9 Things Filmmakers Wish You Knew About Life On Set

Nothing will prepare you for taking your first step onto a film set, but the International Film Institute of New York (IFI) can provide you with helpful tips on what to expect. We asked three IFI instructors what three things they teach their students in the classroom. Here is what they told us so you can be ready for your film set debut.

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Kyle Wilamowski, IFI directing instructor, writer and director, shared his thoughts:

  • Communication is everything. While everyone has a role, if communication isn’t properly happening, nothing will work. And, everything will fall apart. Film school is about learning a lot of things, but learning how to communicate your vision or your role is #1.
  • It’s grueling. It’s easy to think that films are the most fun thing in the world. However, being on set can be incredibly physically and emotionally taxing in ways you’d never expect. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it. Emotional and physical stamina working in tandem is key.
  • All the keys positions (producers, director, DP) are a pyramid scheme. The attitude you reflect to your crew spreads like wildfire. If you’re in a bad mood or worried, your crew will know it. That doesn’t mean you have to be happy and positive at all times, more that you need to know how your attitude impacts the crew members around you and therefore the work.

Jesus Alarcon, IFI directing instructor, writer, director and cinematographer, added:

  • Preparation doesn’t kill improvisation, it makes room for it. The more prepared you are, the better you know what you’re trying to achieve with the scene and with your shots, the more prepared you will be to take advantage for the inevitable and unexpected set backs that comes with filmmaking.
  • Be punctual. Being on time shows respect and commitment to the project and to your fellow filmmakers and their talent. “Time is only dead if you kill it.”
  • Life on the set is a collaborative effort. No matter how talented you are you still need to rely on your crew in order to achieve your film. You constantly battle against what is, while trying to achieve what it should be. The more nimble you’re in turning a compromise into an asset, the better you become at your craft.

Frederic Richter, IFI screenwriting instructor, writer and producer, offered the following advice from the writer’s perspective:

  • Filmmaking is all about collaboration – so be ready for it. Be open and willing to work with others, try and discuss new ideas and approaches. This goes for directors, too. While the set is your place, a good director knows what they want, but they also surround themselves with people who can offer new ideas to get them what they want. Be open to collaborating!
  • Writers need to be prepared for things to not be EXACTLY as written on the page. Again, they need to be collaborative. Do not start directing — leave that to the director. If you are asked your opinion, give it, but be discreet.
  • Safety, safety, safety. Film sets can be fun magical places, but you also ALWAYS need to keep safety in mind first, especially if working anywhere near electrical, lighting or other equipment. On a moment’s notice a film set can turn from something amazing to a dangerous place. Keep safety in mind always.

At the end of the day, enjoy the experience. “You need to have fun and work hard. Both are key to making a good movie,” said Wilamowski.


The elements of a successful movie have remained constant since the inception of the art form. The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) was founded in 1997 to provide those with a sincere and abiding interest in filmmaking with a high-quality, low-cost education in all aspects of the filmmaking process: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing in a curriculum combining classroom instruction and hands-on technical workshops. http://www.nyfilmschool.com

Beyond IFI: A conversation with filmmaker Courtney Harmstone

Repost from Sarah Lawrence College Summer Programs Post.

The confidence I gained at IFI has propelled me throughout my career.  The passion and the buzz I first felt in that casting room in Columbia University has not left me. Whenever I doubt myself, I think back to that day and that memory gives me the energy to continue.”  ~ Courtney Harmstone, International Film Institute, ’08

 

chCourtney Harmstonea self-described American-British hybrid” took one her first steps in film during the International Film Institute’s Summer Intensive at Sarah Lawrence in 2008. Since then, she has worked in film on both sides of the Atlantic, working as a producer, mentor, and co-founder and programmer of Catfish Shorts, a networking and film festival created for women in the film industry. Courtney recently shared with us about her in the film industry, future projects, and favorite memories of her time as at Sarah Lawrence College.
How did you initially get involved in the International Film Institute summer intensive?
When I was in high school I was always passionate about film and television, but my school did not offer a course in filmmaking.  I had previously attended summer film courses at SCAD that were only one week in duration.  It was a nice taster, but I longed for more. After researching various programs, I found IFI at Sarah Lawrence College which had the depth and breadth I was looking for as well as fabulous teachers active in the industry.   I was excited to be part of this intensive and immersive environment where I could experiment with the craft and find out if this was what I wanted to do with my life.  Spoiler alert! I am still working in film!
What is your favorite memory from that experience?
A great memory from my time at IFI was casting for the short film we were required to make during the course.  It was pretty inspiring to have these young and incredibly talented actors come and read portions of our scripts to us at Columbia University.  There was a buzz in the room and the energy was overwhelming.  I couldn’t believe these young professionals were interested in working with us! It was a great experience. It was very professional.

Another is being around so many creative people who, like me, knew little about the art of filmmaking or had minimal experience. It had a synergistic effect that created a supportive environment that allowed us to experiment with new ideas and take risks.
How has it impacted your life since then?
IFI had a huge impact on my life and my future career decisions.  It was the first opportunity I had to really explore filmmaking and to learn what it meant to work in the dramatic arts; how to plan, structure, shoot and edit a short film.  The course inspired me to pursue the film industry as my future career.  When I returned from New York, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker and set my sights on pursuing a B.F.A. in film production.  In 2013, I graduated from The Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts and then continued my education two years later at The University of Exeter and The London Film School with an M.A. in International Film Business.   
What advice would you give to your younger self?
If I could go back to myself at that age I would probably say TAKE MORE RISKS! Don’t be scared to experiment and have the confidence to just go out with a camera and shoot.  However, it is with the understanding that I did not take enough risks in filmmaking (and possibly with life) when I was younger – playing it safe, so to speak – that drives me so much now to push myself to take every opportunity that comes my way, and not to turn it down because I’m scared of the consequences (which, so far, have been very positive).  

I’d probably also tell myself to avoid rum, but I think everyone can relate to that one!
What’s next for you going forward?
The next steps for me are to continue working hard on my independent projects – Catfish Shorts and Indigo Valley – and to look for opportunities that will strengthen my skills as a Producer as I attempt to carve my way through this complicated jungle that we call an industry.  Sometimes you just have to follow the three Ps, as laid out by Robert Wise (Director, The Sound of Music, West Side Story) – “My three Ps: passion, patience, perseverance. You have to do this if you’ve got to be a filmmaker.


The elements of a successful movie have remained constant since the inception of the art form. The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) was founded in 1997 to provide those with a sincere and abiding interest in filmmaking with a high-quality, low-cost education in all aspects of the filmmaking process: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing in a curriculum combining classroom instruction and hands-on technical workshops. http://www.nyfilmschool.com