Presque Isle – Feature Film

Industry Pro calls “Presque Isle” Enchanting

“That was a very watchable, enchanting film, and its imagery lingered in my mind for several days afterward. My compliments to you and your crew for coming through with a soulful creation and a powerful example of cinematic storytelling.”

Christian Schneider
Director of Photography
Filmmaking Professional

“Presque Isle” World Premiere at the Mill Walley film festival

feature filmWe are proud to announce that the World Premiere of PRESQUE ISLE, our first feature film, has been given a prime time Friday night slot at the Cine Arts Sequoia Theatre in Mill Valley.  Rob Nilsson’s long time association with the festival began in 1979 when, NORTHERN LIGHTS which had just won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, had it’s North American Premiere at Mill Valley.  Since that time Mill Valley has featured all of Nilsson’s films including his nine feature film 9 @ Night Film Cycle, produced with the Tenderloin Group his ensemble of street players and professional actors from the San Francisco Tenderloin.

Also featured at Mill Valley this year are World Premieres of the last two of Nilsson’s 9 @ Night Films, USED and GO TOGETHER.  The completed series will now go on to play at the Harvard Film Archive, Nov. 17-19. This will be the first time that all nine films will play together in their intended order, three films a night for three nights, a total of 14 hours of film.  Following that the films will open in the Bay Area at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center and other selected cinemas.

This will be an historic night for PRESQUE ISLE and a kick- off for an upcoming distribution campaign which we hope will reach all corners of the world.  Come and see what a little school with big dreams can accomplish.  We’ll see you there.

Clips of FilmschoolSF’s first feature film “Presque Isle” shown at the San Francisco international film festival with presentation from writer / director Rob Nilsson

feature filmFilmschoolSF Instructor, Milena Grozeva-Levy and Writer/Director, Rob Nilsson are wrapping up the final edit on the FilmschoolSF produced Feature Film, “Presque Isle”.  Clips of the film were shown at an evening featuring Rob’s work on Saturday, April 28th at the San Francisco International Film Festival, held at the Sundance Cinemas Kabuki.

feature film

The program, entitled “Carved from Pavement: The Work of Rob Nilsson” included a Nilsson interview by Festival Director, Graham Leggat, scenes from former films and the four films currently in post production, introduction of long time Nilsson collaborators and a discussion session about the ideas behind Nilsson’s “Direct Action” work.

FilmschoolSF collaborates with Bay Area legendary filmmaker Rob Nilsson on feature film!

feature filmFilmschoolSF is currently in post-production on its first feature-length motion picture,Presque Isle. Written and directed by Bay Area independent filmmaker Rob Nilsson, Presque Isle was crewed by a combination of Bay Area movie professionals and FilmschoolSF students. The film was shot using the latest HD digital filmmaking equipment.

About the collaboration Nilsson says, “I like to take artistic risks and FilmschoolSF is promoting visions and verges or they wouldn’t be working with me. I also like doing better than talking. This is a hands-on action oriented group. I never believed in film school, until now.”

feature filmFilmschoolSF’s active production company, Fog City Pictures, produces two feature films per year. These production provide a rare opportunity for digital filmmaking students to learn their craft from working professionals in a real world environment. FilmschoolSF students were involved in all aspects of the Presque Isle production. They worked as Associate Producers, Assistant Camera, Grips and Electrics, Set Decorators, Props, Wardrobe, Boom Operators and Assistant Editors.

Pixel Corps, the Bay Area-based “guild for digital craftsmen,” will provide many of the Compositing and Special FX shots.

Fog City Pictures is currently in pre-production on its next project, a love story to be shot in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. The film, Around June, is scheduled to begin production in January 2007.

Rob Nilsson

Rob Nilsson, an award-winning director since the 1970s, was the first American director to win both the Camera d’Or at Cannes (for his 1978 film Northern Lights) and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival (for Heat and Sunlight, 1987). He has in recent years been working with the Tenderloin Action Group (now the Tenderloin yGroup), a San Francisco inner-city acting workshop, on a series of nine “street-level” digital features, cast from the group, about the lives of inner city characters.

Presque Isle is set in Nilsson’s childhood home of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. He describes the story as “touching on themes of memory, human suffering, family reconciliation, and also a portrait of a land much neglected by American cinema.” The film will be shot on location in the Santa Cruz Mountains and using the school’s green screen for special effects and compositing.

Filmmakers speak about student professionalism

Willingness, strong motivation, attentiveness. Add to that… talent. We had students heading departments, learning as they worked. To me this sort of passion will out- perform an efficient, but cold professionalism any day. This was a very difficult shoot by any standard but the students worked as if they didn’t know that. Nothing seemed beyond them. I hope it never will be.
Rob Nilsson
Bay Area Filmmaker & Presque Isle
Writer & Director

Spending a month of both creative and physical challenges with these inspired students was truly memorable. They were always eager and ready to learn, putting 110 % of their effort. Sound recording tends to get less attention than cinematography and acting. We often pay the price for it when we get to the post-production. The students knew about this from their own experience. I edit too, and that’s why I know how important the sound is. Much experience in various circumstances helps, but most importantly good preparation and attention to details always pay off. Each project comes with a different set of challenges and provides us something new to learn. Remember to be vocal and pushy when trying to get the best sound for yourself and for the project. I’m looking forward to working with these students/great people again in near future.
Chikara Motomura
Presque Isle Sound

FilmschoolSFFilmschoolSF student Aaron Stough speaks about his experience as a key grip on “Presque Isle”

Prior to the start of Presque Isle, I had interest in possibly doing editing on the movie. As the start date drew closer and I did more work on other student movies, I realized that I’d like to find what I want to do for a profession on this movie, and editing wasn’t it. So with the permission of the teachers, I dove head first into doing lighting/grip work for the full month. It was a very physically taxing position, but that was definitely counter weighed by the amount of fun it was.

I had the privilege to work with Ernie Kunze, Professional Gaffer and Key Grip. He not only taught me industry terms for equipment, but also tips and tricks to make work go faster and easier. I heard stories of his own experience in the industry, and how those situations could be applied to my own future as a Grip. While I went into the project fairly confident from what I learned from Stephen Kopels (FilmschoolSF Founder and Director of Education), with what I learned from Ernie added I had no fears about being able to perform in the Grip position on any set.

What was a bonus was being promoted to Key Grip. Jeremiah Birnbaum (FilmschoolSF Founder, Director of Productions and Executive Producer of Presque Isle) and James Savoca (FilmschoolSF Instructor and Producer of Presque Isle) both felt that with the work I did and time I was putting in, that I was deserving of the title. And thankfully by the end I hadn’t disappointed them! All in all it was a very eye opening and educational experience.Prior to the start of Presque Isle, I had interest in possibly doing editing on the movie. As the start date drew closer and I did more work on other student movies, I realized that I’d like to find what I want to do for a profession on this movie, and editing wasn’t it. So with the permission of the teachers, I dove head first into doing lighting/grip work for the full month. It was a very physically taxing position, but that was definitely counter weighed by the amount of fun it was.
Aaron Stough
Digital Filmmaking Program
Key Grip, Presque Isle

Around June – Feature Film

Around June on Youtube

Several small “behind the scenes” clips of “Around June” are now available on YouTube at

These clips feature the actors Samaire Armstrong, Jon Gries and Brad Henke and writer/director James Savoca and director of photography Peter Hawkins. They were shot and edited by FilmschoolSF graduate Maria Victoria Ponce who will also do a longer documentary for the DVD of “Around June.

Feel free to also check out the full website at with much more: actor bios, many photos from the film and a director’s blog by James Savoca.

Watch San Francisco’s Channel 7 News coveragehere.

AROUND JUNE writer/director James Savoca is interviewed by Michael Fox on SF360.

Please visit for more information, behind the scenes interviews, photos and more.

FilmschoolSF is proud to announce picture lock on 2nd feature film “Around June” & website launch

The San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking and production company, Fog City Pictures is proud to announce we have picture lock on newest Feature Film, “Around June”. James Savoca, Writer/Director and FilmschoolSF Instructor, talks about working on a professional film with FilmschoolSF students.

James says, “It was inspirational to work with non-professionals who desire to be filmmakers.” He raved about FilmschoolSF student, Stephen Bourdet for his exceptional cameraman work, saying, “He held his own.” Stephen worked as the second assistant cameraman under 1st AC Paul Marburry and DP Peter Hawkins and received praise from them both for his great work.

“Around June” is now in the latter stages of post production; sound design, score, and titles. FilmschoolSF students Staci DeGagne and Brandon Hamilton were Assistant Editors on the film, and Achim Voermanek, was the film’s Post-Production Supervisor.
For immediate Release

SAN FRANCISCO, CA- JANUARY 5, 2007 — The San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking (FilmschoolSF) is not just a world-class learning facility for filmmaking; in less than two years it has established itself as a force-to-be-reckoned-with for quality independent film production. On January 15th, FilmschoolSF’s second independent feature film, Around June, starring Hollywood actors Samaire Armstrong (Entourage,The O.C.), Brad William Henke (World Trade CenterSherrybaby), Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite, Real Genius) and introducing Oscar Guerrero, will begin filming on location in the Potrero Hill district of San Francisco through February 9th. For more information on FilmschoolSF, visit the website at or call (415) 522-1200.

With an original screenplay by FilmschoolSF teacher, James Savoca, who will direct the film,Around June is a love story in the vein of a classic fairy tale set near the shipyards of San Francisco. June (Armstrong), is a young woman trapped in a life caught between her crippled, abusive father (Gries) and mentally challenged uncle (Henke), whose adoration of her offers little solace. One day, through a poetic twist of fate, June meets a penniless immigrant, Juan Diego (played but newcomer Oscar Guerrero), whose love empowers her to finally break free and realize her dreams.

Jeremiah Birnbaum, co-founder of FilmschoolSF, instructor, and producer of Around June was impressed with the script handed to him by one of the school’s teachers, James Savoca. “I read James’ script and loved it so much we decided that it would be perfect for our second feature film project,” says Birnbaum. “Our feature films serve two purposes, it offers our students the unique opportunity of crewing on a professional film project and it brings more feature film production to the Bay Area.”

Around June will be shot with the help of a 35 member crew comprised of two-thirds industry professionals from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The remaining crew members are FilmschoolSF film students working in two 2-week shifts.

Produced by Jeremiah Birnabaum, Ralph King, and James Savoca from FilmschoolSF and executive produced by Greg Corbin of the L.A. based production company Caviar Films and L.A. based Alyssa Weisberg of Alyssa Weisberg Casting, Around June will be entirely shot in hi-definition digital video.


Japan-born Samaire Armstrong didn’t pursue acting professionally until a few years ago. She was first cast in a recurring role on the critically acclaimed NBC series, “Freaks and Geeks.” That role was followed shortly thereafter by guest-starring roles on, “Judging Amy,” “Party of Five,” “That’s Life, “ER,” and pivotal role in a particularly creepy episode of the “X-Files.” She is best known for starring as Emily, Ari Gold’s assistant and Eric’s love-interest, on “Entourage” for HBO, and she was recently seen co-starring on the hit Fox series, “The O.C.”

Brad William Henke is quickly making a name for himself as one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. During the last two years he has appeared in such acclaimed projects as Me You and Everyone We Know, North Country, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center,Sherrybaby co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal., and Hollywoodland opposite Adrien Brody. Brad will next be seen co-starring in the ABC mid-season drama “October Road.”

Jon Gries has appeared in more than 30 feature films. He recently wrapped production on “The Astronaut Farmer” with Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen for the Polish Brothers and Warner Brothers and starred opposite Jon Voigt and Terence Stamp in the feature film, “September Dawn.” Gries has also completed starring roles in the Trigger Street production of “The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang” and in the independent feature films “Frank”, “Elsewhere”, “South of Heaven,” “Waterborne,” “Sledge: The Untold Story,” “Car Babes” and “Bar Starz.” He is also appearing in Fox Atomic’s “The Comebacks.” Last year, Jon received the prestigious 2005 IFP Spirit Award Nomination for Best Supporting Acting for his role as Uncle Rico in the multiple-award-winning Fox Searchlight smash hit “Napoleon Dynamite.”


James Savoca – Writer/Director. A New York native, James got his start in the theatre and made the choice to study acting with Louise Lasser at Carnegie Hall, not to become an actor, but to become a better director. His feature film directorial debut was “Sleepwalk,” starring Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos), which had its broadcast premiere on IFC. His second feature, “The Crooked Corner,” was recently completed and is in the beginning stages of the festival circuit. James’ short film, “Revelation”, starring Kevin Corrigan, aired on The Sundance Channel. Before directing his first feature, James assembled two successful theatre groups where he wrote and directed four plays on off-Broadway’s downtown theatres.

Ralph King ­ Producer: Formerly a student at FilmschoolSF, Ralph co-produced Presque Isle and directed 5 short films. Prior to filmmaking, he worked as a journalist for 25, primarily writing for the Wall Street Journal and was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Jeremiah Birnbaum – Producer: Jeremiah is the Co-Founder and CEO of the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking. A native New Yorker, he has worked as a producer, editor, director and educator in film and video for over seventeen years.

Greg Corbin- Producer: Originally from Southampton, NY, Greg started his career in the film industry by producing his first short film in 2000 called Mid-Summer Life Crisis, which was filmed in New York City and directed by James SavocaSince joining Caviar Films, Greg has put together a slate of over 20 projects that are in various stages of development. Some of the projects include: Senor Vasquez and the Holy with Alfred Molina,Goldenbones, an outrageous teen comedy, written by Allan Aaron Katz (Diamonds), andThe Lieber & Stoller story, based on the life of the famous rock and roll songwriting duo.

Caviar los angeles is a Los Angeles-based production company, founded in 2002 by Michael Sagol and Tom Weissferdt. Initially called Atomik Pictures, in 2004 the company partnered with Belgian production company caviar to begin representing European directors for the American television market with offices in L.A. and Cape Town, South Africa.

Alyssa Weisberg – Executive Producer/Casting Director: Alyssa has been casting for the past 14 years in film, television and theater. Her film credits include studio films such asMission Impossible III, The Long Kiss Goodnight, U-Turn and Booty Call; she’s also worked extensively on the independent scene on such projects as The House of Usher, Telling YouFreeway and The House Of Yes. Alyssa recently won an Emmy Award for casting the pilot of ABC’s Lost, which has gone on to international acclaim.

About FilmschoolSF:

San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking (FilmschoolSF), the most innovative film school in the Bay Area, bridges the gap between traditional education and professional moviemaking. Utilizing state-of-the-art high def equipment and a professional sound stage, students make their own movies, work on HD feature films, and launch their careers. Offering intensive, hands-on one-year Digital Filmmaking Programs, five-week Digital Filmmaking Workshops, and eight-week Acting for Film Classes.

In 2006, FilmschoolSF produced their first feature film, Presque Isle, written and directed by Cannes and Sundance award-winning filmmaker Rob Nilsson. The film was shot on location in Santa Cruz and on set at FilmschoolSF and is currently in post-production with the goal to submit in March for consideration at Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France.

Moonlight Sonata – A Feature Film

Moonlight Sonata Travels to Cannes Film Festival and More…

Moonlight Sonata screened at the famed CANNES FILM FESTIVAL last week to a positive and appreciative crowd. Near the same time, on the other side of the world, the film played at the Big Island Film Festival in Waikoloa, Hawaii. These come after great showings at the Honolulu International Film Festival where the film won the coveted Big Kahuna award for Excellence in Filmmaking, and a fantastic world premiere at the California Independent Film Festival. Moonlight Sonata is excited for its next big showing – a spot at the Staten Island Film Festival the first week of June.

Moonlight Sonata writer/director Celik Kayalar and others were interviewed by after the California Independent Film Festival.

Check out the interviews with Celik Kayalar and Moonlight Sonata Line Producer, Milena Grozeva-Levy.

Have a look at the Moonlight Sonata website to see the trailer, photos and more.

‘Moonlight Sonate’, FilmschoolSF’s 3rd Feature Film announces wrap of principal photography

“MOONLIGHT SONATA”, our third independent feature film at FilmschoolSF by the Fog City Pictures, has wrapped its principal photography on October 31st, after 5 weeks of shooting in the Bay Area ( in HD, Digital Format ). After completing a few pickup scenes, the film will be edited for submission to prestigious Film Festivals and will be prepared for wide theatrical release.

Celik Kayalar, PhD, the director of our “Film Acting Program” at FilmschoolSF wrote, directed and executive-produced the psychological thriller. The producers were Jeremiah Birnbaum, the Founder of Fog City Pictures, and Milena Grozeva-Levy, one of our Digital Filmmaking Faculty.
“Moonlight Sonata” is the story of a privileged San Francisco family, the difficult moral choices its members make and the consequences they have to face, told in the genre of a modern psychological thriller with surprising twists and turns along the way, all culminating in a cliff-hanger climax.

The production boasted a large and highly talented and accomplished cast and crew from San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Sam Chase was the master cinematographer on the set, visiting from New York. Cast members included distinguished Los Angeles actorsM.J. Karmi and Irena A. Hoffman as the female-leads, and Sita Young, P. David Miller, Nate Reese and Ann-Marie Jolly featured in major supporting-roles.

The esteemed San Francisco actor & director Warren David Keith was cast as the male-lead who also teaches one of our “Advanced Film Acting” Classes at FilmschoolSF.  Two of our other Film Acting Faculty, Celia Shuman and Brian D. Scott also had supporting roles in the movie.

Twenty-two of our own Acting Students at FilmschoolSF were among the cast members of “Moonlight Sonata” ( all speaking-parts ). Several of the 22 were major supporting-roles that took many days to shoot. Here are all their names, in no particular order:

Taren Howes, Edith Reiner, Maggie Grant, Kay Ewing, Aimee McCrary, Jinnifer Jacobs, Goldie Chan, Joan Laqui, Hueiyen Tsai, Ashley Allen, Katrina Gimenez, June Barnard, Sarah Leight, Daniel Will-Harris, Micci Toliver, Tony Williams, Marshell Harwell, Roy Hylton, Vincent Leddy, Brendan Sweeney, Nate Duncan and Johann Schiffer.

A few of our Acting Students had non-speaking parts: Chris Leidecker, Mauro Pivi, Michelle Grey, Dawn Green ( Eli Kramer: his scenes are still to be shot ). In the pickup scenes we plan to shoot soon, another four small roles will be cast among our own Acting Students, as well.

Sam Chase, Director of Photography on FilmschoolSF’s 3rd Feature Film “Moonlight Sonate” delivers one last weepy thanks and farewell

Hey Everybody,
I just wanted to deliver one last weepy  thanks and farewell. I had a great time and having spent the last two days getting caught up on dailies I was floored by the quality of our footage. I think it was a worthwhile and challenging experience for us all.

For the pros Moonlight Sonata was a chance to remember that filmmaking doesn’t always need to be a money-driven cutthroat world and for the students it was an unmatchable opportunity to get a genuine feel for what it’s like to work in the business – not parking crew cars (that was my first job in the biz) or fetching coffee,  but as a propping, camera assisting or editing.

Several of you even walked away with marketable skills and/or even jobs. Pretty cool. It was a great chance for us all  to learn as well as improvise. Watching the footage from scenes we shot in the woods I was struck by the beauty of a gentle  mist floating through the dappled light and thought “how lucky I was to get  a misty day”… then I remembered Heather chicken-scratching the dusty trail to get that effect. What we lacked in resources we made up in heart and you all had that in spades.

I couldn’t have been more impressed with each and every one of you – you’re professionalism and your dedication blew me away. I wish you all the greatest success in your work and your lives and encourage you to keep at whatever it is that fills your dreams. Stay in touch and keep smiling.

All The Best
Sam Chase

FilmschoolSF Grads Work On Feature Film

The point of going to film school is to make movies and work in the business. After powering through hours of class and endless days on set learning the basics, it’s nice to know that when you leave FilmschoolSF that you have the skills to go directly to working on a feature film. Recently, a large number of past, current and future FilmschoolSF students worked together on a feature film titled “US“.

We’re not certain but we believe that this is the biggest non-FilmschoolSF project to ever pack in so many FilmschoolSF students and alumni.

Bay Area entertainment portal StarkInsider picked up the story:

Local filmmakers Sam Hancock of Umbrage Entertainment and Michael Navarra of 3½ EGOS Productions, have assembled a cast and crew consisting of many of the Bay Area’s finest talent for their first feature film Us. Principal Photography begins November 20th, 2010, and will be completed by December 16th, 2010.

Us was selected as a semi-finalist in the Slamdance 2010 Screenwriting Competition. It is a dark, gritty, romantic drama about a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities), who struggles to find love while battling self-destructive impulses that threaten to end her life. Written in conjunction with leading Bay Area psychologist Dr. Matthew McKay (co-founder of New Harbinger Publications and author of over 30 non-fiction books on mental health), Us endeavors to get behind the myths and misconceptions and tell an honest story about the challenges of living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. More…


We asked Producer/Assistant Director Keren Hantman about the shoot.

“For me the most challenging part was 1st ADing such a relatively big crew. This is my 2nd feature working as 1st AD and I’v ADed lots of shorts, but this was the first time I had to manage a 25 people crew. There were some moments of frustration, but what’s great about working on a 20 days shoot is that there’s enough time… By the 2nd half of the shoot it felt like conducting a very well trained orchestra. Everyone was playing their instruments in unison and perfect harmony. We had a highly professional crew and I would love to work again we some of these peeps.

The greatest thing about working with the school’s alumni is that we all know and feel comfortable with each other. So when those stressful, tense moments that naturally arise when working on a shoot come along, we can offer strength and support to one another… and many moments of laughter… We’ve formed a strong, creative and supporting community of filmmakers.”


Victoria Ponce (Class 3) – Producer
Keren Hantman (Class 7) Producer – Assistant Director
Tyler Kowalski (Class Eight) – Production Designer
Harmony Nichol (Class 7) – Art Director
Staci Degagne (Class 3) – Editor/DIT
Heather MacLean (Class 4) – Location Manager and Associate Producer
Dave Malloure (Class 10) – Grip
Alix Holsten – PA
Tim Huls (5-Week Workshop) – Production Coordinator
Ariane Wu (Class 13) – 2nd AD
Anthony Bonaparte (Class 11) – Assistant Editor + Grip
Beltran Luque (Class 10 – Grip
Peter Lee (Class 10) – Grip
Ryan Gomez – Grip

Kassaundra Ramirez: FilmSchoolSF alumni help make a wish come true

Kassaundra RamirezA star is born…

Paparazzi were everywhere. Traffic was stopped and dozens of people lined the streets. Sirens wailed, photographers jostled for position and fans cheered as a big, black limo pulled up. The crowd rushed the car door and security was forced to clear a path. Cheers echoed off the towering buildings.

Downtown San Francisco got a rare look at one of today’s hottest pop singers, Kassaundra Ramirez. Rushed from the limo through the screaming throngs to the an exclusive Q+A and autograph session with hundreds of her biggest fans, Ramirez proved that she’s on the fast-track to the top of the entertainment world. Her delicate charm coupled with undeniable stage-presence has wowed audiences across the nation and her chart-topping single “Butterfly Don’t Fly Away” is making people happy from coast to coast.


We are always proud of the work our students and alumni put out. From zombie films to organic farming shorts and everything in between, SFSDF has put out hundreds films and videos that we are happy to say “Darn right, we made that!” But recently, our few of our alums had the opportunity to be part of something really special.

San Francisco’s Clean White Lines (previously) was asked to help make a little girl’s dream come true by contributing a music video to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and their recent SF production.

Kassaundra Ramirez“The manager of band we did another video for – Joe Barham – works for a local radio station (107.7 The Bone) and he does a lot of work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He had this project coming up and asked if we would be interested in helping. We were super-excited for the opportunity and jumped on board immediately,” said Clean White Line’s Staci DeGagne.

There’s a great article in the SF Gate and lots of behind-the-scenes photos, too.And be sure to check out this video of Kassaundra Ramirez arrival at the hotel in the limo, the crazy crowds and the cutest smile of the happiest little girl you’ve ever seen.

Butterfly Don’t Fly Away – Kassaundra from cleanwhitelines on Vimeo.

SFSDF alumni included:

– Heather Maclean (SDSDF Class 4): Director/Producer
– Staci DeGagne (SFSDF Class 3): Director/Editor
– Harmony Nichol (SFSDF Class 7): Hair and Makeup
– Alex Fletcher (SFSDF Class 7): Director of Photography
– Maria Victoria Ponce (SFSD Class 3): Behind-the-scenes photography

FilmSchoolSF students shoot promo for Noir City Film Festival

This week we were able to catch up with one of our alumni from the July 5-Week Filmmaking Workshop. Filmmaker Keith Azoubel is already out there shooting good stuff and moving forward with his career based on skills he learned here at SFSDF. Keith is a big fan of film noir and he was recently chosen to shoot a promo for the upcoming film noir film festival here in San Francisco, NOIR CITY.

How did you get the gig?

After I did my short film “The Goodnight Motel” for the SFSDF 5-week program last summer. I showed my short on a film noir message board just to get feedback and such. I got a message from film noir historian Eddie Muller who really liked the way my short film was shot and lit and wanted to know if I like to shoot the promo for his annual film festival, Noir City. Of course, I took the gig since I love film noir and I’ve always wanted to shoot in a bar. Eddie planned to have the promo done for last year’s film festival but had some problems getting it done. He already had a one page script and an actress ready to go, it was just up to me to get a crew together, equipment, draw out a storyboard and write out a shot list.

Challenges faced in shooting/casting/editing?

Casting wasn’t a problem since Eddie Muller already had the leading lady and himself to play, we added a role for a bartender a week before shooting. As for shooting, we try to keep it simple, of course I would’ve liked to have different angles and such but we wanted to get it done within 3 to 4 hours, which we did. It was just a matter of getting it done quickly but having as much as I wanted. I’m pretty happy the way it came out. Eddie had a friend edit the trailer, they had some problems getting it transfered onto his computer but figured it out so it all came together.

How did SFSDF help you?

Well for starters, the short film I did there last summer helped me get the gig. I was able to use the skills I learned at the school to make the best looking promo I can. I met people there who I worked really well with who I was able to have be my crew again for the trailer. I was able to use the school’s equipment, too.

Is this your first big opportunity?

I would say so, the fact that Eddie Muller is a known film historian who’s written a few books on film noir and knows a few celebrities such as Sean Penn and crime writer James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia). So to have him give me this opportunity is big for me. Also the trailer is going to be shown at the Castro Theater in front of over a thousand people is really great. To think something I directed is going to be shown to that many people is an amazing thought. The trailer was recently mentioned in the SFGate and lives on the homepage of the Noir City website.

What other projects do you have in the works?

At the moment I’m writing some short films, some for the SFSDF 1-Year Digital Filmmaking program and afterwards shorts I want to write and direct to get in film festivals.

Full cast/crew list

Alycia Tumlin – The Woman
Bill Arney – The Bartender
Eddie Muller – The Man

Keith Azoubel (5-Week Filmmaking Workshop)- Director
Brandon Hamilton  – (Class 3, 1-Year Digital Filmmaking Program)- Director of Photography
Judy Zimbelman (Class 10, 1-Year Digital Filmmaking Program) – Assistant Director
Bill Ulleseit (Class 10 1-Year Digital Filmmaking Program) – Lighting
Ian D. Thomas – Sound
Scott Koué – Boom Mic

Filmed at Tosca Cafe.

Film Acting Student Shoots For Real

film actingFilmSchoolSF film acting student Lori McDaniel set out at the beginning of 2009 to make a short film. She had always wanted to write and direct films, and she had dabbled in no-budget digital shorts made for fun. This year, she was determined to make a “real” short film and take the plunge into writing and directing in earnest.

Her first stop was the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking’s (FilmSchoolSF) Acting for Writers and Directors Workshop taught by Jeffrey Weissman. Here she met an amazing array of actors, writers, and directors all marching to the same drum; the love of movies. She and Jack Kisor, a writer in the workshop, decided to write and direct a short together called “The Last Day” in which two lovers – one alive and one dead – struggle with the twists and turns of life…and death…as they talk to each other and the audience in both English and Spanish.

Once the script was written, it was time to find a crew and cast. A lovely twist of fate took Lori to San Francisco’s Seven Day Film Festival to watch her FilmSchoolSF classmate, Philippe Debaty, act in a film in the competition. Sitting right next to her was the film’s DP, Raul Varela, a film acting student from another institution. After chatting for a while, Lori asked Raul if he would like to shoot her film. Raul said “yes” and soon after this auspicious event, Javier Recalde, an actor/writer/director also from the FilmSchoolSF workshop, was cast as the male lead. Solana Crawford, an up-and-coming Bay Area actress, was cast as the female lead. Rounding out the crew and saving the proverbial day were Anthony Sabatino, along with friends Gavin and Steve, all SFSU film/video students.

film actingAnd then, amid all the excitement of pre-production, Lori began researching film permits because the film was set at Lake Merritt in Oakland. Legally, a permit was needed and little did Lori know that permits require proof of film production insurance, which can price many artists out of their visions.

A lovely twist of divinity led Lori to Fractured Atlas, a non-profit that helps artists with critical requirements like film production insurance, health insurance, and funding. Their mission statement explains, “[w]e help artists and arts organizations function more effectively as businesses by providing access to funding, healthcare, education, and more, all in a context that honors their individuality and independent spirit.” Fractured Atlas helped Lori find inexpensive film production insurance with payments spread out over time, making it even more affordable. With over 50,000 members, Fractured Atlas can negotiate affordable rates for things like health insurance and film production insurance – the two biggest obstacles for a filmmaker.

“Fractured Atlas helps artists surmount the legal and financial obstacles that stand between them and their work.  I can’t say enough good things about how much they helped me in this process. I was able to get insured quickly and inexpensively, meaning I could move forward as an artist,” said Lori.

film acting“The Last Day” wrapped shooting on Monday, November 9th.

“Anthony Sabatino and I will be editing the film over the next two months. Our goal is to finish cutting by the end of the year and show the film in festivals here and in Europe, including Spain, which is Javier’s home country. We’d like to make a splash internationally from the beginning. We will be looking at international co-production possibilities in 2010, and of course, the next step will be another film.”

The Last Day
“Sol” – Solana Crawford
“Javier” – Javier Recalde
Director of Photography – Raul Varela
Production Manager – Jessica
Editor – Anthony Sabatino
Sound – Anthony Sabatino, Gavin, Steve
Written by Jack Kisor and Lori McDaniel
Directed by Lori McDaniel

UPDATE: More photos from the shoot!

FilmSchoolSF Alumni Are Up To The National Film Challenge

National Film ChallengeFilmSchoolSF alumni (and one current student) came together once again to take part in the National Film Challenge. Skipping sleep and living on caffeine and creative adrenaline, these intrepid filmmakers got a chance to put to practice all the things that they’ve learned at SFSDF.

What is the National Film Challenge?
The National Film Challenge is an exhilarating worldwide filmmaking competition from the creators of the 48 Hour Film Project and KDHX Community Media. The Premise: Participating teams have just one weekend to write, shoot and edit a short film or video. Regardless of where you live, this is your opportunity to experience the 48 Hour Film Project phenomenon!

Filmmaking is hard enough under even the best of circumstances. Trying to create something in a mere 48 hours is downright nuts.

“The best part of these film challenges is spending time with your best friends, not sleeping and doing what you and they both love…filmmaking. It’s a great reminder of why I chose to go to FilmSchoolSF and why I chose to get in this business in the first place. I am grateful for the people I get to work with on these because their passion and dedication throughout the process always reinspires me.” – Staci DeGagne, Editor/Sound/Color Grading

Results have yet to arrive but Team BBQ Dreadlock feels confident that they will do well. More importantly, they understand how a filmmaking experience like this is part the “big picture” – another important part of maturing into strong filmmakers.

National Film Challenge“Every project we work on we learn so much from. Yes, these challenges are fast and short, but that doesn’t detract from how much we gain from them. The only way to become a better filmmaker is by doing, something which we all learned from our time at school.” – Chris Mosson, Director

Last year, a team made up of many of the same players won in three categories in the same competition. Known then as Team Chaka Khan, their film KEYED took home “Best Film”, “Best Screenplay” and “Best Editing”.

But, wait there’s more! A few of these folks collaborated on two other “film contests” these being the 48 Hour Film Competition (put on by National Film Challenge people). These films, THE PERFECT CHORD and SERVO featured the work of Staci DeGagne, Maria Bernal-Silva, Chris Mosson, Matt Alhona and a few others. Honestly, these folks work together in so many incarnations and on so many films that it is difficult to keep them in order. Spend a few minutes with THE SLEEP MONITOR.

National Film ChallengeTHE SLEEP MONITOR


Chris Mosson (Class 8) – Director
Alexander Fletcher (Class 7) – Director of Photography
Keren Hantman (Class 7) – Assistant Director
Staci DeGagne (Class 3) – Editor/Sound/Color Grading
Harmony Nichol (Class 7) – Production Design
Sydonie Kopels (Class 10) – Assistant Editor
Sean Paul Sullivan (Class 6) – Assistant Camera/Actor
Maria Bernal-Silva (Class 3) – Art Direction
Ryan Anderson (Class 7) – Gaffer
Aaron Castro (Class 9) – Sound
Dorian Young – Actor
Jessica Sapick – Actress
Jonathan Danh – Composer