Tag Archives: filmmaking

Overcoming Limitations

Overcoming Limitations and make great media

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.

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Chase a Story not the Gear

What camera did you use? What editing software? What LUT? Which filmmaker haven’t ever heard these questions? We are being bombarded with new releases from established equipment brands being announced constantly, and it’s hard to keep up with the always evolving technology surrounding film gear. People are consuming more content now than ever, spending more time in their phones and computers and Content Creators have a lot to work with.

But can a camera make you a better filmmaker? It’s a valid question in today’s filmmaking world but the answer is no. As filmmakers, our goal is to tell stories through our unique experiences, our knowledge, and, most importantly, our feelings and emotions. The cameras and gear you use are nothing without the eyes and brains behind it. 

Even when you tell stories that were already told more than once, they are not the same stories. The perspective and the point of view of who is telling the story can change everything.

But won’t the equipment help the story?

New equipment gives the filmmaker the opportunity to get results that he/she couldn’t get before, and if that’s not why you’re using it, then you don’t need it. It’s simply expanding your palette of colors for painting your story, nothing more and nothing less.

You need equipment that allows you to deliver your story. And most of the time, you have plenty of options of equipment to use (DFA students and grads have free lifetime equipment access through LEAP: https://www.digitalfilmacademy.edu/why-dfa/). But if you don’t have a good story, it’s not the gear that will make it interesting.

So first of all, work on your script. Creating good stories is demanding and it takes effort. “Screenplays are not works of art. They are invitations to others to collaborate on a work of art” — Paul Schrader

Are you ready to start facing those blank pages?

DFA Student Spotlight: Jimmy Zdolshek

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.

Zdolshek's first place medal.
Zdolshek’s first place medal.

“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.”

Zdolshek on set at the DFA.
Zdolshek (back left) on set with his fellow students at the DFA.

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.

Zdolshek making use of the DFA's green screen.
Zdolshek making use of the DFA’s green screen.

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!”

National Geographic Explorer.

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.”

A still image from Blood Antiquities.
A still image from Blood Antiquities.

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.”

Zdolshek in a short he co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in with fellow student Eli Turk.
Zdolshek in a short he co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in with fellow student Eli Turk.

To view the trailer to Zdolshek’s short Sleepwalker, please click here.

Blog by Sara McDermott Jain

5 Things to Consider When Making a Short Film

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?

There’s gotta be something in your parents’ creepy basement you can use.

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!

‘Nuff said.

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.

Six different shots in what will be about two seconds of film. Would you be able to figure that out on-the-spot?

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.

Advice in filmmaking… and life.

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.

bad editing

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!

Happy filming!

Blog by: Sara McDermott Jain

Student Spotlight: Joseph Perez

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!


Blog by: Sara McDermott Jain

Three Tips for Writing Great Characters



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!


Too real can be too boring, mate.


  1. 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:

Based just on his lines, what are Austin’s core traits?


  1. 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.

Think the most important thing to describe about her is that she’s blonde?


  1. 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!


Blog by: 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

3 Ways for Indie Filmmakers to Learn from the Numbers at Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival, one of the top festivals in the world, took place in January. Now the numbers (how many films were submitted, which got distribution, and which turned a profit) are in, and there’s a lot for independent filmmakers to learn.

The main lesson is for indie filmmakers (and investors) to be more selective and frugal with their projects. In this day and age when anyone can make a film, anyone will – but that doesn’t mean the films they make should cost around $1 million, which most of them do. My opinion?

Cutting your budget - literally.
Cutting your budget – literally.


This mantra should already be tattooed on the brains of indie filmmakers, but given the numbers, I’m not so sure. The budget for the independent film industry, as a whole, comes to about $3 BILLION a year. This means all of indie film combined spends about as much as major studios – but these films do not get major studio marketing to help recoup that money.

The killer: of that $3 billion, only about 2% is ever earned back. Abysmal. Indie filmmakers need to reduce their budgets drastically.

I know – most people will feel cutting budget means cutting quality – and, after all, the budget for an indie movie is already so much less than for a studio feature. But smart filmmaking, at a fraction of that budget, with a polished story and thought-out marketing and distribution plan, greatly reduce the risk of loss and put you on the road to greater professional success.

Speaking of which…

Proceed with care...
Proceed with care…


All indie filmmakers want to get into Sundance, not to mention the other big festivals. But with a total of about 12,000 films submitted each year, with only 200 getting in, be honest with yourself – is submitting to Sundance the best use of your time and money when you’re just getting started?

Yes, some folks at Sundance are ‘first-time filmmakers’… but in reality, this probably means they’ve worked on films for years in different capacities. ‘First-time filmmaker’ does not necessarily mean that their Sundance film was the first time they ever picked up a camera.

Chances are, the first few shorts you EVER make aren’t going to be able to get in – and that doesn’t mean they aren’t great films! A better strategy is to submit those great films to a variety of smaller festivals where you have a high chance of getting in and scoring prizes. This leads to more recognition, more experience, more connections – and a better chance of being able to put together something Sundance might be interested in once you reach the top of your game. (Not while you’re still learning.)

Finally, even if you are one of the talented and lucky people to make it into a festival like Sundance:

All your eggs. One Basket. Disaster.
All your eggs. One Basket. Disaster.


About half of the films at Sundance got distribution… but for a lot of them, their distribution deals equalled NO upfront money, since online digital distributors were the only ones biting. If you spend $1 million dollars (or even $10, for that matter) with absolutely no plan of how to get the film to the public – chances are you’ll never make your money back.

Again, it’s important to keep your costs low. Figure out how to make your film on a small budget and monetize it afterwards with different forms of non-exclusive distribution (worked out ahead of time if possible.) Work your magic with various press outlets to get the word out and drive people to your screenings or online store. Also consider organizations like Tugg.com, who can help put on limited showings of your film in major theaters for a fraction of the cost of a large release. Then, when you also get into a big festival and score major distribution, it’ll just be icing on the cake.

Don’t agree? Take a look at the below infographics , courtesy of www.culturalweekly.com – and let me know what you think in the comments below!

sundance infographic



By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Q&A: Google Glass!

When he was 6 years old, Clayton Roulhac-Carr’s mother taught him to compose an image using a Polaroid 600. This began his life-long love of photography, a passion that inspired him to later study film at the Digital Film Academy.

As a result, Roulhac-Carr has worked as an on-set photographer in addition to working with music artists signed to such labels as Interscope, Konlive, Epic, and Virgin Records.

Given his dedication to his art and fascination with all things photography, imagine his excitement when he was chosen to be a Google Glass Explorer!

Clayton Roulhac-Carr wearing Google Glass.

Google Glass is a wearable, head-mounted, hands-free computer. Among other things, it is able to take photos and video recordings on voice command. Roulhac-Carr was excited to share some of his experiences with the device so far:

DFA: Why were you chosen to be a Google Glass Explorer?

CRC: Honestly, I don’t know why Google choose me. They say the process is completely random. I have heard of people sending in a request for an invitation and not being invited. Then I have a lot of friends in the arts and entertainment industry who seem to get fast invites into the program.

For me, I went on the Google Glass website and filled out a invitation slip which had a series of questions about why I was interested in Glass. I stated that I was a visual artist and wanted to create art and film with the device. I hit the send button and hoped for the best.

I did that over the summer and didn’t get a invite right away. I had pretty much given up on Glass and moved on. Then, in late November, I got a response and was overwhelmed with excitement. I felt pretty lucky, like Charlie in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I got my GOLDEN ticket!!!!

DFA: When did you first hear about Google Glass?

CRC: I first heard of Google Glass online in the summer of 2013. I was amazed and crazed to get my hands on the device!

DFA: What exactly is a Google Glass Explorer?

CRC: A Google Glass explorer is pretty much a Beta tester for Google. You are experimenting with the technology before its official release and giving feedback directly to the company.

DFA: How difficult is it to be selected as an explorer?

CRC: When I picked up my Glass from the NYC head quarters, I was told that there are only about 15,000 Glass Explorers in the entire U.S.

DFA: What has your experience been so far with Google Glass?

CRC: GREAT! The attention is nice. Everybody looks at you as if you just landed from Mars! As a Visual Artist and somebody who lives life behind the lens, it has been a game changer. I am now always creatively thinking and a great photograph is only a wink away.

DFA: Part of the purpose of the experience is to allow you to give feedback and help shape the future of Google Glass… have you given such feedback and, if so, do you feel changes are being made?

CRC: I haven’t given any feedback yet – I am still a Glass baby. I just recently hit my 30 day mark, so hopefully I’ll give feedback this week.

But – Glass is rapidly evolving. Updates are automatically sent to your device from Google when you’re connected to data – and these updates are based off of Explorers’ feedback.

CRC and Cat
Roulhac-Carr plays around with Google Glass and a feline friend.      

DFA: What struggles, if any, have you had with Google Glass?

CRC: As a Beta Tester I don’t think it’s hot to point out my struggles with Glass. But I will say the Pros are more than the Cons. This technology has potential to change the world.

DFA: What sets Google Glass apart?

CRC: The device is pretty innovative and Google isn’t afraid to take risks. Glass gives the user the ability to live life pretty much hands free; the technology becomes a part of you. As a New Yorker, I live a fast-paced life, and with Glass I can get my information even faster now. Knowledge is power and the ability to educate yourself with information so easily could change the world. Glass could possibly be the device of the future.

DFA: What is your favorite feature of Google Glass?

CRC: The camera. A great photo is only a wink away and the ability to capture 720p video hands free is pretty dope!

DFA: Tell me a bit about how it operates? You mentioned winking – do you just wink and it takes a picture? Does that mean it would take a picture every time you blinked?

CRC: The Wink Mode on the Google Glass is pretty cool. I am still trying to grasp this feature. You can’t wink your eye too fast nor can you wink it too slow. There are times when I wink and the feature does not work . Then there are times when I am busy with my day and a photograph is taken unexpectedly! I have learned to cherish those moments and really dig those photographs, though – sometimes you catch something cool.

DFA: Have you explored any of the other functions in addition to film?

CRC: Yes – social media and research abilities. Anything you need to know is almost instantly in front of your right eye! Also, the ability to sync Glass to your cell phone allows you to see text messages and emails in your eye ball. Phone and video calls are pretty cool too!

DFA: Do you have any other anecdotes or pieces of information you’d like to share about being a Google Glass Explorer?


You can apply to be a Google Glass Explorer today at http://www.google.com/glass/start/how-to-get-one/

View Clayton Roulhac-Carr’s website at www.TheCreatorsEye.com

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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