Jack Picone
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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Musical Theatre Alumni Chase Thomas & Yael Silver Produce Star-Studded ‘Project Sing Out!’

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is thrilled to share that NYFA Musical Theatre alumni Chase Thomas and Yael Silver are part of the producing team for the one-night-only livestream benefit concert, Project Sing Out!. The event will be streamed exclusively on Playbill’s Facebook page and YouTube channel onJuly 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

    NYFA Alumni Chase Thomas (Left) and Yael Silver (Right)

    Project Sing Out! will feature musical and spoken word performances and include special appearances in support of the Educational Theatre Foundation’s efforts to increase access to theatre education in under-resourced schools, specifically in low-income communities and communities of color.

    Featured performances and appearances include an all-star line up of talent including: Chita Rivera, Lea Salonga, Whoopi Goldberg, Don Cheadle, Vanessa Williams, Audra McDonald, and many other notable actors and performers including NYFA Musical Theatre Conservatory alum and West Side Story actress Ilda Mason.

    Poster for ‘Project Sing Out!’

    “Hailey Kilgore [Once on This Island and Executive Producer for Project Sing Out!] reached out to Yael [Silver] and me to produce and help create Project Sing Out!. In partnership with Playbill and The Educational Theatre Foundation, our mission is to universally keep the arts alive in low-income and BIPOC communities by igniting creativity and inclusivity while paying homage to our educators, empowering young artists, and honoring the Broadway community,” explains Thomas. “We are dedicated to making sure arts programming is available in communities large and small, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    Across many industries, the global pandemic has hit the performing arts and non-profit communities hard, causing shows and events to be canceled. “Many galas or benefits will not happen this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is critical for the funding of nonprofits and organizations. With Project Sing Out!, we have figured out a way to do it successfully and fast.”

    Whoopi Goldberg, Lea Salonga, George Salazar, and Colman Domingo (Photo Credit: Playbill)

    Project Sing Out! is not only a star-studded event to entertain audiences and raise funds, but also aims to encourage the next generation of designers, directors, stage managers, choreographers and artists. “This is the future of Broadway coming at you live and in the comfort of your own home. These kids are amazing! The cause is extraordinary and timely. Please tune in to Project Sing Out!,” says Thomas.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA alumni Chase Thomas and Yael Silver for their hard work on putting together a noteworthy cause like Project Sing Out! and encourages everyone to tune in on Playbill’s YouTube channel and Facebook page on Monday, July 20 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.

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  • New York Film Academy Welcomes Acclaimed ‘American Beauty’ Actress Mena Suvari for The NYFA Q&A Series

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    On Tuesday, July 14, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to hold a live video Q&A with critically acclaimed actress MENA SUVARI to discuss her acting career with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.

    Mena Suvari is an award winning actress known for her roles in hits such as American Pie (1999) and the five-time Oscar-awarded American Beauty (1999). Directed by Sam Mendes, her genuine and moving performance as the character Angeles Hayes in American Beauty earned her a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ nod by BAFTA and a SAG Award for ‘Best Ensemble Cast.’ Suvari also won a Movieline Award for ‘Breakthrough Performance’ for her role.

    Following the success of American Pie, she reunited with Jason Biggs in Amy Heckerling’s romantic comedy Loser (2000) and continued to show her acting range in projects like Jonas Åkerlund’s cult-classic Spun (2002), Rob Reiner’s Rumor Has It (2005), Tony Scott’s Domino (2005), and Factory Girl (2006), amongst others.

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Mena Suvari (Right) during live Q&A

    Laiter opened the conversation by discussing Suvari’s career in the entertainment industry, which began with Suvari booking modeling and commercial jobs, which then turned into guest star roles on television. After booking her first film, Nowhere (1997), other indie film gigs soon opened up for the actress, eventually leading her to her biggest break yet, a lead role in the cult-classic, blockbuster film American Pie.

    Suvari recalls the audition for high school chorus student Heather being very relaxed and not as intense as her audition for American Beauty. After shooting American Pie, Suvari remembers going into film Sam Mendes’ heavily awarded film American Beauty, playing a more dramatic role as Angela Hayes, known for her iconic, risqué rose petal scenes throughout the film.

    “I honestly remember thinking, at the time, ‘I’m so happy to have a job’ not necessarily the big names around me and they [American Pie and American Beauty] saved me at the time during a very personally challenging moment in my life.”

    Kevin Spacey (Left) and Mena Suvari (Right) in ‘American Beauty’

    Suvari, who has experienced shooting some intimate scenes across her filmography, also touched on what it can be like for actors on set when filming a very sensual or more explicit scene.

    “It can definitely be awkward sometimes,” she laughs, “I have worked in all types of scenarios, but when you are shooting intimate scenes you want to keep the crew as small as possible and make everything feel very considerate.” For American Beauty, Suvari recalls everything being handled very professionally and carefully and remembers that Mendes was “very supportive” throughout the process.

    Mena Suvari in ‘American Pie’ (1999)

    A student then asked Suvari how she personally gets into approaching a role when reading a script. “It depends on the project,” she shared. “I am currently working on a project now, for example, where there is a tight family dynamic and I am trying to understand where the characters are coming from and their motivations.”

    Ultimately, Suvari explains, approaching a script is really about collaboration, as well. “I want to approach the writer, the director, and whoever I can to understand the genesis of the story and what it means to them, and ask as many questions as I can.”

    Mena Suvari (Left) and Alicia Silverstone (Right) in ‘American Woman’

    Suvari closed the conversation, by sharing some advice with NYFA students that has always stuck with her throughout her career while she was shooting Orpheus in 2007. “It was something that you think would be so simple, but the director [Bruce Beresford] just said ‘listen, listen listen,’ which can be tricky if you think about it, because you already know the script and what will happen because you are familiar with everything, but you need to be as present as possible in the moment.”

    Laiter then thanked Suvari for joining the conversation and giving students some excellent insight for their future productions in front of the camera or for those directing actors, while Suvari exclaimed she was so happy to be part of the conversation and to speak with the students.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank actress Mena Suvari for sharing her time and her experiences working on set from being a young actress to a seasoned performer. NYFA encourages everyone to check out Suvari’s upcoming film Grace and Grit, set to release later in 2020.

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    July 15, 2020 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 129

  • Masters of Game Design Series: Exploding Kittens Creator Elan Lee Shares His Story with NYFA

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    On July 9th, Game Designer Elan Lee talked with NYFA’s Scott Rogers as part of the Masters of Game Design speaker series.

    Elan Lee (Left) and NYFA’s Scott Rogers (Right)

    Lee discussed his origins working at Microsoft on classic games such as Halo. Lee chronicled his co-creating the Alternate Reality game genre with Jordan Wiseman on the Steven Spielberg’s the Beast. Rogers and Lee chatted about projects I Love Bees and Why So Serious? and Year Zero which were created by Lee’s 42 Entertainment. Lee discussed his transition from digital to tabletop games and the design and marketing of the Kickstarter record-breaking game Exploding Kittens. Lee also took questions from the Zoom audience.

    Exploding Kittens game created by Elan Lee

    A recording of this talk with Elan Lee will be available at a future date. To learn more about upcoming Masters of Game Design speakers, please join the NYFA Game Mentor Network at Meetup.com. For more on NYFA’s School of Game Design, click here

     

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    July 13, 2020 • Game Design, Guest Speakers • Views: 162

  • NYFA South Beach Instructor Peter Baloff Holds Virtual Q&A with Emmy Award-Winning Producer and Director Michael Pressman

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    We’re collaborative artists. Our creative process involves working face to face and hand to hand, finding common objectives and making it all happen. As an instructor at NYFA South Beach during this pandemic, I miss the personal connection with my students and I know my students miss the social and professional interactions with their fellow students. We all miss being there.

    Peter Baloff (Left) holds virtual Q&A with Michael Pressman (Right)

    I keep looking for silver linings in this time of pandemic. I’m upgrading my landscaping, enjoying my wife’s new-found love of baking, reading more and catching up on some pretty good movies and TV shows. But it’s been hard finding silver linings teaching my students on Zoom. But this week, at long last, a silver lining appeared on Zoom, which I’d like to share with you here.

    For the past few years I’ve wanted to invite guest artists to our South Beach campus – accomplished actors, directors, producers, casting directors, cinematographers, so many other journeymen filmmakers with whom I’ve worked over the course of thirty years writing, producing and directing in Los Angeles. 

    As it turns out, Zoom opened the door for my first guest artist invitation. For those who attended, there’s no doubt a good time was had by all – by not only our South Beach students, but all students across NYFA’s campuses. 

    Michael Pressman (Right) on set with Richard Pryor for ‘Some Kind of Hero’

    Michael Pressman directed his first feature film when he was only 26 and went on to direct quite a few big studio hits, including Dr. Detroit and Some Kind of Hero, starring Richard Pryor. He ventured into television, directing TV movies and dozens of episodes of quality TV shows, such as Law and Order, Grey’s Anatomy, The Guardian and Sneaky Pete. As an Executive Producer, Michael became an experienced “Show Runner,” winning two Emmys for the acclaimed series, Picket Fences. His IMDB speaks for itself. 

    A natural story-teller, Michael regaled us with tales of working with famous actors, dealing with the studio system, casting, getting the most out of collaborating artists and coping with the ever-changing filmmaking technology. He advised our students on breaking into the business and offered strategies for success. 

    I’m convinced the intimate Zoom platform, allowing Michael and I to talk to each other like old friends, was an ideal and more comfortable format for Michael – far better, I believe than a staged event before a live audience. I’m told by those who watched it, the Zoom meeting with Michael Pressman resembled a late night talk show, as entertaining as it was informative. 

    Let’s all keep looking for those silver linings, knowing we’ll get together in person very soon.

    For more information on our NYFA South Beach programs, please contact  southbeach@nyfa.edu or check out our website here.

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    July 10, 2020 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing, South Beach • Views: 200

  • HBO Announces NYFA Instructor Lanre Olabisi as 2020 HBOAccess Directing Fellowship Recipient

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    At New York Film Academy (NYFA), our distinguished faculty not only have years of experience in the film industry, but they also remain active creators. NYFA is proud to announce that Screenwriting, Directing, and Acting for Directors instructor, Lanre Olabisi, was recently announced as a recipient of the 2020 HBOAccess Directing Fellowship

    Lanre Olabisi first got involved in filmmaking after a screenwriting class he took at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. “That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker,” he remembers. Since then, Olabisi decided to make films where the focus is always centered on unique and poignant messages that challenge individual and collective views on a variety of topics. Some of his feature films include August the First and Somewhere in the Middle (Both distributed by Film Movement on all major platforms in North America).

    NYFA Instructor Lanre Olabisi

    August the First played at over 35 film festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Karlovy Vary. It also won the top prize at seven festivals and was nominated for an IFP Gotham Award. “This film encapsulates my continuing commitment to move beyond stereotypes of African-American families and depict an honest portrait during a difficult time sans gangs, guns, and violence,” shares Olabisi. 

    His other feature film, Somewhere in the Middle played at over 25 festivals and was nominated for a Black Reel Award. “This film expanded my vision as I examined romantic relationships within New York City – full of people of all backgrounds: African-American, Latino, Asian, Caucasian, heterosexual, bisexual, and gay.” 

    As a recipient of the HBOAccess Directing Fellowship, a biennial program designed to foster diverse directing talent, it will mean more industry exposure for Olabisi’s upcoming projects, including his upcoming short film, A Storybook Ending, set to premiere in the summer of 2020. 

    Olabisi, who wrote, produced, and directed A Storybook Ending, also collaborated with NYFA Cinematography Chair, Pierro Basso, who served as the DP (Director of Photography) for the film. A Storybook Ending explores contemporary race relations in the United States through the lens of a dark comedy, crime thriller. “While, in many ways, it is a complete departure of my previous work, it is in line squarely with my mission as a filmmaker; to show people of color in ways that we have not seen them portrayed on film,” says Olabisi. “A Storybook Ending draws upon the stylized visual touches of neo-noir cinema while avoiding the stylized acting that often accompanies such films.”


    The short film was recently selected as a finalist for the
    2020 American Black Film Festival’s Annual HBO Short Film Competition and was inspired by the 2015 incident involving former African-American tennis champion, James Blake. “For no apparent reason and without ever announcing his presence, a plainclothes police officer violently tackled Mr. Blake to the ground as he was waiting for a car to pick him up for the U.S. Open tennis tournament,” recounts Olabisi. “This film [A Storybook Ending] is intended to challenge assumptions about race and class.”

    While Hollywood continues to grapple with the conversation surrounding diversity and representation across the industry, Olabisi has this to say: “Fund stories by people of color. Hire people of color to be in the writers rooms, to be on sets, to direct the shows, to shoot the shows. Have a diverse crew. Have people of color in positions of power that are able to green light shows. Right now 95% of the people who decide what we see on television are white. I think the answers are simple – we just need to see a willingness to change on the part of the industry.”

    When it comes to himself as a creative, Olabisi shares that there is always a truth or experience that is woven into all of his films, which comes from his own experience. “All my films have an element of myself in it in some way. It isn’t always apparent to people, but it usually is for those who know me well.”

    ‘A Storybook Ending’ (Dir. Lanre Olabisi)

    Other influences throughout Olabisi’s career include some of his favorite creatives like Stephen Soderberg, Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, Ava Duvernay, Oscar Micheaux, Alfonso Curón, and Vince Gilligan. He also notes some of his favorite films that are worth a watch, including: The Silence of the Lambs, Moonlight, City of God, Trainspotting, and Get Out. 

    As for advice to students and aspiring filmmakers, Olabisi has this to say:

    Never give up. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Too many times I see actors and filmmakers who give it a year or two and then give up on their dreams. If you decide that this is not for you and you don’t want to do it anymore – there is nothing wrong with that and nothing to be ashamed of. Find what you love to do and do it. However, if you do find that this is what you love to do – this is your calling – then you should continue to push forward no matter how long it takes you. Things will open up, but you have to be patient and make sure you are working to improve your craft every single day.”

    ‘A Storybook Ending’ (Dir. Lanre Olabisi)

    New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA instructor Lanre Olabisi on becoming a 2020 HBOAccess Directing Fellow and for his film, A Storybook Ending, being selected as a finalist in the 2020 American Black Film Festival’s Annual HBO Short Film Competition.

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    July 9, 2020 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, Producing • Views: 966

  • Film by New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking Conservatory Student Kai Kaldro Selected for NewFilmmakers NY Festival

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    Native New Yorker and New York Film Academy (NYFA) 1-Year Filmmaking Conservatory student Kai Kaldro has always immersed himself in multiple film genres for inspiration, including noir and neo-noir, which influenced his latest film and NewFilmmakers NY Festival pick, Sinner’s Lullaby.

    Kai Kaldro was born to two musicians in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and is the youngest of four children. He grew up with a fascination for making movies and, in addition to filmmaking, is a passionate freelance editor, specializing in reels, promo clips, trailers, and music videos. Kaldro’s creative style for his projects place a heavy emphasis on mysterious atmospheres, special FX, high contrast photography, action, and rock music. 

    ‘Sinner’s Lullaby’ official selection for NewFilmmakers NY Festival

    Kaldro’s latest film, Sinner’s Lullaby, was recently selected to be part of the NewFilmmakers NY Festival, which was the first film circuit Kaldro says he has ever applied for. “It was admittedly nerve-racking awaiting a response. The mentality I had about entering Sinner’s Lullaby into festivals was that I just hoped it’d make it into at least one, so now I feel like a pressure has been lifted, and I’m more at ease awaiting to hear back from the others,” he shares.

    “I think that’s a feeling that is prevalent in many avenues of the film business, whether it’s actors waiting in great suspense to hear back from auditions, filmmakers checking their email to hear back about their script from producers, or waiting to read reviews from critics. So, my process felt very much educational in terms of getting me ready for the future in the industry, and I’m grateful for that experience.”

    Kaldro’s short film, Sinner’s Lullaby, is a black & white, romantic neo-noir short film produced on a budget of $200. The mobster film centers around a young private detective from Brooklyn named Charlotte Meridian and her lounge singer girlfriend Barbara Ann Bergman, as they discover the true nature of their romance when confronted with a menacing face from the past.

    NYFA filmmaking student Kai Kaldro

    The film’s pre-production took eight weeks, principal photography was shot over the course of three days. and post-production took close to a month to cut. “I wanted Sinner’s Lullaby to look and feel very stylized and over-the-top in it’s presentation and atmosphere. I think as academic and cerebral as many make noir out to be, for how it explores the amoral side of the human psyche, there’s an inherent element of fun mysterious camp to it all, and I really wanted to embrace that.,” reveals Kaldro.”  

    While there is a mystery that unravels throughout the first act, Sinner’s Lullaby is, first and foremost, a love story. “It’s about how the ones who we love the most are the ones who, deep down, we actually know the least.” Kaldro, who is working on a feature-length script for Sinner’s Lullaby, hopes to bring the full length feature to life some day as a more realized concept. 

    His biggest inspirations for his film were Jacques Tourneur’s Out of The Past (1947) and Bound (1996) by The Wachowskis. “I’m a big fan of classic black & white and technicolor films, and the idea of a same-sex couple, but in a black & white period-esque setting, with very benign, playful, and old-fashioned sort of dialogue/acting akin to Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Becall, Ginger Rogers, or Fred Astaire has always interested me.”

    Miranda Rizzolo as Charlotte Meridian in ‘Sinner’s Lullaby’ (Photo courtesy of Kai Kaldro)

    “The original Motion Picture Production Code had restrictions in place to present the couples on screen in classic films as almost fairy-tale like, and I think there’s a very charming innocence to a lot of those on screen duos that I really adore, but The MPPC also prevented homosexuality from appearing on film,” tells Kaldro. “I’ve always felt, historically, gay and lesbian characters were robbed of having that kind of treatment and on screen chemistry, so that’s what we set out to achieve with my characters in this film (Charlotte and Barbara).”

    Miranda Rizzolo (Charlotte) and Elvira Levin (Barbara), a NYFA alum, really understood the classical, romantic dynamic. While filming, they really knocked me dead with their performances and chemistry on screen together and both actresses were fantastic to work with.”

    While Kaldro continues his studies at NYFA, he reveals he has an upcoming sci-fi short on the horizon called Dissolved Girl, which follows a young, misunderstood computer hacker and an undercover robot cop during a time of heated cultural tension between humans and machines in a futuristic NYC. “The cast, crew, script, and locations have been secured, we’re just waiting on things to substantiate here in the city from COVID-19, so that we can return to work safely.”

    Elvira Levin as Barbara Ann Bergman in ‘Sinner’s Lullaby’ (Photo courtesy of Kai Kaldro)

    Kaldro encourages students and filmmakers alike to “stick to their guns and make the films they’re most interested in seeing” and shares, “you can always see the uncompromising spirit within a lot of student/low budget films, when those involved are making the kind of content they hold a lot of reverence for, whether it’s the story, the aesthetic, or both.”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Filmmaking student Kai Kaldro on his outstanding achievement of having Sinner’s Lullaby selected for the NewFilmmakers NY Festival and looks forward to following Kaldro’s filmmaking career.

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    July 7, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 989

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on Faith in Storytelling & the Importance of Mentorship and Representation

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Paula Bryant-Ellis’ story is proof that you do not have to grow up in the entertainment industry or start in showbiz at an early age to find your voice or succeed in the business. With the foundation of her faith and the skills from her career and educational experiences, Bryant-Ellis has managed to switch vocations and elevate her voice and the experiences of others along the way. 

    After graduating from Concordia University in Texas, where she majored in Accounting, Bryant-Ellis furthered her education with an MBA from UOP and an executive MBA from MIT. After years in corporate America as an executive and COO in banking and finance, Bryant-Ellis decided it was time for a change. “I was unfulfilled and really felt God pulling me in a different direction. So, my husband and I took a leap of faith and we sold our house, packed up our belongings, and moved to Los Angeles.”

    That leap of faith led Bryant-Ellis to attend NYFA’s Los Angeles campus to study producing. “I enrolled at NYFA because I needed a way to learn the industry and get up to speed quickly,” she says. “I came out of the producing program convinced that I could produce my first project, and I did!” Bryant-Ellis also learned filmmaking at NYFA’s New York City campus. “I was able to develop relationships with students from LA, New York, Russia, Nigeria and South Africa and keep in touch with them even now,” she shares. 

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Bryant-Ellis has gone on to produce TV series Hard Medicine and the short film Twelve Steps. She also recently made a small cameo appearance for an episode in season four of HBO’s Insecure, directed by her son Jay Ellis, who also stars on the show opposite NYFA filmmaking alum Issa Rae

    Bryant-Ellis’ most recent project to date has been her docuseries Behind Her Faith, which focuses on women in entertainment and their personal journey and the role of their faith in their career. The series features Essence Atkins (A Haunted House, Are We There Yet?), Niecy Nash (Claws, When They See Us), Angelica Nwandu (The Shade Room), and Aisha Hinds (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, 9-1-1).

    Mentoring and encouraging women has always been extremely important to me, especially because there were no role models for me in my field as I was working my way up through corporate America,” reveals Bryant-Ellis. “There were very few females in the upper ranks and there were absolutely no men or women of color in senior or executive level positions.”

    ‘Behind Her Faith’ created by an produced by Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Behind Her Faith is currently streaming on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku and UMC.tv (an AMC network), and Bryant-Ellis hopes to have more seasons in the future. “I want the audience to know that God loves them and that He’s waiting to have an encounter with them that’s more powerful than they could ever think or imagine.”

    With faith being a cornerstone of Bryant-Ellis’ storytelling foundation, she also shares that this time in show business is crucial for people to understand that all stories should properly represented and calls for change in the industry. “Stop believing you can tell my story better than I can. No one’s story is more important than the other but BOTH must be told.”

    Paula Bryant-Ellis behind the scenes during a film shoot

    With the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to bring a reckoning in Hollywood, Bryant-Ellis also adds “it’s not enough to say that you are aligned with a cause when you don’t provide resources to support the cause,” and this is not just an issue that appears in the entertainment industry. “It does not matter what industry you’re in; your Boards and your decision-making team must be diverse and reflective of the people that support and purchase your products.”

    Bryant-Ellis also reveals she has a couple of additional projects in the works including a docuseries and a drama, but is unable to officially share more information just yet. For now, she has this to say:

    “Believe in you. This industry requires tough skin and staying power. Find a niche that works for you and create content that keeps you true to who you are. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. No one can do you better than you, you just have to believe it and trust it. Trust your voice and your vision!”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on her docuseries, Behind Her Faith, and looks forward to what exciting and inspiring projects come next from the NYFA alum!

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    To learn more about Paula Bryant-Ellis and to keep an eye out for her upcoming projects, check out the links below:

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    July 6, 2020 • Diversity, Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 632

  • New York Film Academy Welcomes Director Tânia Cypriano and NYFA Student Jude Washock for a Q&A on Groundbreaking Documentary ‘Born to Be’

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    On Tuesday, June 23, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a live video Q&A with the talented documentary filmmaker Tânia Cypriano to discuss her much admired and trailblazing documentary film Born to Be. Cypriano was also joined in conversation by NYFA Acting for Film Conservatory student, and consultant for the film, Jude Washock. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.

    Director Tânia Cypriano has been working between her home country of Brazil and the United States for over thirty years. Her films and videos have won international awards including ‘Best Documentary’ at Joseph Papp’s Festival Latino in New York, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and Fespaco in Burkina Faso. Her work has been shown in the world’s most prestigious institutions including The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Hong Kong Arts Center, the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival.

    (Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Tânia Cypriano, and Jude Washock for Q&A Series

    Her television credits include documentaries for PBS, the History Channel, NHK in Japan, GNT in Brazil and Channel 4 in England. Cypriano has co-organized a series of films with the MoMA, the Anthology Film Archives, Exit Art, the Museum of Image and Sound in São Paulo, and the Grazer Kunstverein in Austria. She has also previously worked on productions for Bill Moyers, Martin Scorsese, Kent Jones and Nelson Pereira dos Santos.

    Dr. Ting walks with one his patients in the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery wing of Mount Sinai Hospital (‘Born to Be’)

    Cypriano’s latest documentary, Born to Be, follows the work of Dr. Jess Ting at the groundbreaking Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City —where, for the first time ever, all transgender and non-binary people can have access to quality transition-related health and surgical care. The film received critical acclaim upon its original release in the 2019 festival circuit and was hailed by Variety as “a lively and moving documentary,” and “a film that distinguishes itself with a sensitive, human portrait” by Hollywood Reporter.

    A patient awaiting consultation from Dr. Ting (‘Born to Be’)

    Cypriano remembers wanting to make this documentary after hearing about the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York from her producer, noting it was “a historical moment for New York City, and also for healthcare.” After deciding she wanted to do this documentary, Cypriano recalls staying in the clinic and documenting the surgeries with the crew, noting how many of the characters in the film “understood the importance of that moment [of filming] because these surgeries were just made available, and the importance of them was so great to the [transgender] community.”

    Washock, a SAG-AFTRA member and NYFA student who served as a consultant for the film, explained that his role was “to ensure that the stories being told by the characters, who were receiving surgery, were portrayed in a humane way and were not damaging or exploitive.” Consultants like Washock are especially important for documentary filmmakers so they can ensure they do the subject matter, and story, justice.

    Dr. Ting posing with one of his patients (‘Born to Be’)

    One student asked Cypriano how she was able to compose herself during the documentary shoot. “It was a tough one,” she recalls, “I think that is why I chose to live outside of my family because it was emotionally draining, but nothing compares to what I imagine Dr. Ting goes through because he is over there listening to those stories everyday.”

    Film poster for ‘Born to Be’

    In addition to discussing the film, Cypriano also encouraged NYFA students to tell stories because they can. “You have to put yourself out there, work hard, be patient, and persevere. If you hang in there, you can do it.” Washock, who got involved in the project just by talking to Cypriano at an event added, “put yourself out there and have conversations with people and just talk, you would be surprised.”

    Washock also encouraged students in the New York City area to look into volunteering or becoming a member at IFP (Independent Filmmakers Project), where Washock praised his experience there networking and attending informative panels.

    Cypriano thanked Laiter and the NYFA students for joining the call and also extended gratitude to NYFA student Jude Washock for joining the conversation.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank the talented Tânia Cypriano for sharing her time and expertise with the students and NYFA Acting for Film student Jude Washock for sharing his experience as a consultant on Born to Be. NYFA also encourages everyone to keep an eye out for the forthcoming theatrical and streaming release of the film.

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  • New York Film Academy’s South Beach Campus Announces Winners for NYFA South Beach Made at Home Festival

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    With many festivals being cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Film Academy South Beach instructor Eduardo “Eddy” Santa-Maria decided to engage South Beach students to create their own films from home and have a place to have them shares and voted on for NYFA’s first-ever Made at Home Festival, presented by NYFA South Beach. The Festival’s winners included MFA Acting for Film student Yulia Korotkova (Student Choice Award), and One Year Filmmaking Conservatory student McKenzie Mortensen (Staff & Faculty Choice Award).

    “I constantly see students stop each other in the halls and ask ‘hey how’s that film going,’ and I’ve seen those same students leave that conversation inspired and ready to make a film of their own. That infectious creativity seemed to have died down as we move to remote learning,” shared Santa-Maria. “So, in order to get that vibe back, the itch to create, I figured the Festival would give them a challenge where their creativity would be put to the test and, hopefully, inject that sense of creativity that NYFA is famous for.”

    Students who participated in the Film Festival were given one month to develop, write, shoot, and edit a 5-minute film completely shot from their own home. With the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down many areas all over the country, students were encouraged to use what they had at home, from camera equipment (mobile phones, DSLR) to casting their film with only themselves or who they lived with. 

    McKenzie Mortensen, who won the Staff & Faculty Choice Award for her short film Quarantined, was inspired to make her film due to her own personal experiences of being alone during the pandemic. The Burley, Idaho native’s short film is a horror-comedy about a girl who becomes so bored and lonely that she makes friends with an evil villain, who crawls out of her television. In addition to the full film below, Mortensen has also shared her Quarantined storyboard available here.

    “I hope the audience was able to relate to my short emotionally since my film subject was very current,” says Mortensen. “I also hope they were able to let out a laugh, chuckle or giggle.” Mortensen will graduate from the One Year Filmmaking Conservatory from NYFA’s South Beach campus in September and plans to pursue a career in film editing. In addition to her short film Quarantined and Doritos Super Bowl competition entry, Mortensen also created a short stop motion film, which can be viewed here.

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    Winner of the Student Choice Award, Yulia Korotkova, was inspired to create her short film Waters after playing around with different shots and angles taken on her cellphone. After attempting to create a shot of someone being pulled out from under the bed, she was inspired to create a thriller about soul-collecting water that could be condensed for the Festival’s parameters. “The original script was a ten minute film and we [Korotkova and her husband] feel proud of having created this film only using an iPhone without any professional equipment,” she explains.

    Behind the scenes for ‘Waters’ (Directed by Yulia Korotkova)

    Korotkova, who was born in Russia and grew up in Venezuela, moved to Miami 11 years ago and is currently studying acting at NYFA South Beach. Waters, she explains, is her first-ever film. “I was hoping to entertain and, at the same time, show how there is no need for expensive equipment and large expensive production in order to tell a story.”

    NYFA South Beach student Yulia Korotkova

    While the film is not yet posted publicly, Korotkova has released a teaser trailer and encourages readers to check out some of the behind the scenes information for her film.

    Santa-Maria shares he hopes students can realize they don’t need huge sets, expensive cameras, or a large crew to tell a heartfelt story. “As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted our students to realize that no matter where they are in life, no one can take away their ability to tell captivating stories.”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA South Beach students McKenzie Mortensen and Yulia Korotkova for winning the top prizes for the South Beach Made at Home Festival and encourages everyone to watch each student’s available footage to get their own creative inspiration. 

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  • Student Spotlight: Documentary Film Student Richard Brookshire Pens Article Featured in ‘New York Times Magazine’

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Film student Richard Brookshire recently wrote an article for New York Times Magazine about his experience serving in the army as a Black, queer man, joining the Black Lives Matter movement, and what he has been doing to bring Black stories to life as a filmmaker and a storyteller.

    NYFA reached out to Brookshire to continue the conversation from his New York Times Magazine article and to discuss his experience as a Black documentary filmmaker, his upcoming short film Boukman’s Prayer 2.0, and the future of Black stories in the entertainment industry.

    Richard Brookshire, with his mother, Natacha, at his graduation from Army basic training in 2009 (Photo Courtesy of Richard Brookshire)

    Before pursuing filmmaking, Richard Brookshire served as a combat medic with the 170th Infantry Brigade in Germany, and later Afghanistan. At this time, Brookshire recalls his closeted sexuality due to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and also remembers being one of a few Black soldiers in his 40 person platoon. In his article for New York Times Magazine, Brookshire wrote:

    Through Brookshire’s personal encounters, the experiences of his loved ones, and witnessing modern events of racial inequality unfold (like the horrific shooting of Trayvon Martin), led Brookshire to join the New York chapter of Black Lives Matter and to co-found the Black Veterans Project, a racial equity and archive initiative created to shed light on systemic racial inequities within the U.S military (both historic and present).

    Brookshire’s interest in racial injustice led also opened up another area of interest; film. “I recognized how the medium of [documentary] film was the perfect space to merge my background and skill set to capture Black American life for future generations.”

    “Film is one of the most powerful forms of propaganda we have in retelling histories and cultivating a public imagination around how we see ourselves as a society and our shared humanity,” says Brookshire. “Just as it can do harm, it can also harness good. It can expand our collective understandings, give us a window into lives far different than our own, and equip stakeholders and activists with powerful narratives to drive necessary and provocative awakenings around injustices across societies.”

    Brookshire during an Army National Guard, Upstate New York in 2015 (Photo Courtesy of Richard Brookshire)

    After Brookshire’s four year old niece passed away last year, he says it was the motivation he needed to study the documentary filmmaking craft. “NYFA felt like the perfect place to gain expertise from leading filmmakers in an intimate intensive program geared toward teaching me the fundamentals,” says Brookshire. “I credit NYFA alum, Clyde Gunter for persuading me on what NYFA had to offer.”

    Brookshire notes that documentary filmmaking can change or broaden an individual’s perspective. “It only takes one mind to begin planting the seeds of change and revolution. We are in constant evolution as human beings, and we must not shy away from harnessing the power we have to inspire each other to do better, to be better and to create new systems that reflect a reality that is informed by the shared understanding of our common humanity.”

    As a filmmaker and activist, Brookshire turns to creators like Spike Lee and Henry Louis Gates for imagination, creativity, and unforgettable storytelling. “I always joke with my friends that if Spike Lee and Henry Louis Gates had a director baby, it’d be me.” He notes that Spike Lee has always taken incredible care and consideration “in capturing the splendor and hardship of Black American Life.” As for Henry Louis Gates, Brookshire claims Gates “has created unparalleled works that dive deep into the overlooked African American histories.”

    Brookshire being interviewed recently at a protest at the Manhattan Bridge (Photo Credit: Dexter Philips)

    For his next project, Brookshire tells NYFA that his short film Boukman’s Prayer 2.0 will explore “five Black artists surviving the COVID-19 crisis in the days leading up to the riots.” In his essay film, Brookshire describes it as an exploration of “Black folk who find freedom within and access planes in their creative imagination to allow a spiritual awakening and healing outside of an anti-Black society.”

    While the country continues to address various systemic racial prejudices and injustices, the entertainment industry has its own work to do too. “The archive is full of Black histories and Black life to tell. The diaspora is rife with untold and unexplored characters and circumstances,” says Brookshire. “If we are to bridge the long-standing racial divide, we must create spaces for Black stories to exist, and not just those that retell Black traumas (which has been a primary avenue for Black filmmakers write large).”

    He continues to note the importance of Black documentaries and their ability to show “the vastness of our humanity and experience,” and urges the conversation of ownership with Black storytelling; “who owns Black stories is just as important as who tells them.”

    In addition, Brookshire shares that mentorship cannot be overlooked either. “Sharing resources and knowledge creates pathways to opportunity,” he says. “The reason the canon of documentaries is lacking relative to Black stories is because, for far too long, film was an exclusive space and, in many ways, it still is quite a privilege to be able to do this sort of work.”

    New York FIlm Academy would like to thank Richard Brookshire for continuing to share his stories and insight as a Black filmmaker and encourages everyone to read his New York Times Magazine article and to be on the lookout for his upcoming short Boukman’s Prayer 2.0.

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    June 30, 2020 • Documentary Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 482