Beyond IFI: A conversation with filmmaker Courtney Harmstone

Repost from Sarah Lawrence College Summer Programs Post.

The confidence I gained at IFI has propelled me throughout my career.  The passion and the buzz I first felt in that casting room in Columbia University has not left me. Whenever I doubt myself, I think back to that day and that memory gives me the energy to continue.”  ~ Courtney Harmstone, International Film Institute, ’08

 

chCourtney Harmstonea self-described American-British hybrid” took one her first steps in film during the International Film Institute’s Summer Intensive at Sarah Lawrence in 2008. Since then, she has worked in film on both sides of the Atlantic, working as a producer, mentor, and co-founder and programmer of Catfish Shorts, a networking and film festival created for women in the film industry. Courtney recently shared with us about her in the film industry, future projects, and favorite memories of her time as at Sarah Lawrence College.
How did you initially get involved in the International Film Institute summer intensive?
When I was in high school I was always passionate about film and television, but my school did not offer a course in filmmaking.  I had previously attended summer film courses at SCAD that were only one week in duration.  It was a nice taster, but I longed for more. After researching various programs, I found IFI at Sarah Lawrence College which had the depth and breadth I was looking for as well as fabulous teachers active in the industry.   I was excited to be part of this intensive and immersive environment where I could experiment with the craft and find out if this was what I wanted to do with my life.  Spoiler alert! I am still working in film!
What is your favorite memory from that experience?
A great memory from my time at IFI was casting for the short film we were required to make during the course.  It was pretty inspiring to have these young and incredibly talented actors come and read portions of our scripts to us at Columbia University.  There was a buzz in the room and the energy was overwhelming.  I couldn’t believe these young professionals were interested in working with us! It was a great experience. It was very professional.

Another is being around so many creative people who, like me, knew little about the art of filmmaking or had minimal experience. It had a synergistic effect that created a supportive environment that allowed us to experiment with new ideas and take risks.
How has it impacted your life since then?
IFI had a huge impact on my life and my future career decisions.  It was the first opportunity I had to really explore filmmaking and to learn what it meant to work in the dramatic arts; how to plan, structure, shoot and edit a short film.  The course inspired me to pursue the film industry as my future career.  When I returned from New York, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker and set my sights on pursuing a B.F.A. in film production.  In 2013, I graduated from The Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts and then continued my education two years later at The University of Exeter and The London Film School with an M.A. in International Film Business.   
What advice would you give to your younger self?
If I could go back to myself at that age I would probably say TAKE MORE RISKS! Don’t be scared to experiment and have the confidence to just go out with a camera and shoot.  However, it is with the understanding that I did not take enough risks in filmmaking (and possibly with life) when I was younger – playing it safe, so to speak – that drives me so much now to push myself to take every opportunity that comes my way, and not to turn it down because I’m scared of the consequences (which, so far, have been very positive).  

I’d probably also tell myself to avoid rum, but I think everyone can relate to that one!
What’s next for you going forward?
The next steps for me are to continue working hard on my independent projects – Catfish Shorts and Indigo Valley – and to look for opportunities that will strengthen my skills as a Producer as I attempt to carve my way through this complicated jungle that we call an industry.  Sometimes you just have to follow the three Ps, as laid out by Robert Wise (Director, The Sound of Music, West Side Story) – “My three Ps: passion, patience, perseverance. You have to do this if you’ve got to be a filmmaker.


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

What to Look for in a Film Program

Students Share Why They Chose IFI

Once a year, The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) gathers future filmmakers from all corners of the globe for five weeks of intensive filmmaking.

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The students who enroll range from curious newcomers to the self-taught and experienced. Every summer, they assemble on the leafy campus of Sarah Lawrence College, just outside New York City, where staff at IFI give hours of instruction and hands-on training.

There they receive the tools, skills and confidence to continue on their filmmaking journey.

So, why should you come to IFI? Our students say it best. Here’s ten reasons why, out of all the film schools and courses to choose from, this year’s crop of students say our program was the right fit for them:

WHY IFI?

“I want learn more about directing, screenwriting and also technical stuff that I haven’t gotten the chance to learn back in my country. I’ve taken a few film classes at university but I’m going to take it more seriously in the coming year. (IFI) has helped me realize I really want to focus on film.” – Sirada, 20, Thailand.

“I know I’m interested in film but I don’t know if it’s a hobby or a career … I think [IFI] is the best scenario to (figure that out) in because you’re actually doing it. It’s a pretty deep crash course.” – India, 16, Shelbyville, Ky.

“I’m self-taught so I’m here to hone my craft and learn the right way.” – Alex, 25, Dallas, Tx.

“I wanted to switch it up and come to New York, that was a big draw.” – Liam, 18, Fairfax, Va.

“I found [#IFI] and it’s close and I just thought I might as well do it now before college just to see if this is something I want to do.” – Alexa, 17, Scarsdale, Ny.

“IFI welcomes people from all over. I was interested to study filmmaking in the U.S. to see how other people write, direct and edit.” Ariana, 25, Peru

“I’m really, really, really interested in this field, and I want to be a part of it. I just really want to learn.” – Harry, 14, Stony Brook, Ny.

“[IFI had] so much of what I wanted to do: Being able to make films and being able to use the real equipment and learn the real methods and strategies and figuring out ways to express my ideas.” – Matthew, 16, Scarsdale, Ny.

“It’s fun finally learning how to do hands-on stuff [in film].’” Chelsea, 17, Bronx, Ny.

“To get to be involved in everything, to see what it’s really like and to get as real an experience as possible, that was an absolute selling point for me.” – Tom, 16, Red Hook, Ny.

IFI is currently accepting students for its 2017-2018 Winter Schedule offering one-day seminars and multi-day courses. Early registration for IFI’s 2018 Summer Filmmaking Intensive will be posted at http://www.nyfilmschool.com soon.


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

Paying It Forward

A college-bound filmmaker gives back to the program that gave shape to his filmmaking aspirations

Jonathan Schneider, an 18-year-old graduate of Scarsdale High School is headed to Drexel University to study film and video production. He credits a week-long intensive course he took at International Film Institute of New York (IFI) in the summer of 2016 with helping him to realize that his love of film wasn’t just a hobby, but the career he wanted to pursue in college. He returned to IFI earlier this summer to volunteer as a producer’s assistant, helping students on the set of their short films for the second year in a row.

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“When I took the one week course, I learned about the bones and what goes into filmmaking and what the industry is really like. I was with some gifted teachers who showed me how in-depth such an art form can be and I got really into it. I saw that that’s what I wanted to do and that was only reinforced when I was asked to help out a week after and I was on a different film set every day,” Schneider says. “Not a single day was I unhappy or tired. I loved every second of it. I knew that it was something I wanted to do.”

IFI co-founder Misael Sanchez also got Schneider and two other IFI students positions as production assistants on Three Christs, an indie film that shot on the Sarah Lawrence College campus last year, starring Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Juliana Margulies and Bradley Whitford, among others.

“We basically would do whatever needed to be done. I sat for an hour watching Richard Gere’s green tea to make sure nobody got it,” Schneider recalls.

His experience on a professional film set was invaluable. “I got a feel for what it meant to be in a professional environment. It scared me a bit because I saw how stressful it was and how sometimes it’s not always a happy-go-lucky job, but I just think it was amazing. It also gave me hope because I know there’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of passion,” Schneider says. “It made it very real. Maybe in a month I went from seeing it as a hobby to seeing it as something I want to do with my life. And, I can only thank Misael and IFI for that.”

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At Drexel, Jonathan plans to double major in film and environmental studies. “What I’m really interested in is becoming an environmental documentarian or photographer of some sort because I care about the environment,” he says.

Thanks to the hands-on experience that IFI has equipped him with, he feels he has a head start. Besides his time volunteering with student productions and his PA experience on Three Christs, his connections with IFI instructors have paid dividends outside of the Sarah Lawrence campus, too.

“Last year I met IFI cinematography instructor Kate Montgomery. We worked outside of IFI for a while, I also PA’ed for her, doing gigs here and there. I met a lot of the people I know in the industry now through the IFI summer film program.”

It’s only natural that he’d want to pay it forward. Schneider says he came back to help out this summer not just for the experience, networking and connections, but the fun of seeing the lightbulb go off for budding film students.

“I love the atmosphere here,” he says. “It’s very creative. You have people who have never done film before but you also have people who do it all the time and they all get something different out of the experience. And, I love to teach so I love when somebody needs help with something and I can say, ‘I got this! I can help you out,’ it feels good and it makes me feel a lot more secure with my skills.”

At the end of the day, it’s fun.

“I wouldn’t really call this a job so much as just me doing what I like to do, helping everybody else out,” Schneider says.

 


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

Filmmaker Snapshots: Kloudia Sakowski

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


Film Student

School: Sarah Lawrence College Fall ’17

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

Based in: New Jersey

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

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

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

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.

 

Program Alum Wins Young Arts Award

Timothy Vaughn, who participated in our summer 2014 intensive course, has been selected as a 2015 National Young Arts Foundation Merit Winner in both Cinematic Arts and Writing: Screenplay for Play or Video.

The prestigious awards, with thousands of entrants, are sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Program and winning encompasses, among other benefits, regional meetings, master classes, exhibition opportunities, and use as a credential on college and scholarship applications.

We congratulate Timothy and appreciate his kind words when notifying us of his awards: “This gives me yet another opportunity to say ‘Thank You’ to all of you for your guidance, support and encouragement during the IFI intensive this past summer.”

Instructors At The Austin Film Festival

Fred Strype (Left) with Brian Emery (Right)

Fred Strype (Left) with Brian Emery (Right)

Brian Emery, one of our Summer Coordinators, and Fred Strype, the Summer Program Screenwriting Instructor (respectively Technical Director and Program Director of the Filmmaking, Screenwriting, & Media Arts Program at Sarah Lawrence College), recently attended, and actively participated in, the AFF (Austin Film Festival & Conference).

The festival offered the opportunity to attend numerous panels, such as “A Conversation with Luke Wilson” that was moderated by Fred, in addition to workshops, roundtables, competitions, screenings, a Young Filmmakers Program, and meet and greets with the likes of Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”), Tom Schulman (“Dead Poet’s Society”) and Danny Rubin (“Groundhog Day”). As Brian summed up, attendance was a chance to learn and also have fun via “lots of panels and parties!”

The Austin Film Festival & Conference, held in the Texas capital over four days and eight nights at the end of October, as noted on their website, “is dedicated to furthering the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and filmmaking.”