BECOMING A PRODUCER TAKES CREATIVITY + GRIT

A brief chat with producer Stephanie Serra

On Saturday, January 13, The International Film Institute of New York will welcome back Stephanie Serra of  Triserratops Productions to its Manhattan classroom for a one-day Introduction to Producing Seminar. According to Stephanie, becoming a successful producer takes a lot of creative thinking and some elbow grease, plus a few other considerations you can read about below or learn in person if you sign up for her course at www.nyfilmschool.com.

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What is one thing you learned as a producer after working on your first project?

My first project took place in a New Jersey junkyard, filled with rusty old cars. I had 10 filmmakers on my crew and three actors (two of whom were children). We had little-to-no money and two days to shoot a script that included gunshots, rabbits, choreographed violence, a burial, and a runaway sequence.

When you’re making movies early on and have little-no experience, things will inevitably go wrong or not according to plan. When this happens, I’ve learned that the most important thing a producer can do is to make decisions with your collaborators’ best interests in mind. A cast and crew that is taken care of and that feels appreciated at every turn will help carry a production through its most difficult challenges.

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[Stephanie on location with her actors]

What is your favorite part of producing a film or TV show?

When I was producing in college, I recognized, early on, the value of pre-production.

Since my crews and I were mostly working with ultra-low(-no) budgets, it was critical that we spend time conceptualizing and planning for the execution of each of our shooting days – and to do so with the resources we had available to us, in mind.

For the plans that included the use of resources we didn’t have at our disposal, pre-production was where I learned to think creatively about my negotiations and where I began to take risks as a producer in reaching for the things I needed for my crew and production.

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Project in production

Are there magazines, websites or social media pages that you subscribe to or follow for industry news and info?

I usually turn to the industry trades: Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Deadline, Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), IMDB. Box Office Mojo will give you a sense of how films are doing in the box office and Nielsen reports are a valuable source for industry related research and data.

If you could only give our IFI audience one piece of advice on being a producer, what would you offer?

Don’t let a lack of money (or the very rare surplus of it) be an excuse for not telling a decent story. If you can’t get financed when you’re starting out, take a creative look at the resources you do have at your disposal and, make your movie anyway. (Also learn a craft within the industry… even though, that’s a second piece of advice.)

 


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

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

What to Look for in a Film Program

Students Share Why They Chose IFI

Once a year, The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) gathers future filmmakers from all corners of the globe for five weeks of intensive filmmaking.

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The students who enroll range from curious newcomers to the self-taught and experienced. Every summer, they assemble on the leafy campus of Sarah Lawrence College, just outside New York City, where staff at IFI give hours of instruction and hands-on training.

There they receive the tools, skills and confidence to continue on their filmmaking journey.

So, why should you come to IFI? Our students say it best. Here’s ten reasons why, out of all the film schools and courses to choose from, this year’s crop of students say our program was the right fit for them:

WHY IFI?

“I want learn more about directing, screenwriting and also technical stuff that I haven’t gotten the chance to learn back in my country. I’ve taken a few film classes at university but I’m going to take it more seriously in the coming year. (IFI) has helped me realize I really want to focus on film.” – Sirada, 20, Thailand.

“I know I’m interested in film but I don’t know if it’s a hobby or a career … I think [IFI] is the best scenario to (figure that out) in because you’re actually doing it. It’s a pretty deep crash course.” – India, 16, Shelbyville, Ky.

“I’m self-taught so I’m here to hone my craft and learn the right way.” – Alex, 25, Dallas, Tx.

“I wanted to switch it up and come to New York, that was a big draw.” – Liam, 18, Fairfax, Va.

“I found [#IFI] and it’s close and I just thought I might as well do it now before college just to see if this is something I want to do.” – Alexa, 17, Scarsdale, Ny.

“IFI welcomes people from all over. I was interested to study filmmaking in the U.S. to see how other people write, direct and edit.” Ariana, 25, Peru

“I’m really, really, really interested in this field, and I want to be a part of it. I just really want to learn.” – Harry, 14, Stony Brook, Ny.

“[IFI had] so much of what I wanted to do: Being able to make films and being able to use the real equipment and learn the real methods and strategies and figuring out ways to express my ideas.” – Matthew, 16, Scarsdale, Ny.

“It’s fun finally learning how to do hands-on stuff [in film].’” Chelsea, 17, Bronx, Ny.

“To get to be involved in everything, to see what it’s really like and to get as real an experience as possible, that was an absolute selling point for me.” – Tom, 16, Red Hook, Ny.

IFI is currently accepting students for its 2017-2018 Winter Schedule offering one-day seminars and multi-day courses. Early registration for IFI’s 2018 Summer Filmmaking Intensive will be posted at http://www.nyfilmschool.com soon.


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

Paying It Forward

A college-bound filmmaker gives back to the program that gave shape to his filmmaking aspirations

Jonathan Schneider, an 18-year-old graduate of Scarsdale High School is headed to Drexel University to study film and video production. He credits a week-long intensive course he took at International Film Institute of New York (IFI) in the summer of 2016 with helping him to realize that his love of film wasn’t just a hobby, but the career he wanted to pursue in college. He returned to IFI earlier this summer to volunteer as a producer’s assistant, helping students on the set of their short films for the second year in a row.

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“When I took the one week course, I learned about the bones and what goes into filmmaking and what the industry is really like. I was with some gifted teachers who showed me how in-depth such an art form can be and I got really into it. I saw that that’s what I wanted to do and that was only reinforced when I was asked to help out a week after and I was on a different film set every day,” Schneider says. “Not a single day was I unhappy or tired. I loved every second of it. I knew that it was something I wanted to do.”

IFI co-founder Misael Sanchez also got Schneider and two other IFI students positions as production assistants on Three Christs, an indie film that shot on the Sarah Lawrence College campus last year, starring Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Juliana Margulies and Bradley Whitford, among others.

“We basically would do whatever needed to be done. I sat for an hour watching Richard Gere’s green tea to make sure nobody got it,” Schneider recalls.

His experience on a professional film set was invaluable. “I got a feel for what it meant to be in a professional environment. It scared me a bit because I saw how stressful it was and how sometimes it’s not always a happy-go-lucky job, but I just think it was amazing. It also gave me hope because I know there’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of passion,” Schneider says. “It made it very real. Maybe in a month I went from seeing it as a hobby to seeing it as something I want to do with my life. And, I can only thank Misael and IFI for that.”

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At Drexel, Jonathan plans to double major in film and environmental studies. “What I’m really interested in is becoming an environmental documentarian or photographer of some sort because I care about the environment,” he says.

Thanks to the hands-on experience that IFI has equipped him with, he feels he has a head start. Besides his time volunteering with student productions and his PA experience on Three Christs, his connections with IFI instructors have paid dividends outside of the Sarah Lawrence campus, too.

“Last year I met IFI cinematography instructor Kate Montgomery. We worked outside of IFI for a while, I also PA’ed for her, doing gigs here and there. I met a lot of the people I know in the industry now through the IFI summer film program.”

It’s only natural that he’d want to pay it forward. Schneider says he came back to help out this summer not just for the experience, networking and connections, but the fun of seeing the lightbulb go off for budding film students.

“I love the atmosphere here,” he says. “It’s very creative. You have people who have never done film before but you also have people who do it all the time and they all get something different out of the experience. And, I love to teach so I love when somebody needs help with something and I can say, ‘I got this! I can help you out,’ it feels good and it makes me feel a lot more secure with my skills.”

At the end of the day, it’s fun.

“I wouldn’t really call this a job so much as just me doing what I like to do, helping everybody else out,” Schneider says.

 


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 

Is Film School For Me?

Back to school with IFI

As the sun sets in the sky ever earlier and a chill creeps into the air, it signals the time has come to head back to school. But, with the end of carefree summer days comes the excitement and back-to-business buzz of fall. Sharpen your pencils because International Film Institute of New York (IFI) founder Misael Sanchez is here to take you to school on the benefits of studying film. Whether you’re a teen testing the waters, a passionate filmmaker considering a graduate degree, or an adult looking to learn a new skill, Misael’s got you covered from immersive courses to film school, and how to evaluate the options:

What are the benefits of attending a film school?

Misael Sanchez: First, it is an opportunity to completely immerse yourself into something you are passionate about and be able to devote 100% of yourself to making films. Of course, if you are attending an undergraduate program that requires you to complete other degree requirements you’d still have to balance, that’s still an amazing opportunity. Second, you surround yourself with like-minded individuals working toward the same goal. Yes, it is fun gathering your friends and making them act and work behind the camera for you. But, in film school there is no arm twisting. You fuel each other’s creativity and spend several years developing relationships that will last long after graduation. This is definitely the one aspect of school that I have witnessed be the greatest benefit. And lastly, some might consider this the most important, you get to work with faculty that have been in the field for years and can provide you the support and guidance to find your voice. Equipment and facilities, to me, do not make a film school great. Yes, it is nice to work with good cameras and have lights and sound production resources, but to base your choices on what school to attend based solely on that is not something I would encourage.

Misael WorkshopWhat advice do you have for younger students (i.e., teens, undergraduates)?

MS: My advice to young people considering film as a career is to make sure this is right for you before committing time and money. Filmmaking is not cheap. Tuition alone is enough to send you to the ER. On top of that, you have the costs associated with your projects followed by years of trial and error to make it all come together. Find a way to explore what film has to offer. Consider short term programs to test the waters. It is definitely not all about the red carpet. Filmmaking is a job that takes commitment.

What advice do you have for older students (i.e., adults, graduate candidates)?

MS: There is also something very interesting about adults entering the field. There is a very strong desire to succeed and make it happen fast because you are not a recent college grad and you believe you have more experience to make it happen. My biggest advice for adults is to leave the ego at the door and take in the experience. As adults we pretty much know who we are and what we want to express about ourselves and the world we live in. Make every effort to open your mind to different interpretations of your world and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Allow for mistakes. Most of all, allow yourself to let someone else show you something new. Maybe it won’t be as groundbreaking as you might want but it will be different.

What are some other programs or courses available without the full-time commitment of film school?

MS: Aside from our immersive IFI courses that cover all aspects of the process from script to screen, there are other degree programs that could offer opportunities. Researching and making sure a program fits your needs is key to a positive experience. Online direct student reviews are a great way to read about what others have experienced. Filmschool.org is a great third-party website where students give honest reviews of their experiences. It is where we tell our students to go when we have inquiries about our classes. Also, when communicating with the programs, you should feel like you are being respected as a prospective student. There are never too many questions and the answers should flow. From my perspective, when we discuss our courses with students we see it as an interview process that goes both ways. Are we right for you and what you hope to get from school and are you right for what we provide? We never hesitate to tell a students that maybe our curriculum is not what they need right now. Or, perhaps, you need something longer term.  Best we tackle these questions before you register to make sure our time together is fruitful and a pleasant experience.


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 

Indie Filmmaking 101: How to Make a Film in NYC

Independent film [or indie film] is a feature film that is produced outside of the major film studio system.

It’s always nice to have access to a big budget to hire crew, sign on talent, secure locations, and rent equipment. However, at International Film Institute of New York, we know that’s rarely how your story will make it to screen. Read on for indie filmmaking tips and recommendations from our team of NYC-based industry professionals.  11935115_1054259404598949_7324463551256814401_n.jpg

Making an Indie Film in NYC:

  1. Image result for Pulaski Bridge in BrooklynWe love Manhattan, but shoot outside of it. New York City’s boroughs and neighboring states have so much to offer your film. Checking out the surrounding areas will also save your budget by offering lower cost locations and interesting backdrops.
  2. Your equipment matters. Rental houses offer free demonstrations and training on new film equipment open to the filmmaker community. Take advantage of these resources and find out what’s out there. [Recommendation: IFI is a fan of AbelCine and Adorama when working on indie film projects.]
  3. Hands down one of the best resources for shooting in NYC is the Mayor’s Office. The Made in NY team handles all film and television projects around the City. You will find everything from free workshops to free or low cost locations that are either state owned, affiliated or offered by private owners. [Recommendation: Follow them for updates at Made in NY.
  4. Respect your locations because spaces to shoot are difficult to acquire. Making sure renters have a good experience with filmmakers encourages them to keep offering spaces to crews after your use. This is especially true in NYC. Bad experiences lead owners to say no. This affects all of us and increases rental fees further limiting access to smaller budget projects.
  5. Take no short cuts on recording sound for your project. You can shoot on the most expensive 4K camera out there. But, if your sound is weak, it will affect your post workflow; causing you to spend more money fixing it in the end.
  6. Need extra hands on your independent film? Reach out to local film programs for skilled and eager talent looking to gain more experience and build their reel. Film students are encouraged to always be on the lookout for opportunities where they can get hands-on work. Check in with department administrators to spread the word about your project.

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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 

4 Filmmakers Envision Their Art Post-U.S. Election

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Well, we weren’t expecting 2016 to turn out this way, but our wheels are turning. If we look back at some of the biggest and most notable films of the past year, there has been no shortage of heated political cinema, inspiring features on social issues and thought-provoking documentaries to get us through this election. These films have laid the groundwork for topics we’re likely to explore in greater detail in 2017 and beyond. Our IFI community took note of a few standout works – in no particular order:

  1. Ava DuVernay’s “13th
  2. Michael Moore’s “TrumpLand
  3. Oliver Stone’s biopic “Snowden
  4. Michael Bay’s war film “13 Hours
  5. Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation

Now, the question becomes “Where do we go from here?” As a whole, our IFI community has had time to digest the U.S. Presidential election results and to realize there will be a greater role for us in the coming years.

When we stepped away from reading Facebook feeds, angry tweets and bogus news stories, we chatted with a few IFI instructors to ask “How might the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election influence your work as a filmmaker?” Overwhelmingly, we heard that everyone is inspired to create new art and “hungry” to make a statement with it. You will see from their responses below that we are going to make MORE films that stand for something. We are going to raise our voices louder as a film community and lift up our fellow Americans through our art.

  • “My work has always been spurred by the identity politics of immigrants and minorities in America. Who are we, where are we, what defines us, etc. Although I’m disappointed about the outcome of the election, I’m glad that the harder questions we need to face and ask about ourselves, as people struggling to coexist in this thing called America, is coming to the forefront. There’s a great deal of work to do if we want to live up to the ideals of this country. I think you’ll find a lot of new, unheard voices in these troubling times. Hopefully one of those will be my own.”Stephen Lee, Directing Instructor
  • “Well, I think we’re past the point of ‘might.’ Throughout history, there have been moments where art is needed to bring to the surface whatever reality is trying to subdue. We find ourselves in such a moment. Trump appealed and brought to light America’s worst impulses. Now, it’s on the rest of us to show, to prove, that this is not all what America is. This is a time when we’re called on to do things we may not have done before. This is a time to write and film outside of our comfort zone. This is the time to tell stories that make us connect, because God knows we need to strengthen our empathy for our fellow men. And, it is a moment to make a statement. Not only in the stories we tell but also in how we treat those who work with us in order to make those stories into film. It is time to improve our art and us, ourselves. So today, more than ever, I’ll try harder to be a better person. We stand together; we stick up for the vulnerable. Today, more than ever, stop judging, be kinder, feel empathy, respect women, stop being racist, stop being a bully, stop being homophobic, listen more, argue less and make good art. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” –  Jesús Alarcón, Directing Instructor
  • “The uncertainty surrounding President Elect Trump’s agenda – what he has said he will do, what he really intends to do, and what he is actually able to do – makes it unwise for me to speculate about how my work as a filmmaker will be affected in the next four years, specifically. Generally speaking, filmmakers have the ability, and therefore the duty, to inform and hopefully educate, to entertain and hopefully inspire, and to seek out and amplify otherwise-underrepresented, credible voices. The election was engulfed in misinformation; where we were owed thoughtful discourse, we were instead distracted with name calling for our entertainment; and, credible voices – underrepresented or otherwise – were awash in a sea of much louder, angrier voices. My most recent work, and the work I hope to do moving forward, seeks to help educate children by encouraging them to reach beyond borders and to learn about cultures outside of their own. The anti-intellectualism embodied by the election stands counterpoint to my work and reaffirms the need to take seriously the duties involved with filmmaking.”Stephanie Serra, Producing Instructor
  • This election influences my work on both a creative and a monetary level.  Creatively, I am hungry to edit more truthful factual media and put it out there. I am eager to use my work as both an outlet to express myself, but also a resource to learn more. Something that is clear to me is that I did not really understand my country or what problems that others face are causing so much irreverence and hate speech. And so every day I look to see the footage we take or Americans and listen to them. I also have this unique opportunity to be working at a news organization during an administration that is rather closed to the media and this presents an interesting challenge. Monetarily I must make decisions that will secure my future – this presidency will not be friendly to freelancing. Therefore – I am making choices to move towards more permanent positions in order to secure health insurance and proper tax rates.”Danielle Beeber, Screenwriting Instructor

Without question our community of artists have turned into activists, armed with the power of the pen and the lens. We are hopeful people will come together to support one another, accept each other and keep the American spirit alive and flourishing.

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