Starting Point: A Short Q&A About A Short Film’s Journey to Festival

Oh, what a difference a year can make! It hasn’t yet been a full 365 days since filmmaker Sirada Tritruengtassana first walked onto the campus of Sarah Lawrence College to attend the International Film Institute of New York’s summer filmmaking course. In the months since “graduating” from the five-week intensive film program, Sirada has hit the ground running with her short film that was created in the summer of 2017, entering it into several international festivals.

In the Q&A below, #IFI caught up with Sirada the weekend of her film’s debut at the International New York Film Festival in Manhattan (and, she won Silver!!!).

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  1. Why are you a filmmaker?  I love telling a story. For me, making a film is like projecting my dream into moving pictures.
  2. Can you describe your film in three sentences?  I think three sentences will reveal everything in my five-minute short film. So, I  will give you three words : a girl, invisible, and murder.
  3. What was the best thing about making your film?  The best thing is my team. They are so awesome. I became friends with them in such a short time because we had gone so much together during the shoot. Without them, I don’t think I could have made this film happen.
  4. What was the worst thing about making your film?  Well, every shoot has its own struggle. My struggle was my first actress walked away from my set before we even began shooting. It was hard for me, but it also made me learn how to adapt with the situation and keep going — even without the lead actress. I think I have become a good problem solver after that [experience].
  5. Why did you decide to enter your film in INYFF? Are you planning to enter it into any other festivals?  Actually, I have entered my film, Invisible Murder, into a lot of festivals and INYFF is one of them. I chose this festival because it supports minorities in the film industry – both female and international filmmakers.
  6. What are the next plans for you and your film?  I’m still waiting for some festivals to reply for this film, and my new film that I just made this year. I’m also planning on making a new film this July. It’s going to be different from my current films and relating more about my tradition and culture.
  7. Who is your filmmaking inspiration?  don’t think I have anyone in particular. Anyone or anything can inspire me to make film.

If you’re considering a career in film or pursuing an interest within the industry, IFI has several summer courses to suit your needs. Visit www.nyfilmschool.com to learn more about the Five-Week Summer Filmmaking Collective, One-Week Introduction to Filmmaking and those with very little free time, the Two-Day Introduction to Filmmaking.

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

Filmmaker Snapshots: Kloudia Sakowski

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 11.10.05 AM.pngFast Facts: Kloudia Sakowski


Film Student

School: Sarah Lawrence College Fall ’17

You might have seen her: Working as a boom operator on Gabrielle Sidibe‘s short film THE TALE OF FOUR as part of Refinery29‘s film program.

Based in: New Jersey

How we met her: At IFI’s Five-Week Summer Filmmaking Intensive where Kloudia was a student in 2016. Held at Sarah Lawrence College, the program is designed to completely immerse students into the filmmaking process, from screenwriting to post-production. See Kloudia with her fellow filmmakers below.

Where does Kloudia see herself working in the future? Magic 8 Ball Says: Cannot predict now. She’s done sound on a few projects and some digital media work, but there’s an entire summer ahead and film school starts in the fall.

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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 

Directors, Producers and Screenwriters: Get to Know the IFI Summer Team

brooklyn-morgan-390A favorite time of year in New York is almost here. For many that means summer vacations and days spent by the beach or pool, but at the International Film Institute of New York, we are excited to stay put and welcome students to the beautiful campus at Sarah Lawrence College. Beginning June 25, we will be spending five weeks thinking, writing and doing all things film at the IFI Summer Filmmaking Intensive.

To help us throughout the program, we have a talented group of instructors joining us in Bronxville. Students will learn from people working as directors, producers, screenwriters and editors in the film industry.

Get to know them below:

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

donellaDonella Alanwick, Managing Director  Donella is a New York-based Film and Theater actress with many years of experience as a professional. She has worked with Lee Breuer with the Mabou Mines Theater Company at the Skirball Center. She has worked on productions ranging from independent short films to feature length projects.  Her most recent work includes direction on a series of short films produced in New York and Utah. Along with her work as an actor Donella has dedicated a large part of her efforts into the development of the International Film Institute of New York. As Partner and Managing Director her responsibilities include promoting and developing partnerships with established film institutions in New York and Los Angeles.    

Jesus AlarconJesus Alarcon, Directing Instructor  Jesus entered the world of narrative at a very early age. He grew nurtured by the vast cultural riches of his country (Mexico), which developed in him a particular sensibility for storytelling in its many forms. Jesus was awarded the Americarum Universitas Scholarship to study his Bachelors Degree in Communications Science at the Universidad de las Américas–Puebla, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He spent a year abroad studying at the University of Leeds in England, where he debuted as a director in the short-films program. Jesus has worked as a producer, director, cameraman and editor in Mexico, England, Spain, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. He completed his M.F.A. in filmmaking at the University of Columbia in New York, where he was awarded the Cinematography and FOCUS fellowships. He received the Hollywood Foreign Press Award to promising filmmakers. Jesus was selected to participate at the Cine Qua Non Lab Screenwriter’s Workshop in Michoacán Mexico, where he’d later serve as the CQNL Fellow from 2011 to 2013. Currently Jesus has just finished the short film CADENA PERPETUA, and is in development of his first feature film ESPERADORAS.

Lennon Nersesian, Editing Instructor Lennon is an American writer, film editor and producer, and the editor of the award-winning 2014 documentary, TWO: THE STORY OF ROMAN & NYRO, which was awarded the Audience Award at the Nashville Film Festival, Best Documentary at ARPA International Film Festival, and the prestigious Best of Fest honors at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He is also the editor of the feature documentary, IN OUR BACKYARD, exposing sex trafficking in Brooklyn. The film garnered Best Feature Documentary and the Audience Award at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival and is a Silver Spotlight Winner for the Spotlight Documentary Film Awards. Lennon is currently producing the feature documentary, CATNIP NATION, about the country’s feral cat epidemic. In addition to filmmaking, Lennon is a published author of four novels, THE GREEN DOOR, ATOM, THE PALISADES, and DIARY OF A PICKY EATER. Lennon has written several award-winning screenplays, including NATIONAL PASTIME, winner of the 2005 Expose It! Comedy Screenwriting Competition and the teleplay, ATOM, second rounder in the Sundance Episodic Story Lab Competition and finalist at the Austin Film Festival Screenplay & Teleplay Competition. Lennon is a graduate of Fordham University, where he wrote, produced, and directed three dramatic plays performed at Fordham’s Backdoor Theatre. Lennon won First Prize at the inaugural Fordham Film Festival for his short dramatic film, REPENT. Lennon teaches a film budgeting and film editing lab at Sarah Lawrence College.

sveaSvea Vocke, Screenwriting Instructor  Sveais a freelance story doctor who works with writers to formulate and edit their narratives. Previously, she taught screenwriting at Columbia University and DeSales University and worked in development at multiple production companies. While completing her M.F.A. in Screenwriting at Columbia, Svea won the Malia Scotch-Marmo/Frank Daniels Memorial Fund Award for Excellence in Screenwriting, wrote a feature that was optioned, and wrote/directed multiple award-winning shorts. As an undergraduate, she attended Brown University and earned a B.A. in German Studies. Svea is currently working on her sixth feature script. 

kyle1Kyle Wilamowski, Directing Instructor  Kyle is writer, filmmaker, and native of both small town and suburban Michigan. After receiving his B.A from the University of Michigan in 2003, Kyle worked in Geneva, Switzerland at CERN where he documented the world’s most renowned physicists as they worked on the Large Hadron Collider in search of the “God-particle”. In 2008, he received his M.F.A. in Film Direction and Screenwriting from Columbia University where his thesis short film and thesis feature script both received honors. Since then he has directed, produced, and written various short films, music videos and documentaries, which have screened at festivals throughout the United States. Kyle is currently slated to direct his first feature film, GRASS STAINS, in the spring of 2013 and is proud to call Brooklyn, New York his home.


 

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 

From 50% to 4%: A Virtual Roundtable on the Drop-Off of Women Working in the Film Industry

What Happens to Women Between Film School to the Film Set?

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The disparity between how much women and men are paid in the film industry is no secret. Patricia Arquette’s clarion call for wage equality at the 2015 Academy Awards and Jennifer Lawrence’s viral essay later that year about being paid less than her male co-stars brought the gender pay gap in Hollywood out of the shadows and into the klieg lights. And last year, Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions was behind a docu-series on women in film that went behind the scenes to highlight the lack of women on the other side of the camera. The title of “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem,” a collection of short films directed by Caroline Suh on the dearth of female directors in Hollywood, references a discouraging statistic: Only 4 percent of top-grossing movies over the past 13 years have been directed by women.

This year, an annual academic research report on the number of women in film revealed that in 2016, women working on the top 250 domestic grossing films declined 2 percent from the prior year, with women comprising 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers. Among that group women accounted for just 7 percent in the coveted director’s chair, down 2 percentage points from 9 percent in 2015. And among the top 100 domestic grossing films, an even smaller circle, that exclusive girls’ club within the boys’ club shrank even further with just 4 percent of higher echelon titles helmed by a woman, down from 7 percent in 2015.

Meanwhile, nearly 50 percent of students at some of the nation’s top graduate film schools are women. So what happens after graduation to account for this gaping disconnect? This Women’s History Month, IFI reached out to professor Kate Hearst, who specializes in teaching gender, race and sexuality in film, after polling six current female graduate and undergraduate film students at programs across the globe to create a virtual roundtable on women in film.

“The women interviewed were very articulate about their film school experience,” Hearst says. “Their classes were usually half men, half women but often the male voices were heard more than their voices so I think that they start in film school already feeling the pressure of being a woman in a male environment.

“I was in film school in the ‘90s and the class was made up of 50 percent women and men, we were all given the same opportunities, and we all had successes in film school, men and women,” Hearst recalls. “And then getting those jobs in the industry afterward that was really the stopgap for being successful in filmmaking. What I’m hearing is a lot of the same story today, and of course the statistics bear that out.”

Here are the fascinating, inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking thoughts on being a woman in film that we heard from the women who are poised to lead the film industry of the future:

[Out of respect for our respondents, IFI has omitted their last names’ and schools to protect their identities while they continue to study in their respective programs.]

 

How competitive is your program?

“It is the #1 film school in the country, according to The Hollywood Reporter.” — Lina, MFA candidate with a concentration on directing.

The film program is very competitive. Not only is it difficult to get in – within the program there is a lot of competition. Peers are often competing for allotments, internships and other opportunities.” — Kristi, film and television undergraduate student

“It’s not super competitive because it’s so small, not a true “film school,” so it’s self-directed; opportunities are limited if you don’t surround yourself with the right people.” — Alisha, film, black and women’s studies, undergraduate.

“It is very competitive. Every year, senior theses are limited in numbers and students try really hard to stand out both in class and at office hours to have the opportunity to shoot a short film.” — Tiffany, undergraduate majoring in film with a certificate in writing.

There’s definitely a lot of competition to get into Cinema Studies classes, because there’s not a whole lot of them in comparison to some of the other departments (like English) and I think there’s a lot of people that are interested in at least dabbling in it.” — Juliette (Jules), English and Cinema Studies double major undergraduate.

The program is reasonably new – I am in the second year it has run. The students are hand selected by our heads of program, and out of hundreds of applicants, only up to 30 are chosen. I graduated from The Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts in December, 2012. I then moved to California to work the film industry from January 2013 to August, 2015, after which I decided to go back to school to refine my business skills for producing.” — Courtney, master’s student and MA International Film Business (MAIFB) London.

 

What would you say is the ratio of men to women in your program?

“I am not certain, but for my semester, I think fairly even.” — Lina

“In the school overall, the ratio of men to women is more or less equal. Certain classes I have taken, however, had an uneven ratio. I was the only woman in my directing class.” — Kristi

“Maybe 2:1 because the school’s population has more girls than boys. Also, not everyone falls into the gender binary so they don’t identify as either. Regardless, the loudest voices are boys. It’s a boy’s club and a lot of the women aren’t heard or seen.” — Alisha

“I actually counted the number of males and females in my lecture class because I noticed there was a large disparity. The ratio is roughly two-thirds men and only one-third women.” Tiffany

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that women have actually been the majority in many Cinema Studies classes – I would say it’s something upwards of 8 women to 1 man, which is huge. I wonder why that is? I’m not complaining though, I love it!” — Jules

“Our class is rather unique in the sense that it is majority women. We have five men (truth be told – they love it). This is the first time I have ever been in a film-related program that there is a higher ratio of women to men.” — Courtney

 

Would you consider your program fair to aspiring female filmmakers?

“I personally have not experienced difficulty because of being female in the program.” — Lina

“Yes and no. The program itself does not overtly offer any benefits to male students – but the majority of professors are men and they often favor the boys. I have talked to many women in my program who have had the experience of a male teacher failing to take them seriously or being sexually inappropriate.” — Kristi

“If you know what you’re doing, yes, in a way. I think more things should be done to make sure that females aren’t being left out of decisions. Sadly, it’s preparing us for the industry that we’re about to enter.” — Alisha

“The film program offers equal opportunities, regardless of gender. However, I find that more males apply for the major than females.” — Tiffany

“I would say that my professors are extremely encouraging – both in my undergraduate and in my masters. They do not differentiate between male or female in the classroom and are generally unbiased in their lessons. While this is an excellent approach, I think it is still important for students who have never worked in film to understand there is a gap in the industry – and across almost all industries – between women and men. It is a major problem that women are still earning less than men. You can’t ignore the problem, but fortunately there are people who are coming out of the woodwork to discuss instigating change.” — Courtney

 

Do you have any mentors / teachers that have inspired you to make a difference (in the disparity of women in film)?

“Absolutely. I have had a couple of writing and production teachers with whom I have had close personal relationships. They provided me with invaluable career advice They were also extremely encouraging to me and inspired me to believe in my own abilities. One of my professors was an incredible role model and inspired me to continue my pursuit of directing even though it is a male-dominated field.” — Kristi

“Yes, but indirectly. Through my women’s and black studies, I’ve had teachers who have shown me that I can be in film through their curriculum. Also my first year studies teacher, although a man, has helped me greatly with making the right moves with the politics of the film department. He’s also helped put my name out there and telling me that my ideas that have to do with race and gender aren’t crazy. Between my teachers and the girls that I do meet in the department, hearing their stories and watching their film always pushes me forward. Gives me some inspiration.” — Alisha

“I owe so much to Dr. Ana Maria Trenchi Bottazzi, my past piano teacher, and Mrs. Margaret Gullotta, my middle and high school orchestra teacher. They were perhaps the strictest and most demanding teachers I’ve ever had. They pushed me to perform in front of large audiences and taught me how to keep an audience’s attention, and keep a rhythm. But most importantly, they showed me that I can conquer any piece of music or task if I dedicated enough time and effort. I wouldn’t be allowed to leave class until I performed a song “five times perfect” in a row. The skills I learned from my music teacher, both in technique, work ethics, and perception of difficulty have had a huge impact on my pursuit in filmmaking.” — Tiffany

“I took a Chinese Literature and Film class my first semester, and I was surprised to see how much I already knew about Chinese cinema just having grown up in a Chinese-American household. For example, I didn’t realize how familiar I was with Zhang Yimou’s work before I even began the class until my professor started listing his filmography.I would say she was instrumental in my fairly newfound identity as a female Chinese American filmmaker (quite a mouthful to say), especially when she sponsored my independent Winter Term project where I wrote my first feature length screenplay. She’s encouraged me a lot, especially with my writing, which made me really happy because thinking back on it, that screenplay was a wacky combination of a lot of things I like.” — Jules

“All of my teachers have been inspiring, in different ways. The benefit of my program is that you have many guest lectures attend the classes. One of the best lectures we had was with Anna Godas who is the CEO of Dogwoof, a documentary distribution and sales company. She and her husband started Dogwoof in 2005, and have since grown it to host some of the top documentaries, such as Blackfish and Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next? She is a go-getter, and extremely inspiring. Tough, no nonsense and clear about what she wants and how she wants it.” — Courtney

 

How has your experience in school prepared you for the real world?

“I think that’s one important aspect that the school is not as strong in preparing the students for. I graduated from undergrad in New York, and struggled for a few years afterward doing odd jobs while writing. If I didn’t have that experience of learning how tough it is to get ahead in the industry, I wouldn’t know now that I have to really start preparing and involving myself in the “real world” while I’m still in school and not wait until after I graduate.” — Lina

“It’s hard to say whether the school has prepared me for the real world when I haven’t experienced the real world yet! I have learned a lot about how to work with difficult people and work under them when they are authority figures. On a more positive note, however, I have learned the joy of collaboration at its best and I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the industry.” — Kristi

“I believe so. Even though it’s hard and definitely limiting because of marginalization but that made me try harder. In an industry that doesn’t have a very big female or of color population, you have to make your own opportunities. And if you don’t have the funding for that, put yourself out there, work hard and show that you can do anything that boys can do. Not just in film but even at food service job, I had to learn how to be assertive and fearless in regards to business and my worth.” — Alisha

During our Film Major orientation, the professors explicitly stated they had zero tolerance for tardiness because in the film industry, time is everything. The professors promptly lock the doors when class starts and drop students who are late or absent. Unfortunately, I have witnessed more than one classmate who was dropped from the course due to an absence. Although these are tough expectations, I have definitely noticed that I prioritize meeting deadlines and showing up on time. I believe that this practice provides great training and time management skills for any career.” — Tiffany

“I’m not sure yet! I think it’s definitely taught me how to be more independent in pursuing my own projects. It’s like that Yoda quote, “Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'” — Jules

“In any industry, you learn “on the go”. Film is no different, and while Florida State provided an outstanding education, there is no way a university can prepare you for all of the challenges in the film industry. I was spoiled in my world view – that all was fair and equal – and once I had started to work, I learned quite a few tough lessons. Someone can tell you the industry is tough, but you never truly believe it until you’re working full time…It is now almost the end of my course here in, and I cannot believe the change I’ve experienced in myself and also my approach to work. While I lived in LA, I felt a bit shy even though I had acquired state of the art production skills. What I missed was how to connect my skills with the real world of actually making a film. I talked about what I wanted to do, but I did not know how to actualize it. I suppose it is age and experience as well as a learning curve, but since being in the MAIFB, my confidence has soared and I can now boast that I have produced a short film in London and am currently working on two documentaries. I have also been signed on as a producer on a competition commercial. It provided me with the ‘missing link’ between my skills and how to implement them.” — Courtney

 

What is the biggest challenge you are facing as you continue to pursue your film career?

Money. It’s not easy to find money for your films, especially for newer filmmakers. I’ll have to prove my ability to tell a story and somehow gain the trust that I can deliver a good film – without much money.” — Lina

“I think my biggest challenge when it comes to entering the film industry is accepting the uncertainty of my career path. It can be very stressful when you are not able to have a solid plan for your career. It can be even more anxiety-inducing when you are starting out with very few connections in the industry.” — Kristi

“My biggest challenge is not allowing people to take advantage. I had one awful experience this year with a bad film set ran by guys who were taking advantage. The biggest challenge for anyone is knowing when to walk away and not being afraid of doing so. But that comes with knowing your worth and who you want to be known as.” — Alisha

“Personally, and this isn’t a huge problem at all, but still one that bothers me, is the comparisons I often get to Lena Dunham because we are both women in the industry that went to the same school and are from New York. It’s not that I dislike Lena, I admire the fact that she made Tiny Furniture all on her own, it’s just that her work is very different than mine and I don’t want to be pigeonholed on the basis of my alma mater. I think this may speak to a larger issue at hand with women in this industry. Because there’s so few of us that are super well known in mainstream consciousness, if an upcoming filmmaker has any similarities to an already established artist, the younger one might get labeled as being “the next ______,” which is frustrating because then she’s not given any room for her work to speak for itself!” — Jules

 

What will be the most challenging aspect of entering the film industry for you?

“Pushing back against doubts about my ability, and figuring out how to rise among the amount of massively talented people in the industry.” — Lina

“What I should be putting out there, honestly. Anyone a part of an oppressed group, whether it be race, gender or sexuality, there’s pressure to make all your art about that. I’m sure it’s expected from you later on in the actual industry but right now I feel like I have to be taking a stance with my art. It’s strange how white cis male issues are just stories and ours are political stances. I see my fellow male filmmaker aspirers making very mundane things with no point and I wish I had that luxury but I feel that everything that I put out needs to have purpose because how many opportunities will I actually get? I can’t waste it.” — Alisha

“I am the first in my family to venture into a career related to the arts. I don’t have a specific path or person to help me enter the film industry. Its a scary venture but I hope that with hard work, I will come to meet the right people and opportunities to help me earn a career in film.” — Tiffany

“I feel like it’s all networking, networking, networking and you either “know people” or you don’t…Also I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m an Asian American, and that my community is severely underrepresented in Hollywood, so I just have to be very conscious that I have that going on as well as my female identity, which totally shouldn’t be seen as a challenge, but unfortunately is.” — Jules

 

What would you do to change the tide of the lack of diversity in the film industry as it relates to Women?

“A lot of the same things we’ve been hearing. Make more characters in scripts to be women. Employ more women directors and writers. It sounds so simple but it’s not being done quite enough. Also making sure that women speak up more, not only in the public space, but in meetings and on an everyday basis. We can’t say that one thing will change the lack of diversity because the problem is at a root level of how girls AND boys are told they need to behave early on, but it’s also at the adult systemic level.” — Lina

“On a personal level, I would try to make sure to support fellow female filmmakers instead of seeing them as competition. If female filmmakers work together instead of against each other, I believe it can make a real difference. And I would tell a female filmmaker looking in to film school to remember to be assertive about networking in school. It is easy to become discouraged or insecure when you’re in classes with confident and connected male filmmakers who do not take you seriously or acknowledge you as an equal. It is important to continue to believe in yourself even when this happens. I would also tell her to challenge herself to do classes or internships that scare her. It is empowering and helps you expand your knowledge of film and the entertainment industry.” — Kristi

“By creating things and bringing them to fruition. If I hadn’t seen Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, and Beyonce’s work all these years I wouldn’t have kept going. All of these women have worked so hard and believed in their talent and are killing it. For me it takes seeing one other girl in a room filled with men to keep me in the room without feeling anxious. Having conversations with women who are upperclassmen at my school does it for me. Knowing that it is possible does a lot in itself. Making conversation is important but just grinding is also beneficial because you’re aspiring another girl who doesn’t think she can do it.” — Alisha

“I would start at the undergraduate level and encourage male and female filmmakers to work together. During our production course, film crews changed every week. I got to work with a lot of students I’d never talked to before and made really great friendships. After the class, several of them reached out to me and asked if I could help on their theses. I think these team projects offer a great opportunity for women to show that their work abilities overshadow their gender. In the end, people want to make films with other skilled and compatible individuals. I think if we work to encourage male and female collaborations within a new generation of filmmakers, we will definitely see more female presence in the film industry’s future.” — Tiffany

“One thing I am so, so frustrated with seeing is badly written women. I mean, without naming names, I saw this movie the other day with a cast made up of some of my favorite actors that was written by a very famous male novelist, and the script’s treatment of its female characters made me both gag and laugh at the same time because of how ridiculous and out of touch it was. I think some of my goals as a filmmaker are to use my voice as a woman to create characters that are much closer to how women are in real life, which is a total spectrum with no specific features other than that women are very complicated! As an Asian American woman, I would like to help put an end to the “dragon lady” stereotype I see on the screen all the time, because that’s been a trope that’s haunted Asian women since the time of Anna May Wong, and that’s really messed up. To speak further about my Asian American background, I would also like to create stories about cultural differences across generations pertaining to Asian American women that my mother told me all about when I was growing up. There’s a lot of conflict there that is never really spoken about or explored, and I think it’s time America gets its own Bend it Like Beckham.” — Jules

“I think the best example of a community changing gender equality is in Sweden, where the gender gap has been forcibly closed by the head of the Swedish Film Institute. Anna Serner has completely changed the funding strategy and promotional aspects of the institute to allow for more female directors to receive money and publicity. It is now 50/50 female to male directors, to exceptional international acclaim – the female directors are pulling in money and fame to the industry. This change was not without major controversy, but Serner kept pushing to make the change. She believes that change is easily done, if you have the drive. She is the perfect example of a strong female CEO championing our cause. I think there is a lot to take away from The Swedish Film Institute – by forcing the change to take place, Serner has allowed female filmmakers who may never have had the opportunity in the past to receive funding and exposure, finally get in the limelight. She changed the dialogue and that is what I am attempting to do within my small pocket of the industry.

I believe we often allow the stereotype to continue because we are too afraid to stand up and say, hey, I can do that. Or, I don’t like how you’ve described the female in this script. Or, why don’t we think about making the lead a woman? By changing how we approach these issues, by encouraging strong, non-sexualized roles for women in film, we can actually inspire generations to not “see” gender, but rather, see opportunities.” — Courtney

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring woman filmmaker looking into film school?

“Be the woman that you are, and have confidence in yourself. Always strive to get better at your craft. Don’t feel like you are in competition with other women because there are so few spots for women. Make more spots for women. Encourage your fellow female filmmakers to grow, and grow with them. Collaborate with people – men and women. Hone your craft so that it is legitimately competitive so that you know you deserve your dream job. Yes, there is pushback and doubt and sexism, but don’t let that be your excuse not to become the best so when it comes time to fight for that job, you truly, truly do deserve it. Then make yourself heard.” — Lina

“Don’t beg to be on any guy’s sets. Obviously work on their sets but if you feel like a quota or like your ideas aren’t being heard, get out. Get your own set, which is easier said than done, but if you have an idea go for it. It’ll take time but no girl should ever feel like she’s there for vanity purposes or for someone to save face.” — Alisha

I would tell them to only focus on their own work, work hard, watch A LOT of movies, and improve on their craft. Do not feel intimidated by those who appear to have more experience because no one starts as an expert.” — Tiffany

“During my time as an undergraduate, I did not fully realize how important a network was. I began to focus on honing the art of networking and negotiating when I went to Sundance Film Festival in 2013. There, I was essentially tossed into the world of deal-making and selling. I loved it. Needless to say, networking is an ESSENTIAL aspect of our industry. If you have the opportunity to attend a major festival, TAKE IT. Your mind will be blown, you’ll have a blast, and it will benefit you greatly. In a class I took with Sandy Stern, Producer of Being John Malkovich, in Los Angeles, Sandy said something I will never forget – “If you get a party invite, GO. Never turn down a party in LA.” Take his advice. Parties are to the film industry like golf is to conventional business – a place where deals get made.” — Courtney

 

What area of filmmaking do you see the most opportunity for women to step into/have more of a presence in?

“We need to see more women writers, directors and cinematographers.” — Lina

“Producing. You have some say and it’s a pretty fun job where guys actually listen to you. I don’t think that there should be one area though, make space in the room for yourself. If you want to be on the cinematography side, which in my opinion is the most male dominated, then go for it. — Alisha

“I think there is room for a larger female presence in the fields of directing and cinematography.” — Kristi

“I think everywhere! Lately I’ve been hearing a lot from women cinematographers in articles on Indiewire. Cinematography has a woeful number of women, but those that are already there are speaking up and so I feel really optimistic about the future of female DP’s. Also I’ve noticed lots of women editors too, and I’ve watched them get nominated and win Oscars for their work, so editing is also an area I see a lot of potential in for women as well, since it seems that a lot of ground has been broken already. It’s also been very exciting to see actresses such as Angelina Jolie, Jessica Chastain, and Katie Holmes stepping into directors’ seats or starting their own production companies supporting female voices.” — Jules

“Women can be ANYTHING they want. I know female cinematographers, editors, camera operators, ACs, sound, et cetera. There are some physical restrictions to certain roles, but if you want to do it, then DO IT. For example, don’t let someone telling you “You’re a woman – you don’t have much upper body strength” prevent you from pursuing that dream position of a gaffer.” — Courtney

 

Do you see a divide between men and women in the film industry? How so?

“Absolutely. There are more male directors, male cinematographers, male writers, male producers, etc. … Oftentimes, they get paid more, and they are trusted more to do the job. There are prejudices that they don’t even realize they have about how a woman thinks or sees or what her taste is. Once a gentleman of an actor that I was directing, started tiptoeing with his words as we discussed his character, and I told him politely but pointedly, “Don’t talk to me like I’m a woman. Talk to me like a person.” That’s a terrible thing to have to say in order for him to see what he was doing. But then we started having more open discussions.” — Lina

“Yes. I see the industry as a boy’s club. Even when Noah Baumbach came to my school (it was my first time seeing a real film set), his set was full of men. I see lack of opportunities but more strides are being taken and that’s all that really can be done.” — Alisha

There is such a huge divide between male and female directors. I don’t think I’ve seen a single action or superhero movie directed by a woman. It is also a shame that the first and only female to win “Best Director” at the Academy Awards happened only a few years ago. I think women are capable to take on the heavy role as director and it would be fantastic to see studios and producers give larger projects for women to direct.” — Tiffany

“I feel like the divide has been pretty much created by a lot of man dudes on set that feel weird about being directed by a woman. They thus treat women on set differently, and automatically gender things with the way that they talk to them. I feel like women are just trying to live and do what we love to do, it’s just that we’re doing so in an industry that still can’t completely wrap its head around the presence of women on film sets yet. Also it’s really upsetting to see the ways that some actresses have been mistreated by male directors that it’s no wonder the industry has been so cold to women over the years. In a way, I also hope that that’s generational. It’s strange to me, because over the last few years that I’ve been making movies, I’ve almost always been “in charge” of crews made mostly up of teenage boys, and my “authority” or “vision” has never been questioned, probably because we were operating under the pretense that I knew the most about filmmaking, so I was in possession of the “key of knowledge,” so to speak. It’s also made me wonder if it’s because my physical self/presence isn’t extremely feminine, like say Kim Kardashian or something, or if it’s because I was a tomboy in elementary school and have always been friends with lots of dudes. I think it will be interesting to see how this pans out for me in the future. That said, I do feel that there’s some male directors that really understand and empathize with the struggles that women filmmakers face in the industry, like Steve McQueen. It’s guys like him that me think that there isn’t always such a divide, because he clearly understands the situation and acknowledges that it is a problem! Perhaps the divide is strangely stratified in that respect.” — Jules

“There is an epidemic within the female community, and I have personally experienced it, with the glass ceiling. For some reason, some women (men too, with each other) decide to hold their fellow female back. The glass ceiling shouldn’t exist, but it does, and it’s important to be aware of it. A key element of the glass ceiling however is ‘giving into it’. If you believe in yourself and do not get discouraged by external forces, then you have won more than half the battle against it.

I’ve worked at one company that basically promoted the glass ceiling, and worked at another that broke it. The company and my boss, a female Executive Director, was exceptional at providing equal opportunities for men and women in the office. I don’t think I’ll ever find a place that open minded, accepting and, overall, pleasant place to work.

With the divide in mind, however, I do not believe men and women are the same. Men and women, just from person to person, have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, on a physical level, I know I am not as strong as my male counterpart on set on the grip team. That doesn’t mean I can’t reach his physical level – it just means I have to work extra hard to achieve that strength. Apply that to anything, and you’ll see you can change the divide.

Sometimes you need to accept that people are different, and not see something that isn’t there. Maybe a man is hired into a position you wanted. Do not just automatically assume it’s because you’re a woman that you did not receive the job. That kind of thinking is actually what holds us back – assuming the role of the victim. Don’t be a victim – be a champion.” — Courtney

 

In your experience, do you believe men and women in film are compensated equally for the same job?

In my undergraduate film studies experience, I don’t really see gender have an impact on the reception of their work. There was one incident where a male colleague was surprised I could carry all the film equipment. But there were no negative feelings. Unfortunately, I believe many people in the workplace still perceive men as a stronger and more capable candidate and bias is prevalent.” — Tiffany

“I am not sure yet, because I’ve always been paid to work as a one-woman crew, or I’ve compensated actors I’ve worked with with equal amounts of pizza. But the preexisting wage gap does make me fear that there is lots of wage inequality that my female peers are experiencing.” — Jules

“Absolutely not. We all remember Patricia Arquette standing up at the Oscars after winning Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood and insisting we fix the gender gap in Hollywood. I know I do. The statistics are shocking, but finally actresses and female members of the film community are coming out, discussing the problem. The ultimate question is, however, what can we do to change this? We could adopt the ideals showcased by Anna Serner in Sweden and force the pay gap change. This has been successful, but not without controversy. But really, what we, as women in a sexist industry need to do, is stand up for ourselves.

In my opinion, it is often women that are allowing the gap and discrimination to continue due to fear. Women need to change their attitudes to their communities and lives. We are not on the planet as “extras” to our male counterparts. We aren’t “borrowing” the space we occupy. It’s ours – we own it.

I think Jennifer Lawrence articulated her reaction to the pay gap she experienced on American Hustle perfectly. She was not angry at the company for doing what they have always done – sticking to their standard, learned practices. She was mad at herself for not realising her own self worth and negotiating. I believe the only way we can really change the approach to the gender gap in film is to accept that we, as women, as humans, have worth. That we can provide the same, if not more, than others around us. We are special and we have a lot to offer.

So, with this in mind, start studying up, ladies, because the only way we can make change is if we acknowledge the issue and take responsibility. To quote the 1968 slogan for Virginia Slims, “We’ve come a long way baby”, but, there is still more change to go.” — Courtney

Exclusive Q & A with Donella Alanwick, Managing Director of the IFI

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In a few short years, the International Film Institute of New York has quickly emerged as one of the strongest film programs in the city for students of all levels of expertise who are looking to hone their craft. Students hailing from all corners of the Earth have participated in IFI courses and each and every one of them is given the opportunity to create original work and diversify their film portfolio while gaining firsthand experience.

Today, we sat down with Donella Alanwick, the Managing Director of the International Film Institute of New York, who has worked alongside Director Misael Sanchez closely to continue innovating and keep moving the film school forward. In this interview, Donella provides insights on the IFI’s journey to date, previews some of their upcoming programs and offers some important advice to filmmakers. Enjoy!

  1. How did the IFI get started? What niche were you and Misael Sanchez, (the director) hoping to fill and what would you say is the IFI’s mission?

We realized a need for a professional and academically sound mid level program that would allow students, interested in film, to explore all aspects within an environment comparable to what they might expect in higher education without the costs associated and the commitment to a full time program. Our mission is to support students as they work towards higher education in film. We consider ourselves a bridge where people can dabble and experiment in filmmaking to make sure it’s the right path for them.

  1. Students of the Five Week Summer Intensive shot their short films very recently – how did that process go?

The process went great. Every summer we get an amazing group of students hailing from all over the world. Some students have made a film before and some have not. So its always interesting to see the storylines that come up during the first few days in screenwriting. The most exciting part, for me, is watching how these projects bloom from ideas to a final product. Witnessing the transformation of the students from the first day to the last day, our final screening, is an extremely rewarding process for me. Through all the tears, frustration, and exhaustion everyone becomes part of the team and we all learn through process (even myself).

  1. Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming One Week Intro to Filmmaking Seminar in October? What can students expect to learn during the week-long course?

The introduction class is seminar style course with a few hands on sections. It will include Intro to Screenwriting, Directing for the Screen, Camera & Lenses Demonstrations, Hands on Lighting Workshop, The Job of the Producer, Editing Overview, Film Festivals & Distribution. The course will be 35 hours of training and take place in downtown Manhattan.

We really do take into consideration the feedback we receive after each session. We continue to add more hands on instruction to the seminar and this coming October we will be adding a new element – sound and audio workshop.

  1. What are the some of the perks shooting in the fall in New York?

October is a great time of year in New York City. The moderate temperature allows for comfortable exterior shoots. Also, the changing scenery provides a great color scheme and can set the tone for certain types of stories.

  1. The IFI has a decorated faculty and the group keeps growing larger – what exactly do you look for when seeking new potential instructors?

We like to work with like minded individuals – positive, enthusiastic, and really take our mission statement to heart. We look for people with a lot of professional experience, patience, and understanding that goes into teaching individuals coming from different levels. Filmmakers who are passionate about what they do and can present information in an accessible way to individuals nervous about exploring a new career or a new path in life.

  1. The IFI continues to blossom as more and more aspiring filmmakers have been signing up to participate in your courses – where do you see the IFI in five years? What are some of the things you guys are still hoping to accomplish?  

We hope that in five years we are more than a short term program. Providing training to aspiring filmmakers with more advanced training offerings. Also, having a larger community of students, alumni, and faculty who use each other to create projects and work together to tell stories.

 

“Picking the Brain” of an IFI Graduate: Q&A With Jonathan

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With the summer drawing to a close, we took some time to sit down with Jonathan Schneider, an IFI alumni who graduated from our July One Week Seminar. Jonathan was an exceptional student who showed great potential as a filmmaker and really honed his craft in his time as a member of the IFI. He even enjoyed the IFI’s July One Week Seminar so much that he came back to witness and participate in our Five Week Summer Intensive Program!

Here is our full interview with Jonathan, who spoke on his IFI experience:

Q: How long have you been interested in film? What compelled you to take the IFI’s July One Week Seminar? 
A: I had been interested in film my whole life but really became interested in making my own films roughly one year and a half prior to the IFI seminar. I decided to sign up after the IFI visited my school and I experienced how professional the staff was.
 
Q: Did you have any prior experience in film before attending the IFI? If so, what was it?
A: I had experience with minor short student films and helping run my film club.
 
Q: What were a couple of your favorite classes during the IFI’s July One Week Seminar?
A: The directing and lighting classes taught me many skills and tools that I was able to use immediately in the production of many of my projects.

Q: What were the main things YOU learned from the IFI’s July One Week Seminar?
A: The directing lectures gave me a new way to look at movies and express my meaning. Lighting gave me the fundamentals as far as equipment training and basic lighting that gave me the competence to help out on other sets.
 
Q: You recently volunteered to participate in the shooting process of the IFI’s Five Week Summer Intensive in your spare time – what led you to make that decision?
A: I decided to help out with the Five Week Summer Intensive so I could gain more experience for my group, meet people also interested in film, and have some fun in the process.
Q: How was your experience working on the projects for the five week intensive?
A: I saw many different styles and ways to approach film that I personally never would have thought of. This increased my passion and drive to learn more and do more in film.
 
Q: Would you recommend the IFI to other aspiring filmmakers? Would you take another course with the IFI after completing the One Week Seminar?

A: I would recommend the IFI, especially to aspiring filmmakers, because of the guidance and tools that are given to the students, which empowers them to start creating immediately.

Stay tuned for more interviews from IFI students, faculty and other featured filmmakers as the year unfolds! Be sure to visit our site, or click here if you’re interested in participating in our upcoming Five Week Winter Intensive! 

Meet the Exciting New Instructors Joining The IFI This Summer!

At the International Film Institute of New York, we understand that the quality of an instruction team is critical in providing the most useful and relatable learning experience. This is why we meticulously hand-select our faculty to include award-winning, working professionals who can truly empower our students with their knowledge and real world experience.
This Summer 2016, we are excited to welcome four new industry experts to the esteemed IFI faculty. We can’t wait to see them in action and we hope you will join us for one of our many Summer Programs to be part of the experience! Without further adieu, meet Kristi, Jesus, Stephen and Keola – the new and exciting faces that will be joining the IFI:

Keola Racela – Screenwriting Instructor

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Keola Racela is an American filmmaker and a recent graduate of Columbia University, where he received an MFA in Film Directing. His short films have played at festivals worldwide and received numerous awards, including Best Student Short (Woodstock Film Festival 2013), Best Short Film (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival), and First Place Gold Circle Award for Outstanding Student Film (The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors Foundation).
Keola’s short, entitled “Above the Sea,” won the Gold Medal from the Student Academy Award in 2014 for Narrative Film. Keola was selected from over 1,000 applicants for the inaugural year of the HBO ACCESS program where he wrote and directed the short “Emergency Contact”. In 2015 he directed episode 2 of “Sugar”, a PBS Indies Showcase web-series helmed by Rose Troche. His most recent short, “Two Sisters,” made its US premiere at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival and won best short at the 2016 Bermuda International Film Festival.
Welcome to the IFI family, Keola!

Kristi Palmer – Coordinator 

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Kristi Palmer is a film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and an alumnus of the IFI. At Tisch, she focuses mainly on writing and directing but also works as a production designer. In her sophomore year, she interned for Neda Armian (producer of Rachel Getting Married) and later worked in the art department at Broad City. She wrote and directed a short film called Puppet Love, which was screened at Tisch’s Sight and Sound Showcase, and is in post-production for her intermediate film, The Coupon. Currently, she is writing a script for her advanced film and studying improv at the UCB. Welcome to the IFI family, Kristi! We’re excited to have you on board.

Stephen Lee – Directing Instructor

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Stephen Lee is a first generation Asian-American director based in New York City. Before moving to Manhattan, Stephen received his BA from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He worked closely with Magnum Photographer Jim Goldberg before becoming an MFA Candidate in Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program. His last film, entitled “Touch”, premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival and played at Clermont Ferrand’s International Competition in 2016. We are excited to welcome Stephen to the IFI family!

Jesus Alarcon – Directing Instructor

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Born in the city of Puebla, Mexico, Jesus entered the world of narrative at a very early age. He grew nurtured by the vast cultural riches of his country, which developed in him a particular sensibility for storytelling in its many forms. Jesus was awarded the Americarum Universitas Scholarship to study his Bachelors Degree in Communications Science at the Universidad de las Américas–Puebla, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He spent a year abroad studying at the University of Leeds in England, where he debuted as a director in the short-films program.

Jesus has worked as a producer, director, cameraman and editor in Mexico, England, Spain, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. He completed his M.F.A. in filmmaking at the University of Columbia in New York, where he was awarded the Cinematography and FOCUS fellowships. He received the Hollywood Foreign Press Award to promising filmmakers. Jesus was selected to participate at the Cine Qua Non Lab Screenwriter’s Workshop in Michoacán Mexico, where he’d later serve as the CQNL Fellow from 2011 to 2013. Currently Jesus has just finished the short film “Cadena Perpetua”, and is in development of his first feature film “Esperadoras”. Welcome to the IFI family!

 


About the IFI

The International Film Institute of New York was created to provide intensive, comprehensive and quality training in the art and craft of cinematic storytelling, including but not limited to: screenwriting, directing, production and editing leading to the creation of a short film by each student. In addition to learning the technical disciplines and aesthetic principles of filmmaking, students also watch and discuss classic films being given, thereby, a sense of the historical and cultural context of motion pictures in our society. Filmmaking – narrative, documentary or experimental – is a collaborative endeavor and developing that skill, which will serve them well in the industry and beyond, will be an essential component of their experience at IFI.