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Digital vs. Celluloid: Tarantino, Nolan, Abrams, and DiRenna Weigh In!

If you’re a fan of indie filmmaking, you’ve probably heard about the digital vs. celluloid debate.

Digital cameras have made filmmaking accessible to everyone; now anyone who wants to can be a filmmaker.

However, purists – and most notably great directors from the previous generation – still believe the only true way to make a great, atmospheric film is by using 35mm.

There’s something to this. The natural grain of 35mm film creates what many still consider to be the look of a true “film.” However, as digital cameras advance, their image quality is also constantly improving.

Can you tell which photo was taken on film or digital? Click the image to go the photographer's blog and find out!
Can you tell which photo was taken on film vs. digital? Click the image to go the photographer’s blog and find out!

A recent article on phys.org highlights both sides of the debate, with insights from Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, and the Digital Film Academy’s own Patrick DiRenna.

DiRenna observes that “The only thing that’s lacking (with digital) at this point is a slight level of picture quality, but that will change and in exchange we have a democratisation with artists who are now really able to do their work.” This democratization owes itself to the fact that studios and artists can complete films on digital for a mere fraction of the cost of working with celluloid.

In the same article, Alain Rolleau, whose family runs the famed Studio 28 theater in Paris, seconds this opinion. The first time they screened a film shot on digital, he says he felt like crying, the images were so “icy.” Since then, though, he’s seen steady improvement with the images coming out of digital filmmaking – and it’s now rare that he screens a 35mm film.

Studio 28 - Paris' oldest theater, in business since 1948.
Studio 28 – Paris’ oldest theater, in business since 1948.

Rolleau also points out how 35mm film can face problems after being screened a few times, while digital film maintains the same perfect image over time.

However, Nolan, Abrams, and Tarantino come down on the side of 35mm. Tarantino is the most vocal on this point, saying that “digital filmmaking is the death of cinema as I know it.” During his recent appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of Pulp Fiction’s Palm D’Or win, he compared digital filmmaking to “television in public.”

Tarantino discussing digital at a press conference in Cannes.
Tarantino discussing digital at a press conference in Cannes.

“Great artists like Quentin Tarantino are generally uncomfortable when they come across something new,” says Patrick DiRenna. “Charlie Chaplin’s discomfort with talkies is a perfect example — but when he finally made the adjustment, he turned around and made the ‘The Great Dictator’ and his mastery showed through again.”

What do you think? Is digital filmmaking the best thing to happen since sliced bread? Or does it mean that cinema as we know it is lost?

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Read the full article here!

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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The Iconic Ruby Dee Dies at 91

For many, the allure of a life in the arts stems from the possibility of becoming a legend. The right role and the right story can permanently catapult an actor into the public consciousness.

For Ruby Dee, the iconic actress and civil rights activist, her legend stemmed not just from her break-through roles and wonderful performances, but also from the important part she played off-screen in shaping America’s civil rights movement and fighting for equality up until her death last Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Dee was 91 years old.

ruby_dee

Born in 1922, Dee was just 18 when she landed her first role in a Harlem production of On Strivers Row. From those humble beginnings, she went on to  multiple roles on Broadway, television, and in film, starring opposite such heavy-hitters as Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and James Earl Jones.

She was the first black woman ever to play a lead role at the American Shakespeare Festival, or on such popular soap operas as Peyton Place and Guiding Light. Her acting achievements earned her an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, five Emmy nominations (with one win for Decoration Day),  a Grammy, two Screen Actors Guild awards, the NAACP Image Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, and the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Then, at the age of 83, she garnered an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in 2007’s American Gangster, playing the mother of Denzel Washington.

Dee and Washington in American Gangster.
Dee and Washington in American Gangster.

As important as Dee’s acting career was to her, it always went hand-in-hand with her activism. In fact, she saw no separation between the two, commenting once that if actors could be image makers, “Why can’t we image makers become peacemakers, too?” When she met Ossie Daivs in 1945 and they married in 1948, she found a lifelong partner in her devotion to both the arts and activism.

The two were married for 56 years, becoming one of Hollywood’s most enduring and romantic couples. Together, they made great strides for civil rights, forming close friendships with Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and Malcolm X, just to name a few. Dee famously emcee’d the 1963 March on Washington. Together, she and Davis received the National Medal of Arts in 1995, were inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame in 1989, and received SAG Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2000.

Davis and Dee accept their Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual SAG Awards.
Davis and Dee accept their Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual SAG Awards.

Davis passed away in 2005.

Proving what a special place Dee held in the heart of the entertainment community, she was thanked twice during the recent Tony Awards on June 8, 2014, first by six-time winner Audra MacDonald, and then by Kenny Leon, the winning director of A Raisin in the Sun. Both were influenced by Dee’s talent and passion.

What sort of mindset led to Dee’s lifelong success and contentment? As she said in a 1988 interview regarding her and Davis:

“We believe in honesty. We believe in simplicity. We believe in a good breakfast when we can get it. We believe in not going heavily into debt. We believe in education. We believe in love. We believe in the family. We believe in Black history, and we believe in involvement.”

To read more about Ruby Dee, please check out the following articles:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/celebrities/ruby-dee-actress-and-civil-rights-activist-dies-at-89/2014/06/12/d4c3e4d2-f250-11e3-9ebc-2ee6f81ed217_story.html

RIP Ruby Dee (1922-2014)

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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DFA Grad Writing Screenplay for Ridley Scott!

Alexander Felix took a long road to Hollywood, but on the way, he kept his focus on his end goal: to write amazing screenplays.

He credits his writing success to his real-life experiences and his filmmaking background. A graduate of the Digital Film Academy, he recalls his time there as extremely important because it taught him to see things visually. Being able to “visualize what the end product needs to look like” is more important in the world of screenwriting than people realize. It’s certainly helped garner Felix much-deserved attention.

On set at the DFA.
Setting the scene at the DFA.

Felix also notes that the DFA is not a super-expensive school, but one that has “a solid curriculum and (where) everything is very hands-on.” His experiences with directing and cinematography while in the program were inspirational, and he remains open to one day directing his own work.

After his time in NYC and with the DFA, Felix felt ready to make the move to LA and pursue his writing – but fate had other plans. On a cross-country drive, his car broke down in Michigan, prompting an extended stay in Detroit. It wasn’t what he’d planned, but it wound up being a blessing in disguise: while there, he finished writing the Detroit-based Where Angels Die. Being in Detroit, he was inspired by his surroundings and able to location-scout as the script took shape.

Screenwriter Alexander Felix
Screenwriter Alexander Felix

Angels was his seventh feature script – and the one that brought him enough attention to propel his career to the next level. It garnered a rave review from Script Shadow,  and before he knew it, Felix was talking with some heavy hitting agents and managers. He soon signed with two CAA agents, no small feat. A great two-part interview with Script Shadow gives more detail on this experience here.

Now, Felix is truly about to enter the big-time. He’s been officially brought on to adapt Vicious, a V.E. Schwab novel about two pre-med students who discover how people can develop superpowers, with intense consequences. Scott Free, Ridley Scott’s production company, and Story Mining & Supply Co. bought the rights to the book last December and, among others, Ridley Scott will be producing.

Cover for Vicious
Cover for Vicious

This may be the film to help turn Felix from a promising newcomer to a Hollywood VIP. Stay tuned!

To read more about the deal, click here.

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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4 Things Screenwriters Should Know About Selling Their Screenplays

I recently sold a screenplay. I’d previously done paid writing assignments, been hired to write scripts based off other people’s ideas … but this was the first time I sold one of my absolutely original, written-for-myself, feature-length scripts.

So I want to impart some words of wisdom to other screenwriters about making a deal.

price
Choose wisely…
  1. PRICE ACCORDINGLY. Most people believe if you sell a screenplay, you’re getting a huge cash pay-out all at once. Not true. (Even worse are the people who convince you that you SHOULD be getting a ton of money even if you’re a beginner, and talk you into turning down a deal that could help your career move forward.) There are a whole lot of ways to sell a screenplay – and selling to a major studio (the least likely) is the only way that pays a huge amount of upfront cash.

Don’t be discouraged! At the start of your career, focus on making sales happen and racking up credits on IMDB. There are tons of small indie production companies far more willing to read spec scripts than studios, and more likely to stick with your original vision. But – being small and indie – their budgets aren’t studio budgets, and the 2-5% that goes to the writer won’t add up to a six figure deal.

They may also need to pay you according to a broken-out schedule. Or pay you via equity in the film.

Whatever their constraints, don’t give up if you’re not met with the pay day you’d envisioned. Work out a reasonable payment plan keeping in mind that the main goal is to get them to MAKE THIS MOVIE and make it well… which won’t happen if you bleed them dry.

Proceed with caution...
Proceed with caution…
  1. THERE WILL BE CHANGES. My former screenwriting professor told me a terrible story. He wrote a script based on his father’s real-life experience in a poker tournament on a ship returning home after World War II. The pot was over $1 million (imagine that in 1945!) There was backstabbing, cheating, and violence. Every man was desperate to win and live out the American dream.

Sounds like a great movie, right?

A major studio thought so and bought the rights. But then… they wondered… would it resonate with a modern audience? Before my professor knew what happened, instead of a ship, they wanted a space ship, and instead of poker, they wanted the Ultimate X-Games.

You get the idea. Once you sell your script, the new owners have the right to ask for whatever changes they want – and there will ALWAYS be changes. Even when they say they love it as it is, just wait… after getting feedback from other sources (especially investors), they will want you to make changes.

And you will. With a smile. Because that’s your job. And if you can take whatever notes you’re given and turn over a new draft – writing will stay in your future.

And to be fair, sometimes their changes will be for the better. But other times… your World War II drama will get sent to outer space. Be ready for blast off.

What's going on?
What’s going on?
  1. THERE WILL BE CHANGES YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH. The changes you’ll be asked to make are one thing. What’s harder is when changes get made without anyone telling you, which will also happen. Again, you have to stay positive. This is a collaborative art form, after all, and in film, unlike theatre and TV, the writer’s say is much less important than that of directors, producers, etc. If you want control, become a director – not a screenwriter.

One related piece of advice: when possible, be on the set. At least that way, the first time you see these changes won’t be at the premiere.

Be their number one cheerleader!
Be their number one cheerleader!
  1. SHOW YOUR SUPPORT. No matter how it turns out, or what got changed, or what you pictured differently – always, always show support for the film. This was put together by people doing their best to make something great and who put their faith and money into something you brought them in the first place. Help promote it on social media, attend events when you can, give glowing interviews to the press if that’s an issue… Be proud of what was made.

Then do it all over again with the next one.

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Veterans at the DFA!

As Kelvin Surgener, a veteran and DFA student will tell you, all schools handle the veteran enrollment process differently. Sometimes, the process can be a smooth one – other times, not so much.

The DFA prides itself on a large number of enrolled veterans, and strives to make veteran enrollment as simple and straightforward as possible. Surgener, who was a Navy combat photographer in Iraq, recalls how he filled out his application form on a Thursday and was able to start school on Tuesday.

This is a refreshing change from the problems veterans may sometimes face when trying to enroll at other schools: namely, a stigma that veterans, trained in combat, are not prepared for a more academic environment. Although there is absolutely no evidence to back this up, it’s become a controversial topic in the news, and veterans have been fighting hard to claim their place in the educational world once returning from combat.

At the DFA, though, veterans are thriving. The instant access and training on top-end film equipment has helped many to dive straight into their film careers, with impressive results.

Check out what a few DFA veterans have to say about their experiences in the video above!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBKYM6cOZ4k

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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April 16th DFA Student Screening!

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.

Pauline Gefin (right) talks about her short film and her PSA.
Pauline Gefin (right) talks about her short film and her PSA.

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.

Writer/director Jamaal Green gets his turn in front of the camera!
Writer/director Jamaal Green gets his turn in front of the camera!

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.

Carina Silva, Gragon filmmaker, being interviewed at the screening.
Carina Silva, Gragon filmmaker, being interviewed at the screening.

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.

Bill McCartney gives a speech at the College Football Hall of Fame.
Bill McCartney gives a speech at the College Football Hall of Fame.

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!

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Must-Know Skills: Da Vinci Resolve Lite

There’s so much that goes into making a good film. So. Much. Not just all the planning and writing and casting, but also everything you have to do once the shooting is done and you’re left with a bunch of footage that may or may not come close to what you’d envisioned.

Would you know what to do when you got to this point?
Would you know what to do when you got to this point?

Post-production is a huge, complicated world, and one of the most important and in-demand post-production skills is that of color correction. Adjusting the color and appearance of a scene can give it a completely different feel from what was on the raw footage. A scary scene can get a greenish tinge to make it more unsettling, or an everyday scene shot with bad lighting can get evened out to make it look as natural as possible.

The tip of the iceberg: footage in different colors.
The tip of the iceberg: footage in different colors.

On April 12-13, 2014, the DFA is offering an intensive two-day course in Da Vinci Resolve Lite, a free software with tons of tools to help you get the look of your footage just right. In two days, the course will walk participants through the basics of Resolve Lite up through giving footage a distinct look, and much more. Visit the registration page for more details. The course will be taught by Hector Berrebi, a post production, color correction and video theory teacher of nine years. Berrebi has given lectures on this topic in numerous schools, as well as seminars in Tel Aviv, Israel, and in the US during NAB Post Production World. This is the third year he’ll be teaching Resolve Lite.

Hector Berrebi teaching Post Production
Hector Berrebi teaching Post Production

Additionally, Hector is a partner in a boutique post facility in Tel Aviv, and also works with major Israeli broadcasters, post facilities, and the government doing post production.

Finally, one thing you gotta love about the DFA: they offer the courses you need at a fraction of the cost of most places. The course is $550 for the general public and $450 for DFA students and alums. (Bring your own laptop and receive an additional $50 off.) Most courses of this type are usually in the $1,500 and up range.

This is the perfect opportunity for you to learn how to take your footage and get it across the finish line with style. We hope to see you there!

Course registration page.

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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"Voice & Rhythm" Event a Success!

March 31, 2014 saw NYC’s Film Anthology Archives packed with ESL learners, teachers, and enthusiasts. The “Voice & Rhythm” Event was well under-way with the three main sponsors well-represented: Broadway Dance Center dancers put on a spirited opening performance and later ended the night with passionate freestyle dancing; Rennert students shared a lively music video to the tune of Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”; and the DFA shared videos from several of its ESL filmmakers.

The Broadway Dance Center Dancers
The Broadway Dance Center Dancers

DFA videos included three short pieces from international students. Daniel Adminokan from Nigeria showed a trailer for his short film Twisted, a dramatic thriller. Carina Silva Alves from Portugal shared an anime-esque adventure based on a 30-second short she’d made with her siblings while in middle school. The entire short was made with the use of a greenscreen. Finally, the DFA presentations were rounded out by a hot music video featuring belly-dancing from Turkey’s Nergis Senturk.

Tom Griffin, Director of Admissions for DFA, presents students' work
Tom Griffin, Director of Admissions for DFA, presents students’ work

Of course, the main events for the evening were the presentations by Fluency MC (Jason R. Levine) and Rachel Smith of Rachel’s English, two big YouTube personalities. They did not disappoint!

Fluency MC started strong, performing his hit “Stick Stuck Stuck (The Irregular Verb Song)” and getting the whole crowd of 100+ participants to sing along. All attendees got a free MP3 of the song in their gift packets. He also sang “That’s What’s Up” and “Get a Life,” two songs focused on two of the more versatile and therefore confusing words in the English language: up and get. His segment concluded with his “Rhyme & Rhythm” instrumental, a back-and-forth with the audience getting them to rap-respond to questions in full sentences.

Fluency MC does his thing!
Fluency MC does his thing!

Rachel blew the audience away when, in the first minutes of her presentation, she put her microphone aside and belted out a line from Madame Butterfly. A former opera singer, her take on learning English is different from that of the average person. Her technique is all about learning which syllables should be stressed and which shouldn’t, so that the language sounds natural. Her theory on how mastering sounds alone isn’t enough was fascinating; she concluded by saying that, when speaking a foreign language, “It shouldn’t feel as easy as speaking your own language. It should feel silly, weird, stupid, embarrassing… Make it feel different.” If you do that, you’re closer to getting it right.

Rachel gives an audience participant from Thailand a pronunciation lesson!
Rachel gives an audience participant from Thailand a pronunciation lesson!

Additionally, the night was absolutely loaded with prizes for attendees. Prizes included a day trip to Philadelphia, facials, sweatshirts, chocolate, dance classes, and lots more… but the biggest reaction came when a girl won a Circle Line Tour and decided to bring her best friend with her.

Later in the evening, her best friend won her own prize – a free film editing course at the DFA!

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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DFA Grad Chadwick Boseman to Play James Brown in Biopic

It’s been years since Chadwick Boseman was a student at the Digital Film Academy. Since then, he’s been no stranger to the world of entertainment, landing roles on such classic soap operas as All My Children. But, like most film stars, it takes certain roles to suddenly get you ‘on the radar’ – and for Boseman, that break-through moment came in 2013 when he was cast as the legendary Jackie Robinson opposite Harrison Ford in 42.

42

42 met with positive reviews overall, despite a few nay-sayers feeling it sugar-coated some of the real issues of the time in which the Robinson biopic was set. One thing almost everyone could agree on, though, was that the “new-comer,” Boseman, was delightful and brought an easy athletic confidence to the role of this sports legend.

Boseman is quoted on his IMDB page as saying “The story (of 42) is relevant because we still stand on (Robinson’s) shoulders. He started something.”

This sentiment is similar to what he felt about James Brown when he was preparing to play the iconic Godfather of Soul in 2014’s highly-anticipated Get on Up. He spoke of Brown’s performances as “the foundation for a lot of things we’re still doing.”

James Brown

Boseman is definitely a man who understands the responsibility of portraying a real-life personality onscreen. In fact, it was this reverence for accurate portrayal that almost made him pass on the role of James Brown.

Originally from the south, Boseman shied away from this part, unsure of whether or not he could do it justice. He reportedly told director Tate Taylor, “We cannot mess this up! I don’t know if I can do it right!” while being courted for the role.

James Brown 2
Boseman as Brown.

Of course, once he came in to audition, he nailed it. And once his involvement was official, and despite not being a singer or dancer, Boseman spent six intensive weeks practicing Brown’s moves. According to Mick Jagger, who’s producing the film along with Brian Grazer, Boseman “immeasurably had become the character” by the time he was through with his training.

Whether or not Get on Up will bring Boseman as much recognition as 42 remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure – when the film releases in August of 2014, plenty of people – this blogger included – will be lining up to find out.

For more info, read “Mick Jagger Talks James Brown.”

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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DFA Goes Brazilian!

When she was first considering film schools and living in Brazil, Carol Mazzoni did an internet search to discover which school might be best for her. Her main considerations were cost (number one) and location (number two).

It wasn’t long before she landed on the Digital Film Academy (homepage). Given the low cost and Times Square address, she knew she’d found a perfect fit.

Times Square, New York City - a center for film.
Times Square, New York City – a center for film.

Now, she’s also an employee at the DFA, managing the school’s Social Media and working on International Outreach. Additionally, she’s completed a variety of film projects, from short films destined for the festival circuit to web series she’s collaborating on with fellow DFA alums.

Mazzoni’s story is a common one at the DFA. The school boasts a large number of international students who’ve come to the US to pursue their dreams. For this reason, they are branching out by attending their first-ever student-based recruitment fair in Brazil in the second half of March 2014.

Salão do Estudante in Brazil
Salão do Estudante in Brazil

The Salão do Estudante, run by BMI, is one of the most active student recruitment fairs in the world, with 200,000 students coming through the fair in four days. Additionally, in days when the fair isn’t running, the DFA will meet with numerous agencies that work to partner students with the perfect program for their needs.

Patrick DiRenna at the fair.
Patrick DiRenna at the fair.

Mazzoni will be attending the fair along with DFA President Patrick DiRenna. Between agency meetings, meetings with prospective students, and the fair itself, the event will take them to several Brazilian cities over the course of two and a half weeks.

“It’ll be exciting to talk with the crowd and hear more about what international students are looking for,” Mazzoni says. “I can’t wait.”

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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