InFocus Film School Blog

 

Want to get your short film funded?

Paul Armstrong shares his keys to a great pitch

Since 1999 the 8 day filmmaking challenge, aptly named the Crazy8s, has provided funding for nearly one hundred emerging filmmakers. Each year over one-hundred teams apply to the competition and six are awarded $1,000 and a production package that includes everything they need to make their film.

Paul Armstrong is an award-winning Vancouver producer, founder and programmer of the The Celluloid Social Club and the Executive Director of the Crazy8 filmmaking challenge. He provided some valuable insight for hopeful Crazy8s applicants who are considering entering this year’s competition.  

What are the most compelling qualities you look for in a filmmaker’s pitch?

PA: The most compelling qualities I look for in a filmmaker’s pitch are four fold:

  1. How original is the story and how well is it told. Does it have a beginning, middle and end? Is it more than just a series of action and plot points? What does it all add up to? Why is this story worth telling?
  2. How passionate is the pitcher about the story in giving their pitch? Without enthusiasm on their part it’s hard to instil that excitement to get this film made in the judges.
  3. Do I have the confidence that the filmmaker can pull off this film with the resources they have to make the film. Have they thought about the practicalities of creating their film?
  4. Does the story speak to me on a personal level – do I connect with it. Film is a communication device and is that working here?

Are there any genres or subjects that get pitched far too often?

PA: With Crazy8s we welcome all genres and subjects – it’s up to the filmmaker to find whatever vehicle works to tell their story. The final six films are usually a mixture of dramas, comedies and genre such as science fiction or horror. That said each year there seems to be a common theme among many of the pitches and that can count against them as the judges would only want a certain number on a similar theme but we never know what that is until we get the pitches.

What is the best way for a filmmaker to stand out from the crowd?

PA: One of the best ways for a filmmaker to stand out from the crowd is to create a brilliant story that we can’t but help to say yes to. The other is to be yourself and to express that uniqueness in your film. Don’t presume what we are looking for in terms of what was made in the past or what is currently trendy.

Another way of doing it is to make your actual pitch original by including a taste of the tone of the film in the pitch rather than just a talking head pitch, which is fine too.

What are some of the worst mistakes people make while pitching?

PA: Some of the worst mistakes people make while pitching is to pitch an underdeveloped story where maybe the end isn’t complete or there isn’t a story arc. In other words they haven’t conveyed to us why this story is worth telling over another one. Another mistake is that the pitcher doesn’t show enthusiasm or passion and they get too complacent.

Another mistake is that they forget to talk about themselves. We need to know who the pitcher is to gain confidence they can make the film. In addition some pitches are sometimes not polished enough. So be sure to rehearse your pitch and to fix any technical problems with it.

Stills From Crazy 8s FilmsThe Crazy8s Registration Deadline is November 2nd, 2016.

To find out more click HERE.

Boom Microphones vs. Lavaliers:

What’s the Best Recording Mic?

Sound is often the most overlooked aspect of production for unseasoned filmmakers. Compared to the excitement that goes hand-in-hand with selecting the camera, sound can be an afterthought: a single line on an already overwrought budget, packed with expenses that are much more immediately compelling than the eventual audio technician leaning over his mixing board.

The importance of clear, well recorded audio may not become apparent until after the shoot has been completed and the editor first sits downs, only to hear a cacophony of background chatter, overmodulation, and that car alarm that didn’t seem quite so loud when you were on location. Instead of planning to “fix it in post,” choose wisely when selecting your sound equipment for a sure-fire audio strategy.

LAVALIERS

These button-sized microphones are frequently seen in documentary productions, tucked into the lapel of an interview subject. Although they are fairly low profile they require a somewhat bulky transmitter, a black box the size of a pack of cards that can connect with or without a wire to the microphone, usually secured in the back pocket of the subject.

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While filming a dramatic production an unfortunate glimpse of the sound equipment is something to be avoided. But when used correctly there are several excellent uses for lavs in film.

  1. Wide Shots: When the shot is simply too wide to facilitate a boom but you would prefer not to use ADR to record dialogue, a lav will come in handy. Distance is an excellent camouflage for these mics that may easily be spotted in a close up shot.  
  2. Tricky Shots: Locations can prove challenging when it comes to finding a place to hang the boom. In these cases lavs may provide a solution for the tightest of spaces. With some careful placement, lavs can be rendered largely undetectable in a shot.
  3. Backup Audio: Sometimes location sound cannot be avoided, be it the drone of a helicopter that is hovering above your set, or the ceaseless siren that is cutting into your schedule. If you are able to hide the lav discreetly on the actor it can be used as a secondary source of audio for the editor to work with in post.

BOOMS / SHOTGUN MICS

The image of the pole-bearing boom operator is synonymous with film production. This method of capturing audio is made up of several working parts: a shotgun mic, the furry wind-shield cover (aptly nicknamed the ‘deadcat’) and the pole that these items are mounted on. The front of the mic is suspended above the subject just out of view of the camera, to capture dialogue.

 

booms-vs-mics-infocus-film-school

Although shotgun mics must be carefully monitored to ensure that the direction is correct and that the boom hasn’t dipped into frame, they are an extremely versatile method of audio recording that is seen on virtually every film set. The benefits of using a boom include:

  1. Full Control: While a rogue lav mic is impossible to fix without stopping a scene, a boom operator doesn’t have to interrupt the action to modify the position of his microphone.
  2. Freedom of Costume: lav mics can pick up the rustle of clothing, a sound that can render a recording unusable. Booms are a reliable way to record and do not require the subject to take special care with their clothing.
  3. Natural Audio: The sound that the boom picks up is superior to the lav in terms of natural tones. The ability to point the shotgun mic at the subject’s sternum instead of their mouth produces a more natural quality of recording.

Like every other element of filmmaking, sound recording will require some thought and preparation. Select the method of audio recording that works best with your budget and production, and if you’re able to, consider employing the use of each for the appropriate scenes in your film.

 

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By Robert Chomiak

 

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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40310Film 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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Film Production School

By Robert Chomiak

 

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

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 directing school

Filmmaking students benefit from training in all aspects of film

Acclaimed director and New York University Film Production graduate Ang Lee once said “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can never learn enough,”  and that’s especially true when it comes to film.

While internet tools and software have led to a rise in untrained and do-it-yourself (DIY) filmmaking in recent years, the benefits of a formal filmmaking education cannot be overstated, providing young directors, cinematographers, screenwriters, and other aspiring artists with the guidance and practical training they need to truly master their craft.

Many successful filmmakers agree, and a number of the most well-known and successful directors have gotten started at film school, using their years in education as a platform to develop their own unique artistic style and voice.

Read on to find out more about just three of the famous directors who attended film school, and how their studies have influenced their work.

Film Directing School Helped Robert Zemeckis Learn the Art of Visual Storytelling

As the Oscar-winning director behind ‘Forrest Gump,’ as well the beloved ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy, the last thing you’d probably expect Robert Zemeckis to direct would be a black-and-white silent film. But that’s exactly what he did while attending film directing school at USC, where one of his first pieces was a dialogue-free short called The Lift, which depicted a man’s struggle with an elevator.

It’s no coincidence that, like Zemeckis, a silent short is one of the first projects that students undertake when they pursue their film director school diploma at InFocus—a project which helps them learn to think visually and tell their story through pictures. Zemeckis has continued to recognize the importance of visual storytelling, particularly when using special effects, with critic David Thompson once remarking that, “No other contemporary director has used special effects to more dramatic and narrative purpose.”

Brian DePalma Explored Different Styles of Cinema at Film Director School

While he may have found fame directing crime dramas such as ‘Carlito’s Way’ and ‘Scarface,’ there’s always been a lot more to Brian DePalma’s filmmaking than meets the eye.

The director’s diverse filmography includes several more daring works, such as the psychological thriller ‘Dressed to Kill’ and the supernatural horror ‘Carrie,’ while even his more commercial offerings feature a number of unexpected stylistic elements that borrow from niche styles such as nouvelle vague and film noir.

There can be little doubt that his time studying film at Sarah Lawrence College in the sixties had a huge influence on his work, allowing him to explore a range of different filmmaking and cinematography styles.

When you enroll at a film directing school such as InFocus, you too will have the opportunity to try your hand in a wide variety of styles and areas of film.

Martin Scorsese Used Film Directing School to Hone His Unique Editing Style

The legendary Martin Scorsese graduated as a film major from NYU in 1960, and has long been a fierce advocate of the benefits of a filmmaking education, stating in 2011 that “I find that the excitement of a young student or filmmaker can get me excited again. I like showing them things and seeing how their minds open up, seeing the way their response then gets expressed in their own work.”

Many of Scorsese’s film director school projects are still available online today, with shorts such as ‘What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?’ displaying a number of the stylistic elements that Scorsese would eventually make his own, most notably the staccato editing style he uses in films like ‘Raging Bull,’ as well as the frequent use of voiceover, which can be seen in Scorsese classics like ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Goodfellas.’

Interested in attending film director school in BC?

Vancouver is home to a thriving film industry

Vancouver is home to a thriving film industry

Is there a better place to shoot a movie than Vancouver? With its versatile cityscape, beautiful forestry and mountain surrounds, and temperate climate, the city provides the perfect backdrop for almost any story you want to tell. Filmmakers seem to agree, with the city currently ranked as the third largest production centre for film and television in North America, earning the nickname ‘Hollywood North.’

For film production students, this thriving industry is a tremendous advantage. There is regular work available for editors, cinematographers, visual effects specialists and other industry professionals in the hundreds of productions that are filmed in the city every year, as well as in the many permanent studios located throughout the Greater Vancouver Area.

If you’re a film student based in Vancouver, it’s very likely that you’ve seen a movie that was shot in your hometown, even if you didn’t recognize it. Here are a few of the diverse range of productions that have called the city home.

1. ‘X-Men: Last Stand’: Blockbusters Provide Hundreds of Jobs for Movie School Grads

The third instalment of the popular superhero franchise used a number of well-known locations within the city during filming, including the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Art Gallery, as well as nearby sites like Hatley Castle and Golden Ears Provincial Park.

Some scenes in X-Men: Last Stand were shot in Golden Ears Provincial Park

Some scenes in X-Men: Last Stand were shot in Golden Ears Provincial Park

Blockbuster action movies like ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ typically require extremely large film crews with hundreds of specialized professionals, creating valuable employment opportunities for students that graduate from a movie school in Vancouver.

2. Horror Fans in Movie School Might Find ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ Familiar

If horror fans enrolled in movie school find the unspoilt forest scenery in ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ eerily familiar, there’s a reason for that. This critically acclaimed 2012 slasher movie was filmed almost entirely in or around Vancouver, with the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Aerospace Technology Campus also featuring heavily in exterior shots during the film.

3. ‘50 Shades of Grey’: How Movie School Graduates Helped Create a Box Office Smash

While the film might divide opinion, there’s no denying the success of ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ which took in over $215 million at the box office, breaking the record for the highest grossest opening weekend for a female-directed film. Scenes were shot in many Vancouver locations students might recognize, including Gastown, Coal Harbour, and Oceanic Plaza.

50 Shades of Grey used Gastown as a shooting location

50 Shades of Grey used Gastown as a shooting location

4. Students in Movie Production School Could Work on Indie Hits Like ‘Juno’

This offbeat indie comedy about a pregnant teenage girl earned widespread critical acclaim and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2007. Shooting took place in various locations around BC – locals might recognize Eric Hamber Secondary School and the Hanna Medical Clinic in key scenes.

Despite its low budget and simple premise, the production crew for Juno still numbered well over 100, again demonstrating the numerous opportunities for trained Vancouver filmmakers to find work in a wide range of productions.

5. How Vancouver Made ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ Possible

Another big budget action movie with a large crew, ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ used Vancouver to double for several international locations, including Seattle, San Francisco, and even Budapest. Students will find the clever shooting techniques used to transform local streets well worth studying as an example of advanced cinematography.

Interested in a career in filmmaking in ‘Hollywood North’?

Find out more about attending movie production school in BC!