTQI+, people of color, and/or women. Not only do the central characters identify as such, but much of the narratives and plotlines largely center around the perspectives and experiences of those within the communities.
With no surprises, Game of Thrones tops the list for most nominations at 22 nods in total, followed by Saturday Night Live and Westworld with 21 nods each, and The Handmaid’s Tale at 20. With exception to Saturday Night Live, given it’s a sketch-comedy show, the top three alone feature characters (and actors) with fluid sexual preferences and have strong, female leads playing roles that challenge the status-quo – both within their plotlines and subsequently in real life. In fact, most of the programs with ten or more nominations, like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (14), The Crown (13), Godless (12), and GLOW (10), offer female-centric narratives that focus on the female experience within dominant patriarchal gender norms.
Many have also made significant parallels between The Handmaid’s Tale and our current political climate, connecting it to broader discussions around women’s rights as well as the #MeToo movement. RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality-competition show featuring drag queens also continues its reign (it’s had 23 nominations since the show began), with 10 nods this year.
Moreover, five of the seven nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and GLOW, mentioned previously for ten or more overall nominations — are either based on the lives of people of color and/or women: Black-ish, Atlanta, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (the remaining two being Silicon Valley and Curb Your Enthusiasm). Additionally, Sandra Oh’s nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role in Killing Eve makes her the first woman of Asian descent to receive the lead actress nod in that category.
Diversity in the Emmys has reached to even lesser known demographics. Peter Dinklage, who was born with dwarfism, has twice won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for playing Tyrion in 2011 and 2015, is nominated again this year, officially making him the most nominated person in that category ever. Following his acceptance speech in 2015 where he mentioned the name ‘Martin Henderson’, a 4-foot-2 actor in England who suffered partial paralysis after being physically thrown by an unknown assailant, Dinklage addressed the prejudice those with dwarfism face but pointed out that part of the media portrayal lay in the hands of the actors. “You can say no,” he said. “You can not be the object of ridicule.”
Dystopias, Apocalypses, & Time Periods
Another recurring theme among the programs nominated this year is this end-of-the-world, humans versus [insert varying non-human character] dystopian storyline. Perhaps telling of our current-day political and/or ideological milieu? In terms of time travel, however, most of this year’s frontrunners are set back in time, or in the future, or both. In fact, all seven programs in the Outstanding Drama Series category this year are either entirely set in or have elements of the past in them. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s no linear timeline or clear epoch but it plays with the idea of a dystopian world set in the present day but with traditional lifestyles and values more commonly seen between the 1800s-1900s.
Westworld similarly switches between past and present, although the word ‘present’ is more for audience reference — the story is actually set in the future (some devout fans predict maybe around year 2050-2060?), whilst the fictional theme park, Westworld, is based on many Western films like El Dorado and The Searchers, which were predominantly set following the Civil War at the end of the 19th Century. Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Americans, This Is Us, and The Crown are also in said category. GLOW, which is in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, is set in the 1980s, along with Stranger Things and The Americans.
With all these period and otherworldly television series, it’s safe to say this year’s VFX, costume, hair and makeup, and production design teams had their work cut out for them!
This year, Netflix has come out on top with 112 nominees in total, followed by HBO, with 108. Third in line is commercial broadcast television network NBC, but with 78 total nominees, it’s significantly behind the two networks ahead of it. HBO is a cable network, but what differentiates them from the other traditional channels is the innovative way they’ve reinvented themselves to adapt to the digital market by introducing the popular streaming option, HBO NOW, which doesn’t require an already existing cable subscription.
This is a testament to the changing shape of television viewing. No longer limited by locale or device, audiences have more of a ubiquitous television experience and networks have had no choice but to respond. Consequently, more and more shows are being picked up, giving screenwriters and filmmakers a larger reach and more opportunities to take chances and make niche content.
Even if you’re at the top of your game or currently getting hands-on at an intensive filmmaking school program, it can pay dividends to do some additional learning behind the scenes.
Thankfully, for those who live and breathe the craft, there are more than a few excellent books in which to immerse yourself and get even further ahead of the game…
… in fact, it could be argued that there are too many to choose from. With this in mind, join us as we separate the wheat from the chaff with:
9 Best Books on Filmmaking and Directing
The following is a summary of the best filmmaking books written by filmmakers, for filmmakers. Naturally, any list of this kind features a certain level of subjectivity, but all of the below are industry renowned titles and come highly recommended.
The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age (2013 Edition) by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus
A staple of filmmaker’s bookshelves for well over a decade, the latest edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook has revitalized all of the essential knowledge which it has become known for and brought it right up to date. If you don’t own this book already, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
David Mamet is heralded for both his on-stage work (for which he has won Pulitzer and Tony prizes) and also his work on the screen, having ratcheted up a couple of Oscar nominations. As such, Mamet has more than a few nuggets of wisdom to share throughout the pages of On Directing Film, making it a mandatory read for directors… or really, anyone working in film.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1999) by Peter Biskind
While not a manual on filmmaking, Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders is essential reading in order to fully understand the foundations on which modern-day Hollywood was built. We could have chosen any title by this highly engaging cultural critic – Down and Dirty Pictures is also highly recommended – but Easy Riders is a great place to start.
Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics (Fifth Edition, 2013) by Michael Rabinger and Mick Hurbis-Cherrier
Another must-read for either those at filmmaking school or looking to make a career hop over to the director’s seat. What isn’t covered on the profession in this book could probably fit on the back of a postage stamp. From start to finish, this truly is one of the most comprehensive books ever written – and frequently updated – on the art and science of directing.
How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail) by Bret Stern (2002)
Coupled with one of the more authoritative, traditional tomes on filmmaking listed here, Bret Stern’s very liberating approach to the topic will have you on the road to becoming an indie maverick in no time. How To Shoot a Feature Film For Under $10,000 is guaranteed to revolutionize your approach to problem solving (and hopefully make you a much better filmmaker in the process.)
On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2005) by Alexander Mackendrick, edited by Paul Cronin
Alexander Mackendrick’s seminal volume on the craft of filmmaking has long been an industry standard text, and one that has helped countless individuals find their own cinematographic eye and achieve success in directing. Following the great director and teacher’s death in 1993, the various handouts he would give to his students were collated by Paul Cronin and presented in this book (with a foreword from Martin Scorsese.)
In the Blink of an Eye (2nd Edition, 2001) by Walter Murch
As a thought-provoking treatise on the practicalities and aesthetics of cutting film, In the Blink of an Eye is a book everyone who works in editing should read. Don’t be put off – this isn’t a technical manual on the hows of editing, but more of a meditation on the whys.
Legendary director Sidney Lumet didn’t see filmmaking as magic, so this magician was more than happy to share his secrets. Lumet wasn’t just a visionary–he was very much a workman, and believed having a clear, firm control of his set would lead to a smooth production that would allow everyone, from crew to cast, to do their best. The five-time Oscar nominee backs up his ideas with sample shot lists and schedules and other practical templates filmmakers can use to this day.
While Mexican director Robert Rodriguez is now more known for his blockbuster epics like Alita: Battle Angel and the Spy Kids movies, Rodriguez first rose to prominence with his independent film El Mariachi, which he shot with only $7,000. One way he saved money was by serving as his own editor, cinematographer, writer, producer, director, and film scorer–roles he still fills for many of his much higher-budgeted films to this day. His guerilla-style, ultra low-budget take on indie filmmaking is detailed in his book Rebel without a Crew, a must-read for filmmakers who don’t have millions of dollars at their disposal to make the movie of their dreams.
Rebel without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez (1995)
Read any other excellent books on filmmaking that we should be checking out and including here? Don’t hesitate to drop your suggestion in the comments below, and let’s chat books! And check out NYFA’s filmmaking programs to learn more about movie making.
Q: What is the first lesson to learn in becoming a successful filmmaker?
JW: Honestly, when you are starting out and are fulfilling an entry-level position, one of the most important things is “being on time!” In this industry, your reputation is all you have, so you better make sure you’re making a good impression on people the first time around — you may not get that second chance. You also want to pay attention. It seems so simple yet so few nascent filmmakers pay attention on set when they are not in a decision making role. If you pay attention, take notes and ask questions, you will learn the most and make a lasting impression. As your career progresses and you take on roles with more responsibility, you need to learn to trust the crew around you. Understand that your role is mainly to channel other people’s talents as opposed to imposing your vision on everyone.
Q: What do you wish you knew when you started your education in your field?
JW: I entered the industry with a high level of naiveté. For me, one hard learned lesson was that no one is ever going to give you anything. In order to make it, you have to actively (very actively) carve out your own opportunities AND when you think you have “made it” and can be a little more lax in your pursuit of the next project, you are in trouble, because you can never think, “I’ve made it.”
Q: How do I get the most out of my program at NYFA?
JW: By putting the most into the program, which is true of filmmaking or any life experience really. You must give everything you have with complete dedication. By working on as many projects with your classmates as time permits (maybe even with students from other departments). By spending extra time with your professors, asking questions and challenging them. By being open to constructive criticism and letting down your defenses. By networking with the students around you, these people will be your future collaborators once you leave school.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your professional career?
JW: Everyone who enters the film industry considers him or herself a creative person, and as a director or cinematographer you have to be open to their ideas, because people will become more invested in a project if they feel that even the tiniest part of the film would not have existed were it not for them. That is what you want, a crew that truly cares about the material and are not there just to garner a paycheck.
Q: Which pieces of equipment do you find most effective in your field?
JW: This may sound a tad lame but what everyone on set needs is a comfortable pair of shoes. It’s a long day, you are going to be on your feet for the majority of it. Beyond my go-to boots, I love my director’s viewfinder app on my iPhone. It allows me to quickly audition different focal lengths and communicate with my DP. Actually, there are some really great apps that I have found useful when on set.
Q: What are the essential first steps to breaking into this field after completing a program at NYFA?
JW: I would say to get as much experience and exposure as possible. Do not be afraid to take any job and never go onto a set thinking any role is beneath you, just because you went to film school. Everyone in this industry started somewhere, and for most of us, that was working for little to no pay as a Production Assistant. When you do get that first PA job, be an active participant on set, pay attention, take notes and make sure you introduce yourself to the key people. Make sure they know you are there. Maybe the most important piece of advice is never stop working on your own projects, whether that is writing, shooting, directing or editing, you still have to keep working. Keep yourself relevant and constantly add to your body of work. When someone does take notice of you and asks what you are working on, you want to have a whole slate of interesting projects.
Q: Who do you consider to be the most influential artists in your field?
JW: There are so many influential artists in my life, but if I had to choose one, it would be Roger Deakins. His work has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to me. From his multiple collaborations with the Coen brothers to his advising work on Wall-E, he consistently produces memorable imagery and beautiful frames without ever having the cinematography get in the way of the narrative. He’s also a very kind and giving teacher to those with whom he works and the online community at large. A very close second would have to be Chris Doyle, specifically his work with Wong Kar Wai — simply amazing. From a directing standpoint, I would have to say Martin Scorsese. He has influenced a whole generation of filmmakers, not just in NYC, but also across the globe. I almost fainted the first time I walked on set and heard him giving direction.