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.

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

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 The Dilakian Brothers, Who Created Armenia’s Most Influential Animated Film

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The Dilakian Brothers, a pair of quirky Armenian-born, New York-bred artists, created Armenia’s most influential animated film back in 1976. Now, over 40 years later, “Gtnvats Eraz” (which means “Found Dream”) is still Armenia’s most popular and recognizable animated film – even with an entirely new generation of kids watching. While most Armenians are aware of the nostalgia surrounding the film, the Dilakian Brothers faced many hardships in bringing this film to the big screen in a land overwhelmed by Soviet rule. Today, the IFI sat down with Hovik & Gagik Dilakian in order to pick their brains and uncover the amazing journey behind the creation of “Gtnvats Eraz”. Here is the full interview:

Q: What inspired you to create “Gtnvats Eraz”? Were there any other animated films or filmmakers who helped shape the artistic style you chose for the film?

A: Walt Disney was probably one of the biggest influences – particularly the film “Snow White” – which my brother and I must have watched at least 55 times when we were children. Disney definitely paved the way for a lot of animators and filmmakers, and I’d say that we were inspired stylistically by his work.

Q: What was it like creating an animated film in a time where your country was forced under Soviet rule?

A: Honestly, it was really difficult. There was so much censorship in those times, as the government didn’t want any films that conveyed anything counterintuitive to the Soviet agenda. Instead, everything had to portray happy, little kids and subtly point to the glory of Soviet life. When we got the green light to make this film, it was very surprising and controversial – not for political reasons – but because there was a mystical, magical element to this film in a time when animated films were supposed to be “realistic”.

Q: What was the reaction like in Armenia when the film first debuted?

A: The film was well-received almost right away, and it become a staple on televisions throughout the country. People quickly learned the songs from the film and they became quite popular. Still, it wasn’t until the Internet became so relevant that the film started reaching a larger audience. Some of the “Gtnvats Eraz” YouTube videos have well over 1,000,000 views, and that’s really a big deal for us considering that Armenia is comprised of 4 million people.

Q: What would you say is the key message of the film?

A: Again, because of the government’s censorship, we couldn’t be too direct in the film’s key messages. For this reason, there are so many people who have developed their own interpretation and theories on the film’s meaning, which is something my brother Gagik and I welcome with open arms. “Gtnvats Eraz” is about a little girl who has the ability to walk through paintings and when she does, she’s able to discover new worlds and meet new, interesting characters along the way.

We think of the key message as this: there are many dimensions to reality, and it’s only through a careful consideration of every dimension that someone can achieve true happiness. Some people do quite well and build entire civilizations using only one dimension, but there are different angles and points of view that make us complete and could easily turn a negative perspective into a positive one.

Q: You’ve seen a lot of copyright infringement in the years following the release of the film, can you elaborate on that and why this has been happening? 

A: Seeing as the film was created in the ’70’s in Soviet Armenia, the copyrighting laws back then were basically non-existent. Since it has remained so popular, many merchandisers have found ways to make money off of our characters, such as making t-shirts, pajamas, dolls, candy bars and even entire restaurants themed around “Gtnvats Eraz”. With this in mind, we definitely didn’t make all of the money we were entitled to as far as royalties, etc., but we don’t let this get to us. We find joy in the fact that our film is so popular and we consider it flattering that so many people are moved enough to create memorabilia, whether what they’re doing is technically legal or illegal.

Here is an excerpt from the original “Gtnvats Eraz” created by the Dilakian Brothers. Although the film is in Armenian, you can still get a feel for their artistic style and understand why the film has become so nostalgic in Armenian culture:

 

For business inquiries or to simply follow the Dilakian Brothers, click here.

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.

Q&A with Mobile Device Filmmaker Anthony Stirpe: Why Smartphones Are The Future Of Film

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Did you know that all you need to create a remarkable movie these days is your smartphone? That’s right, with technology pushing the limits each and every day, many filmmakers and industry experts are starting to recognize the power and quality that mobile devices can offer filmmakers when it comes to creating films of any length.

This week, the IFI caught with Anthony Stirpe, a teacher at New Rochelle High School and one of the pioneers of the mobile device filmmaking movement, in order to gain insights on this innovative technique and explore how he utilizes mobile device filmmaking in the classroom setting to educate his students. Here’s what he had to say:


Q: How did you come to teach filmmaking at New Rochelle High School?

A: I was taking over the acting program from a retiring teacher. One of the classes in question was a Scriptwriting class that they were considering phasing out. I got the idea to turn it into a Filmmaking course, but the equipment to pursue such an endeavor was too expensive. That is when I began to explore the idea of Mobile Device Filmmaking. My principal was very intrigued with the idea and was willing to take the risk. In the past two years we have had much success, winning state and national awards for our innovation, and next year we will add a second level class.


Q: How do you mentor students who are looking to continue filmmaking after studying?

A: Of course, I encourage students to keep making films. The film process has been democratized, and every student now has the opportunity. I also encourage students to volunteer for jobs that they find on sites like Mandy.com. And, of course, I encourage them to enroll in outside classes, such as the International Film Institute of New York.


Q: How has technology, now more available than ever, helped you teach basic storytelling skills?

A: With Apple products reaching 4K quality, the sky is now the limit. Everyone can be a filmmaker. Apps such as FilmicPro give the filmmaker hands-on control. And, with templates in iMovie and editing on a device itself, anyone can create a movie. You have to make a movie to make movies, and now everyone has the opportunity. Additionally, I think what was once a very intimidating art is now accessible. If anything, that is the biggest advantage to modern technology in filmmaking; people now feel more confident in their abilities and they are more willing to take a risk.


Q: What challenges have you had building your curriculum? And how has that impacted your teaching style?

A: The biggest setback is the lack of equipment for all. I do not have enough devices to individualize the experience for the students. This class has forced me to get creative in how I group students. I have also learned that one project filmed by a group should be edited by many people on different devices. The creativity that comes out of multiple students bringing their voices to the same project is a really fun classroom experience.

Also, although you would think that people were supportive, many people do not understand what I do. Frequently, staff and other teachers see this class as a summer camp experiment or having no value. One staff member even told me before I received some excellent press that no one would ever be interested in our program.

What I do believe strongly having been an English teacher for 13 years before this opportunity is that this could quite possibly be the future of English education.


Q: As a teacher, what can be done to encourage more minority and underrepresented communities to become more active in the film industry?

A: I think that more schools should invest like the programs I am creating, but they should be incorporated into English departments. By showing people that this is an additional form of communication and storytelling, you will see more people, including minority students, to learn that filmmaking is a viable opportunity.


Q: What advice would you give other teachers who are looking to include more media arts into their curriculum?

A: Take the chance. Recognize that you don’t need much these days. With a student phone or something as simple as an iPod touch, a classroom can be transformed.


About Anthony Stirpe: 

Anthony is a writer and director who has taught at New Rochelle High School since 2002. He has a degree in English writing/literature and a Masters in Theatre Education. For the past few years, Anthony has developed Writing and Filmmaking curriculum which has been features in The Wall Street Journal, The Westchester Journal and has also been on WPIX11.

Netflix, Amazon and Apple Could Face Quotas For European Films Abroad

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Online-video providers such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple might be staring down the barrel of unprecedented changes overseas, as the European Union’s executive body has proposed legal measures that could place hard quotas for European movies and shows on their services.

The EU’s proposal is part of a concerted effort to fend off Hollywood’s dominance and instead promote the works of the 28 countries that comprise the European Union. While Netflix, iTunes and similar services already feature large collections of European works, the EU is calling for a quota of roughly 20% (or potentially higher) of all of their content and also encouraging services like Netflix to fund the film production for its member states. Interestingly, some of the member states already enforce strict quotas ranging from 10% to as high as 60% that these companies have respected.

“We appreciate the Commission’s objective to have European production flourish, however the proposed measures won’t actually achieve that,” Netflix said in a statement. Netflix also has an extensive history of funding European productions, so the EU’s suggestion of financial contributions may have rubbed Netflix officials the wrong way. Aside from these quotas, the EU’s proposals also aim to lift cross-border barriers for Internet shoppers and create a single digital market serving the EU’s 500 million people.

Will the EU see these quotas come to fruition? If so, will these measures actually help the EU fight off Hollywood’s dominance? Only time will tell, but until then, Netflix, Amazon and Apple will keep their fingers crossed. Feel free to let us know how you feel about the EU’s proposals in the comments section below.