Joelle Smith
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  • New York Film Academy Hosts Producing Pitchfest For MFA and BFA Students

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    The recent graduates of New York Film Academy’s MFA and BFA Producing programs got to share their final projects with high-powered industry professionals at this year’s Producing Pitchfest.

    A herculean effort went into completing these producing projects. NYFA is known for having classes that are fast-paced and hands-on. Students enter as aspiring creatives and leave with the ability to walk onto a set and make a film. From the producing side, students create a show bible, design a budget, and learn multiple ways to pitch their script to executives, studios, and potential investors.    

    The “story pitch” is as much a part of Hollywood movie making as is the script itself. At the Producing Pitchfest, students were given the opportunity to pitch their projects to professional producers, directors, writers and executives. Getting an opportunity to pitch a projects to professionals is incredibly important. Not only did students get the chance to get constructive feedback from the guests, they also had the chance to land a deal!

    Student Reginald E. Luck credited NYFA with his ability to look and sound professional in the presence of such incredible talent. “NYFA taught and prepared me by grilling me during thesis committee meetings. They really made me focus on why I was telling this story,” he began. “When my instructors said, ‘Relax, you got this,’ I found they were right. I had made pitching harder in my mind than it turned out to be in reality.”

    Luck said his favorite part of the event was meeting and interacting with the writers and producers who attended the festival. “It really made me feel important to have them all listen intently to my story,” Luck confessed. “I was given some tremendous pointers by each person I pitched too.”

    At the end of the event, many of the participating judges let our instructors know how impressed they were with the students and their work. The event was a huge success all the way around. Students walked away with encouragement, new ideas, and a lot of real-world contacts.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank the following panelists for taking the time to hear our student’s pitches: writer and director Blake Harris, writer and director Doug Cooney, writer and director Brian Herskowitz, actor and producer John Morrissey, producer Patrick Peach, writer and producer David Rosenberg, writer and producer Arnold Rudnick, attorney and producer Marlon Schulman and filmmaker and festival director Kimberly Browning.

    Congratulations to all of our graduates. We look forward to all of the great stories you’ll tell.  

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    April 27, 2018 • Academic Programs, Community Highlights, Producing • Views: 461

  • Talent Agent Jennifer Boyce Visits New York Film Academy Los Angeles

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    Talent agent Jennifer Boyce recently dropped by the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles for a Q&A with our students and to speak about her many years in Hollywood as an agent, working at both the Savage Agency and KMR Talent. Senior Enrollment Advisor Chris Devane and Associate Chair of Acting for Film Anne Moore hosted the evening.

    Students heard Boyce’s perspective on head shots and tips on what to do when meeting with an agent. Most students had never met an agent before, so one of the most common questions of the night was: How, exactly, they should go about working with one in their careers? What information should actors have on hand?

    From left to right: NYFA’s Senior Enrollment Advisor Chris Devane, Guest Speaker Jennifer Boyce, and Associate Chair of Acting for Film Anne Moore.

    Boyce suggested that students create opportunities to succeed. “If you are an actor, you do not get to sit at home waiting for your agent to call,” Boyce said. “Don’t ask ‘What is my agent doing for me?’ Instead ask, ‘What am I doing for my own career?’”

    Boyce reminded students that an agent only makes 10 percent commission from what actors make, and cautioned them not to expect agents to do more than 10 percent of the work. She echoed the great advice that actors’ minds and bodies are an instrument, and they need to keep their instrument in tune. She hammered home an old truth: actors have to act. Talking about acting is not acting. Thinking about acting is not acting.

    “It takes a lifetime of commitment to have any success in this business,” Boyce warned. “If you’re not willing to put in the work, then you may not be suited for this business.”

    During the Q&A, one NYFA student asked, “For an agent, what is the most important part of an actor’s resume?”

    Boyce’s explained that, first, acting students should focus on the special skills portion of their resumes. This section is often overlooked, but it is often the difference between a callback and never hearing about a particular job again. Special skills include horseback riding, swimming, sewing, or driving a car. It is in this section where casting directors might think of additional roles for which actors may be the right fit. Secondly, while special skills are important, the best thing an actor can do to improve their chances of securing an agent is to train in their field. This is why even professional actors still take acting classes well into an established career.

    Boyce shared that, from an agent’s point of view, actors who continue to take classes and train demonstrate a work ethic and dedication to their craft. Additionally, many casting directors have established relationships with acting coaches. When they spot a familiar name, casting directors can reach out and learn more about an actor, their abilities, and personality.  

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jennifer Boyce for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with our students.

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    April 26, 2018 • Academic Programs, Acting, Community Highlights, Guest Speakers • Views: 521

  • Tony Richmond Screens Men of Honor With Special Q&A at New York Film Academy Los Angeles

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    New York Film Academy Chair of Cinematography Tony Richmond recently hosted a special screening of his film Men of Honor for New York Film Academy students at the Los Angeles campus. Rather than a formal Q&A following the film, Richmond encouraged his students to join him in an intimate conversation.

    Richmond is well known for his cinematography on beloved classics including The Sandlot, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don’t Look Now, Legally Blond, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, yet Men of Honor has a special place in his heart because both of his sons worked on the crew with him.

    Based on a true story, Men of Honor follows Navy diver Carl Brasher, the first Black man to become a U.S. Navy Master Diving Instructor. Extraordinarily, Brasher was able to passe the qualification test to become a master diving instructor with an amputated left leg. It’s an inspiring film that earned numerous award nominations.

    About the film’s star, Cuba Gooding Jr., Richmond said, “He’s a wonderful actor and an even better man.”

    Filming underwater presented a lot of fun cinematography challenges for Richmond. Some of the behind-the-scenes stories he shared with NYFA students included the creation of an eight-foot-deep pool to accommodate Richmond’s photography, and rigging Cuba Gooding Jr.’s diving helmet with lights.

    Students were curious to hear how Richmond was able film underwater with such clarity. Richmond explained that finding a good lighting balance was the most important element.

    “There’s a very fine line when filming underwater,” he said. “There were times during the filming process that I felt there just wasn’t enough silt in the water.”

    In order to give the tank a realistic feeling of the ocean, silt, the fine sand found in ocean water, had to be added.

    “You have to be careful when adding that stuff,” Richmond warned. “If you put too much silt in the tank it takes four days to filter it out.”

    One student asked about the most challenging aspect of making the movie. Richmond didn’t hesitate to answer: the film’s final courtroom scene

    The location was on the seventh floor of a beautiful old building, but because of its age Richmond couldn’t set up a lighting rig inside. Instead, everything had to be lit through the windows.

    After an enlightening evening, Richmond’s final advice to his Cinematography students was about working with directors:”You have to remember that this is the director’s film. Before you’re called in for an interview, he or she has already been working for months if not years on it.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Tony Richmond for taking the time to host Man of Honor and speak with our students.

    To learn more about the Cinematography programs offered at the New York Film Academy, click here.

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  • Boy Scouts of America Earn Special Merit Badges at New York Film Academy

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    The New York Film Academy (NYFA) celebrated the third year of its partnership with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), with a special event offering scouts the chance to earn merit badges in the visual and performing arts.

    Through NYFA, boys and girls from local scouting dens were given the opportunity for special merit badges in Game Design, Filmmaking, Photography, or 3D Animation, through one day of hands-on intensive training at the New York Film Academy. In the morning, scouts attended classes with NYFA instructors, where they learned the basic rules of their selected craft and began to formulate the stories they wanted to tell. By the end of the day, each scout had completed a project and earned a new badge.

    The partnership between BSA and NYFA began with NYFA Service Learning Manager Paul McKenna. A native of Burbank, CA, McKenna got the idea for the partnership after reading about a similar program at Harvard. As a father and a scout leader, McKenna explained that many titans of the entertainment industry got their start in programs like the Boy Scouts.

    “Both David Lynch and Michael Moore began making films when they were in the scouts,” McKenna said. “Giving these kids an opportunity today could lead to a life-long passion.”

    Throughout the day, local scout leaders worked with NYFA instructors to help guide the scouts through the process. Assistant Scout Leader Paul Chiaravalle remarked, “The scouts are really enjoying this. … In scouting, we try to balance both outdoor and technical skills. It’s really nice of NYFA to provide this opportunity.”

    Scouts who chose the Filmmaking or Photography tracks at NYFA were taken to the Universal Backlot, where they shot a short film or learned to take portraits against a world-famous backdrop: the European set, which included storefronts, old houses, and even a train station.

    The student filmmakers were ultimately responsible for making a three-minute silent film. In teams of four or five, scouts took turns acting, directing, and filming their movies. Photography students learned how to work with light and shadow and were encouraged to explore the dynamic range of natural light. Framing was also heavily emphasized.

    At the end of the day, parents were invited to attend an award ceremony. Each scout received a certificate with his or her name on it in addition to their badges, which would be received at a later date. The scouts cheered for one another as they received their awards and celebrated their full day of storytelling through the visual and performing arts.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Universal Studios, The Boy Scouts of America, and our instructors, who helped make this event possible. Congratulations, scouts!

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  • Congratulations to the Winter Class of 2018 at New York Film Academy Los Angeles

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    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate another class of graduating students.

    The end of a program is always a bittersweet time, as our students and instructors develop a strong bond over the many intense hours spent learning, practicing, and crafting projects, but before the winter class of 2018 walked across the graduation stage to accept their diplomas, the New York Film Academy celebrated all the graduates’ work with a series of final pres

    entations. The day before graduation, all students were given an opportunity to show off their work for family, friends, and entertainment professionals. Filmmaking, Documentary, Acting for Film and Cinematography students held their final screenings at the Riverside Theater and on the Warner Brothers Studios backlot. Photography students had their work displayed in galleries throughout Los Angeles. Game Design students held a game night where anyone in the school could play their games. Writing and Producing students had evenings where they could pitch their projects to industry professionals.

    The winter 2018 graduation ceremony was held at the Harmony Gold Theatre in Hollywood. The graduating class of 2018 was so large the ceremony had to be broken into two parts. Both ceremonies were standing room only. Families and friends came from all over the world.

    In his graduation speech, NYFA Instructor Mike Civille asked the students to think of their education as a gift. He said, “You come from places near and far. You have treated each other and your instructors to your fascinating stories. In this process, you have joined the great filmmakers who have also spoken to audiences about what was important to them. You have learned a new universal language. It’s young, only 100 years old. It crosses both political and cultural borders. This was the gift of the Lumiere brothers and it has traveled all the way to you. Use it wisely to tell your story.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate all of the incredible students who have completed their training here. We look forward to watching your films, playing your games, seeing your photographs, and celebrating your creative endeavors for years to come. Congratulations.

    1-Year Acting for Film

    Frederick Scott Basnight II

    Marlo Butler

    Emmanuel Pierre Cartier

    Undarga Enkhbaatar

    Isaac Wesley Fairley

    Gillian Griffin

    Terrel Mollison

    2-Year Acting for Film

    Daniel Berry

    Rodrigo Borges

    Peter Gomes

    Raymond Karago

    Tiara Donyae Murray

    Kurtis Potter

    Taraiyasi Hans Prymwaqa

    Matthew Robertson

    BFA Acting for Film

    Jazmin Hamilton

    Luis  Cordoba

    Zhiyun Zhou

    MFA Acting for Film

    Rajarshi Banerjee

    Taylor Byers

    Rebecca Cannizzaro

    Rei Alona Kennex Crossman

    Sumaia De Oliveira Radwan

    Jason Dolciani

    Anna Francisca Salles Marques Da Silva

    Craijece Lewis

    Lara Manatta Tenorio

    Jaylyn Neal

    An Thien Phan

    Leandro Luis Pineda Torres

    Aathira Rajeev

    Amber Resha Satcher

    Ke Shuai

    Eric Slaughter

    Lun Tan

    Julien Webb

    2-Year Producing

    Reginald E. Luck

    Nicole Zapata Quiles

    MFA Producing

    Johnnie Christopher Brown

    Kimbra Essex

    Xuan Liu

    Bahaguli Rehemutula

    Yosuke Sugimoto

    Bakhytzhan Urakhayev

    Liying Zhu

    BFA Screenwriting

    Zeyad Al Mutawa

    Katie Clem

    Seth Morton

    Louise Nyberg

    Patrick Kellam Lyons Stinich

    MFA Screenwriting

    Maria Androushko

    Katrina Brown

    Luis Alfredo Gonzalez

    Luke Jarret

    Harmony Kasper

    Joseph Knable

    Carmen Nelson

    Shane Redding

    Raul Ravindrakumar Sharma

    Melarissa Benedicta Sjarief

    Abigail Spencer

    Adam Tetelbaum

    Elon Washington

    MFA Photography

    Brittney Cathcart

    Monika Sedziute

    Yunzhi Wang

    MFA Documentary Filmmaking

    Hanan Higgi

    Amjad Tkroni

    Zhengyi Zhong

    MFA Game Design

    Nouf Bagazi

    Grace Ogwo

    Grettir Olafsson

    Santosh Peri

    Hetian Wang

    AFA Filmmaking

    Awana Morris

    BFA Filmmaking

    Ahmed Adil

    Hamda Al Midfa

    Ahmed Alghamdi

    Lionel Allen

    Saleh Mohammed Almalki

    Abdulaziz Almughrbi

    Faris Salah Beitar

    Danila Butovskiy

    Yujing Gao

    Yaser Hammad

    Wesley Garin Hobbs

    Lingxiao Jin

    Michael Moran

    Muhammad Raheem Sultan

    Victor Valerio

    Paulina Zamorano Castillo

    Marc Vital Guerin

    Jialei Li

    Yaonan Liu

    Topaz Peretz

    Yiding Xia

    Federico Sanna

    MA Film & Media Production

    Praveen Albert

    Oliver Berger

    Mansi Nitin Desai

    Qiqi Duan

    Hongzhi Guo

    Maryna Kovalevska

    Katlego Makhudu

    Natsumi Shibata

    Brionna Sutton

    Alessandro Turco

    Donatela Vacca

    Nihal Vasudevan

    Chuning Wang

    Ala Waznah

    Bingqi Xue

    Shipeng Yu

    MFA Filmmaking

    Khalid Ahmed Alsghair Ismail

    Roque Banos

    Siyuan Chen

    Chaaritha Dheerasinghe

    Travis Donald

    Weilun Feng

    Guoqing Fu

    Jialin Fu

    Yuanmei Ge

    Tingting Hua

    Shuntian Jiang

    Hongdon Lee

    Yixiang Li

    Hai Yao Liang

    Na Liu

    Yiwen Liu

    Jianan Ma

    Sholpan Murabuldayeva

    Anita Name Dos Santos

    Guangtao Pi

    Hugo Machado Salvaterra

    George Savidis

    Zicheng Tian

    Jiewen Wang

    Qiushi Xi

    Yuanyuan Xu

    Yuan Yue

    Han Zeng

    Shiyun Zeng

    Haoruo Zhang

    Hao Zhang

    Yuqing Zhang

    Jingwei Zhou

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  • New York Film Academy Screenwriting Grad Rosa Falu-Carrion is Keynote Speaker at 7th Annual Luna Fest

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    NYFA MA Screenwriting alum Rosa Falu-Carrion.

    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MA Screenwriting alum Rosa Falu-Carrion was the keynote speaker at the seventh annual Luna Fest, hosted by the Burbank Chapter of Zonta International. 

    Held at the Laemmle Theater in North Hollywood, the festival featured films by women, for women. The powerful stories portrayed in the Luna Fest touched each NYFA staff and faculty member in the audience.

    “This film festival is a two-hour slate of films that inspired me like nobody’s business,” NYFA Los Angeles Festivals Advisor and Liaison Crickett Rumley said. “Female friendship isn’t always depicted accurately in the media. These films put female friendship at their center. I’ll absolutely be suggesting that my students, both male and female, check out the film festival next year.”

    The Luna Film Festival is just one way in which the local chapter of Zonta International helps female filmmakers. Proceeds from the Luna Film Festival ticket sales help fund the Wings Grant, which helps support women looking to further their education after enduring a hardship.

    The Wings Grant was established eight years ago, and this year, Falu-Carrion is the recipient. About the Wings Grant, Zonta Club of Burbank Foundation President Nickie Bonner explained, “We chose to help support the education of older women because there isn’t a lot of financial aid available to them.”

    Falu-Carrion shared her story of how the Wings Grant helped to open new possibilities for her at a crossroads in her life. When her husband died, Falu-Carrion wasn’t sure what to do with her life next. The former event planner found solace in watching films.

    “I was stuck for a very long time,” Falu-Carrion said. “I thought there was no use for me anymore. I couldn’t find my identity. I just existed. I began watching more and more films. All of a sudden, my imagination was running.”

    As Falu-Carrion watched new movies being released, she realized she didn’t see a lot of characters that looked like her.

    “My family is originally from Puerto Rico,” she explained. “I’m all kinds of mixed. Plus, I’m a military brat. I have so many different life experiences and cultural differences that I want to include in my storytelling.”

    Falu-Carrion began taking online screenwriting classes at NYFA, and then she decided she would need to immerse herself in a full-time graduate program. If she was ever going to achieve her dream of seeing her story on the big screen, she felt she had to “go big or go home.”

    NYFA MA Screenwriting alum Rosa Falu-Carrion.

    Falu-Carrion credits the “intenese” education she received in the New York Film Academy Los Angeles’ MA Screenwriting program with her success. “I was surprised, at my age, that I had enough brain energy,” she joked.  

    The intensity of the MA program was a motivator for Falu-Carrion, who said she never backs away from a challenge. Called “Mama Rosa” by her classmates, she was inspired by her instructors and motivated by her classmates.

    “I had a wonderful time at NYFA,” she said. “I made some great friends.”

    The first graduating MA class at NYFA Los Angeles was small but mighty. “We were tight,” Falu-Carrion recalled. “We helped each other through it.” She boasted that the entire class made sure they graduated as a team. “We left no man behind,” she said.

    Falu-Carrion encouraged anyone hesitant about getting into the industry to think of her story.

    “I was scared on my first day,” she admitted. “I was 45 years old. I thought, ‘What am I doing with these 20-year-olds?'” Yet, she knew that her perspective was a unique one and it didn’t take long for Falu-Carrion to see the fruits of her labor. At the end of the program, she had a script ready to sell.

    “If you feel that you missed your opportunity,” Falu-Carrion said, “That’s when you need to go grab the opportunity.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Rosa Falu-Carrion on for being selected for the Wing Grant and for her keynote speech at this year’s Luna Fest.

    The application for the Wings Grant opens on April 30 and September 30. To learn more about Zonta of Burbank click here.

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  • Kinjo Students Complete Filmmaking Workshop at New York Film Academy Los Angeles

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    The Kinjo University in Japan has enjoyed a long partnership with the New York Film Academy (NYFA). The collaboration between the schools allows Kinjo students to spend a few weeks in Los Angeles as they learn advanced hands-on skills in the visual and performing arts.

    After just a few days in the New York Film Academy’s program Kinjo students were taken to the Universal Backlot, where they filmed their first projects on the Western and Mexico sets. Students took advantage of the versatility the set provides to complete their class projects.

    Universal’s Western Backlot provides a number of settings for students. The exterior is a reproduction of an Old West town, but creep behind the set and it could be a modern-day industrial sight. Travel further onto the set, and it turns into an old town in Mexico.

    Charlyne Tsou, the coordinator for NYFA, praised the students’ preparation. “They are incredibly meticulous in designing their story. They only needed a little polish.”

    NYFA Instructor Michael Sandoval was equally impressed with his students. He said, “I always love working with the Kinjo students. I found them engaging, dynamic, and respectful. While we needed a translator, I don’t think this got in the way of communication. These students were incredibly sharp and especially warm.”

    During their classes, students were given a position on a film crew. Writers, directors, cinematographers, and sound recorders were all trained in their craft. Because of the time restraints of the program, not every student could make their own story, so they worked in four different teams to make four collaborative films.

    It’s clear the students were also elated with their experience at New York Film Academy. Runa Yamanouchi, a business student at Kinjo, was surprised that she was able to learn each stage of filmmaking in such a short time, and said, “I learned everything. It was a wonderful experience. I can write and direct a film without a problem now.” Yamanouchi was most excited about the experience she had at the Universal Backlot. “I still can’t believe it happened,” she exclaimed.

    Kinjo business student Raina Kobayashi is still processing her time at the Universal Backlot. “Shooting days were really challenging,” she said. “But my crew was really good, plus they all had really positive attitudes. I’m proud of the work we did.”

    The two weeks were a positive experience for everyone involved.

    “The most rewarding part of working with the Kinjo students was watching them grow through practical exercises in class,” Sandoval confessed. “I was amazed at their level of engagement and ‘go-getter’ attitude. When they picked up on the theory, the look of enlightenment in their eyes was energizing.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Kinjo University and the incredible students who took part in the partnership course at New York Film Academy, and the long history of collaboration we have with the Kinjo school. We look forward to your next visit.

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    March 23, 2018 • Filmmaking • Views: 638

  • Algee Smith Holds Q&A at New York Film Academy Los Angeles Campus

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    The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles African and Black American Club (ABA) held a special screening of Detroit on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Special guest speaker and actor Algee Smith was in attendance to give a Q&A after the screening. ABA Club President Furaha Bayibsa and Chair of Industry Lab Kim Ogletree moderated the event.

    Bayibsa opened the evening by asking Smith how he got the job on Detroit.

    The actor explained, “I was in rehearsals for the New Edition Story when I got the call from my agent to audition for a Kathryn Bigelow project.” At that point, the title of the film had not been released. Smith had no idea what he was agreeing to, but his agent was insistent he needed to go.

    Detroit depicts events that took place at the Algiers Hotel two nights after the Detroit Riots during the summer of 1967. With the news media’s lens turned to police violence in 2017, the timely historical drama created a national conversation.

    The audition process for the film was a unique experience for Smith. After a first audition with Casting Director Victoria Thomas, Smith was invited to come back and audition for Bigelow. At a mansion in the hills, Bigelow held a second, more unique, audition.

    Bigelow directed behind a camera that Smith described as “old.” She asked the actors to sit in a circle and sing a song. Then, she told them, a police officer would burst in and throw them against a wall. She asked the actors to respond naturally at that moment. “She was trying to capture authenticity,” Smith said.

    Though the character Smith plays (Larry Reed) is a living human being, Smith didn’t meet the man and inspiration for the film until after production had wrapped. When asked what his preparation for the role was Smith joked, “worrying and being nervous. I couldn’t call Larry or talk to his family. I had to rely on understanding the energy of the time period by researching the reactions of citizens to the event at the time it took place.”

    During production, Bigelow relied on the element of surprise to get the most authentic reactions from her actors. Several of the actors playing police officers were given a script, but those portraying the hotel patrons did not receive a script. This gave the police officers in the scene total control. Everyone else could only react.

    Smith explained, “She just threw us in there. … We didn’t know what would happen after that.”

    Because of the surprises on set, the actors connected much more deeply to their characters’ lives.

    “Even after leaving the set, I took a lot of that tension with me,” shared Smith. “The hotel we were staying in looked like a prison. There were bars on the windows and heavy locks on the doors.” Smith said it was challenging to leave the experience behind. “It was tough for me every day.”

    When it was time for the Q&A, one student asked for Smith’s insights as a person of color in Hollywood today, asking, “How do you stay motivated when you’re profiled or rejected for a role because of your race? I think a lot of the Black actors at this school think about the discrimination they might face in the casting room once they graduate.”

    Smith was candid with his response. “I don’t know if there were parts that had been kept from me because of my race. There very well may have been. Sometimes you hear casting directors say, ‘Oh, you were amazing in the audition, but we’re going with someone else,’ or, ‘we’re going in a different direction. ’ But you’ll never really know the reason why they made that choice.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Algee Smith for taking the time to speak with our students. See Smith next in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams on Amazon and The Hate U Give, coming to theaters soon.

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  • Face 2 Face by New York Film Academy’s Matt Toronto Now on Netflix

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Instructor Matt Toronto has just signed a two-year deal with Netflix to stream his film Face 2 Face.

    Together with his brother Aaron, Toronto wrote Face 2 Face about growing up in the age of social media. The film screened at the Manhattan Film Festival and had its premiere at the Edmonton International Film Festival, where it won the jury award for innovation.

    The movie follows two teenagers, Teel and Madison, who rekindle a childhood friendship online. Soon, they begin sharing their lives over the internet as a means of coping with the typical problems of adolescent life even though they are at opposite ends of the popularity spectrum. Madison in an A-list party girl, and she takes pity on Teel, the social outcast, vowing to help him win friends on social media.

    As their relationship deepens, Madison falls for Teel. She forces him to confess the hidden cause of the bullying he faces. His admission sets off a sequence of events that ultimately motivates Madison to expose her own secret. This digital coming-of-age story examines some of the most pressing and difficult social issues facing teenagers today.

    The story was inspired by a vacation Toronto took with his family years ago. While directing a play at the University of Utah, Toronto would FaceTime his wife and kids every night before bed.

    “At one point, the thought struck me,” Toronto said, “If we were talking about something interesting, this could be a movie.” That was when he decided to write a movie that takes place completely over video chat.

    As a professor working with young people, Toronto saw the effects social media had on his students. “I was working with young people all of the time. I could see how they interact with technology,” he said. “Teenagers seemed like natural choices for the heroes of the film.”

    As he dove further into the script, he decided to reach out to his brother, a counselor who has treated many people struggling with the same issues that Madison and Teel face in the script. “Aaron was able to bring a real authenticity to the characters and their development,” Toronto said. “But one of the most important inspirations came from a close cousin of ours who suffered in much the same way that Madison does in the film. We made this film in her honor.”

    Face2Face | New York Film Academy

    Some of the issues that the film focuses on include bullying, sexual identity, suicide, and sexual abuse. Raising awareness was a vital part of the filmmaker’s goals, but Toronto described a realistic and honest portrayal of friendship as the true heart of the film: “The film is about the power that friendship has to help us change, to help us become better people, and to help others as well. I hope the movie will inspire people to be friends. We can all be better friends to anyone who needs one. That’s the kind of thing that changes lives.”

    Toronto credited his time with the New York Film Academy to opening his worldview. The diversity of the school’s student body, in particular, had a profound effect on him. “I learn every time I teach,” he said. “That diversity has brought new insights and perspectives that I might never have found. Each student expands my point of view on the world and on the craft.”

    As an Acting for Film instructor stepping behind the camera, Toronto was able to bring a lot of the lessons from his classroom to the set. “My experience as an actor and an acting teacher are both essential to my work as a director. Actors are the humans that give life to the characters in a script. My background allows me to participate in that process with skill and compassion. I see my actors as designers.”

    To any actors looking to make their debut behind the camera, Toronto offered this advice: “Learn the craft of directing.”

    Matt Toronto | New York Film Academy

    NYFA Acting for Film Instructor Matt Toronto

    As intense as it is to learn the craft of acting, it’s equally important to focus on the details of directing. Toronto warned that it takes years to master directing, but there’s no better time to start than now. “The best actor/directors are the ones that respect both crafts, and put in the effort to grow as artists and storytellers throughout the entire process and on every project.”

    Toronto is working on several new projects. He’s keeping it a family affair, working with his wife to develop three television pilots and a feature, and working on two features with his brother, Aaron Toronto. Though it’s thrilling to see his film as he scrolls through Netflix, Toronto says that hasn’t been the most rewarding part.

    “About a week after it was released,” Toronto began, “I got a message from a viewer through the film’s website. In it, she shared that she was a teenager struggling with depression. She had been planning to commit suicide, but after watching Face 2 Face, she decided she wanted to live. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Knowing that our film had helped someone in such a profound way is worth more to me than all of the artistic accomplishments in my entire life. That’s what art is all about.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Toronto on all of his hard work. Face 2 Face is now available on Netflix in the U.S.

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  • New York Film Academy Alum Alex Kahuam’s So, You Want to Be a Gangster? on Amazon Prime

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking alum Alex Kahuam’s latest feature film, So, You Want to Be a Gangster?, is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

    Alex Kahuam directing So, You Want to Be a Gangster? via IMDB

    Shot in just three weeks, the dark comedy was inspired by the work of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Kahuam credits his education at NYFA and the amazing crew he met there for his success.

    Kahuam wanted to explore a black-comedy action film.  So, You Want to Be a Gangster? is a film about an unsuccessful actor named Victor, whose friends decide to enter him in a poker tournament to cheer him up — not realizing that the American mafia controls the game. When a fight breaks out, Victor is kidnapped and trapped inside a warehouse with the leader of the Yakuza and the head of a Mexican cartel.

    “I wanted to make something similar to my idols,” Kahuam says, pointing to his influences. “They make fun of reality, but at the same time manage to have some sort of political or moral message in the end.”

    For a true homage, Kahuam filmed So, You Want to Be a Gangster? in the same style as his cinematic heroes, implementing long takes.

    Long takes are challenging for a number of reasons: The actors have to nail every line of dialogue and every part of the blocking, the lighting has to be perfect throughout the entire shot, and crews will go through multiple tests to make sure everything runs smoothly.

    With such a short production schedule, Kahuam had to think and move quickly.

    “We didn’t have that luxury of time but we were able to manage,” explains Kahuam. “You have to be able to show your cast and crew that everything is okay. As the director, you’re the captain. Everyone is looking at you.”

    Kahuam says he was driven by this challenge. “We had long, complicated action scenes, stunts, pyrotechnicians, blood, makeup, prosthetics, squibs, etc. All those things that I just mentioned take a lot of time to coordinate and execute. I think the cast and crew did an awesome job. I’m really happy with the results.”

    Kahuam credits his education at NYFA with his ability to cope with the demanding schedule.

    “NYFA really instills two things in its students,” he says. “The first is teamwork. The second is to use the time at school to make mistakes.”

    Kahuam went on to explain that making mistakes in a safe environment allowed him to learn more quickly: “When you’re making a feature, you don’t have time to make mistakes. You can only rely on the team that is surrounding you.”

    Kahuam has been excited to share So, You Want to Be a Gangster? with audiences around the world. Now, distribution with Amazon has allowed him to attain this goal.

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Kahuam on all of his success. We look forward to the next project!

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