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  • NYFA Filmmaking Grad Assaad Yacoub’s Film “Cherry Pop” Featured in NYLON

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    Screenshot 2017-06-27 08.36.50

    NYFA filmmaking alumnus Assaad Yacoub via IMDB.

    As Pride Month celebrations bring the LGBTQ+ community to the world spotlight, New York Film Academy had a chance to go behind the scenes with the creator of “Cherry Pop,” triple-alumnus Assaad Yacoub, who graduated from NYFA’s 2-Year Filmmaking Program in New York City before going on to complete both his BFA and MFA degrees in Filmmaking at NYFA Los Angeles. His much-buzzed feature film stars Bob the Drag Queen from “Rupaul’s Drag Race” along with Tempest DuJour, Latrice Royale and Lars Berge.

    With a recent interview in NYLON and a busy schedule touring such film festivals as Outfest Los Angeles and the London International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema, Yacoub took some time to talk with NYFA about his “Cherry Pop” journey.

    Screenshot 2017-06-27 08.37.20

    NYFA: Congrats on your feature film debut with “Cherry Pop”! First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    AY: I’m Assaad. Nice to meet you!

    When I was younger, I would take our old school video camera and film my brother and my friends doing anything and everything. I enjoy the art of telling a story. It’s fun! I used to dance with a group in Dubai and that form in itself is storytelling. Then I went to art college where I majored in painting. I remember one of my teachers, Rachael Hines, and I’ll never forget this, told me to get the hell out of the Middle East and move somewhere that would actually allow me to succeed and have a career in my talents.

    At the time there was no “art scene” in Lebanon or the Middle East — no one took it seriously as a career pursuit — art classes were basically just electives not majors. Moving to the states was the best thing I could have done for myself and my future. That’s how I ended up at NYFA!

    NYFA: Your feature “Cherry Pop” started out as a student short film project at NYFA, can you tell us a little about the journey you underwent to turn that student project into a feature?

    AY: The feature was actually also a project I did at NYFA as my thesis in the MFA program. It started as a short film in 2013 and we enhanced it into a feature film by 2015.

    The short film’s success is basically what decided to make the film into a feature. The festival circuit showed me it was valuable to movie audiences and I decided to push forward with it. When I started my master’s program, from day one I knew I was going to choose the feature track and make this film.

    NYFA: What advice can you offer to fellow NYFA students eager to make their first feature film?

    AY: You have to be prepared. And even when you think you’re prepared you have to be even more prepared. Mistakes are going to happen no matter what. The more prepared you are the easier and quicker you will solve obstacles as you go along.

    Stick to one idea and go with it. Stick to your guns, believe in your idea and what you’re doing. Other people will then believe in you.

    NYFA: You mention in your NYLON interview that you were especially interested in showing a “day in the life of a drag queen” with “Cherry Pop.” Why do you feel it is important for people to have a chance to see that world? Why is this story so important to tell, at this moment in time?

    AY: It’s important because a lot of people just don’t understand what drag queens do and who they actually are. The topic is now more important than ever – the timing is perfect especially with transgender/LGBTQ+ community speaking out a lot more nowadays. It’s amazing to be a part of the bigger picture of it all.

    NYFA: Has the experience of working on “Cherry Pop” in any way transformed the way you approach filmmaking?

    AY: Yes. I learnt I do not what to produce ever again. Ha! — I’m sticking to directing!

    It was my very first feature film so there really was so much I didn’t know and was learning on the way. I learnt a lot about post-production and about what happens with the movie after you achieve distribution.

    A fun thing on set that was new to me was that we built the “Cherry Pop” sets. I have never experienced having full control of how the space was going to look, which was pretty cool.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was helpful in preparing for your experience making “Cherry Pop”?

    AY: My time at NYFA was the only experience I had to prepare for “Cherry Pop” so yes it was very helpful! I think everyone should go through the feature track [in the MFA Filmmaking program] because the classes we took were invaluable. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of Lydia Cedroni, Justin La Reau, William Dickerson and Mike Civille — thanks guys!

    NYFA: Are you working on any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

    AY: In addition to touring with “Cherry Pop” nationwide, I am working on its TV adaptation. We just finished writing the pilot. I have a bunch of music videos coming up for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Queens. Those should be lots of fun. I also just pitched and sold a web series to an online streaming platform.

    NYFA: Is there anything I missed you’d like to mention?

    AY: Ya! If you’re in LA on July 10 come watch “Cherry Pop” at The Harmony Gold Theatre. If you’re in San Francisco July 11, we will be at The Castro Theatre. Come!

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Assaad Yacoub for the success of “Cherry Pop” and thank him for sharing his story with the NYFA community.

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  • New York Film Academy Instructors Selected for Sundance Documentary Labs

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    In a world where social media has inspired millions to document their everyday lives, it becomes more and more important to recognize the exceptional craftsmanship and diligence of professional documentary filmmakers. Few accolades and distinctions have quite the power to delineate excellence as selection and participation at the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Edit and Story Labs.

    This June, the New York Film Academy is proud to celebrate the achievement of our own Documentary Editing Instructor Kristen Nutile, editor of  the film “Warrior Women,” which has been selected for this summer’s Sundance Documentary Labs. Directed by Christina King and Dr. Elizabeth A. Castle, “Warrior Women” follows Madonna Thunder Hawk and her daughter Marcella Gilbert, a civil rights-crusading Lakota team, through the grassroots protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as #NoDAPL, in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

    Warrior Women_1

    Madonna Thunder Hawk and her daughter Marcella Gilbert, of the film “Warrior Women.” Photo by John Larson.

    “Sundance is, of course the gold standard in the film world,” explains New York Film Academy Documentary Filmmaking Department Chair Andrea Swift. “They select very few films for their prestigious Labs, films they believe will be important and among the best of the best. Of course we already knew Kristen belonged in that category and are thrilled that NYFA’s Documentary Filmmakers work with her and faculty of her caliber everyday.”

    Acceptance into the Sundance Documentary Labs is not only one of the independent film industry’s most prestigious honors; it is also a resource, providing filmmakers with an opportunity to continue to develop and deepen their projects during post-production in a richly exploratory and dynamic creative space at the Sundance Mountain Resort. The Sundance Institute website explains, “DFP Creative Labs are unique, artist focused residential retreats that bring together a community of world-class documentary directors, editors and producers from around the world.”

    Kristen Nutile is quick to point to the collaborative nature of this work and applaud the directors of the film: “This is a film that I’m very honored to be working on. But, it’s the directors’ film and that success is really all theirs!”

    The New York Film Academy also congratulates two of our Master Class instructors, who have also been selected as directors at the Sundance Labs: Petra Costa (“Impeachment”) and Marilyn Ness (“Charm City”).

    Stay tuned to hear more about “Warrior Women” at Sundance Labs from NYFA Instructor Kristen Nutile, coming soon.

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    June 21, 2017 • Community Highlights, Faculty Highlights, Film Festivals • Views: 3288

  • Highlights From the 71st Annual Tony Awards

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    The New York Film Academy was especially excited to watch the Tony Awards this year, as our Musical Theatre Program has welcomed many members of the Broadway community as instructors, guest speakers, and featured artists in our original movie musicals, from our Artistic Director Kristy Cates to visiting Master Class lecturer Jonathan Groff. For industry insiders and theatre lovers everywhere, the 71st Annual Tony Awards on Sunday was the theatre event of the season. The New York Film Academy provided live social media coverage on Twitter, while the live CBS broadcast of the Tony Awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall gave nearly 6 million home viewers a glimpse into an evening full of Broadway royalty, moving speeches, and much-anticipated performances.

    In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the 71st Annual Tony Awards:

    Best Musical

    After much anticipation, audience favorite “Dear Evan Hansen” swept the Tony’s this season, taking home awards in not one, not two, but six categories — including the coveted spot for Best New Musical. The groundbreaking musical is a true original, featuring a small cast and orchestra and offering some innovative tie-ins to social media.

    Best Actor in a Musical

    Dear Evan Hansen” also gave us one of the evening’s brightest new stars, when leading actor Ben Platt snagged the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. Platt received a rousing standing ovation from the live audience and the orchestra at the Tony’s, and used his moment in the spotlight to spread some inspiration.

    As quoted in the New York Times, Ben offered encouragement to fellow theatre kids: “To all young people watching at home, don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”

    Best Actress in a Musical

    “Dear Evan Hansen” was not the only star of the evening. The Radio City Music Hall audience also swept to its feet to recognize and celebrate beloved industry icon Bette Midler, as she won the the Best Actress in a Musical award for her portrayal of Dolly Levi in the revival of “Hello, Dolly!” 

    Best Play

    While musicals and musical performances punctuated the evening, the Tony’s also celebrate legitimate Broadway performers and plays. This year, the category for Best Play (non-musical) was especially competitive, but in the end the award went to “Oslo,” which dramatizes the 1993 Middle East peace accords.

    Best Actress in a Play

    Laurie Metcalf had been nominated for a Tony Award four times before her emotionally-charged win on Sunday, when she took home the category for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Nora in “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”

    Most-buzzed Acceptance Speech

    Cynthia Nixon took the stage to accept an award for Best Featured Actress in a play for “The Little Foxes,” the Lillian Helman classic which was also nominated in the Best Revival of a Play category. During her acceptance speech, Nixon caused major internet buzz for quoting the playwright to make a political statement: ““Sixty years ago, [Hellman] wrote, ‘There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it and other people who just stand around and watch them do it.’ My love, gratitude and undying respect go out to all the people in 2017 who are refusing to just stand and watch them do it.”

     

    Surprise Stars

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, rocked Radio City during Jill’s moment on stage. Mrs. Biden made a brief appearance during the ceremony to promote Got Your Six, a campaign benefitting military veterans. And Variety reports that the crowd’s enthusiasm for the political superstars cased selfie-seekers to create traffic jams at the after-party as they clamored for a pic with the Bidens.

    Lifetime Achievement Award

    James Earl Jones received recognition for a full and incredible career on the stage, taking home the  2017 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theater. The superstar, who has portrayed roles from Darth Vader in “Star Wars” to Othello on Broadway, graciously thanked the New York City Police Department during his moment on stage for their work keeping the Broadway community safe.

    Here is the full list of this year’s Tony Award winners, as reported by The Tony Awards website:

    BEST PLAY

    “Oslo”

    BEST MUSICAL

    “Dear Evan Hansen”

    BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY

    August Wilson’s “Jitney

    BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL

    “Hello, Dolly!”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY

    Kevin Kline for “Present Laughter”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY

    Laurie Metcalf for “A Doll’s House, Part 2”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

    Ben Platt for “Dear Evan Hansen”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

    Bette Midler for “Hello, Dolly!”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY

    Michael Aronov for “Oslo”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY

    Cynthia Nixon for Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL

    Gavin Creel for “Hello, Dolly!”

    BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL

    Rachel Bay Jones for “Dear Evan Hansen”

    BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL

    Steven Levenson for “Dear Evan Hansen”

    BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE

    “Dear Evan Hansen” Music & Lyrics: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

    BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY

    Nigel Hook for “The Play That Goes Wrong”

    BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

    Mimi Lien for “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”

    BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY

    Jane Greenwood for Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”

    BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

    Santo Loquasto for “Hello, Dolly!”

    BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY

    Christopher Akerlind for “Indecent”

    BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

    Bradley King for “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”

    BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY

    Rebecca Taichman for “Indecent”

    BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

    Christopher Ashley for “Come From Away”

    BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

    Andy Blankenbuehler for “Bandstand”

    BEST ORCHESTRATIONS

    Alex Lacamoire for “Dear Evan Hansen”

    SPECIAL TONY AWARD® FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE THEATRE

    James Earl Jones

    REGIONAL THEATRE TONY AWARD

    Dallas Theater Center

    ISABELLE STEVENSON TONY AWARD

    Baayork Lee

    SPECIAL TONY AWARD

    Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin

    TONY HONORS FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE THEATRE

    Nina Lannan and Alan Wasser

     

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    June 12, 2017 • Entertainment Australia, Entertainment News, Musical Theatre • Views: 2224

  • New York Film Academy Los Angeles Faculty Senate President Jenni Powell Crews The Gathering 2017

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    It’s a cold Wednesday morning and thousands of young people are standing outside what looks like a giant Viking Ship turned upside down. A light snow falls from the sky and sticks to the ground, as well as to the tarp-covered equipment most of the people have with them, many using computer chairs as make-shift dollies holding PC towers, wooden structures that resemble book shelves, and more energy drinks and sodas than should ever be consumed by a human being, let alone about 7,000 of them. This is the opening day of The Gathering, the world’s second largest computer party in the World (behind DreamHack), held every year over Easter Weekend in Vikingskipet Olympic Arena in Hamar, Norway.

    The event started in 1992 and was originally created as a demo party, but over the course of 25 years has expanded to so much more, including game development, coding, graphic design, filmmaking, Cosplay, e-sports, and much much more.

    One truly defining characteristic of the event is that it is almost totally volunteer run by a Crew of over 500 people, most of them who had been doing so for many years.  The event is hosted by the organization KANDU (Kreativ Aktiv Norsk Dataungdom or Creative Action Norwegian Computer Youth), which is an organization aimed at promoting the use of technology to youth across Norway (as well as to the international attendants of The Gathering, of which I am one of many).

    This is my forth year in a row as a member of the Crew at the event. Many people wonder how a transmedia producer from America ended up at a Norwegian computer party. At the time I first attended, I was working for Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry, and a fan of that network, who also is a long-time Crew Member at The Gathering (who incidentally, is also an International Crew member, hailing from Denmark), reached out to see if Geek & Sundry would like to be involved. I jumped at the chance and organized a small group of Geek & Sundry talent to attend and create live content for the event. That first year was truly magical, as has been every year since — even now as I’ve moved on from Geek & Sundry and am now a faculty member of the New York Film Academy.

    Why do I and literally thousands of others keep coming back to this unique event year after year? I think to pinpoint that, one needs to know more about exactly what The Gathering is and what makes it special. I spoke with Jørgen Vigdal, one of the organizers of this year’s event, and he has this to say: “The Gathering is about creating a venue … that gathers people and makes them create, learn, and hopefully (inspires participants) to want to do more than just play with a computer.”

    One year, in my personal experience, I was able to run a complete live streaming stage, producing multiple shows a day with a full production crew with multiple cameras, jibs, and other state-of-the-art equipment. Another year I helped produced four hours of television-quality content in just as many days — the most insane production schedule I’ve ever had in my career, but also one of the most fulfilling production experiences I’ve had. (Right up there with winning my first Emmy!)

    Every year, The Gathering takes on an overall theme that focuses on an aspect of either computer gaming or technology in general and explores it both through gaming but also through educational lectures and presentations. This year’s theme is #Secrets, and centers around the important issues of cyber security and protections from hacking.

    Vigdal continues, “We know that the participants are very involved in social media. Many of them are sharing a lot of pictures and information. Perhaps they are writing on social media or in other social networks such as Slack or Discord. We don’t want to scare them but we want to show them some of the consequences. Hopefully by learning what a hacker can do or what a social engineer can do with the information that gets published, they would be more careful or be more aware of it.”

    Christian Funk (Kaspersky Lab Head of Global Research & Analysis Team), one of the speakers of the event, had this to add: “There’s all this (security) stuff going on and being offered to the community … people have to know about it. And there are some gaming companies that are trying to straddle keeping it usable for people and (keeping) security, and we are now at a stage where they are getting together really, really nicely.”

    As the popularity and international reach of the event grows, the organizers are continuing to evolve with the times.  As Vigdal explained, “The Gathering and KANDU are having a more focused vision and plan for the next three years.  That’s good for us because we want to focus on specific areas. There’s many sponsors and there are many communities that want us to focus even more on professional e-sports. Many people can say that The Gathering is doing e-sports and in some ways, we are. But at the same time, what we are really doing is entry level e-sports for the participants. We are not holding any large prizes, we are doing the production locally and we are focusing on the participants in the Ship, not on everything outside.”

    If getting together with 7,000 of your closest friends for four days of gaming, creative competitions, educational lectures, concerts, computer programming and design, and lots lots more, The Gathering might just be for you and if you can make it out to Hamar, Norway for Easter, perhaps you’d like to join us at TG18. #isiteasteryet

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