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Call Your Own Shots

A black man operating a Red camera, calling his own shots. Two other man setting up a different camera in the background.

Have you found it difficult to find work during the pandemic? Are you scrolling through work pages waiting for the next opportunity to come along? Do you miss having the power to call your own shots?

Let’s talk about creating your own work. 

Instead of waiting for opportunities to pass you by, why not pick up a camera and shoot something of your own? Get together with some friends and write a short film or a web series and get it on camera.

Creating your own work comes with many benefits… it gets your name out there, stretches your creative muscles, and gives you hands-on experience with equipment and working with other like-minded people in the field. 

Maybe it’s time to step in front of the camera and try your hand at acting. If you have stage fright and want to stay behind the camera, try having a brainstorming session about new and creative ways to tell a story. There are plenty of ways to get involved in building your own creative career. 

How can DFA help?

At Digital Film Academy, you are set up for success with everything you need to become your own production company.

We have an Associates Program that gives you equipment to own (yours forever, no joke), included in the tuition and that’s in addition to our lifetime access to equipment that you will gain through the school.

This allows you to create your own work, anytime, anywhere. We have multiple classes such as Directing, Cinematography, Screenwriting, Video Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Design, Producing, etc. Having a diverse curriculum gives you the opportunity to learn all facets of filmmaking making you more marketable and experienced. 

Come learn more about how we can help you jumpstart your career, by joining our Online Open House.

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Coronavirus and Digital Film Academy: Statement from Patrick DiRenna, School President

“Hello Everyone,

My name is Patrick Direnna. I am the President and Founder of Digital Film Academy.

Thank you very much for joining me for a few minutes. Let’s discuss briefly what’s going on in the world with the Coronavirus, how that affects everyone’s life, what people are doing and not doing and how it affects the importance of media.

Very important now, more than ever, to be able to create professional grade media and get it to the public as people are consuming more and more and media become more monetizable.

But most important is what you DO at this time. And what you do WITH this time!

So firstly, stay safe. Keep your loved ones safe. Be smart and keep your hands clean. Keep all those around you that you care about safe, first and foremost.

Now beyond that use this time to hone these skills, because when this is over the time is going to be ripe for the right media. Those who are ready to deliver it when the bell rings are going to do very well. Those who only then start studying at that time and then 7 or 8 months later it’s going to be old and there could be something else going on. So use this time wisely! Don’t just do nothing. That would be the worst thing. Hone your skills. Right now the demands are going to be less, so it’s time to actually get your skills in order and then as soon as this is over and as soon as you are ready, you’ll be able to produce meaningful, powerful, monetizable media.

And you’ll have free access to equipment.

Our programs start May 11th 2020. Everything is on schedule. We’ve switched over to online.

We’re in very good condition there. The students are live online, so they’re with each other, they’re with the instructors. Everything’s moving forward and after they graduate they have free access to equipment for the rest of their life.

.Just like YOU will have! So they’re going to be hitting the ground running

So don’t shy away, make sure you move forward. Always!

Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it and stay safe.”

Sign up now to attend our LIVE ONLINE Open House event 3 days from
now on Saturday April 4th at 3pm.

Add your name to the guest list now:

First Feature Film by Digital Film Academy graduate Matthew Vincini

The Cattle Farmer. Written and Directed by award-winning filmmaker Matthew Vincini, The Cattle Farmer tells the story of a young foster boy, Konner, who soon gets adopted into a family. He learns that his life has been planned from the start.

Matt Vincini, a graduate of Digital Film Academy in New York City, began the crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo back in early 2019.

Fast forward 12 months and the former film student’s movie in its final stages of post-production.

the cattle farmer

‘The Cattle Farmer’ tells the story of a young boy named Konner in a
foster home who looks forward to the day he might be adopted into a
new family.

The film is written and directed by Digital Film Academy graduate filmmaker Matt Vincini. The elite film school offers students interested in film production an opportunity to see what their program is all about.

Official Trailer

Testimonial video interview with Matt Vincini of Digital Film Academy

Benefits of New York City’s Leading Film School

Written, Directed and Edited by: Matthew Vincini
Director of Photography, Editing: Kyle Ethan Salazar
Executive Producer: Titus Peoples, Ultimate Class Entertainment
Produced by: Martial Davis, Qadr Amin,

Behind The Black Panther: Film School Founder Recalls Early Days Of Chadwick Boseman

Behind The Black Panther: Film School Founder Recalls Early Days Of Chadwick Boseman

Travis Bean, Forbes Contributor

When Patrick DiRenna talks about what makes for a great performance in a film, he speaks of emotional clarity; facial expressions; screen presence; controlling the audience.

But going beyond the mere components of acting, DiRenna views a great performance as a result of great filmmaking: the camera is in sync with the actor; the characters are well- developed; the direction is dictating the performance.

At the Digital Film Academy, that’s what DiRenna hopes students will learn: filmmaking is a team effort. And with that mentality, you can go far in the industry.

“You can make it big,” says DiRenna. “That’s what Chadwick did.”

Yeah, that’s right. Patrick DiRenna, the president and founder of Digital Film Academy in New York City, is talking about that Chadwick. One of his former students, the star of Black Panther—Chadwick Boseman.

With a new slew of future filmmakers set to attend the academy this September—with a second location opening in Atlanta due to attendance growth—DiRenna is looking back on what prepped the school’s most well-known graduate for success in the film industry.

DiRenna, a mentor to Boseman at the time, taught the upcoming star of 21 Bridges “acting for directors.” DiRenna saw the confidence behind Boseman’s performance and knew he had the potential to break out.

“He came here talented, focused, sharp,” DiRenna says.

That poise would certainly take Boseman far, but DiRenna says the actor’s willingness to learn and grow as a performer while attending the academy is what set him up for success.

“Thurgood Marshall is no slouch,” DiRenna says, recalling one of the many prominent African American figures Boseman has inhabited since graduating from Digital Film Academy. On top of portraying the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice, Boseman played Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up.

“For me, from a tactical point of view, it’s about who they are,” DiRenna says. “These are three historical figures with big differences between them. If you really want to become these characters, you have to really be willing to take it on.”

Boseman’s versatility and range doesn’t surprise DiRenna, who remembers Boseman as a spot- on student. “Serious and not overly formal,” DiRenna describes Boseman, who has the range of Gary Oldman and the screen presence of Keanu Reeves. Boseman’s capacity to occupy Thurgood Marshall or James Brown goes beyond the ability to mimic those men’s gestures, movement and tone—DiRenna says it requires a quiet, steadied occupation of their being.

“I remember his face and the level of concentration in his eyes. You could see internal processes working,” DiRenna recalls. “At that time he was building himself. I could see he was putting the pieces together.”

But not everybody can find success because of their gripping screen presence. And, really, Boseman’s striking performances are benefitted by the players around him, DiRenna claims. Filmmaking is a collective experience between many professionals working together—and DiRenna’s academy strives to get all those different players ready for the industry.

“My example for all of this is The Godfather,” DiRenna explains. “Al Pacino does next to nothing in the film. But he’s got the face; and then you surround Michael Correlone with all the characters; if he’s still, the camera is moving. There’s all this activity going on.”

DiRenna believes that collective experience at the Digital Film Academy is truly what sets every student—not just Boseman—on a path towards realizing their careers. Alumni like Brad Bailey win awards for documentaries like Hale; alumni like Shaun Dawson nab managerial roles at digital platforms like Vimeo; alumni like Pavel Kercle work on visual effects for huge films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World.

DiRenna’s goal is for the Digital Film Academy to not only coach students while attending school, but set them up for the future. That way, you can find jobs and make money like Boseman did—like Bailey and Dawson and Kercle did.

“This is the only school in the world when after you graduate, you have free access to our equipment forever,” DiRenna says. “That’s how you make money. Forget filmmaking—we’re talking digital filmmaking as an industry.” “

Source: Forbes Online, Jul 12, 2019, 02:16pm

DFA Student Spotlight: Jose Martinez

 

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.”

 

Martinez and friends from the DFA, wrapping up a shoot.
Martinez and friends from the DFA, wrapping up a shoot.

 

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.”

 

DFA students using the school's Red camera.
DFA students using the school’s Red camera.

 

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.

claro

 

“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.”

We look forward to him doing more of the same!

 

To view his work, please visit http://www.josemmartinez.com/.

 

Blog post by Sara McDermott Jain

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!”

NatGeo_img04
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 Keys to a High Concept in Film

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.

not 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:

I-m-not-weird-I-m-unique

  1. 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:

big audience

  1. 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.

get it

  1. 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.

high vs. low

  1. 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.

hook

  1. 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.

money

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!

Blog by: Sara McDermott Jain

Alumni Spotlight: Joe Rodman

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.

Official-Selection-For-Website-Post-450x225

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.)

red 2

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.

slate

“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.

Grave digger image

“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.

dennishopper lff

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.

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?

https://gladlydo.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/5-places-you-need-to-re-organize-in-your-home/messy-basement/
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!

 http://www.empoweredspouse.com/killer-blogging-tricks/
‘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.

http://www.stayup.com/artwork.html
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.

http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-cya-23/
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


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