“Film is what brought me to Vancouver and then I got distracted by many other things in life that eventually brought me back to film again – so its like a big circle!”
Renee’s “many other things” include traveling in Australia where she discovered scuba diving and a love for the ocean. A self-described mermaid, when Renee returned to Vancouver after traveling in Australia, she managed a dive shop on Granville Island for two years.
Her primary goal coming to InFocus was to create documentary films that inform people of the danger and consequences of mistreating the ocean and the environment. But through her studies with InFocus, her methods have evolved.
As Renee puts it, writing her short film PlastyQuaderBottle “really opened my eyes…I could do something with the message of environmentalism, that I’d like to convey in documentaries, [by] writing it into a fictional story…I never even considered that I could do fiction or drama while still conveying the meaningful messages I wanted to.”
Renee’s enthusiasm for film hasn’t diminished since her arrival to study in Vancouver. But now her filmmaking has a purpose and a message that must be shared – and InFocus is giving her the skills to do that. “I feel now, with the tools I’ve learned [at InFocus], I can make documentaries that carry a message that is important to me…while at the same time, I can apply the creative techniques I’ve also learned, using lighting and camera movement, to meld typical documentary methods with something beautiful and cinematic.”
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It’s a beautiful, crisp autumn day in Vancouver and at InFocus Film School our Foundation Film Program, a six month filmmaking intensive, is now in session.
In honour of our class of new students who have travelled to the Pacific Northwest from all around the world, here are five tips on how to become a better filmmaker, and unleash your inner cinematic genius:
1) Recognize the Importance of Play
As children, we could dip our hands into a carton of paint and smear it on a canvas without much thought to what our soon-to-be-masterpiece would become. The worry of whether or not our work was any good is something that came much later in life, and it can be detrimental to the creative process.
If you find yourself stuck on a particular idea, or in a never ending struggle with perfectionism, take a moment to consider how you might approach your work if you were eight years old. Trust your impulses, put a pin in ideas, move past them when you get stuck, and do your best to practice openness.
2) Make Weekend Movies
It can be tempting to wait until conditions are perfect to start making films– when you have a generous budget, top-of-the-line cinematography equipment and seasoned actors. The truth is, is that money and technology are never a good substitute for talent and experience.
Grab your cellphone, a DSLR or even that old camcorder that is buried in your garage and start making movies. Enlist some friends to help out, operating the camera, dressing a location or standing in as actors. Remember that these films don’t have to be exceptional, but they should contain something in them that you feel represents your point of view, or your sense of humour.
3) Watch Bad Films
It may seem counterintuitive to include b-movies in your film studies, but they’re not only very entertaining – they can also teach you a lot about film production and story structure.
From cliched dialogue to overdone movie tropes, these films can act as a visual textbook on what not to do in your own cinematic endeavours. Use these as a guide to the mistakes many filmmakers make, and you’ll become better at identifying these issues in your own work.
4) Don’t Take it Personally
Here’s the truth behind creativity — as you’re working towards mastering your craft, you’re going to have to work through a whole mess of mediocrity. The films you make in the beginning of your career aren’t always going to look how you want them to — in some cases you’re going to feel the impulse to trash an entire project after the final cut.
In order to become a better filmmaker you’re going to have to keep practicing, filming, writing and putting your work out there. Don’t look at your limitations as if they are a direct reflection of your worth as a person. Take pride in your dedication to improve as a creative talent.
The most important thing you can do to continually nurture your creativity and skill is to keep making things. Write alone, or write with a partner. Recruit friends to meet up once a week and spend the afternoon filming. Edit that footage on your computer. Find other people who are making their own films, and help them with their productions.
Creativity is a muscle. To strengthen it, you must work on it daily. In order to become a masterful filmmaker you will need the ambition to succeed, the practice to refine your skill and the dedication to push yourself towards greatness.
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Nearly fifty years ago George Romero changed the landscape of the indie horror films forever with his debut feature Night of the Living Dead. This tradition has continued as emerging directors have used horror to launch their careers, consistently breathing new life into the genre—from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1980) to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
This generation introduces a new wave of indie horror films that play with cultural influences, horror clichés and self-awareness within their work. Here are ten indie horror films that are redefining fear.
The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Budget: $2 million
Summary: The Babadook is about a troubled young boy and his mother, who find themselves tormented by a nightmarish creature that appears in their home via a mysterious pop-up children’s book. Following the film’s release, William Friedkin, the legendary director of The Exorcist, announced: “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film.”
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Director: Eli Craig
Writer: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Budget: $2 million
Summary: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is an incredibly entertaining twist of perspective, following two hapless rednecks that are mistaken for backwoods killers by a group of preppy college kids. This film is a romp in ‘meta-horror’ territory, slashing its way through tropes and emerging covered in blood and gore and a whole lot of heart.
Director: Patrick Brice
Writer: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Summary: Creep is unlike anything you’ve seen before: a mumblecore found footage endeavour that treads the water between comedy and psychological horror. Director/writer Patrick Brice plays a naive videographer who answers a cryptic online ad, and begins documenting the charming and increasingly unhinged Mark Duplass, who produced and co-wrote the film. This film truly a testament to what two people can do with talent, a camera and a rubber wolf mask.
The Orphanage (2007)
Director: J.A. Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez
Budget: $4 million
Summary: If you prefer your horror films to come with a pedigree, rest assured that The Orphanage not only opened at the Cannes Film Festival, but also received a ten-minute standing ovation from the audience. The film centers on a woman who moves her family into the orphanage that she grew up in, her hopes to reopen it abruptly halted when her son goes missing under mysterious circumstances.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall
Budget: $2 million
Summary: Before director Neil Marshall released his critically acclaimed feature The Decent (2005), he first tested the waters of horror with Dog Soldiers, a film that wholeheartedly celebrates the low-budget comedy-horror genre. In the Scottish Highlands a group of soldiers is forced to barricade themselves in a farmhouse and fight off a wave of bloodthirsty werewolves.
Summary: A disarmingly funny genre-twisting film that opens with a man’s aggressive attempt to help detox his meth-addicted best friend, and switches gear when a mysterious entity begins targeting them. Exploring a barrage of classic horror-film clichés, Resolution is a breath of fresh air for those who feel they have thoroughly OD’d on the genre.
Lake Mungo (2008)
Director: Joel Anderson
Writer: Joel Anderson
Budget: $1 million
Summary: Presented as a faux-documentary about the death and secretive live of a sixteen year old girl, Lake Mungo feels like something you might stumble across while watching late night television, blurring the line between reality and nightmare. This is a gem of a horror film that blends the complexity of grief, memory and the afterlife.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Budget: $1 million
Summary: The critically acclaimed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a stylish cross-cultural black-and-white feast for the eyes that can be summed up by its tagline, ‘The first Iranian Vampire Western’. The result is a film that was clearly made with excitement, passion and a true love of the cinema.
Director: Leigh Janiak
Writer: Phil Graziadei, Leigh Janiak
Budget: $1 Million USD
Summary: A newlywed couple finds their brief marital bliss shattered when the bride begins sleepwalking and acting increasingly erratic. This film plays on the very relatable anxiety that goes along with intimacy and commitment, taking it to a chilling extreme.
The Loved Ones (2009)
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Budget: $4 million
Summary: A future cult classic, The Loved Ones feels like an absolutely horrific mashup of Carrie (1976) and Misery (1990). When a socially awkward young woman is turned down for a date to the prom by the high school heartthrob, she and her father take things into their own hands to give her the night that she so desperately desires.
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Tonight I left the movie theatre wishing the directing and writing credit had my name instead of the name Sanna Lenken. It’s one of a handful of narcissistic fantasies that every filmmaker experiences. It’s how I felt after seeing the early works of Todd Solendz. “My Skinny Sister,” is a Swedish drama about a pudgy neglected twelve year old girl who witnesses her older sister’s ongoing struggles with figure skating and anorexia.
A triangle emerges as red headed tween Stella, (Rebecka Josephson, granddaughter of Bergman regular Erland Josephson), falls for her sister Katja’s forty-something skating coach. The lengthy dialogue scenes have moments of magic as Stella is a resourceful liar who can lie beautifully in a pinch. Her genius lies directed to both her parents and the chiseled skating coach are the only laugh-out-loud moments in this sobering film.
Obviously talent is abundant for this young actor whose understated performance includes a variety of brooding stares and giggling meltdowns. She has the unenviable task of her viewing her sister’s skating demise while keeping silent for fear of betrayal. The scenes unravel slowly with minimal cuts and the close-up stares are Bergmanesque. Most appealing about this film are Lenken’s storytelling choices: the anorexia breakdown is less relevant than the story of a young sister trying to behave like an older wiser sister. In this textured portrait of sister envy, not everything is solved, but a certain raven haired adolescent ends up with an awkward life affirming kiss.
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I just saw my first VIFF film, “Vincent”, a minimalist comedy from France. Director-performer Thomas Salvador plays Vincent, a sinewy introverted construction labourer who exhibits supernatural powers. When he is wet he swims butterfly faster than a motorboat and can power-lift a cement mixer but when he is dry he is an unassuming labourer.
Vincent’s prowess in the pool impresses Lucie (Vimala Pons) his beautiful girl-next-door love interest (think Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island). His scorching love scene with her is memorable for the camera angles that reveal everything and nothing all in the same shot. But their romance goes nowhere; she’s in the script just to give witness to his abilities. Vincent’s impulsive petty crime puts him at odds with the law.
This laconic comedy works best when Vincent finds water in the most unlikely settings. When running from police a splash in a culvert can mean a huge escape advantage. Salvador is a gifted stylist with the ability dazzle his audience with breathtaking rocky coastal waterscapes and memorable French sex. This is an elegant Superman tale without the righteous overwrought victories that litter Hollywood films.
The 77 minute debut film may have worked better as a 19min short as the story feels shallow, and flounders with lack of purpose. However “Vincent” is pleasing to watch for it’s cinematic craft from a nascent auteur who will no doubt soar with better material. And if I may be shallow as well, Thomas Salvador’s smouldering good looks don’t hurt the film either.
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Amy Schumer mined her stand up routine to write Trainwreck. Directed by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Forty-Year-Old Virgin), the film also stars Schumer as her namesake, Amy, a sexually ravenous pot-head who writes for a breezy magazine geared to the sports addicted, adult male. Her story assignment is a sports doctor (Bill Hader) who has gained fame by surgically repairing famous athletes’ joints, limbs and tendons. For unknown reasons he hasn’t had sex in five years. The film is a spoof on the uncommitted reckless bachelor meets good girl story but this time around the genders are switched: it is Amy who fears intimacy.
Can she commit? This is the central dilemma. From the outset you can see where the film is going. There are a few memorable chuckles especially relating to Amy’s fear of intimacy. She never sleeps overnight and hates spooning. “I am exiting this hug,” she says when a group hug feels creepy.
The film should be lauded for inverting male-female relationship stereotypes but the broad sketch comedy style relies on finding gags rather letting Amy find poignant moments naturally. Perhaps Lena Dunham (Girls), Apatow’s other lustrous protégé, would have fared better with this material. The movie is consumed in the way that one devours a bucket of fried chicken—a guilty pleasure, enjoyable for the moment, but difficult to embrace as the full meal. At times it feels more like Saturday Night Live schtick than a subversive rom-com with memorable anti-heroine who almost commits.
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Let’s say you’ve just graduated film school. You’ve managed to convince investors (AKA your parents) to give you $5000 to start your career. What equipment should you buy for your film kit?
There is really no right answer in this category, it all depends on what you’ll be shooting and your personal preference. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a camera unless you’re sure it will pay for itself. While REDs and other high-end cameras may be alluring, going the DSLR route is definitely a much better choice for beginners.
Panasonic AF100A: $2000
Panasonic GH4: $1700
Canon 7Dii: $1500
Canon 70D: $1000
Olympus E-M5 II: $1000
If you know what to look for and are comfortable going second hand, this is the area to do it, but don’t cheap out! Your glass is honestly more important than the camera behind it. The focal lengths you choose will depend on the sensor size of your camera, but I would recommend getting a couple good zooms and 24mm and 50mm equivalent primes.
A good set of sticks with a fluid head is another essential for any filmmaker. Manfrotto is the standard but can get quite pricey so shop around. Pay attention to the load capacity and make sure you’re not going to exceed it. The Manfrotto 190X3 is great if you have a DSLR, but put a video camera on it and you’ll quickly pass the 8 lb. limit. Expect to pay $300-$500 for a decent set of legs. I also keep a cheap photo tripod for use in sand, mud and other environments that might be damaging.
You’ll need at least a shotgun mic for shooting with a DSLR, but a couple of lavalieres are a good investment as well. If you’ll be doing dramatic shooting you’ll probably need wireless lavs, but for interviews I love my Sony ECM-77s. The good thing with mics is that if you treat them right, they’ll last forever, so don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money here. Don’t forget to budget for a recorder and some cables as well.
Lighting, shoulder rigs, extra batteries, data storage… you could easily spend your entire budget again on accessories and specialized equipment. Ask yourself what you’ll be shooting the most and prioritize your shopping list based on that. Will you be doing a lot of corporate work? Then you’ll probably want a good lighting kit. Dramatic projects? Maybe you can get away with homemade lighting and some C-stands and a field monitor are a better choice. Get what you need before getting what you want.
Here’s what I would buy. As most of my experience is with Canon, that’s what I’m sticking with. I do more doc projects than drama, so I kept that in mind, and built a kit that works for corporate jobs as well.
Keep in mind there are always rebates and other deals that you can find. With those I might be able to knock another couple hundred off my final price.
Camera and Lenses
Canon 7Dii w/ kit lens: $1800
Canon 18-135 3.5-5.6: Included
Canon 24-70 2.8 (Used): $1000
Canon 50 1.8 (Used): $80
Canon 28 1.8 (Used): $350
Manfrotto 190X3: $300
Røde NTG2 Shotgun Kit: $250
Shock Mount: Included
1.5’ XLR: Included
Sony ECM-77 Lav: $280
Zoom H4N: $200
20’ XLR: $15
Lowel Pro-Visions Light Kit: $450
Extra LP-E6 Battery: $35
32GB SD Card (x2): $60
Pelican 1510 Hard Case: $165
Total cost: $4985
Go shoot some films and make your parents investors proud!
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Amy, the documentary about the tortured British singer Amy Winehouse is an unimaginative power-point not worthy of a theatrical release.
Acclaimed director Asif Kapadiea’s modern day tragedy features old grainy photos of the young impulsive Amy Winehouse and her family villains, especially her dad, who fail to notice the severity of her pain.
Winehouse with her unruly beehive hairdo, Egyptian eyeliner and tiny frame is a brilliant subject who doesn’t want to sound or look anything like her music contemporaries. She weathers mental illness, romantic break-ups, bulimia, drunken performances and the onslaught of flashbulbs from the ravenous paparazzi.
As fucked up as Amy is, she can actually write and the music continues to pour freely leading to Grammys and world acclaim. After her break-through single Rehab, she tours packed stadiums, parties with her boyfriend and ultimately does a stint in rehab, something her father Mitch advises against until she is too far gone.
Although blessed with a unique sound, the trappings of world wide celebrity, the tabloids and her descent into addiction feel all too familiar. Even her soulful live performances are squandered and truncated in favour of dullard talking-head observations by musical collaborators. There is not much new here that has been that has been also already been documented on E-talk!
Save your money and buy her music so you can to listen to her haunting lyrics and savour her bluesy emotional inflections in songs like “Back to Black”, that are deliberately a semi-tone or two off key. Her music, unlike this biopic, leaves more to the imagination.
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Filmmaking can be expensive. So how does a filmmaker straight out of school afford all the fancy gear that they’ve been taught to use? One option for handy filmmakers is to make it themselves. There are plenty of DIY projects out there on the web, here are a few that we’ve highlighted, either because they’re super easy, ridiculously cheap, or amazingly handy.
The Itsy Bitsy Slider
A few tools, a camera plate, and a free sample kit from Igus are all you need to make this mini slider. Great for small, subtle movements, it proves size isn’t always everything. Plus, if you have a spare camera plate it’s completely free! Get the Igus “Mini Sample Kit” here.
Not the easiest build, but at under $50 this jib/shoulder rig is definitely worth the effort. Be sure to check out the description in the Youtube video to get the full list of supplies.
$50 too much for you? How about $20? This Jib made by Chad Bredahl of Krotoflik, the same mind behind the RotoRig, is a stupid cheap, super effective crane.
The Dual Shoulder Mount
If you’re like me, you’ll find most shoulder rigs to be ridiculously overpriced. Clocking in at only $25, that can’t be said for this handy tool from Film Riot.
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While the director may be the big fish on set, to be an assistant director you need to be a shark.
A film set models its hierarchy after the military, and as the highest “below the line” role, the 1st AD is like the commander. Starting in pre-production they break down the script and plan and schedule the shoot.
Once the film goes to picture, the AD runs the set. Acting as a communications hub they ensure the shoot remains organised, safe, and on time. Responsible for the smooth execution of the production, being an AD is easily one of the most stressful jobs on set, but if you can handle it, it can be extremely rewarding.
Interested in the role? Here are six tips for succeeding as an AD:
Don’t slack off in pre-production. Prep is the most vital aspect of having your shoot run smoothly. Did you plan enough time for lunch? If you have a company move, did you account for traffic? Be prepared to spend as much time planning the schedule as you will spend on set.
Communicate. Speak loudly and clearly and listen closely to what others are telling you. Be sure everyone knows what is happening, ask questions if there is uncertainty, and don’t be scared to be the bad guy if someone isn’t doing their job.
Be organized and well prepared. Always think several steps ahead. Have extra copies of the script, call sheets, and any other important documents available.
Be confident but not cocky. Be firm with your orders and confident in your decisions, but always listen to advice and criticism. Arrogance is the fastest way to get your crew to lose respect for you.
Respect your crew. Don’t talk down to anyone, put a stop to any gossip, and most important, don’t micro-manage. Your crew members are (hopefully) professionals hired to do a job. Let them do it.
Have a sense of humour. Film sets are stressful environments and it’s your job to keep the crew from getting overwhelmed. Humour is a great tool to lift spirits and keep the set productive.
Thanks to InFocus’ assistant directing instructor Rosalee Yagihara for her help with this article.
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