International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, cultural, and economic achievements of women around the world, and an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on some of the most badass women in film, both in history and today.
The role of women in the film industry has changed dramatically since the early days of Hollywood, when most women on set were on-screen bombshells or at least deemed marketable by the big studios. While film is statistically still a male-dominated industry, more and more women are moving into key creative positions and making highly acclaimed and celebrated films in both the independent and studio world.
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Margaret Atwood eloquently captured the struggle of many emerging writers when she said: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Although it’s much more romantic to imagine screenwriting as a god given talent rather than an acquired skill, the truth is that the key to becoming a skilled screenwriter is to take risks, make mistakes, and practice, practice, practice.
The hardest part of improving your screenwriting skills is mustering up willpower to dedicate some time each day to work on it. The easiest part is finding screenwriting prompts online. There is a wealth of free and easily accessible exercises that will help cut through even the most stubborn writer’s block.
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Running your own film production company is an appealing prospect: being your own boss, hand-picking projects and being intimately involved in all aspects of production. Whether you are striving to make a living, or creating a launching pad for passion projects, here are a few factors to consider.
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With networks like Comedy Central, HBO and truTV now picking up webseries as full length shows, the race to produce marketable content is on. Here are four tv shows that got their start online:
Drunk History On August 6th, 2007 Mark Gagliardi drank a bottle of Scotch…and then discussed a famous historical event.
True to its name, the premise of Drunk History is based on an inebriated narrator attempting to retell an historic event in American history, with dramatic recreations shot to illustrate the story. The webseries was launched by Funny or Die in 2007 and featured an impressive rotating cast of comedic talent.
In 2010 the episode titled Drunk History: Douglass & Lincoln, starring Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle, screened at the Sundance Film Festival and took home the award for Best American Short.
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay came onto the series as executive producers, and Comedy Central picked it up for a series, which premiered in 2013. The show is currently in its third season.
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Cinematography in indie filmmaking is a constant negotiation between financial reality and creative vision. With that in mind, should indie cinematographers consider Super 16mm more seriously? There are some sound arguments for it.
Financially, film may not be as expensive of a choice as most would think. Arri CSC still rents out Arri 416 and Arri SR3 packages to students, and indie filmmakers. Rental houses will often work to make packages that are appropriate for their budget and the project. If you opt for Arri SR2, the option becomes even cheaper.
In the Vancouver area, for example, Cineworks offers SR2 packages for $400 a week. With the trend moving towards digital, the cost of rentals for film cameras is expected to go down even further.
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The versatility of the DSLR camera has made it a favourite among independent filmmakers. With a compact design that is highly compatible with small crews and Guerilla style shoots, the large sensor and wide selection of lenses have the potential to produce footage cinematically akin to 35mm film. The major downfall to the lightweight body of these cameras is the difficulty of handheld operation: even the slightest motion can be noticeable while filming. Luckily there is a stabilization solution, no matter what your budget.
If you are producing a film and have NO BUDGET for a stabilizer, you may think that there isn’t much you can do to improve the quality of your handheld shots. However, there are a number of tried-and-true industry tricks that can make a huge difference in your footage.
It’s generally better to use a wide angle lens, or the wide end of the zoom whenever possible. This is because camera shake is much more noticeable the closer the subject is to the camera.
The way you stand can make a huge difference when it comes to stabilization. Find a stable object to prop your elbows up on and to help keep your arms steady. If you’re going for a lower angle, take a knee and balance your camera on top of your kneecap for additional support.
If you have access to a tripod you can quickly transform it into an improvisational stabilizer. Mount your camera to the tripod, spread the legs and minimize the height. Hold onto the base with one hand and lift in the air to use as a makeshift stabilizer.
Approaching stabilization with a MICRO BUDGET gives you a little more flexibility when it comes to purchasing entry level stabilizers and shoulder mounts. If you’re particularly crafty you can also try your hand at building your own contraption, with numerous DIYs online.
No Film School’s $70 DIY Shoulder Rig may seem like a steep investment for something you have to assemble yourself, but the results are quite impressive (and it’s an excellent conversation starter on set!).
LifeHacker has a cheaper and marginally sketchier rig: $15 DIY “The Silver Flyer” Stabilizer. This homemade dupe of the Steadicam mount, is made up of parts easily purchased at Home Depot.
The $85 Opteka X-GRIP EX PRO is a 2.83lbs handheld handle the secures your DSLR inside of a sturdy aluminum frame. It’s not intended specifically for stabilization, but the frame does reduce camera shake while simultaneously providing space to mount lights, microphones and other accessories.
The $140 Revo SR-1000 Shoulder Support Rig is a 2.25lb shoulder mount that is designed specifically for run-and-gun filmmaking. Between Amazon US and B&H this mount has over one-hundred reviews, scoring high across the board.
Stabilizing a DSLR camera on a budget is no easy task. If you want to forgo a tripod for a more mobile cinematography style, but still retain the quality of a professional production you still have many options.
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There’s a saying that is frustratingly accurate when it comes to finding work in the film industry: “You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.”
Whether you are fresh out of film school, or coming into the industry with a completely blank slate, here are some tips to securing a job on set.
Start With Your Address Book
If you have film industry contacts: contact them and ask if they have any leads, or if they’re working on a production that might need some more hands. Be polite but persistent, and ask them to keep you in mind for future work if nothing is currently available.
If you don’t know a single person in the film industry: ask your friends, your parents, or friends of the family if they know anyone who currently works in film. Sometimes a referral is all you need to get a chance at your first entry level position. Vancouver is booming right now, and you likely know someone – or someone who knows someone – that works on set.
Take a Workshop
The Motion Picture Industry Orientation* course was developed in partnership between Creative BC, MPPIA and industry labour organizations. The two-day course is a mandatory entry requirement for most BC-based film unions, and is absolutely vital to stand out from the crowd when you apply for an entry level position.
*InFocus Film School offers this course – find more information here.
Research Current Productions
Creative BC provides a comprehensive and up-to-date list of all the productions currently shooting in British Columbia, along with contact e-mails for each. Put together a resume that provides any relevant job experience, workshops and education and pair it with a concise cover letter. It always helps to have an insider contact, but it’s not necessary to get hired for an entry level position. All you need is a good attitude and a little luck.
One of the best ways to attract attention as a film industry professional is to establish a web presence. A website can feature your demo reel, describe your services and show testimonials from past clients. Creating videos on Vimeo or Youtube is another great idea, because you can cultivate a body of work to serve as your portfolio. Face-to-face networking always has it’s benefits, and there are a number of companies online where you can order inexpensive business cards.
Create Your Own Work
If you’re committed to your craft and prefer being your own boss, freelancing might be the ideal gig for you. There are several jobs in the film industry that are built for freelancing – video editing, camera work, audio engineering, and more. This option requires considerably more effort as you’re building your clientele, but it can be a very rewarding career move. Choose to specialize in one particular skill, and work to make a name for yourself.
There are many paths that lead to working in the film industry, as any established professional will tell you. The one thing they all have in common is dedication. Flexibility is an added bonus – sometimes accepting a position that’s outside your skill set can be a challenging and advantageous decision.
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The era of silent films lasted from 1894 to 1929, and left a profound mark on the cinematic arts. Even today, with technology that allows us to shoot high quality videos on our smart phones, and download and use open source special f/x software, the charm of silent film remains unabated.
In 2011 the French silent film The Artist swept the Oscars, winning five major awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It was not only a critical success, but a financial one as well, with a worldwide gross of over $13 million.
An art form that has been practiced and celebrated for over one hundred years, modern filmmakers can learn a lot from this genre. Here are a few lessons:
#1: Show, Don’t Tell
This common piece of advice for writers may very well be the mantra for all silent films. Without the convention of long, exposition-heavy monologues, silent storytelling relies entirely on visual elements. When you find yourself explaining the plot through your characters, think about what you can do to write a scene that displays it instead.
#2: Use the Voice of Music
Although silent films did not have a synchronized audio track, theatres would hire a house piano player to provide improvisational musical accompaniment. In 1910 the concept of the “compilation score” was created, a cue sheet that specified which songs should be played during which parts of the film. Music aided in creating atmosphere, establishing mood and connecting the audience to the story, encouraging them to suspend their disbelief. Music has a voice of its own, and can be instrumental in providing context to a scene.
#3: Simplify Your Story
Communicating the plot of a film without dialogue is a unique challenge, but it is possible – even for storylines that don’t seem able to handle such an adaptation. A good example is the famous literary detective, Sherlock Holmes, whose film debut was in the 1900 short, Sherlock Holmes Baffled. It was no doubt a challenge to present a mystery without dialogue, but it was done eight more times during the silent film era. Consider the complexity of your storylines, and whether or not they can be reimagined with a focus on clarity.
#4: Focus on Framing
There is much to be learned from the cinematography of silent films. When they were first in production, silent films not only lacked synchronized audio, but also colour film. Although some filmmakers opted to add a pop of colour to their movies by painstakingly tinting each frame by hand, the majority of them worked entirely within the realms of black and white, focusing on framing, depth, and shadows. When you strip away the common fallbacks of modern film (special f/x, flashy action sequences, etc) the visuals must act as a foundation for the story, inviting the audience to completely immerse themselves in a new world.
Silent film is built into the foundation of film history, and acts as inspiration for many modern filmmakers. InFocus Film School nurtures this art form by assigning students to write, shoot and edit their own silent film during their studies here.
One excellent example of this Tom Barton’s short film, Domestic Virulence:
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InFocus film students are acquiring the skills needed to work on a professional film set.
But what happens when a Hollywood production comes to a film school instead?
That’s precisely what happened when Warner Bros. was scouting locations for its television program Frequencyand decided our brick-wall rooms would serve as an ideal backdrop for an episode, according to Program Director Steve Rosenberg.
InFocus film students were accorded insider access to the production that saw the transformation of two adjoining classrooms into a New York-style apartment.
“About 12 years ago I had worked with the DOP, Kamal Derkaoui,” said Rosenberg. “He remembered me and was incredibly generous in allowing our students to shadow the production and ask questions.”
One of the students, Tom Barton, echoes the importance of first-hand experience on a large film set. “It was crazy how big the machine was, with 50 people running around. Kamal let us stand behind the director and script supervisor to watch them at work while he explained what everyone was doing.”
Barton was pleased to hear the pros use phrases like “shutter angle” and “ISO rating” that corresponded to the terminology he had learned in school. Additionally, Barton had a vague idea of what a script supervisor was, but through close quarters he was able to gain a deeper understanding of the job.
“The difference on a big set is that the crew is more specialized, whereas on our shoots we are more actively involved in all areas,” he added.
The experience has confirmed for Barton that he’d like to direct. A lasting impression is in how the episode’s director was a constant source of inspiration and joy to the team.
Another student, Robin Jung, is no stranger to union sets. An actor with appearances on the series Fringe and the feature Bloody Knuckles, Jung was already prepared for the scale of the Frequency production.
Still, there were discoveries not quite anticipated. “The production had a large crew present, with PAs waiting around for when they were needed and I thought, ‘Wow, this many people for a three-minute scene.’”
Jung was amazed at the length of time it took to reset between takes and how the director would speak between the actors’ lines to guide the Steadicam operator on where to move.
“As the director you’re the captain keeping the ship on course,” said Jung. “For this production the director was straightforward in asking for what he wanted. I learned the importance of being bold.”
The students will have further opportunities to observe and learn when Frequency returns to InFocus for planned reshoots.
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Sound is often the most overlooked aspect of production for unseasoned filmmakers. Compared to the excitement that goes hand-in-hand with selecting the camera, sound can be an afterthought: a single line on an already overwrought budget, packed with expenses that are much more immediately compelling than the eventual audio technician leaning over his mixing board.
The importance of clear, well recorded audio may not become apparent until after the shoot has been completed and the editor first sits downs, only to hear a cacophony of background chatter, overmodulation, and that car alarm that didn’t seem quite so loud when you were on location. Instead of planning to “fix it in post,” choose wisely when selecting your sound equipment for a sure-fire audio strategy.
These button-sized microphones are frequently seen in documentary productions, tucked into the lapel of an interview subject. Although they are fairly low profile they require a somewhat bulky transmitter, a black box the size of a pack of cards that can connect with or without a wire to the microphone, usually secured in the back pocket of the subject.
While filming a dramatic production an unfortunate glimpse of the sound equipment is something to be avoided. But when used correctly there are several excellent uses for lavs in film.
Wide Shots: When the shot is simply too wide to facilitate a boom but you would prefer not to use ADR to record dialogue, a lav will come in handy. Distance is an excellent camouflage for these mics that may easily be spotted in a close up shot.
Tricky Shots: Locations can prove challenging when it comes to finding a place to hang the boom. In these cases lavs may provide a solution for the tightest of spaces. With some careful placement, lavs can be rendered largely undetectable in a shot.
Backup Audio: Sometimes location sound cannot be avoided, be it the drone of a helicopter that is hovering above your set, or the ceaseless siren that is cutting into your schedule. If you are able to hide the lav discreetly on the actor it can be used as a secondary source of audio for the editor to work with in post.
BOOMS / SHOTGUN MICS
The image of the pole-bearing boom operator is synonymous with film production. This method of capturing audio is made up of several working parts: a shotgun mic, the furry wind-shield cover (aptly nicknamed the ‘deadcat’) and the pole that these items are mounted on. The front of the mic is suspended above the subject just out of view of the camera, to capture dialogue.
Although shotgun mics must be carefully monitored to ensure that the direction is correct and that the boom hasn’t dipped into frame, they are an extremely versatile method of audio recording that is seen on virtually every film set. The benefits of using a boom include:
Full Control: While a rogue lav mic is impossible to fix without stopping a scene, a boom operator doesn’t have to interrupt the action to modify the position of his microphone.
Freedom of Costume: lav mics can pick up the rustle of clothing, a sound that can render a recording unusable. Booms are a reliable way to record and do not require the subject to take special care with their clothing.
Natural Audio: The sound that the boom picks up is superior to the lav in terms of natural tones. The ability to point the shotgun mic at the subject’s sternum instead of their mouth produces a more natural quality of recording.
Like every other element of filmmaking, sound recording will require some thought and preparation. Select the method of audio recording that works best with your budget and production, and if you’re able to, consider employing the use of each for the appropriate scenes in your film.
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InFocus Film School is located on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.