On a recent sunny, spring day in New York City, a pack of fresh-faced young actresses were busy honing their craft. Up a creaky set of stairs and past a white door to a sun-filled second-floor downtown acting studio, rows of young women wearing matching black T-shirts sat in plastic chairs intently watching as, two-by-two, they took turns performing scenes they had memorized overnight. Bright Australian accents filled the whitewashed studio.
The group of 20 young drama students had traveled all the way from Sydney, where they study at the independent, all-girls MLC School, to participate in an International Film Institute (IFI) workshop on acting for the screen. It was part of a larger two-and-a-half week tour of New York City and Los Angeles that would take them to Broadway plays, Lincoln Center, behind the scenes at Hollywood studios and inside the offices of talent agents and other industry professionals.
IFI instructor Magdalen Zinky gave the girls direction while Kate Montgomery, who teaches camera at IFI, operated a camera trained on each duo’s faces.
“Thank you both for your micro-expressions,” Zinky complimented two girls after they finished a scene from the movie Juno. “There’s a lot going on right here, a lot of facial expressions and raised eyebrows.”
Zinky explained the difference between film and stage acting.
“With stage acting, it’s a full-body experience where the emotions have to show through the entire body, whereas with film acting, the main action of it happens in the face. Of course, the body is still important, but the camera is genius at picking up micro-expressions, and that’s where the actor’s focus needs to be.”
Lisa Jinga, head of drama and dance at the MLC School said the dance and drama tour took them three years to plan, and when their tour company asked what they wanted to do, she knew she wanted her girls to have an acting for the camera experience. Naturally, they reached out to IFI, which specializes in teaching every aspect of the film industry, from directing to on-camera work, to aspiring film professionals from all over the globe.
“On film, every little nuance, glance on your face, it’s much smaller-scale realism,” Jinga said, echoing Zinky. “It’s what happening in your heart and showing on your face. It’s a different interaction with the audience. We want (our students) to get the idea of perfecting the smallest movement.”
The arts, drama and entertainment are very popular programs at the school, where students put on large scale productions, but hands-on, real-life experience of a lesser-practiced skill is invaluable, Jinga said.
“We try to teach them what we call the director’s ‘vision’ for stage and film,” Jinga says. “You’re coming into a partnership with the director, but you’re the interpreter of the vision. It’s valuable experience to work with a director. You’re in the real world and you have to be on time.”
Sabina Tom, 16, relished the challenge of learning a scene overnight and performing for a real-world director the next day.
“I feel like it’s really cool getting to work with people who do this for a living, to work with industry professionals,” Sabina said. “It’s an experience a lot of people don’t have, so I’m grateful.”
It was worthwhile experience for the visiting teachers at the workshop as well, said Kate Caron, the Head of Grade 7 at MLC.
“What’s really valuable for us as teachers is watching the way the directors are working with the girls,” she said. “All the things we say to them over and over, ‘You have to be off-book,’ asking them to improvise, it’s not just us being persnickety. It’s great to see little things being reinforced in a professional environment.”
New York City, itself, is a wonderful acting laboratory, Jinga added. Touring around the city over the past few days, she had pointed out film locations from Gossip Girl territory on the Upper East Side to the famous streets of Little Italy where many Godfather scenes took place.
“I thought it would be great to do some film work here in New York where so many iconic movies have been set,” Jinga said. “To think about Midnight Cowboy, one of the first films to shoot on the streets of New York, not on the back lot of a studio, New York to me is the home of where those films took place. “I’m walkin’ heeyah!” she hollered, doing her best Ratso Rizzo impression.
“This for them is a completely new and different experience and where else would you want to do it than New York? It’s an authentic experience,” said Caron. “You come here and there’s a sense that, ‘Wow, these are real professionals, this is really happening,’ and they rise to the challenge.”
Mac McCown, a 16-year-old drama student at MLC said she appreciated learning from two women on the other side of the camera lens during the day’s workshop. “The numbers of women in the film industry are so disappointing. It’s so important especially at this young age to see women working in a male dominated profession,” she said.
“We can relate to them and think, ‘We can do that,’” added her classmate, Emma Rutherford, also 16.
Zinky gave the girls a glowing review.
“They did marvelously!” she said. “I was impressed with the overall quality of the students’ commitment and their level of professionalism both on screen and off.”
Jinga pronounced the day’s workshop a success, as well. “It’s been absolutely fantastic,” she said. “It’s opening (our students’) eyes and it’s so different than what we’ve done in previous workshops. They got a very personal, intense experience.”
In addition to our summer courses, IFI offers short term seminars and special programs in New York City. Wonder what goes into making a film? Considering going to Film School? Is filmmaking for you? Our One-Week programs are designed as a comprehensive overview of the process of making films from script through Screening. Along with our
informative seminars, we also have the opportunity to create special workshops and sessions for interested students and visiting groups. All of our courses are presented by film professionals in their respective fields. http://www.nyfilmschool.com