InFocus Film School Blog


Top 10 Vancouver Film Festivals and Events – 2017

Vancouver is home to a large and bustling film industry, but there is a community beyond set life and the grind of production. There are an extensive number of local festivals and events dedicated to honouring films and the people involved, from all avenues of local and international stages.

Within these events is a community of people that deeply appreciate film. There’s always an excited buzz in the air at film festivals as crew members and audiences mingle, and a glowing pride at local award ceremonies that recognize talent in the community.

The best way to get involved and immerse yourself into the industry is to submit to your passion of filmmaking. Get excited and get out there, attend festivals and networking events or enter your work into local contests. See below for a list of Vancouver’s top recommended film festivals and events for 2017.

1. Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival – February 10-18, 2017

Now, in its twentieth year, VIMFF is a week-long event that highlights the culture and community of an outdoor lifestyle. The festival includes instructional seminars for those looking to improve their own skills, as well as films that give a unique perspective on experiences and culture from around the world. Per their website, VIMFF “brings communities together to promote positive values and active lifestyles.”

2. Vancouver International Film Festival – September 28-October 13, 2017

One of North America’s largest film festivals, VIFF is not one to miss. With multiple venues screening local and international films over the span of two weeks, this festival could be considered a temporary lifestyle for avid festival goers. Industry and interactive events are held throughout the festival, and are open to the public.

3. The Leo Awards – June 3-4, 2017

The Leo Awards celebrate achievements in British Columbia’s film and television industry. This annual award ceremony, presented by the Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Foundation of British Columbia, recognizes categories such as best dramatic series, best music video, best web series, and best animation among others.

4. DOXA – May 4-14, 2017

Presented by the Documentary Media Society, DOXA is focused on independent documentaries from around the world. The festival includes panel discussions that are  open to the public, and engaging forums and programs.

5. Vancouver Short Film Festival – January 17-28, 2017

The VSFF is short and sweet, as it celebrates the community of short films, video, and animation. It is focused on BC-based productions, and strives to connect filmmakers with the broader industry.

6. Crazy 8s – Gala Screening on February 25, 2017

This 8-day filmmaking challenge will drive you crazy. That’s because Crazy 8s finalists are expected to produce their film from start to finish in just eight days of production and editing. The contest was created to provide funding and support to emerging filmmakers, and has launched more than a few careers. You can also enjoy the final films stress-free, at the Screening Gala.

7. Vancouver Latin American Film Festival – late August 2017

The VLAFF is an annual event that provides “audiences with the unique opportunity to watch inspiring films and interact with guest filmmakers from across Latin America and the diaspora,” according to their website. The festival encourages conversation between cultures, and promotes Latin American cinema in Canada.

8. Vancouver Queer Film Festival – August 10-20, 2017

As one of Vancouver biggest film festivals, the VQFF celebrates the best in queer cinema. For decades, this festival has been creating social change through film, workshops, panels, and parties.

9. Vancouver International Women in Film – March 8-12, 2017

The VIWIFF features an impressive range of work from established and emerging women filmmakers. The festival highlights women from around the world, and provides room for conversation with networking events and Q&As open to the public.

10. Just Film Festival – March 31-April 1, 2017

The Just Film Festival focuses on creating an understanding of other perspectives, through exploration of Vancouver’s diverse justice community.

Honourable mentions: there are many more than just ten film festivals/events in Vancouver, please also check out the BC Student Film Festival, Vancouver Jewish Film Festival, Vancouver Italian Film Festival, and many more!

Three Screenwriting Contests That Can Launch Your Career

It is famously difficult to break into the film industry as a screenwriter, especially if you don’t have a network of connections to point you in the right direction. Luckily there is an alternative to peddling your unproduced scripts around town: entering (and winning!) screenwriting contests is an excellent way to gain the attention of agents, managers, and film industry influencers.

There are hundreds of screenwriting contests from around the world to choose from, but if you are serious about securing an agent or getting your work produced, here are three you have to check out:


An internationally renown screenwriting competition, the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting has a fantastic record of emerging writers who were able to launch their careers after winning.

Type of Script:

  • Feature Film


  • The contest is open to screenwriters who have not earned more than $25,000 writing fictional work for film or television.
  • Entry scripts must be the original work of one writer, or of two writers who collaborated equally.
  • Scripts must be submitted in English.
  • Adaptations and translated scripts are not eligible.


  • Up to five $35,000 fellowships are awarded each year.


  • March 7th: Early Entry ($40 USD)
  • April 18th: Regular Entry ($55 USD)
  • May 2nd: Late Entry ($75 USD)

Notable Winners:

  • 2010 – Destin Daniel Cretton – Short Term 12
  • 2008 – Jason A. Micallef – Butter
  • 2000 – Doug Atchison – Akeelah and the Bee



The Austin Film Festival Screenplay and Teleplay Competition is well known for consistently lining up a fantastic panel of judges from major agencies and production companies, and drawing the attention of agents.  

Type of Scripts:

  • Feature Film
  • Short
  • Teleplay


  • The contest is open to emerging and established screenwriters.
  • All scripts must not have been optioned or sold prior to October 28, 2017.
  • Scripts must be submitted in English.
  • Screenplays/teleplays must be the original work of the applicant.


  • Cash awards range from $1,000 – $5,000 depending on the category.  
  • Winners will be reimbursed for round trip airfare and hotel to attend the AFF.
  • A Producer’s Badge to attend the AFF and Conference.
  • The AFF Bronze Typewriter Award

Feature Screenplay:

  • March 31st: Early Entry ($45 USD)
  • April 20th: Regular Entry ($55 USD)
  • May 15th: Late Entry ($70 USD)

Short Screenplay, Teleplay, & Digital Series

  • March 31st: Early Entry ($35 USD)
  • April 20th: Regular Entry ($45 USD)
  • May 15th: Late Entry ($60 USD)

Notable Winners:

  • A huge number of winning writers have been hired on television shows, including: Bojack Horseman (Netflix), Silicon Valley (HBO), Empire (Fox), Community (NBC/Yahoo), and many others.
  • 2010 Finalist Christopher Cantwell went on to sell his series Halt and Catch Fire to AMC.
  • 2008 Finalist Edward Ricourt sold his script Now You See Me to Summit Entertainment.



The Sundance Film Festival is a prestigious event for indie filmmakers worldwide, and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab is no different. Twelve projects are chosen to participate in a five-day workshop, where writers are mentored by notable creative industry professionals.  

Type of Script:

  • Feature Film


  • Applicants must be developing their first or second narrative feature film.
  • Those who have previously had more than one narrative feature produced are not eligible to apply.


  • Admission to the five-day Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
  • One-on-one sessions with creative advisors and industry professionals.


  • TBA – Details will be posted soon on the website.  

Notable Participants:

  • 2014 – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – Swiss Army Man
  • 2013 – Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station
  • 2004 – Ryan Fleck and Ann Boden – Half Nelson
  • 1999 – Darren Aronofsky – Requiem for a Dream

If you’d like submit your work to even more competitions, some honorable mentions are: The Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Competition, The Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Fellowship and the Script Pipeline. Good luck, and happy writing!

The Big Five: Canadian Short Film Funding

How To Fund Your Short Film in Canada

Canada has a wealth of film funding opportunities for emerging and established filmmakers. On a national level there are five major agencies that are the go-to for creators who are working to greenlight their next short dramatic or documentary project.


Established in 1995, BravoFACT (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent) is a fantastic resource for filmmakers who aspire to create short form scripted projects.


  • Projects with a Canadian producer and director
  • New projects that are not yet in production
  • Projects with a running time of up to 10:00 minutes
  • The project must be considered as Canadian Content according to CRTC guidelines


  • You may request up to $50,000


  • 2017 Deadlines TBA

Click here for more information.


In 2013 Bravo introduced BravoFACTUAL awards for the production of short form documentary projects. With the same mandate as scripted BravoFACT shorts, BravoFACTUAL is commitment to seeing short Canadian docs gain a greater prominence worldwide.


  • Projects with a Canadian producer and director
  • New projects that are not yet in production
  • Projects with a running time of up to 15:00 minutes
  • The project must be considered as Canadian Content according to CRTC guidelines


  • You may request up to $50,000


  • Friday, February 24, 2017 (Future deadlines TBA)

Click here for more information.


The Canada Council for the Arts was established in 1957, and acts as an interdisciplinary major public arts funder within Canada. A new funding model is due to take effect this year, simplifying the application process.


  • Canadian artists with basic training in their field
  • Artistic productions that result in public presentation, publication, exhibition or digital production
  • To determine further eligibility create an account with the Canada Council Portal


  • You may request up to $100,000, although most projects receive no more than $60,000


You may apply any time before the start of your project, with projects assessed twice yearly: April 15th & November 15th, 2017.


  • You can only apply to this component twice per year (March 1st – Feb 28th)
  • You must register in the Canadian Council Portal at least 30 days before you wish to apply

Click here for more information.


An initiative of The Harold Greenberg Fund in association with The Movie Network, the Shorts-to-Feature Program was created to provide emerging Canadian filmmakers with film funding for the production of a short narrative, to be used as a calling card for a feature film currently in development.


  • Emerging Canadian filmmaker who has not had a feature film produced (with the exception of the producer who can have a maximum of one feature credit as producer)
  • Short film scripts 10 pages or under
  • Writer, producer, director must be Canadian
  • Projects must be in English


  • You may request up to $32,000


  • 2017 Deadline TBA


  • The grant provides $5000 of guaranteed script development support for the feature film version

Click here for more information.


An agency of the Government of Canada, the NFB has produced over 13,000 productions since it was established in 1939. They work with creators from across Canada in the production of POV documentaries, auteur animation and original interactive digital content.


  • Anyone who is a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant
  • Projects with an unique perspective, and social and cultural relevance
  • Productions that utilize technology to expand the scope of storytelling


  • Budgets are determined by your experience, and the project’s need


  • Proposals are accepted throughout the year via e-mail or regular mail to your closest studio


  • The two main models offered by the NFB are:
  • 100% NFB productions: productions that are financed and produced entirely by the NFB. NFB retains 100% of the copyright and also holds the distribution rights.
  • National co-productions: productions that are in partnership with established, independent Canadian production companies. NFB will be involved as a minority co-producer.

Click here for more information.

Have you received funding from any of the sources listed here? Please share your own experiences, and any advice you can give to other filmmakers who are working on their application!

My 30 Favourite Films of 2016

By Kryshan Randel

2016 was a very strong year for science fiction, thriller/horror – and musicals! Never thought I would love three musicals in one year, as they are a rare breed these days, especially exceptional ones. Considering how dark the real life 2016 got, some joyous song-driven relief was a welcome addition to the movie mix.


Alien visitation seen through a riveting new perspective; a linguist trying to understand their language with the fate of the world at stake. The result is thought provoking, original science fiction storytelling. By the perfect ending, the film becomes even better – a tearjerker that earns every tear honestly. The overall experience is a transformative reminder to wield empathy over judgement, love over fear, evolution over stagnation, striving to find a common language over getting stuck in lost in translation traps. Lessons to keep in mind as we enter the Trump era.


A comedy of errors turns into a genuinely scary horror show, complete with demonic possession and other nightmare-worthy events. The Korean genre hybrid convincingly puts a police officer with a lot of relatable weaknesses through hell on earth without mercy.


The best zombie film since 28 DAYS LATER takes the genre in a radical new direction. Zombie stories are great opportunities for visceral metaphors and this one, about a new generation making their way through a broken world, is a stunner.


Starts out a as clever tribute to classic musicals, then finds its own voice and rhythms, breaking free from tradition while simultaneously honouring its inspirations. Emma Stone is incredible as a wannabe starlet, selling both the intoxicating fantasies and stark realities bouncing playfully off of each other, complete with drastic lighting and music cue changes.


Sex, thrills and rock and roll. Like running into an old friend in an Amsterdam mansion on a hot and sweaty summer night, carrying all sorts of irresistible secrets they can’t wait to share with you. A truly alive, invigorating, hard to categorize film featuring Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes doing some of their best work.


A pitch perfect coming of age story, ’80s tribute, and musical love story with the most memorable original songs of the year. There is a repeat formula to this one (start a band to impress a girl), but who cares when it’s so well executed?


Possibly my new favourite Marvel film. Relentlessly fun and creative, with genuinely mind blowing action and other psychedelic spectacle that picks up where MATRIX and INCEPTION left off. Also features the best use of 3D since GRAVITY.


Brilliant animated documentary about the Charles Whitman sniper shootings. Matches voiceovers from real life survivors with younger versions of themselves rotoscoped onto the screen, taking you inside the mind of each and every character, big and small. An ideal match of expressionistic form and riveting content.


Sometimes a great message movie doesn’t need metaphors and subtlety, it needs to scream “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”, NETWORK-style. Starts with a fight against small bureaucratic annoyances and builds to a battle against infuriating ones. You will not only root for Daniel Blake, you will never forget him. A hero for our insane modern times.


The comedies of the year. POPSTAR was several-laughs-per-minute musical satire executed to goofy hilarious grandeur. DON’T THINK TWICE makes you care enormously about an improvisation troupe’s insecurities and jealousies that arise when one of the their members becomes a co-star of an SNL-like show.


The animated splendour of THE RED TURTLE; the star studded ultra-violent Tom-and-Jerry-spirit shootout FREE FIRE; the documentaries about geniuses MAGNUS and BURDEN; the riveting filmmaker portraits VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH and DEPALMA and cinematographer portrait KEEPERS OF THE MAGIC; the visceral shock doc horror of RATS and WE ARE THE FLESH and psychological horrors of SUNTAN, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, THE STUDENT and THE INVITATION; the brilliantly written heist Western HELL OR HIGH WATER; the deeply personal and authentic coming of age dramas SLEEPING GIANT and TWENTIETH CENTURY WOMEN; the mumblecore Ghostbusters-esque dark comedy ANOTHER EVIL; The fascinating Herzog Internet documentary LO AND BEHOLD; and Verhoeveon’s morally complex and confrontational ELLE.

Even though they aren’t entire films, I was also very impressed by the modern dare-driven adventure NERVE, except for the last five minutes; The DIY spirit of the first half of CAPTAIN FANTASTIC; Rebecca Hall’s wrenching lead performance in CHRISTINE; another amazing Martinez soundtrack for THE NEON DEMON; the rousing final third of ROGUE ONE; and the several unforgettable scenes in SILENCE that fulfill Scorsese’s uneven soul searching mission of bringing unconditional religious devotion to brutal life.


Incoherently directed, shot and edited; overexplained and underdeveloped; aggressively misogynistic, lazy storytelling – the list goes on. Remind me never to watch another DC film again, at least not while Snyder’s in charge of that universe.


The most critically acclaimed comedy of the year was the biggest missed opportunity of 2016. Promising setups either end prematurely or dissolve into nothingness – and those were the three or four scenes that almost worked.


The coming of age horror film RAW, Aronofsky’s new thriller MOTHER, Wright’s musical action crime thriller BABY DRIVER, Villeneuve’s retro future noir BLADE RUNNER 2049 sequel, and Nolan’s 70mm war epic DUNKIRK.

The Reemergence of Super 16mm ­- Aesthetics and Practicality

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.

Of course, one should take the cost of stock and processing into account. The good news is Kodak is very friendly towards low-­budget, indie filmmakers. You can negotiate the price to get a discount or if you play your cards right, even get them to donate a percentage of the stock. You can always consider recans and shortends as well. Technicolor is also quite helpful in figuring out a realistic budget and will provide discounts to filmmakers when possible. And if you’re lucky enough they might have a pricing agreement with your local film association or collective. (In Vancouver, ByDeluxe offers film processing and Telecine).

The aesthetic side of the argument is a bit more obvious. Super 16mm will give you that old, nostalgic, grainy, raw look that is quite hard to replicate in post. Sure, you can add grains and highlight blooms in post when you shoot digital, but whether fake grains and blooms are as good as the real, organic ones is up for debate.

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild

Ben Richardson, the cinematographer of the Oscar­ nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild, has talked about his choice to shoot on Super 16mm quite extensively. He praises film’s superior ability to capture beautiful pictures in challenging lighting situations, as compared to a digital medium. He also states that shooting on film actually turned out to be a better financial and creative choice for the movie.

Of course, shooting on film isn’t an easy task. The price will take more negotiating and networking to get a good deal, and perhaps most importantly, you need to find a DOP who is experienced and competent in shooting on film. However, with some of the solid arguments for using Super 16mm, it is once again becoming a viable option for indie filmmakers.

Recent films shot on Super 16mm or 16mm (partially or entirely)

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Black Swan
  • Fruitvale Station
  • Hurt Locker
  • Half Nelson
  • I’m Not There
  • The Wrestler
  • The Runaways
  • The Walking Dead (AMC Television Series)

Resource links

  • Raw­stock
  • 1-800­-821­-3456 (Kodak)
  • 1-888­-424-­3854 (Fuji)

Written by Freddie Kim

This post was originally published on February 4, 2014 and was updated on December 13, 2016.


A well constructed demo reel might be the key to your dream job.

Follow these tips to make sure yours stands out!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a demo reel is worth a million. An expertly crafted demo reel can quite literally kickstart your career if your resume is less than prolific. On the flip side, all it takes is a few seconds of poorly assembled footage for a producer to make a snap judgement and move on to other applicants. So what does it take to make a demo reel that will sell your skill?


You may be a jack-of-all-trades on set, but when it comes to your demo reel you should choose only one or two skills to focus on. Consider what sort of gigs you are hoping to gain with your reel, and what kind of footage you have on hand.

Take some time to really think about what kind of jobs you want to apply for. If you are trying to get hired as a extreme sports cinematographer, a reel that is composed entirely of subdued dramatic scenes may not be the best choice. That said, it doesn’t hurt to show versatility, so if you want to keep your options open, put together a sample platter of the different genres that you have worked in.


If you find yourself with more ambition than useable footage, then it may be time to get out there and get working. It might seem counterproductive to ask friends if you can volunteer on their indie projects when you’re trying to get paid work, but the truth is that you need good content to populate your reel. Another option is to make your own material, specifically for the reel. Good footage is good footage, and the most important thing is that you created it yourself.

InFocus Film School alumni Marina Caviglia’s reel. 


When you have enough material to start your editing process, it can be very difficult to choose exactly what you should use and what you should cut. If you find yourself with a seven minute mega-reel it may be a smart move to get someone else to edit for you. The truth is that many producers may only make it fifteen seconds into your reel before they decide to consider you for a job. With that in mind, a minute to a minute and a half is a great length for your reel.


Once you’ve got the initial cut of your reel together then it’s time to assemble your most honest friends and family members, and get them to give you some feedback. Ask them to specifically note which parts jumped out at them, and which they could have done without. Compare their notes, watch your reel again and re-edit. Repeat the process with some new participants, and then go tweak it a little more. Sit back at your computer and take a moment to celebrate your killer demo reel.

This process can seem a little daunting at first, but in order for you to establish yourself as a professional you have to make some pretty big strides. The film industry is extremely competitive, but if you’re willing to put in the extra effort to make your demo reel shine, then you are already on the right track to having a long and prosperous career.  

Stabilizing a DSLR Camera on a Budget

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.

How To Find Work In The Film Industry

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.



  1.  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.

You can find the list here.

  1. Learn How to Self-Promote

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.


  1.  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.

What Can We Learn From Silent Films In The Digital Age?

The Art of Visual Storytelling

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:



1. MONSTERS (2010)
Before Gareth Edwards was behind the helm of the reboot of Godzilla (2014) and the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) he directed, wrote, shot and created the visual effects for his breakout sci-fi indie film Monsters.

With a production budget of just under $15,000 the film was shot in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Texas with a crew so small that they were all able to drive together in a seven-passenger van. After picture lock Edwards spent five months working out of his studio apartment, where he created all 250 of the visual f/x shots using Adobe software, Autodesk 3ds Max and ZBrush.

2. Primer (2004)
When the topic of low budget sci-fi indie films comes up, it’s hard not to mention the absolute powerhouse that is Primer, a movie that Shane Carruth directed, produced, wrote, scored and starred in. During its 2004 debut it won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, alongside the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation prize.

With a shooting budget of $7,000, Carruth’s film tackled the notoriously difficult topic of time travel. While this concept is absolutely within the realm of science fiction, this portrayal has been praised for being represented in a down-to-earth manner that enforces a kind of realism that is not commonly seen in this genre.

3. The One I Love (2014)
Directed by Charlie McDowell (the son of Malcolm McDowell) and produced by mumblecore giants Jay and Mark Duplass, The One That I Love is a welcome homage to the classic sci-fi television series The Twilight Zone (1959–1964), taking an ordinary couple and dropping them into a bizarre ethical quandary.

With an estimated budget of $100,000 (aided perhaps by the fact that filming took place at the home of McDowell’s parents), this film is a reminder that sci-fi isn’t necessarily synonymous with battle in space, or giant monsters. A speculative concept can stay true to it’s science fiction heritage and be an incredibly powerful tool to understand human behavior.