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

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

producer

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

Gotham Awards 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 10.41.07 PMThe 2014 Gotham Independent Film Awards, created and under the auspices of the IFP (Independent Film Project), will stream their awards show, one of the earliest of the season, live on Monday, December 1, at 6:30 p.m., on www.ifp.org,

Nominees, in alphabetical order:

Best Feature: Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Love Is Strange, Under The Skin.

Best Documentary: Actress, CitizenFour, Life Itself, Manakamana, Point And Shoot.

Breakthrough Director: Ana Lily Amipour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night), James Ward Byrikit (Coherence), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Eliza Hitman (It Felt Like Love), Justin Simien (Dear White People).

Best Actress: Patrician Arquette (Boyhood),  Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Scarlett Johansson (Under The Skin), Mia Wasikowska (Tracks).

Best Actor: Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year), Michael Keaton (Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)), Miles Teller (Whiplash).

Breakthrough Actor: Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Macon Blair (Blue Ruin), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Joey King (Wish I Was There), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), Tessa Thompson (Dear White People).

Special Jury Award For Ensemble Performance: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher.

Spotlight on Women Filmmakers ‘I Live The Dream’ Grant: Garrett Bradley (Below Dreams), Claire Carré (Embers), Chloé Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me) – A grant sponsored by Calvin Klein that awards $25,000 to further and assist a promising female filmmaker with her first narrative feature.

The Gothams will also include tributes to film veterans Bennett Miller (current directorial work, Foxcatcher), Ted Sarandos (acquisition and original content executive for Netflix), and Tilda Swinton (among other roles, Academy Award winner for Michael Clayton).

BEHIND THE GLITZ & GLAM OF FILMMAKING

We all know the rewards of a making a movie. Wrap parties, red carpets, and film festivals are just a few of the happenings that come along with the completion of a good film. But, do you really know what it took to get to that point?  Watching the movie out-takes, as the credits roll at the end of a film, gives the impression that it is all fun and games.  Someone goofs a line and we all laugh and try it again. Not a care in the world. What great times.

Well, let me just say that a little more happens between the funny out-takes.  Moviemaking is a complex and structured process with many moving parts.  At times, hundreds of individuals come together to produce a single story.  Even the simplest of projects take a handful of skills to execute.  From writing the screenplay through editing and figuring out the best way to present your movie, all need to be understood in order to choreograph and work your way through the gauntlet of the filmmaking process.

Every job, on a film set, is important and necessary to getting the film done.  For me, as a film program director, at the start of the process, the most important element is getting the story right.  Once the story is done and we turn to making the film, in the trenches, my focus changes to good craft services – “the food”. Did you know that a well-fed crew team will produce a better movie? Once the film is shot, my focus goes to a great editor. As the filmmaking process moves along I adjust my attention along the way. As a Producer your job is to know these little, seemingly, non-essential facts to get it done.

The ups and downs of the process, dealing with the unexpected complication, the broken piece of equipment, the missing talent, the loss of a location, the broken down transportation system, or the sudden weather change will all be processed better if you know and understand that filmmaking is an art form wrapped in a business.  You will have all of the structure and responsibilities of a corporation with the open framework of the individual artist.  The trick will be balancing the two and finding the right blend between order and chaos.

When considering film school make an effort to explore everything that goes into the process.  We all have our main interest. Whether it be writing, directing, producing, camera, lighting, sound, or editing, filmmakers that have a basic understanding of all the moving parts will, as a part of the creative team, make a better film. Every film project will be different. No two projects will ever be made in the exact same way.  But, the more you understand the mechanics of the industry the better you will do at getting yourself to the Red Carpet.

Misael Sanchez
IFI Director