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  • NYFA Alum Irene Mendez on Film Sustainability and a UN Campaign to Change The Film Production Landscape

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    Spanish producer Irene Mendez has always been interested in visual storytelling. With her degree in communications coupled with her education from NYFA’s 1-Year Producing Conservatory, Mendez is seeking change in the production space, aiming to make all media projects more sustainable across the industry. 

    Coming to NYFA, Mendez knew it would give her a new perspective on film production. “I’ve always thought it is essential to know and understand how movies are made in different countries, and I saw in NYFA the opportunity to do so,” she shared. “NYFA has some of the best professionals teachers, including instructors who have won BAFTAs and have been in some of the most important film festivals.”

    NYFA alum Irene Mendez

    From her time at NYFA, Mendez has learned that preproduction is the most essential part of any project. “Work before you get to the set. Study every possibility that might happen once you are filming,” she emphasized. “Be ready for any inconvenience. It is so vital to plan what might happen and be prepared for any kind of problem. It is funny cause it’s actually the same advice I will give to anyone who wants to make a more sustainable film.”

    Mendez first got involved in sustainability in filmmaking after attending Madrid’s Another Way Film Festival in Madrid, which focused on sustainable progress in filmmaking. “I realized that we can do much more. There are many things we can change to create the same entertainment content in a much better way,” urged Mendez. “We can tell the same great stories without hurting the planet and its future. Even more, we can help to be part of the change.”

    Mendez is now involved with Fiction Changing the World, an organization that specializes in sustainable audiovisual productions, working both in reducing the negative impact of productions and creating fiction and entertainment formats that convey important info about sustainable development to the viewers. “There is a lot of things that we can do when we work on a project to reduce the negatives impacts and create good ones. Not only on how we do things but also in how we tell the stories and entertain.”

    This past year, Mendez worked with Fiction Changing the World on a UN campaign to show the world that a new way to make content is possible. “Being part of the UN campaign and seeing Paloma Andres and Rhoda N. Wainwright (Founders of Fiction Changing the World) speak beside people with innovative ideas and famous names as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), makes you understand that we are not alone. There is a lot of people trying to be part of the change. Thousands of unique ideas can help us all to do our bit.”

    Fiction Changing the World has also started their campaign The Dante Movement, which focuses on creating fictional media that will inspire sustainable action and change in the world among others to do their part. “Documentaries are a wonderful way to bring attention to different topics, but they have a couple of problems when it comes to reaching the general public,” shared Mendez when asked why the fictional format is a better medium for the campaign as opposed to documentary filmmaking. 

    Irene Mendez on set

    “They [documentaries] often focus on particular topics, which is fine, but it is more difficult to get millions of people interested in very a specific issue. Also, documentaries are not always the first choice of entertainment for the general public. On the other hand, fiction is a format that is consumed by everyone on the planet; it leaves no one out. It is a more global and entertaining way to send a message and to educate and raise awareness.”

    “For example, I would dare to say that the vast majority of Spaniards of my generation know that water rotates in a different direction in each hemisphere thanks to an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart travels to Australia,” Mendez said. “Fiction is a way to reach every home. We all get motivated watching the Avengers fighting together against Thanos. In our universe, we can all unite to fight our own common enemy.”

    Though The Dante Movement is focused on fictional stories to get the message across to viewers, Fiction Changing the World still allows for other formats to be used to reach different people, like documentaries. In addition to working with the organization, Mendez has also been working on the TV series Foundation for Apple TV+ here in Spain, but what Mendez expressed she is most proud of is producing the first certified Positive Carbon Footprint spot for Greenpeace

     

    “This proves that it is possible to create sustainable content. We had to think from the script in how to make it more environmentally friendly way,” shared Mendez. “I had several meetings with the screenwriters and the production company to explain to them what are the points that make a film create more or fewer carbon emissions and what makes more negative impacts. They quickly understood what was needed and realized that thinking in a sustainable way doesn’t have to compromise the project’s creativity.” 

    As a lover of making films and the environment, Mendez is an advocate for change in the industry, working to make sets reduce their negative impact on the environment from issues like not recycling properly and consuming more on set than necessary. “The reality is that there are many more things we aren’t doing right. The material we use to build a set, the fabric to sew amazing costumes, and the places we choose to use as scenarios are decisions we can make to reduce the negative impact of production,” she explained. “Our responsibility as filmmakers is not solely to entertain, but also to inform and inspire our audiences. We have the power to reach every single soul, and we should use it.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Irene Mendez for taking the time to share more about the sustainability movement that is taking place on sets all over the world. With the urgency to act, filmmakers like Irene can continue to make a difference and be agents for change across the industry. NYFA looks forward to seeing what’s next from the alum and to hear more updates on Mendez’s mission for film sustainability. 

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  • NYFA Community Among Shortlist for 93rd Academy Awards

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    After teasing the annual announcement of shortlists for this year’s upcoming Oscar nominations, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally announced nine categories of shortlists on Tuesday afternoon. Included among the list in the Documentary Feature category was All In: The Fight For Democracy from NYFA alum and producer Lisa Cortés; Boys State from Documentary Cinematography instructor Claudia Raschke; and Dick Johnson is Dead from Cinematographer instructor John Foster. 

    The shortlists for the 93rd Academy Awards were announced for: Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, International Feature Film, Makeup and Hairstyling, Music (Original Score), Music (Original Song), Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film and Visual Effects.

    NYFA alum Lisa Cortés

    Cortés co-directed and produced the documentary All In: The Fight For Democracy, released September 18, 2020, on Amazon Prime. The film follows Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and the struggle against voter suppression. As of February 10, 2021, the film holds an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been met with widespread critical claim with Kevin Crust from the Los Angeles Times writing “All In manages the triple-E feat of being entertaining, educational, and enlightening.” 

    This past year, Cortés attended the NYFA’s Rock The Vote Rally rally in October, where she brought a special sneak preview of Janelle Monae’s end-credit song, “Turntable,” song written exclusively for the film. Cortés also spoke about how her NYFA Producing education proved to be valuable in pulling together a project like All In during such challenging times. 

    Lisa Cortes, Lee Daniels, and Mo’Nique (Photo Credit: WireImage.com)

    The producing alum has had an extensive career prior to her success with All In. Cortés co-produced NYFA guest speaker Nicole Kassell’s film The Woodsman, co-directed The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion, produced The Apollo, and executive produced Academy Award-winning film Precious from Lee Daniels. 

     Documentary Cinematography instructor Claudia Raschke was an additional cinematographer on the set of the shortlist contender Boys State from A24. The film follows an unusual annual experiment in Texas that joins together a thousand 17-year-old boys from across the state to build a representative government from the ground up. The film won the U.S Documentary Competition Grand Jury at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available to stream on Apple TV+.

    Shortlist contender Dick Johnson is Dead was worked on by Cinematographer instructor John Foster.  The documentary film directed by Kirsten Johnson focuses on Johnson’s father Richard, who suffers from dementia, portraying different ways—some of them violent “accidents”—in which he could ultimately die. The comedic and heartfelt film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling. 

    New York Film Academy congratulates Lisa Cortés, Claudia Raschke, and John Foster for their films making the 2021 Oscars Shortlist for Best Documentary Feature and wishes all the projects that made this year’s Academy shortlist the best of luck when the full list of nominations are announced on March 15, 2021.

    The full shortlists for each announced category can be found below:

    DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

    “All In: The Fight for Democracy”
    “Boys State”
    “Collective”
    “Crip Camp”
    “Dick Johnson Is Dead”
    “Gunda”
    “MLK/FBI”
    “The Mole Agent”
    “My Octopus Teacher”
    “Notturno”
    “The Painter and the Thief”
    “76 Days”
    “Time”
    “The Truffle Hunters”
    “Welcome to Chechnya”

    DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

    “Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa”
    “Call Center Blues”
    “Colette”
    “A Concerto Is a Conversation”
    “Do Not Split”
    “Hunger Ward”
    “Hysterical Girl”
    “A Love Song for Latasha”
    “The Speed Cubers”
    “What Would Sophia Loren Do?”

    INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

    Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
    Chile, “The Mole Agent”
    Czech Republic, “Charlatan”
    Denmark, “Another Round”
    France, “Two of Us”
    Guatemala, “La Llorona”
    Hong Kong, “Better Days”
    Iran, “Sun Children”
    Ivory Coast, “Night of the Kings”
    Mexico, “I’m No Longer Here”
    Norway, “Hope”
    Romania, “Collective”
    Russia, “Dear Comrades!”
    Taiwan, “A Sun”
    Tunisia, “The Man Who Sold His Skin”

    MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

    “Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”
    “Emma”
    “The Glorias”
    “Hillbilly Elegy”
    “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”
    “The Little Things”
    “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
    “Mank”
    “One Night in Miami…”
    “Pinocchio”

    MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

    “Ammonite”
    “Blizzard of Souls”
    “Da 5 Bloods”
    “The Invisible Man”
    “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”
    “The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)”
    “The Little Things”
    “Mank”
    “The Midnight Sky”
    “Minari”
    “Mulan”
    “News of the World”
    “Soul”
    “Tenet”
    “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

    MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

    “Turntables” from “All In: The Fight for Democracy”
    “See What You’ve Done” from “Belly of the Beast”
    “Wuhan Flu” from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”
    “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”
    “Never Break” from “Giving Voice”
    “Make It Work” from “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”
    “Fight For You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”
    “Io Sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)”
    “Rain Song” from “Minari”
    “Show Me Your Soul” from “Mr. Soul!”
    “Loyal Brave True” from “Mulan”
    “Free” from “The One and Only Ivan”
    “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami…”
    “Green” from “Sound of Metal”
    “Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

    ANIMATED SHORT FILM

    “Burrow”
    “Genius Loci”
    “If Anything Happens I Love You”
    “Kapaemahu”
    “Opera”
    “Out”
    “The Snail and the Whale”
    “To Gerard”
    “Traces”
    “Yes-People”

    LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

    “Bittu”
    “Da Yie”
    “Feeling Through”
    “The Human Voice”
    “The Kicksled Choir”
    “The Letter Room”
    “The Present”
    “Two Distant Strangers”
    “The Van”
    “White Eye”

    VISUAL EFFECTS

    “Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”
    “Bloodshot”
    “Love and Monsters”
    “Mank”
    “The Midnight Sky”
    “Mulan”
    “The One and Only Ivan”
    “Soul”
    “Tenet”
    “Welcome to Chechnya”

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    February 10, 2021 • Diversity, Entertainment News, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 883

  • Sony’s Gemstone Studios’ Inaugural Rising Storytellers Search Names NYFA Alum Krystina Christiansen as a Finalist

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    Originally reported in Deadline, NYFA Producing alum Krystina Christiansen was named one of four finalists competing for a chance to sign a deal with Sony Pictures Television (SPT) and win additional prizes in Gemstone Studios’ inaugural Rising Storytellers Search.

    The Houston, TX native originally received her BA in Public Relations at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX before coming to New York Film Academy. “I have been running around with a camera in hand since I was a kid,” shared Christiansen. “I didn’t know what I was doing was called filmmaking and I didn’t grow up obsessing over the art of filmmaking. I just really love storytelling.”

    NYFA producing alum Krystina Christiansen

    “When I got to college, I didn’t see a ‘reasonable’ path to filmmaking outside of being an entertainment lawyer so I went to law school in San Diego with that intent,” she revealed. Not long after, Christiansen recalled sitting in a class one day watching a documentary and it was there she realized she would rather be the person who made that documentary than the student watching it, leading her to study at New York Film Academy.

    “What I got from my time at NYFA was what education has always given me – the confidence I feel I need to move towards my goals. Specifically to NYFA, I love how diverse the community is; I was one of 3 Americans in my class.”

    NYFA producing alum Krystina Christiansen

    After pursuing her MFA in Producing at NYFA, Christiansen worked on an array of productions, directing and producing music videos and a web series, followed by a handful of short films. “I realized I was burning myself out working on shoe-string budget passion projects so I started working as a coordinator.” She then landed her first feature with Black-owned production company Hidden Empire Film Group as a Travel Coordinator for the film Traffik starring Omar Epps and Paula Patton.

    “The cinematographer on Traffik, Dante Spinotti, taught me so much with his actions. He really raised the bar of expectations on the type of people I want to work with. Talent is great, but kindness is key,” shared Christiansen.

    Since then, the NYFA alum has been working in the digital and commercial space as a coordinator and has worked her way up to production managing and producing with companies like Participant’s digital arm SoulPancake, and in 2020 she produced, wrote, and directed for TikTok, The Redford Center, USC Keck Medicine, and others in the commercial and doc space.

    Krystina Christiansen behind the scenes shooting “Closing the Gap” for The Redford Center

    Now Christiansen is being recognized for her work and ideas for her project The Narrative by Sony’s Gemstone Studios by being named one of the four finalists in the inaugural Rising Storytellers Search. Her entry pitch for her project, The Narrative, a hybrid docudrama that takes an anthropological view of decades of civil unrest in Houston.

    “When I was 13, I overheard a newscaster talking about the 30 year anniversary of a trial in Houston called ‘The Houston 12.’ While watching it I recognized one of the men was my dad,” she revealed. “He was working overseas at the time and there’s nothing about this trial online so I kept hitting walls anytime I’d inquire about it. My dad is incredibly humble about this, but I knew there was a story here and as mentioned, I love a good story.”

    Christiansen did everything she could to dig deeper into her research to uncover the truth behind The Houston 12 and spent 2019 flying back and forth to Houston to sit in Rice University’s basement reading two decades of microfilm to do research for the story. Throughout that process, she noticed alarming patterns within media stories that revealed covered up corruption and, eventually, the articles detailing the Houston 12 trial.

    Krystina Christiansen shooting “Closing the Gap” for The Redford Center

    The four finalists for Gemstone Studios’ inaugural Rising Storytellers Search, including Christiansen, will receive tools from Sony Alpha and team up with mentors from both SPT and Ideas United to refine their final pitch reels before presenting them for judging in November. In addition to a deal with Gemstone, the creator of the winning proposal will take home equipment from Sony and get access to the company’s Digital Media Production Center (DMPC) technical-virtual training. All finalists will also be given a 24-month subscription to Celtx Video Production Studio Software and Josefinas products.

    New York Film Academy is thrilled to share the exciting news about Krystina Christiansen being named a finalist and wishes the NYFA alum the best of luck and all the support for her biggest and most personal project yet, The Narrative

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    November 19, 2020 • Diversity, Entertainment News, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 688

  • NYFA Presents: The Rock The Vote Rally 2020

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    A rousing group of New York Film Academy students, faculty, and staff from all three campuses (New York, Los Angeles, and South Beach) participated in a Rock the Vote Virtual Rally yesterday. The Rally included special guest, Tony-nominated actor Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s RENT, Les Misérables, The Rocky Horror Show ), who shared stories of her immigrant family background, becoming a U.S citizen, and the imperative to vote. 

    NYFA Producing alum Lisa Cortes (producer of the Academy Award-winning Precious, recent Emmy Award-winner for The Apollo, and producer/co-director of the just-released Stacey Abrams documentary All In: The Fight For Democracy) spoke of the importance of voting in light of the long history of voter suppression in the U.S. In the making of All In: The Fight For Democracy during the COVID pandemic, Cortes talked about how her NYFA Producing education proved so valuable in pulling together the project during such challenging times. Attendees were treated to a special viewing of the All In trailer and a special musical clip of Janelle Monae performing the closing title song from the film. 

    Also joining via specially recorded video clips was Nikki Renée Daniels from “Hamilton” and Shoshana Bean from “Wicked”,  A special “Get Out The Vote” tribute by Lin Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton capped the Rally. 

    The event was co-produced by NYFA Producing Chair Neal Weisman and Chair of the Musical Theatre Department, Kristy Cates. 

    “Our sincerest hope was not only to invigorate the NYFA community to become excited about and committed to voting, but to inspire everyone in attendance to reach out to their circles and do the same.” – Kristy Cates

    NYFA’s Rock The Vote efforts include a Zoom room every Tuesday from 1 p.m. ET – 4 p.m. ET that offers voter registration and mail-in ballot assistance for NYFA students, faculty, and staff from all three campuses. Please stop in and check your registration, apply for absentee ballots, etc. Further information is available on the NYFA Voter Resources page.

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  • NYFA BFA Producing Alum Thandiwe Mlauli Founds South Africa’s First Woman-Led Animation Studio

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    BFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli has announced an upcoming project called SOLA. It will be South Africa’s first independently produced and women-led afro-animation, with Mlauli acting as producer, director and showrunner through her animation company Studio Yezi.

    The South African native, who had been told before that there was no audience for afro-anime, decided to take matters into her own hands. “I knew that [not having an audience] was not true. I had friends both Black and Brown, who were interested in seeing representation in animation,” she shared. “I decided to arm myself with the knowledge I would need to make this dream happen and Studio Yezi is the fruit of this decision.”

    Founded in 2019 in Johannesburg, Studio Yezi (short for/inspired by “inkanyezi,” which means “star” in Zulu) aims to create economic opportunities for Black and Brown people in the animation industry, as well as creating accurate representation on screen.

    Studio Yezi, founded by NYFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    Studio Yezi has recently launched the campaign #MakeSolaHappen, a crowdfunding initiative to develop SOLA, a story about a magical young girl who awakens in a world where magic is considered dangerous. Set in 22nd century South Africa, the film would also reimagine a world where the country would have been colonized by the Spanish instead of the British. The short film is based on the TV series that Studio Yezi is also developing.

    Founder and CEO of Yezi Studios & NYFA producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    “We’re crowdfunding to help us get to the finish line,” explained Mlauli. “We’ve gathered a team of really dope creatives who can definitely bring a product worth talking about. If anybody is interested in supporting us, or becoming a producer, please visit our crowdfunding campaign.

    The film, still in development, is a project that Mlauli hopes will “inspire other young artists to invest in their dreams and pursue them, despite whatever resistance they experience.” The studio CEO also noted how this is a project where more people can recognize Africa for its talents and the people. “We want to create a hub where people refer to us as much as they refer to other places in the world.”

    For other creatives, Mlauli shares that it’s imperative to keep focus. “Remind yourself, as often as you can, why you chose the career path that you chose. When you focus on what you love, and give yourself a chance to dedicate yourself to your dreams, the world will open up for you. I’m an example of that.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli for sharing more about her upcoming film SOLA and the vision of her newly formed company, Yezi Studios. To learn more about Yezi Studios and the campaign to develop SOLAclick here.

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    September 24, 2020 • International Diversity, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 724

  • New York Film Academy Producing Alum Alex Lebovici Produces ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’

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    One of the long-anticipated films of the summer, Bill & Ted Face The Music, starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick) and Alex Winter (The Lost Boys) was released everywhere on VOD and in select cinemas on August 28, 2020, with NYFA alum Alex Lebovici as a producer.

    The free-spirited and beloved characters Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) from the original films Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), make their epic comeback in the Bill & Ted series’ biggest film yet, which has been hailed by critics and is being called a “Surprise Summer Hit.”

    Film poster for ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ (Produced by Alex Lebovici)

    The long-awaited film was originally shot in 2019 and was slated for a full theatrical release. Like many indie films and blockbusters alike, the film opted for VOD and limited theatrical release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On the weekend of its release, it was the top-rented film on FandangoNow, Apple TV, the iTunes Store, and Google Play. Fandango also announced that despite being released for only four days, the film held the most popular spot on their most rented list for the month of August.

    NYFA producing alum Alex Lebovici at a NYFA Q&A event

    Lebovici, who produced the film, posted photos from the production on his Instagram and recalled how the film was such “a blast” to make. “I can’t believe it,” he shared. “This was by far the most challenging experience of my life but I’m blessed to have an amazing family who supported me through it all.”

    Lebovici was also an executive producer on The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019), Academy Award-nominated Denzel Washington drama, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), Mom and Dad (2017), Who We Are Now (2017), and The Clapper (2017). Lebovici will be an executive-producer for King Fury 2 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender, which is currently in post-production.

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate the Producing alum on his latest success with the release of Bill & Ted Face The Music, and looks forward to hearing more about the upcoming release of King Fury 2.

    “Be excellent to each other.” 

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    September 22, 2020 • Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 566

  • Hans Augustave Unveils New, Powerful Short Film ‘Before I Knew’

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    “This was before I felt the need to make up for my imposing stature and hue by developing an overly gentle and inviting persona.

    This was before George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice…”

    This is before I knew I was Black.”

    These statements and more are included in Hans Augustave’s latest short film Before I Knew, a visual poem that he wrote, directed, produced, and appeared in. 

    The Haitian-American filmmaker attended NYFA’s One Year Conservatory Program in Producing and then became a digital video producer for BLUR, a tech startup with an in-house production team. There, he directed, shot, and edited dozens of ads for the digital space. He then moved to the independent film world where he currently works as an Assistant Director. 

    Also a Dj (DJ Hanzi), Augustave’s storytelling journey has taken him from the art of spoken word, to the stage with his one-man show The Lost and Found and now to the screen with his latest project Before I Knew; a visual poem depicting the subtle and not so subtle ways Black men come to the realization that they are seen as less than human. 

    While working on the film, Augustave was introduced to sound mixer Edward Morris II, who worked on Before I Knew. After having started to mix the sound, Augustave found out that Morris’ cousin was Elijah McClain, a young Black man who was killed by the police and whose story broke to the media when Before I Knew was in post-production.

    Augustave is also co-producer on a documentary feature film The Forgotten Occupation  which examines the United States’ occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934 and the  negative impacts on Haiti’s current political climate. 

    As DJ Hanzi, Augustave founded the popular and growing sober-curious dance party, Reprieve. “It’s part Funk, part House, part Pride, very Black and ALL Love,” shared Augustave. “It’s defying the misconception that no booze & no drugs = no fun.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Hans Augustave on his powerful short film Before I Knew and encourages readers to watch and have their own discussions about the short film. 

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    September 18, 2020 • Diversity, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 797

  • Assembly Line Entertainment Founder & NYFA Producing Alum Janek Ambros Shares Exciting Slate of Upcoming Projects and Collaborations with Fellow Producing Alum Robbie Leacock

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    After graduation, it’s straight to set for many alumni; but for others, it means a new era of innovation injected into the film industry by bringing in new, incredible stories to new audiences. MFA Producing alum Janek Ambros decided to do just that by starting up his own international production company, Assembly Line Entertainment, which has already had films appear in festivals all over the world including Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

    “When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I took a production company course at NYFA,” recalled Ambros. “It was in that class where I created the company logo, and the type of company I’d want (heavily inspired by American Zoetrope). Seven years later, we’re on a very similar path that was outlined in class – starting with shorts and moving on to high-end festivals like Sundance and TIFF, with more development focused on projects we make from the ground up. It’s testament to NYFA’s goal of learning by doing.”

    Janek Ambros (Right) at TIFF for Assembly Line Pictures’ ‘Human Capital’

    Assembly Line Entertainment already boasts an impressive filmography, including 10,000 Saints (Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld), Human Capital (Maya Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Alex Wolff), and documentary Imminent Threat (Dir. Janek Ambros), among others. 

    “We’re excited to be working on a new large slate of movies going into 2021 that we’re producing with our new Head of Production, Kahlilah King,” shared Ambros. “From traditional narratives to social impact docu-series, we [Assembly Line Entertainment] have many projects that are adapting to the ever-changing landscape of distribution.”

    Alex Wolff (Left) and Maya Hawke (Right) in ‘Human Capital’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    Some of those upcoming projects slated for release include Mondo Hollywoodland (Dir. Janek Ambros), animated political satire First New Nation, an untitled birthing docu-series (Written by Khaliah King), and Sixties, a digital campaign on social media that features 60-second films from countries all over the world to highlight new developing directors.

    Another upcoming project is feature film Hey, Johnny, directed by Ambros and produced by fellow NYFA Producing alum Robbie Leacock, who previously also produced Imminent Threat, serves as the executive producer the Sixties project, and is writing and producing upcoming mockumentary series The Flat Tyres for Assembly Line Entertainment. 

    Robbie Leacock (Left) on set of ‘The Flat Tyres’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    After graduating from NYFA, Leacock started at Potboiler Productions as a producer’s assistant before moving up to assistant producer. He later served as an associate producer on Netflix’s The Red Sea Diving Resort before returning to the U.S. to join producing partner Janek Ambros at Assembly Line Entertainment. “We were always told that the relationships you build at film school are the ones that will last throughout your career, and this proved to be so true,” revealed Leacock. “We now have our first TV series in the works (The Flat Tyres), a satirical comedy about a gang of hijackers from the townships, for which we are currently shooting on location in Cape Town, South Africa.”

    With a slate of upcoming projects and new opportunities for Ambros’ production company, 2021 is set to be the biggest year yet for Assembly Line Entertainment and the NYFA alumni, who are working to create character-driven projects for audiences that reflect modern society.

    Assembly Line Pictures Founder Janek Ambros

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA Alumni Janek Ambros and Robbie Leacock on their upcoming projects with Assembly Line Entertainment and looks forward to hearing about new projects as they develop. 

    NYFA also encourages readers to check out Assembly Line Entertainment’s Instagram account, where their project Sixties will officially be launched. For a full list of the company’s productions, click here.

    Assembly Line Entertainment
    Founder: Janek Ambros
    Producer: Robbie Leacock

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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes Manager and Producer Risa Shapiro for ‘The Q&A-List Series’

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    On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with manager and producer Risa Shapiro, where Shapiro shared her career expertise with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Risa Shapiro began her career in the entertainment business at The William Morris Agency in New York in 1981. She helped discover and cultivate the careers of such stars as Julia Roberts, Jennifer Connelly, Rosie O’Donnell, David Duchovny, Andie MacDowell and many more. In 1991, Shapiro left William Morris to join the ICM agency, where she continued to thrive as one of the most powerful female agents in the industry. In 2008, she decided to pursue management and production.

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Risa Shapiro (Right) for NYFA’s Q&A-List

    As a manager, Shapiro continues to represent Cher, Jennifer Connelly, Heather Graham, Steven McQueen, Christian Madsen, and many others. She co-financed Saw (2004), was an executive producer on Burlesque (2011), and produced the television movies Dear Mom, Love Cher (2013) for Lifetime and Love At First Glance (2017) for the Hallmark Channel.

    Laiter opened up the discussion by recalling how, when Laiter was working as Co-President at Imagine Entertainment, Shapiro was just introducing the world her new upcoming client, Julia Roberts, who because her brother was already famous, “knew her way around the set and knew what actors were like and I knew she will go places and signed her,” remembered Shapiro.

    Laiter then commented how Shapiro has such a keen eye for talent and asked whether she was born with it, or if it was something learned. Shapiro explained that it’s something you develop over time and it’s about loving actors and the movies. From there, she explained, it’s about “finding those roles [for your actor] that you can then show to the next director, and the next director, and the next one to get them (the clients) to that next big role.”

    Film poster for ‘Burlesque’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)

    As for the role of a Manager vs Agent, (and she was both) Shapiro explained that, in her role as a Manager, she is charged with being the point person to help guide her client’s career but an agent has most of the information from staff meetings so the ideal is to have both. She then shared a time when she received a producer credit on Burlesque without even pursuing one because, ultimately, the director knew that Shapiro was the reason that Cher [her client] remained there shooting the film and was a huge comfort for the actress.

    Shapiro explained that one of the biggest challenges actors are facing now in the business is competition. She shared that, due to the high volume of talent and availability, actors have to “be really great these days,” and reminded NYFA students: “You’re not going to do a great job on your own. You have to stay in class and you have to get a coach.”

    (Left to Right) Producer Donald De Line, restaurateur Victor Drai and executive producer Risa Shapiro

    A student then asked about how someone would go about finding an agent if they are new in the business and Shapiro had this advice to share:

    “Put together a reel you are proud of and just remember: People in the entertainment business have a short attention span, so don’t make it too long. Then, go online and find the names of managers and agents and make sure they are relatively young and send material on yourself to them (your picture, resume, reel, where you went to school, etc).”

    Laiter then added “make friends with the assistants of those people,” to which Shapiro agreed, noting that you should always get to know the people around the point person you are trying to reach when finding an agent. Laiter and Shapiro also suggested that actors and others should invest in IMDBPro so they can keep up with who represents who in the industry.

    Another student looking for advice from Shapiro asked, if they have other talents other than acting, whether they should begin looking for representation as an actor first, rather than for all the other disciplines.. “Don’t be spread too thin,” Shapiro replied. “Try and get an agent as an actor and then branch out. When you work on a set as an actor, you’re going to meet people that will help you in other areas later on.”

    Shapiro closed the conversation by encouraging students to create using the resources they have today. “People in the industry today can make a movie by themselves on their computer. You could write and star in your own movie, but always have something to show people that will make others impressed.” Laiter agreed and added, “use this time in school to do the best short, broadcast segment or project that you can be proud of.”

    Actors Amy Smart and Adrian Grenier in ‘Love at First Glance’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)

    Laiter closed the conversation by thanking Shapiro for sharing her time and vast knowledge of the business side of the movie industry.Shapiro expressed her enjoyment of the conversation and wished NYFA’s students the best of luck in their future endeavours.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Manager and Producer Risa Shapiro for sharing her time and expertise with students and alumni looking to explore the business side of the film industry as actors, filmmakers, producers, and more.

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    August 28, 2020 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 839

  • NYFA Documentary & Producing Departments Welcome Film Producer Christopher Leggett Who Encourages Developing Tangible Skills & Saying “Yes”

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    This summer, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure of hosting a live video Q&A with the talented Producer Christopher Leggett to discuss his current success with multiple films and projects in recent distribution, including Ask Dr. Ruth, Mike Wallace is Here and Honey Boy, Shia LaBeouf’s award winning, screenwriting premiere.

    Producer Christopher Leggett, along with Rafael Marmor, is a controlling partner at Delirio Films, a production company with a long list of award-winning films, both documentary and narrative, and several compelling non-fiction television series on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, The History Channel and NBC, to name a few.

    NYFA instructors Sanora Bartels (Top Left) and Roberta Colangelo (Top Right) with Christopher Leggett

    The Q&A was conducted by Los Angeles Chairs of the Documentary and Producing Departments, Sanora Bartels and Roberta (Robi) Colangelo, respectively. They were excited to speak with the producer, who has a very active and successful record with both documentary (where he started) and narrative filmmaking; his credits are a testament to the importance of storytelling, regardless of genre.

    The discussion focused on how to make the transition from film student to filmmaking professional and the most important aspects of a successful professional career. Leggett was generous with his time and inspiring with his answers.

    His advice to students in film school was to work on their tangible skill sets and noted that, for him, that includes editing: “I was a swimmer in college…so I had a little bit of the athlete mentality of just constantly doing the work was really important right out of school.” He went on to say that while you’ll have a lot of uncreative, “grunt work” to perform, “everything is a stepping-stone at that level.”

    Leggett (Far right) on a press junket for ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’

    Once he mastered the technical level of the work and had something tangible on his resume, he knew he had to move on from the secure job and get himself out into the world networking in order to use his storytelling skills picked up in school. He also acknowledged the importance of internships during school, which allowed him to maintain professional relationships that he would reconnect with after getting some experience under his belt.

    He also used his connections in the competitive swim world to differentiate himself as a filmmaker. In other words, he understood that he needed unique access to a world outside of filmmaking in order to tell stories that he was uniquely qualified to tell. This allowed him to pitch an idea to NBC, get hired and move up the rungs of the ladder at NBC Universal where he worked on Against the Tide and began cutting his teeth as a producer.

    Of his time at NBC, Leggett reveals that “when you’re in an organization like that, there are a lot of boundaries… your job goes from here to here [hands about six inches apart]…and I think good people are constantly pushing at it to try to get more responsibility.”

    This desire for more responsibility caused Leggett to develop his own project, The Short Game. He admitted that he did this while employed by NBC and because golf was not yet an Olympic sport, it did not pose a conflict of interest and he was able to see it through. He called it his “side hustle.”

    Leggett (Left) at New York premiere of ‘Mike Wallace is Here’

    His practicality and go-getter attitude spills into his philosophy around “luck,” which he believes is presented as an opportunity, but you have to say yes. “I learned early in my career not to be scared that I don’t know what I’m doing. So luck happens when you say yes.”

    Talking to him about his producing philosophy led to an interesting discussion around titles versus ego versus the very real job of the producer, Leggett shared: “The Producer’s role I feel is so vast,” he explained. “You are an essential person to have birthed this project into the world.”

    With this, he shared how he transitioned from documentary to narrative filmmaking, something many find difficult, but his message was all about the work and he stressed the importance of business relationships built on trust and the ability to speak the same “language.” He eventually created Delirio Films based on relationships and the desire to help filmmakers evolve.

    Alma Har’el (Left) with Christopher Leggett at the Tribeca Film Festival

    Because Leggett is already pushing the boundaries of budgets on his documentaries, transitioning to traditional scripted narrative filmmaking came naturally. He chose to produce Honey Boy based on a past relationship with Alma Har’el and, again, he stressed the importance of trust and their mutual belief that they were “soldiers of cinema” who get things done.

    When asked how he chooses the artists on his team and how he defines which relationships are important to develop, he had this to say:

    “I do think that a lot of the directors that I respond to have strong opinions, are collaborative but have strong opinions! I’m not going to push them over. They have their take and I can try to poke holes through their take, and they will come up with solutions, not put up walls.”

    Leggett also shared additional advice to grow and develop your skills and become a talented professional:

    “I said yes to a lot of things and then I googled later what I said yes to….you learn so much by just being in it. You may not want to be an editor but learn it. You [as a student] have a great curriculum that leads up to a thesis film. Embrace that and try to learn every sphere when you’re doing the thesis film. You’re going to have so many more tangible skills.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Christopher Leggett for sharing his time and expertise with NYFA students and guests on developing tangible skills and saying “yes” to projects and opportunities to be a great filmmaker and producer.

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    August 26, 2020 • Documentary Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 782