Apr 282011
short film
by vancouverfilmschool

With the proliferation of television and cable stations and our nations  addiction to ‘all things visual’ especially movies, more and more students are choosing to attend one of the nations Film and Television schools in order to enter the world of entertainment and broadcasting.  As someone who has attended both the NYU and USC film/television programs, I thought I should outline how to make the most of a structured film program to increase your chances of success in the industry after graduation.

Explore Then Specialize

One of the great things about film school is that it gives you the chance to explore different areas of film and television production.  During the first year or two I always advise students to try the unfamiliar and take risks with different roles, styles and techniques.  Perhaps you thought before enrolling you wanted to be a director but after you do the lighting for a film you realize you love cinematography.  Or perhaps you never worked with sound before and find yourself spending hours and hours creating amazing soundscapes for something you or a friend shot.  One thing to be sure you delve into is screenwriting.  While a discipline in itself that is separate from production, being familiar with story and screenplay and tv structure is very important for anyone working in the film or television business.

It is through experimenting that you can see where your natural strengths and weaknesses lie.  Remember, although many people are in film school have dreamed all their lives of being a great Director or Producer, the vast majority of time you must work your way up through the industry by working in a specific area.  Eventually, through various ways you can make the leap to Directing or Producing your own projects.  The ways to go about making that leap is complex enough for many articles so we won’t go into that here, but it is a good idea to have an idea of what kind of position you want after you graduate and hone your skills in school for that specific role while you are still a student.


The Film and Television industries are very social industries.  The vast majority of people in ‘the business’ work with many of the same people over and over again and it is all based on friendships and close working relationships.  Film school is your first opportunity to create a starting network that you will then leverage when out of school to make the leap into the legitimate industry.  Make sure to be involved in as many clubs and go to as many functions as you can.  Make your goal to meet every person in your class, as well as the classes above and below you.  The larger your network of potential contacts and friends then the greater your source will be to find out about jobs in the industry.  Also, it is a good idea to work on as many fellow student films as possible so you can both meet the other students as well is see who the most talented at specific roles are.  This is especially useful if you plan to direct a thesis or do a production after graduation and want to hire friends that are the best at what they do for your production.


Internships can be an incredible resource for the aspiring film and television careerist.  Through internships you can not only get great experience in an area you are interested in, but you can also create great relationships that often lead to your first job out of school.  Also, for those thinking of moving to NY or LA that go to school outside of those areas, an internship with a recognized company is a great thing to have on your resume to stand out from the crowd and land your first gig.  The more specialized your interest and the more specific you can make your internship to ‘shape’ your resume the better.

Thesis/Final Project

Depending on the Film and Television program you are in, you might have the opportunity to do either a Thesis or Final project.  Often this involves Directing, Writing and sometimes Producing your own project along with other students as part of your ‘crew’.  This project can be used for several purposes depending on how well done it is and what format and length it is in.  Some use it as a chance to enter short or if long enough, feature film festivals.  Still others use it as a way of showing off the particular talents that they are good at.  This could be a short film that has very exquisite and complicated lighting scenarios or camera work for those trying to get into cinematography or camera operation.  Or it can be a very well directed or art directed film for those careers.  Just as you kept the ‘big picture’ in mind of what your intention is after graduation, the ‘Final Project’ can be a key part in your ‘portfolio’ to obtain work or a job after graduation.  For more great information about film schools please visit www.USCfilmschool.com

Trailer – www.youtube.com Behind the Scenes – www.youtube.com “Crime doesn’t take a vacation. But we do.” -Created, directed, edited, and visual effects by Michael Ashton for 0. Lazy Teenage Superheroes follows Ty as he tries to get his new “super” friends, Mitch, Cal, and Rick, to put down the video games, get off the couch, and use their powers to help save the world, instead of themselves. www.LazyTeenageSuperheroes.com Cast Joseph Stricker – Ty Ellis Martin – Mitch Sean Patrick McGowan – Rick Federico Rodriguez – Cal Rafael Cebrian – Solario Julian Cihi – Laser Wing/Blood Belt Anne Costner – Mel Crew Michael Ashton – Director, Producer, Writer, VFX – www.ashtonmike.com Sean Conaty- Director of Photography – http Dave Margolius – Prod. Coordinator Danny Cannizarro – VFX – www.dannycannizzaro.net Tom Ashton – Boom Operator Adam Royster – Writer Dan Teicher – Music – http Kyle Long – Prod. Assist. James Myers – Post Consultant

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Mar 262011
short film
by vancouverfilmschool

…and how to turn this situation around.

The first time I ever set foot on a movie set was back in 2001 (working as a boom operator on a Sarah Polley short film). Since that day my passion for making movies has only grown and intensified. But one underlining question that continues to run through my mind is…why do most (95% or more) Canadian films tank at the box office.

Ask any Canadian filmmaker this question and you’re sure to start up a very long and never-ending conversation that might leave you wonder what made you want to open that can of worms. Well, I’m going to open the can of worms…just for this article. I’m so proud to be Canadian and our industry produces world-class movies year after year, however, these films just don’t seem to make any money (profit).

I found a great article by Canadian actor, writer and producer, James O’Regan that explores this matter in further detail:

Over the last year or so, a great teeth-gnashing has broken out within the Canadian Movie industry. Producers and their public sector confreres at Telefilm Canada sat down to wonder why no-one saw Canadian movies in the theatres. And now Telefilm has unveiled new money to throw at the problem.

In case you don’t know, Telefilm Canada is an arms length crown agency that has no public accountability via a “value for money” audit unless its own board of directors thinks it needs one – wow, get me on that gravy train, quick! It has generated, over the last 30 years, an industry wholly ignorant of Canadian theatrical film markets and wholly dependent on cultural welfare in the mistaken belief that you just can’t make any dough here a mare usque… I and every American film distribution company on the planet know different. I know because I’ve made money in the Canadian box office, in fact more money on one film than all Telefilm films on average. My short comedy, Edsville – about an innocent young couple that stumbles upon a town of Ed Sullivan impersonators – has a recoupment rate of 20% while the average recoupment rate published in Telefilm’s annual report, year after year, hovers at 2%-ish. I’ve also observed what our Yankee cousins actually do. All you have to do is ask them and they’ll actually tell you – hey, who knew?

So let’s see what it takes to make money and sell movies in Canadian moviedom. Here’s the top 12 for anyone who wants to make M on a movie in three weeks in Canada:

Rule # 1: No one knows what sells

Rule # 2: See Rule # 1, no, seriously, memorize Rule #1. I’m not saying this only to make the list apostolic, really. I could make something else up.

Rule # 3: Anything that helps sell is good

Rule # 4: The public will pay to see things or people they really like

Rule #5: Exploit people or things that the public likes

Rule #6: The Canadian Public doesn’t care who directs, writes or produces movies

Rule #7: The Canadian Public pays to see “people” on the screen. Actors are the Product

Rule # 8: The Canadian Public loves Stars

Rule # 9: Make sure you have a story

Rule #10: Comedy Sells (Canadians are masters of comedy)

Rule #11: Do everything you can to ensure the Canadian Public knows about the movie

Rule #12: To the risk taker goes the reward. All else is bunk.

To manufacture and market a Canadian movie to the Canadian market, you have to invest .5M. Making the movie costs CDN .5M. Marketing the movie for a 100 screen three week release costs CDN M.

Let’s take a look at how much money you can make. A 100-screen release can generate up to M in revenue. If you control the marketing with your M, you get M back from your .5M investment. Isn’t math for fun and profit great?

If you don’t spend that M, you are guaranteed to make nothing at the Canadian box office. Telefilm Canada and its producers don’t spend the money and the results are predictable. Movies funded by Telefilm Canada don’t earn a profit from Canadian box office; they don’t even recoup. Telefilm Canada data shows that Canadian distributors have an average marketing budget per Canadian film of ,000 – about 0K short of what they need; that this average results from a blend of a majority of films released with an actual budget of less than ,000. Hoo boy, why aren’t these films making the big bucks, eh?

Let’s say it again for the benefit of Telefilm and its Canadian producers, you must spend M regardless of a movie’s budget to have a chance at success.

Had the recent Egoyan opus, The Sweet Hereafter, received M in Canadian marketing highlighting the divine Sarah Polley, it might have made some bucks. After all, Polley has a following in Canada – more of a following than Egoyan. Yet it was Egoyan that the producers tried to market, not Polley. The little money that was spent was spent foolishly – see rule #6.

Even a American B movie like Nurse Betty gets the full M marketing treatment. Learn the lesson from American distributors who know better; who do spend M for each film they release in Canada.

Here’s the best part about making sacks of cash in Canada. Manufacturing, distribution and marketing infrastructure are all 100% in place. All you have to do is come up with a movie to market and some cash to market it with. Hey, pinch me!

Why isn’t it working now? Why is Telefilm’s record so dismal? Public policy has intervened in the movie business only at the level of manufacturing – dolling out wallops of cash to make movies. The new funds maintain that approach. This is simply bad policy and we have bank vaults full of unseen films to prove it.

The only successful public policy intervention on the books are Canadian Content (CanCon) rules for the Canadian music industry. There, public policy told the radio stations (the exhibitors) that they had to play a percentage of Canadian music or else they would be shut down. Today, we have a thriving music industry with big Canadian stars.

Before CanCon in the music industry, Canadian Radio stations played about 3% of Canadian content. After CanCon, it became 30%. Can-con drove the business of the Canadian music industry. It supported the early market-driven development of Canadian music stars. It allowed financial and artistic success in the small Canadian market. Remember there was no success before Can-con rules for the music industry. That Canadian-based market success worked as a springboard to world success for many Canadian performers. It took a while to work but work it did.

Marketing is simple. It just costs money. With its new infusion of funds, it appears that Telefilm will try to mystify the process per usual, read the entrails and divvy up the dough without recognizing rule # 1 – no one knows what sells. That is the mystery and joy of movie selling – ya just don’t know and no-one can give you the magic bullet, i.e. previous box office records, e.g. think how many major studios have hit rock bottom with a series of losers only to bounce back “unexpectedly.”

If public policy is going to intervene, it should get out of movie production and into the marketplace with CanCon for Canadian cinemas. Set a quota, step out of the way and voilà: in five years, we will have a thriving movie business with big Canadian stars. Movie producers are much better at making movies than cultural bureaucrats. I know, call me crazy, but it’s true.

CanCon rules for the Canadian movie business are one means of helping create movies and movie stars without spending a lot of tax dollars. That’s all they do. Canadian movies don’t need it to succeed but if government is to intervene to help reward risk, then that’s the best way and means of intervention, and cheaper too.

For public policy, how bad could it be to issue an “initiative” to exhibitors across the country, insisting that 10%, 20%, 30%, 40% of product viewed in Canadian cinemas must be indigenous Canadian product over a period of years. Then stand aside and let the industry do what it does best: sell movies.

Hey, it ain’t that hard. After all, no one, not even Hollywood, knows what sells. Remember rule #1?

How to turn this situation around?

Now, it’s time for me to add in my two cents worth. We (the Canadian film industry) need more film studios here in Canada. I’m not talking about some glorified soundstage like Filmport but a full-fledged independent movie studio that has 100% control of the financing, development, production and worldwide distribution of their movies. These Canadian movie studios should have only two objectives:

1)     To make movies that will entertain millions of people around the world. Focus on giving moviegoers what they want and according to the current all-time North American box office stats…people want to see movies with Action, Animation and Special effects. Success leaves clues.

2)   To maximize profits.

That’s it. When that day happens, then we’ll definitely see a lot more Canadian films reaching the #1 spot at the box office. Both domestically and overseas.

Ian Agard
Filmmaker & Author of “Stop Waiting and Make Your Movie” 

P.S. Get info about my new ebook at:


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