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Three Reasons to Start with Horror

Horror is sometimes treated like the unwanted cousin of film. It isn’t seen as art. Try to remember the last time a horror film was nominated for an Academy Award.

Best Actress

-31st October 1930: Canadian star Norma Shearer (1902 – 1983) receives a Best Actress Oscar from Conrad Nagel (1897 – 1970), for her role in ‘The Divorcee’. The two co-starred as lovers in the film, which was directed by Robert Z Leonard. (Photo by John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)-

BUT… whether it’s art or trash, there’s one thing Hollywood knows for sure: Horror films SELL. So, instead of an unwanted cousin, maybe horror is actually more like that uncle the family tolerates because he’s wealthy and buys them things…

If you’re a film-maker who is just starting out and plans to tackle a feature, congratulations! But there are three key reasons why you should make that first-ever feature a horror film.

1. Horror sells.

OK. This was already mentioned in the intro, but it definitely deserves some more attention. If you make and release a horror film online, what are the chances of viewers choosing a quiet drama with an image of two friends sharing coffee on the thumbnail over a blood-splattered horror flick? Sure, you’ll get a few clicks, and sure, there’s an audience for drama – but they usually flock to dramas starring actors they know, and if this is your first feature, you don’t have those actors.





Horror, on the other hand, ALWAYS has an audience. People will click the link out of sheer morbid curiosity. When it comes to horror, all that really matters is the concept, the story, and whether or not they’re marketable.


2. Horror can be done on the cheap.

In additional to horror selling well, it can also be made very cheaply. That’s because horror doesn’t need to rely on big stars or even crazy special effects. Scary is scary, and that’s all people watching horror are looking for – to be scared.

Remember two seconds ago when I wrote that a marketable concept and story are all that really matter in horror? Well, if these things are coming from you (and they likely are if it’s your first feature), they’re free.


You might be thinking, “Don’t horror movies require a lot of special effects, though?” They don’t! Think about it. Think of how many horror movies you’ve seen where you were terrified even though they barely ever showed the monster? Or where the violence was mostly implied, not shown, and your brain just filled in the blanks? Again, it’s the IDEA of what’s going on. The concept. People will still be scared even without a lot of over-the-top effects. And, honestly, the number one “effect” in horror films is usually just fake blood. Hit your local Halloween store on November 1st to buy buckets of it for 50% off and go to town.


3. Horror stands a chance at being a franchise.

Horror is unique in that just about any horror film can spawn multiple sequels – even if it’s terrible. No other genre can consistently pull that off. There’s a reason why Forrest Gump stopped after just one, while they’ll continue to make Friday the 13th movies long after you and I are gone.

Once again, it comes back to those horror lovers, the ones who watch out of morbid curiosity. If they liked the first one, they’ll show up for the second one. And if they liked the first one enough, Hollywood will pay for your second one. Think about what happened to Oren Peli after Paranormal Activity came out. The film was made for $11,000 – which is like five cents in movie terms – and has now made hundreds of millions of dollars.

So, there you have it. I’m not saying not to plan for your artistic, insightful movie that will go on to sweep the Oscars. But if you’re just looking to get a film in the can, get people to start recognizing you, and get more work, horror’s the best place to start. Happy film-making!

Written by: Sara McDermott

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We are avid about Avid!

In the spirit of our next Media Composer 101 weekend course coming up Saturday, September 26th and Sunday, September 27th, the DFANYC family thought it worthwhile to update readers on the relevance of Avid Media Composer.


According to’s article about Fury, the latest film edited by the highly acclaimed Dody Dorn, a team utilized Avid Everywhere by embracing the industry’s “most trusted editing tools for professional video production from the Avid Artist Suite, running on the Avid MediaCentral Platform.” The team used 16 Avid Media Composer Software systems organized across multiple continents to enable 24/7 collaborative editing! The article quotes the Emmy and Academy award nominated editor stating,

“Ultimately, it was thanks to the stability and flexibility of Avid Media Composer to keep those four discreet editing rooms in sync. It was pretty phenomenal.”

Imagine building a career in editing that catapults your work toward greats such as directors David Ayer, Ridley Scott and Baz Luhrmann. It does not hurt to meet some remarkable actors like Brad Pitt, either.


Continuing, we cannot forget the application of Avid in our weekly television hits like The Voice. Facing a continuous production schedule, the team behind the show takes full advantage of Avid to manage the large quantity of media that must be edited on a weekly basis. This quote by Robert M. Malachowski Jr., supervising editor of The Voice, came from Avid’s article about the cutting-edge editing equipment we can teach you all about at DFANYC.

“You’d be hard pressed to name a file format we haven’t used on The Voice over the last five seasons. Our Avid workflow allows us to manage and utilize the high volume of media that comes in daily.”

Who doesn’t want to learn skills that could enable them to work with stars like Adam Levine and Shakira? Learning tools to work with Avid Media Composer obviously produces fruitful opportunities for the students at DFA.


This two day course, MC101, is your first step in achieving confidence, creativity, and efficiency with the media composer system used in favorites like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It leads you through the interface and basic editing techniques before moving on to trimming, fine-tuning the edit, adjusting audio, handling multi-camera editing, adding transitions, adding titles, and outputting your finished project. The training is hands-on and features project-based lessons in which you work on real-world projects ranging from extreme sports and dazzling documentary footage to an episode of the television show Hell’s Kitchen. Along with its counterpart, MC 110 – Effects Essentials, this course provides the foundation for Media Composer User Certification.


All you need is a completion of a Macintosh or Windows introductory course or equivalent experience. However, no familiarity with the system is necessary to join us at DFANYC Saturday, September 26th and Sunday, September 27th from 10 AM to 6 PM with a 1 hour lunch break.

More information at THIS LOCATION

Post Written By: Gracie Winchester

DFA Films the 11th Annual Women’s Business Leadership Conference

When the National Minority Business Council recently asked Digital Film Academy to record the award ceremony at the 11th Annual Women’s Business Leadership Conference, we were honored to film the proceedings. NMBC The NMBC is a non-profit corporation which dates back to 1972. They are very active throughout the tri-state area and across the USA, providing business assistance, educational opportunities, and seminars to hundreds of businesses with a particular focus on those minority-owned and women-owned. As part of Women’s History Month, the NMBC chose to honor Randy Joy Epstein with the Muriel Seibert Award for her work as a business consultant and growth strategist.

Randy Joy Epstein
Randy Joy Epstein

A little background on The Muriel Siebert Leadership Award: This award is named after Muriel ‘Mickie’ Seibert, the First Woman of Finance and the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Siebert was an outspoken advocate for women and minorities in industry. Sadly, she passed away in 2013.

Muriel "Mickie" Siebert
Muriel “Mickie” Siebert

So, who better to carry on the legacy of women in business than Randy Joy Epstein, a business strategy and planning consultant, expert speaker, and writer. Randy is also the producer of the TEDx Times Square event. You can view the keynote speech below, filmed live at BNY Mellon in downtown Manhattan by our own Digital Film Academy graduates, Mr. Richard Lanzillotto and Ms. Shaun Dawson. In addition to NMBC President John Robinson and members of the board Dawn Henning and Ben Jones, the event was attended by a roomful of female CEOs and leaders of women-owned companies, running the gamut from general contractors (Armada Building Services) to crowd-funding experts (Plum Alley) to media production companies (GingersnapNYC). New York City government was also in attendance, with Ophelia Gabrino, Executive Director of Corporate Partnerships and Education, representing the City’s Business Development Division.

Digital Film Academy would like to congratulate NMBC on their 11th Annual Women’s Business Leadership Conference – and well done to Randy on receiving this very special award!


By Digital Film Academy Blogger Tom Griffin

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The 52nd New York Film Festival

Ladies and Gentlemen, are you ready?

In exactly 3 days, the city of New York is going to be taken over by film, and we couldn’t be more excited. The 52nd New York Film Festival kicks off on September 26th and it will bring the power of cinema to the city that never sleeps all the way until October 12th. With over 2 weeks of world premieres, award winners, retrospective screenings, spotlights on emerging filmmakers, panels and galas, the 52nd edition of the acclaimed film festival has everything it takes to be the greatest so far.

NYFF 52 2

Founded in 1963, as the auteur theory and European cinematic modernism were crashing upon the shores of American film culture, the New York Film Festival continues to introduce audiences to the most exciting, innovative and accomplished works of world cinema.The non-competitive festival, sometimes abbreviated as NYFF, was established by Amos Vogel and Richard Roud. The films are selected by one of the world’s most prominent film presentation organizations: the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Gone GirlBen Affleck, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Lisa Barnes
and David Clennon in ‘Gone Girl’ from director David Fincher

This year’s lineup will include some of this year’s major Oscar contenders, including Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher’, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner’, David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars’ and this year’s Sundance winner Whiplash’. They join the already-announced opening film Gone Girl’ from director David Fincher, centerpiece gala selection Inherent Vice’ from Paul Thomas Anderson, and closing night gala selection Birdman’ from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in the lineup.

Check out the festival’s trailer:

If you’re interested in learning more about the 52nd NYFF’s schedule and showtimes, click here.

by DFA Marketing & Social Media Manager Carol Mazzoni.

Women Cinematographers: A Look Behind Her Lens

When we look at the names of cinematographers working on commercial films, we will find it a difficult task to spot a woman credited as one. Women make up barely 2% of cinematographers in the industry. There haven’t been any female cinematographers who were nominated for an Academy Award. That’s not cool. In fact, the numbers are downright astonishing. These are surprising statistics that will, hopefully, motivate more women and girls to look into this creative field as a career and make some positive changes.

Is it hard to get it in the door? Of course it is. This is true especially for commercial films. Most female cinematographers (past and present) break into film work with documentaries. Many stay in that genre due to a genuine preference for it and, others, due to the amount of bias against women who move to work in other areas of filmmaking. And like any profession that has been, historically, bent to favor one social or gender group, it will be hard to change the numbers. But it’s not impossible to do it. And the great thing is you won’t have to start on a road where there is an absence of footprints. Fortunately, there are women who have already been hard at work paving the road for your arrival in the film world as a cinematographer.

Brianne MurphyBrianne Murphy, best known for the film Fatso and television series Highway to Heaven.

Although there are many men (and some women) in the industry who think of cinematography as a ‘man’s job’, Brianne Murphy did not let this bias stop her from pursuing her passion for working with cameras. Murphy got her start in the field working as a still photographer. From there, she graduated to numerous projects in television and film. Murphy’s work was so good it could not be overlooked by her male counterparts. In 1980, she became the first female member of The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC).

Ellen Kuras 2Ellen Kuras, A.S.C. – known for her critically acclaimed work on the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Other notable women have been hard at work clearing out brushes of bias and showing that cinematic cameras favor no gender, such as Ellen Kuras, best known for working with Spike Lee on He Got Game (1998) and Summer of Sam (1999). Her most critically acclaimed film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

Amy VincentAmy Vincent. She is an ASC member and the cinematic talent behind such films as Hustle and Flow and Eve’s Bayou.

Amy Vincent was the cinematic talent behind Oscar-nominated film Hustle and Flow. She also worked her camera magic on the stunningly beautiful film Eve’s Bayou – a powerful film about an adulterous man seen through the eyes of his young daughter. It was also directed by a woman, Kasi Lemmons.

The above are just a few incredible visionaries who have worked and currently work as cinematographers on the small and big screen. It would be awesome to see more women follow in their footsteps and even go beyond what they have achieved. Life is about progress. And, who knows, maybe someone out there reading this article will be the first ever woman to win an Academy Award for cinematography in a motion picture. If it’s cameras and motion pictures you love, all you have to do is follow your heart’s passion.

To read more about the wonderful women mentioned in this article, click on the following:

Learn more about Brianne Murphy.
Learn more about Amy Vincent.
Learn more about Ellen Kuras.

If you would like to become a cinematographer, start your journey at Digital Film Academy. Visit or call (212) 333-4013.

by DFA Student & Blog Writer Mary Stokes.

The Director Auteur

The entertainment industry has tons of creative energy flowing through it. The public may hear stories of how most people who get involved in it desire to work in an area they are not hired for (e.g. the actor who wishes to be a director, the gaffer who would like to be a cinematographer, the extra who would like to have a supporting or lead role, etc.). However, what if one position can maximize its creativity so that it becomes the dominant voice in (and over) all creative roles on the set? Would this be welcomed in the industry? Or shunned? Where you fall in this opinion may depend on who you are in the industry. If you’re a director who subscribes to the director auteur theory, you would most likely be an advocate for this singular dominance of creative expression on a project; however, if you’re a cinematographer who is used to being the creative voice on how the camera’s positioning and/or lighting needs to be to evoke ‘just the right’ mood, you may not be as comfortable with the idea of working with a director auteur who expects to have maximal (or close to maximal) input in all areas of film production, including specific ideas and instructions on how camera positions and lighting should be done.

TruffautFrançois Truffaut, 1955

That brings us to the question you’re probably asking yourself: What exactly is a Director Auteur? Auteur is the French word for “author”. The term “director auteur” was first used by François Truffaut, a French critic who became a celebrated filmmaker in the 1950s. Truffaut believed that, although a film has many components (and players) in its production, the true author of the work is the director. To Truffaut, a film’s vision (if executed well) should be dominated by the style of the director to such an extent that it minimizes any appearance of collaboration with others (including the cinematographer, set designers, etc.) who work on the film. Truffaut believed that when this is achieved it is the highest level of professional expression by a director.

TarantinoQuentin Tarantino, Photograph:

Is the director auteur theory at work in the film industry today? It is. In fact, presently, it is the dominant style of filmmaking. Many of the directors of the past several decades have been auteurs. We recognize their movies, not because of the cinematographer or screenwriter attached to the project, but because of the style of director. For example, Quentin Tarantino is one of the most famous modern auteurs in the industry. His films are instantly recognizable by both movie audiences and critics. And this is a fact in spite of Tarantino having used a few different cinematographers (such as Robert Richardson for Inglorious Bastards and Django: Unchained; Guillermo Navarro for Dusk to Dawn; and Andrzej Sekula for Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) for his projects. Tarantino, as a director auteur, is able to stamp his movies with his own distinctive style that dominates the film.

AllenWoody Allen, 1977 at Coney Island, Brooklyn. Photograph: Brian Hamill/Getty Images

Although numerous directors with east coast backgrounds chronicle city life, many would agree that no one has achieved as much of a distinctive style in doing so than Woody Allen. His films count as another example of the work of a director auteur. His quirky, neurotic, humorous and character-driven movie style penetrates most of his work (e.g. Crimes and Misdemeanors, Deconstructing Harry, New York Stories, Hannah and Her Sisters) in such a way that when audiences and critics see it, it is undeniably a ‘Woody Allen’ production.

When you’re approaching your next project, consider whether or not you would like to approach it as a director auteur; and whether or not it’s a project you are allowed to exercise the authority of that position. For example, if your film is funded (and developed) by a well-known studio and you are a director who is not well-known, chances are you will have to collaborate with others who, at times, may (if they are big name actors or studio execs) have more influence than you in the overall style of the film. That means the best chance an up and coming director has to establish a distinctive voice with his films is in the independent world of filmmaking. There are less people above you to answer to and, as a consequence, it allows you more freedom to turn a script into a film that frames you (and your vision) as its primary author (or “auteur”).

Now go out and direct the next film that will have people discussing the newest director auteur in the business!

To learn more about the Auteur theory, click here.

To learn more about French director François Truffaut, click here.

by DFA Student & Blog Writer Mary Stokes.

Student Work: 'Assigned Sex' by Shaun Dawson

Obsessed with the art of storytelling since she learned how to walk and talk, Shaun Dawson followed a very unique path before she landed in the world of filmmaking. She was a surgical technologist for 7 years in the US military, when her dream of becoming a storyteller became more concrete. The experience of providing aid to earthquake victims in Haiti, in January 2010 spurred her on. It was at that time that Shaun met a journalist who also served as a major inspiration to her to really pursue filmmaking as a career choice.

Shaun Dawson

After studying for a BS in Marketing followed by an MA in Communications, Shaun decided it was time to master the art of visual storytelling. She enrolled at Digital Film Academy and hasn’t looked back since.

Her new project, ‘Assigned Sex’, tackles a very important subject and it has been highly anticipated among the LGBT community. The documentary unveils the hurdles that gender-variant individuals face and forces society to bear more responsibility. The piece follows five transgender individuals as they break away from America’s more traditional gender roles. The project was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter and is now about to be released to the public. Here, Shaun tells us a little bit about her campaign journey, project and future.

Assigned Sex 2

DFA Blog: Tells us the biggest secret of your successful crowdfunding campaign. What really worked?
Shaun Dawson: Defining your target audience is essential. Once I pinpointed my target audience, the rest was a breeze. I’m pretty sure I’m part of every online LGBT community now. LinkedIn was a huge resource. Over 70% of the donations were driven by LinkedIn.

DFA Blog: What was your main challenge with the campaign?
Shaun Dawson: The biggest hurdle was the courage to actually start. Kickstarter is all or nothing, which is discouraging for most people. Keeping my team motivated and staying positive throughout the entire campaign was definitely a challenge.

DFA Blog: How were you first made aware of the alarming statistics on attempted suicide among transgender individuals?
Shaun Dawson: I met a transgender individual who began his transition during my freshman year of college. We were close friends in the early stages of his transition, but, as it progressed, he began to isolate himself. His social isolation and depression eventually led to several suicide attempts. By the beginning of my sophomore year, he had completely cut me off because he felt as a cisgender individual I could never understand him. Little did he know, I actually really wanted to understand. I, then, began following transgender individuals who shared their journeys on YouTube and realized that most were severely depressed with suicidal thoughts.

DFA Blog: What else made this project a must for you?
Shaun Dawson: The current peak in transgender-based hate crimes across the country.

DFA Blog: What is the most moving story for you from the documentary?
Shaun Dawson: One of the cast members of the documentary is an elementary teacher here in New York City. He is very passionate about his career. He agreed to be a part of the documentary because he felt that venting would be therapeutic during his transition. His biggest fear is for parents of his students to question him as a teacher. Watching him progress over the past year and a half has been very moving.

Assigned Sex 1‘Assigned Sex’ was written, directed and shot by Shaun Dawson and edited by another DFA student, Richie Lanzillotto Jr.

The documentary will be released to the public on OCTOBER 16, 2014. Stay tuned!

Connect with ‘Assigned Sex’  on Facebook & Twitter:

by DFA Marketing & Social Media Manager Carol Mazzoni and DFA Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain.

Countdown to the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival

We’re a little over 2 weeks away from one of the most exciting film festivals of the year: the Toronto International Film Festival. And we’re here to tell you a little bit about the mighty event and what to expect from this year’s edition.


The TIFF was founded by Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl as “The Festival of the Festivals” in 1976, and it showed a collection of the best films from film festivals around the world. In 1994, the festival’s name was officially replaced with “Toronto International Film Festival” and it started having premieres of its own – maybe “The Festival of the Festivals” was a bit too presumptuous, even for an event that great.

From that point on, the Toronto International Film Festival has premiered some of the most acclaimed films in recent history, such as American Beauty, “Ray”, “Crash”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Black Swan”, “The King’s Speech”, “Argo” and “Silver Linings Playbook”. In September 2010, the festival opened its new home in the Toronto Entertainment District, the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

TIFF Laurel

Here are some of the most anticipated premieres that will take place on this year’s edition:

Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children”
Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Wild”
Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer”
Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young”
Shawn Levy’s “This Is Where I Leave You”
James Franco’s “The Sound and the Fury”
Chris Rock’s “Top Five”
Jon Stewart’s directorial debut “Rosewater”

The 2014 TIFF is expecting around 400,000 attendees overall, many of them from outside Canada. The city of Toronto is about to shine bright with the amount of stars that will be showing up within the next few weeks.


The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival will take place from September 4th to 14th, 2014.

What are your bets?

by Carol Mazzoni, Digital Film Academy‘s Marketing & Social Media Manager

The Legendary Robin Williams, Dead at 63

The whole world was shocked by the news that Robin Williams, all-time great comedian and performer, died at the age of 63 yesterday from an apparent suicide.

“An investigation into the cause, manner and circumstances of the death is currently underway by the Investigations and Coroner Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office,” a sheriff’s statement said. “Coroner Division suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made.”

Williams entertaining the troops with the USO.
Williams entertaining the troops.

Since the news broke, the tweets and posts about Williams have been endless. His incredible generosity and kindness have been cited by numerous celebrity friends, and even President Barack Obama acknowledged the loss in a White House statement:

“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between.  But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien — but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.  He made us laugh.  He made us cry.  He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.”

Williams had performed with the USO in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Williams as Mork with his co-star Pam Dawber in Mork and Mindy
Williams as Mork with his co-star Pam Dawber in Mork and Mindy

Williams, a Julliard-trained performer, found his first big break in the form of Happy Days spinoff Mork and Mindy, on which he played the alien, Mork. During that same time, his stand-up comedy routine was taking off. He was known primarily as a funny man; however, he more than proved his dramatic acting chops by receiving four Oscar nominations in his lifetime: for Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987, Dead Poets Society in 1989, The Fisher King in 1991, and finally, for Good Will Hunting in 1997. It was his portrayal of psychologist Sean Maguire in Hunting that finally landed him a statue.

Williams as Maguire with Good Will Hunting co-star Matt Damon
Williams as Maguire with Good Will Hunting co-star Matt Damon

Other roles for which Williams was known include the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin (a role which eventually resulted in his induction as a “Disney Legend”); Alan Parrish in Jumanji; Armand Goldman in The Birdcage; an adult Peter Pan in Hook; and the titular Mrs. Doubtfire, a role he was set to reprise in a 2015 sequel to the 1993 hit.

His list of credits goes on and on, and there will be four more to add to the list. Williams appears in four films that are currently in post-production, including another installment in the Night at the Museum franchise, in which he plays Teddy Roosevelt.

Williams as Roosevelt in Night at the Museum
Williams as Roosevelt in Night at the Museum

According to both co-stars and audience members alike, Williams’ talent was nothing short of “genius.” Many of his most memorable performances were improvisations. Henry Winkler, aka “the Fonz” from Happy Days, claimed that from Williams’ first rehearsal as Mork, Winkler knew he was “in the presence of greatness.”

Williams was also known for his philanthropy. He was co-founder of the Windfall Organization and, along with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, a host of Comic Relief, a charity which raises funds for the homeless.

Williams, Goldberg, and Crystal at Comic Relief
Williams, Goldberg, and Crystal at Comic Relief

According to his media reprensentative, Mara Buxbaum: “(Williams had) been battling severe depression of late.” His death is a tragedy for his family and fans and a reminder of a serious problem. If you or anyone you know is battling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please seek help by learning about symptoms and solutions on a site such as Help Guide, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain.

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