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How to Organize a Group to Make a Movie

How to Organize a Group to Make a Movie

If you want to organize a group to make a movie, there are three things you need before you even think about the process: a good script, good leadership skills and a whole lot of gumption. Making a movie is a big task. It requires creativity, plus a lot of planning and resiliency because the potential of something not going as planned is very likely. It’s a lot like painting a house – when you put the roller in the paint for the first time and start on a wall, it feels very doable… almost easy… until the reality kicks in – you have to do the whole room… wait, the whole house! And oh no, the color looks totally different on the wall!

So the first advice I will give you is to start with a short film. A short film can pack quite a punch and do wonders for your career, even if it is only to teach you how much you have to learn. Which brings me to the other thing you should consider before you get started: why do you want to make a film? There is no right answer to this question. It can be very simple – maybe you want to see if you can do it. Perhaps you want to see if your writing translates on to the screen. Or, more likely, you want to pursue a career as a Director. Whatever the answer is, having a goal will help you to the finish line. If you have never made a movie before, do not fear! You have to start somewhere. Just be humble, be ready to learn, and read on for some tips.

  1. Write the script
  2. Find someone to help you produce
  3. Find a Cinematographer and a camera
  4. Find the rest of your crew
  5. Cast the film
  6. Hold Pre-production and Production Meetings
  7. Assemble a post-production Team
  8. Figure out costs

Write the Script

It all begins with story; and if you are just starting out and don’t know anyone, having a good script will attract collaborators. A short script can be anything up to 45 pages, but you are better off keeping it under ten; and if you can keep it to five, even better. Make sure your script has a good story and strong characters because that will inspire talent. I would suggest getting familiar with the short film format to see what resonates with you and how story and character arcs are different in shorts. You can stream award-winning shorts on Amazon, but you can also check places like Omeleto or Seed and Spark. I’d also check out Vimeo Staff Picks.

Once you write your script, make sure that you get feedback and take time to develop it. No matter how good your first draft is, it will never be as good as one that has gone through numerous rewrites. When it comes to building a crew, you can only make one first impression; so don’t rush it.

What if you aren’t a Writer? There are plenty of Writers out there that don’t want to direct, so I would try to connect with them. You can try online forums like Facebook Groups or there are several in-person groups that have monthly meet-ups in large cities like The International Screenwriting Association, ISA, or The Blacklist.

Tip: Write or find a script that takes place in one location. It will save you time and money.

Find Someone to Help You Produce

This is easier said than done. Many people think they want to produce, but when they realize how much work it is, they reconsider. I would be ready to do the heavy lifting yourself, but finding someone to help you, even just for moral support, is worth the search. On my first short, I had come out of post-production and had never really worked in production so I recruited a willing friend who also knew almost nothing about production and we learned together. There is a lot to coordinate everything so sharing the duties helps a lot!

Tip: Find friends who have similar goals. That way you can take turns helping each other out.

Find a Cinematographer and a Camera

The Camera Department is a large part of your crew. Not all Cinematographers come with a camera, so you will need to get your hands on a camera and equipment. There are professional rental houses, but you probably want to start out smaller. Is there a film school in your town? Perhaps there is a community film program that supports local filmmakers in your neighborhood.

As a newbie, the best thing to do is look for a Cinematographer who has a camera and lighting package or has access to one. This will lighten your burden as a Producer and you won’t have to shop around for rentals, which can cost loads of money and require insurance. I would also consider finding someone willing to experiment with a smartphone – there are lenses and apps that can make your phone footage look amazing. (Check out the Filmic Pro app and Moment lenses.) Your Cinematographer will also need a crew so I would lean on them to help find their team.

Find the Rest of Your Crew

As a general rule, the best thing to do when you are starting out is to find people who are also starting out. In order for people to get better at their craft, they need to practice; so many people are looking for opportunities, such as your short, to work on. Yes! You bring something important to the table!

But where do you find these people? Again, social media is a good place to start, but I would also see if there is a film office in your town and find out if they have any workshops or opportunities to meet other filmmakers. And honestly, before you start to recruit people to work on your short, you might want to work on somebody else’s production. Here’s why — first, it’s reciprocal. Second, you have a chance to meet other crew members and see who you like to work with. Plus, it’s a chance to learn something before you get on your own set.

The key positions you should be scouting for are Production Sound, Production Design, Costume Design, Hair and Makeup, and an Assistant Director (who will help you schedule and run your set,) and anyone else willing to help out!

Cast the Film

There are plenty of talented people hungry for an opportunity to get in front of the camera and act. And there are plenty of places you can find them. You can post a casting call on social media or you can use a service like Actors Access. Once you put out a call, you will get loads of responses. Then you can provide sides – script pages – and have your top choices submit an audition tape for your review. You can hold in-person callbacks (second audition) or just cast them from the tape. If you hold in-person callbacks or auditions, find a place that is safe and be professional and courteous.

Hold Pre-production and Production Meetings

Once you compiled a team, you will meet with the creative heads to determine the practical things you will need to make the film, and how you want the film to look. You will then want to consult your AD to schedule the shoot and solve any logistics like parking and permits. Though you don’t want to meet too often, because that could get in the way of your crew planning for the shoot, you do want to get everyone together for a page-by-page review of the script to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.

As you approach the big day, make sure that everyone knows where the location is and what time everyone needs to be there. Don’t wait until the last minute to get this information out! The AD is the one who sends out the call sheets, but as a Director, and let’s face it, a Producer, you need to make sure everyone is ready and excited. It wouldn’t hurt to send out an email to get everyone pumped!

Assemble a Post-production Team

Once you have your movie in the can you will need to make it through the rest of post-production, so you will have to rinse and repeat the advice above to find your post crew. The best way to find your post crew is to look at the credits of recent shorts similar to yours. Most post people are just like production folks, they need practice and credits to gain credibility. If you have put your best foot forward, people will want to help and be a part of it. Again, social media is a great place to recruit, but don’t be afraid to call someone.

Figure Out Costs

Making a short film can cost anything from nothing to thousands of dollars. If you can get people to donate their time, you must, at least, feed them well. The days are long and a crew needs energy. Plus, a good meal is a great “thank you.”

If you feel like you want to forego the reciprocal model of making a short, you can also hire a crew. I have done this and the dollars add up, but when you hire people that have more experience, you could boost your learning curve. The most important thing is to be ready to learn and treat anybody who walks on your set with respect. Be prepared and poised to problem-solve and support everyone you have recruited on your journey.

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How to Make a Movie

How to Make a Movie

If you want to learn how to make a movie, the best thing to do is make one. Yep. By starting DIY, you will get a sense of the big picture and be more likely to become a better filmmaker down the road. In fact, there is no better time to learn how to make a movie. You have tools at your fingertips that your creative forefathers would have died for. If you are reading this article on a phone, there’s a good chance that that phone has a better camera than the early digital cameras with which many people learned and mastered filmmaking. So if you have an idea, what are you waiting for?

Right. But where do you begin? Getting the idea out of your head and onto the screen can be a daunting task, but once it is broken down in steps, it becomes more manageable. Even better, once you master these steps, whether you are making a film with an iPhone or with a full camera kit from a rental house, they are relatively the same — the biggest difference being that the toys are more expensive and the crews are bigger. But let’s start small. Let’s say that you want to use that phone in your hand to make a movie. What would you need? Well, several things, from the creative to the technical, and if you are not technical, do not let that deter you.

In our discussion of how to make a movie, we’ll cover:

  1. An idea/script
  2. Film tools/film gear
  3. Collaborators/crew
  4. Production
  5. Editing/post-production

An Idea/Script

A lot of people are afraid to get started because they don’t think they have a good idea. Trust me, an idea doesn’t have to be good in order for you to learn or even make a good film. All you need is a story. It can be as simple as telling the story of someone who rolls out of bed, stumbles to the coffeemaker only to find that she is out of coffee. The goal with storytelling is to get someone to relate, and with filmmaking, it’s all about the images you use to tell the story. So as you develop your idea, don’t over think it. It just needs to be something you can visualize and execute. What’s going to make it unique is your point of view. Take the example of no morning coffee. How does she feel when she discovers there is no coffee? How does that translate visually? Does she grab her hair in despair or throw the empty pot against the wall?

Whatever story you want to tell, put it in a script. For the most part, screenwriting is what you see and what you hear. Just remember that it’s always more interesting to tell the story visually. Rather than having the character say, “Oh no, there’s no coffee,” show us the empty coffee container, show us her reaction. Another thing you will want to do is get feedback on your script. Have someone read it to make sure it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, fiddle with it until it does. If it does make sense, still fiddle with it to make it better.

How you frame the shot is literally what you see in your viewfinder. Different framing can say different things: for example, if you have two Actors placed at the end of each frame, perhaps you are saying that they are not connecting. If you have a wide shot and the character is small on the screen, maybe you are suggesting that he feels powerless.

Film Tools/Film Gear

The most accessible camera these days is on a smartphone. It can be an Android or an iPhone; all you need are the right accessories. In order for you to get the most out of your phone camera, you will need an app called Filmic Pro; this app will get your phone to behave more like a camera. You will also want to get lenses so you can shoot a better variety of shots. There are two ways to go here — you can get lenses that are designed specifically for smartphones – like Moment lenses, or you can use an adapter, like the Beastgrip adapter that will allow you to use regular camera lenses with your phone. You may also want a tripod or a stabilizer to keep the camera steady; all you need is a mount adapter to put your phone on a tripod and there are stabilizers built specifically for phones.

Next, you need sound equipment. Unfortunately, phones (and most cameras, for that matter) don’t record good sound, so you will need a sound recording device, like a Zoom or Tascam. You will also need a good microphone on a boom pole to record the sound. You can also get lavalier microphones – which are the kind that you attach to an Actor to record dialog, as well.

Collaborators/Crew

Alright, technically you can do all of this on your own and maybe you want to start that way — maybe film your cat to get some practice in, but eventually, you will want Actors, someone to record the audio, someone to operate the camera, and ideally someone to help produce it. (Without getting into it, a Producer will help you stay organized and on track. Learn more about the role played by Producers here.) So, finding collaborators is essential to filmmaking. There are many ways to go about this – you can post something on social media, you can go to events sponsored by your local film community, or if you are in school, get to know the film and media students. One thing to keep in mind as you are meeting people is to find folks that you enjoy being around, who have similar interests, and who are interested in learning and mastering skills. If you know nothing about the camera, lighting or recording sound, find people who are passionate about these things.

Once you have your team, get their input about the script and start to plan what you will need to make it. The more planning you do, the more successful you will be. The basics you will need are locations, Actors, and food! You will also want to talk to your team about how things will be shot. Create a shot list, which will be your roadmap during production. Some people like to storyboard, but that’s up to you. It’s just important to have a plan because you don’t want to waste people’s time during production. Something that will help you create a shot list is to remember that each time you move the camera, it’s a new setup, which is a shot. Shots are like sentences, some are long, some are short, but when you put them together, there is a rhythm and a pace. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the different kinds of shots: wide, medium, close up, etc. Understanding the language will help you communicate your ideas to your team.

One thing about filmmaking is the more you learn, the more you realize the less you know. Each new project will present new challenges, and if they don’t, you’re not challenging yourself to get better, which is really what makes all this so fun.

Production

This is the day you all come together to get the job done! You have done your homework; you have food and drinks to keep you energized; now you will spend the day perfecting each shot. Some of the things you will be focusing on will be blocking – how the Actors move through the space in relation to the camera, framing – how the shot is framed, and the performance of the Actor.

When you block a scene, you decide where the camera goes and how the Actors will move through the set. This includes any action they may do like grab a set of keys, when to pat someone on the back or when to sit down. Once you decide these things, you can put tape on the floor to make sure the Actors have reminders of where to stand and when. How you frame the shot is literally what you see in your viewfinder. Different framing can say different things: for example, if you have two Actors placed at the end of each frame, perhaps you are saying that they are not connecting. If you have a wide shot and the character is small on the screen, maybe you are suggesting that he feels powerless. Working with Actors is also important. Actors come to set with some terrific ideas, but it is important to make sure they hit the tone you are trying to achieve, whether it is humor or drama. Actors love to know what they can do to make their performance better

Editing/Post-production

Once you have your movie in the can, you are ready to edit. Well, almost. You will need to sync the sound in what is called a non-linear editing system (NLE), which is a fancy way to say editing software, where you will put the pieces you shot together. Again, this is something that you can learn and I highly suggest you learn the basics, but there are plenty of people who want to master this craft and are hungry to find material to work on to learn and hone their skills. Also, editing is like writing. Getting feedback will make your movie better.

After the editing is done, you still need to polish your film up. You will need to make sure all your shots are color corrected, which can be done in your NLE or you can have a professional do it. Again, always look for people who want to practice. The same goes for post-production sound. Post-production sound involves a lot of detail work, which includes cleaning up the dialog, laying in sound effects, music, and balancing all these elements in what is called the mix.

Once you have gone through these steps, you are a filmmaker! But one thing about filmmaking is the more you learn, the more you realize the less you know. Each new project will present new challenges, and if they don’t, you’re not challenging yourself to get better, which is really what makes all this so fun.

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How to Craft a Standout Acting Resume

How to Craft a Standout Acting Resume

Before an Actor can wow an Agent or Casting Director with their performance, they need to impress them with their acting resume. While a headshot is an equally important resource for professional success, it only touches the surface of what an Actor can do and the experience they have. That’s why every Actor must have an acting resume ready at all times.

An acting resume is largely the same as a resume for any other field of work in that it’s a brief breakdown of prior jobs and past education that can give that Agent or Casting Director a quick look into a prospective Actor’s credentials. However, the look and content of an acting resume differ greatly from other professions, making essential the guidelines to follow.

When writing your acting resume, be sure to:

  1. Make it a single page
  2. Attach it to the back of the headshot
  3. Stick to traditional fonts
  4. Keep it clean
  5. Section off work
  6. List roles chronologically

Formatting Fundamentals

Make it a single page. In other professional fields, it has become largely acceptable to have a resume that can extend to two pages. But in the acting world, a single page is still the standard. Why is that the case? Read on.

Attach it to the back of the headshot. As mentioned, a headshot is critical, but it can hardly convey anything beyond physical features. To make it convenient for an Agent or Casting Director to better learn if an Actor is right for a role, their acting resume should be attached to their headshot, hence the need for the resume to be only a single page. Also, having the resume attached to the headshot necessitates that it be 8 inches by 10 inches.

Stick to traditional fonts. Of course, every Actor wants their resume to stand out, but the key to doing so is to make it look professional. For that reason, avoid using unusual or niche fonts and stick to classic styles like Arial or Times New Roman. Also, Actors shouldn’t rely on patterned paper or colored text, which can come across as distracting or amateurish to those in a position to decide auditions or roles.

Keep it clean. A resume should be easy to read and not cluttered with excessive text, so Actors must prioritize quality over quantity. Not every role, especially much older or minor ones, needs to be included on an acting resume. Include only the most pertinent or recent work experiences that display professional range.

Section off work. Speaking of work experiences, Actors who have played roles in more than one medium should have a distinct section for each of them. That means Actors should separate their listings for television, film, theater and web series experience. If an Actor’s experience is extensive, they might even want to consider creating separate resumes for each medium of work.

List roles chronologically. Some Actors prefer to list their most significant roles first, but again, the more typical standard is to list work starting with the most recent.

A resume should be easy to read and not cluttered with excessive text, so Actors must prioritize quality over quantity. Not every role, especially much older or minor ones, needs to be included on an acting resume.

Information Essentials

Tell the truth. It might sound obvious, but an acting resume should contain only true and correct information. Whether it’s a role that was never performed or a skill never learned, an Agent or Casting Director will eventually learn about the inaccuracy. A good reputation should not be taken lightly, and it can be easily tarnished when someone fabricates information, so Actors should put a priority on preserving theirs by being truthful on their resumes.

Include relevant physical descriptions. That means making sure height and eye color, as well as current weight and hair color, are all at the top of an acting resume. Including age is not necessary and is often discouraged, as it can potentially influence an Agent or Casting Director’s decision to audition someone. One exception to that rule: add age if an Actor is still a minor and under 18 years old.

Have contact information. If an Actor does not currently have representation, contact information such as their phone number and email address is necessary. Actors with representation can still include that information, but they should also add the name(s) of their agency and/or management company, and if possible, the appropriate logos.

Add affiliations. So that Agents and Casting Directors can quickly assess whether an Actor is in the union, which can affect eligibility for particular roles, SAG-AFTRA or AEA membership information should also be included on an acting resume.

Forego including performance dates. The premiere date of a television spot or time period of a play performance are not necessary on an acting resume. Again, the goal should be to keep the one-sheet as neat and clean as possible, so avoid including non-essential information like performance dates.

Include relevant theater information. What an Agent or Casting Director is really looking for is information on prior acting roles that might help to inform them if an Actor is right for an upcoming part. For theater, that means listing out the show name, role played, theater company and location for each individual work experience.

Have relevant film and/or television information. When an Actor is listing out their prior film or television experience, it’s important to not include the role name. Instead, include with each individual work experience the type of role played, such as co-star or lead. Each listing should also include the production company and Director.

Add pertinent past education. It’s not particularly essential to have a formal educational background in acting to become successful in the industry, but Actors who have gone to school should include that information. That means any formal training, whether it’s higher education, individual classes or mentorship with a professional Acting Teacher.

Include special skills. This guideline comes with one significant disclaimer: put on an acting resume only skillsets that can be performed without practice. That means accents that can be done on command or athletic feats that require no prior conditioning. It’s always a possibility that someone may ask for proof of that skill, so Actors should always be ready to do so. As a result, only include strong special skills.

One of the best resources at an Actor’s disposal is other Actors. Especially if an Actor is new to creating an acting resume, they should reach out to others in their professional circle for examples and feedback.

Final Tips to Success

Do not include Extra experience. An acting resume should be just that — a concise breakdown of roles performed across the different mediums. While Extra work can provide key on-set experience and a pathway to connecting to other Actors, it has no place on an acting resume, so leave it out.

Do not include any extraneous work experience. It may again sound obvious, but an acting resume should never include other types of work — even if that work still pertains to the entertainment industry. In some cases, very young or beginning Actors may attempt to include that type of information to fill out their acting resumes, but as with Extra experience, any work outside of acting should be left off.

Do not print your resume on the back of your headshot. Some Actors may think it looks cleaner to simply print their resume on the backside of their headshots. However, just like any other resume, it’s important to keep that information up to date. But if an acting resume is already printed on a headshot, the option to revise it is gone. Instead, always keep the resume separate from the headshot until it’s ready to be sent out. Simply staple in opposite corners and it’s ready to go.

Get feedback. One of the best resources at an Actor’s disposal is other Actors. Especially if an Actor is new to creating an acting resume, they should reach out to others in their professional circle for examples and feedback. Actors currently in school can also benefit from talking to their instructors for constructive notes on how their resumes look and read.

Always keep a few resumes on hand. Regardless of profession, it’s always a good idea to have a business card ready to give out. But for Actors, having a resume or two on hand might also be helpful. Especially for Actors living in Los Angeles or New York, opportunities exist for meeting Agents or Casting Directors at events or even just getting a last-minute call to audition. While it’s frowned upon to give out a headshot or resume unsolicited, always being prepared for a legitimate resume request is important.

Tweak, tweak, tweak. Just like with any other profession, Actors should track if their resumes are receiving attention. If not, what could be adjusted or updated to get that attention? In addition to keeping a resume relevant with an Actor’s most current information, they should also be keeping an eye on what works or doesn’t work and making sure that their resume is the strongest it can be.

Creating an effective acting resume takes time, energy and consistent attention. But most importantly, it should be considered a critical part of professional advancement. It’s understandable that many Actors may want to put their efforts towards the thing they love — acting! But before an Agent or Casting Director may decide to select an Actor to come in for an audition or watch their audition tape, they’ll likely want to take a look at their acting resume.

Much of the potential anxiety around creating an acting resume can be alleviated just by following the above guidelines. And again, it’s important that Actors reach out to others to get an idea of whether their initial efforts are having the intended consequences of getting someone interested in wanting to see them perform. With just a little bit of dedicated effort, a strong acting resume can be the calling card that leads to a lifetime of professional success.

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10 Best Film Schools for Aspiring Filmmakers

10 Best Film Schools for Aspiring Filmmakers

The nation’s best film schools represent more than just a compilation of the most highly ranked cinematic programs across the country. For an aspiring filmmaker, they each offer an opportunity for artistic growth, as well as a springboard for future professional success.

Given the excellent reputations of the following colleges and universities, a solid foundation of knowledge and experience could be gained at any one of them. That being said, the best film schools all have their own distinct qualities and areas of expertise that prospective students should research thoroughly before committing to one. The following provides a brief overview of what future filmmakers enrolling in any one of these film schools might learn and expect during their time there.

In alphabetical order, our list of the best film schools includes:

  1. American Film Institute (AFI)
  2. California Institute of the Arts
  3. Chapman University
  4. Columbia University
  5. Emerson College
  6. Loyola Marymount University
  7. New York University (NYU)
  8. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  9. University of Southern California (USC)
  10. Wesleyan University

1. American Film Institute (AFI)

The American Film Institute is a highly regarded film school based out of Los Angeles and an option for those who have already completed an undergraduate degree. The school offers six different MFA programs in Screenwriting, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Producing and Production Design. AFI programs are rigorous, as students collaborate with their peers over their two years at the school to produce between four to 10 films, but they also get to leave with several projects under their belt and valuable real-world filmmaking experience.

Notable alums include Darren Aronofsky, Susannah Grant, Amy Heckerling, Patty Jenkins, David Lynch, and Terrence Malick.

2. California Institute of the Arts

Located about 30 miles north of Los Angeles, the California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, offers more than five-dozen different degree programs across the media, literary, performing and visual arts. Among those most closely related to film, the school has both undergraduate and graduate options, including a BFA and MFA in Film and Video, a BFA in Character Animation and MFA in Film Directing. Given CalArts’ close proximity to LA, students can take advantage of internships and networking to hit the ground running in the industry upon graduation.

Notable alums include Brad Bird, Alison Brie, Tim Burton, Don Cheadle, Sofia Coppola, and Dustin Hoffman.

3. Chapman University

Unlike AFI and CalArts, Chapman University’s areas of expertise extend beyond the arts. Located about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, Chapman is made up of ten different schools across a spectrum of fields, one of them being the reputable Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. This highly regarded school offers multiple undergraduate and graduate options, such as a BFA in Film Production, BFA in Creative Producing, BFA in Animation and Visual Effects, BFA in Screenwriting, BFA in Television Writing and Production, BFA in Screen Acting, BA in Film Studies, MFA in Film Production, MFA in Film and TV Producing, MFA in Screenwriting, MFA in Television Writing and Producing, MFA in Production Design, MFA in Documentary Filmmaking, MA in Film Studies, as well as a combined JD/MFA in Film and TV Producing or an MBA/MFA in Film and TV Producing.

Notable alums include Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Colin Hanks, Leslie Jones, Kellan Lutz, and Justin Simien.

AFI programs are rigorous, as students collaborate with their peers over their two years at the school to produce between four to 10 films, but they also get to leave with several projects under their belt and valuable real-world filmmaking experience.

4. Columbia University

On the other coast sits Columbia University in New York City. Established more than 250 years ago, Columbia is New York State’s oldest institution of higher learning, and like Chapman University, offers students many options in different fields of study. For those interested in film, Columbia’s School of the Arts has both undergraduate and several graduate programs. Students can elect to pursue a BA in Film and Media Studies, MA in Film and Media Studies, MFA in Screenwriting/Directing or MFA in Creative Producing. Moreover, like Los Angeles, New York City is a hub of entertainment industry activity where students can earn in-the-field experience as they finish their studies.

Notable alums include Kathryn Bigelow, James Gunn, Jim Jarmusch, Kate McKinnon, Kimberly Peirce, and Julia Stiles.

5. Emerson College

Though not located in either Los Angeles or New York City, Boston’s Emerson College has built an earned reputation as one of the best film schools in the nation. And like most of the film schools already mentioned, prospective students can enroll in its Visual & Media Arts department as either an undergraduate or graduate student. Emerson offers multiple competitive programs, such as a BA or BFA in Film, BA in Production, BFA in Film Art, BFA in Stage & Screen Design/Technology, MFA in Writing for Film and Television and MFA in Film and Media Art. The school also provides students with options to study for a semester at its LA campus or its international Global Pathways Program.

Notable alums include Vin Di Bona, Joely Fisher, Norman Lear, Stefani Robinson, Alex Tse, and Henry Winkler.

6. Loyola Marymount University

Like the American Film Institute, Loyola Marymount University is located in Los Angeles and offers a wide selection of undergraduate and graduate programs for aspiring filmmakers. Prospective students can pursue a BA in Film, Television, and Media Studies, BA in Film and Television Production, BA in Screenwriting, BA in Animation, BA in Recording Arts, MFA in Film and Television Production, MFA in Writing and Producing for Television and MFA in Writing for the Screen. Outside of the school’s highly regarded film programs, students are drawn to Loyola Marymount University for its proximity to Los Angeles and the film networking and internship opportunities afforded to them during their time at school.

Notable alums include Clark Duke, Brian Helgeland, Gloria Calderón Kellet, Kate Micucci, and Busy Philipps.

7. New York University (NYU)

New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts is often regarded as one of the best film schools across the globe, having played a role in the education of the some of the filmmaking world’s most renowned artists. And like virtually all of the other film schools already mentioned, prospective students just beginning their collegiate careers, as well as those interested in building upon their bachelor work, can grow their filmmaking expertise at NYU. Undergraduate programs in Cinema Studies, Dramatic Writing and Film & Television and graduate programs in Cinema Studies, Dramatic Writing and Film are offered through Tisch.

Notable alums include Donald Glover, Spike Lee, Adam Sandler, Martin Scorsese, M. Night Shyamalan, and Oliver Stone.

8. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

On the west side of Los Angeles sits the University of California, Los Angeles, better known as UCLA. Over its 100-year history, UCLA has created a name for itself as a highly regarded and competitive school for aspiring filmmakers, and through its School of Theater, Film and Television, students can pursue a degree in any one of its many specialized programs. Currently, UCLA has an undergraduate program for Film, Television and Digital Media, as well as graduate programs in Screenwriting, Cinema and Media Studies, Cinematography, Animation, Production/Directing and the Producers Program. The school also provides a Ph.D. option in Cinema and Media Studies and its Professional Program in various film and TV-related specialties for students interested in a more abbreviated certificate program.

Notable alums include Carol Burnett, Francis Ford Coppola, Alexander Payne, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, and John Williams.

New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts is often regarded as one of the best film schools across the globe, having played a role in the education of the some of the filmmaking world’s most renowned artists.

9. University of Southern California (USC)

Across the city from UCLA stands the University of Southern California and its School of Cinematic Arts. The highly competitive and world-renowned USC has long been the backdrop for the burgeoning careers of many talented and famous filmmakers. For those looking to begin their training at USC, they can select from several undergraduate and graduate options, such as a BA in Cinema & Media Studies, BA in Animation & Digital Arts, BA or BFA in Cinematic Arts, Film & Television Production, BFA in Writing for Screen & Television, MA in Cinema & Media Studies, MFA in Animation & Digital Arts, MFA in Writing for Screen & Television, MFA in Producing, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design or Sound and MFA in the Peter Stark Producing Program. Like UCLA, USC too provides interested students in a Ph.D. option in Cinema & Media Studies.

Notable alums include Judd Apatow, Ryan Coogler, Paul Feig, Nahnatchka Khan, George Lucas, and Shonda Rhimes.

10. Wesleyan University

Last but certainly not least is Wesleyan University located in Connecticut. With Emerson College, Wesleyan University is only one of two film schools on this list not located in the greater Los Angeles or New York City area, but that has hardly prevented WU from becoming a prestigious center for aspiring filmmakers. Its College of Film and the Moving Image is comprised of several smaller departments, which are the Center for Film Studies, the Ogden and Mary Louise Reid Cinema Archives and the Department of Film Studies. What largely sets this school apart from other colleges and universities is its specific focus on undergraduate study for those interested in “image making, history and studies.”

Notable alums include Michael Bay, Toby Emmerich, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon Turteltaub, Joss Whedon, and Bradley Whitford.

A Final Word

The above information on the best film schools is a great starting point for aspiring film students to consider not only the type of program that might best suit them but also in which part of the country they want to pursue their undergraduate or graduate experience. But to come to a confident decision, students should reach out to each prospective school and inquire further about what that particular college or university has to offer, as each will have a different style of teaching and perspective on the filmmaking world.

Though competitive and rigorous, film school also can be a period of great creative exploration. And as with most experiences, those years will largely be what each student makes of them. For future filmmakers, it’s the time, focus and energy they put into film school that will ultimately determine what they get out of their time there.

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How to Fit the Production Assistant Job Description & Land a Film Crew Gig

How to Fit the Production Assistant Job Description & Land a Film Crew Gig

Most of us have a strong desire to perform in an above-the-line role on film and TV sets. Those roles range from Producer to Director to Director of Photography. Many of us even desire below-the-line roles like Unit Production Manager, Assistant Director, or Gaffer. However, the film and television industry is still very much a blue-collar, apprenticeship-oriented vocation and it is very reluctant to let newbies and recent film graduates to just slide into one of those positions – and with good reason. Film school teaches you the basics in a student-level environment and until you work in the film and TV field, on professionally run sets, then you still have a lot to learn. That’s why Production Assistants – the often unsung, but extremely important – heroes of production are a necessary part of any film, video, or TV shoot.

So let’s dive into what it means to be a Production Assistant by explaining:

  1. Production Assistant job description
  2. What makes a great Production Assistant?
  3. Targeting the best department as a Production Assistant
  4. Finding work as a Production Assistant

Production Assistant Job Description

A Production Assistant or PA is a role that is far more important than most people know outside of the film and TV industry. A PA is often thought of as an assistant, and while this is true to some degree, this “Assistant” role is far-reaching and encompassing of several skills and abilities. A PA can exist in nearly every department including producing, production management, the writing department, casting, the camera department, the art department, locations, and even the wardrobe department.

What makes a great Production Assistant?

Attitude and gumption are everything as a PA. Here are the defining traits of an excellent Production Assistant.

Have a Fantastic Attitude: There is a lot of grunt work that accompanies almost any PA job. It’s difficult and PAs are pulled in several directions by department heads, Coordinators, and other production industry employees in lead roles. On any given day, regardless of the department, you may be asked to make copies, make and deliver coffee, label and distribute walkies, attend meetings and take comprehensive notes, take lunch orders and make sure they are correct, organize files, handle phone calls, and take out the trash. It is so important to roll with the punches and have a great attitude while accomplishing goals. Don’t take anything personally.

Be an Amazing Listener: A great PA keeps both ears open and listens carefully to direction. Producers, Directors, Production Managers, Production Coordinators, and various department leads are busy during pre-production, production, and post-production. They don’t have time to repeat directions, so pay close attention.

Write Comprehensive Notes: A successful PA takes comprehensive notes to make sure he or she doesn’t miss something. Write notes on a pad and then photograph your notes just in case you lose your note pad. I take notes on my phone, however, it’s important to keep in mind that writing notes on your phone may seem like you’re texting or distracted, so writing in a note pad sends a clear message that you’re writing tasks down. Then, email yourself those notes just in case you misplace your phone.

When in Doubt, Ask Questions: Yes, you should be paying attention and writing down notes, but sometimes, something doesn’t make sense when someone gives you a task. It’s ok to think about it for a moment and then ask clear questions that help clarify. A Producer would rather you understand the direction instead of just trying to wing it and get the task wrong.

Stop Obviously Competing: Some new PAs come off as competitive, trying to do everything in spite of the other PAs who are available to help with the workload. They jump on every task and never admit when they are overwhelmed. It comes off as desperate. Stop it and be a team player. Share the work and don’t bite off more than you can chew. It doesn’t mean don’t work hard – it just means don’t be too anxious and frenetic.

Anticipate Needs: After a while, a smart PA will anticipate the needs of his or her department. A PA will start to develop the ability to think 2 to 3 steps ahead, realizing when someone wants coffee, when lunch orders need to be taken, when script copies will be needed, and when an office will need to be set up for an incoming executive or new employee. The PA who can see what’s coming is invaluable and in demand.

A successful PA takes comprehensive notes to make sure he or she doesn’t miss something. Write notes on a pad and then photograph your notes just in case you lose your note pad.

Targeting the Best Department as a Production Assistant

Early in your career, you should have some indication of what you’re drawn to in the film and television industry. Therefore, you should be thinking about the type of PA job you want. Do you want to be a Producer or work in the Art Department? Do you want to get your hands on camera gear or learn the nuts and bolts in production management? Whichever department is most attractive, don’t be hesitant to seek out those roles and don’t be shy when asked, “What department do you want to work in?” Too many first time PAs jump into whatever role is available, and that may be OK. Sometimes, you just want to get your foot in the door and if all the production has is a Craft Services PA, then go for it. However, if they ask you about a specific PA role, go for the position that gets you as close to the department you eventually want to work in.

You should also be thinking about whether you want to work in the office or on set. Here are some basic departments to consider:

  • Office: Production, Post-production, Casting, Development, Writing
  • Set: Assistant Directing, Camera, Grip, Electric, Locations, Costuming, Craft Services

Here are some resources to find work as a Production Assistant:

If you work hard, show up 15 minutes early every day, listen, take notes, pay attention, and anticipate needs, you will be wanted by everyone who has worked with you. A strong PA is indispensable and in high-demand.

Should I Work for Free?

The short answer? No. However, there are exceptions. If you have zero experience as a PA, then perhaps volunteering on an independent production like a short film or webisode may be an option to gain some experience. Here’s what you should be wary of: job postings that promise an award-winning Director, name talent, and working with a professional crew. When I read that, my first question is: if they are so advanced, then why can’t they pay their crew? It sounds like nonsense to me. However, if you really need some experience, then perhaps volunteering on at most three free gigs will help build your resume. At least make sure they have insurance so that if you get hurt on the job, you can be covered. After three free gigs, stop working for free!

Tips on Rates

What should a Production Assistant be paid? Depending on the market, you should be paid at least minimum wage in your area. In Los Angeles, the general rule of thumb is $186.50 for a 12-hour day. That takes into consideration 8 hours of straight time plus 4 hours of overtime. After that, you should be paid overtime for the next 4 hours and then it goes up from there based on local labor laws.

The general rate for experienced PAs is $200 for a 12 hour day. The highest would be $250/12 to $300/12 for a Key PA or really seasoned PA, depending on the department.

How Long to PA

One to three years tops. After that, you should be looking into APOC (Assistant Production Office Coordinator), PC (Production Coordinator), or different types of Assistant roles like AC (Assistant Camera), AP (Associate Producer), 2nd AD (2nd Assistant Director), or Wardrobe Assistant roles. After three years, it’s time to advocate for advancement in your career. You can’t PA forever and you shouldn’t PA forever.

Learn While You Earn

Being a Production Assistant gives you insight into how productions and sets are really run and you will be able to learn while you earn. If you work hard, show up 15 minutes early every day, listen, take notes, pay attention, and anticipate needs, you will be wanted by everyone who has worked with you. A strong PA is indispensable and in high-demand. So, get out there and assist productions like a pro!

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7 Online Film Schools You Should Know

7 Online Film Schools You Should Know

Online film school has never been more popular. While traditional brick and mortar colleges and universities still hold appeal, many prospective students either aren’t interested in going to one or they simply might be unable to due to outside commitments or responsibilities. And that’s why online film school has become an essential part of today’s higher education for aspiring filmmakers.

From the comfort of their own homes, students can explore the medium and grow their skillsets within it. And given how easy it is for most people to get online, remote learning can extend beyond the home to the train, office or anywhere else with internet access. This benefit, coupled with the many colleges and universities that have come to recognize how remote learning can accommodate a large demographic, has resulted in a wide variety of online film school options from which students can choose.

These seven colleges and universities feature prominent online film school programs:

  1. Academy of Art University
  2. Arizona State University Online
  3. Full Sail University
  4. The Los Angeles Film School
  5. National University
  6. New York Film Academy
  7. UCLA Online Extension

Academy of Art University

Based out of San Francisco, Academy of Art University offers an online Motion Pictures & Television degree or MPT degree. As their website states, this program can prepare students “for a career as a motion pictures and television professional.” Given the broad nature of the program, it might be the perfect fit for someone who wants a wide-ranging education rather than more specialized training.

One reason why online film school continues to grow in demand is because the colleges and universities that offer it strive to provide an experience that mirrors traditional higher education, and Academy of Art University is no different. Among the benefits that the school touts for its online film students is access to and instruction from the same Teachers whom its onsite students learn from.

Arizona State University Online

Arizona State University’s online programs have been designated as among the best in the United States, making ASU a strong online film school option. At this school, prospective students can earn an online Bachelor of Arts in Film & Media Studies.

Like Academy of Art University, the degree offered through ASU gives graduates a well-rounded background in film that they can then apply to the specific field of their choice. However, for those wondering exactly how they can transfer their education to the real world, Arizona State University offers some insight into the career paths their alums have taken. The site mentions that their graduates have gone on to become “creative executives, Producers, Managers, and Writers.” They also work in “story and production development, exhibition, distribution and film, and television.”

Specifically, New York Film Academy offers non-degree 15-week online courses in screenwriting. So for those who simply want to be held accountable to a consistent writing schedule or freshen up on their screenwriting skills, this may be the right choice.

Full Sail University

Full Sail University, established in 1979, puts a strong focus on the arts, and unlike other online film school options, has several programs from which prospective students can choose. The school currently offers a Bachelor’s in Digital Cinematography, a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Entertainment and even a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

Each of these programs is more specific in nature than those offered by either Academy of Art University or Arizona State University. So while other facets of the film industry might be discussed on occasion, those who decide to move forward with an online undergraduate or graduate degree through Full Sail University should already have a strong interest in either digital cinematography or creative writing.

Given that some individuals may recognize only after completing a more general degree the specialty they want to pursue, these particular degrees might also suit those who have already received their bachelor’s in another field.

The Los Angeles Film School

As its name implies, The Los Angeles Film School specifically guides students for a future career in the industry. And like Full Sail University, it offers several online film degree options. Individuals can choose from among its Bachelor of Science programs in Digital Filmmaking, Entertainment Business, Graphic Design or Animation. (The Los Angeles Film School also provides an Associate of Science in Music Production.)

Like those offered through Full Sail University, The Los Angeles Film School programs are highly specialized. Students may become better acquainted with other aspects of the film industry while in school, but they should be prepared to immerse themselves largely in the specialty for which they are enrolled.

One unique aspect of this particular online film school is that it is based in the heart of the entertainment industry. Though students are still learning remotely, this particular school may appeal to those who ultimately want to live and work in Los Angeles. Especially as online film schools generally allow for more schedule flexibility, students here can potentially network with their fellow students or even begin to work in the industry as they complete their degrees, giving them a head-start on their careers.

National University

Just south of The Los Angeles Film School is National University in San Diego. However, like Arizona State University, NU is a school that offers degrees and programs across the spectrum of different fields. Unlike any of the other online film school options mentioned thus far, though, National University provides interested students with a Master of Arts in Film Studies. Film studies students largely learn about the history and aesthetics of film, which can make this degree attractive to those who want to one day teach or become a Film Critic.

NU also offers several other undergraduate and graduate options. Prospective students can work towards their Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media Design, Bachelor of Arts in Film Arts or Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Through its diversity of programs, National University gives students who both are looking for a more generalized film education or specialized training the chance to earn their degree online.

UCLA Extension truly offers a spectrum of courses for students. Some provide extremely specialized instruction, such as “Copyright Law in the Entertainment Industry” and “Audio Recording Theory,” while others offer a more broad education like “Story Analysis for Film and Television” and “The Language of Filmmaking.” And given the lesser time and financial commitment, it could be an ideal option for those who are uncertain of the path they want to take and would like to try out different specialties.

New York Film Academy

Though called the New York Film Academy, this higher learning institution has locations not only in New York City but also Los Angeles and Miami. And like many of the other online film schools already mentioned — among them Academy of Art University, Full Sail University, and The Los Angeles Film School — New York Film Academy specializes in the arts. However, what sets this school apart from the rest is its online option that may cater better to students who aren’t looking for a long-term educational program.

Specifically, New York Film Academy offers non-degree 15-week online courses in screenwriting. So for those who simply want to be held accountable to a consistent writing schedule or freshen up on their screenwriting skills, this may be the right choice. Currently, the school provides six program options: Screenplay Story & Structure Workshop, Screenplay Workshop, Screenplay Rewrite Workshop, Television Spec Workshop, Television Pilot Workshop, and Television Rewrite Workshop.

UCLA Online Extension

Another option for individuals who want to further their education without a multi-year commitment towards getting an undergraduate or graduate degree is UCLA Extension. As its site states, UCLA Extension can help students upgrade their “current skills — or explore entirely new areas of interest.” And for those pursuing a career in entertainment, this online film school has nearly two-dozen different courses to give them a professional edge.

UCLA Extension truly offers a spectrum of courses for students. Some provide extremely specialized instruction, such as “Copyright Law in the Entertainment Industry” and “Audio Recording Theory,” while others offer a more broad education like “Story Analysis for Film and Television” and “The Language of Filmmaking.” And given the lesser time and financial commitment, it could be an ideal option for those who are uncertain of the path they want to take and would like to try out different specialties.

To further ease the educational experience for students, most UCLA Extension courses have open enrollment. Plus, once a course is completed, students have access to the large UCLA Alumni Association, which boasts of many high-profile film professionals.

Other Online Film School Options

Outside of the online film schools mentioned above, those interested in exploring or furthering their education of the entertainment industry may want to research their local community colleges or even independent businesses that offer film-related classes. Though they might not provide degree options, they may still fill the need of students who are looking for less intensive program options.

Regardless of the online film school, the decision to do a degree program or even just a course is not one that should be taken lightly. Each option is a commitment of time and financial resources, so before enrolling, prospective students should do their own research. Though remote learning can be incredibly convenient, students should make sure the program fits in with their career aspirations. By talking to the admissions office, school instructors and even former students, individuals can get a better feel for the type of education they’re potentially investing a considerable amount of money and energy into.

Another facet of online film school that prospective students should consider is that of time management. Yes, remote learning largely gives individuals the opportunity to study around their particular schedules, but students will still be held accountable even outside the classroom. Brick and mortar schools come with an inherent structure, which can be helpful to some students. So for those opting to learn from home, it’s essential that they create a structure for themselves that allows for consistent and uninterrupted learning.

That being said, online film school can be an excellent choice for a variety of reasons, including schedule flexibility and potential lower cost of learning. And as the above options demonstrate, prospective students now have more choices than ever before to get the education they want that will set them upon a successful film career path.

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