New York Film Academy MFA Film student Sarah Louise Wilson is riding a wave of success. Her films have played at 30 festivals worldwide. Her first short film, which premiered 3 years ago at Frameline, continues to make the rounds on the festival circuit, and is used as an educational tool in classrooms. She wrote, produced, and starred in her first feature film, Jelly, alongside Natasha Lyonne (Slums of Beverly Hills, But I’m a Cheerleader), and Ed McMahon in his last film role. Shot on 35mm, the film was sold to Sundance Independent and IFC. Her second feature length film, The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue, was bought by PBS, and will make its television premiere this weekend. Variety called it “Stylish and strange enough to mark Sarah Louise Wilson and [co-writer/producer] Neal Thibedeau as helmers to watch.”
Student & Alumni Spotlights
Imagine being in charge of a 2 million dollar feature film, written and produced by the same guy who wrote The Crow. Your only experience is from directing a student film at the New York Film Academy. That is exactly what director, Michael Staininger was going through when he was thrown in front of 150 crew members on set of The Tomb. Luckily, he had the hands-on training from NYFA to prepare him for the real world. “Diving into filmmaking from day one, being thrown into the cold water with very little previous experience, that is what prepares you for the real world; and the madness which will await when you step onto your first feature film set. The ability to make one hundred plus mini and big decisions per day, mostly based on instinct and preparation, is what will set you apart from the competition.”
Michael was born in Vienna, Austria to an upper middle class family who expected him to pursue a career in business. But, like most creative filmmakers, he gradually began seeking adventure, searching for the unexpected, rather than pushing for the obvious. Michael used his imagination to open horizons and create new worlds through the moving image. From there, and a few viewings of Braveheart, Michael’s fascination with the magic of film was born. Directing became his path in life.
So, how does a boy from Vienna end up directing a $2 million film in Los Angeles with producers George Furla and Randall Emmett?
George Furla was one of my first producer acquaintances in the first year I moved to LA. We understood each other right away and tried to put something into the pipeline. It took several efforts (4 projects didn’t happen) and a little more than a year until the first draft of the “Ligeia” script, which distributors later renamed The Tomb, went through the Emmett/Furla Films office. They started my career. The main reason I signed on to do the film was because I’m such a big fan of The Crow, which “Ligeia” screenwriter John Shirley also wrote. John Shirley really understands darkness and mysticism.
Director Marko Nabersnik attended an 8-week Film Workshop at New York Film Academy in 1996. His first film, Rooster’s Breakfast, won numerous national awards and became the biggest box office hit of the year in his native Slovenia. The film won the CBS Critics Award at the Southeast European Film Festival in Los Angeles and was also the official entry from Slovenia for the Academy Awards. He recently completed his second feature film, Shanghai Gypsy, which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Market.
“My childhood dream was to be a filmmaker,” says Marko. “I read an article about NYFA in Cinema, the German film magazine. Two months later I flew to New York. This was [before] the internet, so the best way to get real information on the NYFA was to board a plane, cross the Atlantic, and go there to learn first-hand. After my first day, I knew already that NYFA was something special.”
“Surrounded by the inspiration and atmosphere of New York City,” he continues, “You pick up direct knowledge of filmmaking from prominent professors and guests within the film industry. The study process was intense. There were students all over the world. In my class alone, I interacted with future filmmakers from Italy, Spain, Japan, Germany, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We helped each other, explored the beauty of storytelling, and shared experiences about the unpredictability of shooting on original locations.”
“When I came back to Slovenia from New York, I was determined that filmmaking would be my destiny. Whenever I found myself in the dilemma of choosing the next step for my filmmaking, I would remember a quote from Adam Stoner, our directing class professor: ‘Filmmaking is constant exploring and learning. Don’t forget the fun and passion which is hidden in that process and don’t get lost only because you have more questions than answers!’ Today I am a professional filmmaker and a professor. I teach at our national film academy, the Academy for Theater, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT) in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. I still recall the time I spent at NYFA and the endless inspiration the Academy gave me. NYFA gives you knowledge and builds your self-confidence.”
Sabine Sighicelli is the Chair of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios campus. A documentary writer, producer, director, and associate producer, she has worked in the documentary field for 12 years for National Geographic Television, AMC, Foundation for World Arts, UCLA Intercultural Center, Women Make Movies, Museum of Jewish Heritage, and Home Planet Productions. Her award-winning documentary The Passionate Life of a Father Painter aired on PBS/KCET in 2001. Her film about composer Robert Een, Be Warned! is featured in the DVD collection of the Foundation for World Arts. She recently completed principal photography on her feature documentary “Breaking in Two, sponsored by Women Make Movies.
Rocio Mesa determinedly pushes her cart packed with equipment down the New York Film Academy hallway. Dressed in her usual 50’s attire and cat eye glasses, she is heading to West Hollywood, where she will film Ondi Timoner (Sundance-winning director of Dig! and We Live in Public) and Marina Zenovich (Director of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, among many others) at the International Documentary Association Doc U event. Rocio graduated from the One Year Documentary Filmmaking program in December 2011. “My parents were afraid about my future in the US because I was doing really well in Spain. They didn’t want me to be working as a waitress just to reach the American dream,” she confesses. But waitressing doesn’t seem to be in store for Rocio in this lifetime.
I introduced her to Amy at the International Documentary Association (IDA) – one of the most prestigious documentary organizations – and soon after, Amy called me to tell me she and everyone at the IDA were so impressed with Rocio that they had decided to hire her as the producer, director, and editor of the Doc U series for the IDA’s Youtube Channel and archives. These events bring together some of the most highly sought-out people in the non-fiction industry. She also manages the department in charge of taping all IDA-related events. This is no surprise to me or to Rocio’s instructors, since she’s always taken the bull by the horns, and accomplished more in a year than most students are able to do in two!
Rocio grew up in the Spanish town of Granada in Andalusia. She received a BA in Communication from the University of Seville in 2005, then went on to test her skills on several documentaries, commercials, and TV shows before landing a job on one of the most acclaimed TV shows in Andalusia, about traditional Spanish folk music. Her career was off to a good start, yet her real dream was documentary storytelling.
She came to the New York Film Academy thanks to the Talentia Grant – a grant given exclusively to promising professionals by the Government of Andalusia. It was immediately clear in the One Year program, that Rocio was a high-performing student. From her character film, Almon Loos, the Rocking Barber, to her social issue documentary, Traffic in LA Sucks! (selected for the Burbank International Film Festival) to her One Year Final Documentary, Orensanz, the portrait of an illustrious Spanish artist who lives in a synagogue, Rocio has stamped every film with her unique vision.,Right after graduation, she was off and running: an internship at Interloper Films, Ondi Timoner’s production company; a job at the IDA; freelance editing gigs with various clients; directing gigs for Meltdown Comics and the web series Authentic Los Angeles… If the project stirs her interest, she will take it on.
Last but not least, she’s currently our new favorite editor in the post production department, where, among other things, she has completed the editing of the documentary student reel, and a behind-the-scenes of the Young Storytellers Foundation’s collaboration with the New York Film Academy teen programs. Rocio will be with us until she returns to her native Spain. We cherish every moment we still have with her!
To learn more about the Documentary Filmmaking program, click here.
David Egozi was a college student visiting New York from his hometown of Miami, Florida. One weekend, he saw a magazine advertisement about a certain film school. As the son of a news broadcaster, David grew up surrounded by cameras and lighting. A chip off the block, as they say, since he visited the school and quickly transferred to the New York Film Academy. David’s transition from liberal arts to the technical training provided at NYFA seems to be a seamless one. The most important lesson he has learned here, however, is something beyond skill. “[Department Chair] Claude really pushes us. It’s persistence that matters. It’s commitment. Always giving 110% percent.”
A remarkably thoughtful young man, David admitted to having difficulty structuring his thoughts. “My head’s always been cluttered. Filmmaking allows me to organize my ideas and my feelings and turn them into something tangible.” He pursued filmmaking after working on creating videos for bars and clubs who were trying to promote their parties. After beginning his studies, however, he understood that the making of art had more to do than marketing it to an audience. Studying narrative helped him to appreciate the internal process of thought and emotion.
Speaking to Nicola Raggi also reveals a filmmaking student who recounts a growing experience. Originally from Sienna University in Italy, Nicola felt his education wasn’t teaching him anything. After winning a Bernardo Bertolucci scholarship for the Cinematography program, he decided to take the plunge into New York City. “I learned more in one year [at NYFA] than I did in five years at Sienna,” he said. Learning both digital and film, Nicola feels his skillset is finally complete. Because of the hands-on nature of our curriculum, Nicola quickly realized “the harsh reality of filmmaking”. The hours of long and brutal. Tensions can run high. As he said, “You learn how to behave on set. Working with the cast and crew can be difficult without sleep or much food.”
Nicola and David both learned to solve specific types of problems. They learned to adapt and improvise in response to unexpected situations. The ability to think creatively is highly desirable in today’s rapidly changing world. However, can we safely say that many of America’s classrooms focus on helping students develop as creative thinkers? Arts education teaches young people today to create and control. There is a fundamental difference between being consumers of the mainstream media and being producers able to share their creations in order to influence minds and shape how a society behaves. If the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement is any indication, today’s students are growing up in a socially connected world which is very different from previous generations. Modern times have increasingly deemed the exchange of information as pivotal to everyday life, however, educators now are recognizing that information is only useful when it is transformed into knowledge.
What David learned from the technical knowledge and creative execution was the ability to develop his own ideas, test them, discover boundaries, experiment, receive input, and generate newer ideas based on the feedback he received. Students like Nicola learned to work under stress, collaboratively and creatively, for long periods of time. This is socio-emotional learning. There is evidence that social and emotional capacities are just as brain-based as mathematical and linguistic competencies. Education should have both pedagogic and systemic dimensions. It is statistically proven that the skill-set which socio-emotional education such as the arts can lead to higher standardized test scores. Schools should promote socio-emotional competencies because it is a holistic approach to comprehensively educating our young people. It provides the skill-set necessary to creatively address today’s problems. If anything, a creative curriculum empowers students to believe they’re equipped to do anything they truly believe in.
After graduation, Nicola continued work as a cinematographer with his production company The Loading Lab. He is the Director of Photography for the commercial being produced by CenterLight Health System, which currently ranks among the nation’s leading resources for long term residential and community-based healthcare. This commercial, which is also directed by NYFA alumnus Dmytro Maliuga, will air in four different languages on local television stations. David is currently finishing up his studies and expressed confidence in his newfound ability. “My dad hired a film crew for his business recently. For casting, directing, editing… I was like, ‘Why?’ I can do it. All of it. I learned everything.”
To learn more about our filmmaking programs, click here.
Fito Pardo graduated from New York Film Academy in the late 90’s. Since then, he has gone on to direct short films and music videos, has worked as cinematographer on over 30 projects, and has found success as a photographer for publications worldwide, including Marie Claire, Vogue Japan, and National Geographic.
Though he had loved films since his youth, Fito got little support when he expressed an interest in learning filmmaking. At his father’s insistence, he postponed his dreams of studying filmmaking. “I studied Administration for probably 6 months in one of the best universities in Mexico, and after the first 2 months I just knew it wasn’t for me,” he says. Eventually Fito started writing to film schools for information. After winning a partial scholarship to New York Film Academy, Fito was on his way to Manhattan. “I studied in NYFA between 1995 and 1997,” he says.
“My experience was amazing. I had no idea how to use a film camera, so the workshops helped me understand what I was getting myself into…. At NYFA I learned how to write a script, how to be a cinematographer, how to be a producer, and how to understand all aspects of film. After NYFA, I worked with some Mexican production companies, opened my own production company called La Alcachofa Films, and started directing some interesting videos in Mexico. I directed some music videos… and did a couple of commercials for BBDO, Lowe & Partners, and some other agencies.”
Fito shot his first feature film, El Fuego Inolvidable, last year. The controversial project explores the complicated state of politics in Mexico. The film has played at festivals and college campuses, with great responses from audiences. They are currently working on a distribution deal.
“I am still in pursuit of more goals,” says Fito. “When I was working for National Geographic, I knew I accomplished one of my goals, but knew that it wasn’t it. My first feature film got the award of Best Mexican Film at the 2011 Oaxaca Film Festival, but I want more. Since I was kid, I always wanted to move people…. I have a condition. I am a stutterer, and I have been watching the world with different eyes…. All my life I have been limited in expressing my mind. Sometimes people don’t get it and just can’t wait for me to talk, so they go away. I think I show the way I see the world through my eyes, without my mouth. I believe this is what moves me: To show the world what my mind sees.”
To learn more about our filmmaking program, click here.
Luigi Benvisto was born in Varese, Italy with dreams of filmmaking and New York City. After discovering his passion while shooting short films on his digital camera, Luigi moved to Rome to try his luck in the Italian film industry. “For two years I lived in a garage with a bed and a bathroom, but kept shooting projects. One day I shot some casting videos for actors in a different way than usual; instead of recording just the actor saying the lines, I created a short movie where I was introducing the character and the actor was saying his lines. The actor wasn’t selected, but the producer called me saying that what I did was amazing and he gave me the possibility to direct and shoot the backstage of the feature movie they were shooting. I worked on set with actors like Valeria Golino, Alessandro Haber, Andy Garcia, and director Mario Monicelli. It was a very exciting experience. From there, I moved to Cinecittà where I discovered the New York Film Academy.”Luigi attended the 8 week film workshop summer program in Rome. After completing the course, Luigi was awarded a scholarship from famous director, Bernardo Bertolucci, to continue his NYFA education with a one year film-making program in New York City. “Not only does NYFA teach you how to become an expert in your field, it also shows you how to build relationships, friendships and industry collaborations. The program is intense, but I like it that way. It teaches you to work under stress and control the situation even when everything is going wrong – which is basically what happens on set in the real world.”Currently, Luigi balances his schedule between teaching at NYFA and working on set. Luigi just finished a feature thriller, which is being shopped around to distributors. He wanted to share the exciting cast with us, but was told to wait until the film acquires distribution. He recently started his own production company, Jack Boar Pictures, which produced a documentary called The Paper House: Report. His next projects include a production in association with Lima Charlie Productions and a feature about the life of actor Mickey Rooney, that he will shoot in Minnesota at the end of the year.
New York Film Academy MFA Film graduate Nick DeRuve is in pre-production on his first feature film, Electric City. As Nick describes it, “[It] is a gritty drama about a thirteen-year-old who attempts to keep his family intact when they receive an eviction notice. I spent my pre-teen years chasing my older brother and his friends around the city of Schenectady. They were teenagers, and I was trying my hardest to fit in with their crew. I experienced a lot of things kids that age don’t, such as violence, crime, and witnessing a lot of drug use.”
“I would say around the age of thirteen is when I started having initial thoughts about making a film about two brothers stuck in an urban setting,” he explained. “When I was thirteen my family moved, not far from Schenectady, but to the suburbs, and that’s when I realized what I had experienced was different. Over the years I knew who the film would be about, but I still didn’t know what the film would be about, so I could never get the idea out on paper.”
Nick was no novice when he began at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. “I had been a working gaffer in NYC for four years after completing my undergrad,” says Nick. “My passion was to direct, so I spent that time on set studying everything that was happening. I decided to go back for my MFA to continue after my goal of being an indie filmmaker, and experience filmmaking in LA. No matter what my experience was prior I wanted to absorb everything my teachers had to offer. I developed good relationships with my teachers, who have great knowledge and experience.”
After graduation, Nick developed the feature length script for Electric City, and reached out to his former advisor, NYFA instructor Brendan Davis, for feedback. Brendan raved about the script, saying, “He nailed the tone, the arcs, and the characters, and kept it real while keeping hope. He’s done a really exceptional job on it and has the chance to make an exceptional film. To me this is a… studio quality drama with award-worthy writing. The roles in this piece are something that serious actors would fight to play. But the material speaks for itself.”
Though they have secured some funding for the film, they have also started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Twenty-percent of the proceeds will go to support Small Can Be Big, an organization that supports victims of domestic abuse and families in need. “It’s a social issue that we have to stare in the face everyday,” says Nick. “Why not try to help people as much as we can, whenever we can, because at the end of the day, that’s the goal. Make a difference, make a change, even if it’s for just one kid who needs a reminder that even when times are hard, we can never give up on ourselves and our goals.”
When asked about future plans, Nick said, “Right now my main focus is getting Electric City in the can, and screening at festivals by 2013. I’m not really thinking about any other projects. I have a wallet full of receipts, ticket stubs, and business cards that I use to jot notes down on. When the time comes to start developing a new story, I’ll have that as my resource. For now, all I got is this script, and a pocket full of dreams.”
Jean-Baptiste Gueniffey is a Parisian storyteller who made his way to New York City in search of the truth. We asked, “What truth?” He simply replied, “The truth.” By the end of the interview, this aspiring screenwriter impressed us with his calm and collected demeanor and his matter-of-fact approach to life. Inspired by his childhood love of films and literature, Jean decided to take the plunge into screenwriting because he felt it was the most viable platform to impact the most minds of any audience. “What artist doesn’t want to challenge people and push their boundaries?”Studying as a film editor in France, he reached out to French screenwriters working in America and they had suggested an education where one “writes and learns to correct what they write.” A personal friend also recommended the New York Film Academy after completing an eight-week intensive program. In search of a flexible program calendar where he could enroll in January, Jean felt our school was the perfect fit. He felt the screenwriting program helps one understand the structure of the story and how elements of motive and conflict are represented on the screen. He sees NYFA as the final step in entering the industry. Currently, Jean is developing a screenplay about an “unusual love” in New Orleans soon after the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Storytelling is, as Jean describes it, about “struggle” and the reality of conflict. “There’s no easy way out. Truth is, we live in an obscenely violent world.”Jean points to the works of Frank Capra. “His films forces you to ask yourself, ‘What makes an individual matter in this world?’ That’s what inspires my work. I’m in search of what’s real. Genuine. Tangible.” When asked of his plans after NYFA, Jean admits he doesn’t think of the future too much. As he says, “Good things have to mature.” Live in the present moment. Take the plunge. Don’t fuss. Spoken like a true Zen master.
- Click Here to learn more about the Screenwriting program.