Camila on the location of her film 'At Ease'
Camila Papadopoulo was part of the summer 2020 Film Workshop, one of the Tisch Professional Courses. Camila identifies herself as an actress first, then a writer, and finally a filmmaker. We interviewed Camila about her experience in the course, collaborating with her classmates from around the U.S., and what's unique about taking this course online.
Please tell us a little about yourself and where you call home.
I grew up in a home where English, French, and Spanish are spoken interchangeably. My mother is from the Dominican Republic, my father is from France, I attended The Taft School for high school, and completed my undergraduate degree at Bowdoin College. Professors, teachers, family, and friends have shared that my American accent is perfect. A permanent, home location for me is hard to pinpoint. I was born in New York, but grew up on the small island of Bermuda, where the cultural underpinnings are both British and African. Cross-cultural interactions are my norm, not the exception. Over the years I have learned to associate this idea of home with a feeling rather than a place; wherever my family is at a given moment. But I will always be a New Yorker at heart. I will forever consider myself a city dweller.
What was your experience with filmmaking prior to taking the Film Workshop?
Zero, really. I took a production course in Florence where I spent the semester studying, but the class was filled with intermediate students, so I felt I never got a real sense or grasp for the basics. I spent the majority of that course learning by watching. I got a B in the class for being the innocent bystander of the group. I would say the Film Workshop course at NYU was my first shot at learning about the camera from the safety and comfort of my home in Bermuda, a locale highly emphasized in my footage. This course made me eager to apply to film schools.
I am an actress first, a writer second, and now, finally, a filmmaker third. Since I was thirteen, I have dedicated my summers to studying acting at prestigious and reputable theatre institutions and programs. My move from actor to writer to aspiring director happened while participating in a Stella Adler Chekhov Intensive acting course. Recent theatre graduates offered to work with summer students as a way to keep training. This was my first time working with professional actors. Being in a room with these graduates is when I realized I was no longer interested in being in front of the audience, but a part of the audience.
"I would say the Film Workshop course at NYU was my first shot at learning about the camera from the safety and comfort of my home in Bermuda, a locale highly emphasized in my footage. This course made me eager to apply to film schools."
After taking an introductory screenwriting course in the fall and an independent study course in the spring at Bowdoin, I applied and was awarded a summer fellowship by the College to pursue a playwriting project, writing a play from scratch. The following summer I did the same: I applied for another fellowship and worked on a completely new play. The premise for this new project came from one of my art history lectures. Writing to me, felt like acting from my computer. Performances existed in my head rather than on stage.
In regard to film, my cinema studies courses at Bowdoin helped me learn how to watch, understand, and interpret the cinematic frame, which is what I had been doing for years with the theatrical proscenium. All three processes informed one another.
Why did you sign up for the course?
One of my professors at Bowdoin actually pushed me to take this course. I had always found production daunting. I joke that I belong in the 19th century where books and handwritten letters are the norm. But I applied my study of low budget films and guerilla filmmaking, and with my iPhone and $20 stabilizer I ordered off of Amazon (five weeks in advance to make sure it would arrive in time, as yes, things don’t ship as swiftly to Bermuda as they do in the U.S.), I learned how to make short narratives using visual storytelling, and absolutely loved it. I’ve already started to research possible cameras to purchase.
Share a highlight from the course.
The course functioned as an asynchronous online platform. This meant students, all five of us, were working at our own time and speed from different states, and in my case, from a different island, away from mainland USA. We were given opportunities to collaborate for different projects and communicate during lectures, but aside from that we were essentially on our own. This meant rarely getting to share and see each other's work, which brings me to my course highlight: the final film screening. I looked forward to my weekly screenings in college for my cinema studies courses, but this felt different, more exciting because in this case, I knew the filmmakers, and I was also one of them. It was fun to see everyone’s different ideas, and styles surface on my laptop screen.
Camila sets up a shot for her film 'At Ease'
Another course highlight, in the spirit of low budget and guerilla filmmaking, was getting to shoot a movie in one of Bermuda’s local shoe stores. A buddy of mine’s family works in the shoe business in Bermuda, “Boyles,” and he was able to lend me the space for me and my cast to safely use for a couple of hours one weekend. It is here, in a room where I used to buy my school shoes growing up, that I filmed my first dream sequence, “The Shoe Box,” shoe shopping for dreaming about buying anything and everything. I got a real kick out of this assignment. A real “use what you have” moment.
Please tell us about the collaborative assignments with other students and sessions with the instructor.
We were given many opportunities to collaborate with our peers. A documentary exercise forced us to film and compile footage from different locations to make one single film. A visual poetry exercise required us to mismatch footage; we each shot different scenes, and then were required to share and compile our now communal footage as we wished with the intention of viewing each other's work and noticing different aesthetic choices. The dream sequence project forced us to cater to our strengths, and assign roles based on interests and proficiency. My partner was a strong editor, so she stuck to that task. I am a dreamer and a director, so I devised and directed the story, which she then pieced together and transformed into an electric little film, “The Shoe Box,” one of my favorites from this course.
How did this workshop prepare you for the next step in your career?
This course tremendously prepared me for my next step, graduate school applications. One of the main reasons I enrolled in this course, aside from my Bowdoin Cinema Studies Professor suggesting I do so, was to help give me the tools I needed for film school applications. Bowdoin doesn’t offer any production courses so there was no real way for me to acquire these skills without taking a supplementary course elsewhere. Many graduate programs require media samples, which having had no prior camera experience, I was apprehensive to produce. I can now comfortably shoot and edit a film, which means I am now able to create a couple more shorts to attach to my creative portfolio alongside my final film for this course which I also hope to include. Some schools allow for multiple submissions which is great. I am hoping to get a camera soon so that I can put some of the cinematography lectures into practice in ways I couldn’t have with an iPhone.
How did this workshop's asynchronous, self-paced schedule fit with your daily life?
I think the asynchronous platform worked wonders! I was working on a writing project in between film projects.
The Smashcut platform prevented students from jumping weeks and getting ahead on projects. We could only access the current week's work. This locking system forced me to focus on the immediate task at hand, and to do it well. Planning happened on Monday mornings which is when we were presented with our weekly projects. With a cup of freshly brewed Dominican coffee, I would watch the week’s lectures, all in one sitting, before checking out the assignments. The lectures included movie clips, which I viewed as valuable sources of inspiration. Towards the end of the program I had a new viewing list of movies to watch and rewatch.
Talk about the benefits of taking this course online.
One of the benefits that I briefly touched on earlier was this idea of low stakes; learning an entirely new skill from the safety and comfort of your home. My parents and close friends, ones that were part of my social pod, were my stars, and for the most part, my home or Bermuda’s open beaches were my set. I was able to fail miserably without anybody watching. My cast was constructed of trusted friends and family who promised patience if technical difficulties occurred on set. In other words, it was a warm, and welcoming first attempt at filmmaking.
What can future students expect to take away from the Film Workshop?
A glimpse at the filmmaking process: each week is catered toward focusing on a different aspect of filmmaking, with emphasis on pre-production, production, and post-production. This film workshop gave me a greater understanding and thereby appreciation for all the people involved in making one movie. Movies are collaborative projects, literally.
"This film workshop gave me a greater understanding and thereby appreciation for all the people involved in making one movie. Movies are collaborative projects, literally."
A film is made up of many moving parts. The people behind the camera are just as valuable as those in front of the camera. I would have loved to have a director’s assistant on set help entertain and organize my cast as I was shooting my final film. That being said, it felt pretty good to manage this all on your own! It can be done. This course really follows the do it yourself kind of Sundance, New York film industry mantra! It really teaches you how to take initiative and agency over your work. Overall, the Film Workshop was great preparation for entering the film industry.