Q&A with Mobile Device Filmmaker Anthony Stirpe: Why Smartphones Are The Future Of Film


Did you know that all you need to create a remarkable movie these days is your smartphone? That’s right, with technology pushing the limits each and every day, many filmmakers and industry experts are starting to recognize the power and quality that mobile devices can offer filmmakers when it comes to creating films of any length.

This week, the IFI caught with Anthony Stirpe, a teacher at New Rochelle High School and one of the pioneers of the mobile device filmmaking movement, in order to gain insights on this innovative technique and explore how he utilizes mobile device filmmaking in the classroom setting to educate his students. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: How did you come to teach filmmaking at New Rochelle High School?

A: I was taking over the acting program from a retiring teacher. One of the classes in question was a Scriptwriting class that they were considering phasing out. I got the idea to turn it into a Filmmaking course, but the equipment to pursue such an endeavor was too expensive. That is when I began to explore the idea of Mobile Device Filmmaking. My principal was very intrigued with the idea and was willing to take the risk. In the past two years we have had much success, winning state and national awards for our innovation, and next year we will add a second level class.

Q: How do you mentor students who are looking to continue filmmaking after studying?

A: Of course, I encourage students to keep making films. The film process has been democratized, and every student now has the opportunity. I also encourage students to volunteer for jobs that they find on sites like Mandy.com. And, of course, I encourage them to enroll in outside classes, such as the International Film Institute of New York.

Q: How has technology, now more available than ever, helped you teach basic storytelling skills?

A: With Apple products reaching 4K quality, the sky is now the limit. Everyone can be a filmmaker. Apps such as FilmicPro give the filmmaker hands-on control. And, with templates in iMovie and editing on a device itself, anyone can create a movie. You have to make a movie to make movies, and now everyone has the opportunity. Additionally, I think what was once a very intimidating art is now accessible. If anything, that is the biggest advantage to modern technology in filmmaking; people now feel more confident in their abilities and they are more willing to take a risk.

Q: What challenges have you had building your curriculum? And how has that impacted your teaching style?

A: The biggest setback is the lack of equipment for all. I do not have enough devices to individualize the experience for the students. This class has forced me to get creative in how I group students. I have also learned that one project filmed by a group should be edited by many people on different devices. The creativity that comes out of multiple students bringing their voices to the same project is a really fun classroom experience.

Also, although you would think that people were supportive, many people do not understand what I do. Frequently, staff and other teachers see this class as a summer camp experiment or having no value. One staff member even told me before I received some excellent press that no one would ever be interested in our program.

What I do believe strongly having been an English teacher for 13 years before this opportunity is that this could quite possibly be the future of English education.

Q: As a teacher, what can be done to encourage more minority and underrepresented communities to become more active in the film industry?

A: I think that more schools should invest like the programs I am creating, but they should be incorporated into English departments. By showing people that this is an additional form of communication and storytelling, you will see more people, including minority students, to learn that filmmaking is a viable opportunity.

Q: What advice would you give other teachers who are looking to include more media arts into their curriculum?

A: Take the chance. Recognize that you don’t need much these days. With a student phone or something as simple as an iPod touch, a classroom can be transformed.

About Anthony Stirpe: 

Anthony is a writer and director who has taught at New Rochelle High School since 2002. He has a degree in English writing/literature and a Masters in Theatre Education. For the past few years, Anthony has developed Writing and Filmmaking curriculum which has been features in The Wall Street Journal, The Westchester Journal and has also been on WPIX11.

12 Tips and Tricks for Shooting Film in New York City From IFI Founder Misael Sanchez

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As the world is well aware by now, New York City is easily one of the biggest, most bustling cities on the planet. In order to make it in the Big Apple, you need the right combination of resolve, street smarts and foresight – no matter what path you choose to pursue. For filmmakers, there are an abundance of useful tips, tricks and unwritten rules to keep in mind if you want to have a successful shoot. Misael Sanchez, a seasoned filmmaker and the proud founder of International Film Institute of New York, has mastered the process of shooting in New York and he’s ready to impart his knowledge on the filmmakers of tomorrow. Here are Misael’s 12 Tips and Tricks for Shooting Film in New York:

1. Check the Permit Situation

Will you need a permit?  Acquiring a permit can be a bit of a process and you will most certainly need insurance to get started. If you hope to avoid the permit process, keeping your crew small and not blocking traffic can eliminate the need for it. Still, it’s advisable that you check with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment to make sure you’re following the guidelines of shooting without a permit.

2. Keep the Foot Traffic to a Miminum

Select locations where foot traffic is low.  Shooting in Times Square, without a permit, sounds like a great plan but keep in mind, if you’re shooting a scene with a constantly changing background it can make it difficult to edit. In addition, pedestrians will always be looking your way and you cannot divert foot traffic without a permit. Locations like these are where you would benefit from some kind of permit to avoid delays.

3. Planning Makes Perfect

Plan out every facet of your shoot in advance, from the moment you leave your apartment to the time you return. Being meticulous is key and it’s important that you include real travel time and a back-up location. Sure, you may have found a great spot, but there’s a chance you show up and discover a construction crew digging a hole. The saying “location, location, location” should also be understood to mean that you need to have 3 back-ups – now that makes for a great film!

4. Play Weatherman

Be sure to constantly check the weather. When you planned the shoot, it was probably months in advance and the weather forecasts have obviously evolved since then. For this reason, keep on checking and make sure to also keep your eye on the rain date.

5. Stay Grounded

Avoid shooting in the Subway.  As fascinating as it sounds to get the underground shots, it is very difficult to get a permit to do so. Set your sites on open air spaces.

6. Keep Your Crew Comfortable

Find a space for your talent and crew to relax.  Once you know where you will be shooting, your next step is to find a holding area for cast, crew and equipment. And, of course, do not forget to scout for a nearby bathroom!

7. It’s New York City, So Take Public Transportation! 

Anybody from the Big Apple will tell you that public transportation is the best way to get around the city. If you need to have a car, be sure to use a great app called Best Parking to get useful deals on parking lots throughout the city. Only with a shooting permit can you request parking permits.

8. Lose the Wires

Use wireless microphones whenever possible.  By using wireless microphones on your talent, you can avoid the obvious ‘Boom’ and reduce the amount of attention you get from your surroundings. Just make sure to set them up properly on your actors to avoid interference and unwanted noise.

9. Minimize Your Time on Location

Rehearse before you get to location.  Keep your time on location as short as possible. Getting to your spot prepared will make everything run faster.

10. Test Your Equipment

Be sure to test all of your gear before you get there. Sometimes, it’s the smallest technical issue that can set your shoot back several hours. Build the camera, record audio using your microphones, check compatibility of all your media storage devices, have back-up cables, connectors and chargers and charge your batteries. Keep in mind that pen and paper are always great tools to have too!

11. The City is Your Playground

New York City is more than just Manhattan island.  Explore the boroughs for great locations and easier access to public spaces.  And don’t forget the parks.

12. Everything is in Your Control

Finally, you’re in New York City. If something breaks, take a deep breath and take advantage of all the resources at your disposal.  Production support is all around you.  Stop, figure out what you need and get it done.  The only thing really out of your control is the weather. Short of that everything is possible.

Great Resources for Filmmakers

Need something?  Here is a short list of production resources by Neighborhood that might help in a pinch. Keep in mind that for most rentals you will need insurance unless they specify other options.

SOHO – Abel Cine – 609 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10014 – (212) 462-0100 – www.abelcine.com

Teens – Adorama – 42 West 18th Street NY, NY10011 – 888-216-7500www.adorama.com/

Teens – CSI Rentals133 West 19th st. Ground Level – www.csirentals.com/

20s – Hello world Communications – 118 W 22nd St, New York, NY 10011 – www.hwc.tv/

20s – Du-All Camera – 231 W 29th St #210, New York, NY 10001 – www.duallcamera.com/

20s – Hand-Held Films – 129 W 27th St #3, New York, NY 10001 – www.handheldfilms.com/

30s – B&H Photo Video – (420 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001 – www.bhphotovideo.com

40s – TCS – 599 11th Ave Ground Floor – 212.247.6517www.tcsfilm.com/

40s – Professional Sound Services – 311 W 43rd St Suite #200, NY, NY 10036 – www.pro-sound.com/

40s – Mayor’s office of Film – 1697 Broadway #602, NY, NY 10019 – http://www1.nyc.gov/site/mome/permits/permits.page

50s – Barbizon Lighting – 456 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019 – (212) 586-1620 – www.barbizon.com

Queens – CSI Rentals – 1138 Flushing Ave. Ground Level -With Drive In  – www.csirentals.com/

Queens – Kits & Expendables – 45-27 37th St, Long Island City, NY – www.kitsandexpendables.com/

Queens – Gotham Sound – 35-10 36th Ave. , 2nd Fl. Long Island City, NY – www.gothamsound.com/

About Misael Sanchez – Misael is a New York based filmmaker whose primary work is comprised of Documentaries and Independent film projects relating to the urban city experience.  He began his career while enrolled at New York University’s Film Program where he graduated with a focus on Cinematography and Producing. Misael is the Founder and Director of the International Film Institute of New York founded in 1998 offering five and six week summer intensive filmmaking workshops. He joined the Columbia University Graduate Film program in 1995, where he was Director of Instruction & Cinematography program coordinator for 15 years.  As Faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, where he teaches Film Production at the undergraduate Film/New Media program, he is working closely with the department on expanding course offerings in film production. He works as a professional Director of Photography and Producer on a variety of projects ranging from Television Documentaries, Short Films, and Music Videos.

Women in Film Q&A: Kate Montgomery, Female Director of Cinematography

unnamed.jpgGender inequality has emerged as one of the biggest hot-button topics in the film industry, as the ratio of men to women in film is estimated to be roughly 5:1 even in 2016. While the scales are slowly tipping back into balance, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made considering the 40% deficit of women in the industry. Still, today’s women are making great strides and have consistently shown that they’re up for the challenge. At the IFI, we pride ourselves on offering women a diverse environment in which to cultivate their skills and passion towards film and we’re also huge advocates of equality in film.

Today, we caught up with Kate Montgomery, a former Sarah Lawrence College alum and friend of IFI who has established herself as a female director of cinematography, in order to discuss her views and perspective on being a woman trying to excel in the film industry. Kate offered some interesting insights and also provided useful advice to aspiring female filmmakers. Here’s a look at our full discussion with Kate:

Q: What about Cinematography attracted you to be a DP?

A: I have always found it easier to express my thoughts in a visual medium. When it came to film I was drawn to the aspects that give you the most control over the image, controlling the exposure, light, and color of an image was the most like drawing or painting, which I enjoy.

Q: What is your experience so far being a recent graduate and pursuing a career as a cinematographer?

A: Because I worked while I was a student I already had a small network established. The key is to always be expanding that and always continue to learn new things and hone your skills. Know what the end goal is, be that directing, cinematography, producing, etc., and work towards that. Be stubborn and don’t get side tracked. I have never worked outside of film. I jokingly say that I am unqualified to do anything else, which might be true, but this funny fact forces me to keep improving and working because if I don’t I’m severely unemployed.

Q: Where are you in the process of your recent short?

A: At the moment we just finished post-production on my short film Christine, which I shot in Houston, TX, and have started submitting it to festivals.

Q: Aside from your narrative short film, what has been your experience working on commercial sets? And how does it differ from shooting a film?

A: Working on a commercial set versus a small short film is, of course, very different. With that being said it’s easy to adapt to; you just need to find the workflow that works. Assess the natural system you have entered and adapt to it in a way that benefits the overall production.

Q: How have you been finding work?

A: Not to be a broken record but it’s all about networking. Not only that but finding out how you network best. I have yet to apply for a job on a job site, it has all been word of mouth and connecting with people I know and have worked with. It’s part knowing what you’re doing, part being reliable, and part having good energy on set. If you don’t have the right balance of those things you won’t get hired back.

Q: Do you think your college experience prepared you for a career outside of school?

A: Yes and no. A “professional” shoot is very different than a “student” shoot. But college did give me a safe place to mess up and try new things, as well as a support system that I could go to with questions about jobs I had. However, nothing can prepare you for the first time you walk onto a big set. Sometimes you have to throw yourself into the unknown and learn how to swim on the spot.

Q: What advice would you give a young woman following your lead into Cinematography?

A: Don’t let the haters get you down. Sometimes it’s not blunt but the industry is sexist and you have to stand your ground and not get pushed over by the guys. A lot of the times it comes down to physical strength and you not being capable because of that. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and insist that you are capable. It’s your job so just kick ass and don’t let them tell you otherwise. Also, don’t be afraid to call people out on stuff; if you’re nice about it they usually listen.

I work a lot with the same people and those people happen to usually be guys. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked if I was dating or married to my male coworker. It’s a combination of working well together or just being a woman in a predominantly male department that makes people assume that I’m not there because of skill but because of relationships.

Q: What are your thoughts on Gender-normative language on the set?

A: When a guy calls me honey, sweetie, or anything that I consider a “pet name” – I tell them to stop. A lot of the time they will insist that it’s not sexist but it is. Guys, don’t do this. Even if you’re not trying to, it’s belittling.

Q: What are some of the challenges you are facing on set? If any?

A: All too often I find myself wondering if I am on set because of my talents or just because someone has a crush on me. As a woman in a male dominated industry it is sometimes hard for me to reassure myself that I am indeed there for honorable reasons. Even though that is always the case keeping my mind in check is a struggle, one that invites doubt.

About Kate Montgomery:

Kate is a Texan who was practically born with a camera in her hands. Her single-minded approach to the pursuit of cinematography led her to New York to study film at Sarah Lawrence College, during which she dove head first into the world of commercials and feature films. She loves creating worlds and telling stories in them, and it is this creative impulse that draws her to filmmaking. To date, Montgomery has lensed numerous short films, as well as crewed on a variety of projects including narrative, music video, commercial, fashion, and documentary.