This short film is written and directed by Digital Film Academy graduate Mr. Gleb Osatinski. Gleb studied at Digital Film Academy back in 2011 and has gone on to direct and produce a series of highly well-received short films. The film was nominated in February 2020 and just won on REEL13 by PBS.
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.”
Years ago, Jose Martinez took an intensive, one-month filmmaking course. He gained filmmaking experience, but quickly realized that in order to keep the ball rolling on his career, he needed to connect with like-minded people with whom he could collaborate on future film projects.
When he found the Digital Film Academy, he knew it was the right place for building that kind of community.
“I developed a really good network at the DFA,” he says. “We all help each other out with our different projects, help to move one another forward in our careers.”
Thanks to his prior filmmaking experience, Martinez was able to enter the Advanced Digital Filmmaking Program. In addition to connecting him with a group of filmmakers at his same level, the program offered another big perk: free access to a Red camera. Martinez has been able to make good use of this, checking out the Red for shoots.
Currently, Martinez is working as both a photographer and videographer, and bringing in enough income that he no longer needs a full-time, regular job. He’s done work at weddings, parties, for restaurants, and even capturing images for business cards.
He’s also working on the completion of his thesis film for the DFA, a short about a young man’s internal struggle about whether or not to seek revenge after his brother is shot by a local gang on their walk home from school. “I love stories, and getting to see them come together during the process of shooting and editing,” he says. “My favorite things are operating the camera and editing. Magic happens there.”
Magic aside, the most challenging aspect of working on his thesis was shooting a scene at a gas station – not the easiest spot to set up a film crew in the bustling metropolis of New York City. Apart from the noise (a common on-set problem even in “quiet” locations), Martinez’s cast and crew had to be ready to go at 7a.m. on a Sunday, the only time the gas station would allow them to shoot.
Despite these occasional challenges, Martinez’s love of stories is beginning to take him places, both in his film career and literally. He recently got back from a 3-month trip throughout Central America, where he was both scouting locations for future shoots and shooting commercials for a telephone company in El Salvador.
“The company is called Claro,” Martinez says. “My cousin does administrative work there.” When his cousin heard about Claro’s need for a filmmaker, he was quick to suggest Martinez.
The gig is another valuable step towards Martinez’s future goal: developing his own home production company.
When asked what advice he would give to young filmmakers just starting out, Martinez simply says: “Keep shooting, keep uploading.”
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.
If you work in film, you’ve most likely heard the phrase “high concept.” This is Hollywood’s ultimate buzz phrase, the Holy Grail for producers. It’s so important, 99% of producers will make a deal with a writer who has a genuine high concept, even if their writing is terrible.
Why? Because it’s easy to sell a high concept, and unless a producer can sell a film, it’s useless. Writing can always be improved, fresh drafts written… but if a high concept isn’t there to begin with, the script probably isn’t marketable.
So now that you know how important a high concept is, how do you get one?
Below are 5 keys for creating your own high concept:
It has to be unique (without being weird).
There’s a fine line between unique and weird. A true high concept needs to be something never seen before. However, it can’t be a case of “We’ve never seen chimps roller skating in space, so that’s a high concept.” It has to be a unique idea that’s both interesting and conventional enough to achieve #2 on this list, which is:
It has to appeal to a wide audience.
Again, a high concept has to be marketable. To be marketable, it needs a clear and wide audience. Could you have a unique concept about an 80-year-old woman in a rest home? Yes, but it probably wouldn’t appeal to many people. That’s not to say you couldn’t make a great niche film – but, by definition, it wouldn’t be a high concept.
When it comes to audience, clearly aim for ONE of the 4 quadrants: men over 25, men under 25, women over 25, women under 25.
You must be able to say the idea in one line and have the listener “get it.”
Again, it’s about marketability. To pitch a film, you need a logline: one sentence that sums up your story. If you have a true high concept, that one sentence gives the listener a very clear idea of the movie, from start to finish. If someone in the industry asks what your film is about, and you need a full minute to explain, it’s not a high concept. If you can say it in one sentence and see their eyes light up, it is.
Use a genre other than drama.
High concepts are almost never dramas. That’s because dramas are more about execution than they are about concept. In essence, they are the epitome of a “low concept:” a story more concerned with subtlety and character development.
Try to think of a successful drama in the past ten years that was a hit. Most at least partially fall under another genre, like comedy. If you think of a recent hit that was pure drama, chances are, its logline doesn’t sound very unique, even though its execution was great. Dramas are generally serious and/or depressing. That doesn’t make for an exciting-sounding idea that has producers come running.
You need a story – not just a hook!
If you come up with an amazing ‘hook’ – a cool idea that’s not yet a story – people will be interested. But a hook by itself isn’t enough to be a high concept. It’s only the beginning of one.
To really flesh it out into a high concept, it needs some kind of story. For instance, the movie Saw was a huge hit and a high concept. But the logline couldn’t say: “A serial killer makes victims torture themselves to survive.” Ok, it’s interesting, it’s a great hook… but it’s also vague. Where does it go from there?
Look what happens when it changes to: “After two men wake to find themselves chained in a filthy basement, they realize they’ve been kidnapped by a gruesome serial killer and will have to torture themselves if they want to live.” Now it’s a high concept! We can see the whole story: beginning (waking up), middle (figuring out they were kidnapped by a serial killer and what he wants them to do), and end (deciding whether or not they’ll torture themselves). The genre is a clear horror/thriller, and it’s also clear that this will work for a wide audience. A producer can sell this.
Now that you know how to create a real high concept, start brainstorming ideas! A concept that fits all of the above criteria isn’t easy to come by, but if you do – it’s money in the bank.
What movies did you think were genuine high concepts? Let us know in the comments!
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.
April 16th was the most recent screening of DFA students’ work – and the work was spectacular! Not only were the featured shorts diverse, but they displayed a range of skill not always found among new filmmakers.
The night kicked off with the short film Full Circle, written and directed by Pauline Gefin. Based on something that happened to Gefin in New York City, the charming piece details the karmic experience of a girl who helps a hungry man pay for food at a city food cart – and is then later rewarded when another guy pays for her lunch at another food cart and the two share a connection. Gefin’s filmmaking talent was apparent through her skillful shots and natural-feeling edits.
Gefin was also the only filmmaker to show two pieces that evening. The second piece, a PSA promoting literacy, was hilarious. Two days later, Gefin learned the PSA has been accepted to the 60 Seconds or Less Video Festival.
Up next was Daniel Ademinokan’s trailer for his thriller Twisted, also featured at the recent Voice & Rhythm Event. The tense preview gives viewers a glimpse into the life of an immigrant who quickly learns that the U.S., for her, is not a place of freedom. She shares the chillingly memorable line: “The brighter the picture, the darker the negative.” We’re looking forward to seeing the final film!
Next was episode two of the web series Chronicles of a Profiler by Jamaal Green. The web series, which has received quite a bit of buzz in the DFA community, features a former detective trying to escape a troubled past. He suffers from visions of crimes – sometimes before they even happen – and has friends and foes alike turn up to try and force him to confront his demons. Episode one is available for viewing at http://vimeo.com/78569149.
Tenzin Kalden shared his short film Zip, about chance connections, snap decisions, and how easily they can change your life. In the film, a young man “saves” a prostitute being physically threatened by her pimp – only to discover that he’s lost her quite a bit of money by doing so. Despite this fact, they’re able to make a connection – only to later suffer a terrible car accident.
Perhaps the most original work of the night was Carina Silva’s Gragon. The trailer had also been shown at the Voice & Rhythm event, but at the DFA screening, viewers were treated to the full short. This fantasy piece was shot entirely with a green screen and Silva filled in amazing special effects details to help tell the story of a Princess who travels to a strange land to battle against an oncoming evil force.
The night wrapped up with Football Coach Party by Joseph Leon. Unlike the other shorts, this was a documentary/interview-style piece filmed at the induction of Bill McCartney, the former University of Colorado football coach, into the College Football Hall of Fame. According to Gary Barnett, the assistant coach under McCartney at Colorado, “Mac,” as he’s affectionately known, took the team from being “as far down as possible to the national championship.” Along with Barnett, the piece included interviews with athletic director Rick George and Bill McCartney himself.
One thing that was noticeable was how students presenting films had also worked on a number of the other shorts being presented – in all different capacities. This not only fosters the sense of ‘family’ among DFA students and grads – something all the filmmakers at the event commented on – but also gives them all ample experience in multiple filmmaking roles before graduation.
Can’t wait to see what these up-and-comers show in the future!