Academic Programs

  • NYFA Screenwriting & Filmmaking Alumna Jaclyn S. Powell Finalist at NY Film & TV Festival

    New York Film Academy screenwriting and filmmaking alumna Jaclyn S. Powell adventured through previous careers as a ski instructor and a paralegal before making the decision to return to school at the New York Film Academy to pursue her dream of writing. Recently, Powell’s short film script “The Last Shred of Daylight” was selected as a finalist this summer at the New York Film & TV Festival, and went on to win the award for Best Short Script. We had a chance to catch up with Jaclyn to hear about her time at the festival, her time at NYFA, and how she approaches her screenplays.

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

    JP: After college I enjoyed a fun career as a ski instructor at Deer Valley Utah, then went back to school and got an associate degree as a paralegal in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I had attended college as an English major. As a paralegal in Las Vegas for the law firm representing the police department, I handled some of the exciting cases that the show CSI was made of, one of which I would like to turn into a psychological thriller script…

    I moved to Puerto Rico and took the job of litigation/trial coordinator for a large law firm … As the economy crashed and work slowed down in Puerto Rico, I realized I was missing a creative outlet and I started taking photographs and drawing again, to stimulate my creativity. That led to short story writing and I got the idea for a book, a conspiracy thriller, “Kill Switch.” When I outlined the plot for one of the attorneys he said: forget a book, turn that into a movie.

    …After doing an internet search, I found the New York Film Academy and was just in time for the 8-week intensive, the last screenwriting group at the Union Square facility. (Heart of my hearts! I’m sure I was there in a past life!) After the screenwriting class ended I joined a writing group, but drifted into Improv at UCB and struggled with disappointment about not getting “Kill Switch” on the market and my screenwriting not going anywhere. I decided I would be a better screenwriter if I understood more about how films are made, so I took NYFA’s filmmaking program — and that’s where I fell in love with films, filmmaking, and screenwriting. To take a vision you see in your mind and be able to convey it on screen, there’s nothing that equals that feeling.

    NYFA: What was your inspiration for your short script “The Last Shred of Daylight”?

    JP: “The Last Shred of Daylight” came out of a short story I wrote for a three-minute fiction contest. The prompt was: when one door closes, another one opens. It stems from that moment of despair when you think all is lost and can’t see beyond your present moment of misery. As I repeated the words of the prompt to myself, I heard the voice of the narrator saying those words and the first few sentences of the story in a slow, southern drawl, and story began to write itself.

    NYFA: Can you tell us a little about the process of becoming a finalist at the New York Film & TV Festival?

    JP: Jameson Whiskey had a contest and Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in the winner’s screenplay. I heard about that a day or two before the end of the contest and in four hours had changed the story to a six page script, the maximum page limit. I had the date of the contest wrong and missed it by a day! I wanted to find out if my writing was worth pursuing, and entered the script into a couple of other festivals.

    Cinequest wrote back that they really liked the script, said that it reminded them of John Grisholm’s “A Painted House,” but that the ending was too deus ex machina. I agreed with their assessment and reworked the script several times until everyone I shared it with liked it and, more importantly, I liked it. I entered the new script into a few festivals and that’s when I started making the finals, with the NY Film and TV Festival being my first win.

    NYFA: You had the chance to attend the festival where your script was a finalist — what was that experience like?

    JP: When I first got the notice that I was a finalist in the NY Film and TV Festival I was so surprised I thought it wasn’t real. I’ve seen the lists of finalists in some contests and they number in the dozens, but here I was in the top five for short scripts. Then a week later I got the notice that I was a finalist in the AT&T and Warner Brothers screenplay contest and realized that maybe it was all real. That’s when I decided to attend the festival.

    I was skeptical all the way to the festival until I met the winners of the other categories and they were from Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Maine. It was a small festival which gave me the benefit of meeting all the other writers and hearing their stories and it was an honor to be among such dedicated writers.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing you for your experience with the New York Film & TV Festival?

    JP: At the table read for my final filmmaking script, “Storme the Toad Crusher” as well as the table read for “The Last Shred of Daylight,” the feedback I was getting from the actors is that they like my writing because they understand what I expect from the character. I think the training I got from NYFA in filmmaking — directing actors, lighting, editing and cinematography — combined to help me make a script that is both readable and easy to visualize.

    …I wouldn’t be in this position at all if it weren’t for my wonderful time as a NYFA student. And I sure am an avid advocate for the school!

    NYFA: What advice would you give to your fellow screenwriters who are looking to create festival-worthy scripts?

    JP: I would advise fellow screenwriters who want to enter festivals to focus on short scripts, share your work with other writers and actors for feedback, and be open to revisions. I would also suggest caution when entering festivals, and look for those that offer feedback. And I would definitely recommend taking filmmaking and making a few films to get an idea of what’s possible and what’s not possible for a short script.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jaclyn S. Powell for taking the time to share a bit of her story with the NYFA community. “The Last Shred of Daylight” begins production in September, and you can follow the fim on Facebook and GoFundMe.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jaclyn S. Powell for taking the time to share a bit of her story with our community.


    August 24, 2017 • Acting • Views: 1232

  • NYFA Acting for Film Alumna Esther Van Zyl Stars in “Life After Her”

    From South Africa to New York to the Madrid International Film Festival to promote “Life After Her,” it’s been a busy year for NYFA Acting for Film alumna Esther Van Zyl — and she shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Since co-writing and creating “Life After Her” with fellow NYFA alumnus Guilherme Festa, Van Zyl has been been juggling travel with production and acting work (including two upcoming episodes on Netflix’s “Killer Instincts with Chris Hansen”).

    We had a chance to catch up with busy alumna to hear some of her insights on life after NYFA, from producing original work to inhabiting characters.

    Life After Her – Trailer Legendado from Gui Festa on Vimeo.

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

    EVZ: I grew up in a small fishing town called Gordon’s Bay about an hour outside Cape Town, South Africa. I discovered performing in preschool, when I sang my first solo, “Silent Night,” as a four-year-old in a Christmas revue. I became addicted, and did everything I could to be onstage … By 5th grade I was writing, directing and starring in my own plays.

    I had always, since those childhood days, had this very vivid dream of moving to New York to become a world-class actress in film and theatre. I’ve also always wanted to study in a New York acting school … I first did a BA in Dramatic Arts and Psychology at Stellenbosch University, where I trained primarily in theatre, and towards the end of my last year I heard that the world-famous New York Film Academy were hosting auditions in Cape Town — and offering talent-based scholarships.

    I jumped at the chance, and heard very soon afterwards that I had received a scholarship to do the conservatory 1-Year Acting for Film Program. Three months later (on 21 January 2015) I was on a plane to New York, and I started in their class of winter 2015. The whole thing was quite literally a dream come true.

    NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment from your time studying with us?

    EVZ: There are so many. I was very lucky to be placed in the most fantastic class I could have asked for — by the end of the first week, we already felt like a close-knit family. Our class was Winter A, and we very cheekily called ourselves “The A-Team.”  We also had fantastic teachers, and I have moments from each class that will always stick with me, especially ones that turned out to be personal acting breakthroughs for me that I recall on set/stage to this day.

    One such moment that really stands out was in an Acting for Film class with Zachary Spicer. It was a day we were filming scenes, and I was dreading mine — it was a monologue by a slightly unhinged writer who gets thrown out of a café because she can’t stop talking to herself. I had no idea how to play the character, or the scene…

    I remember calling Zach over and saying to him, “I don’t think I can do it, Zach. I feel totally out of control.” And he said, “Well, how do you think your character feels?”

    And that’s when I realized that acting wasn’t about doing something, “performing” a set of behaviors a certain way — it was more about truly letting go and allowing yourself to exist exactly as you are in a moment, not caring about what it looks like. Being in control of being out of control. I did the scene and told Zach afterwards, “I don’t even know what I just did. I feel like it was just a mess, it can’t possibly be good.” He told me to watch it back and tell me if I still felt that way. Punch-line to the story: that’s the only scene I filmed at NYFA that is in my current acting reel. You can see it online, here.

    NYFA: Coming from South Africa, what surprised you most about studying at NYFA in the U.S.?

    EVZ: The very international diversity of the student body. In my class, we were four South Africans, two Brits, four Brazilians, one Scotswoman, two Swedes, one Canadian and only one New Yorker. The other classes, including the other programs — directing, writing, photography, musical theatre — were the same.

    And what I loved about the structure of the system at NYFA was the cross-pollination between these programs. The directing students cast the acting students in their films, and actors could team up with photographers to build their mutual portfolios, etc. This in-built pre-industry networking was actually what I feel helped me get the material I needed to prepare me for the industry once I left school …

    Also, the film that I co-wrote and starred in that is this year doing so well at festivals, “Life After Her,” started out as a passion project for me and one of the directing students I started working with regularly, Guilherme Festa. It became his final film project, and we filmed it the week after I graduated from NYFA.

    NYFA: What advice can you offer to fellow international students preparing to study at NYFA?

    EVZ: Make the most of the time you have at NYFA to build your network within the school. The students studying acting, directing, writing, cinematography alongside you will also enter the industry alongside you as professionals, and you will most likely work with them. If you’ve built strong relationships, that’s the beginning of your oh-so-important network in your career.

    NYFA: Your film “Life After Her” features an emotionally intense story and was accepted to some major festivals. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

    EVZ: It took eight days to shoot the 28-minute short film, which was done in locations all over New York and Brooklyn, ranging from Coney Island to Central Park. We all got very little sleep, sometimes shooting until late into the night and having very early call-times. The exhaustion made things harder, but funnily that actually helped me — most of the time — to drop into the emotional spaces the story required. When I’m that tired, I care less, and that usually makes me feel freer and more spontaneous. We also had the most amazing gift of an acting coach on set: Anna Cianculli, one of the best teachers I had at NYFA (she taught Meisner), who became a mentor to me …

    It was one of the most intense and challenging weeks of my life. But it was also one of the best weeks of my life. Playing the lead character in a film I had helped write the story for, shooting with an incredible crew (Gui had arranged to bring a professional crew he knew and trusted to work with on the film from Brazil) in my City of Dreams.

    One of the most poignant moments for me was standing on the edge of the water at Brooklyn Bridge Park at sunset, filming the scene where Rachel scatters her best friend’s ashes into the East River and dances off into the sunset with her new boyfriend. I remember looking at the New York skyline and thinking, “You’ve made it. This is the dream. You’re actually living it.” And I don’t think you get to feel that kind of high unless you are prepared to go through the really scratchy, difficult, chaos-moments, so a part of me feels strangely but truly grateful for the rough parts as well.

    NYFA: What advice can you give to our acting students for preparing for intense roles, and intense festival tours?

    EVZ: “You can never spend enough time thinking about your character,” Rachelle Greeff, a wonderful South African playwright, once told me during rehearsals for a play back home. And I think that’s what really made me secure in this role, at the end of the day … It also helped me to stop trying to think of Rachel as “transforming into someone else” — but rather, trying to find my own essence in her life story — what would “Esther” be like in Rachel’s set of life circumstances? I believe that way of thinking can help make one’s performance more personalized and authentic.

    [The film’s director, Gui Festa] has attended more of the 2017 festivals than I have (I think “Life After Her” has screened at 7 so far), and he was at Cannes Short Film Corner with it before it went to the Madrid International Film Festival, which is where I went, as I’d been invited to the awards night with a nomination for “Best Actress in a Short Film” (and as a co-writer with Guilherme Festa and Anna Cianculli for “Best Original Script”).

    Being at an international film festival of that caliber was an incredible experience. You meet so many surprisingly like-minded creatives from all over the world and get to inspire one another and build your network of potential future working relationships. The whole thing is quite tiring, and you have to make sure you plan your sleep hours in between the schedule of films you want to see, as well as sight-seeing, and then still have some stamina left for all the parties! I wished afterwards that I had planned better in advance so that I could have had a better balance of everything. I was quite exhausted afterwards, so my first week back in New York I spent knocked out in bed!

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing for your current work?

    EVZ: My time at NYFA taught me so much. Not just about acting as a craft, but also the actor’s lifestyle, which can be the more difficult part. I had never had any experience in film acting before NYFA, and being in such an intense course where you are acting on screen and watching yourself back more days than not really stimulated me to grow and hone my on-camera technique quickly. And funnily enough, my best teachers were the ones that started teaching me how to let go of my ideas about techniques and all the work I thought had to go into acting; on camera, it’s all about being very real and present, working with whatever is happening with you at that moment. It totally transformed my entire way of thinking about acting, and the lessons I learnt there — many of them very profound life lessons — are the ones I know I draw from in auditions, on sets, whenever I work.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?

    My experience with “Life After Her,” which I co-wrote and was very involved in developing in the early stages especially, and the success it is garnering, has shown me how possible and wonderful it is to create your own work. So one of my main focuses right now is writing and developing a few upcoming projects with other amazing filmmaking folk I’ve grown to know and love working with, to produce film content — short films, short series, leading up to bigger projects like features. My dream is to be developing and producing beautiful, well-told stories with a trusted team of like-minded creatives and good-hearted people. It’s amazing to get to act in someone else’s stories, but there is something extra special and fulfilling about getting to bring your own stories and visions to life.

    NYFA: Is there anything I missed you’d like to talk about?

    Some of the other work I’ve been doing since graduating from NYFA has included working with a theatre company called BrickaBrack, of which I became one of the core ensemble members of the New York branch soon after graduating. We got together once a week to “jam” and workshop productions, which we performed in the city. One of our plays, “On the Flip Side,” was part of the HERE Arts Festival in 2016. I had recurring appearances as a variety of characters on a comedy web series, “Neem’s Themes,” which has won several awards at major international film festivals this year. I also appeared on two episodes of the third season of the Netflix series, “Killer Instincts with Chris Hansen.” I believe it is set to come out in October 2017.

    I spent some time in South Africa at the beginning of this year and tried my hand at producing: I was the lead producer on a popular reality TV show, “Sê Net Ja” (“Just Say Yes”) about romantic partners proposing to their significant others in dramatic and unforgettable ways. It was a lot of fun, but very challenging, and I quickly realized I could never be a producer full-time: acting is simply my core passion. I also started dabbling in voice-over work, and for a while I was voicing the lead character on a Bollywood TV Show, dubbing English over the Hindi text for international audiences. I loved it, and hope to start doing more voice-work here in New York soon as well.

    The New York Film Academy would like to than Esther Van Zyl for taking the time to share a bit of her story with the NYFA community.

    August 23, 2017 • Acting • Views: 924

  • NYFA Los Angeles holds Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day at LACMA

    Recently, the New York Film Academy Los Angeles’ faculty and staff were treated to a day at one of LA’s premiere museums: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Sponsored by the Faculty Senate, the day was organized to celebrate and thank the NYFA staff for all of their hard work throughout the year.

    The day kicked off with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Then, faculty and staff toured the facility. Staffers were able to take photos of many of the exhibits, which featured works by Picasso, Renoir, and Warhol.

    Soon it was time for lunch. Finger sandwiches and fresh fruit were served in the sculpture garden. The grassy space allowed for a picnic-style lunch where co-workers could gather to chat about what they had just seen inside the museum.

    After lunch, the leftovers were donated to a local charity to feed the homeless. Many of those in attendance went back to explore the museum including exclusive exhibits like “Chagall: Fantasy of the Stage,” “Japanese Painting: A Walk in Nature,” and “Unexpected Light: Works by Young Il Ahn.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank LACMA for hosting our faculty and staff for a day of learning and exploration. For more information on LACMA click here.

    August 22, 2017 • Community Highlights, Faculty Highlights, Film School • Views: 388

  • NYFA Alumnus Dr. Mukesh Hariawala’s Journey from Heart Surgeon to Bollywood Actor

    While many adults around the world return to school to change careers, you don’t often hear about heart surgeons who decide to leave medicine to pursue acting — and then go on to find success in one of the world’s largest film industries. Yet that is exactly what happened in the curious case of New York Film Academy acting for film alumnus, Dr. Mukesh Hariawala, whose recent slew of Bollywood roles and unique backstory has caused a bit of a stir in Sify News, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, and Yahoo News.

    If you’re a fellow career-changer or are simply looking for acting inspiration stories, Dr. Hariawala recently took the time to catch up with us via an email interview to share about his incredible journey from Harvard-educated surgeon to busy Bollywood actor in Mumbai, India.

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

    MH : In 2014, I became eligible for taking a sabbatical from my 25-year cardiac surgical work in India, the U.K. and the U.S. I wanted to do something unrelated to medicine. Since I had a modelling background from undergrad college days and recollect enjoying it, I chose to try my hand at becoming an actor in mainstream cinema. I interviewed at NYFA in the summer of 2014 and, much to my surprise and delight, got accepted. I took up boarding and lodging at a negotiated rate at nearby Hotel Marriott and moved to New York. I continued to return home to Boston over the weekends.

    NYFA: What inspired you to change careers, from a renowned heart surgeon to Bollywood actor?

    MH: Although I have become a reasonably busy actor in Bollywood, I have not completely disconnected myself from the clinical world of cardiac surgery. I continue to maintain my hospital affiliation and privileges in Mumbai. The single most inspiring thought was the challenge of not to be afraid of failure, and to prove to myself that I was capable of succeeding in another profession too, apart from medicine.

    NYFA: What was the greatest challenge for you in shifting careers?

    MH: It was the mental acclimatization to accept the new social status of being a student again at age 50+. I was fortunate to be warmly accommodated by my much younger classmate peers and teachers, who never reminded me of my age. They very much encouraged me about the potential I displayed in class.

    My wife and kids have been most supportive throughout the process. They used to visit NYFA campus during my student days to keep me motivated.

    NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment?

    MH: The acting for film class shoot with classmate co-stars of my outdoor scenes in Union Square. It gave me a nostalgic feeling of being a star, particularly since we were filming surrounded by tourist onlookers from all over the world … wow.

    NYFA: Coming from your medical background, what surprised you the most about your acting training at New York Film Academy?

    MH: Unlike surgery, acting was relatively stress-free and enjoyable. I realized during the course that although we can pretend at times in real life, the camera doesn’t let you lie. The camera will almost always pick up a pretense and unmask you. If the actor is not in the portrayed character, it would spell disaster for the actor and damage the scene. Also, following filming, it takes time coming out of a character back to normal life, and this has been a major surprise working in this new profession.

    NYFA: Can you tell us a little about the Bollywood film “102 Not Out,” and how you became attached to the project?

    MH: The film “102 Not Out” has superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor as the lead characters. I met the director, Umesh Shukla, while filming for another movie, “Exit,” in Ladakh. He liked my sincerity to the art of acting and promised me a role in a future project. I did get a call from him, one year later. Honestly, I was plain lucky and feel fortunate to share screen space with legends. Since learning acting is an ongoing process, I am getting the benefit of interactions with the best in the profession.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all helpful in preparing you for what you are accomplishing now?

    MH: An overwhelming 100 percent. Without my NYFA training I could not have mustered the necessary skills to comprehend the complete process of filmmaking. My performances, which again reflect NYFA training, are appreciated by directors and they tend to repeat cast me in their future projects.

    NYFA: What advice would you give to fellow career-changing NYFA students who, like you, wish to pursue an entertainment career after being out in the workforce for awhile in other industries?

    MH: Age should never be a barrier to crossover from an established career to an completely insecure new industry. Additionally, all previous other industry work experiences become an asset in one’s toolkit to play a fortitude of characters, particularly while filming an emotionally charged recall scene. However, training in a good program is paramount in pursuing an long-term acting career. If not, it would surmount to driving a car without wheels.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about other projects you have coming up?

    MH: I have few more films currently undergoing post-production and due for release in late 2017 and early 2018. These include “Exit,” “Genius,” “Chicken Curry Law,” and “Aksar 2.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Dr. Mukesh Hariawala for taking the time to share a bit of his story with our community.

  • NYFA Broadcast Journalism School Weekly Updates Aug. 21

    Those of you who are especially observant — and I am sure that includes all NYFA Broadcast Journalism graduates — may have noticed that this edition of the Weekly Update arrived quite late on Monday. (Or, for those across the International Dateline, on Tuesday.) The reason was that I spent the past weekend shooting material for an upcoming documentary project called “Shanghai: 1937.”

    Earlier this year, I was in China shooting the host segments for the international version of the CCTV cultural documentary series “Masters of the Century.” While there, I lectured at the Beijing Film Academy, in my capacity as the Chair of the NYFA Broadcast Journalism program. And I also did groundwork for “Shanghai: 1937.” (Broadcast journalists invented the concept of “multitasking.”) The first week of September, I will be in China shooting original interviews and scenic footage for “Shanghai: 1937,” as well as again visiting several universities representing NYFA.
    The Battle of Shanghai took place during the late Summer and early Fall of 1937. It has been called the last battle of World War I, and the first battle of World War II. Largely unknown outside of China, it set the stage for later Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong and the Philippines. But for four long years, China stood alone.
    This past Sunday, I interviewed a 92 year-old witness to the Battle of Shanghai. Her name is Liliane Willens, and she is the author of the amazing book “Stateless in Shanghai.” She and her family were Russian Jewish refugees, allowed to live in Shanghai but unable to leave, as they had no citizenship papers or passports.
     Monday morning, I interviewed military historian Edward Drea. He is one of the editors of “The Battle for China,” widely considered the definitive work on the Sino-Japanese War. He was formerly the head of the Research and Analysis Department at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C. and taught at the U.S. Army War College.
    In Shanghai I will interview Prof. Su Zhiliang of Shanghai Normal University, an expert on the Battle of Shanghai. Prof. Su has lectured throughout China, and overseas, and is the author of numerous books, monographs and journal articles.
    I’ll also be shooting at key Shanghai locations including the Sihang Warehouse, where a company of Chinese troops — given what seemed a suicide mission — held back a Japanese army.
    In the end, however, this is a story of shattered lives and enduring dreams. The events of “Shanghai, 1937” continue to echo today and underlie many Chinese attitudes and beliefs. If you want to understand contemporary China, you must first understand its history.
  • NYFA Student Documentarian Braulio Jatar Interviewed by VICE on Resistance in Venezuela

    Photo by Braulio Jatar

    There are many ways students can spend their breaks from school, but Braulio Jatar took a leave of absence from his studies in the 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking Program at the New York Film Academy to put his training to work in the field by documenting the current, violent protests in Venezuela.

    Currently, Jatar is one of a dedicated group of documentary filmmakers, journalists and photographers  who brave daily danger to be on the scene, documenting the upheaval and protests in his native Venezuela. The young filmmaker and activist’s work has caught the attention of VICE, who have spotlighted Jatar in an in-depth interview that shares some of the filmmaker’s powerful photographs.

    Photo by Braulio Jatar

    Jatar, who hails from the Venezuela’s capital of Caracas, told VICE, “I came back to Venezuela because I felt it was a very important moment in the history of my country, and, as a documentary filmmaker, it was essential that I was here.”

    Venezuela is in turmoil, with violent clashes occurring between the government of Nicolás Maduro and citizen demonstrators, who demand the president step down from power. There have been violent clashes between the police and the protesters, some resulting in casualties.

    VICE reports that Jatar wears a bulletproof vest, anti-gas mask, helmet, and press credentials daily when he leaves his home — where his father, a prominent journalist, is on house arrest.

    Photo by Horacio Siciliano

    Jatar ventures into the streets of Caracas to document what he sees and shares his photos and videos daily to his nearly 150,000 Instagram followers, providing a chilling inside glimpse into the chaotic situation in Venezuela, as it happens.

    Of recent violence and deaths, Jatar told VICE, “We need to take into account that the majority of those killed are young people between the ages of 15 and 18. Who is not saddened to learn that the young men facing the police and the National Guard, who are adults and have guns, are dying for simply demanding a better country?”

    Jatar’s VICE interview in its entirety is available here, and there is a translation function for those not fluent in Portuguese. While there, Jatar is also shooting a set of documentaries, one of which he plans to cut as his NYFA thesis when he returns from his leave.

  • NYFA Acting for Film Alumna Samantha Hamadeh Hosts Comedy Central Arabia’s “Ridiculousness Arabia”

    In 2010 Samantha Hamadeh graduated from the One Year Acting Program at New York Film Academy. Her 3.9 GPA should have tipped everyone off that she was headed toward great things. In just a few years Hamadeh was on Comedy Central co-hosting one of their most popular shows. Hamadeh sat down with NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith, to talk about where it all began and how NYFA helped her to get where she is now.

    NYFA: When did you fall in love with acting?

    Hamadeh: I was in 1st or 2nd grade. My friend and I used to hand out little notes to people in the class to come watch our plays on the playground. There was a tree ring made of cement. That was our stage.

    NYFA: What were some challenges you faced in your craft before coming to NYFA?

    Hamadeh: Although I’m a firm believer that people are born with a talent, I still thought that there was so much that I needed to learn about myself in order to be able to understand and portray different characters. Also, I took 3 years off from the theater because I was getting a degree at university. I was nervous about getting back into the world of acting.

    NYFA: How did NYFA help you move through these challenges?

    Hamadeh: I had some of the best teachers and mentors. From Kelly Hughes to Caitlin Muelder, Scott Ferrara, Valorie Hubbard, and Anthony Montes – they were all so supportive and truly believed in me. In class, I was able to work on my technique while also developing new skills.

    NYFA: What is your best memory from NYFA?

    Hamadeh: My dream of going to film school came true! The entire experience was life changing. I also got to meet some of the most amazing and talented students who I look up to, especially Eliza Delacourt and Maria Carvalho, who are now family to me. Some of the best years of my life were in Los Angeles, both on and off campus.

    NYFA: Tell us about your show, “Ridiculousness Arabia.”

    Hamadeh: Ridiculousness is an American comedy clip show, which presents viral videos. Comedy Central Arabia got the rights and I got to co-host the Arabic version – “Ridiculousness Arabia.”

    Samantha Hamadeh | NYFA Alumni Spotlight

    NYFA: How did you become involved with the project?

    Hamadeh: I work in marketing and was at a meeting with Comedy Central because they were looking to film their stand up comedy show at my brother’s venue, Stereo Arcade in Dubai. The CC team mentioned they were also working on Ridiculousness and I got excited because I love the US version. The producer asked if I was interested in co-hosting. Obviously, I said yes.

    NYFA: What was your goal with the project?

    Hamadeh: It was pure improv so we didn’t have much time to rehearse and we filmed two to three episodes a day over five to six days. My goal was to stay focused and enjoy filming every episode. There’s no character work. What you see on tv is who I am in person.

    NYFA: What’s been the most rewarding part of being involved with “Ridiculousness Arabia?”

    Hamadeh: Being part of a production like this was a dream come true! And I enjoyed every single minute of it because I got to work with really talented guys; Mohanad, the host and Khaled, the co-host.

    NYFA: What advice do you have for an aspiring host?

    Hamadeh: You’re going to hear a lot of no’s before you get a yes. It’s hard to be patient, I know, but when the right opportunity comes along you’re going to be happy that you were.

    NYFA: Where and when can people watch your show? 

    Hamadeh: Every Sunday night on Comedy Central Arabia.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Samantha Hamadeh for taking the time to speak with us.



    August 18, 2017 • Acting, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 502

  • NYFA Power Couple Haik Gazarian & Valentina Rendón Share Their Success Story

    At the New York Film Academy, it is not uncommon to see actors and directors who have already made great strides in their career seek a focused short-term learning experience in order to brush up on a rusty skill or even learn an aspect of the movie-making business in which they have never participated.

    Already successful in their native Colombia,  NYFA graduates Valentina Rendón and Haik Gazarian have attended the New York Film Academy a combined 10 times and are self-described evangelists for the school. In Colombia, Rendón has worked as a pop star, soap-opera actress, and scriptwriter, and Gazarian has managed actors and written and directed features. The couple returns to NYFA before almost every project.

    Gazarian grew up in Venezuela shooting on an 8 mm camera. He worked for a television station where he saw how newsreels were made. He was fascinated. While there, Gazarian began meeting actors. As those connections grew he built a career out of those relationships. For the next 15 years he managed actors, but his dream to make feature films never faded.

    As his connections multiplied, Gazarian began to figure out how to make that desire a reality. He began writing and sought out fundraising opportunities. Gazarian is practical in everything he does. Despite his years in the entertainment industry and the incredible talent he was surrounded by, Gazarian wanted to go back to school.

    He wanted to make sure that the work he produced would be of a professional quality and he wanted to do it himself. In 1996 he found the New York Film Academy and enrolled in the eight-week filmmaking course. By the time he had completed the course he had the first draft of his script, “Venezzia.”

    He would spend the next eight years re-writing, workshopping and developing the script. During that time Gazarian kept an open mind about his work and was willing to hear suggestions on how to better it.

    One day while on set while visiting a client, Gazarian was taking photos as his client rehearsed a scene. Through a camera lens, he spotted Valentina Rendón. This would be an encouter that changed his life.

    Columbian actress Rendón is perhaps best known for winning “Bailando por un Sueño.” Her work includes appearances in television shows like “Copas Amargas,” “Tabú,” and “Allá Te Espero.” She was also one-fourth of the pop group Luna Verde in the mid-’90s. Now, Rendón has started to center her attention behind the camera. She came to NYFA to study editing.

    Rendón began her career in industrial design, when she was awarded a music scholarship at the age of 18. “Since I was a little kid, I was driven by the creative process,” Rendón said. She would write songs and poems, practice ballet, play guitar and paint. When the opportunity arose to go to the Acting School of the National Theater of Colombia via a scholarship, she found the perfect way to combine all of her talents and jumped at the challenge.

    As she settled into acting, she found herself curious about the work happening on the other side of the camera. “I was always asking the DPs about how the camera worked,” Rendón said. When she first started dating Gazarian she would give him notes on the script for “Venezzia.” Gazarian brought Rendón in for re-writes, and she wound up writing the final draft of the script.

    In addition to the filmmaking, directing, and screenwriting courses they have already taken, the couple is now taking on the NYFA’s 4-Week Digital Editing Workshop. They are working on their next feature and, while they will not be editing the project themselves, they thought it important to know the language and styles of editing before they began post-production.

    There are two reasons the couple keeps coming back to attend NYFA programs in between projects: it is a a process they compare to training for sports. “We’re about to start pre-production,” Gazarian said. “It’s like a fine-tune-up before going into battle. You want to keep pushing yourself. It gives you a version of the orchestra you’re conducting. You should know the limitations of each position.”

    “Learning new skills will give you more information. This is what NYFA’s short programs are made for. You get to practice what you’re learning,” Rendón said. Gazarian added, “All of the information you learn here is meant to be applicable.”

    The other thing that keeps them coming back is NYFA’s global community. “Hanging out with people outside of your purview helps you pick up on little things,” Gazarian said. Rendón said that in one of her classes there wasn’t a single student from the same country. She even learned the Bollywood style of filmmaking from a classmate.

    The couple was tight-lipped about their upcoming project, but said that there was already a major studio interested in producing it.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Valentina Rendón and Haik Gazarian for taking the time to share their experience.

  • NLGJA’s Excellence in Documentary Award Winner is “Romeo Romeo” by NYFA’s Lizzie Gottlieb

    The prestigious Excellence in Documentary Award by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association (NLGJA) has been awarded to “Romeo, Romeo,” a documentary feature directed by New York Film Academy documentary faculty member Lizzie Gottlieb, who produced the film together with Eden Wurmfeld and NYFA President Michael J. Young. NYFA documentary alumna Eliana Álvarez Martínez was a camera operator.

    “Romeo Romeo” follows a married lesbian couple, Lexy and Jessica, throughout their poignant  struggles with infertility as they navigate the heavy costs, medical procedures, and reproductive technology to pursue their dream of growing their family. The film aired on PBS’s “America Reframed.” World Channel, which hosts the show, notes that more than 6.5 million American women struggle with fertility issues.

    The NLGJA’s Excellence in Journalism Awards have recognized and promoted fantastic excellent coverage of issues related to the LGBTQ+ community since 1993.

    NLGJA President Jen Christensen has said, “We are thrilled each year by the work that is nominated for NLGJA’s Excellence in Journalism Awards, and this year was no different. All of the award recipients are doing their fair share to advance NLGJA’s mission of promoting fair and accurate LGBTQ coverage, and it is our privilege to recognize their outstanding work.”

    The Excellence in Documentary Award will be presented at the NLGJA convention this September in Philadelphia. “Romeo Romeo” will air again Oct. 24, 2017.

  • VR and AR Crash Course with pioneering developer and NYFA instructor, Aaron Pulkka

    NYFA instructor, Aaron Pulkka is a pioneer in the virtual reality and augmented reality having created groundbreaking projects going back to his days creating Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride as a Disney Imagineer in the 1990s. He has been leading cutting edge projects in the space ever since. He is now leading creative development for the much anticipated series of VR/AR amusement parks for Two Bit Circus funded by Intel Capital among other investors.

    Like all of the NYFA Games’ instructors, Aaron is a working game developer in industry and chooses to teach at the school on top of his professional practice.

    Aaron appeared on the NYFA Games’ Twitch Channel to create three awesome videos in which he explains

    • the history of VR and AR
    • the current state of VR and AR including a hands on explanation of the hardware platforms
    • a crash course on VR Game Design

    Check out Aaron on NYFA Games Twitch here:

    (Virtual) Reality Check – Part 1 | Schooled with Aaron Pulkka
    Watch live video from NYFA_Games on
    (Virtual) Reality Check – Part 2 | Schooled with Aaron Pulkka
    Watch live video from NYFA_Games on
    VR Game Design Crash Course! with Aaron Pulkka
    Watch live video from NYFA_Games on

    August 18, 2017 • Faculty Highlights, Game Design • Views: 311