You’d be forgiven if you thought of the New York Film Academy as some less hallowed member of the New York film academic community. After all, with the likes of NYU, Columbia, and Brooklyn College around, how could this small school off of Union Square (a Battery Park campus just opened) hope to stack up when the others have so much more money and real estate to offer?
Consider this: many people, some of them busy with high-end careers in other fields, turn up at the doors of NYFA’s classic digs at 100 East 17th Street to take a quick production course. The current issue of New York Magazine, for example, has a profile of “lit wunderkind” Marisha Pessl who took a two-month writing and directing course, which included wowing fellow students with the fact that she had been on the Times’ best-books-of-the-year list as well as owning a “gazillion Criterion Collection films”.
More pertinent, however, to those on a cinema learning experience was an appearance by cinematographer Ben Seresin, B.S.C., A.S.C., who recently stopped by for a chat. Seresin, DP most recently on the Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg headed Broken City, came for a post-screening interview with NYFA cinematography department chair John Loughlin.
Students filled most of the seats in the high-ceilinged screening room, hanging on the words of the New Zealand-born DP, who spent years working commercials and TV movies before his move into the bigger budgeted end of things, including World War Z, Pain & Gain, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
Yet while the increasing level of technical detail of today’s all-electronic productions seems to call for someone who has hardware-on-his-mind, Seresin says that sensibility just gets in his way. “The danger is that it is simply too easy to get caught up in the mechanics of what you are doing if you dwell on the technical setup of a scene,” says Seresin. “I remain detached and have learned to trust my eyes, and not my head.”
Seresin got to that detached place “by having an epiphany” during his years as a camera operator; after carefully going through the elaborate setup of a tracking shot with the moves and focus changes he was asked to create, he suddenly found something in himself saying it “just didn’t feel right.”
“As a DP, you have to learn to both trust your eye and to be brave enough to say to the director ‘This is the wrong decision’”, says Seresin. Though depending upon the director you are working with, he adds, as well as your concern for future employability, you might not phrase it so succinctly.