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  • NYFA Presents: The Rock The Vote Rally 2020

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    A rousing group of New York Film Academy students, faculty, and staff from all three campuses (New York, Los Angeles, and South Beach) participated in a Rock the Vote Virtual Rally yesterday. The Rally included special guest, Tony-nominated actor Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s RENT, Les Misérables, The Rocky Horror Show ), who shared stories of her immigrant family background, becoming a U.S citizen, and the imperative to vote. 

    NYFA Producing alum Lisa Cortes (producer of the Academy Award-winning Precious, recent Emmy Award-winner for The Apollo, and producer/co-director of the just-released Stacey Abrams documentary All In: The Fight For Democracy) spoke of the importance of voting in light of the long history of voter suppression in the U.S. In the making of All In: The Fight For Democracy during the COVID pandemic, Cortes talked about how her NYFA Producing education proved so valuable in pulling together the project during such challenging times. Attendees were treated to a special viewing of the All In trailer and a special musical clip of Janelle Monae performing the closing title song from the film. 

    Also joining via specially recorded video clips was Nikki Renée Daniels from “Hamilton” and Shoshana Bean from “Wicked”,  A special “Get Out The Vote” tribute by Lin Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton capped the Rally. 

    The event was co-produced by NYFA Producing Chair Neal Weisman and Chair of the Musical Theatre Department, Kristy Cates. 

    “Our sincerest hope was not only to invigorate the NYFA community to become excited about and committed to voting, but to inspire everyone in attendance to reach out to their circles and do the same.” – Kristy Cates

    NYFA’s Rock The Vote efforts include a Zoom room every Tuesday from 1 p.m. ET – 4 p.m. ET that offers voter registration and mail-in ballot assistance for NYFA students, faculty, and staff from all three campuses. Please stop in and check your registration, apply for absentee ballots, etc. Further information is available on the NYFA Voter Resources page.

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  • NYFA BFA Producing Alum Thandiwe Mlauli Founds South Africa’s First Woman-Led Animation Studio

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    BFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli has announced an upcoming project called SOLA. It will be South Africa’s first independently produced and women-led afro-animation, with Mlauli acting as producer, director and showrunner through her animation company Studio Yezi.

    The South African native, who had been told before that there was no audience for afro-anime, decided to take matters into her own hands. “I knew that [not having an audience] was not true. I had friends both Black and Brown, who were interested in seeing representation in animation,” she shared. “I decided to arm myself with the knowledge I would need to make this dream happen and Studio Yezi is the fruit of this decision.”

    Founded in 2019 in Johannesburg, Studio Yezi (short for/inspired by “inkanyezi,” which means “star” in Zulu) aims to create economic opportunities for Black and Brown people in the animation industry, as well as creating accurate representation on screen.

    Studio Yezi, founded by NYFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    Studio Yezi has recently launched the campaign #MakeSolaHappen, a crowdfunding initiative to develop SOLA, a story about a magical young girl who awakens in a world where magic is considered dangerous. Set in 22nd century South Africa, the film would also reimagine a world where the country would have been colonized by the Spanish instead of the British. The short film is based on the TV series that Studio Yezi is also developing.

    Founder and CEO of Yezi Studios & NYFA producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    “We’re crowdfunding to help us get to the finish line,” explained Mlauli. “We’ve gathered a team of really dope creatives who can definitely bring a product worth talking about. If anybody is interested in supporting us, or becoming a producer, please visit our crowdfunding campaign.

    The film, still in development, is a project that Mlauli hopes will “inspire other young artists to invest in their dreams and pursue them, despite whatever resistance they experience.” The studio CEO also noted how this is a project where more people can recognize Africa for its talents and the people. “We want to create a hub where people refer to us as much as they refer to other places in the world.”

    For other creatives, Mlauli shares that it’s imperative to keep focus. “Remind yourself, as often as you can, why you chose the career path that you chose. When you focus on what you love, and give yourself a chance to dedicate yourself to your dreams, the world will open up for you. I’m an example of that.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli for sharing more about her upcoming film SOLA and the vision of her newly formed company, Yezi Studios. To learn more about Yezi Studios and the campaign to develop SOLAclick here.

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    September 24, 2020 • International Diversity, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 345

  • New York Film Academy Producing Alum Alex Lebovici Produces ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’

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    One of the long-anticipated films of the summer, Bill & Ted Face The Music, starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick) and Alex Winter (The Lost Boys) was released everywhere on VOD and in select cinemas on August 28, 2020, with NYFA alum Alex Lebovici as a producer.

    The free-spirited and beloved characters Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) from the original films Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), make their epic comeback in the Bill & Ted series’ biggest film yet, which has been hailed by critics and is being called a “Surprise Summer Hit.”

    Film poster for ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ (Produced by Alex Lebovici)

    The long-awaited film was originally shot in 2019 and was slated for a full theatrical release. Like many indie films and blockbusters alike, the film opted for VOD and limited theatrical release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On the weekend of its release, it was the top-rented film on FandangoNow, Apple TV, the iTunes Store, and Google Play. Fandango also announced that despite being released for only four days, the film held the most popular spot on their most rented list for the month of August.

    NYFA producing alum Alex Lebovici at a NYFA Q&A event

    Lebovici, who produced the film, posted photos from the production on his Instagram and recalled how the film was such “a blast” to make. “I can’t believe it,” he shared. “This was by far the most challenging experience of my life but I’m blessed to have an amazing family who supported me through it all.”

    Lebovici was also an executive producer on The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019), Academy Award-nominated Denzel Washington drama, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), Mom and Dad (2017), Who We Are Now (2017), and The Clapper (2017). Lebovici will be an executive-producer for King Fury 2 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender, which is currently in post-production.

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate the Producing alum on his latest success with the release of Bill & Ted Face The Music, and looks forward to hearing more about the upcoming release of King Fury 2.

    “Be excellent to each other.” 

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    September 22, 2020 • Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 319

  • Hans Augustave Unveils New, Powerful Short Film ‘Before I Knew’

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    “This was before I felt the need to make up for my imposing stature and hue by developing an overly gentle and inviting persona.

    This was before George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice…”

    This is before I knew I was Black.”

    These statements and more are included in Hans Augustave’s latest short film Before I Knew, a visual poem that he wrote, directed, produced, and appeared in. 

    The Haitian-American filmmaker attended NYFA’s One Year Conservatory Program in Producing and then became a digital video producer for BLUR, a tech startup with an in-house production team. There, he directed, shot, and edited dozens of ads for the digital space. He then moved to the independent film world where he currently works as an Assistant Director. 

    Also a Dj (DJ Hanzi), Augustave’s storytelling journey has taken him from the art of spoken word, to the stage with his one-man show The Lost and Found and now to the screen with his latest project Before I Knew; a visual poem depicting the subtle and not so subtle ways Black men come to the realization that they are seen as less than human. 

    While working on the film, Augustave was introduced to sound mixer Edward Morris II, who worked on Before I Knew. After having started to mix the sound, Augustave found out that Morris’ cousin was Elijah McClain, a young Black man who was killed by the police and whose story broke to the media when Before I Knew was in post-production.

    Augustave is also co-producer on a documentary feature film The Forgotten Occupation  which examines the United States’ occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934 and the  negative impacts on Haiti’s current political climate. 

    As DJ Hanzi, Augustave founded the popular and growing sober-curious dance party, Reprieve. “It’s part Funk, part House, part Pride, very Black and ALL Love,” shared Augustave. “It’s defying the misconception that no booze & no drugs = no fun.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Hans Augustave on his powerful short film Before I Knew and encourages readers to watch and have their own discussions about the short film. 

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    September 18, 2020 • Diversity, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 418

  • Assembly Line Entertainment Founder & NYFA Producing Alum Janek Ambros Shares Exciting Slate of Upcoming Projects and Collaborations with Fellow Producing Alum Robbie Leacock

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    After graduation, it’s straight to set for many alumni; but for others, it means a new era of innovation injected into the film industry by bringing in new, incredible stories to new audiences. MFA Producing alum Janek Ambros decided to do just that by starting up his own international production company, Assembly Line Entertainment, which has already had films appear in festivals all over the world including Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

    “When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I took a production company course at NYFA,” recalled Ambros. “It was in that class where I created the company logo, and the type of company I’d want (heavily inspired by American Zoetrope). Seven years later, we’re on a very similar path that was outlined in class – starting with shorts and moving on to high-end festivals like Sundance and TIFF, with more development focused on projects we make from the ground up. It’s testament to NYFA’s goal of learning by doing.”

    Janek Ambros (Right) at TIFF for Assembly Line Pictures’ ‘Human Capital’

    Assembly Line Entertainment already boasts an impressive filmography, including 10,000 Saints (Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld), Human Capital (Maya Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Alex Wolff), and documentary Imminent Threat (Dir. Janek Ambros), among others. 

    “We’re excited to be working on a new large slate of movies going into 2021 that we’re producing with our new Head of Production, Kahlilah King,” shared Ambros. “From traditional narratives to social impact docu-series, we [Assembly Line Entertainment] have many projects that are adapting to the ever-changing landscape of distribution.”

    Alex Wolff (Left) and Maya Hawke (Right) in ‘Human Capital’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    Some of those upcoming projects slated for release include Mondo Hollywoodland (Dir. Janek Ambros), animated political satire First New Nation, an untitled birthing docu-series (Written by Khaliah King), and Sixties, a digital campaign on social media that features 60-second films from countries all over the world to highlight new developing directors.

    Another upcoming project is feature film Hey, Johnny, directed by Ambros and produced by fellow NYFA Producing alum Robbie Leacock, who previously also produced Imminent Threat, serves as the executive producer the Sixties project, and is writing and producing upcoming mockumentary series The Flat Tyres for Assembly Line Entertainment. 

    Robbie Leacock (Left) on set of ‘The Flat Tyres’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    After graduating from NYFA, Leacock started at Potboiler Productions as a producer’s assistant before moving up to assistant producer. He later served as an associate producer on Netflix’s The Red Sea Diving Resort before returning to the U.S. to join producing partner Janek Ambros at Assembly Line Entertainment. “We were always told that the relationships you build at film school are the ones that will last throughout your career, and this proved to be so true,” revealed Leacock. “We now have our first TV series in the works (The Flat Tyres), a satirical comedy about a gang of hijackers from the townships, for which we are currently shooting on location in Cape Town, South Africa.”

    With a slate of upcoming projects and new opportunities for Ambros’ production company, 2021 is set to be the biggest year yet for Assembly Line Entertainment and the NYFA alumni, who are working to create character-driven projects for audiences that reflect modern society.

    Assembly Line Pictures Founder Janek Ambros

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA Alumni Janek Ambros and Robbie Leacock on their upcoming projects with Assembly Line Entertainment and looks forward to hearing about new projects as they develop. 

    NYFA also encourages readers to check out Assembly Line Entertainment’s Instagram account, where their project Sixties will officially be launched. For a full list of the company’s productions, click here.

    Assembly Line Entertainment
    Founder: Janek Ambros
    Producer: Robbie Leacock

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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes Manager and Producer Risa Shapiro for ‘The Q&A-List Series’

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    On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with manager and producer Risa Shapiro, where Shapiro shared her career expertise with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Risa Shapiro began her career in the entertainment business at The William Morris Agency in New York in 1981. She helped discover and cultivate the careers of such stars as Julia Roberts, Jennifer Connelly, Rosie O’Donnell, David Duchovny, Andie MacDowell and many more. In 1991, Shapiro left William Morris to join the ICM agency, where she continued to thrive as one of the most powerful female agents in the industry. In 2008, she decided to pursue management and production.

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Risa Shapiro (Right) for NYFA’s Q&A-List

    As a manager, Shapiro continues to represent Cher, Jennifer Connelly, Heather Graham, Steven McQueen, Christian Madsen, and many others. She co-financed Saw (2004), was an executive producer on Burlesque (2011), and produced the television movies Dear Mom, Love Cher (2013) for Lifetime and Love At First Glance (2017) for the Hallmark Channel.

    Laiter opened up the discussion by recalling how, when Laiter was working as Co-President at Imagine Entertainment, Shapiro was just introducing the world her new upcoming client, Julia Roberts, who because her brother was already famous, “knew her way around the set and knew what actors were like and I knew she will go places and signed her,” remembered Shapiro.

    Laiter then commented how Shapiro has such a keen eye for talent and asked whether she was born with it, or if it was something learned. Shapiro explained that it’s something you develop over time and it’s about loving actors and the movies. From there, she explained, it’s about “finding those roles [for your actor] that you can then show to the next director, and the next director, and the next one to get them (the clients) to that next big role.”

    Film poster for ‘Burlesque’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)

    As for the role of a Manager vs Agent, (and she was both) Shapiro explained that, in her role as a Manager, she is charged with being the point person to help guide her client’s career but an agent has most of the information from staff meetings so the ideal is to have both. She then shared a time when she received a producer credit on Burlesque without even pursuing one because, ultimately, the director knew that Shapiro was the reason that Cher [her client] remained there shooting the film and was a huge comfort for the actress.

    Shapiro explained that one of the biggest challenges actors are facing now in the business is competition. She shared that, due to the high volume of talent and availability, actors have to “be really great these days,” and reminded NYFA students: “You’re not going to do a great job on your own. You have to stay in class and you have to get a coach.”

    (Left to Right) Producer Donald De Line, restaurateur Victor Drai and executive producer Risa Shapiro

    A student then asked about how someone would go about finding an agent if they are new in the business and Shapiro had this advice to share:

    “Put together a reel you are proud of and just remember: People in the entertainment business have a short attention span, so don’t make it too long. Then, go online and find the names of managers and agents and make sure they are relatively young and send material on yourself to them (your picture, resume, reel, where you went to school, etc).”

    Laiter then added “make friends with the assistants of those people,” to which Shapiro agreed, noting that you should always get to know the people around the point person you are trying to reach when finding an agent. Laiter and Shapiro also suggested that actors and others should invest in IMDBPro so they can keep up with who represents who in the industry.

    Another student looking for advice from Shapiro asked, if they have other talents other than acting, whether they should begin looking for representation as an actor first, rather than for all the other disciplines.. “Don’t be spread too thin,” Shapiro replied. “Try and get an agent as an actor and then branch out. When you work on a set as an actor, you’re going to meet people that will help you in other areas later on.”

    Shapiro closed the conversation by encouraging students to create using the resources they have today. “People in the industry today can make a movie by themselves on their computer. You could write and star in your own movie, but always have something to show people that will make others impressed.” Laiter agreed and added, “use this time in school to do the best short, broadcast segment or project that you can be proud of.”

    Actors Amy Smart and Adrian Grenier in ‘Love at First Glance’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)

    Laiter closed the conversation by thanking Shapiro for sharing her time and vast knowledge of the business side of the movie industry.Shapiro expressed her enjoyment of the conversation and wished NYFA’s students the best of luck in their future endeavours.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Manager and Producer Risa Shapiro for sharing her time and expertise with students and alumni looking to explore the business side of the film industry as actors, filmmakers, producers, and more.

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    August 28, 2020 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 441

  • NYFA Documentary & Producing Departments Welcome Film Producer Christopher Leggett Who Encourages Developing Tangible Skills & Saying “Yes”

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    This summer, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure of hosting a live video Q&A with the talented Producer Christopher Leggett to discuss his current success with multiple films and projects in recent distribution, including Ask Dr. Ruth, Mike Wallace is Here and Honey Boy, Shia LaBeouf’s award winning, screenwriting premiere.

    Producer Christopher Leggett, along with Rafael Marmor, is a controlling partner at Delirio Films, a production company with a long list of award-winning films, both documentary and narrative, and several compelling non-fiction television series on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, The History Channel and NBC, to name a few.

    NYFA instructors Sanora Bartels (Top Left) and Roberta Colangelo (Top Right) with Christopher Leggett

    The Q&A was conducted by Los Angeles Chairs of the Documentary and Producing Departments, Sanora Bartels and Roberta (Robi) Colangelo, respectively. They were excited to speak with the producer, who has a very active and successful record with both documentary (where he started) and narrative filmmaking; his credits are a testament to the importance of storytelling, regardless of genre.

    The discussion focused on how to make the transition from film student to filmmaking professional and the most important aspects of a successful professional career. Leggett was generous with his time and inspiring with his answers.

    His advice to students in film school was to work on their tangible skill sets and noted that, for him, that includes editing: “I was a swimmer in college…so I had a little bit of the athlete mentality of just constantly doing the work was really important right out of school.” He went on to say that while you’ll have a lot of uncreative, “grunt work” to perform, “everything is a stepping-stone at that level.”

    Leggett (Far right) on a press junket for ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’

    Once he mastered the technical level of the work and had something tangible on his resume, he knew he had to move on from the secure job and get himself out into the world networking in order to use his storytelling skills picked up in school. He also acknowledged the importance of internships during school, which allowed him to maintain professional relationships that he would reconnect with after getting some experience under his belt.

    He also used his connections in the competitive swim world to differentiate himself as a filmmaker. In other words, he understood that he needed unique access to a world outside of filmmaking in order to tell stories that he was uniquely qualified to tell. This allowed him to pitch an idea to NBC, get hired and move up the rungs of the ladder at NBC Universal where he worked on Against the Tide and began cutting his teeth as a producer.

    Of his time at NBC, Leggett reveals that “when you’re in an organization like that, there are a lot of boundaries… your job goes from here to here [hands about six inches apart]…and I think good people are constantly pushing at it to try to get more responsibility.”

    This desire for more responsibility caused Leggett to develop his own project, The Short Game. He admitted that he did this while employed by NBC and because golf was not yet an Olympic sport, it did not pose a conflict of interest and he was able to see it through. He called it his “side hustle.”

    Leggett (Left) at New York premiere of ‘Mike Wallace is Here’

    His practicality and go-getter attitude spills into his philosophy around “luck,” which he believes is presented as an opportunity, but you have to say yes. “I learned early in my career not to be scared that I don’t know what I’m doing. So luck happens when you say yes.”

    Talking to him about his producing philosophy led to an interesting discussion around titles versus ego versus the very real job of the producer, Leggett shared: “The Producer’s role I feel is so vast,” he explained. “You are an essential person to have birthed this project into the world.”

    With this, he shared how he transitioned from documentary to narrative filmmaking, something many find difficult, but his message was all about the work and he stressed the importance of business relationships built on trust and the ability to speak the same “language.” He eventually created Delirio Films based on relationships and the desire to help filmmakers evolve.

    Alma Har’el (Left) with Christopher Leggett at the Tribeca Film Festival

    Because Leggett is already pushing the boundaries of budgets on his documentaries, transitioning to traditional scripted narrative filmmaking came naturally. He chose to produce Honey Boy based on a past relationship with Alma Har’el and, again, he stressed the importance of trust and their mutual belief that they were “soldiers of cinema” who get things done.

    When asked how he chooses the artists on his team and how he defines which relationships are important to develop, he had this to say:

    “I do think that a lot of the directors that I respond to have strong opinions, are collaborative but have strong opinions! I’m not going to push them over. They have their take and I can try to poke holes through their take, and they will come up with solutions, not put up walls.”

    Leggett also shared additional advice to grow and develop your skills and become a talented professional:

    “I said yes to a lot of things and then I googled later what I said yes to….you learn so much by just being in it. You may not want to be an editor but learn it. You [as a student] have a great curriculum that leads up to a thesis film. Embrace that and try to learn every sphere when you’re doing the thesis film. You’re going to have so many more tangible skills.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Christopher Leggett for sharing his time and expertise with NYFA students and guests on developing tangible skills and saying “yes” to projects and opportunities to be a great filmmaker and producer.

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    August 26, 2020 • Documentary Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 533

  • NYFA South Beach Instructor Peter Baloff Holds Virtual Q&A with Emmy Award-Winning Producer and Director Michael Pressman

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    We’re collaborative artists. Our creative process involves working face to face and hand to hand, finding common objectives and making it all happen. As an instructor at NYFA South Beach during this pandemic, I miss the personal connection with my students and I know my students miss the social and professional interactions with their fellow students. We all miss being there.

    Peter Baloff (Left) holds virtual Q&A with Michael Pressman (Right)

    I keep looking for silver linings in this time of pandemic. I’m upgrading my landscaping, enjoying my wife’s new-found love of baking, reading more and catching up on some pretty good movies and TV shows. But it’s been hard finding silver linings teaching my students on Zoom. But this week, at long last, a silver lining appeared on Zoom, which I’d like to share with you here.

    For the past few years I’ve wanted to invite guest artists to our South Beach campus – accomplished actors, directors, producers, casting directors, cinematographers, so many other journeymen filmmakers with whom I’ve worked over the course of thirty years writing, producing and directing in Los Angeles. 

    As it turns out, Zoom opened the door for my first guest artist invitation. For those who attended, there’s no doubt a good time was had by all – by not only our South Beach students, but all students across NYFA’s campuses. 

    Michael Pressman (Right) on set with Richard Pryor for ‘Some Kind of Hero’

    Michael Pressman directed his first feature film when he was only 26 and went on to direct quite a few big studio hits, including Dr. Detroit and Some Kind of Hero, starring Richard Pryor. He ventured into television, directing TV movies and dozens of episodes of quality TV shows, such as Law and Order, Grey’s Anatomy, The Guardian and Sneaky Pete. As an Executive Producer, Michael became an experienced “Show Runner,” winning two Emmys for the acclaimed series, Picket Fences. His IMDB speaks for itself. 

    A natural story-teller, Michael regaled us with tales of working with famous actors, dealing with the studio system, casting, getting the most out of collaborating artists and coping with the ever-changing filmmaking technology. He advised our students on breaking into the business and offered strategies for success. 

    I’m convinced the intimate Zoom platform, allowing Michael and I to talk to each other like old friends, was an ideal and more comfortable format for Michael – far better, I believe than a staged event before a live audience. I’m told by those who watched it, the Zoom meeting with Michael Pressman resembled a late night talk show, as entertaining as it was informative. 

    Let’s all keep looking for those silver linings, knowing we’ll get together in person very soon.

    For more information on our NYFA South Beach programs, please contact  southbeach@nyfa.edu or check out our website here.

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    July 10, 2020 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing, South Beach • Views: 615

  • HBO Announces NYFA Instructor Lanre Olabisi as 2020 HBOAccess Directing Fellowship Recipient

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    At New York Film Academy (NYFA), our distinguished faculty not only have years of experience in the film industry, but they also remain active creators. NYFA is proud to announce that Screenwriting, Directing, and Acting for Directors instructor, Lanre Olabisi, was recently announced as a recipient of the 2020 HBOAccess Directing Fellowship

    Lanre Olabisi first got involved in filmmaking after a screenwriting class he took at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. “That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker,” he remembers. Since then, Olabisi decided to make films where the focus is always centered on unique and poignant messages that challenge individual and collective views on a variety of topics. Some of his feature films include August the First and Somewhere in the Middle (Both distributed by Film Movement on all major platforms in North America).

    NYFA Instructor Lanre Olabisi

    August the First played at over 35 film festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Karlovy Vary. It also won the top prize at seven festivals and was nominated for an IFP Gotham Award. “This film encapsulates my continuing commitment to move beyond stereotypes of African-American families and depict an honest portrait during a difficult time sans gangs, guns, and violence,” shares Olabisi. 

    His other feature film, Somewhere in the Middle played at over 25 festivals and was nominated for a Black Reel Award. “This film expanded my vision as I examined romantic relationships within New York City – full of people of all backgrounds: African-American, Latino, Asian, Caucasian, heterosexual, bisexual, and gay.” 

    As a recipient of the HBOAccess Directing Fellowship, a biennial program designed to foster diverse directing talent, it will mean more industry exposure for Olabisi’s upcoming projects, including his upcoming short film, A Storybook Ending, set to premiere in the summer of 2020. 

    Olabisi, who wrote, produced, and directed A Storybook Ending, also collaborated with NYFA Cinematography Chair, Pierro Basso, who served as the DP (Director of Photography) for the film. A Storybook Ending explores contemporary race relations in the United States through the lens of a dark comedy, crime thriller. “While, in many ways, it is a complete departure of my previous work, it is in line squarely with my mission as a filmmaker; to show people of color in ways that we have not seen them portrayed on film,” says Olabisi. “A Storybook Ending draws upon the stylized visual touches of neo-noir cinema while avoiding the stylized acting that often accompanies such films.”


    The short film was recently selected as a finalist for the
    2020 American Black Film Festival’s Annual HBO Short Film Competition and was inspired by the 2015 incident involving former African-American tennis champion, James Blake. “For no apparent reason and without ever announcing his presence, a plainclothes police officer violently tackled Mr. Blake to the ground as he was waiting for a car to pick him up for the U.S. Open tennis tournament,” recounts Olabisi. “This film [A Storybook Ending] is intended to challenge assumptions about race and class.”

    While Hollywood continues to grapple with the conversation surrounding diversity and representation across the industry, Olabisi has this to say: “Fund stories by people of color. Hire people of color to be in the writers rooms, to be on sets, to direct the shows, to shoot the shows. Have a diverse crew. Have people of color in positions of power that are able to green light shows. Right now 95% of the people who decide what we see on television are white. I think the answers are simple – we just need to see a willingness to change on the part of the industry.”

    When it comes to himself as a creative, Olabisi shares that there is always a truth or experience that is woven into all of his films, which comes from his own experience. “All my films have an element of myself in it in some way. It isn’t always apparent to people, but it usually is for those who know me well.”

    ‘A Storybook Ending’ (Dir. Lanre Olabisi)

    Other influences throughout Olabisi’s career include some of his favorite creatives like Stephen Soderberg, Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, Ava Duvernay, Oscar Micheaux, Alfonso Curón, and Vince Gilligan. He also notes some of his favorite films that are worth a watch, including: The Silence of the Lambs, Moonlight, City of God, Trainspotting, and Get Out. 

    As for advice to students and aspiring filmmakers, Olabisi has this to say:

    Never give up. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Too many times I see actors and filmmakers who give it a year or two and then give up on their dreams. If you decide that this is not for you and you don’t want to do it anymore – there is nothing wrong with that and nothing to be ashamed of. Find what you love to do and do it. However, if you do find that this is what you love to do – this is your calling – then you should continue to push forward no matter how long it takes you. Things will open up, but you have to be patient and make sure you are working to improve your craft every single day.”

    ‘A Storybook Ending’ (Dir. Lanre Olabisi)

    New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA instructor Lanre Olabisi on becoming a 2020 HBOAccess Directing Fellow and for his film, A Storybook Ending, being selected as a finalist in the 2020 American Black Film Festival’s Annual HBO Short Film Competition.

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    July 9, 2020 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, Producing • Views: 1376

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on Faith in Storytelling & the Importance of Mentorship and Representation

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Paula Bryant-Ellis’ story is proof that you do not have to grow up in the entertainment industry or start in showbiz at an early age to find your voice or succeed in the business. With the foundation of her faith and the skills from her career and educational experiences, Bryant-Ellis has managed to switch vocations and elevate her voice and the experiences of others along the way. 

    After graduating from Concordia University in Texas, where she majored in Accounting, Bryant-Ellis furthered her education with an MBA from UOP and an executive MBA from MIT. After years in corporate America as an executive and COO in banking and finance, Bryant-Ellis decided it was time for a change. “I was unfulfilled and really felt God pulling me in a different direction. So, my husband and I took a leap of faith and we sold our house, packed up our belongings, and moved to Los Angeles.”

    That leap of faith led Bryant-Ellis to attend NYFA’s Los Angeles campus to study producing. “I enrolled at NYFA because I needed a way to learn the industry and get up to speed quickly,” she says. “I came out of the producing program convinced that I could produce my first project, and I did!” Bryant-Ellis also learned filmmaking at NYFA’s New York City campus. “I was able to develop relationships with students from LA, New York, Russia, Nigeria and South Africa and keep in touch with them even now,” she shares. 

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Bryant-Ellis has gone on to produce TV series Hard Medicine and the short film Twelve Steps. She also recently made a small cameo appearance for an episode in season four of HBO’s Insecure, directed by her son Jay Ellis, who also stars on the show opposite NYFA filmmaking alum Issa Rae

    Bryant-Ellis’ most recent project to date has been her docuseries Behind Her Faith, which focuses on women in entertainment and their personal journey and the role of their faith in their career. The series features Essence Atkins (A Haunted House, Are We There Yet?), Niecy Nash (Claws, When They See Us), Angelica Nwandu (The Shade Room), and Aisha Hinds (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, 9-1-1).

    Mentoring and encouraging women has always been extremely important to me, especially because there were no role models for me in my field as I was working my way up through corporate America,” reveals Bryant-Ellis. “There were very few females in the upper ranks and there were absolutely no men or women of color in senior or executive level positions.”

    ‘Behind Her Faith’ created by an produced by Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Behind Her Faith is currently streaming on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku and UMC.tv (an AMC network), and Bryant-Ellis hopes to have more seasons in the future. “I want the audience to know that God loves them and that He’s waiting to have an encounter with them that’s more powerful than they could ever think or imagine.”

    With faith being a cornerstone of Bryant-Ellis’ storytelling foundation, she also shares that this time in show business is crucial for people to understand that all stories should properly represented and calls for change in the industry. “Stop believing you can tell my story better than I can. No one’s story is more important than the other but BOTH must be told.”

    Paula Bryant-Ellis behind the scenes during a film shoot

    With the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to bring a reckoning in Hollywood, Bryant-Ellis also adds “it’s not enough to say that you are aligned with a cause when you don’t provide resources to support the cause,” and this is not just an issue that appears in the entertainment industry. “It does not matter what industry you’re in; your Boards and your decision-making team must be diverse and reflective of the people that support and purchase your products.”

    Bryant-Ellis also reveals she has a couple of additional projects in the works including a docuseries and a drama, but is unable to officially share more information just yet. For now, she has this to say:

    “Believe in you. This industry requires tough skin and staying power. Find a niche that works for you and create content that keeps you true to who you are. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. No one can do you better than you, you just have to believe it and trust it. Trust your voice and your vision!”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on her docuseries, Behind Her Faith, and looks forward to what exciting and inspiring projects come next from the NYFA alum!

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    To learn more about Paula Bryant-Ellis and to keep an eye out for her upcoming projects, check out the links below:

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    July 6, 2020 • Diversity, Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 894