I’m a firm believer that everyone is capable of making really great media. So where does all the bad media come from? Limitations. People are limited by budgets, availability, time, weather, and global pandemics. The thing stopping us from making great media isn’t a lack of ability. It’s the outside pressures pulling at our attention, telling us “no”.
So how can DFA help?
We help you overcome the limitations in a number of ways. With Pre-Production, making sure you know exactly what you need and how to get it. DFA students have access to professional equipment for life. So even long after you’ve graduated you’ll still be able to use our equipment for Production, reducing budget limitations considerably. And finally through Post-Production. In response to Covid-19 DFA has made our cutting-edge computers accessible remotely online. So you can edit in Davinci Resolve, Avid, Pro-Tools, After Effects, and many other softwares from the safety of your own home, and your client can dial in and go over the project with you live, from anywhere in the world!
When you study at DFA you have every resource at your fingertips to turn yourself into a lean mean filmmaking machine. Someone who can navigate the hurdles in your way to deliver clean powerful content.
If you’d like to find out more, please join us for an Online Open House (complete the form to add your name to the guest list, then watch your inbox for the confirmation email) Thursday February 18th @ 1pm EST, or check us out online at any of the links below and see if we’re a good fit for you.
Jamaal Green, a former DFA student – completed both the first year and advance program in filmmaking. We spoke to him about what he’s working on, and how his experience at the school helped to shape his career in film.
“We had access to equipment from day one which was huge and we also had some really good instructors. I wouldn’t have advanced, technically and skill set wise if I didn’t go to DFA and also because the people that I met there.”
How has DFA prepared you for life after grad?
“DFA helped me organize as a filmmaker. It helped me to be a self starter and to keep pushing, that was huge. Going there helped me realized that it’s not just going to happen for you and that you have to really push it. DFA really gave us a lot of tools, and how well you did there was up to you. They gave you everything you needed. We had access to equipment from day one which was huge and we also had some really good instructors. I wouldn’t have advanced, technically and skill set wise if I didn’t go to DFA and also because the people that I met there. The networking was huge. I still keep in contact with a lot of the students that graduated around the time I was there. I’m still do productions with one of my classmates. We have a small production company called MG Cinecraft.“
What are you currently working on?
“My main focus right now is a web series, The concept started when I was still at DFA and web series was kind of a new thing. One of our assignments was to create a web series and so I created something, which back then was called “Chronicles Of A Profiler.” As of now its been revamped and it’s just called “Chronicles Of.” It’s basically an ensemble crime thriller about a bunch of different characters in different locations spread across the region between New York and Philadelphia, and how their lives intersect when total corruption takes over. Everything kicks off when a string of murders that starts happening throughout the tri-state sets of a chain reaction that starts to expose all the things that’s been going on politically and socially in the underbelly for a while.”
What has the response been like to “Chronicles Of?”
We just recently participated in the Winter International Film Awards in New York. We won best web series. It’s been long time, we actually started full production, maybe two years ago, and we’ve been in post production for the last year or so. Finally we took the first episode and entered it into the film festivals. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well we’ve done. We’ve also been in the New Jersey Web Fest, which we did well in, and as a result of how we performed there we got a direct selection into the Apulia Web Fest in Italy in May. We will be showing at the Garden State Film Festival on March 28th and also in the Miami Web Film Festival on May 14th. We’re still waiting to hear back from some others, and we’re just now starting to enter the other episodes as well. We’re very happy with how it came out.
We have eight episodes that are about 15 minutes each and a finale that’s about 45 minutes. So when it’s all together is a two and a half hour long feature. I’ve written enough to do four seasons, depending on how it’s received. The ultimate goal is to flip it into television.
Stayed tuned with Jamaal, MG CineCraft and Chronicles Of here –
When Andrew Rottkamp entered college at the University of Delaware, he was a finance major.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I picked finance,” he jokes. “But I had a feeling right from the beginning that it wasn’t the right program for me.”
Luckily, when his junior year rolled around, he wound up taking an art class that focused on video.
“I had so much fun. Outside of the class, I began shooting films. I felt like ‘this is what I’m supposed to do,’” he says.
He made a plan to go to film school after leaving the university and began researching his different options.
“The DFA looked like it had much better value for the money,” he says. “In some cases, it cost 50% less than other schools, and actually had better reviews than they did. When I visited, everyone was so welcoming and friendly. I learned about how it was so easy to check out equipment. I was sold!”
Rottkamp was able to enter into the Advanced Digital Filmmaking program, thanks to a motocross video he had made with friends in college just for fun. Once he began the program, he realized his favorite part of the process was directing. As an extremely visual filmmaker, he gravitated toward finding the right visual elements to express a script.
“Learning how to manipulate and break down a script in class was incredibly helpful,” he says.
He had an unforgettable filming experience while shooting his thesis film – and one he doesn’t plan to replicate anytime soon!
“In my short film, a man finds his best friend dead in the woods. A battle breaks out. In the end, you realize it was all inside a video game,” Rottkamp explains. It was a cool concept, but one that required the use of a BB gun.
“We were only using BB’s, but still, someone called the cops,” he remembers. “The police showed up and wrote us up for having a firearm. We had to go to court! The judge went easy, and there were no repercussions, but I learned a valuable lesson about getting permits to shoot.”
Unfortunately, the project is abandoned until getting the proper permit. But the hold-up hasn’t held Rottkamp back in his career.
“After graduating from the DFA in December 2014, I realized I really needed to build my portfolio, so I threw myself into freelance work for a year,” Rottkamp says. “I shot weddings, too. On one of those wedding jobs, the friend I was working with had a connection with someone at HBO, and asked if I might be interested in applying for a job there. Absolutely!”
Rottkamp took on a temporary position at the popular network in January 2016, analyzing metadata for on-demand content. “I definitely feel that the DFA helped make me the right person for that position,” he says. “I knew all about transcoding, workflows. Exactly what they needed.”
Then, in June 2016, HBO offered Rottkamp an official position doing “Master Control,” where he monitors the outgoing feed for live TV. In the long run, he hopes to be involved in content creation.
Meanwhile, he creates content by continuing to make his own short videos outside of work. His favorite, a music video he’s currently wrapping up, is for a song called “Little Sister” by Terry Little, for which he created the basic storyline.
Additionally, his experience working with camera gear has inspired him to build an online store selling designer camera bags. “It’s been an incredible learn-as-you-go experience,” he confides. You can visit it here at:
Rottkamp plans to continue to grow the online store while also making more short films and staying on at HBO. His days as a finance major a thing of the past, he is now “Doing what (he’s) meant to be doing.”
What’s the biggest way in which the Digital Film Academy has affected student Ayanda Chisholm’s life?
“Definitely the WebTV class,” she says. “I had never considered doing a web series before. Now I’ve completed two episodes and plan to finish an entire first season.”
The web series, titled The Young, Black, and Gifted, focuses on a group of youths who form a coalition to fight police brutality. Just recently uploaded, the series has already begun to attract hundreds of views.
“Some of the best advice I’ve gotten at the DFA was from Patrick,” Chisholm says, referring to DFA President Patrick DiRenna. “When making a film, he says to focus on ‘Emotional complexity and clarity, with a simple production.’” This formula has served Chisholm well and inspired her to create work that lands an emotional punch but won’t break the bank production-wise.
About the series
The series was created with an all-DFA crew, with the exception of the make-up artist. “It came out almost exactly as I imagined,” Chisholm muses, a statement rarely heard in the film world where finished projects often fall short of their original concepts. “Actually, it came out better than my vision.”
You can view the first two episodes of her web series here:
This recent success aside, Chisholm was no stranger to script-writing and filmmaking prior to entering the DFA’s Advanced Digital Filmmaking program.
“I’ve always been an avid movie-watcher, movie-lover,” she says.
She began as a playwright, writing her first short play in middle school, where it was performed for her classmates. Once she got to high school, she began to transition into film. But, like most early filmmakers, she experienced her fair share of growing pains.
“I made one short that got into our school’s ‘New Works’ festival,” she remembers. “But while watching it, I realized that the girl who had done the editing hadn’t synced up the last minute of video and sound. It was really frustrating to see.”
It was around that time that Chisholm began to delve into the editing process herself. “I began editing in my sophomore year and have been obsessed with that ever since. Writing, directing, and editing.”
It was through this love of editing that Chisholm found herself joining Reel Grrls, an all-girls filmmaking group offering Adobe training. Taking the Adobe program made Chisholm eligible to apply for Adobe’s Youth Voices Scholarship, a worldwide contest granting scholarships to 25 winners to further their education.
As part of her application, Chisholm created and submitted a one-minute film entitled Black Beauty in the White Gaze. The piece dealt with society’s tendency to view beauty through the ideals of the white community, often showing disrespect to black women. The piece struck a chord with judges and Chisholm became a 2015 Adobe Creative Scholar.
At that point, Chisholm began to research different film schools in New York City, where she knew she wanted to live. When comparing schools, the DFA’s offer of free use of equipment, including a RED camera, registered as a huge perk other schools weren’t offering. Once visiting the school, Chisholm just felt it “seemed like (her) scene.” She moved from Seattle to live with her best friend and began studying at the DFA in August 2015.
Now fully immersed in her DFA courses, Chisholm talks about her professors – all industry professionals – and how their classes have resonated with her. “The cinematography instructor took our class to MoMA to study the different paintings. Once back at the school, we tried to re-create the lighting in those paintings using our equipment,” she recalls. “Also, the directing class is so much fun. Every week, we’re directing a different scene.
“(As film professionals), the instructors are able to offer great insights into the industry.”
I want challenges, to be able to work in different genres
In addition to continuing with her web series, Chisholm hopes to be able to make a living doing what she loves. “I want challenges, to be able to work in different genres,” she confides. “I don’t want to get stuck in a ‘practical’ job.”
Most importantly, Chisholm has something many filmmakers just starting out don’t have: a clear mission.
“I want to explore narratives that aren’t usually told, amplify voices that are usually not heard,” she says. “Someday, if I reach that point, I want to be able to open doors and offer opportunities for others. Help film to diversify as much as possible.”
When he was only in high school, Jimmy Zdolshek’s video production teacher encouraged him to participate in “SkillsUSA,” an organization that sponsors a competition to promote career and technical development. When the short Zdolshek completed within 6 hours as part of the contest went on to win 1st place, Zdolshek says it was one of the best moments of his entire life. The short then moved on to the National competition, where it placed 13th.
“I knew then that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he says.
Settled on his future career, Zdolshek began to search for a school that would help take his filmmaking to the next level, without breaking the bank.
“I didn’t want to go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt,” he laughs. “Also, I wanted real hands-on experience, freedom to work with the equipment.”
When he discovered the Digital Film Academy, it was the perfect match. The school’s low tuition, coupled with its policy of allowing students free access to all equipment needed for a shoot both during their schooling and after graduation, made it exactly what Zdolshek was looking for.
Additionally, given his background in film, Zdolshek was able to enter the DFA’s One Year Advanced Digital Filmmaking Program. This was another factor in his decision-making.
Currently at the DFA, Zdolshek is developing two short film projects that he wrote. For the one, “Stay Your Course, Young Man,” he was thrilled to get the rights to the music of the same name by Sylvan Lacue and Jon Bellion. Getting rights to music to include in his films is a skill that he began developing even with his high school projects.
“It’s not as hard as most people think,” he says. “A lot of the bands I like are more underground. I get their emails and we work something out. Most bands are willing to compromise, especially if you’re working without a budget!”
In other areas of his career, Zdolshek has gotten to see more significant budgets at work. He just completed an internship with Market Road Films, working on National Geographic’s Explorer, the longest-running documentary series in history. While there, he got to do development and post-production work. He also got to work on Blood Antiquities, a series about ISIS trading in the Western market.
“One of my favorite things was when I got to handpick the stills from Blood Antiquities to send to the network for the IMDB page,” he says. “I got to work closely with the director.”
Just this past month, he began another high-profile internship, this time with Backroads Entertainment, which creates shows that have been featured on channels like A&E, MTV, MTV2, E!, the Travel Channel, Lifetime, and more. Recently, he got to put together a playlist for famed rapper 50 Cent.
When asked what advice he would have for filmmakers just starting out, Zdolshek says: “Just get your ideas off the ground. Sit to write, go into production, and execute it the way you want… Work as hard as you can, watch and read as many films and scripts as you can, and make as many things as you can.”
“And, oh, remember,” he adds. “Film comes first in life. Film first. Food second.”
To view the trailer to Zdolshek’s short Sleepwalker, please click here.
When Joe Rodman first entered the Digital Film Academy, he planned to become a director. It was only through the hands-on experience he got filmmaking that he realized his true calling was editing. “I fell in love with editing. You get to really see the story take shape in the editing room,” he says.
It’s a realization that has served him well. Since graduating from the Advanced Digital Filmmaking program in June 2015, Rodman’s editing has opened up multiple career opportunities – including work on the 59-minute film Grave-Digger, a selection of the upcoming 2016 Madrid Film Festival and recent award-winner for Best Supporting Actor at France’s Nice Film Festival.
Rodman also received a standing ovation for his work at the film’s premiere in Tribeca.
The film was shot using four different cameras, including the DFA’s Red camera, courtesy of Rodman. (The school’s policy of allowing students free lifetime access to equipment after their graduation helps them land jobs and get more experience, and also benefits their employers.)
Rodman knew early on that he wanted to have a career in film. While in high school, he began shooting 1 to 2 minute films, his favorite of which remains Starbound, a Star Wars parody shot entirely with a green screen. He also became certified in Adobe Premiere CS6 and mastered After Effects. After graduating and having a brief summer job at the Sagamore on Lake George, he continued his film education at the DFA.
In Rodman’s words, “coming (to the DFA) opened my eyes to so much more.” In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of cinematography, he also learned about screenwriting, film budgeting, scheduling a shoot, and sound. Perhaps his most painful lesson came when, while shooting his thesis film, he didn’t bother to slate – AKA, click those sticks together at the beginning of each take. The end result was hours spent trying to sync his image and sound.
“It was painful, but the benefit is – I’ll never skip slating again!” he jokes.
At least he found a silver lining in the people he worked with on the film, particularly fellow students Lindsay Watson and A.J. Rodin. Watson was Rodman’s 1st A.C. and Rodin, his Director of Photography. “They were my left and right hand,” Rodman says.
It was also while shooting his thesis film that Rodman connected with Chris Cohen, the actor who would land the lead role in Rodman’s short and later write, direct, and star in Grave-Digger. The two developed a great working relationship, and Rodman lived with Cohen and his girlfriend for a month at the beach while editing the movie.
“I didn’t care about going to the beach at all,” he laughs. “In fact, I didn’t go once. I was so engrossed in the editing process.”
The film was actually Rodman’s first time using Avid to edit.
Rodman always has a film job in the works. As a consultant at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, he shot two weeks’ worth of conferences. Until recently, he was completing an internship with Emmy Award-winning producer Linda Yellen, where he edited the trailer for The Last Film Festival, the final film of the late Dennis Hopper. He also worked on the feature film Broken Ones, which had a budget of $200,000.
Next up on his list? A trip to Madrid, to see Grave-Digger at the Madrid Film Festival… but knowing Rodman, this won’t be an excuse for a vacation.
There’s never been a better time to make short films. Not only do most film festivals have short film categories, but platforms like YouTube have made it possible to actually monetize shorts.
Particularly if you’re just beginning your film career, there’s no better way to start than making a short film. This film can become your calling card, helping you get into festivals, make connections, and find meaningful work in the film industry.
So what do you need to keep in mind when making a short film?
1. What do you have?
First, take a look at what you have. It’s extremely hard to get funding (other than what you’re putting up) for a short. This is ten times as true if it’s your first. As a result, you’re going to want to look at what you already have at your disposal. Unless some kind of cool set is available for free, set your story someplace easily accessible. Unless you have a friend who’s a special effects or make-up whiz and willing to work cheap, don’t plan for a lot of special effects. Look at what you have and be creative with how you use it. After you make it big, then you can make a film that has everything you want!
2. Tight script
What makes a short film shoot last for days and days while the budget goes through the roof? Tons of locations and tons of characters. More locations and characters mean more traveling, more set-ups, and more coverage that you need to get. If, instead, your script has one or two locations and one or two characters (and comes in under ten pages), you can get it shot in one or two days.
3. Storyboards and shot lists
Don’t think you can arrive on set and just wing it. Filmmaking is a complicated medium, and one that requires a lot of collaboration. To that end, everything will go more smoothly if everyone has the same, clear set of guidelines to follow – and if all the shots have been thought through in advance. Create storyboards to go along with the script so that everyone can visualize what you need, and top it off with a shot list listing the shots you need to get. You can check them off as you get each one and be sure not to leave the set minus what you came for.
4. Get the coverage!
It’s every filmmaker’s nightmare. You’ve spent time and money to shoot your film only to realize in the editing room that you didn’t get enough coverage. Coverage refers to getting enough shots to be able to edit the film together in a way that appears seamless. If you haven’t gotten enough coverage, you might find there’s no good way to edit together two shots without it jarring the audience. Shoot wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, and inserts of various objects – along with whatever other clever shots you come up with! That way, you’ll have lots to choose from.
5. Put it all together
Editing can be a brutal process, so make sure your footage is clearly organized so you can find what you’re looking for. This will save you from wasting lots of time. Each minute of finished film will take hours to edit, so be mentally prepared for that fact. And if you do make it to this point only to realize you didn’t get what you needed to put together a decent short film, chalk it up to a learning experience, get back out there, and shoot, shoot again!
Can’t wait to see what you come up with in your short films. If you have any other tips/suggestions, leave them in the comments!
When Joseph Perez was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2011, following a five-year stint in Japan as a mechanical engineer, he wasn’t sure what would come next. It was pure luck that he had a friend working as a Production Manager at Chloe Productions who, when he heard of Perez’s return, offered him a two-week gig chauffeuring producers around town.
Quickly, due to Perez’s winning attitude and work ethic, that two-week gig blossomed into much more. He was soon given the responsibility of picking up celebrities, including Stevie Wonder, John Travolta, and the entire cast of Welcome Back, Kotter as part of their TVLand Awards appearance. The first time Perez got the chance to step onto a set and see all the equipment, he was hooked.
“With my background as a mechanical engineer, it was all the equipment that really got me excited,” Perez says. Determined to learn what he could about the technical aspects of filmmaking, his early education consisted of learning from apps like the Grip App.
His job driving celebrities and producers led to on-set opportunities, and Perez soon found himself working on such notable shows as Love & Hip Hop Atlanta and New York for VH1, the MTV Awards, and MTV’s World Stage with the Black Eyed Peas. He was racking up experience in reality television, but found himself yearning for something more cinematic.
When asked about working in reality TV, Perez laughs. “It’s not scripted, but it is staged. Most people don’t recognize the difference,” he explains. “Something may have happened earlier in the day, and then the stars will sit down and be told to re-enact it.”
Wanting to work in a film medium was part of what drove Perez to consider film school. Additionally, he wanted to learn the lingo of filmmaking and gain a better understanding of the art-form. “I didn’t know what blocking was until I came to the DFA,” he remarks. When he learned his GI Bill would pay for film school, he was sold.
When Perez found the Digital Film Academy, he was eager to take part in such a personal program, where students receive one-on-one guidance from teachers who are also industry professionals. He initially signed on for the One Year Digital Filmmaking Conservatory, and has currently gone into One Year Advanced Digital Filmmaking.
In addition to completing a short film that will be released at the end of the month, Perez has spent the past year amassing countless hours of footage for his Cure of Violence documentary, a passion project that grew out of his interest in two of his friends’ work as “violence interrupters” in the Cure Violence Project.
“If they see young kids getting into trouble, they intervene,” Perez says, explaining how the “violence interrupting” concept works. This unique approach to addressing street violence and teaching kids better ways to resolve their issues has been credited with having saved thousands of lives and having restored faith in public health strategies.
When asked about his long-term goals, Perez notes that he wants to start his own production company and become a member of the Director’s Guild of America. He also wants to do more screenwriting. Perhaps harkening back to his days in the military, Perez has developed a clear strategy for reaching his goals.
From his time in the Navy, to working in reality television, to film school, Perez has come a long way and lived a fascinating life. We can’t wait to see what he does next!
A great character makes or breaks a film. It’s also what will get a major star to agree to sign on to a project.
Having written a great character is money in the bank, so here are three helpful tips to help make yours the best they can be!
Don’t make them too much like real people.
People tend to think super-realistic writing equals good writing, but there’s a difference between a film that “feels” real because it hits you emotionally and a film that feels real because it could be a home movie of two people having a boring talk.
One thing about real people and real life: they use a lot of filler. What percentage of your life actually has something HAPPENING? Are your friends riveted if you tell them you: Got in your car, turned it on, went down the street, made a left, went to the grocery store, and got eggs? No? Ok… then why should a screenplay give this much detail?
Additionally, “real” people tend not to talk in a super-exciting way. They make a lot of chit-chat and often dance around their real point. In a cinematic world, you want people who are clear about their wants and put it out there. This drives the drama.
To that end:
Limit their traits – and make every line stem from a trait.
In real life, people have tons and tons of traits. You could sit down and list your traits – and easily fill a page. The more traits someone has, the more complicated they are.
While you do want your characters to be complicated, too many traits will dilute them to the point that they come across as vague. Yes, this might make them more ‘realistic’ – but it will also make them boring or confusing… or both.
Good characters should have no more than four core traits, and every action they take and word that comes out of their mouths should reflect on one or more of these traits. This delivers characters who are clear and memorable. Four core traits – and one clear thing that they want. That’s it.
Make your descriptions count.
When a character’s first introduced, the introduction should be short and to the point, so as not to slow down the reading. However, just because it’s short doesn’t mean it shouldn’t pack a punch. Make those descriptive words count!
Also – avoid describing anything physical that doesn’t give a trait. A huge complaint in the industry is that female characters tend to just be described as “beautiful,” or described in an overly specific way, like “LENA, 20s, short black hair and big green eyes.” This tells nothing about the character and limits the number of actresses who fit the description. Also, unless it’s important that the character be ugly for some reason, don’t worry – a beautiful woman will likely be cast anyway!
Instead, use physical traits that DO tell you something about the person. For example: “PENELOPE, 18, hair out of place and too much in her backpack, stumbles down the hall.” What do you know right away about Penelope? She’s awkward, a bookworm, doesn’t care too much about her looks… You get a lot more than you would from “PENELOPE, 18, brown hair and blue eyes. Beautiful.”
Those are the top three tips for writing great characters. Let us know if you have any others in the comments!
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. 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.
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.
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!
® GI Bill® Is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill