InFocus Film School Blog

 

Little Budget, Big Impact: Creating An Affordable and Enticing Story

Sex Lies and Videotape low budget independent film

by Johnny Papan

 

When it comes to modern day cinema, there are a few key elements that will make or break the chances of your film getting made. One of the most important: money. With the millions upon millions of dollars it costs to produce a movie, it’s no surprise that dollar signs light up in the eyes of investors for some kind of financial return when considering a screenplay. There seems to be a formula in this day and age that will justify a movie turning profit, a few of them being:

 

  1. It’s based off a work that already exists and therefore has an established fanbase.
  2. There are elements of unworldliness or fantasy.
  3. A well known actor or director is attached to the project.

 

For all the Hollywood big-wigs this is fine and dandy. They’re established professionals who’ve earned the right to unnecessarily blow stuff up on camera for cash. But what about the unknown up-and-comers? With each passing day, it’s getting harder and harder for the average writer to get a producer to even look at their script, much less actually consider putting money into it. There are plenty of tips and tricks any filmmaker can implement to try and get themselves and their work noticed, but the most important element of all is still the story.

Read more

The Forced Evolution of Romance Films

The Notebook kiss with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams by Henry Kulick

 

There’s no genre of film that’s undergone more transformation than the romance genre. From the early days of Hollywood, romance has intertwined its way into almost every story in some way, but the films that were dedicated to the harrowing journey of romance helped make the industry what it is today. Even with such an illustrious past, if you were to scour the charts for the one-hundred highest-grossing box office films of all time, it’s a list that’s almost devoid of romance films.

 

Except for Titanic. We’ll always have Titanic.

 

It may not be completely fair to gauge romance films against summer blockbusters. With the introduction of the money-printing superhero genre and the modernization of the big-budget adventure tale, most romance films shouldn’t be expected to outsell these box-office dominators. Even with that in mind, box office numbers for those specific genres–romantic comedy and romantic drama are still dominated by films that released in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Why is that?

Read more

Student Academy Award Winners: Where Are They Now?

Student Academy Awards

By Christopher McKittrick

 

Academy Awards aren’t just for established, working filmmakers — why not win one while still in film school?

The Student Academy Awards (originally named the Student Film Awards) is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award ceremony recognizing excellence in student films.

Though there’s an extensive list of rules to apply for the competition, students should consider submitting their work to the Student Academy Awards because the field is only open to film school students – unlike festivals, which are open to the general public. Also unlike festivals, there is no entry fee to submit. Most importantly, many winners have had subsequent professional success in film and television. As a result, the Student Academy Awards are closely watched by the industry for upcoming talent.

The number of awards and their specific names have changed significantly over the years. Today there are four main categories: Narrative (named “Dramatic” until 1999), Animation, Documentary, and Alternative. There are also International Awards for the Narrative, Animation, and Documentary categories.

Here’s how three of the most notable winners in each of the Narrative/Dramatic, Animation, and Documentary categories went from their earlier success to acclaimed careers in entertainment:

Read more

The Auteur Theory & Why You Should Become An Auteur Filmmaker

Director Stanley Kubrick grew out of the Auteur Theory

by Ryan Uytdewilligen

 

In the history of cinema, the grand legends most cinema buffs point to as their master source for inspiration are auteur filmmakers. From Scorsese to Kubrick, Lynch to Burton, Kurosawa to Mallick, the same names generally pop up over and over again for a reason. They have a pure cinematic identity that radiates through all of their work, whether it’s a repetitive setting or a reoccurring theme.

 

You know when you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie because he has his team of regulars (like Owen Wilson and Bill Murray) on display while his wild pallet of bright colours easily identifies it as a wacky, almost surreal, universe only he could create. Because he’s so good at getting his vision across, people keep coming back for more.

 

That is the sign of the auteur filmmaker: creative control for a personal end product that resonates with the zeitgeist.

Read more

Calling All Screenwriters: Hollywood is Going to be in Desperate Need of Original Scripts

the fifth movie of the Transformers franchise - Transformers 5 The Last KnightBy Henry Kulick

 

The reboot “boom” is headed towards a crash but original scripts aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

 

As Hollywood sinks its teeth into the early weeks of the 2017 summer box-office barrage, they do so with some apprehension. Insiders in the industry predict that this summer’s ticket sales (bookending around Labor Day) could be the lowest it’s been in a decade.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many. Looking back, and then ahead, 2017 is filled with instalments to franchises that have existed for decades. In April, we saw the release of the eighth Fast and the Furious movie, which claimed to be the final title in the series but only time will tell.

With nothing but adaptations and sequels taking center stage and garnering less than years past, it seems that trusted franchises, once capable of driving people to the theatre, may beginning to go a bit stale.

Read more

Assistant Directors: The Unsung Heroes of the Film Industry

Assistant Director / Assistant Directors on a film production set

By Johnny Papan

 

If films were the human body, you could deliberate that producers are the brains, writers and directors are the heart, cinematographers are the eyes, sound designers are the ears, and production designers are the lips that tell a story with decoration. These key creatives are the head of the anatomy that is a film crew.

 

But every well-functioning anatomy needs that core piece that connects and communicates with the entire nervous system. When it comes to filmmaking, this piece is the Assistant Director (A.D.), the spine of the production team.

 

“Without a good first A.D., your movie falls to pieces. I feel like you could
probably run a set better with a good first A.D. and no director
than a good director and no A.D.”

Natalie Portman, indiewire.com

Read more

5 Tips on How to Choose the Best Film School

film school students working a camera

If you’ve made the decision to pursue a career in the film industry, you have a lot of interesting years ahead of you. But before you can jump into award-winning positions on set, you need to start with a film school.

Choosing the best film school for you can be a daunting process, but if you can find one that gives you the most experience and education for your dollar and time, then it’s worth the investment in your future as a filmmaker.

Read more

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

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

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

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

 
 
SO WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT DRONES?
 

  1. More Affordable

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

  1. Safer

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

 

  1. Saves Time

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

 

  1. More Flexible

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

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

 

 

AN UNEXPECTED EXAMPLE

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

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

 

 

DRONE SAFETY AND REGULATIONS

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

References for the Bulletin and regulations:

ACTSafeBC – UAS (Drone) Safety Bulletin

Transport Canada – Rules for the safe use of Drones

 

 

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

Introducing Our Compositing Program & VFX Diploma Program

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

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) VFX breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications for both programs are now open and intake is for Fall of 2017. The VFX Diploma Program will begin in Spring of 2018. Please contact us for more information on costs and course details.

 

Violence and Weapons Safety for Films

Bruce Willis fires a weapon in Die Hard

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

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

 

  1. Blanks Can Kill

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

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

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

 

  1. Have a Police Officer On Set

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

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

 

  1. Only Hire Qualified Weapons Handlers

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

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

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

 

  1. Never Lose a Weapon

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

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

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

 

  1. Hold Safety Meetings

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

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

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

 

  1. Give Actors Ample Time to Train

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

 

  1. Consider Using “Non-guns”

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

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

 

  1. Nobody But The Armourer or Trained Actors Handles Weapons

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

 

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