David OLeary
Author archives

  • Celebrating the Graduates of NYFA’s Moscow Journalism Summer School (JSS)

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    Last Friday, Evgeniia Vlasova and I wrapped up a three-day online follow-up to last August’s Moscow Journalism Summer School (JSS). We ended early afternoon New York time, early evening Moscow time and after midnight Siberia time. About two-thirds of the JSS Summer attendees participated at some point over the three days. Some had personal obligations that precluded them from attending. One is a physician, once again treating desperately ill COVID-19 patients.

    Each of the workshop participants produced a story on the theme “2020: The Year No One Expected.” While they all had a common subject, each approached the assignment in a unique way. Genia and I were very impressed by the maturity of the presentations. They were definitely better than what they did last August, although those were pretty good too.

    Here is a link to one of the stories. It is indicative of the enterprise and hard work of the program participants. Below is a “graduation photo” from last Friday.

    We had two guest speakers. Jeff Platt is a general assignment reporter in Bakersfield, California. We invited him to talk about practicing digital journalism when you have limited resources. The other guest was Lara Gato, a NYFA Broadcast Journalism graduate and a Producer with CBSN, the digital streaming service of CBS News. We discussed the differences in producing stories for broadcast/cable television and digital platforms.

    Gillian Kemmerer, Host of The Faceoff & Ice Diaries, guest lectured this Summer and tweeted out her support of the incredible NYFA Moscow Broadcast Journalism students.

    One of the differences between August and January was a more pronounced emphasis on career development. For the final session, each participant answered four questions:

    1. Where do you want to be in one year?
    2. Where do you want to be in three years?
    3. What do you have to do to reach these goals?
    4. What is one concrete step that you can take in the next two months to advance your career?

    These folks gave up part of their Christmas vacations to attend this workshop. I think it is indicative of the value they assign to the Moscow JSS. We ended by asking them to recommend friends and colleagues who would be suitable candidates for the NYFA Moscow JSS II.

    In July, four of the JSS I participants will be in New York for four weeks to study at NYFA. All travel, housing, meal, and tuition costs will be paid by the U.S. State Department.

    In August 2021, we will be holding JSS II. Ideally in Moscow, otherwise online. It too will be fully funded by the State Department.

    For more information on NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism School, click here.

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  • It’s Been a Journey for Acting for Film Alum Elsabet Ademe, But She is Just Getting Started

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    Elsabet Ademe was born in Ethiopia, and as a teenager, she embarked on the most dangerous journey of her life – traveling the treacherous smugglers’ route toward the West, living in several countries, and working in each one to save money. Her goal was to make it to the United States to pursue a career in film. Years later, Ademe is a U.S. citizen and BFA graduate from New York Film Academy with an active career in Los Angeles.

    Acting for Film Alum Elsabet Ademe

    “I had a dream of becoming an actress since I was six years old, so when I got a chance to follow my dream, I decided to go to school first,” said Ademe. “I did my research about a film school, then I came across the New York Film Academy in 2014. I took the Acting for Film 1-Year Conservatory program in New York, then I did few theaters in NYC. In 2016, I moved to LA and started the NYFA’s Acting for Film BFA program.”

    After Ademe graduated in 2018, she picked up acting, casting directing, producing, and writing projects. Her first web series pilot, The Bartender, got picked up by PAN Africa Film Festival.

    Ademe recently wrote a book called Behind Sunrise, based on true events, which is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more. The book’s synopsis reads:

    The story of the bright and positive, yet ferociously determined, Sarah Belay.

    Sarah is a sixteen-year-old Ethiopian girl with big dreams. She wants to travel to Europe to pursue the arts. However, she has a huge problem – her family is dead set against it.

    When she hears the man who drives her to school talk about human smuggling, her ears perk up. She knows what she’s going to do. Weeks later, in the dead of night, she leaves her home to embark on a journey that dramatically changes her life.

    With little information from her transporters, Sarah travels the perilous off-road paths toward Sudan in the care of suspicious and increasingly cruel men. The battle for survival brings out the worst in some, and the incredibly good in others as a bond forms between some of the travelers.

    Arriving in Sudan, Sarah finds work and saves money for what she believes is the most dangerous leg of the journey – the long trek through the Sahara Desert and into Libya. The passage, however, is a nightmare far worse than anything she could have imagined. Abandoned by the smugglers in the vast barrenness of Al Kufrah, the friends escape and hire a local Libyan smuggler to get them to Tripoli.

    Instead, he takes them to the middle of the desert and into even more life-changing dangers. Will Sarah survive the journey to reach her dreams? Or will the circumstances beyond her control destroy her?

    Ademe will appear in the short film Raine on the Run, which is slated to be released later this year and will continue to expand on her acting and writing skills for the future. “I’m Ethiopian so English is my second language and I have learned a lot to develop my writing skills, while also building a network through NYFA,” shared Ademe. “I discovered myself at NYFA and through me, I can do anything.”

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    January 14, 2021 • Acting, International Diversity, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1038

  • Hannah Gilliland, NYFA Study Abroad Admissions Associate, Accepted into NAFSA Future Leaders Academy

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    NYFA is thrilled to announce that our colleague, Hannah Gilliland, was recently accepted into the NAFSA Academy, and was awarded a NAFSA scholarship to attend the 2021 cohort of young international education leaders of the future. 

    The NAFSA Academy is a highly cherished program of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. NAFSA “…is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange”. Its mission is to provide a path for every student, scholar, and specialist who is seeking the benefits of international education and to have every “…higher education integrates international perspectives into its teaching, research, and service missions”.
     
    The NAFSA Academy, which informs and educates people to uphold the organization’s mission, is a competitive, yearlong, intensive training and networking course on international education. Trainees are chosen from all over the US and are from many different international education backgrounds. 

    Hannah Gilliland

    “The curriculum is rigorous and will provide Hannah with a wide-ranging array of tools for her to manage the NYFA Study Abroad Department efficiently”, stated Jim Miller, NYFA Vice President. Mr. Miller went on further to say, “we are very, very proud of Hannah — all of us at NYFA who interact and work alongside her regard her as a true gem of a colleague and we know that she has an incredible future in the field!” 

     The NAFSA Academy curriculum includes networking opportunities, an individual learning plan in which trainees arrange goals in terms of personal and institutional goals, blog assignments, attending the regional and annual NAFSA conference, and more. “What is unique is that I get to meet people all over the country and learn about all aspects of international education and while this course will benefit me, it will also benefit NYFA as a whole”, Hannah indicated upon learning of the award. 

    Hannah Gilliland at NYFA’s table at NAFSA’s 2019 annual conference

    “The NAFSA Academy will not only help with important connections but also will assist me in making the NYFA Study Abroad Department stronger and give me insight into how other Study Abroad Departments are run. I believe NYFA’s emphasis on international and globally-minded students is one of our greatest and unique strengths that sets us apart from other schools and I think that this is a great opportunity for myself and for NYFA to grow and to become more known and knowledgeable in the field of international education.”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Hannah Gilliland on her recent achievement and looks forward to what’s next from our esteemed colleague.

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    January 13, 2021 • Community Highlights, Faculty Highlights • Views: 1000

  • New York Film Academy Looks Back at the 2020 Highlights

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    As we look back through a challenging year that was 2020, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments the New York Film Academy (NYFA) community was able to achieve. In the below infographic, we have selected a handful of the many successes our alumni, students, faculty and staff were a part of.

    For more NYFA community stories, you can read more on our blog and headline articles.

    Student Map


    Alumni Successes
    Faculty success stories

    2020 Gif Infographic

     

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  • NYFA Alum Aditya J. Patwardhan’s “Transference” Now Available on Amazon Prime Video

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    New York Film Academy alum Aditya J. Patwardhan’s most recent directorial feat, Transference is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The psychological thriller tells the story of a trauma therapist who begins experiencing terrifying phenomena following the death of her estranged father.

    Aditya, who hails from Jaipur, India has directed an array of different works from feature films to documentaries to short films and TV series. He has directed and produced films in multiple foreign languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Lithuanian. His passion for film developed in his childhood through his love of music and instruments. “My filmmaking journey really began at the age of seven when I was introduced to music. After learning to play tabla, drums, and the piano during my early school years, one of the first things I was enticed with was observing how background score shapes a film. It became one of my primary obsessions to notice background scores and try to duplicate them at home on the keyboards and drums. Films like The Lion King, Titanic, and The Matrix played a key role in influencing me in terms of music and its association with video. Naturally, I assumed that I would want to grow up to be a music director.”

    His path to film was not direct but one that passed through a variety of different jobs and industries. After obtaining his degree in computer sciences and playing drums for a rock-metal Megadeth and Metallica cover band called Jettatura in his free time, Aditya worked as a social media manager, a media and advertisement head, a music composer, and a music video director. All of these experiences ignited his passion for storytelling, eventually leading him to NYFA’s MA in Film and Media Production program . “What attracted me most towards NYFA was the hands-on nature of its 1-Year (Filmmaking) program. I saw that it gave me a thorough filmmaking education at an accelerated pace and prepared me for a real-world experience sooner than any other school or program that I looked into. The second thing that appealed to me was the filming ‘sand-box’ that NYFA offered. What I mean by that is NYFA has almost all the major filmmaking departments and so within the school, I was able to learn the skills of collaboration with all film vertices.”

    Transference is not his only work available on a major streaming platform. A Touch of Aurora (also known as When Red is White) is also available on Amazon Prime Video. The film, which has amassed over 20 nominations and 12 awards in over four countries on the festival circuit, is a Portuguese-language Brazilian drama that tells the story of a couple both of whom are visually impaired. Sara, played by Brazilian film star Thaila Ayala, was born blind while Luis, a former successful soccer player with a glamorous past, lost his sight following a car accident.  

    A Touch of Aurora | Aditya J. Patwardhan | NYFA Alum

    Aditya J. Patwardhan behind the scenes on the set of “A Touch of Aurora.”

    Another recent production, And the Dream that Mattered features a number of NYFA alumni including acting for film alumni Themo Melikidze and Jongman Kim. The film is in Korean and tells the story of an actor in his 40’s who goes through a midlife crisis when he visits his family and realizes that he has not achieved what he set out to do. 

    His latest project, Rivers: The Upstream Story, is a docu-fiction feature that Aditya both produced and directed. The film follows four characters: Adriana, a refugee from crisis-hit Venezuela, Kankana, an Indian actress working in Hollywood, Suraj, a street cleaner from a slum in Rajasthan, and Ravi who is a television news reporter from Jaipur. 

    We journey with them as they travel across India, an ancient civilization struggling with climate change, water crisis, poverty, and hygiene issues,” explained Aditya. “One of the storylines in the film portrays Isha Foundation’s Rally for Rivers, a pan India water-conservation drive supported by the Government of India and endorsed by celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Shahrukh Khan.”

    Aditya had this to say to incoming NYFA students, “the best thing about NYFA’s programs is the fast pace and hands-on style. But that is also something every incoming student should look out for. They have to be prepared to work hard and tirelessly for the length of the program they’re doing.”

    One of the most important things that stand out to me about my initial days in NYFA is the opportunity I got to experiment with my films,” he continued. “I always made sure that any story I told was out of my comfort zone. The protective umbrella of a film school is where you can do just that: try out as many genres and ideas as possible because failure will have fewer consequences here than in a real-world scenario.”

    And The Dream that Mattered | Aditya J. Patwardhan | NYFA Alum

    Aditya J. Patwardhan with the cast of “And The Dream that Mattered,” including NYFA alumni Themo Melikidze (second left) and Jongman Kim (third left).

    It was with the help of NYFA’s Industry Lab that Aditya was able to produce his first multi-language film, Red Souls. “The film,” explained Aditya, “deals with with the subject of human trafficking between Brazil and the US, and won the Best Film award at the Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival, making me one of the first Indian directors to win an award at a Brazilian festival for directing a Portuguese film.”

    “Almost all the projects I have done have had important team members who were from NYFA and I had collaborated with them first when I was doing school projects. That just stresses how important good collaborations are and the crucial role NYFA plays.”

    New York Film Academy wishes Aditya J. Patwardhan success for his upcoming projects. We urge everyone to check out A Touch of Aurora and Transference on Amazon Prime Video.

     

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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    December 30, 2020 • Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1405

  • NYFA South Beach Instructor, Patrice DeGraff Arenas, Lands Role on Peabody Award-Winning Drama “David Makes Man”

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    Originally reported in Deadline, NYFA’s own Patrice DeGraff Arenas has landed a recurring role on David Makes Man. The Peabody Award-winning drama series is distributed by the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and is currently ramping up for its second season. 

    Arenas teaches Voice and Speech Acting, Scene Study, Characterization, and Advanced Acting Technique at NYFA’s South Beach campus. In the upcoming season of David Makes Man, Arenas will play Denise, an office assistant at the Edwards Firm (where the main character David works). As originally reported by Deadline, Arenas’ character Denise is someone who “keeps things moving at the office while also learning the moods and tempo of her boss.” 

    Photo courtesy of Patrice DeGraff Arenas

    David Makes Man is from Oscar-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) and Warner Bros. and is loosely based on McCraney’s experiences, with the titular David (Akili McDowell), a 14-year-old prodigy from the South Florida projects. Arenas revealed that she began production on the project in October 2020.

    Arenas, who grew up the daughter of an arts educator, had an upbringing full of theatre, with her mom being a director in school productions. “From those early experiences, I went to college and relished watching my peers present. I gained insight about intention and action, my peers as well professors commented on my clear, direct, practical critiques,” shared Arenas.

    While Arenas has recently been involved in NYFA alum Bruklyn Miller’s award-winning film Celestial and is focused on her upcoming role in David Makes Man, Arenas revealed she is also in the development of a series with four of her former high school arts friends. In the future, Arenas hopes to be cast in a comedy and to play the role of Rose in Fences or Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

    Photo Credit: OWN

    As for advice for students and alumni, Arenas says “life isn’t a rehearsal, so show up ready! It’s okay to be afraid but do it anyway!” The NYFA instructor also urges actors and creatives alike to “be patient with yourself” as some goals rarely look like what you want them to “but that doesn’t mean the journey isn’t worthwhile!”

    New York Film Academy congratulates the NYFA South Beach instructor Patrice DeGraff Arenas on her upcoming role, and encourages everyone to check out the second season of David Makes Man when it is available on OWN, and to catch up on season one, with all episodes now available on HBO Max.

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    December 21, 2020 • Acting, Faculty Highlights, South Beach • Views: 1085

  • NYFA Alum Ritika Shah Shoots Fashion Editorial for ‘Harper’s Bazaar India’

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    2020 isn’t going to stop Ritika Shah from making bold moves in the fashion world. Recently, the 1-Year Photography Conservatory alum shot a full fashion editorial for the highbrow style magazine, Harper’s Bazaar India.

    The photos, which can be found in Bazaar’s November 2020 issue, featuring images that capture the “Magic of the Weave,” a concept by the magazine’s editor paying homage to clothes that have been made of traditional, handwoven Indian weave, “Brocade,” with a modern twist.

    Shot by Ritika Shah for “Harper’s Bazaar India”

    As an independent photographer, Shah revealed that her style has evolved over time to be “very minimal” which is emulated in her photos. “I had full creative freedom in terms of the location and frames used for each shot and the model’s poses,” revealed Shah. “I decided to follow my vision, but I had to make sure that the imagery aligned with the magazine’s aesthetic as well.”

    One of the biggest aspects of shooting the project was the location of the shoot, something that Shah was very confident about when taking on the project. “Luckily, I had done a recce [pre-shoot] with this location on another project before, so I had kept it in mind. When I got a call from the fashion stylist for this shoot, I immediately suggested this location, shared the images, and it got approved.”

    The location ended up being a huge focal point for the spread and Shah’s vision overall. “It had elements of traditional Indian architecture, but in a modern setting; Just like the clothes were made of traditional handwoven Indian weave, with modern silhouettes. The location played a big role in supporting the concept of the shoot.”

    Shah has been in the business for four years as an independent fashion photographer. Previously, she shot the cover for Verve Magazine and had her work featured in Contributor MagazineHomegrown Magazine, and more. “It’s been a great journey working as an independent photographer and I am always grateful for all my learnings at NYFA,” explained Shah. “NYFA taught me to question everything that I liked and I still question myself as to why I like or dislike something; it helps in getting the creative juices flowing.”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA Photography alum, Ritika Shah, for her stunning fashion photography portraitures featured in the November issue of Harper’s Bazaar India. For more photos from the NYFA alum, check out her Instagram here.

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    December 18, 2020 • Acting • Views: 820

  • NYFA Documentary Filmmaking Alum Eleonora Privitera Wins Silver Award at San Diego Italian Film Festival

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    Documentary Filmmaking alum Eleonora Privitera graduated from her 1-Year program in 2019 and has been continuing to prove she is a filmmaker that seeks to make the unknown stories of real people heard.

    Before attending NYFA, the Italian native had an extensive background in social anthropology and was involved in ethnographic research fieldwork focused on urban violence and humanitarian projects in South America and East Africa. In 2019, she released a subversive short about an LGBTQIA+ movement using art and political performances to fight homophobia in Queenz of The Night. Now the alum is back with her new documentary short, Rebirth, and this time it’s closer to home.

    Still from “Rebirth,” directed by Eleonora Privitera

    The emotionally-driven film, which follows Privitera’s own parent’s as her mother (Grazia) and father (Vincenzo) grapple with Vincenzo’s cancer. On one hand, the film portrays Vincenzo grappling with mortality, while Grazia strives to cope with the burden of caring for her husband while accepting the reality of the disease that is taking over someone she has loved for over 40 years. 

    “My response was to start to intimately film how his and my mother’s lives have changed while dealing with the disease,” shared Privitera. “Being far away from home, I knew that he and my mother didn’t really want me to know the burden that was currently happening in their lives, but I wanted to be part of the struggle and I couldn’t pretend there wasn’t one.”

    “Therefore, in this difficult time, on the hard road they were both on, all I could do was film them with empathy and love in order to artistically explore their interior worlds, fears, and hopes.” 

    The film screened at the San Diego Italian Film Festival and was the recipient of the Silver Award, acknowledging Privitera’s breathtaking film, which captures the tough reality of two people very close to the filmmaker.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Documentary Filmmaking alum, Eleonora Privitera, on her well-deserved Silver Award win at the San Diego Italian Film Festival and looks forward to future documentary projects from the alum.

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    December 17, 2020 • Documentary Filmmaking, Film Festivals, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 842

  • NYFA Welcomes ICM Partners’ Doug MacLaren for Online Q&A-List Conversation

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the opportunity to host a live video Q&A with the Head of the Motion Picture Literary Department of ICM Agency, DOUG MACLAREN. The discussion with NYFA students and alumni was centered on the agency world and how agents work with their clients in the entertainment industry, especially now in the middle of a pandemic. TOVA LAITER, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Doug MacLaren is Partner and Co-Head of ICM’s Director’s Group. He is a talent and literary agent at ICM Partners, where he represents directors, writers, and actors across both movies and television. His current clients include Tom Hooper (Best Picture and Best Director Oscar winner for The King’s Speech; Les Miserables; The Danish Girl), Vince Gilligan (Emmy award-winner for Breaking Bad and Better Caul Saul; El Camino), Gurinder Chadha (Blinded By The Light; Bend It Like Beckham), Neill Blomkamp (District 9; Elysium), Peter Weir (multiple Oscar nominee for Dead Poets Society; Witness; The Truman Show) Joseph Cedar (Foreign Oscar nominee for Footnote and Beaufort; Our Boys), and Michelle MacLaren (Emmy award-winner for Breaking Bad; Game of Thrones; Westworld; The Walking Dead).

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Doug MacLaren for NYFA’s Q&A-List

    Laiter began the discussion by asking MacLaren how he ended up in the entertainment agency business, to which he replied that right out of college he was involved in the banking industry. After working in Hong Kong at a French bank, MacLaren realized he needed to reevaluate what it was he actually wanted to do with his life. After coming back stateside, MacLaren decided to finally let his love of cinema lead a path to Los Angeles where he started meeting with companies who made movies he liked and eventually landed a job in the industry.

    Laiter questioned how is the agency able to keep up with the multiple companies around, from studios, streamers and so many independents (when she started in the business there were 5 studios and two independents). MacLaren explained how the agency world is keeping up with the changes. “We have staff covering it all and we meet several times a week where we cover all kinds of possibilities for our clients” he explained. “We need to be specialists in all areas from animation to the independent filmmaking market, and I have a division of people who I can work with for all kinds of projects [studio and streaming alike].”

    Doug MacLaren (Right) with “Breaking Bad” creator and client Vince Gilligan (Zimbio)

    “There’s a lot of ways we can keep things COVID-safe with what we do,” shared MacLaren. “We are finding that scheduling Zooms with studios and big production companies is actually easier to get everyone together. In fact, it’s a plus not having to drive to studios or companies across heavily trafficked Los Angeles. It’s now easier to work with people’s schedules including managing clients in multiple time zones and helping in work/life balance to take moments to relax.

    While the pandemic has changed the way agents are working, studios and streaming services have already been changing the way they pick and choose their projects, MacLaren noted. “Studios like Sony and Warner Bros. are mostly looking for the pre-branded IP (Intellectual property). That shift has been going on for a long time as there is international value in it.”

    “For those of us who grew up loving dramas, comedies, and thrillers, that can be frustrating because of the narrowing of movies that are being made,” he said. “The hope is that the streamers don’t have to worry about the Box Office and streamers like Netflix are making everything from documentaries to sit-coms to replace your cable box.”

    On the other hand, MacLaren warned that the data streaming platforms collect can also be threatening. “My fear is, because I represent a diverse group of artists, is that they [streaming platforms] start to develop an echo chamber and say ‘oh well if people are watching action comedies, let’s make more action comedies and IP-driven blockbuster movies’.”

    Still from Doug MacLaren’s Tedx Talk “Primal Processing Power of Our Brains”

    Laiter also asked MacLaren whether creatives and agents need to have more of a package, even if its middle names of talent, put together before showing it to studio or streamers for a project, to cut through the noise or send a screenplay unattached. “In general, yeah, we are taking things a bit further down the road before exposing them to studios,” he revealed, noting that that the production can be easily imagined by studios if the project has the thoughtfulness and care already put into it. However, if the script is exactly what the studio or streamers are looking for- then yes, just send the screenplay.”

    Laiter then closed the conversation by thanking MacLaren for pulling back the curtain as to what is happening in the film industry right now and what his job entails. MacLaren replied that he was grateful to join the conversation and wished NYFA students and alumni the best of luck. “Keep making stuff. Keep writing stuff. This is an exciting time for the industry!”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank ICM Partners’ Doug MacLaren for sharing his time and film industry experience with NYFA students and alumni. To hear the full conversation with MacLaren’s insight into the industry and what he thinks will become of movie theaters as a result of the pandemic.

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    December 15, 2020 • Guest Speakers • Views: 786

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes Cast and Director of Meta Thriller “Black Bear” for NYFA Q&A-List Series

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    On December 9, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with actress & NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza, actor Christopher Abbott, actress Sarah Gadon, and former NYFA instructor and director of the film, Lawrence Michael Levine, to discuss their highly-anticipated new film Black Bear. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    The movie Black Bear is a meta thriller about movie-making, creativity, and ego from writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine. The film debuted earlier this year at Sundance and is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Black Bear boasts an incredible cast, featuring NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West, Parks & Recreation), Christopher Abbott (Catch-22, First Man), and Sarah Gadon (True Detective, Alias Grace).

    Laiter opened up the conversation by asking Levine how the film itself came to be made. The director cited his wife and frequent collaborator, Sophia Takal (Black Christmas; Hulu’s New Year, New You) as his inspiration. “I can remember the origins of part two was the working relationship with Sofia [Takal], but I wouldn’t say it would resemble the one in the film.”

    The film, Levine explained, is also a result of what many artists tend to do when they are stuck; try something new. “I think I just wanted to do something different and I was writing all this stuff that was very boring and conventional. I was going through a rough time and was bored professionally. It [Black Bear] was, in some ways, kind of about what I was going through.”

    (Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine

    Then Plaza got involved in the project and, in addition to landing the starring role, became a producer on the film. In one of her best performances to date, the NYFA alum revealed that the toughest scene for her was the infamous “breakdown” scene in the second part of the film. “The movie within the movie just because that scene was very complex (a lot of people and a lot of chaos). That was the day, I was always scared and terrified to shoot it and it was a lot to keep all of those things in play and, in a technical sense, it was very trippy.”

    The meta concept of a movie within a movie, for some, seemed to reveal a more mysterious plot than Levine originally intended. “It’s interesting because the response has been ‘the film is mysterious.’ I guess I will say the simplest thing about it is it’s one artist [played by Plaza] doing two interpretations of a scene. The audience is left wondering: Which is real? Are they both real? When does she start writing this? Is it prior to or after meeting the couple? It’s two different ways of exploring the theme of heartbreak and betrayal.”

    Allison (Aubrey Plaza) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)

    In each part of the film, Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon give knockout and emotionally-driven performances, playing dual versions of their role. “I was very intrigued to get two parts in one movie. It’s like you’re getting paid for one but doing two parts,” joked Abbott. “Larry [Levine] wrote something so genius, especially with something with Aubrey [Plaza] and Sarah [Gadon] attached to it.”

    When asked by a student whether it seemed “daunting” to play different characters, Gadon, who plays Blair, shared that it actually wasn’t daunting at all for her. “When I read the script, I was really excited. It was such an original script and I had never read anything like it, and I knew it would make for a really intense movie.”

    Caption: Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)

    After discussing Black Bear, the guests turned the conversation towards more technical questions from NYFA students and alumni, who asked the artists about both the directorial and acting process. For directing, Levine provided that sometimes directing means “stepping away, trusting, and letting them [the actors] take the reins and be comfortable. The intention is to make the actors feel safe and supported by having their back if they are lost. I had faith in these three [Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon] and I was dying to work with them for Black Bear.”

    Abbott reminded actors that in most characters, there’s “always a little bit of you in there,” but it’s about determining “how different the character is from you” versus how you are alike that will help you be able to fully dive in. Gadon added that it’s about making a character feel as fleshed out as possible, a nod to screenwriters everywhere to remember to help the actors let that character leap off the page. 

    Plaza shared that it’s important for those about to enter the film industry to continue to explore their craft, make mistakes, and network. “It’s important to focus on those kinds of communities and collaborations rather than figuring out how to ‘get in’ to the industry. If there is anything concrete, you want to get in front of casting directors more than anyone. So focusing your strategy and surrounding yourself around a community of like-minded people is important, because you don’t know what could lead to the next opportunity.”

    Aubrey Plaza, Lawrence Michael Levine, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon at Sundance Film Festival (Zimbio)

    Plaza also remarked during the discussion about her NYFA days and shared with students that “New York Film Academy was so important.” She reminisced that prior to getting into the Teen Filmmaking program that she would stay up late at night and look at the pictures, “dreaming about being in that program.”

    Laiter thanked Plaza, Levine, Abbott, and Gadon for taking the time to join the conversation and for discussing their process and experience filming their critically acclaimed film Black Bear, as well as sharing their expertise with students.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine for sharing their time and acting experience with NYFA students and alumni.

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