NYU Tisch

TAR – red carpet and review

Very short two-day trip to Rome for the red carpet and the premiere.

While there were eight of the twelve directors in attendance, suffice it to say that the team that made TAR happen was a lot larger. The DPs, production designers, costumers, G&E team, line producers, sound, location managers and our amazing ADs and their teams, were all incredible. And the magicians who worked on the film in post, pulling 12 different shorts together – the editors, sound designers, composers. So much talent and dedication. My intense gratitude to each of them.

In terms of nerves, all of mine were reserved for the screening itself.

The Hollywood Reporter review can be read here.

Photo Credit/Source: Ernesto Ruscio, Venturelli/Getty Images Europe

The NYU Showcase

My first film at NYU, IN THAT MOMENT, has been selected to be showcased on the NYU Grad Film website. You can watch the entire movie on the site.

If you are thinking of applying to Grad Film, the Showcase site lists some examples of all the films we make while we are at school. The MOS, Observational Documentary, and Adaptation from the First Year, the one key Second Year film, and then the Thesis film.

The really cool thing about the Grad Film program is that it keeps evolving – till recently, the third year was mainly devoted to writing, planning for life after grad school and doing your own projects, but due to curriculum opportunities in my year, we made a lot of films in the third year too. Everyone made at least one film and some people made as many as three. I’m sure some of these films will start showing up in the Showcase in the future.

Work update

The blog has been silent for a while because things have been super-busy.

The second year of the NYU Grad Film program is considered the most hectic for a reason. In the second year, we make the biggest film while we are in school. I started thinking about my film in the summer of 2010 because we had to show up at school in August with a first draft. Week one was a writing intensive. By the end of that week I realized what I thought was an acceptable first draft was not. Craziness ensued where I was rewriting and pre-producing. Oh, and attending classes.

Early November to the end of January was production period – no classes, just making movies all the time. 37 movies got made. In addition to my own film, I crewed on six other productions in different capacities. Production basically means being disconnected from real life – family, friends and sleep. It was the most crazily intense period of my life.

Since then we’ve been back at school and also editing the films. It’s been great to be back at school, great to be looking at the stuff that was only existed in my head a few months ago. And it’s amazing to see the films classmates have put together. Inspiring.

Being back at school also means having a small semblance of a life (as much of a semblance as film school will allow). And… updating this blog and the Tatvam site.

The Tatvam website is now up to date with all the films and projects I’ve been involved with. Check out the Films and Projects pages to see what’s been going on recently. My own second year film is not yet on there. That’s because I don’t have a title that works. Hopefully soon…

The HDSLR narrative

For our second semester, the main project is the Adaptation – a seven-minute narrative film. The assigned camera for the Adaptation was the quite excellent Panasonic DVX-100, a standard def camera. But this year is also the year of the HDSLR. They are affordable, they are easy to use and students are willing to experiment and take risks. Voilà, the perfect storm.

Out of the class of 36, 18 of us shot on an HDSLR ((The rest shot on a combination of the DVX and the EX-1)). Most on a Canon and one person on a Nikon. That’s an incredible number of people to use a school unsupported format and figure out everything ourselves (especially all the gnarly post-production issues).

I shot on the Canon 5D, the magnificent full-frame camera in the Canon lineup. Fortunately Canon released the 24p upgrade for the 5D two weeks before my shoot so we were able to shoot the film on 24p instead of 30p. I also wanted as much latitude as possible in post for color correcting and so we shot with a custom gamma curve to flatten the image.

First up was figuring out the lenses needed and I decided that in addition to my delightful 50m F1.4 Canon lens, I would rent the F2 Zeiss Primes in 35, 50 and 100 focal length. I also rented the Canon F2 L 200m lens – a giant lens that delivered incredibly well. We ended up using only the Canon 50m for the outdoor night shots as it was the only one that would open up enough and it is amazing that we shot at night with only available light on the 5D – a huge positive of the full frame sensor. The rest of the lenses, we used for the internal locations. We ended up being barely able to squeeze the 200m into the apartment since the minimum focal length was 8 feet, but it delivered an exceptional closeup, single shot of the actors that we were looking for with an really, really shallow DOF.

I was incredibly lucky that my buddy Mitch agreed to gaff this film ((Not only did Mitch gaff this film, he also helped me check out equipment, came with me to equipment rental houses, moved stuff and basically helped me in every way during the shoot.)). He flew in from LA a few days early and while the rest of the crew was busy with the previous production (we shoot in rotation), he and I did some tests to figure out where to shoot the night shots. We also examined all the equipment (but overlooked some rig testing that came back to bite us in the rear later).

In terms of equipment, I rented an external monitor. A downside with the 5D (that the 7D and 550D don’t seem to have) is that when you hit record on the 5D, the monitor drops to 480p which makes it difficult to focus. Annoying, but once you adjust to this problem, it is still worth having the monitor.

I also rented a Redrock rig, but it failed us at a key moment when we needed to follow focus because the ring wasn’t the right size and the screw got in the way. My bad for not enough testing ahead of time. The AC did a great job of pulling focus manually though and the shot was still usable.

This is one of the big downsides of the camera – it is basically a still camera and we are making it work as a film camera. Pulling focus is tough because the lenses are small and still lenses go around past infinity. That means, when you mark your focus marks, if you go past infinity, all of them are useless for the next take. This is especially true of Canon lenses. The Zeiss lenses have the added benefit of not rotating past infinity and therefore being better for film. A lot of shots, especially as you pull focus with a moving object could be out of focus in parts. If you watched the House season finale, you will see that even they had this problem (although they did a lot of excellent editing to get around some of the out of focus shots).

Lighting was contained both because of the style of the film and also because of the camera. A large chunk of shots were around a table and we used a china ball for that with an inky adding edge and a practical in the background for aesthetics and lighting. There were definitely shots that were complicated with windows all around the DP and Gaffer did their thing figuring out where to hide things and people so as to get the shot. As I mentioned before, for the nighttime exteriors, we were able to just go with available lighting.

In terms of Audio, the sound on all versions of the HDSLRs are crappy. You have to do dual system – we used the FP-33 mixer going into the 702T recorder. We also recorded camera sound. Recording camera sound is really important for two reasons. One, you can get going with a basic edit with the horrendous sound as a scratch track. Two, much more importantly, if you have it, you can use Plural Eyes to sync up your sound. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close.

One of the problems I encountered while editing is that in clips that were longer than seven minutes or so (ah, the joy of video where we could keep rolling), the sound started to fall out of sync. What you need to do is adjust the speed of the clip to be 100.06 in FCP and then it settles down and comes back into sync.

Staying in the post-production world, there’s one other consideration that’s a biggie and that’s how to convert the files and into what format ((Our class banded together to help each other through post. The first person who shot on the 7D, Zach, did a ton of research (and found Plural Eyes!) and shared it with the class. As people discovered things, they shared it and the whole group used the information)). Post options abound but I went with a converter called NeoScene because it gave me the extra color correction latitude I wanted. Then I had to figure out which codec to use – the choice for me was between Prores and CineForm, the NeoScene codec and I chose Prores because CF would constrain me to use the NeoScene post processing tools versus Color which is part of the Final Cut Studio package. The difference between Prores Standard and HQ doesn’t seem significant in any real way except space consumed on the hard drive, so Standard it was. All of this took some figuring out. Conversion takes a while, but all in all, I’d rather several hours of computer processing time than logging and capturing tape any day!

I ended up color correcting since I shot flat and bringing back the richness that I’d flattened out. It took a few hours in Color with an expert who knew what he was doing to make sure the skin tones looked right and the colors all looked like I wanted them. The flexibility in post is incredible if you flatten out the image a bit while you shoot.

While a lot of things change with the HDSLRs, some things don’t. The primary thing is that you still need a great crew (and a full crew) to make the shoot happen. My DP, Eunice, owns the 5D and had shot her documentary on it. She was super-familiar with it and that was really critical. Omar, the AC, is one of the most dedicated people to have on a set. He did all the focus pulling manually, noted down all lenses and distances for each shot so that if we had to replicate it or check anything, it was all right there. He was also responsible for the downloading and transferring of the footage which he was extremely diligent about. It’s a ton of work to do and he did it exceptionally. Mitch was the gaffer and, having DPed on the 5D and gaffed a ton of films, he was indispensable. The audio was run by Bella and despite the difficult conditions of a street-facing Brooklyn apartment near the park, she did a wonderful job of getting great dialog and being particular about the crew paying heed to the sound needs ((something that is often overlooked on small, indie productions)). Ed and Alexis both boom op-ed during the shoot (sometimes lying down to get out of the way) and Alexis played the extra role of being a wonderful production designer and a script supervisor who made a complicated card scene flow easily. And my producer/AD Ryan was awesome in allowing me the time I needed but also making me cut shots when required. Ryan ran the set very smoothly and ensured I didn’t have to think about anything else when I was directing. Ravi was the PA and he had contacted me through this blog – he came to NYC on his own and paid for his own stay and worked his ass off on set. He earned the respect of the crew and learned a ton in the process. Donald was our makeup artiste and Ruoyi was the still photographer and they both had a great attitude and were exceptional at what they did.

All of the great work the crew does is to showcase the actors – and the actors were all top-notch – not only in their craft but also in terms of their attitude on set and being flexible and accommodating.

I am so grateful to the cast and crew – the hours were really long and the shoot was tiring and every single person did more than pull their weight. I also had two sets of wonderful friends who were my executive producers. They let me shoot in their homes and were gracious and welcoming – true patrons of the art! Without each person involved, the shoot would not have come together.

I thought shooting with the HDSLR would make things easier. And it did in certain regards, but the basics of film making stay the same, the director’s role stays the same. In another post, I will talk about what I learned in this shoot – especially around shooting dialog with multiple actors, eye-line and all those other wonderful things.

That covers most of my experience of shooting and post on the HDSLRs. Feel free to ask any questions – I’ll try to answer them and Mitch, who lurks around here, will also answer your questions ((all he wants in exchange is some Sauvignon Blanc 🙂 )).

If you are thinking of buying one or shooting with one, but don’t know how they all stack up, this post by Philip Bloom is an excellent review of all the viable models out there. Enjoy.

Chicks in flicks

To pass the Bechdel Test for Women in Movies, a movie has to answer three questions:
1. Are there two or more female characters with names?
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. If they talk to each other, do they talk about something other than a man?

What % of movies would pass the test if you replace female with male? Almost all.

Is this test flawed? Possibly. Is it overly simplistic? Definitely. It doesn’t make a movie good or bad if it passes this test, but it is certainly thought-provoking, isn’t it? So few real women characters exist. And if they do exist, they exist to talk about a man. It’s the sad reality of chicks in flicks.

But think about your life. Aren’t there strong, interesting women? Why aren’t they in the scripts??

Out of my class of 36, I think 6 movies pass this test. Not even 20%. And that’s in the indie, student world…

Something to think about as you write your next script/make your next film.

via John August

The Tisch interview

As prospective students enter the interview stage at NYU, I am getting emails about the interview and how to prepare. I’ve answered each one, but I think it’s best if I put the answer out in the open as well.

First, congratulations on getting a call to interview. You’ve already made it past the biggest cut in the process. And I know you won’t believe me, but really, there is no way to prepare to “ace” this interview. It’s primarily because there are different faculty members in each interview and so it could go in any direction. Every classmate had a different experience based on who was in the room. The faculty are all great, so have fun meeting them.

Mine was completely crazy and they threw stuff at me and interrupted each other before I could even finish. But it was all good. Others had more normal interviews.

I’d say prepare for all the usual “interview stuff” and then go with the flow. You are all at this stage because you have something to offer – just show them what that is.

The most important thing is to be yourself. They are looking for who you are, what kind of stories you want to tell, what you want to do. Be honest with yourself and with them. The class is really diverse so there is no one “type” of person they are looking for.

And remember – it has to be a fit. They have to want you, but you have to want to be here. It’s intense, overwhelming and completely all-consuming. So use the time to see if you would enjoy it here. It’s going to be all of your waking hours and, at times, some of your sleeping hours too.

I can’t wait to meet the new first years!

Good luck!

Update: To be clear – this is not a detailed post on my interview. I am not doing that because talking about my interview would somehow imply other interviews will be like that. Which is exactly the opposite of the point I am trying to make. Instead of answering applicants individually, I hope this post will tell them what I would put in an email.


The classes

NYU is a production program. The goal is to learn the art by actually making movies.

So, we are thrown into the deep end. Sink or swim. At the end of the first week, we are assigned crews and given our cameras. 16mm film cameras. Video may be fine for exercises, but film is tougher, film requires more discipline and therefore, our very first deliverable will be on film ((I am sure there’s a debate about the wisdom of shooting film in the digital revolution era, but personally, I find the discipline of shooting film an incredible lesson to learn)).

At the end of the first semester, we will each deliver a four-minute black and white film. It is required that the film be all exteriors (so we aren’t forced to deal with lighting right away) and it will have no dialog. The lack of dialog forces us to focus on drama through action.

All of the classes that we have are tailored to teach us how to make our films. The classes are directing, writing, aesthetics, production management, sound, editing, acting and cinematography (techniques and lecture). Directing and writing are self-explanatory and it is our directing classes that assigns us exercises every single week.

Aesthetics is all about how to construct your shots, scenes and your film. Shot design, movement of the frame, movement within the frame, camera strategies, color, lighting, depth of field… The list is endless. We watch films that do an incredible job and deconstruct why they are in fact so powerful. It is an incredible class. Brilliant. I’m learning to notice, to think this way, to appreciate the incredible detail filmmakers go to get their desired effect on their audience.

Sound and editing are, again, self-explanatory. Production management teaches us how to be indie filmmakers. Permits, licenses, releases and the other joys of being write/director/producers. Acting starts off with teaching us the basics of acting so that we understand what’s involved and then moves into how to direct actors. The in-class exercises are just incredibly fun and revealing. I love acting and find that almost all my fellow classmates are great actors.

Cinematography gets split into a hands-on techniques class where we learn the details of  the camera, the equipment, and how to actually shoot and a lecture, where one of the most incredibly interest women I’ve ever met talks to us about how to use camera techniques to make the films we want. She shows us the movies she’s shot and the ones others have shot and deconstructs how the cinematography was done.

I can’t stress how much I love my classes. Each one is incredibly rich and deep and the professors are amazingly accomplished (but that’s for another post). But while each class teaches us skills to make our first semester films, each class also assigns us separate deliverables that make the workload pretty significant.

As I sit here towards the end of the semester, I am amazed by what I’ve had the privilege to learn. One of the things that the head of program reinforced to us at the beginning was the fact that we are in art school. This has a whole bunch of specific implications (some of which are controversial), but the one that is staring me in the face is that being in art school means we get evaluated on our work.

At the end of the semester, each of the 36 of us will screen his/her movie for the faculty. We will then sit at the front of the screening room and hear the critique. No rebuttals allowed. Just absorb the evaluation.

Jeez. A lot of editing to be done before I will be ready for that… Off I go to edit.