Considered to be the world’s first “Selfie” movie, #STARVECROW is also the first Hypereal film. There’s no director of photography or film crew, no production designer, no set builder, no special effects and no elaborate post-production. What you see is what you get. The focus is on “real life” acting and story-telling.
After a long trawl through the web, we’ve pulled together a list of all the top film schools worldwide. There’s a lot of discussion and focus on US film schools in the online world, which you should expect, after all, the US represents a huge slice of commercially successful, globally distributed TV and film production. But for all the justifiable focus on US film schools, there’s a growing acknowledgement of the quality of education world-wide. Here’s a few of the most notable institutions around the world…
Brightest light of American filmmaking is probably the American Film Institute (Los Angeles). It’s pumping out graduates who are described as “Worthy to watch” at a rate of about 260 per year. 37 alumni have received Oscar nominations in the past decade alone. An additional 118 have participated in award-winning TV and cinema projects ranging from Boyhood to Mad Men. Also worthy of note are the more specialised courses, like the Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA) a private college with a focus on conceptual design. Its list of celebrated alumni includes director Zack Snyder, and designers Ralph McQuarrie (“Star Wars”) and Syd Mead (“Blade Runner”).
On the other side of the country, Sarah Lawrence College (Yonkers, N.Y.) boasts a stellar reputation in recent years, with notable graduates including J.J. Abrams, Peter Gould (Better Call Saul), Joan Micklin Silver and producer Amy Robinson. It’s possibly even challenging the former biggest East Coast hit factory the New York University Tisch School of the Arts with a prestigious roster of alumni such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Joel Coen and Ang Lee.
But of course, it’s not all about cinema these days. In the multimedia, multichannel world it’s important to note the likes of more TV and CGI focused courses too. Northwestern University’s multidisciplinary arts education has produced major figures in nearly every aspect of film and television production, from three-time Oscar-nominated writer John Logan and Emmy-winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus to DC Comics TV hits producer Greg Berlanti and such acclaimed producers as Sherry Lansing, Jason Winer and Ken Kamins. Also highly rated is Ringling College of Art and Design (Fla) which has become a talent pool for studios seeking up-and-coming computer animators and designers. Ringling alumni captured Oscars for both animated feature Big Hero 6 and short Feast at the 2015 ceremony, and students have won 11 of the past 13 student Academy Awards.
The Rest of the World
Of course anyone who’s been to the cinema in the last century will know the world is full of filmmakers, not just the USA. In fact, arguably, world cinema has never been more accessible or visible in the cinematic universe than it is today. Here’s a whirlwind tour of the rest of the filmmaking world…
- National Film & Television School (U.K.) Founded in 1971 and considered one of the most prestigious film, television and new media schools in the world. The school also boasts an abundance of award-winning alumni, including the Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins and screenwriter Terence Davies.
- Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Learning (Canada). Possibly the top global institution for aspiring animators. Animation course offerings began in 1971, launching graduates to work for companies including Pixar, DreamWorks, Cookie Jar, Cuppa Coffee, DHX, Nelvana, Corus and Electronic Arts.
- Ecole de la Cite Cinema et Television (France). Founded by Luc Besson (yes, Luc Besson) the mission of this free school is to encourage gifted young artists who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend a formal film school program. Even if it doesn’t produce Oscar winners, who cares?
- Swedish Film Institute (Sweden). Stockholm’s film school is considered to be one of the most prolific and influential film schools in Scandinavia, producing much of the talent associated with Trollywood (the moviemaking scene in Trondheim, and the force behind many of Sweden’s internationally acclaimed TV series.
- Super16 (Denmark) With no senior management, this independent institute was founded as an alternative to Denmark’s more established film school, and to this day receives no state subsidies. It’s the disruptive element in Scandi TV and film.
- Tel Aviv U. (Israel) Tel Aviv U. alumni include Gideon Raff, the creator of Emmy award-winning Showtime TV series Homeland, Hagai Levi, co-creator of HBO TV series In Treatment and Ari Folman, writer and director of the Oscar-nominated 2008 film, Waltz With Bashir.
- Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts (Jordan). Launched in 2008 the Red Sea Institute is the Middle East and North Africa’s go-to film school for international students.
- Whistling Woods Intl. (India) Founded in 2006, Whistling Woods offers India’s first MBA in media and entertainment. Filmmaker Subhash Ghai founded the school with a truly international intent, with exchange deals lined up in the U.K. and Nigeria.
- Korean Academy of Film Arts (Seoul). Joon-ho Bong is one notable alumnus of the prestigious Korean school. The school’s advanced program, started in 2007, requires students to finish a full-length feature film in order to graduate. This is where low/no budget filmmaking really shines out in the world of film schools.
- Australian Film, Television and Radio School (NSW). Academy Award-winning alumna Jane Campion says it all, but don’t forget the slew of great films that were spawned from here like Chopper.
Of course, what’s missing from all of the above are the courses built around filmmaking for viral smash hits on YouTube, Vimeo and Vine. So where are the smartphone film courses? Smartphone filmmaking itself appears to be off the curriculum as a course in its own right at most film schools. For most students, smartphone courses are supplementary, taking the form of webinars or YouTube tutorials rather than university modules. They’re sometimes sponsored by the phone manufacturers themselves too… but it begs the question, how long before one of the institutions above launches its first smartphone specific film course?
There’s no recipe for creativity. In fact, the whole notion of creativity brings with it the implication that there are no rules to govern it, otherwise it becomes formulaic. But in reality, in the creative industries and media we have rules applied to many aspects of the work. They’re often there for practical purposes, like designing with gutters on a 2-page fold layout to avoid embarrassing type issues (like the above). We don’t load website backgrounds with hours of video. We don’t film TV ads with porn in them, design logos that need a magnifying glass to be read, use Comic Sans font for Investment Bank marketing materials and so on. The medium, whatever it is, demands a certain kind of treatment, a logic and framework within which the creativity is set. So then, what are the rules that govern HYPEREAL?
The essence of HYPEREAL filmmaking is to produce films as simply and realistically as possible. This is good news for filmmakers because it means you don’t need expensive kit. In fact, you don’t actually want it either. Why? To answer that question, ask yourself if The Blair Witch Project would have been better if it was shot in HD on high end kit. Sure, the quality of the film might have looked better, no doubt, but the nature of the film would have been spoilt if the quality was too high. In fact they would have needed to spend a lot more time in post-production using effects kit to reduce the quality or nobody would have believed it was found footage shot on camcorders. The same is true of Paranormal Activity.
When you talk about HYPEREAL film to people, the “film with no script” part tends to cause a lot of resistance. It’s hard to accept. How can you make a film without a script? It doesn’t compute. Which is, of course, all the more reason to do it… because the problem with a lot of mainstream cinema is it feels like a computer wrote it.
It’s easy to dismiss this sort of sentiment as just some hipster gripe about Hollywood. But there’s a rationale behind it. A great deal of modern cinema starts out as a pitch using the classic “three act synopsis” model. You’ll recognise it. Title, logline (or elevator pitch, as it’s also called), then a three act plot synopsis. It’s a practical, workable formula. But the problems with formulas in the arts is they have a tendency to make the art formulaic.
There’s more to open source filmmaking than meets the eye. In fact, the whole concept is a difficult one to turn into a practical working process. The concept of open source is easy to grasp and makes huge sense for software, by creating products that are “open” you grow a community of developers around it. It builds an ecosystem of helper apps, widgets and improves the interoperability of one piece of software with others which gives it better chance of success. It is a smart way of generating freemium sales, brand loyalty and, more broadly, producing better products. But for film, it’s a different ballgame.
Tell an actor that you’re directing methodology is reliant on the Stanaslavski System (heavy on improvisation) and they’ll probably get it. It’s something one of our founding HYPEREAL collective members, David Bark Jones (film/TV actor and STARVECROW co-creator) teaches as part of our HYPEREAL production workshops. It’s also a key component of most acting courses, but for the HYPEREAL filmmaking process to work, it needs to be taken a little further.
You know all about Found Footage films by now. Everyone does. Films that appear to be cut together from shaky camcorder shots, filmed by participants who are (by the time you watch the film) either missing or dead. It’s a brilliant set-up to build the audience anticipation before the the film begins. From the moment you see the trailer you know the protagonists are in jeopardy of some sort. And jeopardy is, without question, one of the key elements for building dramatic tension and hooking an audience.
You might be less familiar with found footage comedies, but they exist. It’s a formula that’s also crossed over from the cinema into TV series and TV movies too. But where did it all start? The answer most people (except for film buffs and filmmaking students) think of is The Blair Witch Project (1999). But the roots of found footage go way deeper than that.
When we started making STARVECROW nobody was sure precisely where the project would lead the team. That sort of uncertainly comes with experiments and unexplored territory. But one thing was certain: The goal was to shoot a professional, feature-length, cinema-ready film on mass market, popular tech. That kind of filmmaking on smartphones wasn’t really possible back in 2010 when the project started, and as a result, the quest to stick to the original mission presented some unique filmmaking problems.The idea came from a conversation over a beer between David Bark Jones and John Carver. It began (as often these things do) talking about how the name of John’s road “Starvecrow Lane” would make for a great horror movie title (without the “Lane” obviously). They wanted to create a film that looked real. No crew. No lighting. The actors would be at the heart of the filmmaking process, improvising the scenes and filming themselves whilst doing it. It was taking the found footage genre to its next logical step.
Even if, for the sake of argument, you could show them an example of the genre, like The Blair Witch Project to illustrate the concept of (apparently) self-shot footage, the cinematography, the direction, acting and soundtrack would have been too alien back then. It would be an impossible clash of concepts, of expectations of what cinema actually was. Found footage is a filmmaking language that wouldn’t translate into the golden age of Hollywood.
In fact, blessed with 20:20 hindsight, it’s probably a genre that didn’t make sense to most of the Hollywood scene when The Blair Witch Project itself came out in 1999. That approach, the concept of low tech, simplified storytelling found a home in the broader genre of horror, influencing direct found footage works like Paranormal Activity and the outstanding REC, through to affecting the cinematography and direction of films like The Excorism of Emily Rose and low budget creature feature Monsters. It was a movement that just fifteen years later has become a bit of a cliché, but all the same, worthy of note.
Supposing you went to a distributor with a film that was produced by actors, improvising it as they went along? Made with no crew. Shot on average retail cameras, CCTV and smartphones. Edited by a group of enthusiastic film students from over 70hrs of raw footage captured as simply as you can get? Footage and soundscapes that could be given away to the online crowd to remix into their own creations? Open source filmmaking, creative commons licensing, for a distributed film?
That’s what the team behind HYPEREAL did with the first movie in the genre, STARVECROW. And did the distributor get it? In a word, yes. But why?
They saw that the HYPEREAL methodology, unlike found footage, isn’t a cleverly conceived film making device that enables low-budget production. Nor is it geared-up around a specific kind of story, which is one of the limitations of found footage (horror and creature features work well for found footage but a romantic comedy wouldn’t). HYPEREAL embraces a change in the way we relate to the moving image. It’s film storytelling in the modern sense of the selfie, which we can all recognise, even if we seldom stop to think about it.
Since the advent of cheap handheld video cameras (in smartphones) and easy video sharing sites (Youtube and Facebook), filmmaking has changed from being a clearly defined process (to produce entertainment) into a form of personal expression (check out this sick vid on my GoPro). HYPEREAL adopts that kind of expressive, intensely personal approach to creating moving images and applies it to the filmmaking process. The results are far from expected and far beyond the commercial mainstream, but the films aren’t arty or inaccessible. We recognise them and understand the format because we see it everyday on Facebook.
Technology doesn’t create genres of entertainment or art, but it stimulates innovation and changes our expectations. It encourages experimentation with traditional forms and the ability to explore new approaches and production techniques. That’s where new genres come from and where movements begin.
HYPEREAL is that kind of movement. We want the new generation of film makers who grew up with easy access to technology and an expectation to film anything to bring that mindset into the film industry, and see where it takes us. And that feels very familiar. After all, that’s how moving pictures started in the first place.