julia dimon for metro toronto


Students of the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles school learn the art of filmmaking in this four week intensive workshop.

Ever since I was little, it’s been a dream of mine — I always wanted to become a famous filmmaker. Calling the shots, directing the crew, strolling down the red carpet at Cannes with the likes of James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino and Michael Moore.

I studied film in university, but never got the chance to gain actual hands-on filmmaking experience. Can’t be a famous movie maker when you’ve never made a movie, right?

Instead of signing up for four years of filmmaking school, I hunted online for an intensive film course that would teach me the craft quickly.

New York Film Academy offers a four week workshop that teaches Spielberg wannabes how to write, shoot, direct and edit.

I paid my tuition, packed my things and flew down to NYFA’s Los Angeles school, located near the Universal Studios lot.

The Hollywood scene was a mix of glitz and grit, of schmooze, smog and silicone. It’s not the most welcoming place for newcomers, but LA is the industry hub and is one of the best places in the world to learn the biz.

A typical day at the New York Film Academy is divided into lectures and workshops. There I was, sitting in a classroom with a dozen other young hopefuls, taking copious notes about the art of screenwriting. Mostly 20-somethings from all over North America (including a few from Ottawa), fellow students were serious about filmmaking.

The course was intensive. After classes, workshops, individual projects and group work, there wasn’t much time left for anything else.

Over the month, our teacher worked through the curriculum. He broke down the elements of a good story and taught us how to write a three act structure.

We learned the mechanics of a 16 mm black and white camera, experimented with shot composition, cast actors and directed our own crew.

Some days, we’d step out of the classrooms and onto the Universal Studio back lots. It was pretty cool strolling around the Cabot Cove set from Angela Lansbury’s Murder She Wrote and Psycho’s creepy Bates Motel. My first short was shot on a Western film set. Picture saloons, spurs and tumbleweeds; actors dressed as cowboys, saying the word ‘partner’ a lot. Add a little sepia effect in Final Cut Pro and voilà, my first Western.

On this day, I was in charge of lighting the scene. I knew how to use a light meter to gage how much light hit the surface, but I had a hard time properly exposing the scene.

Since we’re dealing with 16mm film, lighting was far more complicated than a digital point-and-shoot camera. F stops became my nemesis.

I thought I’d grasped the concept, but, after the film was processed, I discovered that the entire scene wasn’t lit properly. The film came out completely black. Oops.

Slowly, I got the hang of it but one thing was for sure — there’d be no Academy Awards in my future. Though playing movie mogul was fun, I think I’ll stick to travel writing and leave the red carpet to Steven Spielberg.

Julia Dimon, a Toronto-based freelance writer, is travelling around the world. She can be reached at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.

Julia's Tips

  • Come prepared with a few story ideas, loose scripts and music you’d like to use in your projects.

  • The New York Film Academy offers filmmaking and acting programs all over the world, including Paris, Milan and Shanghai. For more information, visit www.nyfa.com.