George Leone
Author archives

  • NYFA Alumna Livi Zheng Screens Debut Feature “Brush with Danger”

    On June 8th, New York Film Academy students were treated to an inspirational evening with one of their own when they attended a screening and Q&A with NYFA alumna, feature film director, and accomplished martial artist Livi Zheng.

    livi zheng

    Livi screened trailer clips from her first film, Brush with Danger, which she co wrote and starred in with her brother. She also screened press clips from her first film and exclusive behind the scenes from her second film.

    In addition Livi had good advice on the distribution process, one of the most difficult areas for new filmmakers to navigate. She addressed the topic of distributors pressuring to sell your movie immediately “take your time to make your decision. They want to rush you…once you sign, it’s binding,” she said.

    Livi began her academic career in economics before deciding to switch to filmmaking. A lifelong student of martial arts, she has been interested in filmmaking since she was fifteen years old because people in martial arts “do movies or coach.” She told the audience, however, that she sees a strong relationship between filmmaking and economics, telling the assembled students and guests,”Film is a business. It’s very related to economics, but you can learn [economics] by doing it—read a book or Google it.”

    June 16, 2016 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1850

  • “Good Luck Chuck” Screening at NYFA Los Angeles

    On Thursday, April 21st, New York Film Academy students were treated to a screening and Q & A of the hit Dane Cook / Jessica Alba romantic comedy, Good Luck Chuck. Director Mark Helfrich and Director of Cinematography / NYFA Chair of Cinematography, Tony Richmond, A.S.C., B.S.C., spoke with students at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. Sonny Calderon, NYFA’s Dean of the College, moderated the discussion.

    nyfa good luck chuck

    NYFA Dean of the College, Sonny Calderon; Cinematography Chair, Tony Richmond; Director Mark Helfrich

    When asked how the movie came together, Helfrich said, “I’ve always wanted to direct,” which sent him on the search for scripts. He finally took on Good Luck Chuck, which at that time was a much softer romantic comedy, deciding to turn it into the very sexy R-rated romantic comedy that it became. Commenting on the value of the writing process in the development of the film, Helfrich said, “A screenwriter is worth his weight in gold.” He went on to add that a good script is one where you can’t wait to get to the next page.

    Being relatively new to directing after establishing himself as an editor, Helfrich now had to work with actors in a new way. Sonny Calderon asked him how he went about learning those new skills. Helfrich drew on his experience on previous sets in a non-directorial capacity, when he would visit the set as an editor and watch the director work with actors.

    The conversation turned to the relationship of directing to editing. Helfrich said that some directors have the movie cut in their head before they shoot, tying that to clarity of vision. This clarity of vision from a director, he said, also influences the amount of coverage directors use to cover the scene, saying also that he leans toward the minimum amount of coverage required. Sonny went on to add that a lot of reshooting tends to kill energy on the part of actors, particularly in a comedy. Helfrich said that the current trend is to “over cover” scenes.

    Sonny asked Helfrich about the emergence of digital editing and the differences between that and film editing. Helfrich said that he likes both, adding about film, “It was tangible.”  When asked what he looks for in a director, Tony told the audience to look for someone they like, adding, “I’ve never worked with anybody I didn’t like.”

    May 6, 2016 • Cinematography, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 2130

  • “Trumbo” Screening with Emmy Award-Winning Actor Bryan Cranston

    The New York Film Academy enjoyed a special evening with Bryan Cranston, the star of Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle and, more recently, the movie Trumbo, a historical film about one of the most successful screenwriters of the 1950’s-70’s, Dalton Trumbo, who endured more than a decade of hardship (blacklisting and prison) for standing up to the American anti-communist movement that tried unsuccessfully to force him to name communist party members within the film industry.

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    The capacity crowd filled the 550-seat Ross Theater on the grounds of Warner Bros. Studios to watch the movie Trumbo, and afterward to listen to the life lessons of the veteran actor, hoping to gain some unique insight into the craft and its impact on their own lives and careers. Bryan did not disappoint.

    Following the screening, Bryan Cranston entered the theater to a standing ovation, and was accompanied by producer Tova Laiter, who moderated the event. Cranston spoke of the journey to becoming an actor, specifically the commitment and perseverance that one must have in order to succeed. He also talked about the arbitrary deadline that many of us set, saying, ‘I’ll give it two years.” He disagreed with that sentiment, saying that “You’re either in or you’re out.” Using the poker reference, he said, “It means you’re all in.” He added later in the address that “not trying is failing.”

    Regarding obtaining work, Cranston spoke at length about shifting the paradigm when walking into an audition (or any meeting for that matter). We should be thinking about how we can offer our talent to that project, and not be thinking about getting the job.

    bryan cranston

    He counseled the audience, composed of students from all disciplines, “Don’t put yourself in a position of need. You’re there to give them something.” The same goes with not getting the role — believe that something better is going to come your way and you are lucky you didn’t get the other job (as happened to him throughout his career).

    Cranston responded to questions from audience members, some of whom asked about the character Walter White from Breaking Bad. He said that his ability to visualize the character came from the quality of the writing, which he called brilliant. He answered another student question by saying that an actor’s home life should be clean and strong so they can then go out and put the variety and excitement into the roles they choose. He counseled the young actors to “put in the hours,” and show up to jobs on time and prepared.

    New York Film Academy thanks Bryan Cranston for taking the time to share his wisdom and inspire our students. It was truly an unforgettable night.

    May 5, 2016 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 6991

  • Anna Serner Speaks on Behalf of Gender Equality in Film

    anna serner

    Since the beginning of 2000, the pursuit for gender equality in film has been an ongoing objective in Sweden. To reach that goal by the end of 2015, the Swedish Film Institute, led by its CEO Anna Serner, made an actionable plan with encouraging results. Under her guidance since 2011, the Swedish Film Institute has made Sweden the first-ever country to achieve 50:50 gender parity in terms of government financing for films. Last year, Serner succeeded in funding an equal number of films made by women and men in Sweden and Europe.

    On Monday night, New York Film Academy students, faculty and staff were invited to attend a special lecture and discussion with Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, to hear a presentation on a topic very much in the forefront here and abroad. That topic is gender equality in the film industry. Much has been said and written about the significant pay and role disparity in the acting field and the fact that women are under represented in the directing profession both qualitatively and quantitatively.

    Ms. Serner, who presides over the institute, a governmental organization which reviews applications and grants funding to prospective filmmakers, presented a list of most common arguments to which she has been subjected that seek to reinforce that disparity in the Swedish film industry and tied those to the conditions that exist in the American film industry as well. The arguments include rationalizations ranging from accusations of funding by quota to ‘women just don’t want to be directors’. Her responses brought to light cultural obstacles and ways of thinking that perpetuate these misconceptions.

    Regarding the accusation of managing by quota she responded, “We don’t do quota.” She went on to say that if an organization does that they have two different funding mechanisms—quota and quality. She maintains that the primary criterion is always quality and commented at length throughout the presentation regarding the quality of female produced and directed works.

    Key to overcoming these obstacles is a system in which female filmmakers are mentored and educated on how to navigate the system. Also key to moving forward, according to Serner, is an inclusive approach that helps to change male cultural paradigms, and brings distributors in early in the development of female led projects in order to make them vested sooner in the process and appreciate the evolution of the films in question.

    April 28, 2016 • Community Highlights, Guest Speakers • Views: 2635