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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

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DFA Student Spotlight: Ayanda Chisholm

 

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.

 

Still image from Chisholm’s web series.

 

“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.

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.”

 

Working on the set of The Young, Black, and Gifted
Working on the set of The Young, Black, and Gifted

 

You can view the first two episodes of her web series here:

http://www.theyoungblackandgifted.com/

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.

i-love-movies

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.”

reelgrrls-logo

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.

adobe youth voices

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.”

 

painting to film
Girl With a Pearl Earring: a high profile example of capturing the light in a painting on film.

 

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.”

We have no doubt she will succeed.

Helpful links:

Ayanda Chisholm’s Website: http://www.ayandachisholm.com/

Reel Grrls: http://reelgrrls.org/

Adobe Creative Scholars Announcement: http://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2015/07/adobe-creativity-scholars-spotlight-learning-self-acceptance.html

 

Blog post by Sara McDermott Jain

 

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5 Rules of Successful Crowd-funding Campaigns

Everyone wants to crowd-fund to raise money for their film projects… but few people know how to put a good campaign together. Here’s everything you need to know!

Calendar

Set the Smallest Goal Over the Shortest Period of Time

Sorry if you want to raise a million dollars, but remember: $10k is the tipping point with crowdfunding. Asking for more than that gives you a drastically reduced chance of reaching your goal.

That being said, be realistic about how much money you need. As an indie filmmaker: what’s the smallest amount of money that makes this film possible?

Also, be realistic about the campaigning time-frame. This doesn’t mean leaving it open for six months, assuming that by then, it’ll all trickle in… the opposite is true.

Campaigns less than 30 days do better. Why? A campaign gets the most attention at the beginning and at the end. By keeping the campaign shorter, the buzz remains steady throughout and you keep excitement among supporters high – which leads to more shares, more likes, and more cash.

Another note about the time frame? Avoid launching when people have to pay rent or taxes. Aim to launch after they’ve gotten their paychecks.

Friends

Have Over 1000 FB Friends

Try to hit 1000 Facebook friends before crowd-funding. Success isn’t just based on how many people contribute, but also on how many people SHARE your story with others. A plea for shares often finds help when a plea for cash alone doesn’t – and the more FB friends you have, logically, the more shares you get.

Also remember, when deciding which crowd-funding platform to use: Kickstarter integrates with Facebook, making some things easier. However, Indiegogo will give you ANY funds you raise (minus a higher percentage) while Kickstarter will return funds to backers if your goal isn’t met. Carefully weigh your options.

Camera

Have a 50/50 Video

A no-brainer, but campaigns with video are 20-30% more likely to reach their goals. Videos shouldn’t go over 2 minutes and should be 50% about the project and 50% about the creator. When it comes to crowd-funding, people are as interested in the person behind the goal as anything else – so make your personal story a good one.

multitask

Keep Backers Posted and Respond to Activity

Keep backers up-to-date! This helps them feel appreciated and keeps them excited – and more likely to spread the word about your project.

They should receive a weekly email newsletter that contains a funding update, an update on any new content added to your page (announcements about new actors joining the cast, etc.), any mentions you’ve had in the press, and, most importantly, a call to action! Always ask them to share your page with others.

Hand in hand with this, respond to activity on your page in real time (read: within 6 hours.) This doesn’t just mean giving a ‘like’ to nice comments, but also dealing with any negativity in a professional way – especially when it appears publicly. Also, every time a donation is made, give the backer a shout-out on social media: an immediate reward!

medal

Post-Campaign Like a Champ

Thank every backer individually, and don’t screw up the delivery of rewards! These are the items you’ve promised in exchange for money. DVDs, posters, etc. – they should go out when you said they would, and be what you promised.

Finally, make good on your biggest promise – get this film made, and use ALL the funds you earned campaigning. If you earned more than your goal, don’t treat yourself to a spa day – put it toward this project. But hey, a bigger-than-expected budget? What a great problem to have!

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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5 Rules for Doing a Web Series

Web series are hot right now. Why? They’re a cheap, fast way to show what you can do. Not everyone can get a deal with a major network – but everyone can create a web series.

Well, hold on… they can… but it doesn’t mean it’ll be any good.

To help make yours the best it can be, follow these simple rules:

  1. Short and sweet
  2. Colorful and close
  3. Story and Structure
  4. Resourceful and Rare
  5. Quality and Quantity
2ndAvenue_L
Title image for DFA grad Mari Kawade’s web series, 2ndAve

1. Short and sweet

Web series means online means short attention spans.

Generally, most belong in the 5-10 minute range. Going longer will cost you viewers, unless the subject matter is absolutely RIVETING. The only types of web series that consistently get away with long episodes are educational programs people watch because they need the info – not for entertainment.

If you still think this is too constrictive, consider this – the average online video is 6.5 minutes, and most people prefer not to click on anything over 2 MINUTES long.

2ndAvenue_Apt
The colorful apartment of 2ndAve star, Mariko.

2. Colorful and close

Mari Kawade, the creator of the web series 2ndAve, points out that most people watch web series in places where they can be easily distracted. For this reason, it’s better to make your web series colorful, literally (or at least give it a strong  aesthetic), and avoid having too many wide shots. Close-ups will be more engaging to an iphone viewer on the go.

3. Story and Structure

Just because it’s a web series doesn’t mean your story is less important than it would be on a network show. Great visuals will get you far – but if they’re combined with a story or unifying concept, the series can develop a faithful audience and be sustained over a longer period of time.

Keep in mind: story and structure don’t just refer to individual episodes. They also refer to how the series unfolds over time. Plan a whole season’s worth of episodes, and structure each so it leaves the audience wanting more. A good tactic is to always end with a cliffhanger – and the link to the next episode!

2ndAvenue_Shock
The leads on 2ndAve get a shock.

4. Resourceful and Rare

Web series can be done cheaply, but that goes out the window if you write in a bunch of special effects and set pieces you can’t afford. When planning your series, think about resources you have at your disposal. How can you use them to create something special? With luck, this thinking will help you achieve the ‘rare’ status of a creative series that’s doing something original.

5. Quality and Quantity

A web series doesn’t have to look like a Hollywood blockbuster – but it should at least look like you know what you’re doing. Do amateur home videos sometimes go viral? Sure. But how many of those ‘filmmakers’ have the strength to pull views time and again when they post new content?

Do your homework. Assemble a team of people who want to make your series happen. Teams often come together at the DFA – students have the necessary knowledge and the school provides the equipment.

Finally, without hurting the quality, do a lot of episodes quickly. (This is another reason why it’s good to keep episodes short.) Put up a bunch at once so people can keep watching – and then keep ‘em coming. If you only put up one every 6 months, no matter how great, people will forget about you by the time you put up another.

This list doesn’t cover everything about web series – but it’s a great start. So go ahead and start planning your webisodes now!

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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DFA New Filmmakers' Screening

October 23rd was the most recent in a proud history of evenings that celebrate DFA graduates’ work. As each semester draws to a close, the DFA screens student projects at the Film Anthology Archives, an impressive venue in NYC whose name also carries quite a bit of weight.

The experience of getting to see their work on the big screen is often mind-blowing for students.

These nights typically feature a wide range of work across different genres, and the 23rd was no exception. The audience was treated to a documentary trailer, the first episode in a new web series, a video Kickstarter campaign, two innovative short films, and a music video.

Three of the filmmakers were in attendance, so I got to chat with them after the show.

First up for my Q&As was Rich Lanzillotto, the creator of the short film Stood Up. The film, which goes inside the troubled relationship of two New Yorkers, offers viewers an unsettling ending. Unlike the other filmmakers in attendance, Lanzillotto shied away from directing his own piece. His long-term goal is to become an editor, so he focused on the editing and producing of Stood Up, which he co-wrote with his step-brother. The directing reins were handed over to another DFA student, Joseph Leon Stein.

Next up on my journey through filmmakers was Mari Kawade, whose web series 2ndAve is garnering lots of well-deserved attention. Three episodes are already online and have received more that 17,000 views, no small accomplishment. Maho Honda and Tsukasa Kondo, Kawade’s two lead actors and co-producers, were also in attendance.

2ndAve Team
Tsukasa Kondo, Maho Honda, Sara McDermott Jain, and Mari Kawade talk about 2ndAve.

The show, which features a new-to-NYC Japanese actress (Honda) and her homo-sexual roommate (Kondo), has developed a strong following of immigrants. “We knew the show would have a strong reaction from other Japanese,” Kawade says, “But we didn’t expect the massive reaction from other immigrants.” 2ndAve’s storyline, which features, among other things, the struggle of living in a foreign country and trying to build a creative career, showcases characters that anyone can relate to.

2ndAve Mari
Tsukasa Kondo and Mari Kawade give Sara McDermott Jain the low-down on 2nd Ave’s audience.

The third filmmaker was Linda Ainouche, an Anthropology PhD with a passion for documentaries. Her documentary-in-the-making, Dreadlocks Story, was presented in the form of a trailer. The subject is fascinating: the documentary explores the connection between India and Jamaica, how India influenced Jamaica’s Rastafari, and the movement which led to the proliferation of dreadlocks. The finished film will delve into how this is a result of India and Jamaica both being oppressed by Britain at the same time, and how their resulting connection is one positive thing to emerge from this oppression.

Linda
Documentarian Linda Ainouche discusses Dreadlocks Story with Sara McDermott Jain.

Ainouche is currently organizing a crowd-funding campaign to help finance the next stages of her research. Of the DFA, all the filmmakers stressed how the support and experience offered during their classes made their films possible. The DFA membership, which allows free access to film equipment, also made it possible to do these films with little to no budget. Those filmmakers who were unfortunately unable to attend were Jamaal Green, whose Kickstarer campaign trailer for the dramatic, psychological web series Chronicles of a Profiler was screened; Christopher Delao, who directed the surprising short film The Room Next Door; and Jimmy Negron, whose music video “Anthem” for the group Chameleon packed a powerful punch. The following projects are available to view online:

Happy viewing!

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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