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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.

After Film School: A Guide to Employment in the Film Industry

Filmmaker working a camera

So you’ve graduated film school and the future is exciting but intimidating. You’re not sure where to start. What’s next? What’s the job market like? How do you find work in the film industry?

 

Optimizing Your Resume & Portfolio

Before you start sending out your resume and demo reel, consider tailoring your portfolio to reflect a specialization. Ideally, you’ll have gravitated towards a certain field during your time in school. By tailoring your portfolio, you’ll be cutting out irrelevancies and emphasizing your expertise in your chosen specialization.

 

The Job Market

British Columbia is one of the top places to be for anyone looking to work in the film industry.

The Vancouver Economic Commission estimates over 40,000 people work in film, full and part-time, in BC. Known as Hollywood North, BC is the third largest production centre in North America, with a constant flow of work from American studios and networks due to tax credits and the favourable Canadian dollar.

 

Where to Look

If BC is a film production haven, where do you find work? Some production jobs are listed, but many aren’t. Here are some places to look:

  1. Facebook pages
    • There are many Facebook pages dedicated to hiring independent filmmakers. Filmmakers will create their own community for hiring purposes.
  2. Networking
    • Introverts, strap on your social face! Filmmakers network intensely. Take a look at Women in Film and Television in Vancouver, DOC BC, Celluloid Social Club, Cold Reading Club, etc. Projects often arise from like minds finding a mutual passion. These jobs may never be advertised.
  3. Craigslist
    • Check out the Gigs and Production Jobs sections on Craigslist. These jobs are well paid, but beware of listings that ask if you are “adventurous”—it might be the porn industry!
  4. Job Boards
    • One search on job boards like Indeed.com will bring up many listings for compositors and other VFX positions.
  5. The Union Department
    • The Union department is the pool of eligible labour that big feature films and TV series will pull from. The unions control access to these jobs to ensure large producers have trained and qualified crew members. Once a student has met the union criteria, they’re often placed in a “hiring hall system.” This is why you don’t see these jobs advertised.

 

Doomed to PA?

As you look through these resources, you might be thinking: I’ve got the knowledge, the skills. I’ve made movies before. Do I still have to start as a PA?

It depends. There are two types of filmmakers: those on smaller, independent projects and those on larger scale feature films and TV shows.

On smaller, independent projects (such as documentaries, music videos, corporate videos, and commercials), film school graduates can step directly into higher qualified positions and begin at a higher professional level. They often start their own companies right away and pitch for development funds or jobs. If their film gains recognition (e.g., through awards or festival screenings), graduates can then swiftly move up the production hierarchy.

Working on independent projects means you have greater creative freedom and control. You have more power over what the final product looks like.

On larger scale feature films and TV shows, graduates are often required to start at entry-level positions because these are unionized. It might feel frustrating, but the reasoning is sound—the large, rigorous scale of these productions means more is at stake and requires more on-set experience. Students used to small productions will still find themselves facing a learning curve in a large-scale production.

A film student with the right attitude will have significant advantages over PAs who don’t have the same education. They’ll perform faster and better, and when promoted, will already have the skills needed for the next position.

But you don’t have to sell your whole soul to one or the other! For many graduates, the union path allows them to make good money in the industry and provides access to a network of people and resources to feed their filmmaking passion and do their own projects on the side. Any aspiring filmmaker should have a feature film concept or script ready to go at any time.

As you network, remember the people you meet are people who can support your indie film in different ways. This is how many indie festival darlings are made!

 

There isn’t one single path towards a successful film career and this can feel both freeing and daunting. But with a solid arsenal of skills and knowledge, there’s life and employment out there for any hard-working graduate. Good luck!

Is Film School a Waste of Time?

Is there a good reason to invest time and money into film school or can it all be learned on the job?

On-set learning is better suited for those who are happy to stay in one department with one specific skill set. Those who desire to move up in the industry and have greater control over the creative process should be equipped with a wide, practical understanding of the entire production process. Having gone through the full production process already, film school graduates are well-rounded filmmakers who will already have the skills needed when promoted.

Film school offers a safe environment to make mistakes while learning and honing a craft. Making mistakes on set can ruin reputations, compromise the success of the show, and become safety catastrophes. That’s a lot of pressure!

It’s also easier to work and be creative with a strong foundational understanding of the organizational aspects of filmmaking. Learning as you go can increase inefficiencies and disorganization that ultimately wastes money and detracts from the artistic potential of a film.

Film school also affords students opportunities to expand their creative ambitions. Students often don’t know where their passion and talent lie early on. Many come to film school initially wanting to direct, but not everyone is suited for it. In fact, they may discover a new passion for Production Design, or Cinematography, or Producing etc.

Even if their passion is directing, students benefit from learning the possibilities and limitations of all departments. Directors are the creative leaders—a leader with limited knowledge relies on everyone else to dictate what’s possible instead of the other way around.

Safety is an especially under appreciated aspect of filmmaking when it should always be the top priority. To bring their visions to life, filmmakers blow things up, bring wild animals to set, crash cars, set people on fire—one accident can end careers and lives. Training is critical in this area and cannot be self-taught.

Graduates of film school leave with two important things: a network of colleagues and the support of the school. After months of working together and building relationships of trust and interlocking skills, graduating classes often go on to make movies together. Alumni benefits may also let them use the school’s equipment for their projects. These relationships mean graduates have a base professional network before they even enter the industry.

It’s hard to say that film school is a waste of time. It may not be for everyone, but it’s advantageous for the ambitious, passionate filmmaker who wants a leaping head start in reaching their creative and career goals.

A Never-ending Story: Julia Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky

https://vimeo.com/181789380

by Renee Sutton

At the mercy of the world economy and great forces of nature, Julia Ivanova’s latest NFB documentary was a story that just wouldn’t stop unfolding. While no filmmaker can be entirely sure where they will end up when they begin the process of making a documentary, Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky (2016) was pulled from the editing stage back into production, three times.

This non-traditional environmental film follows how the rise and demise of Fort McMurray has affected some of the younger residents. “It’s a portrait of Fort McMurray, and of Canadian millennials searching for money, identity and success in the heart of the Alberta oil sands,” Ivanova said. She said her focus was not on the shifting political landscape, but instead on the stories of the people that it affected. What Ivanova didn’t anticipate was that it would take four years to complete the film, as new events and tragedies important to the story occurred in the process of editing.

“Three times I thought we had finished the film, and three times we had to continue filming,” Ivanova said. She first began editing in 2013, but was compelled to move back into production and continue filming after oil prices crashed in 2014. With this new material the production had again come to a close, when three weeks later in May of 2016, the devastating wildfires hit Fort McMurray and the film went back into production again. Ivanova said this film was unlike most others she had made because “the plot was dictated by the events and the world economy.”

Ivanova’s passion for documentary and storytelling is glaring. Luckily for the rest of the world, she is also passionate about teaching and sharing her collective skills and experiences. She is a well-loved instructor at In Focus Film School in Gastown, Vancouver, where she shares her wealth of knowledge with documentary and narrative students. “I really push the idea that film is a visual storytelling… no matter whether they will be making documentaries or they will be making narrative films,” she said. Ivanova added that her film crew is often very small, meaning that she participates in many of the production roles and can offer her students advice on any subject, from conception to editing and everything in between.

According to Ivanova, by providing a deeper understanding of issues, making documentaries can contribute to how audiences make choices in their own lives. “[Documentaries are] helping them to form an opinion and helping them to understand other people, like a segment of society that they don’t have access to,” Ivanova said. She said it’s the stories of people that she really loves to explore and share. “I think that this is very fascinating, that you can go to places or meet people that you would never have a chance to encounter, within an hour and a half,” she said.

Limit is the Sky is an official selection at DOXA 2017, you can check it out in Vancouver during the festival from May 4th-14th.

The Ins and Outs of Filming a Sex Scene

beginnings of a sex scene
Sex, drugs, murder, and copious amounts of profanity. Watch enough student films and you’re apt to see each of these elements play a part, sometimes all within the span of a few minutes. Aside from making excellent points of reference for a drinking game conducted at a short film festival, there is a legitimate reason that directors and actors are attracted to R-rated material for their films: when done correctly, it can demonstrate the competence that comes from successfully navigating a creative challenge.

Today we’re going to focus on the sensitive subject of nudity and sex scenes, and how to handle them professionally on set.

 

  1. ASK YOURSELF IF A NUDE/SEX SCENE IS NECESSARY

Before you begin preparation on a scene that requires one of your actors to strip down to little more than a modesty sock, ask yourself if such a scene is absolutely necessity to your film. It can be easy to write a nude scene into a script or treatment, but actually making it happen can complicate the process of casting, shooting, and screening your film. Consider possible alternatives, and whether or not a lack of nudity and on screen sex would have a negative impact on your film.

 

  1. START WITH THE AUDITION

The first step to working successfully with actors for scenes that include nudity or sexual content, is to make your intentions clear from the very beginning. Specify in your audition notice that the role will include nudity, and explain the nature of the scene– whether it’s sexual in nature or not. The initial audition with the actor should be entirely about their acting ability, and absolutely should not require any hopefuls to appear nude for the camera.

Shortlisted actors can be requested to return for a callback, and if any nudity is required of them at this point it must be explicitly stated. Only required crew members should be in the room during this time, and if footage or photographic images are taken at this point, it must be with the actor’s permission.

 

  1. SPECIFY ALL THE DETAILS IN THE CONTRACT

Contracts are an extremely important part of this process, as they protect the rights of both the actor and the filmmakers. Put into detail exactly what kind of scenes will be filmed and the amount of nudity, especially what will be required from the actor and what will actually be shown in the finished film. There are many ways to cheat nude scenes that allow the actor to remain partially dressed, so it’s important to work with the actor to determine what is necessary for the film and what they are comfortable doing. It may go without saying, but there is no actual penetration or genital-to-genital contact during a scene like this, as all sexuality activity is simulated.

 

  1. DURING THE SHOOT

When it comes to the day of shooting your scene, there are several things you can do to ensure the actor and crew are comfortable on set, and the aforementioned contract is not breached. First, the set should be “closed,” which means that only crew members that are indispensable will be present, and no outsiders will mistakenly walk in during a take. A robe should be close at hand for the actor to wear between any pauses during filming. To avoid overly graphic crotch shots (and possibly a NC-17 rating), the wardrobe department can prepare flesh coloured pads, underwear, or a bodysuit to minimize the amount of the body actually shown.

 

Shooting these kinds of scenes can be a very vulnerable moment for actors. They are putting their trust in the director and crew to behave professionally, and not do anything to demean or exploit them. Sex is a natural part of life, so it makes sense that they should sometimes be included in our storytelling, but the actual act of filming these scenes can be very awkward and potentially embarrassing. Use your good judgment, respect your actors, and use this opportunity to be a positive role model for the rest of the crew.

 

  1. LEARN FROM OTHER FILMS

When considering whether or not to include a scene that includes nudity or sexual content in your film, look into the experiences of other filmmakers to see if it seems like it’s worth the work required. Most of these links contain materials that are NSFW.

Some great accounts include:

The Independent: This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)

NY Times: Shooting Film and TV Sex Scenes: What Really Goes On

Marie Claire: What it’s REALLY like to do a sex scene…

Vulture: Three Actors Reveal the Awkward Truth of Shooting Sex Scenes

Mess Nessy: How Sex Scenes in Film/ TV Really Work

 

 

It may come as a surprise that film scenes with sex and nudity are really quite technical and awkward. Communicate with your actors and crew, act respectfully and put everything into writing. If everything goes right, you’ll have some great footage, a happy cast and crew, and a salacious scene that’ll get audiences talking.

Film Festival Tips for New Filmmakers

If you love filmmaking, overdosing on popcorn, and waiting in line ups, then you’ve probably seen a film at a film festival before. Festivals have a certain exciting frequency to them as audience members, celebrities and filmmakers all enjoy the same viewing screen. But for a new filmmaker, festivals can be daunting new territory.

InFocus alumni Sarah Race’s student film, Barbarian Press (2016), has been screened at a dozen festivals around North America. Race felt clueless when she entered the festival world—but even though she spent more money on festivals than on the cost of her film, it was all worth it. “To me, it was all about the experience, about all the amazing people I met, how awesome people were, and all the learning curves,” said Race.

Race was encouraged to submit Barbarian Press (2016) by her InFocus instructors, and her film won official selection at Hot Docs in 2016. The decision to take the festival route has been very beneficial for her networking but has limited the potential audience for her film, as opposed to if she had posted her films on an online platform like Youtube. “Film festivals only have a very small audience of a specific sort of people that go to film festivals,” she said.

One of the biggest factors discouraging filmmakers from entering festivals is the cost. It can be expensive to pay for application fees, and then transportation and lodging in the city of the festival. Race said it was expensive but still important to attend the festivals for networking purposes. “You’re there to network and meet people, and maybe eventually those things will pan out to money making.”

Janalee Budge, another InFocus alumni, also took to the festival scene with her documentary In the Blink of an Eye (2016). She has received multiple awards and screenings, including official selection at the Whistler International Film Festival. She said the festival application process was overwhelming and expensive, but she feels that the ‘award winning’ title has its benefits. “To be able to say that [my film has] gone to a festival seems to have a fair bit of weight when you’re talking to people about future hiring,” said Budge.

Budge entered her film into festivals mostly out of curiosity. “I wanted to know if it was going to be interesting to people that weren’t my friends and family,” said Budge. Once the festival began, she was hooked. “I loved going to all the events and for the first time being part of the industry side as opposed to just the filmgoers,” she said.

Aside from the red carpets and events, festivals can be a very busy time for filmmakers. According to Sarah Race, “You have to do a lot of work when you’re there, like bring postcards or just talk to people.”

Of course, choosing to submit your film into festivals all starts with the daunting task of the application process. It can be overwhelming to sift through hundreds of festivals online, each application with its own expensive entry fee and specific requirements. Setting a budget for your festival applications and applying only to the most relevant festivals to your film is recommended. Race suggests focusing submissions on festivals that have a similar theme to your film, such as festivals that are focused on mountain films or skiing if that’s the topic of your film. She also says to be wary of premiere requirements, as some festivals require a film to be a world, national or provincial premiere and your film only gets one of each.

Not every film is destined or designed to go into the realm of film festivals, but those that do successfully find themselves as an Official Selection at a festival can look forward to the title of award-winning filmmaker and proudly display their laurels.

Shooting Without a Script: Improvised Cinema

Drinking Buddies (2014), an improvised movie

No matter how much care a screenwriter may put into their script, it only takes one rogue actor with a penchant to ad-lib to completely derail their meticulously written dialogue. There are a number of infamous scenes that have come from this process. Perhaps one of the most iconic scenes is in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), when a swordsman, theatrically brandishing a sword, confronts a weary Harrison Ford, who had been recovering from a bout of dysentery on set. With the expectation that an elaborate fight would follow, audiences were surprised and delighted when Ford simply pulled out his gun and blasted his foe away. This improvised moment resonated with fans because it felt fresh and unpredictable in an otherwise polished film.

But what would an entirely improvised film look like?

In the last several years, there have been a number of celebrated films that were shot with only a script outline, giving the actors freedom to explore their characters in an organic way. Mark and Jay Duplass have used this method for many of their films, ushering in what is known as the Mumblecore Movement with their feature-length debut The Puffy Chair (2005). Eleven years later, their experience in this narrative execution culminated in the critically acclaimed improvised film Blue Jay (2016),

The list of directors who work within this world of improv goes on: Joe Swanberg with Drinking Buddies (2014) and the Netflix series Easy (2016), Lynn Shelton with Humpday (2009) and Your Sister’s Sister (2011), and Ben and Joshua Safdie with Daddy Longlegs (2009) and Heaven Knows What (2014), among a host of other directorial talent.

So, what drives a director to want to create an unscripted film? The budget and condensed timeline can be equally enticing draws for the independent filmmaker. The majority of unscripted films are made on micro-budgets, often within a matter of weeks. Another factor is having a story outline that is driven by strong characters and naturalism, where dialogue may feel more authentic if improvised.

If this process intrigues you, here are a few pointers on making your own unscripted film:

 

  1. Start With a Strong Outline

Identify what your film is about, who the characters are, and what is at stake for them. Outline each scene with the location, cast, and ultimate purpose. Each major cast member should have a written backstory to help guide and justify their actions. The more preparation you do ahead of time, the more freedom the actors will have on the day of the shoot.

 

  1. Find Your Collaborators

Even more so than traditional filmmaking, improv cinema is an intensely collaborative process, and it takes a flexible and open-minded person to truly excel at it. Recruit your cast and crew with that in mind.

 

  1. Schedule Time for Rehearsal

A strong actor isn’t necessarily a gifted improviser, and it’s important to leave time for your cast members to develop trust and a sense of familiarity with one another before you go to camera. Consider having your actors improv scenes that won’t appear in your film but are significant parts of their back story. A scene that explores where the characters first met, or shared a secret, or had their first big fight will contribute to the depth of their performance during the actual shoot.

 

  1. Have a Multi-cam Setup

One of the greatest assets of improvisational cinema is also its greatest challenge: every take is going to be different. Shoot with a minimum of two cameras to ensure you get enough coverage and options for editing.

 

  1. Get Creative with Financing

Fundraising for an improvised film can be tricky. In Canada, most funding sources require an extensive outline of the project, including a completed screenplay. The bulk of unscripted films are made with minimal budgets, a reality that has filmmakers cutting corners and utilizing unconventional practices during their shoots. Brian McGuire shot his feature Prevertere (2013) by dollying his cinematographer through downtown in a wheelchair to avoid purchasing a filming permit and by posing as a wedding videographer to capture a cinematic scene.

 

Unscripted filmmaking takes a fearless director and a cast and crew who are willing to break the mold to create their next big project. Do you have a favourite improvised film? Let us know in the comments!

Women in Film: Where They Are and How Far They’ve Come

InFocus celebrates Women in Film

by Renee Sutton

International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, cultural, and economic achievements of women around the world, and an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on some of the most badass women in film, both in history and today.

The role of women in the film industry has changed dramatically since the early days of Hollywood, when most women on set were on-screen bombshells or at least deemed marketable by the big studios. While film is statistically still a male-dominated industry, more and more women are moving into key creative positions and making highly acclaimed and celebrated films in both the independent and studio world.

Despite the adversity, there have always been women who persevered and shone in the film industry. Even during the early decades of Hollywood’s first century, there was Dorothy Arzner, the only working female director in America in the late 20’s and 30’s. She made 3 silent movies and 14 ‘talkies’ during her 15-year career as a director, and was the first female member of the Directors Guild of America.

The modern film industry has many more women working behind the scenes, but still at a ratio of five men to every one woman, according to the New York Film Academy. In the entire 89-year history of the Academy Awards, only four women have been nominated for Best Director; Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1975) in 1976, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2003, and Kathryn Bigelow who was the first and only woman to win Best Director for The Hurt Locker in 2008.

Originally from California, Kathryn Bigelow began her creative career as an accomplished painter before studying film theory. She started by making short films, and had early success directing features with Point Break in 1991 and, more recently, the acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty in 2012. Bigelow was the first woman to win a BAFTA award for Best Director and to win the Directors Guild of America award for directing a feature.

While less than 30 percent of all key creative positions (directors, writers, producers cinematographers, and editors) are held by women today, according to a 2013 study by Sundance Institute and Women in Film, the number of female documentary directors and producers is drastically higher now than it was in the past. Women are much more prominent in the production of documentaries than in that of narrative films. Women make up nearly 50% of documentary directors and producers but less than a quarter of narrative feature producers and directors.

Even though their numbers comprise a lower percentage of filmmakers in the industry, female filmmakers are constantly breaking new ground. American director, screenwriter and distributer Ava DuVernay began working in film publicity to market movies to African American audiences in the 90’s. The documentary This is the Life (2008) was her directorial debut. Her second narrative film, Middle of Nowhere (2012), won DuVernay the Best Director Award in 2012, making her the first female African American to receive this award. In 2014, she was also the first female black director to be nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her film Selma (2014).

Looking a little closer to home, Canada also has many inspiring and successful female directors. Alanis Obomsawin has been directing films since 1971 and has nearly 50 directing credits with the NFB. While originally born in New Hampshire on Abenaki Territory, Obomsawin was primarily raised in Quebec. Before her film career, she toured as a singer/song writer and activist, eventually moving on to make films that address the struggles and perspectives of aboriginal peoples living in Canada, including 270 Years of Resistance, her best-known film from 1993.

Canadian actress Sarah Polly also shifted into directing films and is leading a very successful career as a director. Her 2006 feature film debut, Away from Her, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and won multiple Genie awards, including the first female to receive the best achievement in direction award. Her films Take This Waltz (2011) and Stories We Tell (2012) were both named one of Canada’s top ten features of the year by the Toronto International Film Festival.

Vancouver-based Julia Ivanova is a passionate director, editor and cinematographer committed to making documentaries that break individual and social perceptions. She has directed and edited multiple full-length feature documentaries, including Family Portrait in Black and White, which won best Canadian feature at Hot Docs in 2011, and Limit is the Sky (2016), which premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival 2016 and will be screening in Vancouver at DOXA this year.

You can celebrate women in film at the 2017 Vancouver International Women in Film festival from March 8-12 at the VIFF Vancity Theatre, or you can check out any of the films on this IMDB list of 200 films directed by a woman.

 


Renee is a Vancouver-based freelance videographer and editor.  Since graduating from InFocus Film School, Renee spends most of her time editing video projects and creating social content for online platforms, but she also enjoys creating environmentally-aware short documentaries and travel videos.

Prompt Your Way to Better Screenwriting

 

Margaret Atwood eloquently captured the struggle of many emerging writers when she said: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Although it’s much more romantic to imagine screenwriting as a god given talent rather than an acquired skill, the truth is that the key to becoming a skilled screenwriter is to take risks, make mistakes, and practice, practice, practice.

The hardest part of improving your screenwriting skills is mustering up willpower to dedicate some time each day to work on it. The easiest part is finding screenwriting prompts online. There is a wealth of free and easily accessible exercises that will help cut through even the most stubborn writer’s block.

Here’s a few of our favorites:

One Word

Only have a minute to unlock your creative genius? One Word gives users a single word to use as a prompt, and sixty seconds to write about it. After the time has elapsed you are invited to submit what you have written, and to read what others managed to come up with in the same span of time. It’s exposure therapy for perfectionists, and after a few rounds it may prove to be both addictive and liberating.  

Sample Prompt: Pawn

Think Written

This massive list of 365 writing prompts will save you from clicking through pages to find something that inspires you to write, or give you enough material for an entire year worth of sessions. Stretch your writing muscles and try to fill these prompts through a variety of writing styles– with poetry, prose,, lyrics, screenwriting and creative non-fiction.

Sample Prompt: Go to Wikipedia and click on Random Article. Write about whichever page you get.

r/WritingPrompts

Reddit proves that it has more to offer than an endless scroll of memes. This writing community has nearly ten million subscribers and dozens of creative (and frequently humorous) prompts daily. There is quite a lot of content to sort through, so consider sorting by the top links of all time.

Sample Prompt: A friendship between a time traveler and an immortal. Wherever the time traveler ends up, the immortal is there to catch him up to speed.

Writing Prompts

If you prefer the text of your writing prompts to be accompanied by images, then this Tumblr site is for you. With an extensive collection of prompts rich in humour and focused on pop culture, this site may make your daily exercise a little more fun.

Sample Prompt: Unsinkable + Undead: A zombie plague breaks out on the Titanic.

Writer’s Digest

Posted weekly, with a back catalogue of hundreds of prompts spanning from 2011, Writer’s Digest is an excellent resource for varied and interesting prompts that are sure to kickstart any story.

Sample Prompt: Write a story about three people who are on a road trip together, only to stop off at a gas station and pick up a fourth person whom they don’t know. Why did they pick this person up? Where are they taking him/her? What happens?

What is your go to cure for writer’s block? Comment on our Facebook page and join the conversation!