InFocus Film School Blog


What’s So Good About Drones in Film? (Besides Being Super Cool)

Drones, aka Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), are an increasingly integral part of film. Filmmakers are exploring the possibilities of this new, game changing technology and shooting scenes in ways never done before.

As film gear has gotten lighter, more compact, and more sophisticated, filming with drones has become, not only feasible, but often the right tool for the job. More than that, the tech has become more accessible to filmmakers of all levels, breeding new perspectives and dynamism from diverse sources.

This is a huge deal for the indie film community, where money and resources are often tight. Even our own InFocus Film School students have used drones in their student films!


  1. More Affordable

Off the bat, drones are considerably cheaper than using helicopters or cranes. While helicopters can cost you thousands of dollars, the price for a drone and crew can start around a few hundred, depending on the size and weight of the gear. In fact, here’s a list of budget drones if you’d like to get one yourself.

  1. Safer

Since helicopters are manned, in the case of an accident, it’s inevitable that someone will get hurt. Their size, weight, and components also mean the clean up is a big, costly undertaking. Drones, on the other hand, are unmanned and small. This means the impact of an accident is greatly reduced, and usually the only clean up is throwing out the pieces.


  1. Saves Time

Stressing out about the production schedule? Drones reduce the amount of setup time needed. While setting up a shot with a helicopter can take hours, setting up one with a drone can be done in a matter of minutes.


  1. More Flexible

Their compact size allows drones to fit into tight spaces and film from a fresh, difficult perspective with ease. They’re also great at filming an uninterrupted shot with multiple views. You could shoot a scene that begins indoors and then swoops outside–up into the sky–without a single cut.

Their small size and noise also mean they create smaller shadows, less air disturbance, and can fly lower than helicopters.




Chappie (2015) by Neill Blomkamp used drones in various, distinct ways. In one instance, the movie follows a robot character’s POV as he flies through a window. A scene like that is impossible with a helicopter. It can be done on a cable cam, but it wouldn’t give the same organic feeling captured in the scene. Chappie also used drones without cameras as a point of reference for actors dealing with a CGI character that isn’t really there.

You can find out more in this interview with Chappie Drone Operator John Gore, from The Credits.





Drones may be safer than helicopters, but you still need to worry about safety. Injuries have happened (though mostly involving hobbyists)–including Enrique Iglesias, who may have injured his hand permanently from reaching for one and slicing his fingers on the rotors. With drones still so new, we still have yet to see the full extent of risks and legislations.


If you want to use drones in your own films, here are some things you need to know:

Transport Canada regulates the use of drones (UAV/UAS) and the penalty for misuse can include $25,000 fines and/or jail time. The consequences are so severe because the potential to do harm is enormous: you can put aircraft at risk, endanger lives and property, trespass and violate privacy.  

The legal and safety requirements of using drones in filmmaking depend on your proximity to airports and populated areas.  A Special Flight Operations Certificate is typically required (with a few exemptions) and the operator must abide by specific conditions. This determines usage times, maximum altitudes, minimum distances from people and property, and will coordinate with air traffic services in the area. Remember to allow plenty of time to make the application and secure the certificate–they are processed first-come-first-served and can take up to 20 days!

Indoor use, extreme weather and radio interference can also adversely affect the flying characteristics of the drone, so cleared flight paths and perimeters must be established and adhered to. Crew and cast must be notified of the use of the drone (the ACTSafe Bulletin is typically attached to the Call Sheet) and a clearly defined safety meeting must be held in advance of drone use. (See #5 – Safety Meetings)


References for the Bulletin and regulations:

ACTSafeBC – UAS (Drone) Safety Bulletin

Transport Canada – Rules for the safe use of Drones



Though drones have been creating tension arising from safety, legislation, and the opinions of filmmakers on the usage of drones, no one can deny their place in film. Drones are reshaping the way filmmakers see the world and they’re here to stay.

Introducing Our Compositing Program & VFX Diploma Program

Chris Pratt in front of a green screen for Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) VFX breakdown

By Renée Sutton


From creating fantastical landscapes to trapping a boy in a boat with a tiger (Life of Pi), Visual Effects (VFX) have expanded the possibilities in film and television and made it cheaper to fulfill them. But visual effects are more ubiquitous than you think. For every alien planet or flashy explosion, there are many “invisible effects” you don’t spot. Consider the beachside mansions in Wolf of Wall Street or any car in a car commercial—all of these are the work of VFX artists.


With the pervasive integration of VFX in both the entertainment and advertising industries, it’s not surprising that the demand for VFX artists is only growing. Vancouver is a major VFX hub in North America, and you can quickly begin working in the local industry with InFocus Film School’s new 3-month Compositing Program and 10-month Visual Effects (VFX) Diploma Program.


According to curriculum developer and instructor Amir Jahanlou, these courses were developed after seeing a demand in the local industry. Vancouver is home to many of the major VFX companies, and the 3-month Compositing program was specifically designed as a fast track into the industry. “The Compositing Program is for someone who wants to find a job right away,” said Jahanlou.


Jahanlou has worked in Visual Effects for over 12 years, primarily in TV commercials and advertising in Dubai. He said there are currently three streams of professionals needed in the VFX industry: compositing artists, lighting artists, and effects artists. The 10-month VFX Diploma Program covers each of these streams in detail, such as lighting 3D models and environments or creating explosions and weather simulations. The 3-month Compositing Program is primarily focused on 2D effects, composited effects, and preparing students to enter the workforce right away.


While not every shot you see on TV needs a lighting or effects artist, Jahanlou explained, almost everything professionally produced will have a compositing element added. This is the reason why the demand for compositing artists is higher, and why the 3-month Compositing Program was created. “The goal is, you come out and you get a job. The goal isn’t to try to teach you every feature of every software or the history of compositing – no, the goal is that you learn the tools that are needed in the industry today,” he said.


The Compositing Program covers a variety of skills, such as keying, tracking, stabilization, adding 2D effects and exporting for different types of mediums. Jahanlou said some positions in the VFX industry require years and years of training, but with these well-developed skills, students will be industry-ready and hirable as a junior compositing artist, roto/paint artist, Nuke artist, or compositing artist.


Not only do students learn the skills necessary for entry level positions, but they also have dedicated studio time each week to create and understand the full process involved in VFX and compositing. “You get to work on existing footage while you learn the technology and the techniques, and then you end up working on footage you shot yourself so you can understand how the footage could have been better,” Jahanlou said. He said this is the best of both worlds, and having a good understanding of the studio will create a better compositing artist.


Each week of the program, students learn and master a new skill, building upon the previous week’s knowledge. Students work with industry standard software, such as Nuke, under the close guidance and mentorship of their instructors. Jahanlou likened the course to a 3-month internship, learning from people who really work in the industry. With a maximum class size of 10, instructors get the opportunity to work with students individually and provide personalized coaching.


Applications for both programs are now open and the Compositing for VFX Program intake is for Winter 2018. The VFX Diploma Program will begin in Spring of 2018. Please contact us for more information on costs and course details.


Violence and Weapons Safety for Films

Bruce Willis fires a weapon in Die Hard

Though we’re no longer building Colosseums to watch people die gruesomely, violence is still a fan favourite on the big screen. But just because the fights aren’t real doesn’t mean filming them isn’t dangerous. Having violence and weapons on set means you must follow strict rules and guidelines to ensure everyone walks away intact.

Note: Much of this advice is from a Vancouver perspective. However, these are still solid guidelines for anywhere.


  1. Blanks Can Kill

In 1984, Jon-Erik Hexum fired a blank-loaded pistol against his head as a joke and sent pieces of his skull into his brain. He died days later.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Blanks might sound harmless, and they’re definitely safer than real bullets, but an explosion is driving air out of the narrow barrel of the gun at an extremely high velocity. This means they can still easily rip bone and metal apart at short range.

Safe distances can vary depending on the load and the width of the barrel. Always heed the safety precautions set by your expert.


  1. Have a Police Officer On Set

Big or small, any scene of violence (not just those involving weapons) that can be seen or heard by the public must have a police present on set. No matter how obvious your film set seems to you, the public may misinterpret a glimpse of violence (including screams or gunfire) and call the police–potentially culminating in a SWAT team descending on your set. The situation could dangerously escalate.

Misunderstandings with the police can be intense, like in this incident, so do your utmost to keep authorities in the loop. If in doubt, consult your police department.


  1. Only Hire Qualified Weapons Handlers

Don’t try and save money in this area–pay for the trained expert.

Inexperience killed Brandon Lee. The inexperienced prop master on set of The Crow modified live bullets into blanks and dummy rounds (these don’t have gunpowder but keep the lead tip). Unbeknownst to anyone, during a scene where an actor was loading the dummy rounds into a gun, the lead tip became lodged in the barrel. The next scene the same gun was used was where Lee was to be shot at with a blank. The explosion of the blank projected the lead tip into Lee’s abdomen, killing him.

Saving a few dollars cost the lead actor’s life.


  1. Never Lose a Weapon

If a weapon, fake or real, goes missing from a film set and is used to commit a crime, the production can become liable.

Ensure all actors return weapons promptly after their scenes. If you have lots of armed background actors, establish a perimeter they can’t take weapons beyond. For example, they must surrender their weapons before leaving the direct area of the set to go to the bathroom, catering, dressing rooms, etc.

PAs and ADs should assist in keeping an eye on weaponry, especially since a misunderstanding can arise if the public sees armed people wandering around.


  1. Hold Safety Meetings

In pre-production, you must discuss with your experts (a qualified weapons handler/armourer, stunt coordinator, and effects coordinator) the use of weapons, protective equipment, precautions, and how a scene is to be conducted and draw up protocols.

Go through these protocols in your Production Meeting for the heads of departments. Attach the relevant safety bulletins, guidelines, and directions to the call sheet the day before the scene.

Before shooting the scene, conduct a scene specific safety meeting with the entire crew, relevant cast, and armourer/weapons handler present. Make sure your location is also notified ahead of time of such scenes.


  1. Give Actors Ample Time to Train

Allow enough time for actors to learn how to use the weapons without feeling pressured. Send them to the range with the armourer/weapons handler so they can be properly trained. The actors must remain under the armourer/weapons handler’s supervision at all times.


  1. Consider Using “Non-guns”

Because they only have a small, electronically triggered squib in the barrel and don’t require blanks, non-guns are significantly safer and quieter than guns.

The fact that they don’t eject shell casings or have moving parts means they can’t be used in a scene where the gun is being loaded, the hammer is being cocked, or a casing is ejected. However, for simple firing, these are a much safer option.


  1. Nobody But The Armourer or Trained Actors Handles Weapons

This should be straightforward but bears repeating–loudly: NOBODY but the armourer/weapons handler or trained actors handles the weapons. NO EXCEPTIONS.


People are killed on set too often due to mishandling of weaponry, but injury and loss of life can be prevented. Safety should always be the top priority. Your creative vision is not worth dying for–no matter how you might feel.

After Film School: A Guide to Employment in the Film Industry

Filmmaker working a camera

So you’ve graduated film school and the future is exciting but intimidating. You’re not sure where to start. What’s next? What’s the job market like? How do you find work in the film industry?


Optimizing Your Resume & Portfolio

Before you start sending out your resume and demo reel, consider tailoring your portfolio to reflect a specialization. Ideally, you’ll have gravitated towards a certain field during your time in school. By tailoring your portfolio, you’ll be cutting out irrelevancies and emphasizing your expertise in your chosen specialization.


The Job Market

British Columbia is one of the top places to be for anyone looking to work in the film industry.

The Vancouver Economic Commission estimates over 40,000 people work in film, full and part-time, in BC. Known as Hollywood North, BC is the third largest production centre in North America, with a constant flow of work from American studios and networks due to tax credits and the favourable Canadian dollar.


Where to Look

If BC is a film production haven, where do you find work? Some production jobs are listed, but many aren’t. Here are some places to look:

  1. Facebook pages
    • There are many Facebook pages dedicated to hiring independent filmmakers. Filmmakers will create their own community for hiring purposes.
  2. Networking
    • Introverts, strap on your social face! Filmmakers network intensely. Take a look at Women in Film and Television in Vancouver, DOC BC, Celluloid Social Club, Cold Reading Club, etc. Projects often arise from like minds finding a mutual passion. These jobs may never be advertised.
  3. Craigslist
    • Check out the Gigs and Production Jobs sections on Craigslist. These jobs are well paid, but beware of listings that ask if you are “adventurous”—it might be the porn industry!
  4. Job Boards
    • One search on job boards like will bring up many listings for compositors and other VFX positions.
  5. The Union Department
    • The Union department is the pool of eligible labour that big feature films and TV series will pull from. The unions control access to these jobs to ensure large producers have trained and qualified crew members. Once a student has met the union criteria, they’re often placed in a “hiring hall system.” This is why you don’t see these jobs advertised.

Read more

Is Film School a Waste of Time?

Is there a good reason to invest time and money into film school or can it all be learned on the job?


On-set learning is better suited for those who are happy to stay in one department with one specific skill set. Those who desire to move up in the industry and have greater control over the creative process should be equipped with a wide, practical understanding of the entire production process. Having gone through the full production process already, film school graduates are well-rounded filmmakers who will already have the skills needed when promoted.

Read more

A Never-ending Story: Julia Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky

by Renee Sutton


At the mercy of the world economy and great forces of nature, Julia Ivanova’s latest NFB documentary was a story that just wouldn’t stop unfolding. While no filmmaker can be entirely sure where they will end up when they begin the process of making a documentary, Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky (2016) was pulled from the editing stage back into production, three times.


This non-traditional environmental film follows how the rise and demise of Fort McMurray has affected some of the younger residents. “It’s a portrait of Fort McMurray, and of Canadian millennials searching for money, identity and success in the heart of the Alberta oil sands,” Ivanova said. She said her focus was not on the shifting political landscape, but instead on the stories of the people that it affected. What Ivanova didn’t anticipate was that it would take four years to complete the film, as new events and tragedies important to the story occurred in the process of editing.

Read more

The Ins and Outs of Filming a Sex Scene

beginnings of a sex scene

Sex, drugs, murder, and copious amounts of profanity. Watch enough student films and you’re apt to see each of these elements play a part, sometimes all within the span of a few minutes. Aside from making excellent points of reference for a drinking game conducted at a short film festival, there is a legitimate reason that directors and actors are attracted to R-rated material for their films: when done correctly, it can demonstrate the competence that comes from successfully navigating a creative challenge.


Today we’re going to focus on the sensitive subject of nudity and sex scenes, and how to handle them professionally on set.

Read more

Film Festival Tips for New Filmmakers


If you love filmmaking, overdosing on popcorn, and waiting in line ups, then you’ve probably seen a film at a film festival before. Festivals have a certain exciting frequency to them as audience members, celebrities and filmmakers all enjoy the same viewing screen. But for a new filmmaker, festivals can be daunting new territory.


InFocus alumni Sarah Race’s student film, Barbarian Press (2016), has been screened at a dozen festivals around North America. Race felt clueless when she entered the festival world—but even though she spent more money on festivals than on the cost of her film, it was all worth it. “To me, it was all about the experience, about all the amazing people I met, how awesome people were, and all the learning curves,” said Race.


Race was encouraged to submit Barbarian Press (2016) by her InFocus instructors, and her film won official selection at Hot Docs in 2016. The decision to take the festival route has been very beneficial for her networking but has limited the potential audience for her film, as opposed to if she had posted her films on an online platform like Youtube. “Film festivals only have a very small audience of a specific sort of people that go to film festivals,” she said.

Read more

Shooting Without a Script: Improvised Cinema

Drinking Buddies (2014), an improvised movie

No matter how much care a screenwriter may put into their script, it only takes one rogue actor with a penchant to ad-lib to completely derail their meticulously written dialogue. There are a number of infamous scenes that have come from this process.


Perhaps one of the most iconic scenes is in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), when a swordsman, theatrically brandishing a sword, confronts a weary Harrison Ford, who had been recovering from a bout of dysentery on set. With the expectation that an elaborate fight would follow, audiences were surprised and delighted when Ford simply pulled out his gun and blasted his foe away. This improvised moment resonated with fans because it felt fresh and unpredictable in an otherwise polished film.


But what would an entirely improvised film look like?

Read more

Women in Film: Where They Are and How Far They’ve Come

InFocus celebrates Women in Film

by Renee Sutton

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.

Read more