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

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

Triple Take: What It’s Really Like Working as a Producer in TV & Film

“Passion is the immeasurable, indescribable factor that separates movie from movie. Passion moves freely across borders, speaks every language and flourishes in every culture. The movement of passion is the most gratifying satisfaction in any movie maker’s life.” — Saul Zaentz

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The producer. A role in the anatomy of a film that many people hear about (cue the awards speeches) but few understand what it actually means. A producer’s life cannot be easily explained. Rather than offer textbook examples of what a producer does for a project, International Film Institute of New York (IFI) turned to three women working in this role for insights and advice on getting started. Stephanie Serra produces and directs films in New York City, Krystia Basil works within film and TV around NY, and Ashley Pacini started in film but has found herself in the world of television while living in Los Angeles. The following is how Stephanie, Krystia and Ashley define working as producers in today’s world of cinema:

 

How would you define the role of a film producer?

Stephanie Serra: Film producers have several roles to play and seemingly endless duties to fulfill throughout the course of a film’s development, production and distribution. A good producer thinks critically and creatively in each of these roles and regarding each duty/task.

Krystia Basil: I would define the producer of a film project as the alpha & omega. That sounds self important, but what I mean is that a project starts and completes because of the efforts of the producer. He/She is the one who initiates a project by finding a story, optioning an intellectual property, developing a script – and follows through to the final product – the film reel – but also beyond that to distribution, publicity, and if all goes well, he or she is the one who gives the Oscar acceptance speech! In between, the producer hires all the key players, both creative and logistical, onscreen and off screen, and then trusts their vision, supports their choices, and coaxes a collaborative effort to create a cohesive end result.

They are also responsible for putting money in the bank to get all these peeps paid. As they say, ‘You have to pay movie if you want to play movie.’

Ashley Pacini: A producer is a connector and problem solver. Producers do various connecting from money and story to logistics and talent.

 

How did you become a producer?

SS: I started producing my own films. Colleagues of mine saw that I had an understanding of the above-mentioned roles that a producer fills and so they asked me to produce their films as well.

KB: I started out wanting to be a writer/director, but my innate skill set – management, finance, persuading people to do things they may not ordinarily do – thrust me into production coordination, line production and from there producing. I also like nurturing stories into scripts or concepts into shows.

AP: While studying film, I fell in love with the concept of connecting people and stories. I love the idea of seeing something from inception to execution. To me, producing is the best of both worlds: logistics and creative.

 

What is one surprising thing you have learned about the film/TV industry while working as a producer?

SS: When I began making films, I believed, and still do, that producing my own work was a valuable experience; that it would allow me to better understand the many crafts that are a part of a filmmaking collaboration; and, that this understanding would help me to be a better storyteller, writer, director, etc. I’ve been surprised to find that many of the first-time/beginner filmmakers I’ve encountered in the NY independent film industry seemingly do not share this view. There is more specialization and less interest in an interdisciplinary approach than I expected.

KB: How many people it takes and how much teamwork it takes to go from script to screen. It is the most collaborative art form in my opinion. If filmmakers ran the world we would get all sorts of stuff done and fast! I’m [referring to] production and crew though. Development is slow as a sloth trapped in molasses.

AP: There are a lot of people willing to help. I didn’t expect to find as many support systems as I have.

 

What is a typical day like for a producer during the production phase of a project?

SS: In the world of independent producing, days are often described as anything BUT typical. Each day of shooting brings new challenges.

Mostly, I try to do whatever it is that I can to keep the shooting schedule on track and to keep my crew moving at an efficient pace. I try to get a lot of the nitty-gritty work done and out of the way during pre-production so that I can expect my directors and departments heads to be prepared and ready to deliver.

KB: It’s putting out fires, placating ruffled feathers, keeping your eye on the ball while preparing paces ahead. It’s a lot of phone calls and emails, lots of coffee during the day and something a ‘lil stronger at the end of it!

AP: During production there is very little sleep. It’s getting to set early, making sure things are set up properly. Once the day is moving along, it’s time to get ready for the next day and the day after. It’s securing, confirming, and finalizing permits and talent. Helping to get call sheets ready, etc. Then, it starts all over the next day.

 

Where do you get ideas for projects?

SS: Strong stories are rooted in their characters and I like engaging with people to find my inspiration for characters. This has the added benefit of requiring me to practice active listening.

Having an eye for material that people will connect with is, for most, a skill learned over time. Some may possess this talent from early on but I believe the real skill necessary for a producer’s sustained success is the ability to exhaustively research the idea from its many angles so as to be able to cultivate it. Everyone has ideas but bringing them to life requires commitment to them.

KB: Books are my favorite source, news or feature articles are next. Personal stories are great when it’s unique, yet, universal.

AP: I have a great group of people that I reach out to. They are so talented. Sometimes their ideas spark ideas where I can also participate in the creative process, which is always rewarding.

 

What personality traits make for a great film producer?

KB: You have to be an entrepreneur in spirit and an artist in vision. You have to be dogged and determined. Never ever, EVER give up on something you believe in – all you need is one Yes. Shake off the No’s and the naysayers and keep going. When a project is picked up, sustain your initial vision while listening to and collaborating with the crew and cast. You’ve got to be like a conductor with the Philharmonic. The harmonious whole is what matters and you simply cannot achieve it solo. Understanding that is key so that your ego is not getting in the way of your art.

AP: Patience, being a good listener and being a quick thinker. Creatives will come to you in confidence to express frustrations or talk through creative blocks. By listening, they generally figure out what they ultimately want [to do]. And, like any creative project, things will fall through. Things will happen that are unexpected. By being a problem solver, it helps move the creative process forward.

 

What advice do you have for someone considering producing as a career?

SS: Find stories that fuel you and surround yourself with collaborators who complement your abilities. Also, dabble in other production work if you can manage to.

KB: It’s not really a career anyone CHOOSES because there’s no straight path, such as you get a degree and you hang a shingle and you’re ready for business. It’s something you build up to while doing other things. You’re working as a PA and making connections. Maybe one day you park someone’s car for them, and now you’ve got their ear. Maybe you tell them about the article you read, and maybe it comes to nothing, but at least now you’re in their mental Rolodex as a keen mind. Or, maybe you write a small piece and shoot it on your iPhone and get a ton of likes on Facebook. If you like the process so much, you do it again with a stronger script, better camera and an aspiring camera person who is also an extra on the show you’re day playing on. You’re building your network and sharpening you narrative sense while learning the techniques and tricks. There are just so many paths to it unless you’re Steven Spielberg’s offspring (and that comes with its own problems I’m sure!). If you like leading, collaborating, and bit by bit, creating a magnificent whole then trust yourself and start telling the stories that inspire you; use whatever you have access to. Especially today with no boundaries on format, medium, or budget – anything is possible as long as the story is interesting and timely.

AP: First and foremost, make sure the crew is always taken care of [on your project]. Network as much as you can. Also, make sure you always have an exit strategy and Plan B.

 

Stephanie Serra works as a producer and director in New York. She is the founder of TRISERRATOPS Productions, an independent production company dedicated to delivering content for and about children. Serra’s goal as a filmmaker and mission at TRISERRATOPS is to create films that broaden young audiences perspectives of the world. TRISERRATOPS collaborates with producers, directors, and writers, both domestically and abroad. TRISERRATOPS is currently developing a live-action series of short films for young audiences, as well as its first feature film. Serra’s film slate includes award-winning short films, CHRISTINE (2016), and STEEL (2014). TADPOLES (2017) a Norwegian co-production and Serra’s directorial debut is currently slated to premiere in the 2018 film festival circuit.

Krystia Basil has been producing since 2003. Basil has developed and produced narrative as well as documentary features & shorts. She has line produced reality television shows for History Channel, Animal Planet, HGTV, BBC and PBS. She has worked with celebrities such as Matt Lauer and Lara Spencer, as well as invested in and developed shows with emerging talent and new voices. Her passion is, and has always been, to collaborate with and consummate the vision of artists as they tell their stories through the screen.

Ashley Pacini is a TV and film producer and founder of The Reel Women, stories set up to support and celebrate women in film, television and media.

 


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 

New York City vs. Los Angeles – The Filmmaker’s Conundrum

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New York City owes a lot of its glamorous, iconic status to film. From King Kong climbing the Empire State Building to Robert De Niro’s You talkin’ to me? in Taxi Driver, the greatest city on earth is great in part because filmmakers have flocked here for generations to imprint New York in all its loud, proud glory on celluloid for generations to come. After all, New York City is a movie in itself – a rom-com walk in Central Park one moment, a Woody Allen gabfest the next, and navigating the crowds near the Rockefeller Christmas tree during the holidays can quickly turn into a nightmarish thriller.

But for the second year in a row, blockbuster movies filmed in New York have declined.

Of the top 100 highest-grossing domestic feature films released in theaters last year, only six were made in the Empire State, according to a study released May 23 by nonprofit organization Film L.A., whose mission is to keep production in Los Angeles. The number, which is down from seven the previous year and from a peak of 12 in 2014, puts New York in sixth place.

Georgia had the most top-grossing motion pictures with 17, followed by the United Kingdom with 16 and Canada with 13. California hosted 12 blockbusters, which put it fourth.

So what’s behind the trend?

“New York has become a TV town,” Film L.A.’s lead researcher, Adrian McDonald, told Crain’s New York. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The budgets on many one-hour shows rival that of large movies.”

According to the study, the state has so much television production that overall it ranked second in total film and TV production spending with an estimated $5 billion to $6 billion after California, where an estimated $30 billion is spent on production annually.

020.JPGIndeed, the sheer variety of production in New York City is what keeps Misael Sanchez, founder and director of the International Film Institute of New York based in the city that never sleeps. He lived and worked in L.A. for a two-year stint in 2011 and ‘12 before returning to New York.

“My personal experience with the two towns is a perfect example of why new opportunities seem to be opening in New York,” Sanchez says. “New York is more than movies. It has fashion, advertising, corporations, health organizations, small businesses, theater, all looking for content. Filling that production void is what called me back east.”

So where should an aspiring filmmaker put down roots – New York or L.A.? It’s an age old question that Sanchez fields from students every year.

As a film professor I spend quite a bit of time discussing with my students the opportunities related to staying here or moving out west,” says Sanchez, who spent 15 years as a professor and director of production at Columbia’s Graduate School of Film before moving to Sarah Lawrence College to teach film production.

“Both cities offer incredible opportunities in the television, film, and theater industry. L.A. is known for being the heart of the film industry but New York has always been a city for independent filmmaking. Everything about the city’s resources lends itself to the smaller budget projects,” he says. “That, in turn, provides opportunities for up and coming filmmakers. In addition, being in a town where everything is relatively close to everything else makes networking and meeting others outside of your field much more accessible.”

The other driving factor behind production location is simply the bottom line: New York’s $420 million annual tax-incentive program is a huge attraction, but it only covers so-called “below-the-line costs” such as crew salaries and production expenses. The tax incentive in Georgia offers 30% on the entire movie budget, including star salaries, and has no annual cap.

But when you need to set a story in New York, there’s no substitute for the real thing. And New York City’s scrappy reputation means it will always be home for young, hungry artists.  

“I do feel that the best is yet to come,” Sanchez says. “More opportunities are on the horizon as film professionals continue to call New York City and the surrounding cities home base. Los Angeles will always be a huge part of what makes the film industry but New York is what will keep the torch alive and moving into the future.”


Misael Sanchez: Founder and director of instruction at The International Film Institute of New York, currently working in collaboration with Sarah Lawrence College. BFA, New York University. Certificate in Producing, The New School. Recent production credits include a feature-length documentary, Last Call (director and cinematographer), now in post-production and producer on the feature-length narrative, Central Avenue, scheduled to cast Marisa Tomei and Lorraine Bracco. A book-in-progress on cinematography lighting techniques is titled Lighting Tricks and ShortCuts. Staff member, faculty member, and head of the cinematography concentration at Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division, where he supervises students on thesis productions. Past work includes four one-hour specials on Latinos in the media for network television, short documentary projects, films, music videos, and industrials. SLC, 2009–

 

 

 

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 

Book-to-Movie: How To Successfully Adapt Novels into Screenplays

“Boil down the story to its very essence and think how it can be reborn in the new form.”

Today, we sat down with International Film Institute of New York‘s friend, screenwriter and producer Frederic Richter to learn more about adapting novels into screenplays. We wanted to know how to approach this task, what tips Frederic has for our community of filmmakers, and what his favorites are in this category of film. Read on for details from our conversation.

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What’s the first step to adapting a novel or play for a screenplay?

Read it. Read it again. Take notes and internalize the story and narrative. Put it aside for a little time, think about how it would best work as a film or television show structurally and story wise. What would have to be changed to work in that format, and what can be kept? Boil down the story to its very essence and think how it can be reborn in the new form. Even authors of books themselves realize this, as illustrated by interview with the author/ screenwriters of “Room” (2015) and “Gone Girl” (2014), writers who adapted their own work. Sometimes the most successful adaptations are not entirely faithful to the book or work as it is written, but are very successful to the essence of the story. Look at “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), which could easily be considered to be more successful and meaningful than the original, very short and arguably under developed, short story. It is also depends on the original work itself. For instance, a writer like Cormac McCarthy is likely less difficult to adapt than an interior and dense writer like Thomas Pynchon.

 

Would you recommend having a relationship with the original author? What are the benefits and drawbacks?

That’s really a personal choice and decision on the part of both writers. I would say many don’t have this luxury; the author is very often deceased. Sometimes the author is not even interested in talking. It is so dependent on the situation. It could be very helpful to learn what the essence and most important aspect of their story and characters are to them. They are the ones who originally created the world of the book, and sometimes they can help enrich the adaptation in that way. However, if they are precious with their work it could also be crippling to the process. A few meetings or calls could beneficial and interesting. But, it could also become very troublesome, especially if they are involved the whole way through the project. This may be the case with certain very powerful novelists. In at least one case – John LeCarre – has been quite involved with several of his adaptations as a consultant, and they have turned out quite favorably.

 

What are the risks a director should take in adapting a screenplay? 

In my experience, directors don’t “adapt a screenplay.” Instead, they are using the screenplay as a blueprint for their own film. In any event, I think the most important thing a director can do is to make sure the actor’s performances are there, and create the most lifelike scenes possible.

 

What is your favorite novel to film adaptation and why? 

I have several: “The Godfather” (1972) “Empire of the Sun” (1987), “Schindler’s List” (1993), and “Lincoln” (2012). They’re all terrific adaptations – and incredibly ambitious – in many ways. “Lincoln” is even more amazing considering it is adapted from an excellent, albeit still very historical, non-fiction book by Dorris Kerns Goodwin. The original screenplay was hundreds of pages, and yet Tony Kushner and Spielberg managed to whittle that down to the film that was produced. As an overall film, I would have to say “The Godfather” or “Schindler’s List”. Honestly, “Schindler’s List” was the movie that made me want to work in this business.

Thank you, Frederic, for your insight and sharing so many useful tips for our filmmaking community!

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Frederic Richter received his BA at Sarah Lawrence College, and was a Screenwriting Fellow at The American Film Institute (AFI), where he earned his MFA. His thesis short-film, MACHSOM, was the recipient of the Deluxe Production grant, amongst others. The film was accepted into over twenty-five festivals including AFI FEST, and won numerous awards around the world. His feature-length screenplay APPEARANCES, won 1st place in the Slamdance Screenwriting competition. He has a number of feature projects in active development with producers. Frederic has been employed for years as a Story Analyst for numerous companies, including Goldcrest Films, Film Rites (Steven Zaillian’s company), QED International, Black Label Media and The Black List 3.0. He is a producer and executive with Tradition Pictures, a newly formed LA based production company. He worked on an upcoming television series for Stephen David Entertainment. He teaches classes on screenwriting, script development, story structure, film studies/ history and the entertainment industry at Sarah Lawrence College, NYU SPS, Mercy College and The Ghetto Film School. He is a Teaching Artist at The Ghetto Film School, and an Adjunct Instructor at NYU SPS. He is a proud member of the Sarah Lawrence College Alumni Board.

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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