By David Klein, Senior Director New York Film Academy Filmmaking School
Education is always valuable and as an educator, I firmly believe the more the better. But life has practical realities, which tells some of us to study things in short spurts instead of getting a four-year degree. In filmmaking, this is almost as much the rule as the exception.
Consider some of the greatest filmmakers, directors, screenwriters and producers who did not get degrees in filmmaking or related disciplines. It’s a list that includes Woody Allen, Walt Disney, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood), Peter Bogdanovich, and Sir Noel Coward among many others. The story on Anderson is he actually combined gambling winnings and $10,000 his parents set aside for his education to create his first 20-minute film, a gamble unto itself and one which ultimately paid off quite handsomely. These Hollywood success stories illustrate that much of what defines the artist is drawn from life and work experience – as much or perhaps more than a degree.
And yet the basic, technical aspects of filmmaking require some knowledge – it’s a very technological world that intersects with physics, human psychology and business management. At the very least a basic understanding of the full process can be very beneficial.
The New York Film Academy provides certificates, diplomas and degrees in filmmaking for programs that are completed in as little as 1-, 4-, 6-, 8- and 12-week programs, and in one-, two- and four-year conservatory, associate, bachelor and master degree programs. Some of these programs are very specific, such as the week long seminars in high definition filmmaking and music videos. By contrast, a four-year degree encompasses the full complement of study in arts and humanities, social and natural sciences, as well as the practice, art and craft of filmmaking. If you want to write, direct or produce action thrillers, it helps to know how the good and bad guys think – and how cars careening about hilly streets might plausibly jump, land and keep driving.
But many aspiring filmmakers either have a four-year education already under their belt, or are confident they can follow in the degree-free footsteps of Allen, Disney and Bodganovich – with a little bit of training. The eight-week intensive filmmaking workshop at NYFA provides three very important outcomes for students: focused learning of the craft, hands-on experience in film shoots (each student directs four short films in the two-month program) and a fully realized final film.
The program structure includes the following:
- Basics of directing – Known as the Director’s Craft, this course is the “spine of the workshop,” where the language and practice of filmmaking is taught. It includes hands-on exercises, screenings and demonstrations, fundamental directing skills development, and how to critique one’s own work and that of others.
- Screenwriting – Without a good script a director can only do so much. This course teaches the fundamentals of dramatic structure, story arc, theme, character, tension and conflict as essential components of engaging films.
- Editing – The organizing of film and sound material within the language of editing is a key learning in this course. Just as important, the use of nonlinear editing software and an emphasis on the craft of editing leads students to create the story sequences necessary for a cogent film.
- Cameras/lighting – The art of cinematography depends on mastering the technologies of focus, exposure, lens perspective, film latitude, lighting, contrast and slow-fast motion, as well as the fundamentals of digital cinematography. Equipment used in the NYFA program by all students includes 24p digital cameras, Arriflex 16-S and the Lowel VIP Lighting Kit and accessories.
- Mise-En-Scéne – Everything that appears on camera – the composition of a set, props, lighting, actor costuming and placement – create the sense of time and space, mood and often the characters’ states of mind. These dynamics of the scene, and how the camera moves from beginning to middle to end, the choices made in lenses, distances and angles, each play a role in the story (Orson Welles’ film noir style provides good examples of this). The NYFA program challenges students to tell the story in three shots, forcing work within each to be complete in its storytelling.
- Continuity – The difference between “film time” and “real time” is something the filmmaker must know and can learn in this course. It’s about how to use 10 to 15 shots in a continuous sequence in such a way that the audience will believe the reality of the scene. All students write, direct, shoot, edit and screen a film of up to three minute’s length to practice and demonstrate their skills in continuity.
No one completes this program on a Friday and wins an immediate green light with a major studio the next Monday – nor does anyone expect they will. But as a first step toward beginning a career in film, an intensive two months of study can make the path ahead far broader and take you much further.
David Klein earned a bachelor’s of science from Tufts University (magna cum laude) and his master’s in fine arts at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he was awarded the Tisch Excellence in Producing Award. Klein is also the winner of Warner Brothers Production Award for To Dye For. He has written and directed numerous other projects; including the award winning short film Gone with the Moon.
XTRA | Film School and The Calling Card Short Film
Click here for more Independent Film