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  • It’s Happy Hunting for New York Film Academy BFA Student Connor Williams

    Connor Williams has truly hit the ground running in Los Angeles, not only booking a lot of professional work as an actor but also keeping up with his studies in the intensive New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA program in Acting for Film. It’s a schedule that would certainly prove challenging for anyone, yet Williams shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

    With his strong supporting role in feature horror flick Happy Hunting newly released on Netflix — along with his supporting role in indie feature The UnMiracle — Williams found some time to tell the NYFA Blog some of the secrets behind the hard work, dedication, and talent that go into the blistering pace of his life in acting for film.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film BFA program?

    CW: I had made a feature film heading into my senior year of high school. Relativity Film School reached out to me and offered me a full tuition scholarship, which was great, but I turned it down. I was just really unsure what I wanted to do after high school, and college was not in the plans. I then informed my parents of my plan that I was going to work full time in Utah (where my agent was located) and audition for smaller parts when movies came to town. They thought maybe I was making a mistake, so they asked me to reconsider. I called the school back about two weeks later to see if the scholarship was still good. They said it was, but in the meantime I had a buddy that was in my feature film Spoilers move to LA, and his place was right across the street from NYFA. I looked into NYFA, filled out the app, sent them my reel, and overall just had a better vibe with everyone at NYFA, so I decided to go there.

    NYFA: Why acting? What inspired you to pursue this craft?

    CW: I booked a commercial as a baby. …When I watched the videotape of the commercial years later, I told my parents I always wanted to be a actor. My dad did some networking, and two weeks later I had booked a part in a feature film. I was two-for-two for auditions! …

    When I was 10 years old, my dad realized he was waiting for people to do projects, so he paid for a two-day film camp. My brother Aidan and I learned how to shoot, light, boom, and edit. My dad would write these two-minute scripts for us, and we would do the rest. We won some awards, money, and prizes, which kept us motivated. From then on, I knew I wanted to make movies or act.

    3 semesters down. 6 more to go 😎

    A post shared by Connor Williams (@the_connor_williams) on

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments or classes from your time studying with us so far?

    CW: The very first semester our class was obviously all new, and we rented a limo bus and took it around LA. That was fun. And I really enjoyed shooting an episode from Friends [in class]. Not only is it my favorite show, but I also worked with Isabella Hoffman, who is a great director, and did this with a bunch of my NYFA friends. It was a real fun shoot.

    Regarding moments, I have really clicked with a couple of teachers that really care about my auditions and want to help and guide me. That’s been pretty cool. We will break down the sides and make choices.

    I’ve always lived with NYFA students and it’s been great meeting people from all across the U.S. and abroad. I just got done with my voice-over class and just made a VO reel, which I’m really happy with.

    One other thing about NYFA classes: before I came here I had never taken an acting class, so this has really helped me understand the process so much better.

    My favorite thing about NYFA is all the connections I’m making. My classmates will always be my friends forever. I actually call them family.

    NYFA: You’ve been working professionally while also balancing your full-time studies at NYFA Los Angeles. What does that look like for you?

    CW: … At the beginning I would get an audition and go. Now, my manager and agent have my schedule and I ask them not to schedule an audition during class time. I can’t afford to miss class for an audition. You only get so many missed days and then your grade is dropped. I need to save those days for when I book something.

    NYFA: What is your advice to your fellow students for finding a balance between the intensive schedule at NYFA, and beginning to build your resume in the wider industry?

    CW: I would do the opposite of me. Just come here, do your school work, get involved, and learn the craft. The gigs will be there when you graduate.

    I would suggest that on the days off, go do background work on film and television. While on those sets, watch and listen, and when you go back to NYFA it will make a little bit more sense. Take it slow.

    Just by coming here, you will have an awesome reel before you leave. The talent here is crazy. Your game will go up just by being here.

    NYFA: Tell us a bit about your work in Happy Hunting. How did that project come about for you, and what was that experience like?

    CW: It was weird how fast that happened. I drove in from Idaho and had an audition set up for Happy Hunting through Actors Access. We get to LA with the car jam packed with all my junk, and we don’t have time to go to my new apartment and chill. We went straight to the audition. I remember thinking, “This traffic is insane and I really wish I had time to clean up and not so be rushed!”

    So I go in there, sign in and take a seat, and I really wanted to focus. Right when I sat, they call me in. I do my lines and they ask me to do it again. To me, that’s always a good sign. I leave the room tell my parents it went great, they remind me this is LA, not Idaho or Utah, and not to stress about it.

    We were finally driving to my new apartment and my phone rings. It was the Happy Hunting gang and they asked if I would turn around and read for a bigger part. I did, and I got the gig!

    I’m not sure what the record is but I feel like I have it: I was literally in LA less than 10 minutes before I booked my first feature film! We shot in Barstow and the Salton Sea. My part shot for nine days. What I didn’t know at the time was that the co-writer/director is Mel Gibson’s son, Louie. He just wanted to be one of the guys. I respect him for that.

    NYFA: Happy Hunting has just released on  Netflix — congrats! How does that feel?

    CW: It feels pretty awesome. …

    The UnMiracle with Kevin Sorbo and Stephen Baldwin is also on Netflix. I got that part by skyping my audition and a callback from my bedroom in Idaho, and we shot that in Chicago. I actually shot that while in high school, but it was held up for whatever reason and got released about six months ago.

    NYFA: What have you learned that has surprised you the most in your NYFA studies?

    CW: First off, the teachers care about us. They want us to succeed. I have a teacher that helps me all the time with my auditions. It’s intensive but fun.

    NYFA: Are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?

    CW: The feature film Regionrat, where I play the lead, is now hitting the festival circuit. So far so good, as we just won the Chandler Film Festival for Best Feature! I flew out there for that. It has also won Best Feature at Barcelona Planet Film Festival, Festigious Film Festival and Best Ensemble at Festigious.

    NYFA: What’s next for you?

    CW: With Regionrat I have won Best Actor at the London Independent Film Awards, Festigious Film Festival and Stars Hollywood Film Festival. I was up for a fourth but didn’t win.

    I’m also up for Breakout Performer and Best Actor in a Feature at the First Glance Film Festival. Regionrat plays at that festival March 10 at 8 p.m. in North Hollywood. I guess I’m seeing what happens to me and this film … but I really think 2018 is going to be a great year for me.

    Congratulations, Connor! Thank you for sharing some of your story with the NYFA Blog.

  • New York Film Academy Board Member Matthew Modine Opens Full Metal Diary Photo Exhibit at Axiom Contemporary

    NYFA Board member and award-winning actor Matthew Modine has opened a photography exhibit, Full Metal Diary, at Axiom Contemporary in Santa Monica.

    Fresh from a record-breaking showing at the 23rd Annual LA Art Show, Modine’s works share an extraordinary, nuanced, and intimate view into life on the set of renowned director Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

    Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the film is known as a classic, and Modine’s photography offers a behind-the-scenes experience of artistic collaboration.

    In black and white images captured in 1987, Modine’s Full Metal Diary shows the scale and also the intimacy of life on set, where he collaborated as a young actor with a true cinematic master for two years.

    In fact, it was Kubrick himself who suggested that Modine keep a “diary” of his experiences portraying the iconic role of Private Joker. Now the public can enjoy Modine’s intimate access to the famously private director as well as his unique perspective on Full Metal Jacket.

    Axiom Contemporary will hold an artist reception with Matthew Modine Friday, Feb. 23 from 6-9 p.m. For further info, contact: Mark Matkevich – mark@axiomcontemporary.com.

    February 21, 2018 • Acting, Community Highlights, Entertainment News, Faculty Highlights • Views: 707

  • All Rise Film Competition Runner-Up is New York Film Academy MFA Screenwriting Student

    The New York Film Academy congratulates MFA Screenwriting student Ines Carolyne de los Santos Almanzar and her all-NYFA crew for winning the Runner-Up prize in the All Rise Film Competition.

    Founded by Simone Benhayon in 2015, All Rise is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to eradicate cyberbullying. Through legislation, reform, and education, All Rise has empowered thousands to take a stand against cyberbullying. Part of their education initiative is an annual film competition that draws attention to many of the issues surrounding online bullying.

    This year, the theme of the film competition was “Is Cyber Abuse an International Crime?”

    The youth competition is divided into two categories. The first is a children’s competition, featuring filmmakers between the ages of 10-15. The second is a young adult’s competition, featuring filmmakers between the ages of 16-21. Films can’t be more than three minutes in length. Other than that, creators are able to tell their story in whatever cinematic format they chose.

    Initially, Almanzar wasn’t sure what story she would tell, but she relied on her own experiences.

    “I was a victim of cyberbullying, myself,” Almanzar said. “I know how tough it can be to survive cyberbullying. You want to ask for help, but most people don’t think this is a big issue.”

    With polls showing that anywhere from 35-50 percent of teens have been bullied online, it is clear that cyberbullying is, in fact, a very big deal.

    Almanzar’s film Isn’t This a Crime follows a plus-size woman as she tries internet dating for the first time. She struggles through date after date. She is told she isn’t pretty enough. One man explains that her need to have kids makes her undesirable. Everything from the way she dresses, to her desire to study art, is insulted. Later, the emotional abuse she has endured begins to manifest itself physically as bruises all over her body. When she tries to report the abuse, she’s informed that the police cannot help her.

    The film is incredibly impactful, and Almanzar’s entire crew was made up of current NYFA students and NYFA alumni. Almanzar said she relied heavily on her crew to help complete the project.

    When asked why she liked working with NYFA students, Ines said, “Since we’re all students we already had a kind of shorthand on set. Communication is vital to the success of a set. We were able to move quickly and resolve issues as they happened.”

    You can watch Isn’t This a Crime and all of the finalist films here:

    All Rise Film Competition 2018 Judging Evening from All Rise on Vimeo.

  • American Cinematographer Spotlights New York Film Academy Cinematography Grad Egor Povolotskiy

    American Cinematographer magazine, the official publication of the American Society of Cinematographers, recently spotlighted the meteoric rise of New York Film Academy MFA Cinematography grad Egor Povolotskiy in it’s Rising Stars of Cinematography piece.

    In an issue that also features ASC giants like the creative minds behind The Last Jedi, American Cinematographer highlights how Povolotskiy’s pathway to success in Los Angeles was paved in large part through his NYFA connections.

    First, Povolotskiy points to his NYFA instructor and mentor Mike Williamson, and later to fellow NYFA alum and line producer Mariietta Volynska, who hired the cinematographer for his first project post-graduation, based on his NYFA thesis. 

    Since then, Povolotskiy has padded out his already impressive resume with three wins at the Rochester International and Voya Film Festivals plus another four nominations for his short film We Are Enemies.

    Now with eight features and almost 60 short films under his belt, we had a chance to hear from Povolotskiy about his experience working on the riveting thriller, Gold Dust, and his own journey behind the lens.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    EP: My journey starts back in Russia. I was at university getting my first master’s in artificial intelligence. Somewhere in the middle of my education, I started taking pictures of my friends and becoming interested in photography in general. I realized that AI was not that interesting for me anymore, and I started growing more as a photographer. (I still finished my masters though!)

    During university, I was working as a photojournalist as well as a wedding and family photographer, shooting for Marriott Hotels in Moscow. I was also an official photographer of Russian Association of Motorcyclists. Bikers and their bikes were involved in film productions, and for me it was always magic to see how films were done. So the next time I saw them on set, I called the president of this association and asked him if I could stop by and take some pictures just for myself. It was a shoot of a son of one of the most famous directors in Russia, with the biggest production company. I ended up being hired as bts [behind-the-scenes photographer] after my first day on set.

    After working for three years as bts and 2nd unit, the producer asked me one day if I wanted to DP a film. I refused, and told her that I would first get my education. … I had a sense of framing and lighting, but I didn’t know anything about being a DP at that time. Being a DP is not just framing and lighting. A DP is a storyteller, a head of a department, a set runner and problems solver — that’s became a definition of my job now.

    When I was choosing a school I was really afraid to go overseas, but my wife supported me, saying that everything was going to be how I wanted. My parents also gave me big support. My DP friends recommended NYFA as a possible school — hands-on and not that expensive. I was choosing between London, Lodze (in Poland), and NYFA, and I choose NYFA in the end.

    Egor Povolotskiy via IMDB

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time as a NYFA student?

    EP: As for favorite moments — I really don’t know, because it was great overall. … Every project I was shooting, I was trying to do better and bigger than my previous project. I still have warm feelings about NYFA and mention it where I can. I was also TA-ing sometimes between projects. By the time I graduated, a lot of people at NYFA knew me already. But I was still afraid of what would happen after school, how I was going to find a job. But right at two weeks after my graduation, I booked my first feature film as a DP!

    NYFA: Can you tell us a bit more about your experience shooting Gold Dust?

    EP: That was a fun experience. I went to an interview and I usually talk first, but here I was kind of shocked that the director took the initiative. He ask me, “What’s wrong with you Russians, you shoot so differently?” I really didn’t know what to answer. Later when we became friends he told me that he hired me because of the way I told him that I like to shoot fast. David Wall — a true director, in my understanding of what that means: great powerful leader, a captain of a ship. …

    We were actually blessed to have a desert with its very different looks — breathtaking sunsets, rain, heat — we got everything taped. We got a great “family” film by the end.

    Egor Povolotskiy Cinematography reel summer 2017 from Egor Povolotskiy on Vimeo.

    NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about your prep process before you start working on a film?

    EP: I read the script as the “dumbest person,” meaning that everything should be clear for me. If I have any questions, there’s going to be a person [in the audience] who will ask the same question. Then, myself and the director talk about the story in general. … In most cases I’m able to tell what kind of film the director sees in his mind. I do a beat breakdown of a script, and we decide if the film needs to be stylized or not. Then I build visual arcs based on developing the character and style of the film. Usually I give a couple of options to the director, if he gives me freedom. I prefer collaboration over the projects were I have no creative influence — every film is a part of myself.

    … I remember at NYFA we had some sort of test. If the director wanted a shot, but the producer was not giving him money, which side you will take? There are always two [out of three] things you have to choose: not expensive, good or fast. The secret is you can combine all three, actually!

    Being a collaborator with understanding of storytelling is a great help for a director, if you’re fast. … You have to stay in the budget, and then the producer will always love you. Learning how to use visual tools (composition, lighting, movement, editing, color grading), how to be a leader, how to delegate to your crew and build a shooting process so the crew feel safe, comfortable, respectfully treated — it is huge work.

    Being a DP you’re learning not only about other people, but also about yourself.

    Gold Dust film poster via IMDB

    NYFA: Are you working on any other upcoming projects you’d like to share?

    EP: As for future projects, I’m prepping a film with Richard Friedman (NYFA instructor), a TV series with Cyril Zima, and a mystic feature film with Alex Babaev.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Egor Povolotskiy for taking the time to share a part of his story with our students.

     

  • Check Out FAYN Magazine by New York Film Academy Photography Department

    FAYN is a collaborative photography magazine produced by the New York Film Academy Photography Department. The magazine features students, faculty, and alumni whose work explores contemporary concepts in art and culture.

    We are a community of global visual storytellers, with students and faculty from around the world. We thrive in our constant engagement with a multitude of perspectives and aesthetic practices, and we mine our diverse understandings of cultural identity, beauty, and symbolism in the collective pursuit of artmaking.

    As faculty advisors and editors, we see the inspiring voices of emerging image-makers represented in the content of this magazine, alongside the deep values that guide our program. We prioritize both intersectional diversity and the highest standards of photographic practices in this magazine, as well as in our classroom critiques.

    FAYN is a platform for visual expression, and it’s a celebration of printed media. In this fast-moving digital era of photography, FAYN serves to slow down the experience of viewing photography and experiencing art. As you flip through the pages, we hope that you take the time to savor the experience of holding them in your hand.

    We want to thank the students and faculty who participated in issue #002 of FAYN. We are honored to guide, teach and learn from such creative and talented artists.

    Click here to buy your copy of issue #002 of FAYN.

    Amanda Rowan, Kean O’Brien, and Naomi White

    Faculty Advisors and Editors

  • Real Time Social Media Coverage, Fake News, and Stockholm Radio: Updates from the New York Film Academy Broadcast Journalism School

    Once again, news programs here in the United States are dominated by reports of a mass shooting. And, once again, news producers have to decide what to report, and how to report it…

    As current and former NYFA students have been taught, “the first report is always wrong.” In other words, initial reports are always fragmentary and usually contain a mix of fact, conjecture and misinformation. That means care must be taken in reporting, with accuracy taking precedence over speed. Now, there is a new complicating factor: As social media and cell phones become ubiquitous, it’s not unusual for “real time” information to emerge from crime scenes. Which is exactly what happened last week during the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Students, trapped in classrooms, sent out desperate text messages and videos.
    While certainly accurate in that they reflected students’ actual experiences and fears, how much of that information should be allowed on-air? Does information like this help clarify, or just sensationalize, a story? Might it actually aid an active shoot locate potential victims? There are no easy answers. But you can be sure these questions were hotly debated in newsrooms across the country. Journalism isn’t easy. If it was, anyone could do it…
    Another reality for contemporary journalists is the amount of blatantly false information that is readily available online. The box office success of the new Disney/Marvel superhero film Black Panther has led internet trolls to claim that at some screenings white moviegoers were beaten up by black audience members. (The reports, of course, are false.) They even included images of “victims.” But few journalists believed there stories, in part because they did Google Images searches of the pictures, and discovered where they had really originated. (One was a picture of the former wife of a recently resigned White House staffer, an apparent victim of domestic abuse.)
    It’s our job to always get information from multiple, verified sources, as well as use the power of social media to investigate what appears on social media.
    Swedish NYFA Broadcast Journalism graduate Emilie Olsson has added another job title to her already impressive resume — radio news anchor. Emilie is working in Stockholm, but as I only understand six words of Swedish I can’t tell you what she is actually reporting. One thing I can report is that radio studios sure look a lot nicer today, compared to the studios I worked in back in my radio days.
    Congratulations, again, Emilie!

    On a personal note, I’m happy to announce that my U.S./China coproduction Shanghai: 1937 will be competing in this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival. It’s a great honor to even be considered, and should help our marketing efforts both at SIFF as well as MIP-TV. The two events will be taking place within days of each other in April, one in China and the other in France.

  • The Scapegoat Screens at Dubai International Film Festival & Young Saudi Film Festival

    With award season upon us, we’re always excited to hear from our alumni around the world as they find success screening their work. New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking graduates Talha (“B.”) Bin Abdulrahman and Maan Bin Abdulrahman have already seen their NYFA thesis film, The Scapegoat, celebrated at the Middle East’s leading film festival, the 14th Dubai International Film Festival. There, it was an official selection. 

    The short was an official selection at the following other festivals:

    • The Irvine International Film Festival
    • Orlando Film Festival
    • San Antonio Film Festival
    • Chandler Film Festival

    The Scapegoat continues its momentum as an official selection at the second annual Young Saudi Film Festival, screening at NYFA Los Angeles Feb. 18.

    Talha B. was able to take some time during his busy festival schedule to tell the NYFA Blog a bit more about his experience directing The Scapegoat.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a bit about your journey in filmmaking and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    TBA: Let me just start this by saying that I feel incredibly fortunate to be a filmmaker. After graduating from high school almost nine years ago, I have gone through several academic paths before I found out that my real passion is filmmaking, which is how I ended up at NYFA — a decision that changed the course of my life, for the better.

    NYFA: Why filmmaking? What inspires you most about the medium?

    TBA: Ever since I was a kid, I was a big fan of watching and talking about films. I believe filmmaking is a format that contains a beautiful package of many different art forms, to tell stories that provoke emotional responses from viewers from all over the world. I always found that inspiring and compelling.

    NYFA: Can you tell us more about your film The Scapegoat? What is the story, and what about the project grabbed you?  

    TBA: The Scapegoat is a 22-minute short I directed as my thesis project for the New York Film Academy’s BFA filmmaking program. The Scapegoat is about Paul Dugan, a former best-selling author who is in search of his next novel. Feeling the pressure to live up to his earlier success, he shelters himself in an isolated cabin in the woods to confront his internal demons.

    Every creative person goes through some [form of] writer’s block, so the story was appealing to me, to represent that visually by telling this story. A creative mind can be its own worst critic, because it is continuously working — especially when there is too much pressure and a lot at stake.

    To not do a project that deals with this topic would be madness.

    NYFA: Were there any surprises or challenges along the way during production, and how did you adapt?

    TBA: I’ve never directed a project that involved a single actor playing multiple roles all at once. In this case it was four distinct characters.

    It was quite the brain teaser to think of all the factors in each scene we shot, from camera blocking to hair and makeup. It required an extra level of planning and coordination between every single person working on set.

    I believe the biggest challenge I faced was when I learned that my actor’s body double refused to shave his facial hair to match the lead actor changing between character looks. Luckily enough, two talented performers stepped in to save the day.

    The critical lesson overall for me was to believe in your crew, because it takes a village to make a film — no matter how big, or small.

    NYFA: Congratulations on screening The Scapegoat at the Dubai International Film Festival! What was this experience like?

    TBA: Thank you, it was a pleasant experience. My producer Maan B. attended on behalf of myself and the team. The film was positively received by the audience, which is something I was delighted to hear.

    NYFA: What advice can you share with our students when it comes to applying to a major festival like the Dubai International Film Fest?  

    TBA: Just one piece of advice that one of my instructors had shared with me, which is to be one of the first people who apply to the festival. Sometimes it’s good to be early, for your film to be noticed.

    NYFA: What is next for The Scapegoat?

    TBA: More festivals will pick it up, hopefully.

    NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

    TBA: Excited about directing a feature with a working title of The Alien.

    It is a stylized dramedy following the story of an unworldly immigrant who dares to go after his dream as an artist, despite the harsh reality he faces. It will be a collaboration with the same talented writers and producer behind The Scapegoat.

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Talha, Maan and The Scapegoat team on their success! To see The Scapegoat (along with seven other excellent selections) at the Young Saudi Film Festival Sunday, Feb. 18, at 4 p.m., please RSVP here.

     

  • Pete Hammond is Guest Speaker at New York Film Academy Los Angeles

    On Tuesday, Feb. 13, Deadline film critic and reporter, Pete Hammond, joined New York Film Academy (NYFA) students for a Q & A at the Los Angeles campus. NYFA Director of the Q & A Series Tova Laiter hosted the evening.

    Hammond has worked as a contributor for Variety, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.

    Laiter began the evening by asking Hammond how he got his start in the industry.

    It turns out Hammond didn’t set out to be a journalist. He just knew he wanted to be in the film industry. As an NBC Page, Hammond began working his way up the ladder. From page, he was promoted to a children’s television writer. Soon after, he became a researcher at Entertainment Tonight. From there he moved to the The Arsenio Hall Show, worked on Access Hollywood, and finally, Hammond created the entertainment news program Extra.

    With the Oscars just around the corner, students were curious to know more about the inside politics of the Academy.  One student wanted to know about the possibility of a shake-up at this year’s Oscars. “Looking at the statistics,” he began, “No film has won Best Film without first being nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay.” Three Billboards hasn’t been nominated for Best Director, but it has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The student wanted to know if Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri could take home the grand prize.   

    Hammond was impressed and jokingly asked the student if he was looking for work. “Your predictions are spot on. This is what I’ve been writing about for the past couple of years.”

    Hammond said that only three times in Oscar’s history has a film won Best Picture that had not been nominated for Best Director. Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Argo, though he did win the Director’s Guild Award later that year. Driving Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford and Grand Hotel director Edmund Goulding were not nominated, either. “The odds are statistically against Three Billboards but I think it has a shot because of the preferential ballot.”

    Hammond explained that when voting for the Oscars, Academy members number all of the nominees from their favorite to their least favorite. That numbering system can have a huge impact on the final turnout. If enough members place Three Billboards as a three or higher, it could mean a win.

    Hammond also noted a new trend over the past five years: Four out of the five Best Picture winners didn’t see their director rewarded, but all of their scripts did win Best Picture. In looking at the history of the Oscars, this trend is very rare.  

    Of course, students also wanted to pick Hammond’s brain about his personal opinion on the 2017 lineup of films. Hammond was particularly impressed with the stamina of Get Out. A film released in February usually isn’t in contention for the Oscars a year after it’s release. In fact, the last Best Picture nominee to have a February release was another thriller film, Silence of the Lambs, in 1991.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Pete Hammond for taking the time to speak with our students. The Oscars air on Sunday, March 4, 2018, on NBC.  You can read Hammond’s film reviews here.

  • Wonder Woman Writer Allan Heinberg Joins New York Film Academy Guest Speaker Series

    The New York Film Academy was proud to welcome Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg to its Los Angeles Campus.

    Heinberg has written for Party of Five, Sex in the City, The OC, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gilmore Girls. He is also the creator and showrunner of The Catch. Outside of television, Heinberg has worked for DC comics, writing The Young Avengers, Justice League, and the 2005 reboot of Wonder Woman.

    Heinberg regaled students with the tale of how he was hired to write the Wonder Woman film. He first saw the character of Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, on an episode of Super Friends. He was seven. A few years later, when Linda Carter burst on television screens in the 1970s, Heinberg was hooked. The very first play he wrote after graduating college featured Wonder Woman. After that, Heinberg moved to Los Angeles and immediately began working in television.

    After years of working on Grey’s Anatomy, Heinberg began looking for a new project. There was a Wonder Woman feature in development but Heinberg did not consider applying. He explained, “Usually, there’s a big wall between movie writers and television writers … It is a big risk for a television writer to be asked to work a large tent-pole film. They just don’t do that.”

    Heinberg was happy to cheer on his friend (and President of DC Comics) Geoff Johns as he worked to develop the Wonder Woman film for Warner Brothers. After about a year, Johns called Heinberg and told him that his team had hit a wall in the writing process. Producer Zack Snyder wanted to start over from the beginning.

    Snyder and Johns brought their teams together to explore the fundamentals of Wonder Woman. When it came time to decide who would have a seat at the table, Johns said he didn’t want anyone except Heinberg. Snyder agreed and the brain trust that created the final screenplay was formed.

    Heinberg listened as Synder explained the finer details of the project. Snyder broke down what the team had been preparing. Heinberg knew what story he wanted to tell. He said, “For me, there’s really only one essential Wonder Woman story and that’s her origin story.”

    One of the major problems most writers run into when writing Wonder Woman is that her origin story does not typically contain the deeply personal, emotional hook — like a terrible crisis or loss to overcome — typical in a hero’s origin. For example, in contrast, Batman’s parents are murdered and, as he grows up, he is driven to protect his entire city from feeling that same pain. Similarly, Superman was orphaned and his home planet was destroyed, so he spends the rest of his life protecting his new home and the people in it. In the case of Wonder Woman, Diana Prince was molded from clay by her mother, Hippolyta, and grew up in a women-only utopian paradise, where the powerful Amazons live independently from the world and evils of mankind.

    Using references like Splash and The Little Mermaid, Heinberg described Diana’s origin myth, where she leaves Themyscira to save mankind. Heinberg referred to it as a fish-out-of-water story. The comparison resonated with Snyder. By the end of the first meeting, everyone agreed that Heinberg’s version of Wonder Woman’s origin was the right direction to take the film.

    Over the next three days, they constructed a story and broke down a script so Snyder could pitch it to the studio. It was green-lit on the fourth day. The film already had a release date. Now, Snyder wanted Heinberg to write the script.

    The only problem was that Heiberg had a job. He was still a part of the Shondaland family after moving from Grey’s Anatomy to Scandal, and it was the middle of the season. Heiberg wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to do both the show and the film. So, he had to speak with Shonda Rhymes. He was convinced she would say no. With two more years on his contract, Heinberg fully expected to have to walk away from his dream job.

    When he walked into her office, Rhymes thought he was going to quit. When he told her the news, she said simply, “It’s Wonder Woman. You have to do it.”

    Heinberg was adamant that no other showrunner would have afforded him this opportunity, and says the moral of this tale is that none of this could have happened if it wasn’t for the relationships he’d previously built with his colleagues. He described Snyder as his hero for championing his vision of the film. It’s not a typical superhero film: Wonder Woman focuses on the human relationships, as opposed to the hero and villain aspect of the genre.

    During the Q & A portion of the Guest Speaker event, one NYFA student asked, “How do you think the success of Wonder Woman has changed the way people will write women in the future?”

    Heinberg gave a cheeky response, stating, “Well, Wonder Woman has made a lot of money.”

    One obvious change is that more women-centered films in the superhero genre are being green-lit this year. Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and Captain Marvel will all be getting feature films soon.

    “There’s an audience we can serve,” said Heinberg. “I don’t think the formula that made Wonder Woman can be replicated. You need to come up with a compelling and emotional story that can stand up on its own.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Allan Heinberg for taking the time to speak with our students. Wonder Woman is now available on DVD.

  • New York Film Academy Alum is Cosette in Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Miserables

    If music is the universal language, than New York Film Academy (NYFA) Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre grad Laís Lenci is becoming a universal performer. From Brazil to New York to Mexico City, the triple-threat singer/dancer/actress is now performing in triple languages. In March, Lais will star as Cosette while also performing in the ensemble for Cameron Mackintosh’s Spanish-language production of international smash-hit Les Miserables, in Mexico City.

    We caught up with the busy performer to hear about her experience working with one of theatre’s most renowned producers in one of the world’s favorite musicals. We’re sure you’ll be as impressed as we are: Lais has worked with Cameron Mackintosh not once, but twice — and in two languages, neither of which is her mother tongue!

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    Laís: My name is Laís Lenci, I’m 24 years old and I’m a Brazilian actress, singer, and dancer. I decided to live in New York to study musical theatre, specifically, because I felt that something was missing in my background as an artist. I wanted to improve and learn things that in Brazil just couldn’t be taught.

    A friend of mine saw a NYFA’s audition advertisement and said, “You should try it!” The same week, I scheduled my audition — and received the greatest news that I would be studying at NYFA the next year! That was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my whole life.

    NYFA: Why Musical Theatre? What inspires you most as a performer?

    Laís: Well, I started dancing when I was three years old and I always enjoyed being on stage. At the age of nine I started taking acting classes and the singing came a bit later.

    When I saw the Disney production of Beauty and the Beast in Brazil I was still a kid, but I was certain that I wanted to become a musical theatre performer. I think that dancing, the singing, and acting become more powerful together. I feel that they can really connect to the audience and touch their souls in a very special way. That’s really inspiring to me.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?

    Laís: I have many! But if I can point out one, it should be my last performance at our graduation showcase. When I finished my last note, I felt that I was finally ready to share my art with the world. And that was a very special moment to me.

    NYFA: What surprised you the most during your training? Was there anything you hadn’t expected to learn or do?

    Laís: I just didn’t know that I was capable of learning so much in only one year. I felt that I grew up as a person and as an artist, 10 years in one.

    I hadn’t expected to do such great and tough scenes during Meisner Classes. I had no idea that there was so much inside of me, emotionally speaking, and that I was going to be able to express all of that during my scenes. It proved me that, with the correct training, I could become a great actress.

    NYFA: You’re gearing up for a March premier of Les Misérables in Mexico City with Cameron Mackintosh, one of the most famous theatrical producers in the world. Can you tell us a bit about how this opportunity came about for you?

    Laís: Yes I am, and that’s very exciting! Two years ago I auditioned in Brazil for Cameron Machintosh’s Les Misérables. After a very exhausting six months of auditions and waiting, I had the great answer that I’d be a part of the cast.

    We did a one-year run in Brazil. By the end of the year I got a call from the producers, asking me to send in an audition tape for their next production of Les Miserables around the world. I sent it, and a month later they called me back to tell me that I got cast again, but this time I would be doing the show in Mexico City, singing in Spanish — which is not my mother language. A brand new experience!

    NYFA: How are rehearsals going?

    Laís: Rehearsals are going really well! It’s very interesting to do the same show but with a whole new team of directors, new cast, new language, new country. Many things have changed in my track as well and it’s very challenging. It’s also an exhausting period, as every musical’s rehearsals are. It’s the moment when we just can’t waste our energy and time with anything else but the show. We need to be 100% committed to the piece!

    NYFA: Cosette is a very vocally challenging role. For our students, do you have any tips and advice on how to prepare and sustain a tough vocal performance over a run with many, many shows?

    Laís: Cosette is a hard one, because there are a few specific high notes that you have to be fully vocally healthy to do perfectly. And I’m also a member of the ensemble, doing eight shows per week. My challenge is to sing all the ensemble songs (the poor, the lovely ladies) that are all very belted and powerful, and still be ready and not vocally tired when I go on as Cosette — who is the only legit female singing role in the whole show.

    My advice is to rest as much as you can when you’re not doing the show. Take care of your voice and your body’s health. Take voice lessons even when you are in a run. It’s really important to always be working with a vocal professional that you trust.

    And be kind to your instrument. Don’t push. Don’t force your vocal chords when you are not feeling okay. We need to know our limits, and know how far we can go, to be able to sing for three hours and still be healthy for a whole week of work.

    NYFA: How has working with Cameron Mackintosh helped you grow as a performer?

    Laís: What really impresses me about Cameron is that he’s the greatest Musical Theatre producer in the world, he has a huge team working with him, and still, he’s fully involved with all the shows he’s opening around the world. He always comes a few days before opening night to make sure that everything will be just perfect. He’s also a very humble man and a real gentleman.

    It’s such an honor that I’ve been cast twice by Cameron himself. His success is a response to the love that he puts into his work and his shows.

    That’s what I want to achieve in life. I think that greatness only comes when we are fully committed to our work and when we truly love what we do.

    NYFA: You’ve traveled from Brazil to New York, and now to Mexico City as a performer. As an international student and artist, what has been your greatest challenge? What advice would you give to your fellow international performers?

    Laís: I do love challenges, and I’m very moved by them. I think that the biggest challenge is to be away from my family and friends. Sometimes you want your mother’s hug and you just can’t have it. But that’s also a part of our profession. We go where we have work.

    My advice is to be brave and embrace the challenges — they make us grow, they make us better people. Stick to your character and your personal ethic. Stay strong to your beliefs and never give up on your dreams! They do come true for those who work hard and have love and gratitude in their hearts.

    NYFA: Is there anything I missed that you’d like to speak on?

    Laís: I just want to say that I’m so thankful for everything that NYFA has offered me as an artist and as a person. I will never forget everything I lived there, and that I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t taken the decision of moving to NYC to study at NYFA.

    Thank you for trusting my talent and for changing me for good! I miss every second of my experience with you and wish all the success in the world to all the students! I’m pretty sure they are all in the best hands of NYC!