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  • NYFA South Beach Instructor Daniel Abrusci Wins Gold Promax Award

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    New York Film Academy is excited to share that Filmmaking instructor Daniel Abrusci has won a Gold Promax Award for outstanding achievement in sound design and mixing on the Cbeebies segment Christmas Lights for BBC Latin America. 

    The Promax Awards are the world’s premier celebration of outstanding achievement in entertainment marketing and design, honoring teams of creatives harnessing passionate fandom to drive audiences, create value, and build the biggest brands in entertainment.

    The one-minute animation Abrusci worked on in his home studio was extremely heavy in sound design. “When working with animation, sound design plays a huge role because there’s no audio to start with,” he explained. “I edited three different pieces of music into a one-minute spot in order for the music to be dynamic and help boost holiday emotions.”

    The South Beach instructor had to recreate the ambiance needed for the TV spot to feel a bit more realistic, adding in stylistic sound elements to elevate the story visually. “There’s plenty of creativity involved due to the fact that a lot of these actions might sound different in real life,” shared Abrusci. “Once we have all the different sound design, voiceover, and music elements, mixing is all about making things stand out and giving everything character and space in the frequency spectrum.” Essentially, sound mixing in itself plays an important role in fully forming a character, space, or idea.

    NYFA instructor Daniel Abrusci

    Abrusci urges anyone who is looking to hone their craft to “keep practicing” as it’s practice, trial, and error that allow you to master your skills. “The more time you put into something, the better you’ll become at it. Stay passionate and make it happen!”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Daniel Abrusci on his outstanding achievement and looks forward to what’s next from the talented South Beach faculty member. 

    To view the Christmas Lights spot, view the video below. 

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    February 25, 2021 • Entertainment News, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, South Beach • Views: 107

  • NYFA Photography Alum Jon Henry Named on The “TIME 100 Next” List

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is excited to announce that Photography alum Jon Henry has been featured in TIME Magazine’s TIME 100 Next list for 2021.

    Last year, Henry won the prestigious Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Photographic Portraiture­ and the Kodak Film Photo Award—for his series “Stranger Fruit.” The alum also had his photographs from the series displayed on multiple pages in the October 2020 National Geographic issue.

    Cover of the ‘TIME Magazine’ issue featuring the ‘Next 100’ (TIME Magazine)

    TIME reporter Josiah Bates, who wrote the profile on Henry for the Time 100 Next issue shared that Henry’s prolific series “Stranger Fruit” is weighted with significance: “In visual artist Jon Henry’s series ‘Stranger Fruit,’ sons pose with their mothers as if they are lifeless, re-creating scenes of mourning. The mothers stare through the camera’s lens as if holding onlookers accountable for threats their sons could one day face. In 2020—after the killing of George Floyd by police­—the series took on new poignancy.”

    The alum was featured alongside other artists who made the list including director Boots Riley, Lakeith Stanfield, Florence Pugh, and more. Henry shared his gratitude for being included in the list on his Instagram account: “Honored beyond measure to be included in #time100next. The 2021 TIME100 Next list highlights 100 emerging leaders who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, health, science and activism, and more. Crazy.”

    NYFA alum Jon Henry

    Henry was also featured on the cover of JRNL 4 and was also profiled by Photograph Magazine. The NYFA alum and Photography instructor’s “Stranger Fruit” series is currently on display in Portland at BlueSky Gallery through March 27, 2021, and will also be featured in Miami from March 11 – May 21 at DotFiftyOne Gallery. The series has also gone international and is currently on view at the KP Gallery in South Korea, the first international solo exhibition for the project.

    Untitled 60, St Charles, MO (2020) – Photo Credit: Jon Henry

    New York Film Academy is thrilled to congratulate one of its own for being among those selected for TIME Magazine’s TIME 100 Next list for 2021 and is proud of the recognition that Jon Henry is receiving for his body of work and the “Stranger Fruit” series.

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  • NYFA Alum Uzair Merchant Works on CW’s “Superman & Lois”

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    Uzair Merchant has worked on some of the biggest franchises in the world. From Skyfall and Star Trek: Beyond to Fast & Furious 7 and Deadpool 2, Merchant has had an impressive roster of work, including his own personal projects, with his latest work displayed in the highly-anticipated CW series Superman & Lois.

    Poster for “Superman & Lois” (CW)

    Taking the lead from its own universe of Superman (Supergirl, Smallville, and Superman: The Animated Series), The CW is back with Superman & Lois, a spin-off series of Supergirl that follows Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) reprising their respective roles.

    Not much is known about how the series will play out, but it will feature Superman and Lois’ kids Jonathan and Jordan as they return to Smallville and are reacquainted with Lana Lang and her family.

    NYFA alum Uzair Merchant

    Filmmaking alum Uzair Merchant worked as the Assistant Art Director on the series, bringing the show to life through means of concept art, graphics, set design, props, builds, and construction. “Working on Superman & Lois has been pretty awesome I must say,” shared Merchant. “It’s lovely to dive into the Warner Bros. and DC Universe.”

    The show, which is still finishing up filming the first season, faced the added challenge of filming during the COVID-19 pandemic and had to adapt to and implement new COVID-safe protocols. “The crew [on Superman & Lois] is great and that’s something I always look for in a production. We’ve had COVID-19 procedures, which is what makes this production special being able to do all of this in the restrictions, but that’s been the challenge.”

    In addition to his work on Superman & Lois, the NYFA alum has done everything from commercials, corporate films, features, TV shows, music videos, and more.

    “The ability to build worlds and tell stories that can directly affect and influence people, cultures or voices was something that’s always fascinated me about filmmaking,” shared Merchant.

    “Coming to New York Film Academy to study film was a dream,” he revealed when asked about his time at NYFA. “I also wanted to experience studying traditional film, not just digital. Future students should come with an open mind and heart to dive into an unknown world, it’s important to immerse yourself into places out of your comfort zone. That’s why it’s film school. Experiment, explore and be honest with your art.”

    What’s next for the alum? Merchant has also worked on the upcoming film The Misfits, starring Pierce Brosnan, Tim Roth, and Jamie Chung. The alum has also been developing an entire universe over the last decade called Kreativ Universe from his company the Kri8.labs. Part of that cinematic universe will include Merchant’s script Black Rose that won multiple screenwriting awards and is currently in pre-production. Merchant is also producing a music track for the film called “Star Dust.”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Uzair Merchant for his outstanding work on Superman & Lois and looks forward to hearing more about the Filmmaking alum’s upcoming personal projects. Superman & Lois will premiere tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern on The CW.

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  • Meet NYFA Cinematography Instructor & ASC Member Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

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    At New York Film Academy, the faculty is an incredibly talented group of artists that teach the next generation of filmmakers and creators all while being active members in their industry. For NYFA Cinematography instructor Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC, this is no exception. 

    Maddox-Upshaw has lensed fan-favorite shows like Empire, Snowfall, Tales, and On My Block, to name a few, and teaches 35MM, Advanced Lighting, and Stage to Screen for Actors in NYFA’s Cinematography department. 

    Maddox-Upshaw first got interested in the world of lensing and cinematography when his sister Kyla got him on set as a Production Assistant for a Hype Williams music video when he was 19 years old. “I saw how the Cinematographer worked with everyone and created such beautiful images and I already liked photography,” he shared. “I was like, ‘I want to do what he does’ and I set out to learn what I could even though my college didn’t have a film program and really no film studies.”

    Photo courtesy of Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

    From there, Maddox-Upshaw notes that the documentary film Visions of Light inspired him even further to pursue a career in cinematography, and the NYFA instructor began picking up work between his Boston hometown and New York City while continuing to further his education in cinematography. His work for commercial clients like Ford, Allstate, and HBO, to name a few, helped develop working relationships which led Maddox-Upshaw to eventually work alongside visionaries like Spike Lee and Matthew Libatique, ASC.

    He provided VFX additional photography on A Star Is Born, and worked on the second unit for Straight Outta Compton, both shot by Libatique, and shot additional photography on feature films Grown Ups 2, Beyond the Lights, and The Circle. Maddox-Upshaw also served as the director of photography (DP) for Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, Hello Beautiful: Interludes with John Legend, Fixed, and more.

    Photo courtesy of Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

    Recently, Maddox-Upshaw was recognized by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and was welcomed as a member of the ASC. The distinguished honor is one that names Maddox-Upshaw among the legacy of celebrated directors of photography over the last 100 years.

    “Becoming part of the ASC has been a goal of mine since the time I really started to study and read American Cinematographer Magazine and watch Visions of Light when I was about 20 years old,” revealed Maddox-Upshaw.

    For his students and aspiring cinematographers, Maddox-Upshaw encourages them to study more than what’s on the other side of the lens to become a good DP. 

    “Study the art of understanding good screenplays. understand the Black and White of the page so then you can make the correct emotional decision from what is written. Try and watch a movie a day; it makes a difference after a couple of years of doing it. You can recall so much and understand why certain things in cinema work,” Maddox-Upshaw explained. 

    No one can dream bigger for you. You have to enjoy the process of your own journey you should want to be on set and learn from other people. You can learn this on your own and don’t be afraid to make mistakes especially in a learning environment.”

    In addition to teaching at NYFA, Maddox-Upshaw recently photographed Season 6 of the Fox drama Empire. Additional credits from Maddox-Upshaw include season three of the FX drama Snowfall, season two of Netflix’s On My Block, and season one of the Netflix comedy Huge in France

    New York Film Academy congratulates Maddox-Upshaw on his recent induction into the ASC and is excited to have the opportunity for Maddox-Upshaw to continue to teach NYFA students about what it means to be a director of photography.

    To learn more about NYFA’s Cinematography programs, click here. Catch Tommy Maddox-Upshaw as NYFA’s upcoming 20/20 series guest on March 3, 2021. To register, click here

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    February 23, 2021 • Cinematography, Community Highlights, Diversity, Faculty Highlights • Views: 326

  • Netflix Limited Series “Behind Her Eyes” Stars NYFA Alum Eve Hewson

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    Netflix’s binge-worthy new limited series is Behind Her Eyes and it has everyone talking about all the twists and turns. The series, which released on February 17, stars NYFA alum Eve Hewson as lead character Adele.

    Eve Hewson studied at NYFA in 2008 in the Acting for Film program and has since appeared with Sean Penn and Frances McDormand in This Must Be the Place and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Hewson also appeared alongside Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx in Robin Hood. She recently appeared in the BBC adaption of Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries as Anna Wetherell that premiered in the U.S on February 14, 2021, on Starz.

    Eve Hewson as Adele in “Behind Her Eyes” (Netflix)

    Hewson’s latest project, Behind Her Eyes, is a psychological thriller adapted from Sarah Pinborough’s 2017 novel of the same name. The story follows the love triangle of single mother Louise and married couple Adele (Hewson) and David. With a series of shocking twists, and a highly talked about ending, the story is nothing short of gripping, where nothing is what it seems.

    Poster for “Behind Her Eyes” (Netflix)

    Hewson’s character Adele is married to David, who is having an affair with the new resident to the town, Louise. Adele, surprisingly, is interested in forming a friendly connection with David’s new lover but sets off an entangled web of twisted circumstances and conspiracy.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film alum Eve Hewson on the release of her latest project and encourages everyone to check out the new limited series, now streaming on Netflix.

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  • Documentary Filmmaking Alum Elaine Minionis Awarded Regional Emmy Award for “Uncanny: The Dolls of Mariana Monteagudo”

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    NYFA is excited to celebrate Documentary Filmmaking alum Elaine Minionis joining the ranks of multiple creatives who have had the distinguished honor of being awarded an Emmy. The regional Emmy, awarded in late 2020 by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Suncoast Chapter, was for Minionis’ film Uncanny: The Dolls of Mariana Monteagudo.

    The short documentary was produced by Minionis and was picked up for national broadcast by PBS. The film follows renowned Venezuelan visual artist, Mariana Monteagudo, who currently lives in Florida. The film especially captures Mariana’s creative process and her inspirations behind her intriguing, eerie doll sculptures, all made of repurposed materials. From following Mariana dumpster diving to visiting local thrift shops for useful material, Uncanny also touches on topics like immigration, consumerism, and more viewing them through the lens of contemporary art.

    Still from “Uncanny: The Dolls of Mariana Monteagudo”

    “Coming from a strong family tradition of ceramists in Venezuela, Mariana loves giving a second life to objects that are discarded by our society,” shared Minionis on her personal Instagram. “Like a waste picker, she [Marina Monteagudo] walks around neighborhoods to salvage gems from people’s bulk trashes, rescuing textiles or baseball balls, plastic bottles of orange juice, or an old unkempt teddy bear. To her, everything has potential for inspiration and hybridism, and that’s the way she lives her life: continuously seeking, always resuscitating abandoned things, permanently combining and thinking ahead of time, and placing her faith into the most unimagined creations.”

    Also a native of Venezuela, Minionis got her start in the arts by writing poetry at a very young age. Her big break came in 2005 when she was one of a handful of winners selected for a national poetry contest, receiving as a reward a text publication with one of the most important literary houses in Venezuela (CELARG). As she grew up and continued to study, her love of photography and documentary became more clear.

    NYFA alum Elaine Minionis with her Emmy and one of Mariana Monteagudo’s dolls

    In 2006, the Emmy-winner saw her still photography work featured as part of the advertising for the 20th Century Fox production of Elipsis. In 2008, Minionis came to study Documentary Filmmaking in NYFA’s 1-Year Conservatory program. Of her experience, she shared that “non-fiction visual storytelling became an artistic and intellectual space” that allowed her to explore research and visual concepts of storytelling.

    After graduating, Minionis worked at the Brooklyn-based production company Flicker Flacker Films, as an intern and then the assistant editor for a History Channel feature-length documentary The Naturalized. She eventually became an independent producer at Discovery Networks Latin America/US Hispanics in the Original Production & Development Department.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Minionis on her Emmy win and is proud to count her amongst the NYFA alum ranks. We look forward to her future projects and wish her continued success.

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    February 19, 2021 • Acting • Views: 411

  • NYFA’s Q&A-List Welcomes President of MGM Motion Picture Group Pam Abdy

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    NYFA had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with the President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group, Pam Abdy, to discuss the film production process with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Abdy is the current President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group and oversees the development, production, and post-production for all MGM and Orion films. Abdy is currently developing a multitude of films such as Fiddler on The Roof, Project Hail Mary, and Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, amongst others.

    At her previous position, Makeready Films/eOne, the company financed and produced Queen & Slim from director Melina Matsoukas and writer Lena Waithe and A Million Little Pieces from director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Previously, Abdy served as President of Production at New Regency, where they released the acclaimed Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Academy Award-winning Birdman, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Adam McKay’s Academy Award-winning The Big Short, and Iñárritu’s The Revenant in 2016, which received twelve Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Pam Abdy (Right)

    Laiter began the conversation by asking Abdy what a day in the life of the President of MGM Motion Picture Group looks like. Abdy explained that most days consist of hours of Zoom meetings from pitching and financial planning to meetings with production staff and discussing forward slate planning. “It’s an all-encompassing job especially being at home with my daughter in the next room,” shared Abdy. “It’s a little chaotic, but that was just today. Every day is different.”

    Abdy, whose original plan to be a dancer got derailed by injury, got her first big break as Danny DeVito’s assistant, after working at the front desk at DeVito’s Jersey Films. “It was a life-changing opportunity for me,” she remembered. “He is a mentor to me and a second father. I learned how to make movies at that company and was given space to grow and they [the whole team] really taught me how to make films and be on set.”

    Sometimes the best education is watching and observing something Abdy does to this day, even as President at MGM Motion Picture Group. She urged NYFA students to remember that no job is too small to do no matter how many years of experience you have. “It doesn’t matter what I have to do. Every job is meaningful and nothing is beneath me,” said Abdy. “I will do whatever it takes to navigate a problem. I feel like some people think things are not their job, but to be a great producer, you have to manage so many different personalities and money. It’s an incredible responsibility that doesn’t get enough credit.”

    Part of being a great producer means being able to collaborate with the director, something Abdy mentioned as being one of the most important parts of putting a movie together and in production. “It’s everything to find the right director for your film,” she emphasized. “If it’s not the right director the film won’t have the right point of view. The best day of a producer’s life is getting the director on the movie, but it’s also the worst day because it becomes the director’s and you may not agree with everything they do. Your vision may not be their vision. But when that person comes on and they elevate that, there’s nothing better.”

    Pam Abdy (Left) with the cast and crew of “Queen & Slim”

    One of the career highlights for Abdy has been the vision of Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe, with whom she worked with on Queen & Slim. While on the film, Abdy learned a very important lesson that has stayed with her to this day. “I usually have to be part of everything and find solutions. That movie wasn’t about that. It was about creating a safe space and giving Melina and Lena the floor while I stand in the background to help navigate things as they needed them,” she began. “What was so joyful about that film is both of those women are such visionaries. Allow artists and visionaries to have the space to tell their stories. Don’t impose your own on their process. I learned about creating space for artists’ voices and it was the greatest joy of my career.”

    Abdy, like many others in the film industry, is continuing to adapt to the film industry facing restrictions due to the COVID pandemic. “Before, you hustled, made major movies, dealt with your budget, and put the movie together which – sometimes things took longer. Now, you don’t have the luxury of time anymore. You are locked down. If you are not working in a pod, then you leave the set. It’s not as fun,” she laughed. “Sometimes magic happens when you are making a film and I worry that the new rigidness may impact that work. There’s no answer right now as to when this part is going to stop, and it’s so expensive. What it’s doing is putting a burden on film budgets for COVID costs. There is a danger that good movies won’t get made because the cost is too burdensome.”

    Pam Abdy during promotion for Zach Braff’s “Garden State”

    One student asked Abdy how to become a better producer. Abdy urged them to get their hands on as many scripts as possible, even the one that got made already. “Study filmmakers. Filmmakers love to know their producers understand other filmmakers’ work. Take time and watch how filmmakers grow. See what changes. Watch the language and understand the common thread of their films throughout. Then, define your taste and identify what actually is your taste.”

    As Laiter closed the discussion and thanked Abdy for her generous wisdom, Laiter asked Abdy what has made her so successful in her career. Abdy replied it’s all the positives and the negatives about herself combined. “As I get older I recognize my flaws and I’m trying to do better with delegating. Be kind and be generous to everyone. This whole business is based on relationships and the experience of those relationships.”

    Abdy’s upcoming slate includes Joe Wright’s Cyrano, Ridley Scott’s Gucci, Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin’s Dog, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled upcoming film. New York Film Academy would like to thank Pam Abdy for sharing her time and invaluable knowledge of the film business with NYFA students and looks forward to welcoming her back again in the near future.

    To watch the full conversation, click here or view the video below:

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    February 18, 2021 • Acting • Views: 312

  • Akinola Davies Jr. Awarded Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance For Film “Lizard”

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Akinola Davies Jr. has won big at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize for his film Lizard.

    Sundance announcement of “Lizard” winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize

    The film was written by Davies and his brother Wale Davies, and was backed by BBC Film and producer Rachel Dargavel. Lizard follows an eight-year-old girl, Juwon, who has the ability to sense danger. After getting ejected from a Sunday school service, Juwon witnesses the underbelly in and around a Mega Church in Lagos, Nigeria. In addition to the Sundance win, the film was also nominated for an ALFS Award by the London Critics Circle Film Awards.

    Film poster for “Lizard”

    Davies has previously made short films Zazzau and Unity Is Strength. The UK-Nigerian filmmaker is known for his exploration of themes of community, race, spirituality, identity, and gender. Ultimately, through his work in film and music videos, Davies aims to navigate the collision of both colonial and imperial tradition, whilst advocating a return to indigenous narratives. His next slated project will be sci-fi film X Us.

    NYFA alum Akinola Davies Jr.

    “I’m overwhelmed and as much as I’d love to gloat, filmmaking is really crazy hard,” shared Davies on his Instagram after the winners were announced in a virtual ceremony. “Big love to all those who were part of the shorts program – it’s an honour to be amongst such brilliant films. I have to say this award is really for the whole cast and crew who worked so hard and committed their all to this little film pre and during a global pandemic. I’m so proud this was made in Lagos by the many hands that make up the beautiful people of Nigeria.”

    To view the full list of Sundance Film Festival winners, click here.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Akinola Davies Jr. on his important Grand Jury win at Sundance for his short film Lizard and looks forward to seeing the film’s impact and Davies’ upcoming projects.

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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 Alum Boise Esquerra’s “Blackwater” Screens at 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

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    Known both as a festival “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” and for its Oscar-qualifying short film awards, the Slamdance Film Festival has long been a mecca for emerging independent directors. This year NYFA alum Boise Esquerra, a graduate of the Los Angeles campus’s MFA Filmmaking and MFA Screenwriting programs, will be right in the middle of the action when his episodic film Blackwater screens in the virtual festival February 12 – 25, 2021. 

    In the days leading up to the festival Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, caught up with Boise to talk about the personal experience that inspired his series and the importance of filmmakers from diverse backgrounds telling their own stories.

    NYFA alum Boise Esquerra

    Cricket Rumley (CR): Hi, Boise! Congratulations on getting into Slamdance! Tell us a little about yourself.

    Boise Esquerra (BE): I’d be happy to. I am a Native (Hopi) and Mexican American filmmaker enrolled in the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Parker, AZ. I am a recent graduate of the New York Film Academy (MFA Screenwriting) and hold a BA in Digital Filmmaking and Video Production and an additional MFA in Filmmaking from NYFA. I love storytelling, creating, and everything that entails filmmaking from start to finish. Currently, I reside here in lovely Burbank, CA, and am represented by Sandra Avila at Inclusion Management.

    CR: Tell us about your film. What is it about and where does it take place?   

    BE: Blackwater is an episodic pilot about Native American country music star Birdie Blackwater whose career is fizzling due to excessive drinking that began 10 years ago. Upon moving back to her home reservation, barely clinging onto what little dignity she has left, Birdie is arrested for a barrage of drunken charges and lashing out at tribal police officers during a late-night performance. The next day, tribal courts order Birdie to complete 180 days of wellness therapy and intense probation or face two years in prison. Birdie now finds herself contending each week with a group of offbeat individuals who each possess their own…“unique” mental limitations. The story takes place on a fictional Native American reservation call Red Rock. 

    CR: Sounds very powerful. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this story? 

    BE: The inspiration for Blackwater came about in September of 2018… a tough experience. I had started a new class (Transmedia) at the New York Film Academy in Burbank, CA. The ultimate goal of the class: develop, write, and shoot a web series pilot. During the first half of the six-month course, I was given the news that my older brother Brandon had developed cirrhosis of the liver to such a serious extent that he would need a liver transplant. My brother had gotten this condition from depression and extreme alcoholism after the death of our mother in 2015. The additional news I would receive from him is that he would be opting for hospice care and wanted to just go peacefully with family for the remainder of his time. That news, to say the least, was devastating. 

    Shortly after his funeral, I returned to my Transmedia class. The project I had been working on up to that point was scrapped. I wanted to write something I was familiar with. I had felt my brother in my heart moving me to lean into all that I had experienced with drug addiction and dependency. I also wanted to heal from losing him to alcoholism. Thus, I put forward a new proposal to my instructors, which was Blackwater

    CR: Boise, I’m so sorry for your loss and the pain your family must have experienced. It’s truly inspiring how you were able to transform your personal tragedy into a meaningful story, and so quickly. 

    What was it like to direct the film?

    BE: My favorite experience directing Blackwater was working with such a phenomenal cast and crew who brought their A-game to each and every scene both on and off-screen. I mean, this was a set from heaven, and pulling off a thirteen-page script in just one day with minimal time, a skeleton crew, and several different scenes went by like clockwork. Heck, we even had an hour to spare after the whole thing was over! Directing that day was one of the best experiences I ever had on set.

    Kyla Garcia as Birdie Blackwater (“Blackwater”)

    CR: You directed a thirteen-page script in one day? Wow! Dare I ask what was the most challenging thing about making the film? 

    BE: It’s crazy because you usually are anticipating challenges that may or may not arise on the day of production, and they did of course, but they were minor and quickly remedied. No. The challenges here were definitely in the final days leading up to production. You would think that getting a simple location (an empty room) for the group scene would be easy-peasy in LA, but when you’re working with a shoestring budget, a simple task all of a sudden becomes a near impossibility. And that was the case up until the last week of location scouting. We finally locked our location, which was an old American Legion post here in Burbank. It was great because they had everything we needed for each scene! 

    The other difficult part was not in pre-production or production, but actually editing. Here I am, dealing with footage of numerous great takes from each actor/actress and reviewing them over and over. Now, you have to realize, that when you’re dealing with high caliber talent as we had, each throwing you grade-A performances with each take, it is extremely hard to pick the right one! This was mainly the case with our main character, Birdie Blackwater, portrayed by Kyla Garcia. What she brought was gold, I tell ya…GOLD. So for her, sorting through the stuff she gave us and settling on certain clips was by itself a two-month process. Keep an eye on Kyla, SHE IS AMAZING!

    CR: It’s true – Kyla is downright riveting to watch. Besides the editing, what did you learn while making this film?  

    BE: To say I didn’t learn much would be a “shooting myself in the foot” moment and never being able to walk right again, hahaha. I learned a hell of a lot. But I’ll narrow it down to one thing above others, and that was giving my talent the freedom they needed to experiment with their characters and craft on set. There was a lot of ad-libbing, and the more I stepped back and let them have at it, the more they gave. Their performances were elevated, and aside from the few adjustments I gave every now and then, I just kept my mouth shut and steered the ship. I believe this is extremely important because, by the end of any script, these people are going to be the ones who embody this person you wrote, and ultimately bring them to life – and not only the talent, but the entire crew as well. 

    As a director, I realized that you can only hold onto the material for so long before giving it up. You must trust your talent and pass the baton you have and be the coach they need, guiding them from the sideline. Hopefully, if you put in the hard work needed in pre-production and cast the film right, the process will fully evolve on its own. You only need to sit back and enjoy the show at that point. 

    CR: Can you talk about the development process for this pilot and the class you developed it in? 

    BE: Given I had changed my proposal during the six-month Transmedia course, development for Blackwater was done in a three-month period, which is not much time. But…it came very easily to me. The vision for it was clear, so it was really a matter of honing in on what was already in my head. I knew I wanted to do something that was set in a Native American world, and I completely cast with Indigenous talent. This was something I have always wanted to do, I just felt I hadn’t honed in on my craft enough back then. But now it was different. I felt confident enough to give it a try. It was a matter of finding the right, tone, cast, and overall theme, which it turned out to have many. 

    CR: Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?  

    BE: One of the coolest things about the Transmedia 1 & 2 courses at NYFA were instructors Jenni Powell and Chris Modoono. Not only were they extremely wise and easy to talk to, but their guidance was priceless as they were able to get me from concept to a finished pilot. I can’t stress enough about the creative freedom Jenni and Chris gave us in class. I really owe the experience and opportunity to them and to NYFA. 

    CR: That is so cool. You know every teacher’s dream is to inspire and elevate students at the level you just described. 

    Let’s talk about the amazing festival run you’re having with Blackwater.  

    BE: Blackwater has garnered twenty festival selections, five of those being the Austin Film Festival, Slamdance, Nashville Film Festival, Hollyshorts, and Cinequest Film and VR Festival. 

    CR: That is any filmmaker’s dream list! So what are you looking forward to with Slamdance? 

    BE: I hope to get as much positive attention as possible and of course find a potential buyer or investor for continued production. Native American content and storytelling are so important in this day and age — and extremely hard to find. Slamdance is one of those benchmark experiences you constantly take a step back and go “Wow, I did something really cool here” and realize you’re on the right path. I also hope to network virtually and meet many of the talented filmmakers at this year’s festival! 

    Poster for “Blackwater” pilot

    CR: You will definitely have some great opportunities there. Do you have any advice for recent graduates making their way into the professional world?  

    BE: I would say be consistent, persistent, and honest in your work and what it is exactly you want for your future. Filmmaking and its many crafts are a life long pursuit. Pursuing it should make you happy, grateful, and full of good spirit to have such a calling. If it doesn’t, maybe take a step back and re-evaluate. Focus on what you want, whether that is screenwriting, directing (or both), and constantly sharpen your craft and talents in that world every day in some shape or form. Look to each day as an opportunity to move towards that ultimate goal, and eventually one day…you’ll find yourself there. But don’t forget to have fun and relax along the way. Be happy. 

    CR: Those are very wise words. And speaking of wise words, let’s talk about these trying times we live in today. Do you want to share any thoughts about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now? 

    BE: Well, if I do share anything, it’ll be about the importance of diverse inclusion in today’s film industry and breaking the current mold at hand. And I am speaking specifically to Native American inclusion. Native Americans are perhaps the most underrepresented culture in the film and television industry right now in terms of film and television content, screenwriters, directors, and leading talent. We as Native Americans have been fighting an extremely uphill battle in finding large, fair platforms or opportunities to tell “our own stories,” tell our own history, and voice our own point of view. Since the dawn of cinema, history has been flat-out brutal in our depiction, reducing us to “elk skin and feathers,” mascots, savages, and whatever else the multitude of history books will have you believe. We as a people, as a culture, need to be allowed to write and depict our own stories, our own views, and our own history. Blackwater is one such example out of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States. The time for diverse inclusion is now, and Hollywood needs to comply accordingly. 

    CR: The time is definitely now, and I’m so happy that you and your work are a solution to this lack of diversity in Hollywood.

    So how we can watch your film during Slamdance and see your Q&A? 

    BE: Slamdance is an online format this year, meaning anyone with a computer or smart TV can access it for only ten bucks. Yes… $10. We’re talking the crème of the crop here, people! Although the official schedule of events isn’t out yet, getting your pass now will ensure you do not miss a single screening. All films will be viewable throughout the festival from February 12th – 25th

    Blackwater will be screening in the “Episodes” block with many other awesome filmmakers and their films, and you will also be able to watch our Q&A as a bonus feature. Go to www.slamdance.com now for your ticket! 

    CR: Thanks for stopping by, Boise. Congratulations and best of luck!

    [NOTE: NYFA students can get their festival passes for $5 by using their NYFA email address].

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