Is Film School For Me?

Back to school with IFI

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

What are the benefits of attending a film school?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The elements of a successful movie have remained constant since the inception of the art form. The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) was founded in 1997 to provide those with a sincere and abiding interest in filmmaking with a high-quality, low-cost education in all aspects of the filmmaking process: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing in a curriculum combining classroom instruction and hands-on technical workshops. http://www.nyfilmschool.com 

Indie Filmmaking 101: How to Make a Film in NYC

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

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

Making an Indie Film in NYC:

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

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The elements of a successful movie have remained constant since the inception of the art form. The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) was founded in 1997 to provide those with a sincere and abiding interest in filmmaking with a high-quality, low-cost education in all aspects of the filmmaking process: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing in a curriculum combining classroom instruction and hands-on technical workshops. http://www.nyfilmschool.com 

Inside An IFI Workshop: Acting For Film

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On a recent sunny, spring day in New York City, a pack of fresh-faced young actresses were busy honing their craft. Up a creaky set of stairs and past a white door to a sun-filled second-floor downtown acting studio, rows of young women wearing matching black T-shirts sat in plastic chairs intently watching as, two-by-two, they took turns performing scenes they had memorized overnight. Bright Australian accents filled the whitewashed studio.

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The group of 20 young drama students had traveled all the way from Sydney, where they study at the independent, all-girls MLC School, to participate in an International Film Institute (IFI) workshop on acting for the screen. It was part of a larger two-and-a-half week tour of New York City and Los Angeles that would take them to Broadway plays, Lincoln Center, behind the scenes at Hollywood studios and inside the offices of talent agents and other industry professionals.

IFI instructor Magdalen Zinky gave the girls direction while Kate Montgomery, who teaches camera at IFI, operated a camera trained on each duo’s faces.

“Thank you both for your micro-expressions,” Zinky complimented two girls after they finished a scene from the movie Juno. “There’s a lot going on right here, a lot of facial expressions and raised eyebrows.”

IMG_2640.JPGZinky explained the difference between film and stage acting.

With stage acting, it’s a full-body experience where the emotions have to show through the entire body, whereas with film acting, the main action of it happens in the face. Of course, the body is still important, but the camera is genius at picking up micro-expressions, and that’s where the actor’s focus needs to be.”

Lisa Jinga, head of drama and dance at the MLC School said the dance and drama tour took them three years to plan, and when their tour company asked what they wanted to do, she knew she wanted her girls to have an acting for the camera experience. Naturally, they reached out to IFI, which specializes in teaching every aspect of the film industry, from directing to on-camera work, to aspiring film professionals from all over the globe.

“On  film, every little nuance, glance on your face, it’s much smaller-scale realism,” Jinga said, echoing Zinky. “It’s what happening in your heart and showing on your face. It’s a different interaction with the audience. We want (our students) to get the idea of perfecting the smallest movement.”

The arts, drama and entertainment are very popular programs at the school, where students put on large scale productions, but hands-on, real-life experience of a lesser-practiced skill is invaluable, Jinga said.

“We try to teach them what we call the director’s ‘vision’ for stage and film,” Jinga says. “You’re coming into a partnership with the director, but you’re the interpreter of the vision. It’s valuable experience to work with a director. You’re in the real world and you have to be on time.”

IMG_2590Sabina Tom, 16, relished the challenge of learning a scene overnight and performing for a real-world director the next day.

“I feel like it’s really cool getting to work with people who do this for a living, to work with industry professionals,” Sabina said. “It’s an experience a lot of people don’t have, so I’m grateful.”

It was worthwhile experience for the visiting teachers at the workshop as well, said Kate Caron, the Head of Grade 7 at MLC.

IMG_2645“What’s really valuable for us as teachers is watching the way the directors are working with the girls,” she said. “All the things we say to them over and over, ‘You have to be off-book,’ asking them to improvise, it’s not just us being persnickety. It’s great to see little things being reinforced in a professional environment.”

New York City, itself, is a wonderful acting laboratory, Jinga added. Touring around the city over the past few days, she had pointed out film locations from Gossip Girl territory on the Upper East Side to the famous streets of Little Italy where many Godfather scenes took place.

“I thought it would be great to do some film work here in New York where so many iconic movies have been set,” Jinga said. “To think about Midnight Cowboy, one of the first films to shoot on the streets of New York, not on the back lot of a studio, New York to me is the home of where those films took place. “I’m walkin’ heeyah!” she hollered, doing her best Ratso Rizzo impression.

“This for them is a completely new and different experience and where else would you want to do it than New York? It’s an authentic experience,” said Caron. “You come here and there’s a sense that, ‘Wow, these are real professionals, this is really happening,’ and they rise to the challenge.”

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Mac McCown, a 16-year-old drama student at MLC said she appreciated learning from two women on the other side of the camera lens during the day’s workshop. “The numbers of women in the film industry are so disappointing. It’s so important especially at this young age to see women working in a male dominated profession,” she said.

“We can relate to them and think, ‘We can do that,’” added her classmate, Emma Rutherford, also 16.

Zinky gave the girls a glowing review.

“They did marvelously!” she said. “I was impressed with the overall quality of the students’ commitment and their level of professionalism both on screen and off.”

Jinga pronounced the day’s workshop a success, as well. “It’s been absolutely fantastic,” she said. “It’s opening (our students’) eyes and it’s so different than what we’ve done in previous workshops. They got a very personal, intense experience.”

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In addition to our summer courses, IFI offers short term seminars and special programs in New York City. Wonder what goes into making a film? Considering going to Film School?  Is filmmaking for you? Our One-Week programs are designed as a comprehensive overview of the process of making films from script through Screening. Along with our
informative seminars, we also have the opportunity to create special workshops and sessions for interested students and visiting groups. All of our courses are presented by film professionals in their respective fields. http://www.nyfilmschool.com 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

What is your favorite novel to film adaptation and why? 

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

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

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

When you have dreams of becoming the next Wes Anderson

A first-person account of the International Film Institute of New York’s Five-Week Summer Film Intensive

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We can spend a lot of time daydreaming and talking about future plans, but taking action is what will change our lives. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to press pause on life and pursue your interest in film, we welcome you to the International Film Institute of New York. While directors have taken various paths to success (Ava DuVernay, Mira Nair, Wes Anderson to name a few), they have all gone on record about how important it is to learn and absorb as much as possible to get started in filmmaking. IFI offers intensive professional training in a classroom setting to introduce students to the world of moviemaking. Our short term five-week program revolves around STORYTELLING, which is the ability to properly translate the written page onto the screen. Every student will graduate with a final film and the foundational skills necessary to continue working towards a life in film. Instead of us telling you about the experience at IFI, we decided to have an alumna share her thoughts.

Meet Zena from Cairo, Egypt who was a 2016 Summer Filmmaking Intensive student. Zena joined us at Sarah Lawrence College in June for five weeks of screenwriting, directing, lighting, camera tech, casting, editing and production courses.

Why did you choose IFI?  I’m still in high school in Egypt, but I sought out a true filmmaking experience to explore the parts that I found most interesting. I wanted to take my first film course with IFI to learn everything about filmmaking – how it works from writing a screenplay to production and screenings.

What did you work on at IFI?  I wrote my first-ever screenplay, and it was such a cool experience. It is about a guy who is Schizophrenic and makes clay figures. He believes they are real people, but they’re not.

How was your experience making your first film?  It was exciting. I was excited and anxious about the screening of my first film. We worked on it for a long time, so it was fun to share it with other people and see/hear their reactions.

What was the most difficult part of filmmaking for you?  I kept looking over my footage. I’m a perfectionist, and I always want to do better. But, the thing is that most people don’t see the mistakes that you do in your own work. So, the most difficult part of filmmaking for me was seeing my mistakes, knowing what I would improve next time, and accepting it. In the end, I put together the footage that would be the best for my first film.

To see Zena’s and other films from the 2016 Summer Filmmaking Intensive click here.

Our 2017 Summer Filmmaking Intensive (June 25 – July 28) is already filling up. To secure your spot or ask questions, visit www.nyfilmschool.com.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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