“After 4 years of film school, I didn’t think I could be a filmmaker.”
Ekwa Msangi’s feature film Farewell Amor premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received a 98% rating in Rotten Tomatoes. Ekwa recently directed Three Women for HBO and has several studio projects in development. She talks about her turning points:
“A lovely student film. Keep it up.”
“Exceptional performances and moving visuals. This is the work of a serious director who we must support and follow.”
I studied at a world-renowned film school, though most of what I know I learned since graduating. I’ve also taught at ivy league schools. Here’s the scoop:
Most people don’t know how to teach directing. Most believe that it can’t be taught, that you either “have it” or you don’t.
Most assume that those who are meant to direct will be auto-brilliant. Schools by and large view the instructor’s role as being there to figure out who’s “got it” and who’s a hack.
This leads to overlooking artists who would create phenomenal films – if they were handed tools, skills, support, and confidence.
Years of work, sweat, and money poured into a heartache project…
Filmmaking is too arduous and expensive to be tackled with a trial-and-error approach.
Great script. Great actors. You raised the money. You got the gear. You hustled favors to get a crew. You watch the film: and it doesn’t do justice to the vision that you had. It gains no traction, and it doesn’t inspire support for your next film.
I’ve seen my own students develop great scripts and then turn them into meh films.
The heartache is unnecessary!
What if film directing was a learnable craft? What if you received a set of tools so effective and simple, that you could immediately implement them and see results?
What if your first film generated buzz because the performances moved and compelled your audience?
What if your visuals were engaging and interesting, no matter the budget? And what if the camera moves were focused on serving the story, and not on showy shots?
What if your cast and crew were so excited by what you got out of them, that they want to work with you time and again?
What if your film moves audiences, festivals, backers, and industry folks, to support a lifetime of films?
The ultimate masterclass in shot planning.
Steal the audition. Steal the show. Steal our hearts.
Review, review, review, review! Every concept includes:
This course is outstanding! I learned more about directing the camera …than I did in two years of film school.
– STEVE LAINER, filmmaker
Directing The Camera had a huge impact on my creative practice. I used the techniques to produce a trailer that won a prize from Samsung and was demoed at Sundance earlier this year. I’d like to take all of your other classes.
– EULANI LABAY, filmmaker & instructor
The material was directly relevant to animation; super clear, and helpful. I was gaining a vocabulary and explanation for concepts I’d been more or less using by instinct, but now able to employ more consciously and creatively. Other concepts were completely new, yet I was able to start employing them later that day. The course was immediately helpful and fun. I’m going to watch it again before I get started on my next project.
– RICH CHAPPLE, animator
There is not enough I can say about it. I feel as if a huge burden has been lifted in regards to planning and blocking my shots… I threw all my previous sketches in the trash and blocked new scenes, in all of 20 minutes, that were more economical and visually interesting than what I had before.
– KEITH CHERNIN, sound recorder
The actors in these videos sent me a self-taped audition and received one or two simple adjustments from me in an email! I didn’t get to meet or speak with them. That’s how effective – and consistent – tools can be.
The course includes lectures going over the complete toolkit, followed by rehearsal sessions in which I demonstrate the tools discussed.
I have an MFA in Film & Television, and Ela Thier is the single best directing teacher I have ever seen. I’ve never witnessed a director bring a scene to life the way she did, and she did it repeatedly. Now I need to rethink everything I thought I knew about acting and working with actors. Thank you for life-changing instruction.
– DIANE-LISA JOHNSON, director
After four years of drama school, I didn’t think I would learn anything new. Boy was I wrong.
– SHANE ANDRIES, director and actor
I learned more about acting in this course than in any acting class that I’ve ever taken.
– MATHILDE DRATWA, director and actor
I’ve truly never seen anything like it… and I’ve sat through thousands of hours of classes.
– FRANK LEWALLEN, director & actor
Taught by Ela Thier
The Film Directing Suite has always been a bundle of two self-paced, online courses.
For the first time, I’m adding to the bundle a 6-week live class. Class meets on zoom (join from anywhere.) In this 6-week class, I’ll offer demonstrations with participants, look over shooting exercises, and take questions.
Live classes will meet Tuesdays, 8:30-9:30pm ET.
DIRECTING ACTORS: April 11, April 18, April 25
DIRECTING THE CAMERA: May 9, May 16, May 23
Recordings will be available for those who can’t attend live.
Receive ONE MONTH FREE when you enroll with the payment plan.
Receive ONE YEAR FREE when you enroll with the pay-in-full option.
Work through the course and connect with other writers, filmmakers, actors and directors.
We offer over 20 hour-long work sessions daily (by zoom). Join as many or as few as you want to fit your schedule (or mood!) Alumni often meet here and go on to forge lasting collaborations.
Membership also includes access to our 24-7 Alumni Studio where you can set up work sessions with fellow alumni (and you’ll meet many!) flexibly and on your schedule.
Join our hub! Use our alumni forum to connect with alumni, ask questions, share wins, exercises, and more.
Director Deborah Kampmeier has directed hit TV series including Queen Sugar, Clarice, and Star Trek, and award wining feature films. Kampmeier reviews the lectures in Directing the Camera, start to finish, before every shoot:
When I joined Ela’s Directing the Camera course, I had written and directed two award winning feature films: Virgin, starring Robin Penn Wright, nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, and Hounddog, starring Dakota Fanning, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
I sought out Ela’s course because, despite the success of my films, I felt I still hadn’t fully captured on film what was in my imagination.
I also sought out Ela’s course because her writing workshops had done for my screenplays what I was looking for in my directing: to use craft in a way that freed my intuition, artistry and voice, rather than constrained it.
Ela’s belief in each individual’s talent is unabashed, and simultaneously her understanding of craft is clear, precise and profound, all of which I needed to take my next steps.
Ela’s knowledge, experience and literacy of Directing the Camera is so simple and clearly articulated. I was able to take what felt like a very complicated vision and understand how to compose my shots in a way that was simple and elegant, and even elevated the complexity of what I wanted to create.
Most importantly, Ela gave me a language to communicate, not just with my collaborators, but also with myself, in a way that enabled me to capture my vision onto the screen.
In addition to how her work informed my filmmaking, I bring Ela’s work to the fast pace of episodic (Star Trek, Tales of the Walking Dead, Clarice, Queen Sugar) to help me prepare with confidence, supporting me to maintain my vision in a more traditional and collaborative setting.
Thank you Ela, for your incredibly generous and powerful teaching, I’m forever indebted to you.
Spend 10 minutes a week with the courses, and a year from now you’ll know more than most people who have been directing.
You don’t have to go at an all-or-nothing pace.
Time and again I would think a scene is great already, and then Ela would elevate it to a level I didn’t know was possible. After taking her class, I got booked for the next thing I was seen for.
– NABIL VIÑAS, actor
Guiding actors to performances that are effortless is truly an art form, and Ela is truly a master! She’s what every actor would love a director to be. I’m glad I’ve been acting long enough to appreciate how rare Ela’s talent actually is. You may not know it yet, but trust me, you want to learn from Ela. I look forward to saying, “I told you so!”
– MATTHEW MURUMBA, actor
I already booked two roles within days of completing your class!
– KAREN BERZANSKI, actor
Ela has one of the most unique approaches to acting I have ever seen. I learned more in five minutes with her than I have in five years of training. Ela taught me how to stop “acting,” which in turn made me into a much better actor. She has also shown me how to work with directors, an area that most acting classes don’t touch on. Ela’s workshop was one of the best things I’ve ever done… I noticed a difference in the way I perform and, more importantly, audition.
– KATIE HALLER, actor
It was great to see the process that a director takes to get actors where they want them to be. Ela, you have a wonderful gift of drawing things out of people that they never thought existed.
– TANGARA JONES, actor
Simply thank you: for teaching the way that you do and for allowing the opportunity to view and learn not just as actors, but as directors. For this and more, I simply thank you.
– ABA WOODRUFF, actor
My name is Ela Thier, and I used to be a mediocre director on a good day. I would fill my actors’ heads with endless backstories and psychobabble that only led them further away from what I wanted. The more experienced actors knew to tune me out.
Sometimes I would back off and let the actors do their thing, hoping that if I cast the right ones, my job would be done. Both approaches led me to create films that could have been SO. MUCH. BETTER.
As for shot planning… I’d get all up in my storyboards and end up with boring: master, mediums, close-ups, master, mediums, close-ups. It’s what they teach you in film school. Low-budget directors don’t move their camera! When we do, it’s one showy shot after another that distracts you from the story.
I still cringe when I watch some of my work. Sadly, when it comes to filmmaking, the learning curve is expensive. Not to mention that your mistakes are captured on screen foreva’. Weep!
Damn, do I wish I had these courses back then.
Fortunately, I love learning as much as I love teaching. I took courses, classes, workshops. I picked up a lot of techniques that I still never use. I also invested in classes that undermined my confidence, both as a director and as an actor.
But. I also gleaned and eventually pieced together a few simple tools that were remarkably powerful in rehearsals, when planning my shots, and on set.
I combined my favorite tools with over twenty years of experience as a peer counselor, where connecting with your feelings is all the rage. I then used, practiced, modified, taught, and systematized this powerful concoction, over and over again.
For years, I directed at least something every year, and often did even more. Best feature awards, audience choice awards, best director awards, even a best actress award: those 10,000+ hours of practice paid off.
I used to volunteer and help on my students’ films (I get invested in my students), and what I saw on set mortified me:
Unnecessary shots that exhaust everyone and do nothing for the film; missed opportunities of amazing shots that would economize the shoot and elevate its production value. And then… the performances. Nooooo. I had to swing into action.
Since 2010 I have taught hundreds of weekly classes and dozens of weekend intensives. Teaching in volume helped me see patterns: common mistakes, and solutions that consistently work.
Sometimes, a single word will move a performance from zero to sixty. Sometimes one camera move cuts your shooting schedule in half and elevates the look of the film. Crazy handy on a high-pressure film set where you gotta move fast. More importantly:
When you’re in love with a script and want a film that will do it justice, I got your back.
Over the past 25 years I have photographed numerous feature films at a variety of budgets, and discovered that breaking scenes into a coherent collection of shots is perhaps the least discussed or understood aspects of filmmaking.
I would strongly suggest any student or pro take Ela’s course. I learned a lot from my experience with her.
– DAVID V DANIEL, cinematographer
One hour had passed and I thought to myself: “Wow. I learned so much, I already got my money’s worth.” I have pages and pages of notes and I’m now super excited to apply these concepts to my next film!
– MATHILDE DRATWA, writer-director
If you’re serious about making a film, I highly recommend Ela’s class. Having worked in Hollywood I can say she’ll save you time and money.
– THÉRÈSE CATOR, actor, storyteller, leadership coach
I can hardly believe how much I learned …I was a little worried about my lack of technical camera experience but it wasn’t a problem. Ela teaches the material in a way that’s easy to understand but still valuable to the advanced students …one of those rare courses where you walk away and can actually use what you’ve been taught immediately! I’m still riding the wave of inspiration. Thank you Ela!!!
– CARLY MOVIZIO, actor
As a director, my “low-budget” mind, stuck in locked shots, is finally freed.
– JULIA ALDANA, writer-director
My short would be absolutely unwatchable and very probably uncuttable without your course. You are really great at explaining things and sharing your knowledge.
– JENNA PAYNE, writer-director
I walked away with simple but powerful directing techniques that I can’t wait to utilize, and I gained the confidence to know that there’s nothing stopping me from directing right now. Thanks, Ela!
– HURIYYAH MUHAMMAD, director
Ela’s approach is gold for new directors. She demystifies directing by teaching practical strategies for communicating with actors and creating naturalistic performances that don’t look like acting. There is nothing so magical as watching a scene turn into something awesome under her guidance. Her directing class has made me both a better director and a better writer.
– LAURA DURKAY, director
This program is tailor-made for you. I assume zero prior knowledge. I use no fancy jargon without explaining it. We start with A and get to Z. In a short amount of time, you’ll have a huge leg up on many directors who have been working for years.
I’ve seen even experienced directors grossly underutilize the moving camera, and I’ve seen experienced directors remain at the mercy of hoping the actors will pull things off. No need.
You can adopt an overall approach and a set of tools that will lead to engaging shots, on any budget, and you can learn how to lead anyone to deliver the performance that you’re hoping for.
To do the shooting exercises in “Directing the Camera,” you’ll need to recruit a friend for at least some of the exercises. I explain the details of what you need inside the course.
I’ve had students meet in our alumni forum who lived near each other and met up to work through shooting exercises.
As far as gear: This is not a course on lighting or fancy equipment. You really just need a camera. If you have a slider or some simple rig to move the camera on – great. Otherwise, you can practice every concept by handholding the camera.
Any ol’ simple, consumer-grade camera will do. You can even use your phone.
Only thing about phones though is that they don’t have a zoom lens. (They have a digital “faux” zoom that crops the picture, but it’s not a real zoom.) Ideally, you want to have a real zoom lens. At least eventually.
The course includes dozens of short video lessons that you can watch on demand at any time. So you can work through them at your own time and pace.
You can binge through the courses in a couple of weekends. Or you can devote 10 minutes a week for the next few months.
If you work through them thoroughly, do the exercises, practice the tools, I would picture you going through it over the course of 2-3 months.
Beyond that, my students revisit certain portions of the courses time and again, every time they work on a new project.
I’m afraid not. I’ve seen too many of my students achieve great performances and film things poorly, or worse, film things beautifully and settle for amateur performances.
I’m all about results, and it’s been my experience that directors consistently need this entire suite.
As long as the internet and I exist.
A fun and totally unpretentious learning experience that will point you towards making films the right way.
What an experience. Made me throw out a lot of what I thought I knew.
Invaluable camera techniques. I not only learned about the technical aspect of directing the camera, but I was able to connect with how to convey different emotions through camera work.
I’ve worked on many films, but learned things in this workshop that will change my approach to filmmaking. Thank you!
I’ve got the tools I was looking for and can’t wait to get out there and shoot!
I had no idea where to begin mapping out shots and camera moves for my film. After this workshop I feel not only ready to do so but I’m excited by the prospect of creating artistic camera work that is efficient and effective. Every strategy learned is useful and can be put to use immediately!
Ela’s workshop filled in the missing pieces that I needed to feel like I could make a film on my own. I feel confIdent with what I learned! Thank you!
A vital resource for future directors.
BILLE ANTHONY SINCLAIR
This workshop will enhance my film’s production value and strengthen my directing core.
I came away with new ideas as to how to shoot my videos with more elegant camera work.
I had been moving the camera just for the sake of movement, but now I can do it to serve a purpose.
I’m fairly new to directing & production so I didn’t quite know what to expect. However, the wealth of knowledge I absorbed has already proven invaluable.
If you want confidence that you can create simple and elegant shots, take this workshop. Now. I learned a storytelling vocabulary of shots that will carry me a long way.
There’s not enough I can say about what I’ve learned. Can’t wait to go over it again and again.
GEORGE WILSON, director
Ela’s directing course was such a great gift that I’ve given to myself. I learned so much about directing and my confidence in this practice has boosted tremendously. Ela makes learning enjoyable.
EVELYN M. GREEN, director
I now have a powerful toolbox for troubleshooting scenes, especially when the lights are up and there’s no time left!
JENNA PAYNE, director
I’ve taken, assisted, and taught many film workshops, but participating in Ela’s workshop was a completely different experience. I was surprised at how much knowledge she was able to impart in just two days. But the very best part was watching Ela in her element, taking the actors to a place no one was expecting.
KELLY MENA, director
What an experience. Made me throw out a lot of what I thought I knew.
NIKOLAI METIN, director
An inspiring experience… My only regret is that I waited so long!
JOHN WIGGINS, director
I’m amazed at how much I learned in two days. I was able to put some of the tools into use that week on a shoot – it was great!
GIZEM ALGAN, director
Ela’s simple tools to direct actors stretched my imagination and taught me how to successfully build drama into scenes. I laughed, brainstormed, and loved-every minute. Thank you Ela!
PAMELA TIMPSON, director
A first-hand experience into the director’s mind. Ela’s directions and adjustments brought the scenes to entirely new levels.
BRYAN FITZGERALD, actor
Ela leaves the actor with a feeling of security and the all-important knowledge that its perfectly fine to be yourself!
MARK BYRNE, actor
Ela is an expert at helping people get into that zone! This city is full of acting teachers, but Ela stands out.
LANDE OLDS, actor
It’s amazing how simple these tools are. Every scene went from zero to sixty with just one or two small adjustments. I would watch people who looked like actors turn into real human beings having real experiences, and I’d forget that I was watching a scene. I got chills. Mind=blown.
I have studied with the “top” teachers in LA, and you, my darling, have no idea how powerful your inner compass is to get the actor to where they need to go and you do it blind.
MABEL PANTALEON, actor
Ela takes the acting out of acting. She strips away everything you don’t need and what is left will be nothing short of beautiful. The simplicity of Ela’s approach has been both revolutionary and liberating for a mostly theater-trained actor like myself. She will teach you to find yourself, not play the character. This not only translates to a more truthful performance, but a performance that is much more interesting and exciting to watch. Thank you, Ela! Did I mention I already booked two roles within days of completing your course?!
KAREN BERZANSKI, actor
You are an extremely patient, generous teacher who gets to the core of the actor struggle: you are enough! Don’t try to be someone else; be you, and someone else will come through the script. Not only did you explain it perfectly, you offered really helpful tools that even a one-time, drop-in student could take home with her and put to practice. I had a mental breakthrough listening to you and watching you coach other students, and I’m actually excited to audition again.
NORA FULLMOON, actor
As an actor, I sincerely wish that it were possible for you to teach every director. You have a true gift for directing and teaching, which are enhanced that much more by your caring and compassion. I am so grateful to have been able to benefit from it.
JENN HAMBLIN, actor