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This project was successfully funded on November 2, 2017

Thesis Year Funding

by Ignacio Genzon




    Thesis year at the American Film Institute (AFI) requires that the cinematographers complete two films. The first film is a three minute Visual Essay.  It is shot on 35mm film and is the cinematographer’s personal project. The visual essay has no dialogue; unlike early silent movies, actors cannot even pantomime words. Using only the construction of images, this is my chance as a cinematographer at pure visual storytelling. For this project I have chosen to collaborate with writer-director Dan Cameron. I reached out to Dan because of his knack for straightforward dialogue.  He has the special skill of selecting just the right fictive details to be of service to a character’s emotional throughline.

    The working title for this project is Brothers.  It is a story about two brothers and takes some cues from the Bruce Springsteen song “Highway Patrolman”.   They share a bond that cannot be intellectualized or explained, yet they are from worlds that can never exist together. On the day our story takes place, Jule is making a delivery at the same time and in the same store that his brother is making a collection for the mob. This day will present them with a chance encounter during which we will see how deep blood runs.

    The ‘Ville is the name of the thesis production.  Set in Fayetteville, North Carolina, The ‘Ville is a drama about young outsider Jamie Darling who sees filmmaking as his escape from an oppressive town. When his camera is stolen by the neighborhood bullies, he has to decide between reclaiming what he sees as the only way out or fading into to the anonymous life of just-another-guy-from-Fayetteville.  This project is a group effort executed by a team that consists of director-writer RJ Dawson and co-writer Darius Dawson (both Fayetteville natives), producer Rebecca Lou, myself as cinematographer, production designer, and editor. I was drawn to work with RJ because of his instinct for compelling stories, as demonstrated by his earlier work.  His actors appear as humans on screen and not stars in front of the camera.  This collaboration results in a 20 to 30 minute short. 


    Typically in the film industry, a cinematographer is hired after funding is already in place. But for productions at AFI the burden of fundraising for these projects falls on the team of filmmakers. The money that I raise for these two projects will go directly and exclusively to the execution and completion of these productions. These are the costs that are budgeted:


Location rental                      Production designer

Location permits                   Production supplies    

Police escort                          Set rental             

Meals for the crew                 Prop rental

Music licensing                      Film stock    

Film scanning                         Product clearance

Special equipment rental       Film processing

   The cost of the camera and lighting package is not listed; AFI provides this along with full liability insurance. AFI sets operate according to the highest safety, legal, and professional standards of the industry, with all the accompanying costs.

    The size of these two projects is reflected in their different budgets. I am solely responsible for raising the $3,000 necessary for Brothers, and share the burden of raising $45,000 for the The Ville with my team.



    Family and friends have been a central theme of my photography and earlier video work. Within this interpersonal realm can be found all the complications and fascination of human interactions. Brothers and The Ville are a cinematic continuation of these themes.  The fraternal relationship in Brothers will be put into stark relief when suddenly the brotherhood that Jule and Frank have taken for granted becomes a matter of life and death. The Ville attracted me because of its portrayal of the human tendency to categorize folks as good or bad, and how this simplification is a barrier to connectedness.  In our story, this classification happens at the neighborhood scale, but this idea can easily be extrapolated to current national and international politics.

    These films will be the launching pad for the trajectory of my work post AFI. Unlike the work we completed during our first year, which was only licensed to be screened in-house, both of these projects will be entered in film festivals around the world and will be screened for industry representatives and talent scouts.


    The results of a successfully mounted production are far reaching. These two projects will provide the powerful calling card with which to enter into the professional world.  Their artistic integrity will help me to get signed onto future projects of the same caliber.

    Film and theatre provide one of the few experiences where you can sit in a room full of people you have never met and whose ideas you might never agree with and share some of the same emotions for the span of an hour or two.  In a time when the arts are under attack by budget cuts, please consider how helping our teams will contribute to the availability of quality cinematic experiences.



    The Visual Essay will be shot  October 7th and 8th of 2017.  Writer-director Dan Cameron and I have taken the summer to hone the story for the Brothers.  Pre-production, which includes scouting and securing a location, renting props, pulling permits, renting police officers, auditioning actors, and rehearsing is beginning now.  Shooting for this project will happen over two days.  The film will be processed and scanned at FOTOKEM in Burbank.  I will do the editing and color grading.

    Principal photography for the The Ville begins in May 2018.  It will require all of the same pre-production work as the Brothers and will be shot over 10 days.  The Ville will be edited by our team editor and then shipped to a color house to be professionally timed and graded.

    Both projects will be showcased at AFI and then prepped for distribution on the festival circuit.

    If you made it this far and still have some questions about funding, story, qualifications etc. Please contact me at Thank you so much for being a part of this process and I hope to see you on movie night.

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