InFocus Film School Blog



Amy, the documentary about the tortured British singer Amy Winehouse is an unimaginative power-point not worthy of a theatrical release.

Acclaimed director Asif Kapadiea’s modern day tragedy features old grainy photos of the young impulsive Amy Winehouse and her family villains, especially her dad, who fail to notice the severity of her pain.

Winehouse with her unruly beehive hairdo, Egyptian eyeliner and tiny frame is a brilliant subject who doesn’t want to sound or look anything like her music contemporaries. She weathers mental illness, romantic break-ups, bulimia, drunken performances and the onslaught of flashbulbs from the ravenous paparazzi.

As fucked up as Amy is, she can actually write and the music continues to pour freely leading to Grammys and world acclaim. After her break-through single Rehab, she tours packed stadiums, parties with her boyfriend and ultimately does a stint in rehab, something her father Mitch advises against until she is too far gone.

Although blessed with a unique sound, the trappings of world wide celebrity, the tabloids and her descent into addiction feel all too familiar. Even her soulful live performances are squandered and truncated in favour of dullard talking-head observations by musical collaborators. There is not much new here that has been that has been also already been documented on E-talk!

Savemgid-uma-image-mtv your money and buy her music so you can to listen to her haunting lyrics and savour her bluesy emotional inflections in songs like “Back to Black”, that are deliberately a semi-tone or two off key. Her music, unlike this biopic, leaves more to the imagination.

Filmmaking can be expensive. So how does a filmmaker straight out of school afford all the fancy gear that they’ve been taught to use? One option for handy filmmakers is to make it themselves. There are plenty of DIY projects out there on the web, here are a few that we’ve highlighted, either because they’re super easy, ridiculously cheap, or amazingly handy.

The Itsy Bitsy Slider

A few tools, a camera plate, and a free sample kit from Igus are all you need to make this mini slider. Great for small, subtle movements, it proves size isn’t always everything. Plus, if you have a spare camera plate it’s completely free! Get the Igus “Mini Sample Kit” here.

The RotoRig

Not the easiest build, but at under $50 this jib/shoulder rig is definitely worth the effort. Be sure to check out the description in the Youtube video to get the full list of supplies.

The KrotoCrane

$50 too much for you? How about $20? This Jib made by Chad Bredahl of Krotoflik, the same mind behind the RotoRig, is a stupid cheap, super effective crane.

The Dual Shoulder Mount

If you’re like me, you’ll find most shoulder rigs to be ridiculously overpriced. Clocking in at only $25, that can’t be said for this handy tool from Film Riot.

While the director may be the big fish on set, to be an assistant director you need to be a shark.

Assistant-Director2A film set models its hierarchy after the military, and as the highest “below the line” role, the 1st AD is like the commander. Starting in pre-production they break down the script and plan and schedule the shoot.

Once the film goes to picture, the AD runs the set. Acting as a communications hub they ensure the shoot remains organised, safe, and on time. Responsible for the smooth execution of the production, being an AD is easily one of the most stressful jobs on set, but if you can handle it, it can be extremely rewarding.

Interested in the role? Here are six tips for succeeding as an AD:

  1. Don’t slack off in pre-production. Prep is the most vital aspect of having your shoot run smoothly. Did you plan enough time for lunch? If you have a company move, did you account for traffic? Be prepared to spend as much time planning the schedule as you will spend on set.
  2. Communicate. Speak loudly and clearly and listen closely to what others are telling you. Be sure everyone knows what is happening, ask questions if there is uncertainty, and don’t be scared to be the bad guy if someone isn’t doing their job.
  3. Be organized and well prepared. Always think several steps ahead. Have extra copies of the script, call sheets, and any other important documents available.
  4. Be confident but not cocky. Be firm with your orders and confident in your decisions, but always listen to advice and criticism. Arrogance is the fastest way to get your crew to lose respect for you.
  5. Respect your crew. Don’t talk down to anyone, put a stop to any gossip, and most important, don’t micro-manage. Your crew members are (hopefully) professionals hired to do a job. Let them do it.
  6. Have a sense of humour. Film sets are stressful environments and it’s your job to keep the crew from getting overwhelmed. Humour is a great tool to lift spirits and keep the set productive.

Thanks to InFocus’ assistant directing instructor Rosalee Yagihara for her help with this article. 


Compositing techniques have been around since the beginning of the film era. Starting in 1898 with Georges Méliès’ matte photography, image compositing processes were a technically challenging aspect of filmmaking for nearly a century. Thanks to the rise of digital post production however, today blue or green screen compositing is a very easy and effective way to put actors in situations that would be too difficult, expensive or dangerous to do otherwise. Nearly every Hollywood feature now uses the technique, and whether you love or hate the rise of digital special effects, it is here to stay.

Even beginning filmmakers can take advantage of green screens with almost any mid-range editing software. Check out the video below for 10 tips on how to improve your green screen shoot.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes was partly filmed in Vancouver


Super, Natural British Columbia. As a filming destination, we could easily lose the comma in our provincial slogan. As the unofficial ‘Hollywood North’, Vancouver draws in a huge number of sci-fi and fantasy productions, and has hosted everything from major blockbusters and prolific television series, to cult classics with rabid fanbases.

There are several major productions slated to shoot here in the upcoming year, including Star Trek 3, Tron 3 and the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Deadpool.

Here are five reasons why Vancouver is the absolute perfect location to shoot sci-fi and fantasy:





An increasing number of productions that shoot here are opting to work with local VFX production houses to fulfill all their lens-flared-space-battle needs. Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic even opened up a permanent 30,000-square foot studio downtown last spring.


Here are some of the notable studios, and the locally shot productions they worked on. Keep in mind some of their credits overlap as production companies spread bigger design jobs to multiple companies.


Artifex Studios has provided visual effects for several series that were shot here, including Continuum (Showcase), Almost Human (Fox) and Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros).


Zoic Studios is the production house responsible for developing the special effects for Battlestar Galactica (Syfy) as well as Arrow (The CW) and Once Upon A Time (ABC).


The Embassy Visual Effects received an Academy Award nomination on their work on District 9 (Tristar Pictures) and have continued to work with director Neill Blomkamp as he moved his productions to Vancouver, and developed the visual effects of the weapons in Elysium (TriStar Pictures).


Image Engine has an incredible reel of past feature work, including acting as the main VFX team behind Elysium (TriStar Pictures), Watchmen (Warner Bros) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox).





Vancouver is widely known for its rain soaked old-growth forests, but it’s just as easy to find rocky beaches, snowy mountains and, if you drive out a little further to the east, sandy deserts. The incredible visual diversity of our city is one reason that crews have been flocking here to film projects, ever since The X-Files proved that it could double for pretty much any location in the United States.


The range of climate zones in British Columbia is so extensive that it has been an indispensable resource to television shows that need to cheat locations from around the world, or for any production company that doesn’t have the budget to shoot in several different countries.





Vancouver is one of the youngest cities in North America, and the futuristic architecture rising out of our downtown core is positively built for a sci-fi setting. It isn’t difficult to imagine a prospective director standing on a corner in Coal Harbour and feverishly quoting JJ Abram’s Super 8: “Production value!”


It doesn’t hurt that only a few blocks away the cobblestoned streets of Gastown can easily be transformed into a charming heritage scene, or the deserted remnants of a post-apocalyptic future (and it has!).





For year round shooting, Vancouver can’t be beat. Warm summers, mild winters – and if you’re shooting a sci-fi or fantasy project the constant rain will just add to the mood of your production.





Vancouver has been home to dozens of fantastic projects, and continues to be the ideal shooting location for creative and ambitious production teams.


Here are just a few of the television series and films that have used Vancouver as a location:



Tron: Legacy, The Cabin in the Woods, I, Robot, Fantastic Four, Watchmen, The NeverEnding Story, The Twilight Saga, Rise of Planet of the Apes, X Men: The Last Stand, Elysium, Man of Steel, Godzilla



Supernatural, The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, Once Upon A Time, Arrow, Eureka, Smallville, The Vampire Diaries, Continuum, The Stargate Series, Dark Angel, Caprica, Taken, Dead Like Me, Highlander, The Flash, The Outer Limits, The 100.

Vancouver is a premier location for shooting film and TV. But what artistic edge does it have over other major cities? Here are 5 factors that differentiate shooting in Vancouver.

1. Vancouver’s higher latitude means extended daytime shooting hours during summer–­ a huge boon for productions shooting on a tight timeline. During peak filming season, Vancouver gets up to 16 hours of daylight, two hours more than Los Angeles, yet avoids the southern California heat during summer.

2. With softer light, ideal lighting ratios and a warmer colour, the “golden” or “magic” hour after sunrise and before sunset is often the best time to shoot. In any given season, the sun in Vancouver remains lower on the horizon than in most US cities, giving Vancouver a magic hour that is actually way longer than one hour, and often spectacular for more than two.

3. Vancouver often has a thick cloud cover that diffuses light. Harsh sunlight pouring above your subjects is complicated to control and a sky sprinkled with clouds is a nightmare due to constantly changing light. Cloudy grey skies make for constant lighting conditions and a much easier shoot.

4. Although Vancouverites love to complain about it, rain isn’t always a bad thing. Our mild winters and lack of snow allow for a nearly year-round shooting window. Although uncomfortable to hold a shoot in the rain, it often doesn’t read on camera and can easily look moody, arty, and unlike anything that LA can offer.

5. Compared to popular American film locations, Vancouver’s air pollution is low. Cleaner air means a larger spectrum of unfiltered sunlight. In places with heavy pollution, sunlight may come pre­filtered and muted, negating much of its artistic usefulness. The lack of pollution during sunrise or sunset provides a gorgeous broad spectrum in Vancouver­ and exquisite backdrops.

Written by Freddie Kim

As Alfred Hitchcock once famously said, “A lot of films one sees today…they are what I call ‘photographs of people talking’.  It bears no relation to the art of the cinema.”  Despite movement being the key aspect that separates film from photography, most directors simply don’t seem to use it in an effective manner.

Akira Kurosawa was not most directors.  The legendary Japanese filmmaker was a master of composition and movement.  In this video essay, Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting explains how Kurosawa expertly crafted the motion in his scenes and what filmmakers today have to learn from him.

Akira Kurosawa – Composing Movement from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

A huge thanks to everyone who supported Pull Focus Alumni on Storyhive!

We’re excited to announce that TWO projects by our alumni have won $10,000 grants .

1507757_919687078044060_8804219680558517433_nQuite a feat, considering there were over 100 projects in the running.

The teams are now hard at work in the pre-production stage of their Web Series’ pilots, which are set to be complete by March 2015.

In Focus Alumni Holly Hofmann won a Storyhive grant this past spring as well. Check out the film she made here.

Not since watching “Being John Malkovic,” have I been blown away by a film that combines comedy, satire and absurdism all in equal measure. Director and co-writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel,” “21 Grams”) works us over with his black comedy Birdman, a satire that details the high-wire act of living a fulfilling life after superstardom ends.

birdmanposterIt was reported that Michael Keaton turned down 15 million dollars to play the lead role in The Dark Night Rises, part 4 of the Batman series franchise. This endearing backstory shrouds this film and makes you want to pull for Keaton even more. After years of wallowing in relative obscurity, Keaton is back on top, playing an older washed-up version of himself in Birdman.

Birdman, a film about a crazy fucked up Broadway play is loads of fun and Keaton does the heavy lifting as he tries to revive his acting sagging career from obscurity. He is directing and starring in a profit losing theatrical adaptation of a little known Ray Carver novel. An aging bitter New York critic is dubious about Keaton’s motives as she vows to end this pretentious Hollywood intrusion on Broadway’s dignified acting roots.

Ed Norton, the capricious method actor who sprouts a hard-on during a love scene playsimgres-2 the charming asshole with ease and porcelain anime doll Emma Stone is superb as the recovering addict who plays Keaton’s underachieving insightful daughter.

Hardly a drop of blood spills in this film, which is a huge departure for this iconic Mexican director who killed off more than his share of people and dogs in past films. Iñárritu films the story in what seems to be one continuous take to give the real-time sensation of the tumultuous days leading up to opening night. Whatever his reason is, the long flowing takes are seamlessly choreographed. I felt myself floating through the rehearsals from a red velvet seat only twenty feet from centre stage. Ironically, the New Yorker is the only publication to give it an annoying art-fraud review, citing overt thefts from Jean Luc Godard’s earlier works.

Artistic theft is the birthright of every artist since the dawn of entertainment. Birdman is a highly imaginative film that should be embraced for all of it’s not-so-well disguised thefts and it’s inherent contemporary truths.

Art is communication, art is connection, art is even war. In the case of Grey City, a documentary about São Paulo and the city’s street artists, the terrain for this art is the street, more precisely the walls in the street.

In the 1980s, São Paulo took the world stage as the epicenter for urban visual street art known as pixo — graffiti and tagging. Its antecedents, Pixação, “wall writings”, originated in São Paulo in the 1940s and 50s when citizens painted political statements in tar on walls in response to political slogans painted by political parties. Pixo’s evolution through to today has maintained that spirit of dialogue and defiance—a kind of urban calligraphy where some of São Paulo’s most marginalized endeavour to tag as high as they can, in as many public places as possible, incontrovertibly asserting their existence as a form of challenge to the city’s privileged who consider pixo ugly, ignorant, and illegal, much in the way they view the pichadores (the pixo makers) themselves.

The 80s re-emergence of pixo was an organic extension of other street art forms like hip hop and break-dancing. Such was the route for Os Gêmeos, the twin brother graffiti team featured in Grey City. With the same nimbleness of their breakdancing, identical brothers Otavio and Gustavo moved toward paint, starting first with pixo and then expanding their work into more pictoral murals. Today, their early pixo style can still be found within their murals, and the impetus to connect and converse with their city is at its heart.

Os Gemêos is out to communicate, to engage, and to contribute something positive for_ 2014-08-22 15.30.47 the public good—these are their guides. Producing their work during the day is critical to the process and to their pieces: how else will they know what’s going on, what they need to say, and to whom? How else will they connect directly with people and engage in real time? That’s how they see it. And what they encounter speaks back to them through the smiles and joy returned by passersby—this enthusiastic feedback loop affirming for them that they’ve honoured their vocation and their destiny.

Graffiti, however, also operates within the framework of the city’s regulatory, mercantile and political interests. So the war this artform engages in is often with the clean up crews contracted by City Hall to paint over the murals not deemed to be “artistic”—so, armed with grey paint, a subjective and anonymous army disappears the art, randomly and arbitrarily. However, in a metropolis of almost 20M people that sprawls across almost 8,000 square kilometres (the largest city of the Americas), the effectiveness of the clean up efforts doesn’t really keep pace with the artists, and so a kind of dialogue reverberates between leagues of creative resistance and the amorphous apparatus mobilized to squelch it.

This is where the graffiti movement truly embodies its role as a public art. No one possesses it, directly challenging the fundamentals of capitalism, and no one really controls it either, though many try and wish they could. In the case of Os Gemêos, their rigorous code of conduct keeps their work “clean”, in the sense that their concern with public good means shunning any form of negative messaging, and their tireless commitment to producing such work, in proliferation, eventually attracted international attention, rendering their colourful contribution to the city’s walls more and more challenging to object to.

Os Gemêos’ progressive rise to worldwide acclaim has ironically jettisoned their work to the reaches of national sanction too: they were commissioned to tag the plane of Brazil’s national football team competing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Perhaps, though, this is a most apt illustration of remaining true to the artists’ animating values—speaking truth to power—in this case attaining lift off with jet engines; though, told not to paint the jet’s engines covers, they did it anyway, ever true to another animating force of the grafiteiro, tagging where authorities don’t want you to. Perhaps not quite biting the hand that feeds them, we could fairly say that Os Gemêos is willing to paint it.

Here in our own grey city, Vancouver is now home to the latest Os Gemêos piece, Giants, thanks to Vancouver Biennale and their partnership with Ocean Cement on Granville Island. Giants is an ongoing Os Gemêos project, adding Canada to the Giants growing international family of Greece, USA, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil and England.

As Os Gemêos believes, “Every city needs art and art has to be in the middle of the people”, so Vancouver now has art, in the middle of the city, and this art happens to be a kind of people in its own right—Giants—an excellent symbol of art’s enduring heart, which is 3 dimensional, multiple, central, colourful, and gigantic.

Grey City is directed by Marcelo Mesquita and Guilherme Valiengo.