Making movies simple as lights, camera, action

Michael Zayas has wanted to be a film director since he was 14 years old and saw Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.”

“I watched it and it hit me so powerfully,” Zayas said. “I never knew I could get that feeling from a film.”

Not all that long ago, pursuing his directing dreams would have been an expensive undertaking. Zayas would have had to purchase an expensive professional-quality film camera. He would have had to buy film, and then pay to process all of the film he shot. Then, he would have had to buy pricey editing equipment to physically cut and splice his film.

Today, Zayas was able to take a different tack. He bought a quality digital video camera at Best Buy for about $500. He found free digital editing software online, which he can use to cut his film digitally on a basic laptop computer.

Zayas, now 18, is on his way toward a film career. He already has made three short dramas. He plans to complete his work this summer on an associate’s degree in videography and film at the College of Southern Nevada. Zayas then plans to enter the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as a film major in the fall.

Thanks to affordable equipment and digital technology, young, aspiring or amateur filmmakers can shoot movies on everything from iPhones to high-quality cameras available for just a few hundred bucks at any big-box retailer.

Technology is, it seems, making it easy for everybody — from dads gussying up vacation movies with a special effect or two to kids filming cinematic epics in their own backyards — to become Spielbergs-to-be or Coppolas-in-the-making.

“The technology keeps improving all the time,” said Robert Benedetto, director of CSN’s videography and film program. “It keeps evolving and improving and getting cheaper.”

At The Meadows School, where students can take a course in film, teacher Marc Micek said technology has made beginning filmmaking “a lot easier” for students.

Micek said the cameras students use cost about $300, while the editing software — which includes such effects as green screen — costs about $100 for a site license.

“You can make pretty decent movies these days with little (money),” Micek said. “I think you’re just basically limited by your creativity.”

The reduced costs of getting a cinematic foot in the door also has helped to encourage more amateurs to pick up cameras. Lee Lanier, executive director of the Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City, said the number of submissions received by the festival has increased every year since the event’s creation eight years ago.

“You just have to assume that you have more and more filmmakers out there,” he said.

CSN’s film and videography program started in 2000 with 50 students, Benedetto said. Today, about 500 students take film and video courses at the school during the course of a year, or twice as many as five years ago.

Zayas, a graduate of College of Southern Nevada High School, made his first short film two years ago for a video course he was taking at CSN. Since then, he has completed two more shorts on his own, all of them dramas.

Zayas has worked only with digital video and not with film. But he suspects that learning the basics of moviemaking “would have been much more difficult” with film.

For one thing, editing digital clips “is easier because it’s all in the computer,” Zayas said.

Digital technology also helps to promote creativity and experimentation among beginning filmmakers. For example, being able to make an edit and then undo it if it doesn’t work “gives you more options,” Zayas said. “With the new technology, you can experiment with more stuff.”

Jacob Blodgett’s primary interest is screenwriting, but the CSN film student — he expects to earn his degree in 2012 — has made digital movies as part of his course work.

This summer, one of the digital films Blodgett did for a class will be reshot, this time on film. Blodgett then plans to take the film — about, he said, a man who loses and recovers his faith “through extreme circumstances” — on the festival competition circuit.

Blodgett said that, while technology enables aspiring or amateur filmmakers to more easily and more inexpensively learn their craft, becoming a professional filmmaker remains an uphill battle.

“You understand that it’s still probably hard to (make) your way into Hollywood,” Blodgett said. “But I definitely think it’s easier to get your films made.”

Technology democratizes the filmmaking process, Lanier said. “It doesn’t necessarily make for better films, but it does give (aspiring filmmakers) a shot at it.”

But Benedetto noted that the accessibility technology affords takes an aspiring filmmaker only so far. He and Francisco Menendez, chairman of the film department at UNLV, agreed that formal training remains important.

Aspiring filmmakers still “need to learn the value of story and emotional truth and performance, and they come to (film) school to kind of do that.

“At the end of the day, it’s the ability to move people that makes your film interesting. And if I can teach them how to do that, then the world will come to their door,” Menendez said.

On the other hand, Joshua Kanies, academic director for the video program at The Art Institute of Las Vegas, said that if less expensive, more accessible technology enables more aspiring filmmakers to tell their stories, all the better.

“I like to see more technology in the hands of people, just because I think there are some great stories to be told out there,” he said, “and having that access to technology is kind of the only way of getting those stories out.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ or 702-383-0280.

MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Army medic’s Afghanistan story told in new book
The graphic novel “Machete Squad” is based on journals written by Las Vegan Brent Dulak.
Las Vegas man talks about losing his wife
Dwayne Murray, 37, lost his wife, LaQuinta while she was at Centennial Hills Hospital. A jury awarded him $43 million last week after it said the hospital failed to perform the standard of care in administering a drug for her sickle cell disease.
Barber sets up shop in grandfather’s old shop
Andres Dominguez’s new barber shop is filled with memories of his grandfather, who ran the El Cortez landmark for more than 30 years. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Life and times of a 90-year-old horse player
Leo Polito of Las Vegas describes meeting legendary jockey and trainer Johnny Longden on the beach at Del Mar. Mike Brunker/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Learning the history of singing bowls
Presentation at Summerlin Library teaches residents about the history of singing bowls (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learning live-saving techniques in Stop the Bleed class
Leslie Shaffer, an AMR paramedic, shows how to control bleeding during a Stop the Bleed course at the Summerlin Library. The class is designed to teach anyone how to control and stop life-threatening bleeding. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vicki Richardson speaks about on the power of art
Artist and arts advocate Vicki Richardson talks about the power of art to inspire and challenge. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DressCoders pairs tech with haute couture
DressCoders is a startup focused on haute couture garments. The company uses illuminated thread that is washable and can be sewn right into the fabric. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Brava infrared oven
In cooking with the Brava infrared oven,there’s no preheating. the bulbs can reach 500 degrees in less than a second. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sinks Merge Style And Utility
Study could determine cause of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases
Dr. Aaron Ritter, director of clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, discusses his research on how inflammation in the brain impacts Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holocaust survivors talk about tragedy and friendship
Janos Strauss and Alexander Kuechel share their perspectives on life. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Siegel Cares' Santa delivers toys to kids at Siegel Suites in Las Vegas
Siegel Cares, the charitable wing of The Siegel Group, delivered toys to families at their apartment complexes in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Revisiting “Christ the King” sculpture
A longtime admirer of the sculpture at Christ the King Catholic Community in Las Vegas shares her perspective. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terry Fator Christmas House
Arguably better than a hotel holiday display, is Terry and Angie Fator's home located in southwest Las Vegas.
UNLV Winter Graduation Packs Thomas & Mack
UNLV's 55th winter commencement ceremony included approximately 2,146 undergraduate and graduate students who recently completed their studies. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Build-A-Bear comes to Reed Elementary School
Students participated in a Build-A-Bear-Workshop at Doris Reed Elementary School in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the LVRJ
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center art depicts names of God
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center founder Sharaf Haseebullah talks about new diamond-shaped art panels featuring some of the 99 names of Allah at the main entrance the Las Vegas mosque. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Catholic Charities hosts early Christmas meal
Students from the Bishop Gorman High School football and cheerleader team helped to serve food at the Christmas meal sponsored by the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada on Sunday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Incarcerated Christmas
This is the fourth year HOPE for Prisoners has worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to create a Christmas for prisoners to visit their families. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018 Homeless Vigil
Straight From The Streets holds its 23rd annual vigil to remember the 179 homeless individuals who died in Clark County this year.
Getting through the Holiday blues
Psychologist Whitney Owens offers advice on keeping your mental health in check during the Holiday season in Henderson, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing