InFocus Film School Blog

 

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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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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!

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Film students undertake a diverse range of projects

Whether you’re a globally successful director or a highly specialized production crew member, one of the most important attributes you can have as a professional in the film industry is adaptability. Being able to apply your talents to a number of different types of film can help you secure steady work, grow as a professional and continue to thrive creatively as your career progresses.

It’s no coincidence that adaptability is also an attribute many film school graduates possess. Learning the theory of filmmaking, as well as training in technical areas such as cinematography and editing, gives students a solid foundation of knowledge which can be applied to almost any project.

What’s more, practically oriented schools like InFocus give students plenty of chances to develop their skills, with a series of portfolio projects in a number of different formats.

1. Filmmaking College Students Learn the Language of Cinema through Silent Films

The original form of cinema, silent film is one the first projects students undertake, and also one of the most crucial in developing their cinematography skills. By conveying a story without the use of dialogue, filmmaking college students learn the fundamental film principle of “showing not telling” in their work, while gaining a more solid understanding of the visual dynamics of film.

2. Learn Documentary Filmmaking from Acclaimed Instructors

The documentary is one of the most powerful and dynamic forms of filmmaking, and has been used as a tool by respected filmmakers the world over to highlight important societal issues, present pivotal moments in history, and shine a light on unique cultures and personalities.

When learning the art of documentary filmmaking, InFocus students are encouraged to take dramatic risks with their films, infusing their work with their own individual creative style, often with exciting and rewarding results.

For example, check out this recent documentary ‘Mars Barb’ by InFocus student Milena Salazar, which documented the efforts of a local Vancouver woman to be accepted onto the Mars One mission.

And while students in filmmaking courses are given plenty of creative freedom to find their own style, they also pick up tricks from a number of instructors who are experienced documentary makers, such as Julia Ivanova, whose acclaimed film ‘Family Portrait in Black and White’ was named Best Canadian feature at Hot Docs 2011.

3. Cinema Verite: Capture a Piece of Real Life at Filmmaking College

A form of documentary often referred to as ‘fly on the wall,’ cinema verite aims to capture real life in the rawest form possible, eschewing storytelling devices like narration in order to present events as they unfold. A dynamic and unpredictable form of filmmaking that can be done with minimal equipment, the style is often incorporated into other forms of film, including fiction, where elements of the form can be seen in films like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘mockumentary’ TV shows like The Office.

Check out this example of a Cinema Verite project by student Stan Huang:

4. Test Your Filmmaking Skills with a Music Video

Developing interesting visuals to accompany a song can be a fun explorative process for creative filmmakers, who often incorporate a wide variety of cinematography techniques, genres, and visual sequences into the project. Not only that, but a music video project can form a vital part of your portfolio, showcasing your technical talent, and helping you secure work once you finish your course.

Looking for a filmmaking college in Vancouver?

Visit InFocus Film School for more information!

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There are many career options for film school graduates

Many passionate movie fans dream of a career in the film and television industry, but never pursue the idea. They tell themselves that it’s too competitive, or too unstable, or that only a select few are able to find steady work. These kinds of doubts are all too common, and lead to thousands of potentially brilliant filmmakers giving up before they’ve even started.

In reality, however, a career in film is far more practical than you think. A typical production employs hundreds of trained professionals for specific, specialized roles in sound, visual, and production crews, each playing an important role in bringing an idea to life.

What’s more, prospective filmmakers based in Vancouver—the third largest film production centre in North America—can expect a steady stream of regular work, with hundreds of productions taking place each year.

If you want to find secure work in a business you love, read on to learn more about the many options available.

1. Picture Your Career as a Camera Operator after Film Production School

Have an eye for interesting and original visuals? A career as a camera operator could be for you. A big-budget production can have more than 50 people in its camera crew, with many entry level roles available, such as camera assistants and camera trainees. Working closely with the director, these highly trained professionals help to create a unique visual style for the film, carefully crafting each individual shot.

Camera operators also need to be familiar with a variety of different shooting styles, making it an ideal role for film production school graduates, who gain experience by working on a variety of different portfolio projects, such as documentaries, music videos, and commercials.

2. Use Your Film Production Training to Make the Cut as an Editor

Being an editor requires a wealth of technical knowledge and excellent attention to detail, as you work to craft all the scenes from a film together to ensure the project comes together seamlessly as a coherent whole.

It’s not an easy task, but your film production training and project work will provide you with extensive practical editing experience, while the small class sizes at schools like InFocus mean that each student gets the individual attention they need from instructors to truly hone their craft.

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Editors help make sure a film comes together as a whole

3. Script Readers: For Film Production Students with a Passion for Storytelling

More interested in the storytelling aspects of film? Don’t worry, there are plenty of roles to suit your talents. For example, script readers are often employed by production companies and public funding bodies to assess screenplays they receive, providing detailed reports and story breakdowns to help determine whether a script is suitable for production.

4. Script Supervisor: The Ideal Role for a Film Production School Graduate?

A unique role that requires both screenwriting and cinematography expertise, script supervisors work with the camera crew to ensure they get all the shots they need to bring a script to life, as well as keeping written and photographic records of individual shots to ensure continuity. Because the role requires comprehensive knowledge of filmmaking theory, film school graduates are often considered ideal candidates for script supervisor positions.

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Script supervisors help ensure continuity

Interested in finding out about even more great careers for graduates of film production courses?

Contact InFocus Film School for more details!