New York Film Academy (NYFA) AFA Acting for Film alum Hayden Szeto recently appeared in a supporting role in the Netflix original film Tigertail. The NYFA alum, also known for his roles in coming of age drama The Edge of Seventeen, Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, and NBC’s hit comedy television series The Good Place, plays the supporting role of Eric in the Netflix film.
Film poster for Netflix’s ‘Tigertail’
The film is an authentic drama loosely based on the experiences of director, writer, and producer of the film, Alan Yang. Yang, well known as a writer and director for hit shows like Parks and Recreation and Master of None, wrote Tigertail as a personal tribute to his upbringing by his immigrant parents.
The story follows the boyhood, young adult, and adult stages of Pin-Jui, who comes from a poor upbringing in Huwei (“tiger tail”), Taiwan. When Pin-Jui, who longs to go to America to provide a better life for his mother, is offered an opportunity to start a new life there, he takes it; even if it means marrying his boss’ daughter in a loveless marriage. The story then follows Pin-Jui and Zhenzhen’s [his now wife] in their new life in America. They raise their daughter Angela in their new home and, eventually, the film’s story flashes forward to Angela’s adulthood as she navigates her relationship with her estranged father and her boyfriend Eric, played by Szeto.
Szeto on set filming ‘Tigertail’ for Netflix
Tigertail loosely follows Yang’s own father’s life when he immigrated from Taiwan to New York in order to chase the “American Dream.” The film was released by Netflix on April 10, 2020, and has since received positive responses from many critics, who note the heartfelt and emotional subject matter of the film and its characters.
New York Film Academy congratulates Hayden Szeto on his role in the Netflix drama and encourages everyone to check out Tigertail, now streaming on Netflix!
Netflix has become an essential service now more than ever while most of the world stays indoors, and seemingly everyone watching Netflix is watching its latest original docuseries, Tiger King, co-edited by New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Álvarez Gales.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is a true crime docuseries that explores a convicted criminal and flamboyant zoo owner and the larger world of big cat owners and enthusiasts that he inhabits. Over the course of seven episodes, co-directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin tell the story of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka “Joe Exotic,” who plotted the murder of Carole Baskin of Florida’s Big Cat Rescue.
The show has resonated with television viewers stuck at home due to self-isolation and quarantine, and in just its first three days of release Tiger King became one of the top 10 shows watched on the popular streaming service.
Documentaries typically involve a great deal more editing than narrative productions when factoring in all the raw footage that needs to be culled into a cohesive story. New York Film Academy Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Álvarez Gales was a perfect choice by the production to serve as co-editor. The talented young editor and director has worked on productions including Black Market with Michael K. Williams, King of the Road, Weediquette, and last year’s buzzworthy documentary FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.
Gales, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, first received his training at the NYFA Documentary Filmmaking school at our New York Campus in 2013. “Almost everything I do today I learned in NYFA,” Gales told us in an interview last year. “I had never touched any editing software until I went there. It was through NYFA I got my first job in New York too (Vice and Viceland) where I stayed for three years and went from being an assistant editor to junior editor.”
NYFA Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Álvarez Gales
He adds, “The Documentary program can be a really intense one with long hours and days, but if you apply yourself and choose to absorb everything that’s coming your way you’ll leave that building a documentary filmmaker.”
New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Álvarez Gales on the success of Tiger King and encourages everyone at home to check out the docuseries on Netflix!
In the interest of promoting social issues and international diversity, Netflix has curated a series of six films from Saudi Arabia, including two shorts by New York Film Academy (NYFA) alumni, Mohamed al Salman and Meshal Al Jaser. The series of six Saudi films is entitled Six Windows in the Desert and was made available last month in 190 countries.
The release is part of an extended effort by Saudi Arabia to expand its cinema culture. Last year, a feature film by NYFA alumnimade history by becoming the first Saudi film to screen in a professional theater in Jeddah since the nation lifted its 35-year-long ban on cinemas in 2018. With Six Windows, Netflix aims to “shine a light on thought-provoking subjects with a focus on social themes.”
One of the films in Six Windows in the Desert is the 2019 short 27th of Shaban, written and directed by Mohamed al Salman. The film follows two characters–Mohammed and Nouf–who go on a date, an act prohibited in Saudi Arabia. “It’s a simple love story in a very unique and complex culture,” says al Salman of his film. al Salman first attended NYFA’s 1-Year Filmmaking conservatory last fall.
“Cinema is just starting in Saudi Arabia,” he adds, “and I thought we have too many stories in the 2000s that were never told, which I remember vividly. I thought it’s interesting to tell and watch ourselves in the past, especially in a time where the Saudi society is changing considerably.”
Is Sumiyati Going to Hell? is another of the six films in the series, directed and co-written by BFA Screenwriting alum Meshal Al Jaser. The film tells the story of a maid named Sumiyati through the perspective of a family’s youngest child; Sumiyati previously won Best of the Month at the 2017 Gold Movie Awards. Al Jaser, who studied at NYFA’s Burbank-based campus, was recently nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the Sundance Film Festival for his film Arabian Alien.
Six WIndows isn’t just a major spotlight for Saudi films, but for short films as well. Arab News quoted NYFA MFA Filmmaking alum Abdulelah Al-Qurashi, who described the new series as a great opportunity for short films, “because we usually don’t see them. Short films are usually displayed at festivals.”
New York Film Academy Filmmaking alum Sultan Al-Salami, who worked on Is Sumiyati Going to Hell?, is thrilled to see Netflix recognize Saudi cinema. “Saudi has a massive amount of talent,” he tells NYFA, before rattling off a list of Saudi directors, producers, and writers, including Sara Alnawasra, Mississippi Ibrahim,Bader Alhomoud, Mahmoud Sabbagh, Haifaa al-Mansour, Malik Nejer, Ali Kalthami, Abdulaziz Alshlahei, Khaled Fahad, Hana Alomair, Dina Naji, Nawaf Alshubaili, and, of course, Sumiyati writer and director Meshal Al Jaser.
New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA alumni Mohamed al Salman and Meshal Al Jaser on their success and encourages everyone to check out their films as part of Six Windows in the Desert, currently available on Netflix.
On Tuesday, February 18, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to host Nicole Avant, former US ambassador and producer of the award-winning Netflix documentary The Black Godfather. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.
Tova Laiter & Nicole Avant
Nicole Avant produced The Black Godfather after collecting stories about her father, Clarence Avant, who has held significant influence on dozens of the world’s most high profile entertainers, athletes, and politicians. The film charts the exceptional and unlikely rise of Clarence, who became a powerhouse negotiator amid extreme racism in America, a music executive whose trailblazing behind-the-scenes accomplishments impacted the legacies of icons such as Bill Withers, Quincy Jones, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
Nicole Avant was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to be the 13th Ambassador to The Bahamas. On September 9, 2009, she was sworn in by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, becoming the youngest as well as the first African American woman to hold the position. Avant’s successes in The Bahamas earned her a nomination for the Sue M. Cobb Award for Exemplary Diplomatic Service.
Following a screening of The Black Godfather, Laiter opened up the Q&A by asking Avant how she started in the business. Avant shared, “My parents made me do every kind of job all my life and one time my father said he had gotten me an internship at Warner Bros. television. He told me I should learn all the different types of business because all of entertainment is one business, so it is important to learn the different facets.” She continued, “So I went and did the internship and I have to say, I loved it and I learned everything. I went to work for all the different departments and met so many people that helped me understand the business.”
Producer Nicole Avant
Laiter then asked Avant how the documentary came to fruition. Avant revealed, “This documentary happened because I was trying to figure out a way to tell my dad’s story. I said something to my husband [Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos] one day about how I wished there was a way to tie in sports and movies and television and activism and civil rights and all these elements into a character and film. He then pointed out that the character I had just described was, in fact, my father.”
Speaking about her director and collaborator Reggie Hudlin, Avant expressed, “I knew Reggie for a very long time and we would talk about African American history and get frustrated that no one really understood our history and no one had seen documentaries on us or knew enough. It was always simplified to ‘all Black people in America live this way, eat this food, and do these specific things’ and it would drive Reggie and me nuts. Therefore, I figured he would be a great person to direct this documentary.”
The Q&A was then opened up to students. One student asked Avant, “What do you think are the most important changes for the African American community in the entertainment industry since the beginning of your father’s career.”
Avant imparted, “The biggest changes and the most important changes were putting people in a position of power where they could therefore make decisions and control their destiny and in turn, open the door for other people to come in.” She added, “When I was younger, Billboard used to have the Top 100 charts and the Black charts. They used to separate them all. It was really important for my dad to say ‘Why can’t Black people and women be in charge of certain departments that are run by only one type of person? It should be everybody.’ So I think the most important thing is that you started to see more people of color, in general, really having high-level positions that they otherwise would have never had.”
Laiter concluded the Q&A by thanking Avant for coming amidst a very busy Oscar season. Avant remarked, “I was really looking forward to this night more than anything else, because humans have to tell stories to each other and connect with each other and I think these events are very important.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank producer and former US Ambassador Nicole Avant for joining sharing her time and expertise with our students!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film alum Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is co-starring as one of the titular 6 Underground in a highly-anticipated new Netflix original film by Michael Bay.
Photo Credit: Chris Violette
6 Underground is the latest blockbuster movie to feature NYFA Acting for Film alum Garcia-Rulfo, who attended NYFA’s 4-Week Filmmaking workshop as well as the 1-Year Acting for Film conservatory at our Burbank-based campus. Since graduating in 2004, the Mexican-born actor has starred in hit films including, Cake,Murder on the Orient Express, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and Widows, as well as the television series From Dusk til Dawn and Goliath.
Garcia-Rulfo also appeared alongside an A-list cast in The Magnificent Seven remake directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Peter Sarsgaard. In 2017, Garcia-Rulfo spoke with students in a Q&A at our Los Angeles campus following a screening of the film. Next year, he will be co-starring with Tom Hanks in Greyhound, an upcoming World War II submarine thriller written by Hanks.
His latest project, 6 Underground, is the first film by action auteur Michael Bay since the third sequel to his Transformers franchise, The Last Knight. Ryan Reynolds leads the cast of the the R-rated comedic action-thriller about six vigilantes who’ve faked their deaths and go by numbers instead of names (One through Six, naturally.) Garcia-Rulfo co-stars as Three, while Reynolds plays One. They are joined by Mélanie Laurent, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, and Ben Hardy as Two, Four, Five, and Six, respectively. The movie also co-stars Dave Franco and Peter Stormare.
6 Underground is the second-most expensive original film ever produced by Netflix, and is set to premiere Friday, December 13. In a video promoting the film, star Ryan Reynolds promises nonstop action and special effects, telling viewers, “Don’t miss the most Michael Bay movie that Michael Bay has ever Michael Bayed.”
New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film alum Manuel Garcia-Rulfo on his latest high-profile role, and is excited to see his star continue to rise in Hollywood!
On Tuesday, August 6, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a special Q&A with esteemed producer Matt Kaplan for our high school campers, following a screening of the Netflix all-time most-viewed original film, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, curated and moderated the event.
Matt Kaplan is the founder and CEO of Ace Entertainment, focused on making feature films, television series, and digital content for youth audiences. Kaplan has produced incredibly buzzy YA films including the runaway success recent rom-com hit The Perfect Date, Spontaneous, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, starring NYFA alum Lana Condor. He is also behind the upcoming Are You Afraid of the Dark TV reboot based on the 1990s Nickelodeon television series. Kaplan’s past credits include features such as Before I Fall, The Lazarus Effect, and Viral. He is currently working on and next year’s sequel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before 2.
Laiter started by asking Kaplan how he started in the industry. Kaplan talked about how he started making short form content after graduating film school. “YouTube was just getting popular, and so I started making short videos with my friends,” he told the audience. From there, he started as an assistant at Lionsgate, a job his YouTube videos earned him, and worked his way up to an executive position in charge of YA content. During his time at Lionsgate, he was a part of the team that made The Hunger Games. “But I knew as a younger executive,” said Kaplan, “that I wanted to be the one making the final decisions.”
One student asked about where to start when producing a movie. Kaplan replied, “First, try to figure out what kind of movies you’re passionate about telling … typically we will option a book or buy an article or whatever it is, and then hire a writer—or sometimes you’ll ask a friend to write the script on spec. And then once we have the script, that’s kind of the jumping off point. Once you have a good script, amazing things can happen.”
Another student asked how Kaplan had figured out that he wanted to be a producer. “I like putting things together. I just looked at what I was good at. When I was your age, I took writing classes, and directing classes … but I knew I was good at assessing material, and I knew I had an instinct for what I could sell, and market. And so I spent a lot of my time making relationships with great writers and great directors.”
One student asked about how to make connections in the film industry. Kaplan said, “Someone gave me this advice: it’s follow-up … As long as you are passionate about seeking that out, people in this business want to help. Start off by trying to get experience under mentors, don’t just watch—try to make friends with these people, and be helpful. And I think once you start to do that, good things can happen.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before producer Matt Kaplan for sharing his producing insights with our high school campers.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film alum Joshua Morel will appear in Spenser Confidential, an upcoming film by director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day).
Spenser Confidential is based on the novel Wonderland of the same name from the detective series, Spenser,created by Robert B. Parker. The film is being distributed by Netflix and will be released on March 6, 2020, as well as in select theaters.
Mark Wahlberg stars as the title detective, and the film boasts an impressive cast, including Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Bokeem Woodbine, Colleen Camp, Iliza Shlesinger, Marc Maron, and Post Malone.
Morel completed the 1-Year Acting for Film Conservatory at NYFA’s New York campus in 2013. Spenser Confidential is his first supporting role, and is a speaking role; he will be featured in four scenes, completing some very impressive stunts. On top of that, Morel is now eligible to join SAG-AFTRA.
New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film alum Joshua Morel on his role in Netflix’s Spenser Confidential and encourages everyone to check it out when it is released in March 2020!
Award-winning actress and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Instructor Ayelet Zurer is currently starring in Netflix’s newest binge-worthy hit. Shtisel is a innovative Israeli drama that focuses on a family of ultra-Orthodox Jews in a Haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem. The actress stars as Elisheva, a widowed mother who captures the heart of Akiva, a shy young man struggling with his father’s matchmaking efforts.
Zurer is a familiar face in films and television in both America and Israel. She has starred opposite Tom Hanks in Angels & Demons, Russell Crowe in Man of Steel, Ewan McGregor in Last Days in the Desert, and Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe in Adam Resurrected. Zurer also starred on multiple seasons of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix and In Therapy (adapted as HBO’s In Treatment). She received the Israeli Academy of Film (OFIR) Best Actress Award for Nina’s Tragedies, and is a two-time winner of the Israeli Academy of Television’s Best Actress Award.
The Hebrew-language Shtisel is making headlines for its honest and touching portrayal of a traditionally insular community. The New Yorker calls the show “generous, lighthearted, and nostalgic,” and says the show’s success is “the result of several powerfully understated performances, most notably by Ayelet Zurer in the role of Elisheva.” The New York Times was similarly complimentary, calling the show “groundbreaking.”
Though the show was originally screened in 2013-14, the show’s success on Netflix has been so impressive that its original creators are currently considering creating a third season. In addition, an American version of the show has already been sold Amazon by Marta Kauffman, one of the creators of classic 1990s sitcom Friends. The show, to be set in Brooklyn, will be titled Emmis.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Ayelet Zurer on her continued success and looks forward to seeing her future projects!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Fatima Al Taei stars in Justice, the procedural drama set in Abu Dhabi that is now available on Netflix. The 18-part legal series originally premiered on OSN HD in 2017 and is now available for streaming with subtitles in 20 different languages.
Al Taei first attended NYFA in 2009 in Abu Dhabi. Since then, she has gained steady work as an actress, including a lead role in When the Autumn Blooms, Saudi Arabia’s first longform drama series.
Justice (Qalb Al Adala) was created by Oscar nominee Walter Parkes (He Named Me Malala) and Emmy award-winning producer William Finkelstein (LA Law) and was filmed and produced in Abu Dhabi by Image Nation and Beelink Productions. The story follows a passionate lawyer, Farah, who rebels against her father’s firm and sets out on her own to become a defense attorney.
The series uses actual cases from the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department as a basis for their stories, and was directed by Ahmed Khalid. In a recent Harper’s Bazaar Arabia piece, Al Taei’s character was called a “strong, ambitious” lead”—an important milestone for female representation on television in the Middle East.
New York Film Academy spoke with alum Fatima Al Taei about her experiences at NYFA and filming her culturally important lead role in Justice:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Justice?
Fatima Al Taei: When I was learning at NYFA, they made sure not to tie me into a specific technique—they taught us different ways to get into the character and it helped me in different situations during the shoot, being flexible and open yet focused and specific.
Also, they taught me how to deal with other actors and directors. NYFA was a lab for me, with great helpful tutors!
NYFA: Can you speak a little about your experience playing a strong, ambitious Emirati woman? Do you see yourself as a role model for other Emirati women?
Fatima Al Taei: It was a unique experience. We had the opportunity to shoot inside actual courtrooms, because all the cases are based on true events.
Playing a strong Emirati woman is the same to me as playing any “strong woman,” an inspiration for all women to follow what they believe in no matter what kind of pressure they may be under. So it’s not only for Emirati women, but for all women.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
Fatima Al Taei: NYFA will teach you so many things. You will be surrounded by people who have the same passion, which is good networking as a start.
But NYFA will not do the job you have to do—you have to secure your dream and make it happen. If it takes months or years, studying at NYFA won’t be a waste unless you give up. Many students disappeared after graduation because they didn’t have enough patience and didn’t want to get out of their comfort zone.
The industry is not much in interested in your specific acting techniques (these are your tools.) If the industry is interested in “You” they will work with you—your attitude and passion is important, so MAKE THEM WANT TO WORK WITH YOU.
The New York Film Academy congratulates actress and alum Fatima Al Taei on her success and encourages everyone to check out her legal drama Justice on Netflix!
A special screening of Netflix’s hit series, Medal of Honor, was held at the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Theater in New York City last week, hosted by NYFA’S Division of Veteran Services (DVS).
Commissioner Loree Sutton MD (Brigadier General Ret.) of New York City’s Department of Veteran Services and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Jack Jacobs (Ret.) participated in an unfeigned discussion with attendees after the screening of Episode 8, which featured the heroic story of Staff Sergeant Ty Cater, who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2013 for his heroic actions in Afghanistan.
Reflecting on the Medal of Honor experience from a personal perspective, Colonel Jack Jacobs, who has been the Chair of New York Film Academy’s Veteran Advancement Program since 2014, and is also an on-air Military Analyst at MSNBC/NBC news, answered questions from the audience along side the Commissioner Sutton.
NYFA Acting for Film alum Tyler Williams, who portrays Ty Carter in the episode, not only conveyed the authentic challenges service members face in their transition back from combat, but will be screening the episode with veteran students at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus on February 11.
“A successful transition home is important not only to veterans, but the families and communities they return to,” asserted Commissioner Sutton, an Army psychiatrist and a fierce advocate in New York City for services that protect and empower returning service members.
Attendees engaged openly with the Commissioner Sutton and Colonel Jacobs in a series of questions that ranged from the philosophical (“Do you think that Plato was right when he stated that only the dead have seen the end of war?”) to the pragmatic (“How do vets leverage the skills they learned in the military if they want to work in film and television?”)
Both speakers believe the arts offered great opportunities for healing. Army veteran Justin Ford, a NYFA Filmmaking & Producing conservatory grad, enthusiastically stated, “It was a really great opportunity to hear Commissioner Sutton’s and Colonel Jacobs’ thoughts about the Medal of Honor, war, and returning home from the defining moment of many young veteran’s life—combat.”
The Netflix screening and special quest speakers made for a very moving and emotional evening, which was made all the more special by a touching and warm exchange of military challenge coins that passed reciprocally between Colonel Jacobs and Commissioner Sutton at the event’s conclusion.
New York Film Academy students can attend another screening of Medal of Honor at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus on February 11, with special guest Tyler Williams — you can RSVP for the event here.