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  • New York Film Academy Los Angeles Hosts Expert Film Festival Panel

    Last month, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Film Festivals Advisor and Liaison Crickett Rumley brought an expert panel to the NYFA Los Angeles campus for an in-depth discussion on the process of getting a film into festivals.

    In her opening remarks, Rumley shared that while many NYFA students are interested in applying to film festivals, she found that not many had actually attended one. The panel of experts was formed to help demystify what can be an intimidating world for newcomers, and help answer their questions. “We need to start talking about film festivals,” Rumley said. “Los Angeles has a lot of festivals, so we have no excuse to not be attending and submitting.”

    Sharing their insights and experiences with NYFA students were industry experts including producer and NYFA Chair of Industry Lab Kim Ogletree, Senior Cinematography Instructor Matt Kohnen, Emmy Award nominee  Alexandra Chando, NYFA Senior Directing Instructor James Rowe, and NYFA alumnus Raphael Bittencourt. Each panelist has premiered a film at major festivals including Sundance, LA Shorts Film Fest, Shanghai Film Festival, and the Austin Film Festival.

    Kickstarting the discussion, Crickett asked the panel, “Why should you attend a film festival, even if you don’t have a film?”

    Rowe began by sharing his reasons for attending the Toronto Film Festival as a non-participant. “I went as a scholar delegate for NYFA to kind of scout things out and see what the landscape is right now for short films in particular.”

    Chando, who represents the Mammoth Film Festival’s Women in Film Initiative and is perhaps best known for her work in “As the World Turns,” pointed out the need for diversity and representation in film festivals across the board. Attendees, filmmakers, and festival organizers all play a role in supporting diversity in the film industry. “Recently, within the last year, I have seriously begun working on the other side of the camera,” she explained. “Especially now, there has been a big push for diversity and, of course, women being behind the camera.“

    Encouraging diversity in film festival representation is a part of the reason why Chando was invited to be a part of the Women in Film initiative of the Mammoth Film Festival, which was founded by a NYFA alumna. 

    Rumley spoke about her experiences with Telluride, a renowned festival she began attending even before she had started making movies. She described the education as invaluable. “I was learning so much as a writer just by watching a ton of films,” she shared, “And I was able to watch them in a festival setting. I could figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be by exploring all of these international and independent domestic films.”

    New York Film Academy panelist Alexandra Chando.

    With thousands of film festivals worldwide, these dynamic events can serve as an essential launchpad for up-and-coming filmmakers. Genre film festivals provide an especially great environment for new cinema voices to be discovered.

    “The major festival will take everything; drama, narrative, documentary,” said Kohnen, “But then, there’s this whole other subset of festivals that are just genre.”

    Choosing to submit to a genre festival can help a film find a more specific audience and make valuable connections with likeminded people in the industry. Knowing his way around the festival circuit helped spark the chain-reaction of success that Kohnen enjoyed with his 2007 film “Wasting Away,” also known as “Aaah! Zombies!” The film won the audience award for Best Film at ScreamFest, and after that its sister festivals began seeking opportunities to screen the film, too.

    New York Film Academy panelist and Chair of Industry Lab Kim Ogletree.

    For his part, Bittencourt said he used his time at film festivals as an opportunity to observe how different audiences connected with his film as well as to forge connections within the industry.

    “It gives me a sense of where I’m going,” he said. “It was part of my strategy to use two different kinds of film festivals to get more attention on my film. … It’s a huge chance to defend your film and get to know other filmmakers. You can also meet the organizers of the festival.” 

    Bittencourt encouraged students that even if they may not have been chosen to screen their film in a particular festival, they can still try to shake hands with those in charge. “[Festival organizers] tend to be really sympathetic to you if they know who you are,” he said.

    Ogletree agreed. She explained to students that film festivals provide opportunities not only for submitting work, but also for gaining direct access to creators from all walks of life. From her time behind the scenes in film festivals, she shared, “We were open to having discussions with students, with other executives, with producers and directors. At the time, folks would just bring their iPads up to speakers after the Q&A and show us their film. That was a way of getting their films out there without even being in the festival.”

    With these networking opportunities in mind, Ogletree went on to highlight the marketing opportunities students should prepare for when attending a festival. “There are certain things you need,” she said. “You need a business card. You need both a press kit and an electronic press kit. You need to have the bios of your key crew members. You need to have conversations, and that’s not something I see happening a lot anymore.”

    Ogletree suggests that when attending a festival with a family member or friend, students remember not to isolate themselves from what is going on. Instead, they should make sure to join outside conversations with members of the industry and to try and meet new people.

    To help get the conversation started at film festivals, Ogletree noted that it’s important to think early and often about where the film will show and how best to promote it once it has aired. Gimmicks also don’t hurt, according to Ogletree, who says that it’s important to find ways to make your film stand out from the crowd at a festival. Hats, pins, and t-shirts are always great and inexpensive options. Budgeting for these products and preparing for film festival conversations should be something students bear in mind even in the pre-production stage of their film.  

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Matt Kohnen, Alex Chando, Kim Ogletree, James Rowe, Raphael Bittencourt, and Crickett Rumley for participating int his in-depth discussion on film festivals.

  • Academy Award Winner Ben Osmo is Guest Speaker at New York Film Academy Australia Gold Coast

    The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Australia welcomed Academy Award winner and former NYFA Australia instructor Ben Osmo to its Gold Coast campus for an exclusive event as a part of its continuing Guest Speaker Series last month.

    Osmo received the Academy Award for his work as production sound mixer on the critically acclaimed international Blockbuster hit “Max Mad: Fury Road,” a much-anticipated reimagining of the 1980s apocalyptic action thriller directed by George Miller and starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy.

    The veteran sound mixer and recorder also picked up a BAFFTA Nomination and ACCTA Award for his work on “Mad Max: Road Fury,” but these recent accolades are only a small part of his impressive resume. His other credits include Hollywood Blockbuster “Alien Covenant,” directed by Ridley Scott; family features “Babe” and “Happy Feet Two”; and beloved Australian films including “Strictly Ballroom” and “Dead Calm.”

    Hosted by Deputy Chair of Filmmaking Brian Vining, the Guest Speaker event commenced with a Q&A session followed by a special screening of Osmo’s documentary on the making of the sound for “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

    NYFA Gold Coast students and staff alike were thrilled at the opportunity to delve further into the realm of sound design and editing for film, an often under-appreciated yet integral component of a great movie masterpiece.

    Students described the event as “very informative,” with September Advanced Diploma acting for film student Tommie Thomas explaining, “As an actor, you don’t realize how much collaboration goes into making a film until you are able to hear it from someone of this caliber.”

    New York Film Academy Australia prides itself in offering students the opportunity to develop their own technical and creative abilities through continued mentoring and master classes with illustrious members of the film and entertainment industry.

  • Sundance 2018 Will Feature Work by New York Film Academy Documentary & Filmmaking Instructors

    The Sundance Film Festival announced their 2018 slate this week, and the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking School is once again represented among the Sundance festival selections.

    As soon as Sundance released its announcement, the New York Times published the article, Sundance Film Festival 2018: 6 Films to Know,” which spotlights the documentary RBG.” NYFA Documentary cinematography professor Claudia Raschke is the director of photography for this much-anticipated documentary on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, “RBG” focuses on Ginsberg’s early work and how it has impacted women’s rights, tracing her evolution as an outspoken Supreme Court Justice, now popular in internet memes as “Notorious RBG.”

    It’s no surprise to find Claudia behind the camera of one of the year’s most important docs. Her previous work has already been nominated for Academy Awards four times.  

    “That NYFA’s Documentary Filmmaking students work so closely with a cinematographer as accomplished and prominent as Claudia is a rare privilege and adds immeasurably to their educations,” says Chair of the Documentary Filmmaking Department Andrea Swift.

    Claudia also shot the 2nd Units of two more 2018 Sundance-selected films: “The Price of Everything,” directed by Nathaniel Kahn (U.S. Documentary Competition), and “The Game Changers,” by Louie Psihoyos (World Premiere).

    A still from “The Game Changers” via IMDB.

    “The Price of Everything” turns its focus to the thriving market of the contemporary art world, while “The Game Changers” follows The Ultimate Fighter winner and special forces trainer James Wilks on a nutritional investigation.

    Joining Claudia in screening work at Sundance 2018 is New York Film Academy Documentary Master Class professor Hilla Medalia, who produced Sundance selection “The Oslo Diaries.”

    “The Oslo Diaries” chronicles the 1992 illegal and clandestine meeting of Israelis and Palestinians in Oslo, which impacted the course of history in the Middle East.

    A still from “The Tale” by Jennifer Fox

    New York Film Academy instructor Debbie De Villa is also represented at Sundance 2018, in the U.S. Dramatic Competition film selection “The Tale,” for which she served as production designer. “The Tale” is written and directed by Jennifer Fox and stars Laura Dern, portraying a character who must reexamine her memories surrounding her first sexual relationship.

    Read more about the Sundance 2018 selections in Variety, Deadline, Entertainment Weekly, and Screen Daily.

  • New York Film Academy Screenwriting Instructor Paul Brown Teaches Master Class at GAFA

    On the morning of November 26, 2017, Paul Brown, a notable Hollywood writer, director, producer, as well as a screenwriting instructor at the New York Film Academy, arrived in Guangzhou, China. Just a few hours later, Brown hosted a Master Class at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (GAFA), where students and faculty from the GAFA animation department and others packed the house.

    Brown has taught several screenwriting workshops at the New York Film Academy, and has a distinguished career in the film & television industry. Starting over twenty-five years ago, Brown has produced more than one hundred television dramas and movies, working on illustrious series as “The X-Files,” “Quantum Leap,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Brown has won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best TV Drama, and has been nominated for three Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes.

    In the Master Class “The Secrets of Great Stories,” Brown used “Wall-E” as an example of a film that truly brings its characters come to life in an emotionally powerful way. Brown elaborated on how mystery is at the heart of all great stories, following up with a discussion about the hidden ways that makes the audience can care about and connect with memorable characters whose desires, flaws, and need for change awaken secret wishes for a transformation in our own lives.

    After the class, Brown engaged with many students in a Q&A session and gave notes on students’ scripts until the end of the session. Overall, the afternoon was very well received and the audience from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts had many words of appreciation and gratitude for Paul Brown and the Master Class.

    November 30, 2017 • Faculty Highlights, Film School, Filmmaking, Screenwriting • Views: 783

  • New York Film Academy Students Attend Cinema Italian Style

    On Thursday, November 16, 2017, two students from the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus, Alice Nicolini and Nicolo Azzaro, were invited to attend the opening night of the 13th Annual Cinema Italian Style at the Egyptian Theater. Italy’s oldest film studio, Luce Cinecittà, and the American Cinematheque presented the night, which featured a screening of “A Ciambra,” Italy’s selection for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Academy Awards.

    The night also served as a celebration of the 80th anniversary of Luce Cinecittà under the auspices of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in Los Angeles, the Italian Trade Agency and the Italian Cultural Institute. Needless to say, this was quite an extravagant affair.

    NYFA Students Alice Nicolini and Nicolo Azzaro attend 13th Annual Cinema Italian Style

    The director of the film, Jonas Carpignano, has a youthful and unconventional approach to his filmmaking style, which can best be described as a scripted docudrama. All of the characters in the film are real people and their real names are the same as the characters they play. Likewise, their actual home is the set, and the script is inspired by the lives they lead.

    The level of intimacy the director has built with his cast is immediately tangible. From the opening to the closing shot, the camera is an active component of the film, whipping around at an incredible pace. (Some audience members found it dizzying, but anyone familiar with music videos would recognize the cinematic language.) Carpignano’s fresh take on Gypsy culture in Southern Italy was warmly received.

     

    One of the attending NYFA students, Nicolo Azzaro, had this to say about the film: “‘A Ciambra’ is a fantastic movie that perfectly showcases the strengths of Italian cinema at its finest. It digs deep into a current reality in Southern Italy, blending the almost documentary approach with a deep and emotional coming of age story.”

    Alice Nicolini, the other New York Film Academy student invited to the event, added, “My favorite part of the evening was hands down the red carpet. It was all new to me. Walking down the carpet was kind of surreal. I mean, we also got our pictures taken and an Italian television station even interviewed us. That is definitely not an everyday thing.”

    After the screening, the students were invited to a gala dinner at Mr. C’s in Beverly Hills. Celebrity attendees included Billy Zane, Ron Pearlman, and “Alias Grace” star Sarah Gadon, who was honored with the inaugural Cinecittà Key the day prior to the event. Students mingled with the stars and creators as they overlooked the Los Angeles skyline and enjoyed a meal curated by Michelin Star Chef Leandro Luppi.

    When asked what he’d learned from the experience, Azzaro responded, “Cinema is a universal art, and no matter what language is spoken in a film, it is capable of connecting people from all around the world. Diversity is truly one of the greatest aspects of the entertainment industry.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Luce Cinecittà and the American Cinematheque for extending an invitation to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    November 30, 2017 • Community Highlights, Film Festivals, Filmmaking • Views: 589

  • Dare to Be Remarkable: New York Film Academy Alumna Adriana Ledesma on Film, Family and Future

    Adriana Ledesma, via IMDB.

    Latina filmmaker and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Masters of Screen and Media graduate Adriana Ledesma is hard at work, applying her remarkable skill set as a writer, director, editor, cinematographer, producer, production manager — and more — to tell distinctive stories. In an industry focused on better promoting diversity and women in film while also creating opportunity for individuals with unique voices, this rising filmmaker is intent on creating engaging stories and touching audience’s hearts, and we are excited to watch her blaze a unique path.

    In the past few years NYFA alumnus Adriana Ledesma has premiered her work at numerous film festivals, including her films “Departure,” “Karma,” “A Choice,” and “Empathize.” In 2016, “Departure” won the Bronze Award for Short Film at the Fameus International Film Festival, and was also nominated for the Best Short Drama Jury Award at the Hollywood Screenings Film Festival and the Best Short Film Hollywood Cinefest award at the Hollywood Cinfast. Adriana’s passion, experience, and unending love of mankind lend a unique perspective to her films, helping to create an experience audiences won’t soon forget.

    Recently, the busy filmmaker took the time to catch up with the NYFA Blog and share some of her thoughts with our international community.

    NYFA: Some of your films have been honored with multiple awards. How did that feel? 

    Adriana Ledesma, via IMDB.

    AL: Of course it’s always a great satisfaction that someone external, in this case some real experts, value the work you do and that you put so much effort into accomplishing. I don’t do things to receive something in return, but I am very passionate and I believe you should put more than 100 percent on everything you do — or else, what’s the point in doing it at all? So it has been an honor for me.

    NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the film industry since graduating from the New York Film Academy?

    AL: Well, it certainty hasn’t been an easy road. There have been many obstacles and many sacrifices involved, but when you set your mind towards what you truly want, there’s nothing that can stop you.

    What you need to do is take the risk, forget about all the complications you might find on the way, and step out of your comfort zone. Don’t limit yourself, and dare to be remarkable.  

    I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I love, to wake up and go to set every day. I feel blessed.

    Adriana Ledesma on set, via IMDB.

    NYFA: You are from Mexico originally and left home to pursue your dream, which is something that many members of our international NYFA community can relate to. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, and how your home and family have inspired your work?

    AL: I am a person who values family immensely and thank God I come from a family where love, affection and support are key. Even though I know they miss me as much as I miss them, the fact that they are always there for me, giving me advice and encouragement, pushes me to continue. …

    Adriana Ledesma, via IMDB.

    … I have countless memories of my childhood, climbing trees, riding bikes with my neighbors, playing soccer, going to the park with my siblings and my parents, etc., but there is one that stands out from when I was around nine years old. I was with some cousins and friends at my cousin’s house, and all of our parents no longer knew what to do to entertain us anymore, so they came up with the idea of all of us creating a whole episode of a TV program. We were very young at that time but I remember, knowing nothing, we pulled together a very decent project with nothing but one camera. Some of us took care of crew-type activities, some of them were acting in it, we had production design involved and even visual effects with some blood. That moment, at that age, felt magical for me.

    Adriana Ledesma on set, via IMDB.

    NYFA: Who are your influences? And how would you define your style as a filmmaker?

    AL: I am mostly inspired by Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg. The way they portray their stories, the approach they have when it comes to every single element involved, the importance they give to movement, acting, and framing while doing a film, is also how I love doing mine.

    For me, making a film is like putting a duet dance piece together: it’s all choreography. First you do the research — you gather all the elements you might use, then you explore styles and steps and you make your creativity shine.

    Once you have planned all the moves, you have to spend time rehearsing so it goes as well as possible. But when you’re actually shooting, you have to deal with unpredictability and uncertainty, because even when you’ve been working on it for a long time, the music might take you to different places.

    Then it becomes about timing. Each of the puzzle pieces have a detailed purpose, a precise time where they are needed, a specific meaning — so at the end, if everything flows as it was supposed to, the unified project gives you goose bumps.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Adriana for taking the time to share a part of her story with our community. Keep an eye out for many of her exciting new projects in development, including “Growing Up,” “Once in a Life time,” “Los Elegidos,” and “Until the End,” among others.

  • New York Film Academy Alumna Kellyanne Chippendale Talks “Meisnered” at NYFA Los Angeles

    On Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, director and comedian Kellyanne Chippendale brought her short documentary “Meisnered” to the New York Film Academy. The film chronicles her experiences studying the Meisner Technique, and how it changed her life. The documentary also includes the short film “Getting Meisnered.” Director of the Q&A Series Tova Laiter and Chair of Acting for Film Anne Moore hosted the evening.

    Kellyanne Chippendale had an unconventional path into the entertainment industry. She began the same way as many, with a passion for watching movies that was passed down from her parents. But by the time she was in college, her focus had shifted. She went to school for broadcast journalism, focused on becoming an educator, and thought about having a family.

    “I taught every single subject and every single grade except math,” Chippendale said. But something was missing. She wanted to try acting, but the audition process never seemed to go her way. “I’d prepare so well and then once I got into the room…” So she did what any rational adult would do: She joined a stand-up comedy class. When they asked her to come back the following season she knew she was on to something.

    Her continued hard work led her to wear many hats for the company. “I started producing my own shows because that’s the only way you can make money in comedy when you’re first starting out.” She began with dinner shows, where patrons would pay $50 a table to have dinner and a show. Through this she began to form relationships with other comedians, getting invited to perform at other shows, and building a roster for her own performances.

    Her film “Getting Meisnered” is about this process of becoming an actress and, more specifically, about her instructor, Wolfgang, who helped her have a major breakthrough in acting through the Meisner technique. She says this experience changed her life. The idea of working off an actor’s true essence and building a scene with a partner was a philosophy she was able to take into her real life.

    Moore and Chippendale gave a short demonstration of one of the Meisner exercises. One actor makes an observation about the other. Then the statement is acknowledged and repeated as the actors search for the truth in the moment.

    One student asked which books would be best to read if they were interested in studying the Meisner technique independently. The answer they received was “Meisner on Acting” and Larry Silverberg’s four-part series “The Sanford Meisner Approach: An Actor’s Workbook.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Chippendale for taking the time to speak with our students. Check out her short film “Getting Meisnered” on IMDB by clicking here.

    November 16, 2017 • Academic Programs, Acting, Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 567

  • New York Film Academy Alum’s “Newton” Selected as India’s Entry for Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award

    Amit V Masurkar’s “Newton”

    “Newton,” a feature-length film by NYFA alumnus Amit V Masurkar, is now in the running for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film — just one in a long line of successes the Indian dark comedy-drama and its writer & director have already seen.

    Co-written and directed by Amit, “Newton” stars Rajkummar Rao as Newton Kumar, a rookie government clerk who seeks to uphold democracy and conduct fair elections in Chhattisgarh’s conflict-ridden jungles. The film has received positive reviews, including from India’s Huffington Post, which called it “a touching, personal and very human film.”

    Amit first premiered “Newton” at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the CICAE Art Cinema Award. Since then, Amit has presented his film at nearly 50 festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival in April, where it screened in the International Narrative Competition, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival, where it won the coveted Jury Prize.

    An Academy Award would be the crowning achievement to go with these accolades, and the journey to attaining one is a long and tough road. Films that are produced outside of the United States and are delivered in a predominantly non-English language are eligible for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Unlike other Oscars, the Foreign Language Film Award is unique in that the golden statue is presented not to the filmmakers, but to the nation that produced it—adding an air of patriotic pride to the category.

    Each country must then select just one film per year to represent it at the Academy Awards, creating a lot of competition between movies of all genres, especially in a nation as populated and cinema-oriented as India. “Newton” was selected from a shortlist of 26 films to represent India at this year’s Oscars, and the final nominations from five different countries will be announced along with the other Academy Award noms early next year. The 90th Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 4, 2018.

    Amit V Masurkar honed his screenwriting skills at New York Film Academy’s New York campus, taking the 8-Week Screenwriting workshop in 2009. After writing for numerous sketch and comedy shows, Amit’s directorial feature-length debut “Sulemani Keeda” became a surprise indie hit. “Newton” is only his second feature film, and Amit has proven to be one of India’s most exciting voices in filmmaking.

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Amit V Masurkar on such a fantastic achievement, and looks forward to seeing what further accomplishments he and “Newton” will achieve!

  • New York Film Academy Australia Alum Premieres and Wins Big With Mockumentary

    Digital Athletes: The Road to Seat League

    The list of sports films and sports comedies are endless, but not many movies have been about the burgeoning E-Sports wave, the billion-dollar industry of competitive video games. New York Film Academy Australia (NYFA AU) Gold Coast alumnus and California native Josh Hale sought to change that, and it’s starting to pay off for the filmmaker.

    His mockumentary film “Digital Athletes: The Road to Seat League” just had its North American premiere at the Historic Bay Theatre on November 3, and has already picked up multiple awards and official selections to festivals around the world. “I am on cloud nine,” Hale told NYFA while in California showcasing his film.

    Hale’s most recent win was the Best Comedy Film Award from the San Francisco International New Concept Film Festival. The Festival bills itself as an “international platform for film lovers, new filmmakers and film/media students who love filmmaking to stand out,” with a specific mission of “discovering and selecting potential talents with new concepts to accelerate the prosperous development of the film industry.”

    Hale told The San Leandro Times that his mockumentary style was inspired by comedy classics like “This is Spinal Tap” and “Best in Show.” He continued, “I find E-Sports fascinating.” Hale shot the entire feature-length film on Australia’s Gold Coast on a tiny budget of $5000, using local actors.

    Hale graduated from the Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media in Filmmaking at NYFA AU Gold Coast. Skills he developed during his time at NYFA AU, including producing and budgeting, were the fundamental skills he utilized during the production. Hale is still a part of the NYFA AU family, and is now passing on his experience and knowledge at the campus as a Teaching Assistant.

    Josh utlitzed his hands-on training with NYFA Gold Coast to go make a feature film right out of college,” noted NYFA Gold Coast Director Tasha Cooper. “He’s one of our success stories and we’re very proud of his recent achievements.”

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Josh Hale on his success, and looks forward to seeing what further accomplishments his hard work and dedication will bring!

  • NYFA Chair of Community Outreach Mason Richards Shows “The Seawall” at CCCADI

    NYFA Los Angeles Film Directing Faculty and Chair of Community Outreach Mason Richards wears many hats, both on and off campus — teacher, filmmaker, advocate, artist — and fearlessly explores these complex identities in his own artistic work. Right now, his film “The Seawall” is a part of an installation exploring trans-national identity, Afro-Caribbean culture, and diaspora with the (CCCADI) Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute gallery in New York City. If you’re in New York, hurry to see it before Nov. 30!

    Born in Guyana, Richards immigrated to the U.S. when he was just seven years old, an experience that inspired him to create and film “The Seawall” back home in Guyana. In the midst of pre-production for the feature version of “The Seawall,” Mr. Richards found the time to catch up with the NYFA blog to share his inspirations and his insights with our international community.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?

    MR: I started my career in the arts as a teen actor while growing up in New York City. I was one of the youngest members of a youth theater company called “The CityKids Repertory Company.” We wrote and performed theatrical pieces around social issues such a drug abuse, bullying, racism and identity.

    My transition from acting to directing happened around the time I was an undergraduate in college pursuing degrees in English (B.A.) and Human & Organizational Development (B.S.) double-major from Vanderbilt University. I directed my first theater play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” during my freshman year at Vanderbilt, and I knew from that point on that I wanted to be a director.

    Many years later after working in Hollywood at Paramount Pictures in marketing, I decided to return to school to pursue my MFA in Film Directing from Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts). As far as teaching at NYFA, I’ve always known that I would work as an educator in some capacity. So when I heard about an opportunity to teach filmmaking at The New York Film Academy’s NYC campus I jumped at the chance — mainly because of the diversity of the NYFA student population, as well as NYFA’s “hands on” approach to filmmaking.

    I actually started teaching in the high school program at NYFA New York in 2014. Then when I moved to LA full time in 2016, I subsequently took on teaching more advanced filmmaking classes at the NYFA Los Angeles campus, focusing on directing and screenwriting.

    NYFA: As NYFA’s Chair of Community Outreach, can you speak to what community means to you and how you’ve seen it grow at NYFA?

    MR: In addition to being faculty in the filmmaking department where I teach directing and screenwriting, I am also the Chair of Community Outreach Department. I firmly believe that as artists, filmmakers, and creatives  it’s really important to give back to the community in any way we can — and especially now that there is such a push to increase diversity in Hollywood in regards to women and groups that have been traditionally underrepresented. I believe that it is important to live a life with purpose, and part of having purpose is service. So, as Chair of Community Outreach I feel like it give my life more purpose because I am able to be of service to the community.

    NYFA: As someone who has worn a lot of hats within the industry (acting, directing, community outreach, and more), how has your vision grown as an artist? Has shifting roles changed how you approach your work as a filmmaker?

    MR: Filmmaking is such a collaborative art form, and I believe that it is essential to be aware of all of the various jobs that people have on set. As for me, starting out in the business as a child actor and then moving into directing, I have a unique understanding of the process that actors go through from auditions, to rehearsals, to performance, etc. With that, I have lots of love and empathy for actors, and I always make sure that I’m not only concerned with the technical and cinematic aspects of a project, but also the performances are very important to me. It’s always a part of my vision to elevate the performances of the actors to ensure that they are truthful and relatable to audiences.

    NYFA: What inspired your film “The Seawall”?  

    MR: I was born in Guyana, South America, and like most Guyanese people, I left Guyana at an early age with my family in pursuit of a better life abroad in the United States. As a proud Guyanese citizen and passport holder, every time I return to my home country, I feel somewhat disconnected from the culture. This feeling is unsettling. It usually takes me a few days of listening to the cadence of the rich accents of my Afro- Indo- and Amerindian Guyanese people, in fish markets or liming on the seawall, then I start to feel more connected to the place and the people again. It’s always fascinating to me that Guyana can look and feel foreign to me in many ways, yet the sounds and optics contributes to making it feel very familiar, like “home” at the same time.

    NYFA: Can you tell us how your collaboration with the LIMINAL SPACE exhibition at the CCCADI (Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute) came about?  

    MR: I was approached by the art curator, Grace Ali, who had been a champion of “The Seawall” short film. Grace felt like the film would add a nice texture to the exhibit featuring art from various artists of Guyanese descent. I’m just thrilled to be in such great company with some of the more talented painters, photographers and sculptors in the diaspora.

    The CCCADI is very deliberate about the art they showcase in their space, so the whole experience is just an honor. Many of us from the Caribbean diaspora, as well as other immigrants to foreign countries, struggle with a concept of “trans-national” identities — meaning that we are from another country; however, we’ve immigrated to the United States, where we’ve adapted to a new, dominant culture and way of life.

    With that, there are times when we as immigrants feel a sense of “disconnect” from our present culture while maintaining and sense of nostalgia for our place of birth. For immigrants, this can be a feeling like we have left something behind, back “home,” whether it’s family, our cultural identity, or simply our childhood memories. In my current film installation project, I wish to explore the disconnect between our cultural identity by focusing on the natural elements that connect me to my birth country.

    NYFA: Having left Guyana at age 7 for New York, many of our students may be able to relate to your story of immigration. What advice would you give to our students who are in transition between countries, and establishing their identity as artists?

    MR: As an artist and filmmaker, my creative and artistic intentions tend to center around themes of identity and belongingness. In my work, I constantly strive to explore questions around “who am I, where do I belong, and what does ‘home’ truly mean?” These questions, I believe are the pillars for a strong sense of self, and ultimately the foundation of character. As immigrants in America it’s important that we tell our stories and share the experiences of our culture. It only takes us one step closer to understanding each other as human beings.

    NYFA: You’re now preparing to produce the feature version of “The Seawall” — how has your process changed since producing the short?
    MR: For the feature film of “The Seawall” I have expanded the story so that the main character Malachi is now an adult struggling with becoming a new father and going back home to his country of birth. The process has been more intense than producing the short because it’s a longer format, but also because I’ve had to do a lot more research and development of the characters to make sure that they are telling their own truth. I’m excited because I have a great producing team to help me along.

    NYFA: What advice can you offer to our students who dream of making their own feature film?

    MR: The film industry is very tough, so in order to be successful, you have to be resilient and have faith in your dreams.

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

    MR: I’m developing a television pilot about a Caribbean family adjusting to life in NYC.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mason Richards for sharing a part of his story with our community. “The Seawall” Short film will be playing at the CCCADI until Nov. 30 2017. To view the film online via Anansi Studios, click here. Visit the New York City exhibit at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, 120 E. 125th Street.