Semester Review by Sam Cutler-Kreutz

Here is another Prague FAMU Spring 2012 review by classmate Sam Cutler-Kreutz.Image

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NYU Directing and Cinematography Semester Review Sam Cutler-Kreutz

To start with, I am not an NYU student. I come from Bard College, a small liberal arts school in Upstate NY, with a small film program. I am mostly a self taught director and DP because bard has such a small film program and so I was really hoping to use this semester as a way to expand my knowledge in both of those disciplines. In the end, I did learn a lot, but NOT THROUGH THIS PROGRAM, instead I read and studied on my own in my free time during this very easy semester. All this information could have been gotten at a much cheaper price. Speaking of price I was also in the unique position that my girlfriend was also studying at FAMU International in a different program (CIEE), and we spent a lot of time comparing our two programs. There is much to be said about the comparison of these two different programs, but the consensus between the two of us was that her program was almost identical (most of the same professors even) and was about half the price. Considering both of us were coming from schools with tuition that was less than NYU it made a serious difference. There is much to say about this semester and so I want to break it down into a couple of different parts. For starters I also want to recommend that you read Louis’s review of this program where he breaks down his expectations and how they were met. I agree completely with his review. 

THE NYU COURSE LIST IS INCREDIBLY MISLEADING!!!

I can’t stress this enough but I will try and break it down by the classes we actually had. I’ll try and group them roughly into categories.

General Class Summary

In general the quality of the professors was very good, but the quality of the teaching was very bad. This might sound strange, but it is part of what made the classes so hard to sit through, was that you could tell the prof’s were all SUPER smart, and whenever they did decide to make comments, they were all very good, but they just seemed to have such trouble teaching us anything in any organized manor. So frustrating! The other issue seemed to be that the classes were too long in general. The profs had trouble filling up such a long class period and this often lead to frustrating situation where the seemed to waste time.

Directing

Directing Scriptwriting – Prof. Pavel Marek.
-This class was just about pitching ideas for our final film. This is what we did every single class from day 1 until the end of the semester. He would always comment on our stories, usually with quite good insights, though by the end of the semester this class got very repetitive. 

Directing – Ivo Trajkov
-This class was what I expected to be our primary directing class, but ended up being kind of a joke, it was a combination of pitching and watching old films from the NYU program, made by students from previous semesters and pointing out what was wrong with them.

Summary
-I really felt disappointed by this piece of the semester. We learned nothing about “directing” no directing actors, no casting, nothing about shooting, or translating story into shots. There was some useful info about storybuilding/crafting. 

Scriptwriting

Script Consultation – Jan Fleicher
This class was almost identical to “Directing Scriptwriting” Pitching pitching pitching, all the time. Fine for the first 2 weeks and then very repetitive for the rest of the semester. In general we had a lot of pitching, which was valuable, but the amount was too much and got boring.

Screenplay Writing- Pavel Jech
Because I come from a small school, I’ve never had a traditional scriptwriting class before, so this was very informative for me. We watched a few films and analyzed their story structure. I had a few classmates call this a very basic class, but in the end it was useful for me. 

Summary
This was a useful part of the semester for me, I learned quite a bit about story structure, but this these classes could be been more nuanced.

Cinematography

Camera + Camera Technologies – Michael Gahut
I am a very technical person, and so this class was a joke for me. It was perhaps the most basic camera technologies class ever. We covered about 3 topics. How to use a spotmeter, the proper settings for a 35mm film camera, the most basic 3 point lighting overview. Anybody with any seriousness about cinematography will find this class pointless. The most fun I had was going to Panavision and wandering around looking at the expensive lenses, and 100’ technocranes. On top of all this Gahut is an incredibly confusing professor to try and understand. 

Film and Video – Pecack
This class was great. The professor was very focused and the class should have been titled “the science of cinematography”. I had blast, asking every question I’ve ever had about the more complex technical pieces of filmmaking. 

Camera Language – Marek Jicha 
This class was also good, it was VERY well organized and everything we set out to cover we actually got to. It was sort of a combination cinematography and camera directing class. There should have been much more of this class. 

Summary
In general the science of cinematography was covered well, but there was almost nothing about camera placement, shot size, lighting of any kind. I learned how to set up and use a 35mm camera but many of my classmates still struggled with it by the end of the semester. I really don’t feel like my cinematography skills were much improved by my classes here. I did take the time to learn on my own which made my semester feel more worthwhile. 

Other Classes

Czech Film History-Michael Bregant
Quite a good class, with an organized prof. who really knew what he was talking about. He maybe had trouble making the subject as interesting as he could have, and we were often left to watch films on our own in class and then not get back to talking about them till some time later, but a good class overall.

Czech Language
This class is by far (and that’s saying a lot) the worst class we had here. I learned no Czech. As I’m sure any competent language professor will tell you, you have to spend more than 1hr per week learning a language. The prof treated us like we were all advanced level Czech students and she spoke only in Czech and very quickly. Maybe in some kind of advanced immersion this would make sense, but it meant that entire classes would go by without any of us understanding anything she was saying. 

Homework
There was none EVER!!

Production 
There is another novel to be written on this as well, but in general it was better than the classes because you had some control over the process. That isn’t to say that it was not without frustrations. The hardest part with the production piece, was not knowing which parts of the process were in your hands or the programs hands. The division of labor between the NYU office and the students was often unclear. Who was supposed to be, finding locations, finding actors, dealing with rental houses, getting special equipment, etc. These all became clear eventually but often very close to the actual production, and often much closer than one would like. This was indicative of the GENERAL DISORGINIZATION OF THE PROGRAM.

Anyway, I had a great time with production and was on as many sets as was possible. I also took the opportunity to be on other FAMU International productions, and in total spent about 32 days on set. 

Prague
Just to put it simply, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities on earth and I loved every minute of being here. I would consider moving here at some point in my life. If you want a semester of sightseeing and vacation, come to Prague. 

Conclusion
I had a really fun semester here. A bunch of great people, and a beautiful city. I was doing WAY more film than I would have been at my small liberal arts school in NY. But academically this program is incredibly inefficient and for the amount of class and resources we had at our disposal was a huge disappointment. If you are a hardcore cinematography student from NYU Tisch, who doesn’t need a semester long break, stay away. If you are a super hardcore directing student, who already knows the basics of cinematography well, and doesn’t want a semester long break, stay away. If you are looking to chill out for a semester, and maybe advance your scriptwriting knowledge and some slight directing/basic cinematography skills, you should come. If you are looking to have a blast in another country and don’t really care about academics, this is the place for you. If you are looking to have a good time in another country, and you are willing to work your ass off and be proactive about your learning (because no one is going to spoon feed it to you here), this semester can work for you. It did for me.

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Prague FAMU 2012 review by Oliver Horvat

Here is another review by classmate Oliver Horvat.

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At Tisch, I was taking mostly producing and directing courses, but the more of those classes I took, the more it felt as though too many things were being repeated and we weren’t going further in depth. That’s why I’ve been wanting to dedicate my last few semesters towards learning different crafts of filmmaking. My primary goal for this semester was to learn more in depth the art and science of cinematography (the directing aspect was completely secondary). I’m sad to say this education was not achieved academically. The biggest saving grace in this program for me was that I received a great deal more knowledge and experience through my fellow classmates on set film sets.

 
I should say that the main reason I wanted to come to this program was to have an abroad experience (which I  honestly believe should be the first priority – otherwise your experience won’t be as enjoyable), but another reason I came to this program was because I wanted to learn more about cinematography and camera work – which is what I felt like the FAMU program was pitched as on the Tisch websites. Now that the semester is over, I know that was not necessarily the case (at least in the classroom setting), but I still came away with a great amount of knowledge on numerous things.
 
Here is a list of pros and cons that I feel would be most useful for anyone about to go into the program or thinking of applying to the program.
 
 
Pros:
 
You get to shoot on 35mm film. It’s an experience that likely won’t be around for too much longer because it’s becoming an increasingly costly format to work with compared to the rise of the digital age. I’m not debating that digital is cheaper or better because there is an argument for both sides, I’m just reiterating the state of our industry and what will be the assured outcome. Film schools will eventually follow suit. Take advantage of this opportunity while you can – I’m glad I did.
 
You will learn in greater detail about the art of the short screenplay. You will also learn in greater detail how to pitch a short screenplay idea to a group of professors that hold nothing back – you will get harsh, but fairly honest critiques because they want you to have a story that is both compelling and sensical.
 
You will be studying under the best filmmakers in the Czech Republic in the best film school in Europe. They have plenty of advice to give and experience to share – but only if you make the effort to try and see them outside of class. Oftentimes though they are pretty busy so you have to push to get these meetings with them. Most of their time is spent in the classroom listening to film ideas and tearing them to shreds – you can get more constructive feedback from them if you manage to talk to them one on one.
 
All the classes work in a cohesive way and are mindful of your filming schedule. Most of your classes are geared towards helping you make your film for the semester – rather than it being 5 or 6 different classes with different requirements and assignments to worry about. It’s all geared towards the same goal. After you’re done filming, you’re given the time off to do initial editing, which is in incredibly helpful. They also offer help in the editing department if you have a particular special effect or issue with a segment of your film. They can bring one of the editing professors in to examine your film and do whatever is possible to get the effect you want.
 
You will receive a Production Manager who is responsible for getting your actors together and making sure everything goes smoothly for your production. Not everyone is as good though – Martina Stranska was mine and she was amazing, but a number of the others were disinterested and lazy when it came to helping you for your film. You’d have to be a pain in their ass if you wanted them to actually get shit done. 
 
You will also receive a Production Designer who will help you get your props, furniture and any special requirements for your film. However, who you get is also a crapshoot – the original production designer for our Studio projects left 4 days before filming because she got a paid gig in the states. She was replaced by someone who did not speak English and was the most incompetent woman ever – she had a terrible habit of forgetting key props and on one particular project, she completely forgot all the furniture and everything else necessary for an entire room in the studio, forcing that student to drastically edit his script on the day of shooting. The production designer for the exterior projects however was excellent – she could do no wrong and everyone loved her.
 
You will also get a professional AC who is either a  graduate cinematography student at the film school or someone who has long ago finsihed school and is willing to help out on student sets. This is probably FAMU’s greatest strength and asset. They are there on set to make sure you don’t fuck anything up. They oversee everything in the camera department to make sure it’s exposed correctly, the focus is correct, the mag is place properly into the camera, and whatever else they may be needed for. Practically every AC is great. They are the most knowledgable and helpful of the crew you’re given for your production.
 

Jan Švankmajer is the shit.

 
 
 
 
Cons:
 
This is not a cinematography program – if you fell in love with the prospect of FAMU teaching you intensive cinematography, you will be disappointed. NYU liberally used the word ‘cinematography’ to entice people to join this program. I partially blame the course descriptions online. 
 
The biggest problem with the FAMU program is that it is incredibly disorganized. The producer in me was going crazy – I was wasting my time in classrooms when I could have been doing more productive things for my project. For the first 5 weeks, you will be in the classrooms from 9am to 6pm (this is an average – on a few occasions we’ve been in a classroom from 9am to 9pm). Normally I’d be fine with this, but other than the first week of introductions and initial pitching, you will find yourselves incredibly bored out of your minds. Part of the reason is because–
 
We pitch too damn much. You will be pitching your film idea(s) multiple times a week and you will be pitching to nearly every professor in the program (excluded are the Acting Professor and the Czech Language professor for obvious reasons). The fact is, you will be doing principle photography on the first film in six weeks – they want to make sure your scripts are as polished as possible, but this takes away from any directing theory, technical work you could be learning or time you could spend with your production manager and production designer for your film. 
 
You will be pitching to 4 or 5 professors at a time – and you will never please all of them. They will often give you contradicting advice on how to improve your script, making it seem like a fruitless endeavor to perfect your script. At the end of the day, it’s your script and it still has to be something you’re enthusiastic enough to make. Honestly, we focus so much on the scripts that we can’t possibly learn anything else in class – if you don’t think of yourself as a writer and wouldn’t mind doing this, ask if it’s possible to use a completed script of FAMU screenwriting student. It could greatly enhance the experience as a directing program because it forces you to incorporate script analysis into your studies. You could then potentially not waste as much time pitching.
 
Don’t take any of the course descriptions to heart – they are very misleading. The only class that even has a syllabus or some structure to it is the European Film History course offered. Good advice for this class would be to try and familiarize yourself with earlier film history – it will be a better classroom experience if you have some basic knowledge of European film – in fact the professor assumes you have this basic knowledge. Also, you will not learn one bit of Czech in your Czech language class through FAMU – the teacher, like this program in general has no structure or objectives and simply tries to teach random things in no particular order.
 
Classes are somewhat of a joke. We hardly touch upon any new or relevant information when we aren’t pitching. We only get 7 weeks worth of classes, roughly half a semester’s worth. The rest is spent filming and in post-production. Because we have so little class we never go past the basics and into more advanced topics.  It’s also very difficult to get motivated to go to class when you know they are just going to keep tearing your film to shreds, but also because you may not end up pitching that day – making that time you spend in class a waste. It would be more effective if they had a set schedule of who was pitching on a particular day in class so that only those students show up and pitch, allowing the other students a chance to focus on other aspects of the production rather than just the script. Bring something to work on in class when you’re not pitching.
 
You will never work with your actors before filming starts. In past years, students didn’t even meet their actors until the day of shooting. Students complained and I congratulate FAMU for trying to actually alleviate this problem. However, their current method still does not go far enough. You will usually still have to ask your production managers to see your actors, and when you do, it’s only for about a 5 minute meeting in a cafe or on the street. You won’t be able to do rehearsals in the slightest. Some of the actors you have access to are professionals who have an impressive body of work – others are pretty bad and many do not speak English (your production manager usually has to translate things for you to those actors). Regardless though, they are paid for their time – therefore you can’t really take up the time to rehearse with them (they are also very busy because they often have regular day jobs that can’t be taken off for rehearsals).
 
They won’t tell you what your budget is. That was such an infuriating thing. How can you have any idea of what’s feasible for your film if you don’t have an accurate account of what your budget is? I later pried it out of my incompetent production designer halfway through interior shooting and she told me that we only get about $300 for props, costumes, actors, etc. Her method was to be as minimalistic on the first few sets so that they don’t go over budget, giving the later films in the cycle potentially more access to funds if their productions demand so. This is incredibly unfair as the students who go first are already at a disadvantage because they are the ones who have to go into the production cold turkey and basically define what to do and not to do on these film sets – and on top of that they’ll get less money? It makes no sense at all. Everyone should get an equal budget.
 
They won’t take you to the Barrandov studios with your production designer to choose your costumes, furniture, props or anything. They strictly try to enforce this so that you trust your production designer to get what you need for your production. Unfortunately, sometimes your production designer is completely incompetent and doesn’t get the right things for the right aesthetic for your film – or they just plain forget things. They also don’t let you choose your props and furniture because they don’t want you to go over budget and get more things than you need. This is a problem though when you only get what you need for a film – many studio projects had relatively bare walls that made the films look more like they were filmed in a studio. In general it’s hard to develop trust in the crew members that FAMU supplies you when the program tries so hard to keep you out of the loop so much – transparency feels like a dirty word in this program.
 
They never told us when we went over budget. We would only find out when they slap us with a bill at the end of our production. Not cool.
 
You don’t get to touch a camera or get to do lighting tests or have any formal or basic camera education until you fire off your first frames on set. I see this as a big issue, especially say if you’re like me and haven’t DP’d very much in your film career at school. Luckily, I was able to work on a few people’s sets as a 2nd AC before I worked my way up to the cinematographer position for my partner’s film.
 
 
 
 
I’m sure there are other things that I’m forgetting at the moment (both pro and con), but these were a lot of the things that stuck out in my head looking back on this program.
 
I hope this was enough to give people a good enough idea of the program. However, if people have any specific questions or want more advice about the program, I’d be happy to give it. They could send me an email atoliver.horvat@nyu.edu.  “

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Final Reviews on Spring 2012 FAMU 35 mm

TAK OK. Well the semester is now complete after we had our screening and two “tests” this past week. The screening was annoying seeing that the professors bashed each movie rather than telling us what we could do to improve it or our future work.

For my final posts – I will post reviews of the semester by students that were in my program so that all of you have another perspective of what happened over here.

I asked them to write what their goals were coming in and how they feel after it has ended. I also told them to list the pros and cons of the semester.

Our first review is by NYU junior Louis Gordon.

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  • I started off the semester with the understanding that we would be in an intensive directing and cinematography program that would push us to really flesh out quality work. The program was like this in a few respects. Our professors were way more honest and critical about our work than at NYU, which is very refreshing and also very helpful; teaching me when to take someone’s suggestions and when to stick with my own vision.
    I will say that these professors are very, very intelligent and experienced filmmakers, perhaps much more than at Tisch. Marek Jicha is super knowledgeable about camera placement and color theory. Ivo Trajkov has a great sense of what character interactions will show what, and how to direct them.

    But of course there were a LOT of disappointments for this program. I think we all came into it with very false expectations about how things would work and what we’d be focusing on. To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll go through some of the descriptions for the program’s classes on Tisch’s website (http://www.tisch.nyu.edu/object/pragfilm.html) and point out what, in my opinion, is totally incorrect:

    “Intermediate Production: 35 mm Cinematography

    IFMTV-UT 1202
    4 units | Michal Gahut, Marek Jicha, and staff

    Focusing on the techniques and aesthetics of 35 mm cinematography, students are trained for hands-on camera operating, exterior and studio lighting design, exponometry, and color correction, as well as mise-en-scène and the fundamentals of cinematic language. This course is coordinated with Directing Traditions for the production of individual, 35 mm narrative film projects and includes lectures, workshops, consultations, and on-the-set supervision.”

    Our hands-on training was extremely minimal. This point above all needs to be emphasized. We were shown the Arri 35 III twice, and did not get to try it out or operate it at all until our shoots. Gahut spent all his class time working out production details and spent maybe only one lecture talking about exposing with a grey card. We were not given any training on lighting design or color correction, but we did spend a really great class on color theory which was super helpful. We may have barely grazed over mise-en-scene in Marek Jicha’s class, but never talked about it in depth.

    Directing Traditions: Theories and Workshops

    “IFMTV-UT 1201
    2 units | Pavel Marek, Marek Bouda, and staff

    Students receive hands-on training in 35 mm filmmaking both as director and as director of photography on two separate (interior and exterior) individual projects. Using Intermediate Production as a conduit, this course includes workshops and theoretical seminars in screenwriting, directing, and editing and a weekly series of master classes. Rushes are screened with intensive faculty critique sessions, and students finish with a final off-line group edit. Each student completes a 35 mm film with nonsynchronous sound that may be submitted to various film festivals.”

    Firstly, Marek Bouda was not teaching us. It was Ivo Trajkov. I think in his class we talked about directing the first day, and the rest of the classes we were pitching our scripts for critique and watching past NYU FAMU films, talking about why certain ones didn’t work. We didn’t talk about directing in Pavel Marek’s class either. We were only pitching revised versions of our scripts and hearing critique. We never got any training in editing; except maybe a few bits of advice from Ivo at our final screening. Rushes were never screened. We were able to show Michael Gahut our rough cuts for a short cinematography critique, but the rest of the professors only saw our films at the final screening.

    “The Language, Arts, and Culture of the Czech Republic

    IOART-UT 1028
    4 units | Otto Urban and Jan Wiener, instructors

    Prague boasts a rich cultural legacy as one of Europe’s most interesting and beautiful cities. This course makes full use of the city, as students learn the language and the rich literary, art, and cultural histories of the Czech Republic and also participate in excursions.”

    We had some great excursions with Otto Urban to Kutna Hora, Terezin, etc. But the language and culture class itself was probably the most useless and unpleasant experience here. We did not have Jan Wiener, but Pavlina Urbanova, was was so incredibly incompetent some students would get into arguments with her about how little they were learning. Those of us who were really interested in getting a basic handle on the language gained nothing from this class. She essentially would speak a few sentences in Czech, not help us understand what she was saying, hand out papers with Czech phrases on them, and talk to us about places we should go sightsee. The intensive introduction to Czech language course we got during the NYU orientation week was really great, with very confident teachers who would really pound the language into our heads. The program definitely needs to hire someone else, perhaps one of those teachers, in order to keep this class.

    “Screenwriting and Analysis

    IDWPG-UT 1058
    4 units | Pavel Jech, instructor

    This course primarily prepares students for the production of their short narrative films. It explores feature-length and short films from a dramaturgical perspective to demonstrate diverse narrative techniques, dramatic structures, and genre forms as well as examines the craft of screenwriting. Aside from weekly lectures on script analysis, students prepare regular assignments. The course culminates with a production-ready short screenplay and final test in feature film analysis.”

    Our first class was a great lecture on screenwriting theory, and we did have two helpful screenings and discussions (we watched the Czech film “Kolja” and Felini’s “La Strada”, then talked about what in those stories really worked and how.) Most of the class, however, was more pitching of scripts and getting feedback, over and over again.

    “A Historical Analysis of European Cinema

    IFMTV-UT 1042
    3 units | Michal Bregant, instructor

    Through a series of lectures and screenings, students in this course explore the history and development of Czech and Slovak cinema, within the context of European cinema. The course emphasizes the Czech New Wave, one of the most influential movements of post-World War II-era filmmaking.”

    Probably our best class besides Marek Jicha’s Camera Language. Very nice historical overview. We had to skip most of the Czech New Wave for schedule reasons, but we spent a class on Jan Švankmajer, which was really amazing.

    “Acting Workshop

    ITHEA-UT 1906
    1 unit | Dasha Blahova, instructor

    Students explore the use of games, monologues, and scene work in order to develop knowledge of the basic acting skills. Students are encouraged toward self-exploration and creative expression, from the perspective of an actor, director, and/or cinematographer.”

    Like most of the classes, our first meeting was very informative/ we learned some important things about character that also branch into directing and screenwriting. We got to do a little improv exercises and some warm-up stretches, which was as far as technique and games went. Never did any monologues. The theatrical scene which we had to split into groups and perform was not very well written, and the class in general didn’t focus on much towards the end.

    Other notes:
    Besides the classes, I should mention some other things that really got on my nerves with this program:

    -The shoots: It wasn’t really made clear to us how exactly the shoots would be organized until the semester had already started up. Firstly, you will pair up with someone; one of you will direct an interior studio project, the other will direct an exterior location project. You will DP your partner’s project and vise versa. The studio projects are all shot consecutively (7 projects, 1/2 day to set up, 1 1/2 days to shoot each), so everyone will get the chance to crew on each other’s interiors if they want. Then, a month later, the exterior projects happen simultaneously over the course of 6 days (7 projects, 2 days per shoot, 2 shoots simultaneously except for the last one), so the group of 14 has to split up. This was a little irritating since we were almost competing for certain members of the group to be on our shoots and leaving others out.

    -The PMs: We are assigned various production managers graduated from FAMU. A handful of these folks are good, but some were being difficult, incompetent or would just not treat our projects with any sort of care. One PM decided to change a project’s shooting days without informing Michael Gahut and Vera Hoffmannova, who are in charge of the program. Another refused to get a new actor after the student saw him and decided he would not work for the role at all; this was still several days before the shoot. This same PM would also eat too many lunch sandwiches on a shoot and not leave enough for the actors and rest of the crew. I was lucky enough to have a PM who was responsible and on top of things, but she had a really bad attitude and would curse at me and my DP unnecessarily.

    -The AC supervisors: These guys are also out of FAMU, and for the most part are really good at what they do. The problem is mainly that they end up doing too much. Since our camera training in Gahut’s class is so minimal, we end up on set without any practice with building or loading the camera, keeping it clean, or taking light readings. Therefore, these responsibilities usually fall upon the AC supervisors, and unless there’s a good chunk of downtime when one of them can show you how to load the mag, etc, you won’t really get the chance to do it.

    -The Production Designers: More hired “professionals”. We had two of these; one who graduated from DAMU drama school and did our exteriors and another who wasn’t even trained in production design for the interiors. This latter one was a nightmare. The girl who designed the interiors would get us all the wrong props, would forget others entirely, and would not use the money for props and furniture responsibly. One student asked for blue-and-white checkered drapes for the windows. She went and bought $150 fabric without telling the student that it would go over-budget and he would have to pay for them, and only asked for the money after the shoot was over and the drapes were used. The production designer for exteriors was much better at what she did, but was still unable to get everything we had wanted since she was buying props for 7 different shoots over the period of a week. If anything I think that they should really have the work split up between two production designers through both the interior and exterior projects.

    -Budget: I do not understand why we are kept so in the dark about this. Gahut insisted that we do not ask him anything about the budget; that it would work out and we would be told if we would have to pay more. Problem was a number of us weren’t. I wanted to rent a skateboard dolly and close-up filters, and asked my PM if that would go over; she said it depended on how much the production designer needed to pay for props. So I am only told after the shoot ended that I owed them $200 out-of-pocket for the extra gear.

    -Lights: One thing they neglect to mention until very late is that you will not get to touch any of the lights. A professional gaffer is hired who does the studio lighting.

    -Editing: If you don’t plan on editing on your own laptop, keep in mind there is only one editing suite, Avid MC5, available to NYU at FAMU. It is on a PC with no way to read the HFS formatted drives that work with Macs. You need to either add a NTFS partition to your own portable drive, or borrow one from Vladimir Cabalka who works at FAMU. You’ll also need to ask the guy during your telecine transfer to export the footage as DNxHD and not ProRes; I made this mistake and had to deal with some major conversion issues.

    -Time: in general, the sentiment that you will be super busy and have no time for much except the projects is a lie. In between class weeks and shooting weeks, we definitely had some long breaks where we could do whatever we wanted. You will have time to go on a vacation somewhere and get some traveling in. I only wish I had known this and taken advantage of it.

    To sum up the experience, it was not what I expected. I learned a pretty good deal about screenwriting and making a story clear and concise, as well as a lot of theory on camera angles and color. I don’t feel I’ve learned very much as a director, however, and my skills in cinematography have improved only a little. I can work an Arri 35 III and frame a subject pretty well, but I must say this program taught me nothing about how to light. I did not feel prepared for the shoot that I DPd, and though the shoot itself taught me a lot, I definitely feel I made some fatal mistakes that made some shots unusable.

    Don’t enter this program with the expectation that you will learn that much about camerawork. It is more of a cinematography exercise with some visual theory. It seems like a pretty solid screenwriting program for those looking to improve their visual storytelling skills and build some backbone in front of critics. For directors, the program is an introduction to a style of acting and production from another culture. Those are really the reasons one should be applying to this.

 

 

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This week – #12

We do not have classes again this week, just a rough cut showing and a class of us exporting our films to the proper format. With that being said, I am not sure if I will re-post for this week. 

Next week we have three finals. It seems funny because we have not had a class in three weeks so we are going into this final pretty cold turkey. This will be our first and only tests this semester, so it should be interesting.

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Week 11

This week we did not have classes. So most of the film students went on a trip. I went with my friends to Split, Croatia, Vienna, Austria, and Budapest, Hungary. 

 

It was awesome. 

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Week 10 – Exterior Projects

After a brief hiatus from the blog I am back to tell everyone how the exterior projects went. Going into the production there was much unease with directors on the lack of transparency when it came to the actual budget that we were provided. Unlike the interior projects, we were not provided access to the dolly or advanced gaffing equipment, which resulted in us having to rent the equipment from Panavision if we wanted to use it.

The first two directors to go were Francis Chen & Sam Boujnah. I crewed on Francis’s film so I can go into details about her shoot.

Frances was smart enough to bring her own film stock from NY so already started off with extra money in her pocket coming from FAMU’s production team. She invested in a 30′ crane from Panavision to come in on one of her shooting days. Fortunately for her, it did not come out to be too expensive since she had saved money with the film stock.

The crane came with two professional operators employed by Panavision, who gripped for the whole day.

Frances and her DP (Phil Falino) worked well together, which led to a very swift shoot. We didn’t run into any of production problems that we encountered with the interior production designer. The main difference between the INT and EXT shoots was the longer shooting days for the exterior projects. Interior shooting days were from 9:00 AM  to 5:00 PM versus exterior’s 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

After the first shoots wrapped we luckily had two days off before the second directors (Becca and I) filmed. My film is about a soldier in a POW camp who defects when he’s given the order to kill a prisoner.

Weeks before my shoot, I asked my FAMU assigned Czech producer to let me meet the actors that he selected for my roles but he refused saying it is “not usual.” Instead I met my main actor two days before the shoot, too late for any recasting even if I wanted to.  We scouted out some locations three weeks before the shoot. My story demanded a factory, which I was unable to come across. I had to change the story around my location, which ended up being a tedious process with the short amount of time left.

The location that we settled on was very interesting, however he thought it was unnecessary to contact the landowner for permission to film on the premises. He told me not to worry and that we will work around it.

On Monday before my shoot (Wednesday & Thursday) I went to the prop house with my production designer and we picked out props. Nothing too expensive, I calculated it to be no more than $100, which would be a small portion of my FAMU provided budget. A day before my shoot, I get a call from my Czech producer telling me to bring $250 to set tomorrow to pay for me going over the budget. He demanded that I bring it or else we will have problems with the props. I told him that he must have miscalculated and after I broke the numbers down with him he told me to bring in $100. Though it isn’t clear what was spent on what, or how I even went over-budget (we don’t get receipts), I felt like I have been exploited in a foreign country.

On the day of the shoot I knew that I was too ambitious with my amount of shots but that didn’t stop me from trying. I organized 51 shots together with my DP Hunter Nolan for a two-day shoot. The reason I say ambitious is because my other classmates scheduled around 30. We also planned on shooting with the Canon 5D for inserts and B-Roll.

My Czech producer for the film was probably the biggest headache of the whole production. Instead of translating to my Czech actors, he kept telling my Assistant Director which shots to cut and telling us to hurry up.

When it came down to filming in the most valuable location on the top of a mountain, the location manager told us we had 30 minutes or else he was calling the police. My crew and I pushed through the wide shots that we needed on the location and moved as quickly as possible. As you can imagine, it’s frustrating to have to change your shot list because your producer failed to contact the landowner.

At the end of the first shooting day, my AD told me that we had recorded 31 shots on 35 mm with an hour left to spare with more shots recorded on the 5D. It was a great accomplishment for my team and I who really put in their best effort to get the shoot done.

The second shooting day was just as efficient and we finished two-hours early with extra 35 mm film to spare, which resulted me wasting it on a soldier running in slow-motion.

I’m really happy with how my film came out, with all of the guns, uniforms, blood, and camera moves it really came out great.

From right to left- Sam Cutler (AC), Hunter Nolan (DP), and Me (Director)

The next film was Heddy’s who was about two sisters who re-visit their childhood home. Heddy organized 30 shots and finished early both days so it was a great success.

I didn’t have the opportunity to work on the next film set – Julia Mills- who’s film was about a prostitute who’s son discovers her line of work.

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Post coming soon…

I am directing my big film the next two days- so I will post when I finish. Thank you for your patience!

 

 

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