Become an indie filmmaker at Greenpoint-based Brooklyn Movie Labs
By Elvire Camus & Arnaud Aubry
Being a filmmaker doesn’t have to be such an expensive proposition. “Doing more with less,” is the motto of Brooklyn Movie Labs, a young film school founded three years ago by Dexter Taylor, a former instructor at other major New York film schools. He believes in teaching the basics, but also in ushering students as quickly as possible into the actual process of moviemaking, unhindered by constraints of needing expensive equipment.
“Our aim is to get the filmmaker out there right away,” says Taylor. “If a student can afford a university tuition, I think he/she is better off buying a camera and a lighting package and getting started…” To that end, the Brooklyn Movie Labs’ teachings include how to build lighting instruments out of inexpensive hardware such as halogen fixtures or LED work lights. “Things you can use that aren’t going to cost you that much but will get you the results that you want,” says Taylor.
Taylor also teaches ways to incorporate camera movement into a shot by using a skateboard as a dolley. “You can use anything that’s got wheels and a flat surface. You can put a camera on a wheelchair and get camera movement that way; one can mount a camera to go on a hand held with a weight such as a plate used for weightlifting, or a regular brick, to dampen out vibration.” The idea, he says, is to come up with solutions when it seems that none can be found.
This DIY ethos makes Brooklyn Movie Labs a unique filmmaking school in Brooklyn and New York, which is why we were curious to meet its creator.
Taylor sports small round glasses, a small earing. Dignified in his role as teacher, he also looks in many ways like an inventor. “I’m a geek,” he confesses.
He started out as a bio medical engineering major in college, and was on a pre med track, until his interests were sidetracked into computer science. He left school and worked as a computer programmer for 15 years. Taylor also owned a recording studio in downtown Brooklyn. There, he quickly found out that “making money was impossible,” as he tells us. In the meantime, he realized that a lot of movies were being filmed in Brooklyn that parlayed into his becoming a sound engineer, on film sets, and for post-production. Among the vast list of movies he emphasizes his work on Kit Hui’s “Missing,” which played at Cannes Film Festival in 2005, and on “Predisposed” by Philip Dorling, which appeared at the Sundance Festival in 2009. “I was lucky to work with those great professionals. That’s how I learned most of what I know about movies,” says Taylor.
While working on film sets, Taylor began to teach in 2004, and that’s when he discovered that he loved it, and was good at it. He started his own school in Greenpoint in 2007. He eventually got another working space in Bed-Stuy. While the first space is dedicated to laboratory work such as editing and sound recording, the second is where regular class sessions take place.
For Beginners and Pros
Brooklyn Movie Labs doesn’t offer year-long or semester by semester courses in the traditional sense. Their offerings are one-day, two-day and weeklong workshops, $99 for a one-day workshop, $189 for a weekend, and $999 for a full week.
Courses are designed for beginners who want to learn the basics, but also for those who aspire to improve their knowledge on a specific subject. In addition to “Guerrilla Filmmaking” workshops, in which Taylor teaches how to make your own indie film without a big budget, Brooklyn Movie Labs also offers “Intro to Directing Actors,” “Final Cut Pro: Making the Cut,” and “Weekend Digital Filmmaking,” a two-day intensive which includes theory and hands-on lab work. He’ll also customize workshops that are specially requested, and so in addition to the six to eight freelance instructors on the school’s roster, he will bring in additional outside teachers when necessary.
While touting low tech, his school provides hi-tech professional equipment, state of the art HD cameras, sound studio, and even a “Red camera” one of the best cameras on the market.
“There’s a DIY ethos in filmmaking that I really love,” says Taylor. “Many of the tools and hardware used in the motion picture industry were created by cinematographers who needed something that didn’t exist yet, so they had to create it.” He confides that one of his dreams is for one of his creations to become a tool used on every film set. The last one he designed is a motion picture lightning fixture known as a “chicken coop,” which is remotely dimmable via WiFi using software running on an iPad. As he said, a “geek”!