Screenplays are a means to a finished film. Many industry people consider them blueprints. However, this comparison isn’t completely accurate. A well-written screenplay isn’t a sterile, skeletal, monochromatic set of action lines inserted between the dialogue.
Word choices impact the sight and senses of the reader. In that regard, a screenplay has more in common with a short story. The experience of reading a screenplay should approximate what the viewing of the movie will be like. In fact, another term for action lines is screen directions.
Writers may be hesitant to “direct on the page” in the misguided belief they are treading on the director’s job. This results in action lines comprised mainly of master shots that severely limit the potential of a script to translate into a uniquely visual motion picture.
Students at our film school are encouraged to craft effective action lines so that all departments—production, cinematography, art, sound, costume, hair and makeup, locations, electrical, visual effects—are working toward the same movie.
But how can you write screen directions that direct without directing? Let’s illustrate with an example:
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This is Spinal Tap. Waiting for Guffman. A Hard Day’s Night. The second half of the 20th century saw the birth of an entirely new genre of film where fictional events were presented as truth: the mockumentary. From the very beginning it served as a self aware tongue-in-cheek device to critique modern culture, touching on everything from the music industry to foreign affairs to the supernatural.
Although this genre is most commonly associated with comedies, there are a number of more controversial dramatic incarnations that had audiences unsure if what they were seeing was fictional. A prime example of this is Peter Watkins’ 1965 film The War Game, an unnervingly realistic portrayal of a Soviet attack on Britain. BBC famously withdrew the film from airing, saying that “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting…”
The 2000’s have seen a resurgence of this genre, as it continues to evolve in new and innovative ways. In the 2006 film Borat, Sascha Baron Cohen put a twist on the genre, unleashing his character on real-life Americans who believed they were appearing in an actual documentary. In 2010 the Casey Affleck film I’m Still Here briefly had the world convinced that Joaquin Phoenix had gone absolutely insane, all for this satirical look at celebrity culture. What We Do in the Shadows, the 2014 comedy directed and starring Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, took a look at the day to day life of vampires.
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Film Director and Producer Mary M. Frymire has fearlessly grabbed the reigns of both Film Director and Producer for over 30 years. Traversing across Europe, South America and Asia, Frymire has worked on projects such as Martinique; Runaway Bay, a documentary about kids changing the world, to directing a 16mm film in Paris exploring cemeteries and catacombs, and moving to Spain to focus on a film about Carmen Amaya and the roots of Flamenco, while also studying Flamenco.
InFocus wanted to know what it takes to be a successful Film Director and Producer as well as staying focused on projects that are personally important:
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One of your shorts would make an excellent feature. You’re convinced of it.
But the task of writing a full-length screenplay can be daunting—which is ironic, because as a screenwriting instructor at the InFocus Film School, I have encountered film school students with feature-sized ideas that needed paring down in order to make an effective short.
Now one must unlearn this skill of simplifying and instead expand one’s thinking to match a feature film’s vision and scope.
Adapting a short has launched several careers. David F. Sandberg with the horror film “Lights Out,” Neill Blomkamp with the sci-fi doc “Alive in Joburg” (District 9), and Wes Anderson with the crime comedy “Bottle Rocket.”
These three writer-directors came up with creative solutions that can serve as lessons for a filmmaker, like yourself, who wants to follow in their footsteps.
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Vancouver hosts a wide range of great film festivals
It’s every film buffs idea of heaven: days of endless new movies, appearances from famous directors, actors, and other film pros, and even workshops and networking opportunities. Attending a film festival could lead to you discovering your new favorite filmmaker, meeting your personal hero, or even catching your big break.
Fortunately for those considering film school in Vancouver, the city has no shortage of excellent events. With such a vibrant movie industry presence, the area is the ideal backdrop for a range of festivals both large and small, taking in a number of genres and styles and filling their own particular industry niches.
So where should you go first? Read on to find out more about just a few Vancouver’s best film fests.
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Let’s talk about lighting! An often underestimated aspect of filmmaking and production, film/TV lighting has a major impact on the look and feel of every scene. Think Amelie’s warm tones, Citizen Kane’s dramatic high-contrasts, and Pulp Fiction’s vibrant neons. Thanks to stylistic lighting choices, these iconic films are anything but flat.
Setting up lighting on a film set takes practical savvy, creative flair, and even some time management skills. As industry pros can tell you, achieving the perfect lighting for every scene can be a time-consuming process of trial and error.
If you’re considering making your mark on the film production industry, these three tips can help make lighting a perfectly painless process.
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Film students undertake a diverse range of projects
Whether you’re a globally successful director or a highly specialized production crew member, one of the most important attributes you can have as a professional in the film industry is adaptability. Being able to apply your talents to a number of different types of film can help you secure steady work, grow as a professional and continue to thrive creatively as your career progresses.
It’s no coincidence that adaptability is also an attribute many film school graduates possess. Learning the theory of filmmaking, as well as training in technical areas such as cinematography and editing, gives students a solid foundation of knowledge which can be applied to almost any project.
What’s more, practically oriented schools like InFocus give students plenty of chances to develop their skills, with a series of portfolio projects in a number of different formats.
1. Filmmaking College Students Learn the Language of Cinema through Silent Films
The original form of cinema, silent film is one the first projects students undertake, and also one of the most crucial in developing their cinematography skills. By conveying a story without the use of dialogue, filmmaking college students learn the fundamental film principle of “showing not telling” in their work, while gaining a more solid understanding of the visual dynamics of film.
2. Learn Documentary Filmmaking from Acclaimed Instructors
The documentary is one of the most powerful and dynamic forms of filmmaking, and has been used as a tool by respected filmmakers the world over to highlight important societal issues, present pivotal moments in history, and shine a light on unique cultures and personalities.
When learning the art of documentary filmmaking, InFocus students are encouraged to take dramatic risks with their films, infusing their work with their own individual creative style, often with exciting and rewarding results.
For example, check out this recent documentary ‘Mars Barb’ by InFocus student Milena Salazar, which documented the efforts of a local Vancouver woman to be accepted onto the Mars One mission.
And while students in filmmaking courses are given plenty of creative freedom to find their own style, they also pick up tricks from a number of instructors who are experienced documentary makers, such as Julia Ivanova, whose acclaimed film ‘Family Portrait in Black and White’ was named Best Canadian feature at Hot Docs 2011.
3. Cinema Verite: Capture a Piece of Real Life at Filmmaking College
A form of documentary often referred to as ‘fly on the wall,’ cinema verite aims to capture real life in the rawest form possible, eschewing storytelling devices like narration in order to present events as they unfold. A dynamic and unpredictable form of filmmaking that can be done with minimal equipment, the style is often incorporated into other forms of film, including fiction, where elements of the form can be seen in films like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘mockumentary’ TV shows like The Office.
Check out this example of a Cinema Verite project by student Stan Huang:
4. Test Your Filmmaking Skills with a Music Video
Developing interesting visuals to accompany a song can be a fun explorative process for creative filmmakers, who often incorporate a wide variety of cinematography techniques, genres, and visual sequences into the project. Not only that, but a music video project can form a vital part of your portfolio, showcasing your technical talent, and helping you secure work once you finish your course.
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There are many career options for film school graduates
Many passionate movie fans dream of a career in the film and television industry, but never pursue the idea. They tell themselves that it’s too competitive, or too unstable, or that only a select few are able to find steady work. These kinds of doubts are all too common, and lead to thousands of potentially brilliant filmmakers giving up before they’ve even started.
In reality, however, a career in film is far more practical than you think. A typical production employs hundreds of trained professionals for specific, specialized roles in sound, visual, and production crews, each playing an important role in bringing an idea to life.
What’s more, prospective filmmakers based in Vancouver—the third largest film production centre in North America—can expect a steady stream of regular work, with hundreds of productions taking place each year.
If you want to find secure work in a business you love, read on to learn more about the many options available.
1. Picture Your Career as a Camera Operator after Film Production School
Have an eye for interesting and original visuals? A career as a camera operator could be for you. A big-budget production can have more than 50 people in its camera crew, with many entry level roles available, such as camera assistants and camera trainees. Working closely with the director, these highly trained professionals help to create a unique visual style for the film, carefully crafting each individual shot.
Camera operators also need to be familiar with a variety of different shooting styles, making it an ideal role for film production school graduates, who gain experience by working on a variety of different portfolio projects, such as documentaries, music videos, and commercials.
2. Use Your Film Production Training to Make the Cut as an Editor
Being an editor requires a wealth of technical knowledge and excellent attention to detail, as you work to craft all the scenes from a film together to ensure the project comes together seamlessly as a coherent whole.
It’s not an easy task, but your film production training and project work will provide you with extensive practical editing experience, while the small class sizes at schools like InFocus mean that each student gets the individual attention they need from instructors to truly hone their craft.
Editors help make sure a film comes together as a whole
3. Script Readers: For Film Production Students with a Passion for Storytelling
More interested in the storytelling aspects of film? Don’t worry, there are plenty of roles to suit your talents. For example, script readers are often employed by production companies and public funding bodies to assess screenplays they receive, providing detailed reports and story breakdowns to help determine whether a script is suitable for production.
4. Script Supervisor: The Ideal Role for a Film Production School Graduate?
A unique role that requires both screenwriting and cinematography expertise, script supervisors work with the camera crew to ensure they get all the shots they need to bring a script to life, as well as keeping written and photographic records of individual shots to ensure continuity. Because the role requires comprehensive knowledge of filmmaking theory, film school graduates are often considered ideal candidates for script supervisor positions.
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Award-winning cinematographer Danny Nowak works in unorthodox ways. He is at once a successful independent artist following his dreams, yet is also ready to paint images with his camera for blockbusters like Tristar’s “The Big Hit” or Neil Simon’s “The Goodbye Girl.”
As a child Nowak was enthralled with classic horror movies like Frankenstein and at age thirteen started to make his own shorts on 8mm. Nowak started his career in Vancouver, but has worked on film sets around the world. Here are a few words of wisdom, and some of his thoughts for up and coming filmmakers.
Early Years: Follow your Instinct and Curiosity
“I was about 8 years old when my fascination with movies began. I was obsessed with Frankenstein and other classic horror films and started making my own shorts in 8mm when I was thirteen years old. Soon after, I saw ‘The Tenant’, directed by Roman Polanski, which opened my mind to the dramatic possibilities of visual storytelling. I think the best course I ever took was the History of Movies, where I was exposed to milestones of film from the past and from there I developed a love for international cinema.”
Respecting the Past, Collaboration and Building Mood
“The art of cinematography really is to me the total culmination of centuries of the very best of visual arts. You know that Michelangelo and Goya would have been cinematographers.”
Collaboration and Looking Through the Lens
“To reproduce a certain version of reality though a lens is still thrilling, and when you’re lucky enough to work with an inventive director as storyteller, the possibilities are endless. Making a movie is a huge endeavor- expensive and intensive- so it’s an honour to be in a position where one can exercise such creativity with the help of a talented crew.”
Balancing light levels on the set of War, as Jet Li rehearses.
“The tools and techniques available to help capture the scene allow you to mould and sculpt the image to suit the particular story: focal length, depth of field, composition, camera movement, and especially lighting for mood are all mechanisms to help you build the emotion into your scene.”
The Demo Reel
“I’ve been lucky enough to have shot a good cross section of genres in my career, and I try to reflect that when I put together my own demo reel.”
How to Pick a Project
“I love going from a suspense thriller to a western to a romantic comedy to an action film. I’d never turn down a project if it had a good script and a courageous director.”
Storytelling is the Key
“The first question from new film students often is “what cameras are we using?” I’d respond with the applicable equipment to be employed for that time period. But I would also remind them that cinematography is so much more than just the tools of our trade; it’s learning how to tell a story visually, manipulating time and space, light and shadow, and exploring character and subtext.”
Understanding Narrative and Progression is Essential
“Young shooters have a wealth of resources these days to study the work of brilliant filmmakers over the last century. It’s this understanding of narrative and the progression of imagery that is most interesting and rewarding to me, and it’s my hope to share this aesthetic with the students.”
Get Out There and Shoot…Do the Work
“My advice to those who are at the beginning of their career is this: don’t expect to play the piano without practicing. Accordingly, in film, shoot anything and everything. Even if the project may not give you beauty shots for your reel, you’ll be meeting directors, producers, ADs, colourists, editors and so many other enthusiastic people just like yourself. It’s a great community to be a part of, and the opportunities come when you’re an active participant.”
Why InFocus Film School
“In Focus has grown rapidly from the new school on the block to a significant facility where students can experiment with all aspects of filmmaking until they decide what discipline they want to pursue. The instructors are professionals and the atmosphere is friendly.”
Being a successful cinematographer is so much more than having the newest or best gear. Great cinematographers are storytellers who strive to reveal the human condition though a lens and back to the audience. A painter with a brush uses colour, light and shadow to evoke beauty, or fear; cinematographers use cameras to create moving visual scenes using shadow and light in the same way.
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Known worldwide in the film industry as “Hollywood North,” Vancouver has a history of producing some of the finest film directors in the world. Since 2000, over a billion dollars worth of revenue has been attributed towards film productions in Vancouver each year. Today, Vancouver is in an excellent position to carve out an even bigger place in the world of film, and this will surely translate into more and more film directors emerging from the city.
Here are 7 Vancouver film directors that have already made it big:
Neill Blomkamp – Undoubtedly one of the most exceptional products of Vancouver, Neill Blomkamp is best known for directing Elysium and District 9. In addition to directing, he has made a name for himself in the film industry as an adept animator, screenwriter, and producer. Like so many people, Blomkamp first entered Vancouver as an immigrant at the age of 18, moving with his family from South Africa. He quickly established himself as an animator for TV shows like Dark Angel and Stargate: SG1, before his services were sought out by producer Peter Jackson for Blomkamp’s directorial debut, District 9.
Evan Goldberg – This immensely successful director has had an incredible career, working on multiple well-known productions as a director, writer, and producer. He is perhaps best known for his collaborations with his childhood friend, Seth Rogen, although unlike Rogen, Goldberg stays behind the camera. Born in Vancouver, he drew inspiration from his birthplace to write the film Superbad in collaboration with Seth Rogen. His directorial debut began with the film This is the End. More recently he directed The Interview.
Seth Rogen – Although he is best known for his acting roles, Seth Rogen has become one of the highest achieving directors to come out of Vancouver. He has also emerged as an incredibly successful writer and producer, with TV shows such as The Ali G Show and The Simpsons making use of his comedic wit as a writer. Collaborating on the aforementioned films with childhood friend Evan Goldberg, his films have consistently proven box office hits, including his directorial work for This is the End, and The Interview.
Allan King – Focusing his attention mostly on documentary films, Vancouver born Allan King was one of the key pioneers of ‘cinema verite.’ His directorial career has left a lasting impression on the world of art, and there have been numerous exhibits of his work in art galleries and museums across the world. In addition to documentaries, he also directed numerous feature films and TV episodics, winning awards such asBAFTA‘s Best Foreign Film Award, the New York Critics’ Circle Award, the Golden Reel Award, and many more. King died in 2009.
Sturla Gunnarsson – A household name in Canadian film, Sturla Gunnarsson emigrated to Vancouver from Iceland at age 7. A Day Much Like the Others, one of his very first projects as a film student in Vancouver, was one of the highest achieving student films in both Canada and Europe at the time. He directs both feature and documentary films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary, After the Axe.
Daryl Duke – Daryl Duke became an icon of Vancouver film before passing away in 2006, winning a Primetime Emmy Award in 1971 for ‘Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Drama’ for his work on The Bold Ones: The Senator. The native Vancouverite also won the Canadian Film Award after directing the critically acclaimed film The Silent Partner.
Mina Shum – Another immigrant to Vancouver at a young age, Mina Shum has proved a worthy addition to Canadian film. She won the Wolfgang Staudte Prize at the Berlin Film Festival for Best First Film for her feature film Double Happiness, which also premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Many of her other short films and features have earned awards and nominations as well.
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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.