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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA in Producing Student Phoebe Wang Awarded Movie Magic Scholarship 

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA in Producing student Xiaoxiao (Phoebe) Wang was recently awarded the Entertainment Partners’ Movie Magic Scholarship Producer Award Certificate. At the ceremony, Wang was also presented with a check for the amount of $1,450.

    The Scholarship is provided by Entertainment Partners, a company that puts technology front and center for the entertainment industry. Movie Magic is a software program for production professionals, helping with film budgeting and software, and is an industry standard.

    Wang, who originally hails from China and is currently enrolled at the producing school in NYFA’s Burbank-based campus, demonstrated a comprehensive understanding and skillful use of the software’s features, and earned the Producer Award Certificate. Wang plans to invest the award money in her current production project, entitled The Beauty.
    Phoebe Wang Featured

    Wang isn’t the first NYFA student to pick up the prestigious scholarship; last year MFA in Filmmaking students Katherin Hussein and Robert (Bobby) Gutierrez each picked up the Movie Magic award.

    New York Film Academy congratulates MFA Producing student Phoebe Wang on winning the Entertainment Partners’ Movie Magic Scholarship Producer Award Certificate and looks forward to seeing the completion of The Beauty!

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    August 8, 2019 • Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 404

  • Q&A with ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Producer Matt Kaplan

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    On Tuesday, August 6, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a special Q&A with esteemed producer Matt Kaplan for our high school campers, following a screening of the Netflix all-time most-viewed original film, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Matt Kaplan is the founder and CEO of Ace Entertainment, focused on making feature films, television series, and digital content for youth audiences. Kaplan has produced incredibly buzzy YA films including the runaway success recent rom-com hit The Perfect Date, Spontaneous, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, starring NYFA alum Lana Condor. He is also behind the upcoming Are You Afraid of the Dark TV reboot based on the 1990s Nickelodeon television series. Kaplan’s past credits include features such as Before I Fall, The Lazarus Effect, and Viral. He is currently working on and next year’s sequel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before 2.

    Matt Kaplan

    Laiter started by asking Kaplan how he started in the industry. Kaplan talked about how he started making short form content after graduating film school. “YouTube was just getting popular, and so I started making short videos with my friends,” he told the audience. From there, he started as an assistant at Lionsgate, a job his YouTube videos earned him, and worked his way up to an executive position in charge of YA content. During his time at Lionsgate, he was a part of the team that made The Hunger Games. “But I knew as a younger executive,” said Kaplan, “that I wanted to be the one making the final decisions.”

    One student asked about where to start when producing a movie. Kaplan replied, “First, try to figure out what kind of movies you’re passionate about telling … typically we will option a book or buy an article or whatever it is, and then hire a writer—or sometimes you’ll ask a friend to write the script on spec. And then once we have the script, that’s kind of the jumping off point. Once you have a good script, amazing things can happen.”

    Another student asked how Kaplan had figured out that he wanted to be a producer. “I like putting things together. I just looked at what I was good at. When I was your age, I took writing classes, and directing classes … but I knew I was good at assessing material, and I knew I had an instinct for what I could sell, and market. And so I spent a lot of my time making relationships with great writers and great directors.”

    Matt Kaplan

    One student asked about how to make connections in the film industry. Kaplan said, “Someone gave me this advice: it’s follow-up … As long as you are passionate about seeking that out, people in this business want to help. Start off by trying to get experience under mentors, don’t just watch—try to make friends with these people, and be helpful. And I think once you start to do that, good things can happen.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to thank To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before producer Matt Kaplan for sharing his producing insights with our high school campers.

     

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    August 8, 2019 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 508

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Producing Students Aliza Jafri and Jon Legarda Win LA Live Score Film Festival

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA in Producing student Aliza Jafri and 1-Year Producing student Jon Legarda won big at this year’s Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival, coming away with both Best Film and Best Composer. The two students teamed up to produce documentary short A Deep Breath, which focuses on freediving as a place of solace from stress and the emotions tied into being far from home.

    LA Live Score Film Festival 2019

    The Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival is in its sixth year and featured selected works from local film schools that were paired with professional composers to create original scores. The films were screened on July 22 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, with their new scores performed live by renowned performance and recording ensemble Helix Collective.

    The film was curated for the festival by Crickett Rumley, Director of the NYFA Los Angeles Film Festival Department, after a rigorous school-wide competition. “When I first heard about Jon and Aliza’s project, I thought it was incredibly ambitious and wondered how they could possibly meet the deadline,” says Rumley.

    She adds, “Then I saw the rough cut and knew immediately it would be a festival hit. The freediving is so peaceful and beautiful, and the interviews with Jon and his mother are incredibly charming. I look forward to seeing where the film goes next.”

    Jafri and Legarda’s hard work paid off: “It was an amazing feeling because all the late nights staying up editing and trying to push this movie out by the deadline of this festival were really hard,” says the filmmaker. “It gave us a chance to collaborate with a composer and see how that whole process works from beginning to end. It was an amazing experience to see how Cali Wang, the composer, brought life to our film with the score she composed.”

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    August 2, 2019 • Film Festivals, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 473

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Students & Alumni Screen at 2019 Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival

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    This spring, four New York Film Academy (NYFA) students and alumni had the opportunity to collaborate on their films with professional composers through a partnership with the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival. After being selected through a rigorous school competition, students Ion Legarda, Aliza Jaffri, and Jonathan Samukange, and alum Savannah Sivert were matched with professional composers who then wrote scores for their films.

    Since the dawn of the silent film era, music has played a critical role in cinematic storytelling. It accentuates emotion, sets a tone, and underscores conflict. Filmmakers work closely with their composers to create the right sound for their films. For these filmmakers just beginning their careers, the chance to have professionals score their films is a fantastic opportunity.

    On Saturday, July 20, they will have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching their films on the big screen at the Barnsdall Art Gallery Theater while the orchestra Helix Collective plays the new composed score live. 

    NYFA caught up with the filmmakers ahead of the Live Score Film Festival and asked them about their experiences working with their composers.

    Ion Legarda (Spring 2019 1-Year Producing) & Aliza Jafri (Spring 2019 MFA Producing)

    Title of Film: A Deep Breath
    Composer: Cali Wang
    Genre: Documentary
    Logline: After relocating to the United States, Ion Legarda uses his passion for free diving to cope with the stresses of starting a new life, taking us with him on an exploration of the magnificent world that exists underwater.

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): Tell us about your film.  

    Ion Legarda & Aliza Jafri (IL/AJ): We were building this movie around having beautiful cinematic underwater shots to take the crowd with the free diver to show the peaceful magnificent world under the surface. We had only one day on a boat with the underwater camera operator, the crew, and equipment. We prepared everything, even went to sleep on the boat.

    When the day came, Aliza, the director, together with the two co-producers and the person who was supposed to be our underwater camera operator got SEASICK. So, Isaac and Ion, the free divers, had to learn how to operate the underwater camera, and shoot all the footage by themselves. Because they weren’t exactly experienced, we had to find diving archival footage from Ion’s past. Most of the underwater footage in the movie was not shot intentionally for this film.

    NYFA: What has it been like to work with your composer?

    (IL/AJ): It was our first time. Cali is a very talented composer and made it really easy on us. After sending her a few examples and references, she knew exactly what we were looking for, and sent us revisions every week or two for us to give her corrections. Everything worked easily and smoothly.

    NYFA: What have you learned in this process?

    (IL/AJ): That communication and setting expectations in the beginning is the key to good work with a composer.

    NYFA: What are you looking forward to in the live screening?

    (IL/AJ): To hear Cali’s score being played live while our movie is on the screen.

    Live Score Film Festival

    Jonathan Samukange (Summer 2019 BFA Filmmaking)

    Title of Film: Honest
    Composer: Michael Paraskevas
    Genre: Drama
    Logline: When adolescence hits, a stubborn young man must choose to listen to his father’s wisdom or risk it all to find his own path.

    NYFA: Tell us about your film.

    Jonathan Samukange (JS):
    What’s special about this movie is that it’s crewed and cast by first-time filmmakers. Most of the people in this film had never seen a film camera before in their lives. That’s special. I traveled all the way home to Zimbabwe to film it. At first, I had two months to prepare, but my visit was cut short by unexpected events. I was left with just six days to write, cast, crew, find locations and equipment.

    I almost quit as the stress increased, but I couldn’t. You can’t quit just because it’s hard or no one believes in you. I looked like a wacko jacko making this movie. No one understood why I was driving up and down the place like a crazy man, but I did. That’s all that mattered. When no one understands you, don’t be discouraged by it. Embrace it. You’ll be surprised what you find on the other side.

    NYFA: What has it been like to work with your composer?

    JS: My composer was chosen for me, and what a fine choice Michael Paraskevas was. From the moment we met, it felt like we’ve always known each other—we just gelled. My vision for the score was simple. I asked Michael to put his heart and soul into it and to be inspired by what he sees, to follow his gut. He went for it. Freedom is at the heart of collaboration. When we give each other a chance to shine, the whole project benefits immensely.

    You must come to the screening to experience this magic with your friends and family. We would be honored to have you, and it will surely be a show to remember.

    Live Score Film Festival

    Savannah Sivert (Fall 2015 MFA Filmmaking)

    Title of Film: Siblings
    Genre: Drama
    Composer: Alex Robert Heinrich
    Logline: Three siblings must find a way to accept the death of their mother.

    NYFA: Tell us about your film.

    Savannah Sivert (SS): This film is heavy in the way that it is a personal reflection of the death of my mother, with the twist of what I wish my siblings and I would have done at her funeral reception. Two words: stink bomb. It’s drama that serves the point of view of a child amidst grief.

    NYFA: What has it been like to work with your composer?

    SS: The experience completely surpassed my expectations. Alex was so easy to work with and extremely knowledgeable. More often than not, Alex was finishing my sentences as we discussed the composition. He understood the tone of the film and truly enhanced what was important.

    NYFA: What have you learned in this process?

    I learned how refreshing post-production can be for a film. My collaboration with my composer has deepened my understanding of how to use music as a tool in storytelling.

    SS: What are you looking forward to in the live screening?

    I have absolutely never experienced a film of mine being screened while a live band plays the score. That’s a first for sure! My film has evolved into something else because of my collaboration with Alex Robert Heinrich. It will be the very first screening of what the film has developed into because of this process. I can’t wait to watch.

    Live Score Film Festival

    The New York Film Academy community is invited to attend the LA Live Score Film Festival this Saturday, July 20, 2019, from 6 – 10 p.m. at Barnsdall Art Park. To purchase tickets, please click here and use the code NYFA to get a $5 discount.

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    July 16, 2019 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 630

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Australia Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media Alum Berry Salem Is 2019 Regional Finalist of the Queensland Training Awards

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    Earlier this month, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Australia Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media alum Abeer (Berry) Salem was awarded as 2019 Regional Finalist of the Queensland Training Awards. The ceremony was held at the Gold Coast Arts Centre at the Home of the Arts (HOTA) on July 5.

    Salem originally hails from Egypt and graduated from the Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media program at New York Film Academy Australia in August 2018. She mainly works on the production side of music videos and other short-form content, and has experience in both filmmaking and acting.

    Berry Salem
    “I have joined New York Film Academy to pursue my dream,” says Salem. “I’m devoted to acting and filmmaking. It is my passion. I like to transform my dream into reality. I love to create unforgettable moments that remind others of our common humanity—to inspire, encourage, challenge—and to allow witnesses in my works to the reality, the magnificence, the pleasure and the mystery of life. I intend to produce films that are a form of art—not purely to entertain but to inflame emotion and reflection, motivate action, and have a long-lasting effect on those who experience them.”

    Salem has put action to this words by founding the Lotus Production House, which focuses on promoting independent performers, directors, actors, and producers.

    Salem’s producing credits include two feature films, The Last Video Store and Home Plate. The mother of two has also produced her directorial debut, the 2018 short film Parental Responsibility, which earned several awards since its release. Salem plans to focus on more writing and directing in the future. She is currently working on Unseen Wall, which centers on women in prison.

    “My study at New York Film Academy has further strengthened my career as a filmmaker, actress, director and producer,” says Salem. “I have been able to apply my creative approach in a way that has earned me many recognitions through my films.”

    Those recognitions are numerous, and include:

    Best Indie Filmmaker – Top Short Film Festival 2018
    Best First-Time Director – Aphrodite Film Awards
    Best First-Time Director – Festigious Film Festival 2018
    Best First-Time Director – New York Film Awards 2018
    Semi-Finalist – Los Angeles Film Awards 2018
    Best Female Filmmaker – Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival 2019
    Best Short Film – Australian Inspirational Film Festival – 2019
    Official Selection – WRPN Women’s International Film Festival
    Semi-Finalist – Australian Inspirational Film Festival 2019
    Official Selection – First-Time Filmmaker Film Festival

    Salem’s passion for film came at an early age. “Throughout the day, I would envision myself as an actor in a film and life around me as the film set,” she says. “It was hard to suppress this creative realization that everything around me, everything I learned, and everything I dreamed could be a movie.

    Berry Salem

    All of her passion and hard work have paid off. Salem was one of the top three finalists for the 2019 Queensland Training Award, out of 860 applicants. The prestigious Queensland Training Awards, which celebrates its 58th year this year, recognizes individuals that strive for and have achieved success, best practice and innovation in vocational education and training across 14 categories, including for apprentices, trainees, vocational students, teachers and trainers, and more. Salem was previously a finalist for the Award in 2017.

    New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA Australia alum Berry Salem on her latest in a long line of achievements and wishes her continued success as she develops her career.

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    July 12, 2019 • Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 656

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Acting for Film Alum Rita Casman’s ‘Shadow Wall’ Racking Up Awards & Festivals

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    Shadow Wall, the short film written, produced by, and starring New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Acting for Film alum Rita Casman, is currently riding a huge wave of momentum as it picks up multiple awards and festival screenings.

    Casman hails from Guatemala and earned her MFA in Acting for Film, after years of nursing ambitions to be an entertainer while working in marketing and public relations.Shadow Wall

    “I’ll be very honest, I thought that coming to LA was the hardest part, and the truth is that it was the easiest,” says Casman. “I left the struggle that I had in Guatemala and I went through a lot of rejection, and that was only the beginning. It did help me persevere, but in my mind, I thought that I would adapt to the American culture fast, which I did in a way, but it has impacted me so now I have learned not to expect anything good or bad. Being far away of my family is really challenging.”

    Casman, who is smart, outgoing, and a positive example for her friends and professional colleagues, worked through her struggles and now has a successful film under her belt. She loves comedies, horror films, and psychological thrillers, and these passions come through in her short, Shadow Wall.

    Shadow Wall is based on a true story and was directed by Ariana Ledesma. It co-stars Misha Suvorov and NYFA alum Sabrina Percario, who co-produced the film with writer and star Rita Casman.

    So far, Shadow Wall has been a semifinalist in Motion for Pictures and Los Angeles CineFest, and has won multiple awards, including Best Actress at Dreamachine International Film Festival, Best Narrative Short at the Pinnacle Film Awards, Best Music at the Independent Horror Movie Awards, and Best Shorts (English Language) at the Metro Film & TV Awards.

    Additionally, the film has been an Official Selection at numerous festivals: Indie Best Films Festival, Fiction & Narrative Short Films, The American Horrors Film Festival, Genre Celebration Festival, Diabolical Horror Film Festival, Independent Horror Movie Awards, Dunedin International Film Festival, Webisode Film Festival, and the Dreamachine International Film Festival. 

    New York Film Academy congratulates MFA Acting for Film alum Rita Casman on the success of her film Shadow Wall and looks forward to seeing where her talents and winsome energy bring her next!

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    June 14, 2019 • Acting, Producing, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 557

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA in Producing Students Give Notes to Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Tom Schulman

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    Academy Award Winner Tom Schulman, renowned for penning Best Screenplay Winner Dead Poets Society, engaged in a team discussion with New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA in Producing students over potential modifications on his new script, which is currently slated for production in the next few months.

    Over the course of more than two hours, Schulman listened with undivided attention as students dissected his script and offered detailed notes on its story, characters, and its world.

    The special opportunity for the students came as part of their Script Collaboration & Story Development class (MFA Program, 5th semester). The class is designed to teach students script analysis, and how to write and convey notes to a screenwriter professionally and effectively.

    NYFA instructor John Morrissey invited Schulman to participate not only as the recipient of the students’ notes, but also to offer our Producing students a rare opportunity to make a direct impact on the story of a professional film.

    Many times during the conversation–punctuated by laughter and meticulous detail-offering—Schulman jotted down students’ notes on a sheet of paper. When asked what he considered the best way for a producer to provide notes to a writer, he promptly responded: “The way we have been doing it here today!”

    He then shared with the students some inside stories on how studio executives give notes to screenwriters and praised the students for their genuine passion and thoughtfulness.

    New York Film Academy thanks Academy Award-winning screenwriter Tom Schulman for giving his time and advice to our MFA in Producing students.

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    May 8, 2019 • Guest Speakers, Producing, Screenwriting • Views: 625

  • Q&A with New York Film Academy MFA Alum and Instructor Justin LaReau

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    Justin LaReau had a pretty cool job. He was the head basketball coach at Southeastern Illinois College. But he was temporarily living in a hotel, reevaluating his life, and reconnecting with his love for movies. So while he was working on his playbook, he was simultaneously reading screenwriting books and began sketching out the idea of what would become his first feature. 

     

     

    Eventually, he made the difficult decision to leave coaching behind. Justin came out to Los Angeles and got an internship at Underground Film and Management—which led to his career writing, directing and producing films.  New York Film Academy (NYFA) spoke with LaReau about his movies, experiences, and his next projects. 

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): Recently you produced and directed A Demon Within, a horror film. How did that come about? What was it like directing a feature film for the first time? What were the biggest challenges– and what was the learning curve like? 

    Justin LaReau (JL): I started writing it when I was coaching basketball, but it really initiated as a kid when my friends and I would ride by a haunted house that was widely talked about in our community. The house had been abandoned. We stopped our bikes and I saw some movement in the upstairs window. It could have been wind moving the curtains but as a 12 year old, we assumed it was a ghost. My hometown has a documented case of possession that dates back to the 1800s. Knowing that story, I wanted to tap into the personal connections I had as a kid. I felt like it would be a fun experience, plus I believed as a first feature I could get a horror film at a 100K budget fully distributed.

    And in terms of the learning curve, it was tremendous. Whether you are directing or producing, there is nothing like making a full feature. I heard Jon Favreau speak and he said whatever you do or however you have to get it done, make a full feature. Short films are great for trying to find your voice, style and developing the skills, but telling a narrative for 90 minutes or more is like no other. I tell people that I spent summers in 100 degree heat building bridges and overpasses while I was in undergrad. That’s hard work. But making a full-length movie is much harder. And unless you have, you can’t comprehend it nor can you learn as much as doing.

    Justin Lareau

    NYFA: How did your experiences as a producer inform the decisions you made as a director? 

    JL: Because we were operating on a microbudget and I was constantly tracking the spending as a line producer would. It made me eliminate waste and only spend on items that would be seen on screen. We secured free locations, free lodging, free cars/trucks for transportation, discounted food as well as many other resources. Because of that, it allowed an extra shooting day which is so vital. Time as we know is so precious in general and in filming, an extra hour goes a long way in allowing actors the opportunity to act, take direction, and deliver the performance that works for the film. 

    Additionally, the script had to evolve. The team and I were rewriting throughout prep to pull off a full feature. Many elements that would have created more value had to be removed because there just wasn’t enough money. And that is a tough pill to swallow. 

    NYFA: Can you talk about your upcoming projects? What are you working on right now? 

    JL: My producing partner Lydia Cedrone and I recently launched a production company called Tidal Wave Entertainment, LLC. As producers we currently have a slate of eight movies in development. They range from comedies to dramas to thrillers. I’m the writer and attached to direct two of the films: Fallen Lands, a post-apocalyptic drama and The Riddle Maker, a thriller. 

    NYFA: You earned your MFA from NYFA in Producing. What’s it like to be a former student on the other side of the classroom—and how does that inform your teaching? 

    JL: I had been teaching for 10 years and had already completed a graduate program. I went from standing in front of the room to sitting in the seat again. What I enjoyed about NYFA besides the hands-on experience and the location was the wealth of experiences instructors brought to the classroom. And that is what I try to draw on now. I have been where the students are and I have been through the same program. This allows me to truly connect with them.

    Justin Lareau

    NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach and why?  

    JL: My favorite class to teach is Pitching. It is a skill/craft that all producers, writers, or directors need to develop. My mom would probably say that I like pitching because I am full of it, but selling an idea starts with the way you present it. We may have the next Oscar-winning idea, but if you can’t excite someone about it, it probably will never get made. 

    NYFA: Speaking of, what advice do you have for students who might be looking to produce and direct? 

    JL: I am a believer that if you want to do something, then go do it. But students should know that your drive and commitment has to be greater than you can imagine. You have to be able to grind through the times when things get tough. This is not an easy industry. But you need to be like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. So get your hands dirty and get to work!

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    April 12, 2019 • Faculty Highlights, Producing • Views: 612

  • Q&A with Oscar-Nominated Producer, Director, and Editor Sam Pollard

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    Legendary producer, director, and editor Sam Pollard led a spirited “Conversation with…” and Q&A session after a rousing screening of his latest documentary Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me at New York Film Academy (NYFA).  A capacity crowd at NYFA’s Theatre in New York City was captivated by the film, which traces the iconic entertainer’s life from his youth in Harlem to international stardom— from Hollywood to Broadway to Las Vegas and beyond. 

    Sam Pollard

    NYFA students were inspired by Sam Pollard’s recollection of his early career, when he gravitated towards an editing career after a Public Broadcasting internship program. He went on to cut narrative features as well as documentaries, most notably working with Spike Lee on films including Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Clockers, and Bamboozled. In 1998, Pollard and Lee were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 4 Little Girls.

    Pollard moved into producing and directing while working on Eyes on the Prize, still considered the seminal work on the American Civil Rights Movement.  Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me capped NYFA’s celebration of Black History Month. Made for American Master/PBS, other Sam Pollard projects made for the series include works about August Wilson and Zora Neale Hurston.

    “Filmmaking is hard work but it’s like magic when it works. Now it feels seamless, and that to me is that magic of filmmaking,” Pollard explained to the audience.

    The evening was a co-production of NYFA’s Producing, Screenwriting, and Documentary departments. Pollard told the students in attendance, “If you’re here because you love to create, be compassionate, committed, and willing. Learn the craft and be proud of what you’ve done.” 

    He added, “As aspiring filmmakers, you should be committed to making the best possible film you can make, and if you hang in there, you will be rewarded.”

    The New York Film Academy thanks Oscar-nominated producer, director, and editor Sam Pollard for sharing his experience and wisdom with our students and encourages everyone to check out Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me


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  • AAFCA and ABA Film Society Hold ‘Celebrating Black Excellence in Cinema’ Event at New York Film Academy (NYFA)

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    On Monday, February 18, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) partnered with the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) and the African Black American (ABA) Film Society to present a special discussion exploring the past, present and future of Black creative excellence in Hollywood through an inaugural learning lab, Celebrating Black Excellence in Cinema at its Los Angeles campus. The event featured Outlier Society’s Alana Mayo, and was moderated by AAFCA Founder and President Gil Robertson.

    Gil Robertson said, “AAFCA is thrilled with our partnership with NYFA as we celebrated Black excellence in the industry during BHM. Our panel with Alana was excellent. She was very generous in sharing her experiences with the students as a Creative Executive, as well as providing them with inspiration on how they can follow in her path.”

    Alana Mayo

    Alana Mayo was Vice President of Production at Paramount and Vice President and Head of Originals at Vimeo before becoming Head of Production and Development for Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society Productions. At Paramount, Mayo helped develop the cinematic adaptation of Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

    Mayo discussed her background, how her parents influenced her career, and navigating her trajectory as a Creative Executive for three of the top studios in the industry. 

    Three students who attended the event gave NYFA their thoughts on the experience. Folake Kehinde, recent NYFA MFA grad and ABA’s Events Chair and Interim Communications Chair, had this to say:

    My favorite things about this event were the access. Alana was welcomed by one of the ABA members who is also queer. I had no idea of this connection when I was scheduling volunteers and was so happy to be able to give Jamie the opportunity to meet and welcome Alana. Alana has greatly inspired Jamie and she was thrilled for the opportunity to meet and welcome her. 

    Alana attended the pre-reception briefly. She took pictures with the ABA and was so polite and happy to be with us. Her humbleness was so sweet and unexpected. Then during the event I appreciated her learnedness. It was so wonderful to hear from a production executive with a degree in film studies. So often production executives studied English or something slightly unrelated to filmmaking—it was nice to hear from someone with an extensive study of cinema as well as years of employment with various studios and production companies. 

    It was interesting to watch her talk so passionately about her favorite films, Polish Cinema, and the discussions she has while watching TV with [her fiancee] Lena Waithe. They’re very different in how they communicate but both have obtained vast success. 

    I also loved hearing how nice Michael B. Jordan is. I was so moved by her saying that Michael will give out her email at various places around town to people who have an idea and that they’re even going to make one of the ideas a person he met on the street wrote. I love that Michael is so kind, contemporary, and cutting-edge. The fact that he cares about people and is interested in talking with them and helping them to make their work blows me away. I also love that he is starring in several projects his company is making as well as other projects outside of his company. It’s inspiring to watch his career as an actor and now producer unfold. As an actress and producer myself this helped to confirm for me that I can achieve my dreams! 

    My final favorite moment was when Jamie told Alana that she is also a queer woman and that she has been so inspired by Alana’s career and bravery to be heard and make a path in the entertainment industry. 

    After the Q&A, legendary casting director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd (who cast Michael B. Jordan and others in the film Fruitvale Station and so many other projects) stayed and did an impromptu Q&A with actors and filmmakers. It was fantastic! She had a very frank conversation with us where she challenged us to tell our stories! She talked about being on a panel that read scripts for a Festival and how so many of the ideas were so similar. She knows that all black people didn’t grow up in ‘the hood’ and she wants creators to be unafraid to share their middle-class or wealthy upbringing. She advised actors to look their best at all times—even at the gym. She also told actors to put our pictures on our business cards, and avoid putting too much of another actor on their reels. 

    It was an extraordinary evening. I’m very grateful to New York Film Academy, Professor Kim Ogletree, and the founder of AAFCA for putting the event together.

    Alana Mayo

    Toyin Adewumi, 8-week Producing student, learned a few lessons from the event as well. The first was to take risks! A former HR professional, Adewumi loved that Mayo talked about leaving her comfortable job at a studio she had been at for years: “Having that clarity of there’s more out there. Yes I’m here… but… not being connected with the culture there.” Adewumi was impressed that Alana was brave enough to leave and find her ideal job. 

    She also loved that Alana isn’t ashamed of her personality. “Her acknowledgement that she needed to change some things. Her boldness to be humble… being willing to drop some things I (she) learned when I’ve (she) grown up. Her being humble helped lead to her breakthrough….Taking risks, knowing when to work on herself, being humble” are lessons Adewumi will treasure for a long time to come.

    Brianna Dickens (AFA Acting For Film ’18) was moved by the ABA events held during Black History Month. Dickens had a wonderful chat with Twinkie Byrd and at the ABA Careers in Television event, she was invited to visit a set for a day with some friends. She tells NYFA:

    I’m so thankful I found the ABA. I didn’t even know they existed. Luckily my class was invited to a screening event of theirs (the Q&A with Chuck Hayward). The second I arrived, the leaders of the group welcomed me and introduced themselves to me. In less than a month of being an ABA member, I’ve attended three events that have truly inspired me, opened my eyes, taught me things no one else has, and even opened the doors for me to have real on-set experience!

    Everyone in this group is focused, supportive, kind, and encouraging. They uplift each other. I think we will do great things for one another and together. I’m thankful to have them.

    The New York Film Academy and ABA Film Society thank Alana Mayo and Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd for sharing their experience and advice with our students!

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    March 12, 2019 • Diversity, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 719