Creative thinking empowers you to believe in yourself and succeed. The psychology of learning film. Click here!
Making a film with 50 dollars and taking it to Cannes Film Festival. Click here.
Being an Independent Film Producer
“I cannot tell you how much I have sacrificed to realize my dream of being a producer. The commitment necessary to see a project through to the end is not for everyone.”
Deep Freeze: Extreme Filmmaking in the Arctic North
New York Film Academy instructor Kirill Yusim recently returned from Alaska, where he worked as a camera operator for the History Channel show Ice Road Truckers. The documentary-style program follows truck drivers who operate on seasonal roads, crossing frozen lakes and rivers in remote arctic territories. Kirill filmed on Alaska’s Dalton Highway, a deserted 400-mile stretch of road that begins north of Fairbanks, and ends at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.
“It was my first time in Alaska,” says Kirill. “I knew it was cold. They provided us with an outer layer, boots, pants, and gloves. I picked up a few thick under layers… At the coldest, we wore 5 layers. The weather was -10°F in Fairbanks, and by the time we got to Atigun Pass [about 300 miles away], it was -50°F. There was crazy wind, and you would go through 4 or 5 different weather conditions.”
“We were following trucks pretty closely, doing interviews with drivers, and working on story lines,” he explained. “We would stop at least 8-10 times throughout the day. I was in a chase vehicle and the truck was in front of us. Sometimes we would get out and set up the tripod. Most of the time I’d be fighting through waist-high snow.”
From their home base in Fairbanks, Kirill says, “The one-way trip would take up to 18 hours. They were long days. We had days where it was like 22 hours. We would stay in funny little hotels in Prudhoe Bay. It’s a dry town with no restaurants. The places we had to stay at looked like meat lockers. Probably the coolest thing was shooting time lapses of the northern lights,” says Kirlll. “We would set the exposure and shoot a picture every 8 seconds, [also] shooting transitions from day to night, and the moon rising.”
Kirill teaches courses in cinematography, lighting, and directing at New York Film Academy at Universal Studios. He says, “The fact that I’m able to teach here and listen to students, gather information, and practice at the same time — it’s given me confidence and knowledge [on the set], to know what I’m looking at and knowing where to be.”
To learn more about our Universal Studios campus, click here.
NYFA in Paris, je t’aime!
Jean-Baptiste Gueniffey is a Parisian storyteller who made his way to New York City in search of the truth. We asked, “What truth?” He simply replied, “The truth.” By the end of the interview, this aspiring screenwriter impressed us with his calm and collected demeanor and his matter-of-fact approach to life. Inspired by his childhood love of films and literature, Jean decided to take the plunge into screenwriting because he felt it was the most viable platform to impact the most minds of any audience. “What artist doesn’t want to challenge people and push their boundaries?”
Studying as a film editor in France, he reached out to French screenwriters working in America and they had suggested an education where one “writes and learns to correct what they write.” A personal friend also recommended the New York Film Academy after completing an eight-week intensive program. In search of a flexible program calendar where he could enroll in January, Jean felt our school was the perfect fit. He felt the screenwriting program helps one understand the structure of the story and how elements of motive and conflict are represented on the screen. He sees NYFA as the final step in entering the industry. Currently, Jean is developing a screenplay about an “unusual love” in New Orleans soon after the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Storytelling is, as Jean describes it, about “struggle” and the reality of conflict. “There’s no easy way out. Truth is, we live in an obscenely violent world.”
Jean points to the works of Frank Capra. “His films forces you to ask yourself, ‘What makes an individual matter in this world?’ That’s what inspires my work. I’m in search of what’s real. Genuine. Tangible.” When asked of his plans after NYFA, Jean admits he doesn’t think of the future too much. As he says, “Good things have to mature.” Live in the present moment. Take the plunge. Don’t fuss. Spoken like a true Zen master.
A London Filmmaker in New York City
Lucy Reevely began writing when she was 9 years old. She never told anyone. Not a soul. One day, however, a friend found one of her stories on her laptop and encouraged her to nurture her talent. Lucy’s journey as a filmmaker began recently as she realized her storytelling was visual by nature. Her imagination functions cinematically, and over the years, Lucy gradually decided to expand her repertoire. “Only I can capture the magic in my head, and I don’t want to depend on anyone else for my success.”
When she visited schools in New York City, Lucy found other institutions artistically restrictive and the curriculum far too regimented. She finds the New York Film Academy to have the perfect balance of freedom and direction. As she says, “No judgment. Just guidance.” Lucy praises her teachers like Michael Sandoval for knowing her voice and talent, their ability to get inside a student’s mind and guiding one’s vision, and never discouraging a pupil from an idea—no matter how farfetched it may seem at first. She simply characterized the student body as diverse. “What you create as an artist is what you experience. Working with people from all over the world, it’s definitely broadened my views on the world and my ability to adapt to another’s perspective.”
Lucy finds NYC the perfect place to hone her skills. Los Angeles seemed too studio-driven and wanted an environment where exploration was mandatory—no boundaries, no limits. To her London compatriots, she urges them to go abroad. “When you’re far from home, it forces you to grow. London’s industry is filled with soaps. If you want to work on features and original screenplays, come to New York.”
What You Need to Know About the Audience
Ron Tippe is the department chair of the Producing department at the New York Film Academy. He is best known as the animation producer for the smash hit Space Jam. He managed the Walt Disney Feature Animation studio in Paris, France while producing the short film Runaway Brain which was nominated for an Academy award. He was also responsible for pre-production on Shrek and worked with George Lucas in collaboration with Universal Studios on Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.
I must be a lucky guy. After 27 years in Hollywood with a successful career in the film business, I’m now the Chair of Producing for NYFA. First off, I get to work with some very special people. My fellow colleagues come from various countries which offer different perspectives from a variety of cultures around the world. That said, the commonality is their love of cinema. Almost to a person, the level of passion is infectious and energizing. This attitude towards the art of filmmaking is what constitutes success as a film producer.
- KNOW WHO YOUR AUDIENCE IS. In the entertainment business, nothing is decided at the studio level these days. At least not without going through marketing, licensing, branding and PR first. The goal for a studio is to maximize financial gain and stem any losses. Focus groups are de rigeur. In the independent world, film festivals and smaller theatrical releases often depend on word-of-mouth in addition to ever-expanding social media campaigns.
- GRAB THEM IN THE FIRST TEN MINUTES. When looking for a film to produce, make sure that the first 10 pages of the script are compelling. Introduce the main characters and make sure we understand what the protagonist wants. And then how the antagonist prevents that from happening. Comedy or drama, action or fantasy, a great story is imperative to grab the audience. The sooner the better!
- WE ARE GLOBAL. The box office is increasingly getting two-thirds of their money internationally. Producers, it’s a global marketplace. Know it. Own it.
- WORD OF MOUTH IS A MOVIE’S BEST FRIEND. If an audience is satisfied, he or she will tell others. Facebook, Twitter, Email. You name it, they will use it. Social media is where it’s at.
- AUDIENCES ARE NOT STUPID. They are very culturally savvy, increasingly educated and obviously fickle. They know what they like and dislike.
A producer is someone who works insane hours under very difficult conditions. You’re always inside the pressure cooker. You’re constantly nudged by studio executives with their myriad of concerns—most of which are related to budgets and finance. How is this related to being a teacher of film? Passion is absolutely essential in the making a film, or at least in providing a great experience during the making of that film. The same is true in the classroom. A passionate teacher is infectious, and that passion often manifests itself in motivated and inspired students. A great producer can make or break that wonderful experience. After all, the producer is who a crew looks to for leadership. It’s a high standard. The same is true in the classroom here at NYFA. We aim to attain the highest standards and “shoot” for it every single day.
I’m proud of my teachers and students. We are motivated and inquisitive. Most importantly, we work hard. The students will become great producers for the next generation of moviegoers. Because producers have a strong hand in the filmmaking process, we should be proud of the education that the students are getting here at NYFA. Frankly, we should let the world know how good we are. Time to get the word out. Producer. Teacher. Leader. Motivator. I must be a very lucky guy. Stand by to roll.
Students in the LA campus were at a production workshop in order to learn the best in filmmaking. Here’s a snippet! Click here to learn more about our filmmaking program.
The Importance of an “Indelible” Screenplay
Melanie Williams Oram is the department chair of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy’s New York City Campus. Melanie wrote and directed SHOOK, a short film that Showtime acquired and airs. SHOOK won several awards including Best film of the Festival at the inaugural Juneteenth Festival. Her feature length version of SHOOK was an Urbanworld Screenplay Competition Finalist. She has produced several award winning shorts including A-Alike, which won the Gold Medal at the Student Academy Awards and a DGA Award. She has won both an Emmy and a Peabody for her work at HBO Sports. Currently she is producing her first independent feature film, Indelible.
I am nearing the end of the production phase on my first feature film Indelible. This film tells the story of El Bonds, an African American female scientist who races to find the cure for a disease that killed her husband and threatens to take the life of her teenage son. As the producer on this project, I am struck by how important a solid script is to creating a quality film. Yes, the feature film arena is one where the director is clearly the ruling monarch, and I’ve always preached that without a good script, the director, even a great director, has nothing. Now after nearly finishing the production phase of Indelible, I see in practice that a well-structured script is the engine that powers the rest of the filmmaking train.
Our process on Indelible has been truly collaborative. Our writer, Mikki del Monico wrote the script and asked Randy Dottin, the director to attach himself to the project. Randy and I had collaborated on several short film projects together and he asked me to come onto the project as a producer.
As a team our first step was to apply for a production grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Mikki already had an established track record with Sloan and had previously won a $10,000 screenwriting grant for an earlier draft of Indelible. We were fortunate enough to win the $100,000 production grant and then our journey to make a feature film began. I worked with Mikki and Randy for about two years on developing the script and getting it ready to shoot. Mikki wrote countless drafts and we had several meetings about how to clarify the want of the protagonist, increase the intensity of the obstacles created by our antagonist, and shape subplots that were both engaging and well-crafted.
We went into production confident that our script had all the elements of a good drama. We completed our initial shoot and managed to stay true to our original vision.
After a fairly lengthy break in production, we cut together an assemble version of the film and re-evaluated the script. It was clear that we needed to do some pick-up shoots. We were facing some challenges as a production because we didn’t have access to some of the key talent that we needed. We wanted to finish the film strong and so we were faced with the task of altering the script again. Our new script needed to create a softer side of our protagonist by deepening some of her personal relationships. This process included broadening the role of some characters, minimizing the role of other characters, and even recasting one of Indeiible’s major players.
To date, we have completed two pick-up shoots and we plan to do one more in the late spring/early summer. We are editing a new cut of the film that incorporates all our footage from all three (3) periods of our production phase (initial production + two pick-up shoots). We will look at the cut and determine not only which scenes need to be reshot but what scenes need to added to the script to ensure that we enter into Indelible’s post production phase in the strongest possible position. We have pledged that we will not embark on this final pick-up shoot until we believe the newest version of the script is solid. As a team we are still committed to the idea that a strong, well structured script provides a blueprint for making sure that ultimately we produce “a good story that is well told.”
I believe that my experiences as a professional filmmaker, and definitely my work with the Indelible project have shaped my teaching in the classroom. As an instructor, I try to bring together theory and practice. I’d be curious to hear your ideas on screenwriting theory and how you’ve put those ideas into practice. What are your experiences with developing and/or producing your own scripts either for shorts or feature films?
To learn more about NYFA’s Screenwriting program, please click here.
All Photos Taken By Gregory Costanzo
Luci in the Sky: The Evolution of an Artist
In the spring of 1993, Vittoria Chierici never thought she’d go to film school. She never even planned to become a filmmaker. She deems an “instinctual will” compelled her to visit the New York Film Academy as she sauntered through Union Square as a young painter. Vittoria saw the banner hanging on the balcony of the building, which is the same one that still hangs here today. After heading inside, she found the place strangely familiar despite the occasion being her first time meeting Jerry Sherlock and the staff. As she says, “Everyone was extremely kind. Not formal. Determined and fast.” As an Italian artist, she experienced the paradoxically focused yet frenetic energy of New York City through her experience at NYFA.
“I came from a very intellectual world. All I wanted to do was practice. I wanted to do the real thing. I wanted to learn the process and technique.”
For two years, Vittoria spent day and night editing footage and remembers how Jerry Sherlock was always by the side of the students. Today, NYFA is the largest film education institution in the world. Back in the early 90’s, however, it was a school just beginning to establish its roots. As she recalls, “It was just Jerry and a bunch of young people. All the students and teachers worked many hours for passion, pleasure, and curiosity rather than fulfilling any professional need.”
Vittoria describes herself as an artist of action. The word which categorizes her work philosophically is “instinct”. She considers herself mainly a painter but considers herself intuitive and versatile creatively. Her filmmaking gives her joy, and has sold only her paintings in order to gain commercial profit. She states, “I have never had the talent for telling stories.” Vittoria is committed to short and experimental works which eschew traditional techniques. Her work is prolific. Vittoria was invited to participate in a project called No Soul for Sale at the Tate Modern Gallery in London. Her painting and installations have been exhibited at Kunstmoderner Museum in Vienna, the Warhol Museum, the prestigious library la Vigna, and over 20 galleries and museums across the globe.She credits her success on her love for learning and understanding the process of filmmaking. Learning to utilize effectively every method of technique and challenging conventions.
As an artist who has worked in the creative field for years, Vittoria has a delightfully gracious attitude regarding the quick rise of digital impacting artistic industries today. The digital world has changed her life routine and introduced her to a new, fast, and direct method of handling tools. “I am starting to work very much out of the studio—en plein air once again—much like the old impressionists.” It’s an exciting time for Vittoria Chierici. Her last video project Luci in the Sky involves a collaboration with violinist and composer ANA Milosavljevic and filmmaker Yuko Takebe. The film is based on tiny luminous points of light moving the sky with close ups of night creatures. Luci in the Sky depicts a distant, unpredictable world as a multi-projectional presentation. It portrays a seamless world marrying sensory visualization and sonic interpretation. On May 18th, Luci in the Sky has its US premiere at The Cell for the Tribeca New Music Festival.
“As an Italian working in the US, I couldn’t have been luckier. Young people today are very passionate. They still have a spirit of discovery. A pioneering spirit.”