Kat OBrien
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  • NYFA Alum Ioanna Meli Makes Waves with “A Little Part of You”


    On November 23rd New York Film Academy Los Angeles students gathered to watch the award-winning short “A Little Part of You” by alumna Ioanna Meli. She and producer DJ Lopez shared their story of taking the thesis film to the festival circuit and ultimately a television premiere.

    Ioanna was raised in Athens, Greece. She studied theater arts in London and, after receiving an opportunity to work in film, decided to study acting directed towards film. She found herself here at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles enrolled in the 1 year acting conservatory, and subsequently the MFA program.

    ioanna nyfa

    For her thesis, Ioanna incorporated everything she learned from her classes and challenged herself by delving into her personal life to share a touching look at the tenacity of relationships with “A Little Part of You.” In the story, an actress receives the opportunity to star in a West End play, much to the chagrin of her lawyer boyfriend who’d be left behind in Los Angeles. “What I’d try to say with the story is to not be afraid to take a risk,” Ioanna notes. “Trusting that if it’s the right decision that the right people will be in your life no matter what.”

    Ioanna knew before making her film that she wanted to make something that could continue outside of the classroom. However, working as the writer, director, and star was a daunting task. She managed to make it happen with help from producer DJ Lopez. DJ advised the audience, “Take time in preproduction to get your ducks in a row, so the production runs smoothly.” That’s how DJ managed to acquire an actual airport for the culminating scene.

    Ioanna was also able to juggle her roles by having her co-director Jay Parupalli prep with her before shooting, so that she could concentrate on the role on set. With only 4 days to shoot, Ioanna and team took advantage of every ounce of opportunity. When they received their equipment in the evening, they shot at night instead of waiting for the day. This was how they were able to make both the 8-minute cut for the thesis guidelines, and a 20-minute version to send to film festivals.

    Meli and Lopez strongly encouraged the audience to do their research on festivals before submitting. It saves money and helps assess where your film is most likely to be chosen and even awarded. A Little Part of You received Best Short Film as well as Best Actress in a short film at New York City International Film Festival, Best Student Short at California International, and well received in Madrid and Ioanna’s hometown of Athens. “When you get the chance to bring a little bit of L.A. from where you come from, it’s really special,” she commented.

    ioanna nyfa

    At the HollyShorts Festival a TV executive took interest in the film, which is how A Little Part of You gained its television premiere on DirectTV Saturday, November 28th.

    New York Film Academy looks forward to seeing more from alumna Ioanna Meli and wish she and DJ Lopez great success in the future.


    November 30, 2015 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 3844

  • NYFA Students Attend ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ Premiere


    our brand is crisisRecently, New York Film Academy students were invited to the Los Angeles premiere of the political campaign film Our Brand is Crisis. Students from all departments and programs attended the Hollywood event.

    A narrative remake of the documentary by the same name, it stars Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton, directed by David Gordon Green and produced by George Clooney.

    The film surrounds a Bolivian presidential candidate who is failing badly in the polls and enlists the firepower of an elite American management team, led by the deeply damaged but still brilliant strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Bullock). In self-imposed retirement following a scandal that earned her nickname and rocked her to her core, Jane is coaxed back into the game for the chance to beat her professional nemesis, the loathsome Pat Candy (Thornton), now coaching the opposition.

    But as Candy zeroes in on every vulnerability – both on and off the campaign trail – Jane is plunged into a personal crisis as intense as the one her team exploits nationally to boost their numbers. Our Brand is Crisis reveals the cynical machinations and private battles of world-class political consultants for whom nothing is sacred and winning is all that matters.

    NYFA acting student Christopher Rybka details his experience on the red carpet:

    Have you ever been to a premiere before?

    This was my first time! It was really exciting because I had never been to the TCL Chinese Theater. It was interesting to see the work that goes into the event—celebrities posing in different angles for photos and doing interview after interview with different news sources. They are still on the job even though the movie is done.

    Did you go with anyone?

    A lot of my classmates were there. I don’t have many occasions to wear a full three-piece suit, so it was great to suit up and see everyone else dressed to the nines. When I got the email saying I had tickets, I called my mom and she flew in from Texas to go with me. She loved it.

    Did you see Sandra Bullock?

    I saw her from a distance but I didn’t get a chance to say hello or anything. But I did say hi to George Clooney. And the director invited me to the after party, but I didn’t have a ticket. Still appreciated the offer though.

    What did you think of the film?

    The performances were amazing. As an actor, I was completely enraptured by Sandra Bullock as Jane, and she had great chemistry with Billy Bob. Their rivalry was fun to watch.


    November 23, 2015 • Acting, Community Highlights • Views: 3966

  • Northern Exposure Star Janine Turner Video Chats with NYFA Students on Acting and Activism


    On November 18th, acting students from the New York Film Academy Los Angeles were virtually visited by Northern Exposure star Janine Turner to discuss her career as an actress and activist.

    Growing up in Texas, Turner started modeling at a young age. At fifteen she moved to New York City on her own dime to become the youngest model at Wilhelmina Modeling Agency.  By seventeen she progressed to acting in Hollywood.

    janine turner

    After initial damsel in distress characters on shows like A-Team, Dallas, and Knight Rider, Turner cut her hair and studied the craft of acting at the Actor’s Studio. “I made lifelong friends with the people from acting class,” she remarked fondly.

    Turner persevered through career lulls because of her personal faith, passion for the industry and drive to succeed. With a broken engagement and eight dollars in her bank account, Turner was on the verge of giving up acting for good. After getting lost trying to run away from Manhattan, she returned to the city to audition for a television pilot. With that audition, she landed the role of Maggie O’Connell on the much beloved ensemble series Northern Exposure.

    She explained her acting process to students, following the sensory method. Turner went to the executive producers to learn more about Maggie. With each script she would call her acting coach, go over her scenes and make specific choices for her character. On set, she balanced maintaining her sensory emotive state for the character and remaining her friendly self with the cast and crew. When it comes to the notes from multiple directors on a season, Turner advised, “Listen and be open-minded, but stay true to the character—take what you like and leave the rest.”

    nyfa class

    Janine Turner has been in notable movies like Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone, Dr. T and the Women and hit shows like Friday Night Lights. Her current passion is towards activism. “Thespians are great humanitarians; it’s a wonderful way to feed the soul,” Turner notes. She launched and co-chairs the Constituting America foundation. It’s mission is to educate America’s youth about the importance of the United States Constitution, and encourages them to write and direct short films, PSA, and songs about the founding document and how it has shaped and protects our civil liberties.

    We thank Janine Turner for taking time to speak with us and wish her great success with her career and foundation.


    November 20, 2015 • Acting, Community Highlights, Guest Speakers • Views: 3999

  • Disco Has Risen From the Grave: Mark Christopher Speaks with New York Film Academy on “54: Director’s Cut”


    On November 5th, 2015, New York Film Academy in Los Angeles students were delighted to watch the revamped Director’s Cut of 54, followed by a Q&A with writer/director Mark Christopher—discussing his great journey to completing his vision on the disco cult film—with producer Tova Laiter and NYFA Film Festival Advisor Matthew Ladensack.

    While attending film school, Mark Christopher made the short film Dead Boys Club, gaining lots of attention in the film festival circuit and even a theatrical distribution. With the success of Dead Boy’s Club and his subsequent short Alkali, Iowa, Christopher was able to gain a studio’s trust to direct his script about the iconic discotheque Studio 54. Therefore, his student films gave him a direct entree into making a studio feature.

    mark christopher

    Mark Christopher at New York Film Academy

    Focusing on a young New Jersey bartender and his fellow club workers, 54 encapsulated the hedonistic nightlife of 1979 New York, before the drug wars and AIDS epidemic of the 80’s. The story blended humor, tragedy, bisexuality, and rampant drug use–an earnest portrayal of the era’s zeitgeist. Starring Mike Meyers in his first dramatic role, and up and comer Ryan Phillipe, the movie was accumulating attention and set to be a hit.

    However, after seeing early cuts of the film, the studio decided to soften its depraved sexual vibe as they believed this would open the movie up to a wider audience. Removing 40 minutes of the original cut and reshooting another 30 minutes, the new version erased any note of homoeroticism, reinforcing the love scenes between Phillipe and Neve Campbell, and washed over the darker parts that gave the movie depth. The hollowed theatrical release was panned by critics at its release and considered a box office failure.

    mark christopher tova

    NYFA Film Festival Advisor Matthew Ladensack with Producer Tova Laiter and Mark Christopher

    “As a director you have to hold on to your vision,” Christopher told NYFA students. Which is why after 17 years he revisited 54 to recreate his original story. Unlike most director’s cuts, where a few new scenes are sprinkled here and there, Christopher ripped apart most of the theatrical version like moldy shag carpeting. He found the original footage via bootleg video cobbled together from VHS sources and eye matched it scene by scene, restoring the gritty look and tone of the film. Since it’s release, 54: The Director’s Cut has been praised all over the world, with original and new fans alike flocking to sold out shows.

    When asked what advice he had to share with the film students in the audience, Mark Christopher simply said, “Don’t be afraid.” Students thanked Mr. Christopher for being unafraid to revive Studio 54, a new favorite to many in the theater that night.

    54: The Director’s Cut is currently available on iTunes and Amazon.

    The New York Film Academy wishes the film and Mark Christopher much success!


    November 12, 2015 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 4581

  • NYFA Graduate Anthony O’Brien Talks Life After Film School


    The New York Film Academy Los Angeles was recently reunited with alumnus Anthony O’Brien to review his career since graduating in 2006. Students delighted in Anthony’s candid discussion of making a career in filmmaking after film school.

    Growing up on a small island in Washington, O’Brien did not dream of being a director. An actor at heart, he went to a performing arts school but eventually dropped out and moved to Los Angeles. There he enrolled in the One-Year Filmmaking program at NYFA to round out his knowledge of acting.

    anthony o'brien

    NYFA grad Anthony O’Brien

    Anthony fell in love with working behind-the-scenes and focused his sights on making it a career. He met fellow NYFA student Jon Chappell, who become his producing partner. He encouraged the students in the audience to start making similar contacts and collaborations. “Be honest about what you contribute. Surround yourself with people who are good at what you are not. The person who’s going to get you money is sitting right next to you.”

    Interviewed by Dean of Students (and Anthony’s first semester instructor) Eric Conner, Anthony discussed how he was passionate (and organized) enough to wear the hats as director and actor even during his earliest films at NYFA.

    Rather than shooting a short film for his thesis, he created a slick teaser trailer to promote his feature length script. Six days after graduating, O’Brien raised half a million dollars with his trailer and set out to make his first feature film.

    Anthony O'Brien and Dean of Students Eric Conner

    Anthony O’Brien and Dean of Students Eric Conner

    Anthony wrote, directed, and starred in the feature film Perfect Sport (co-starring NYFA Alum Jessica Rose). Making the movie was a difficult and humbling experience, he recalled. Despite the film’s success in the festival circuit, Anthony came home to no offers or next opportunities, and spent months unemployed.

    During this time, O’Brien continued working on any film set he could and began to develop the script for his next project. With animatics to present, and an experienced crewman like Director of Photography Phil Parmet, he successfully pitched to a private financier and gained funding for the western The Timber, starring Josh Peck (Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh). The production shot in Romania for three months during one of the country’s worst winters in the past century. The Timber was recently released by Well Go USA Entertainment on all digital and home video platforms.

    When it came to discussing how to make a successful film career, Anthony did not want to offer students “empty true advice” like passion and enthusiasm are enough to see you through. “A director is one-part car salesman and one-part motivational speaker,” he explained. “To make an independent film you need to be courageous enough to find investors, be humble enough to acknowledge your crew knows more than you, and flexible enough to revise the story when needed.”

    We look forward to seeing Anthony O’Brien’s next film Doubting Thomas, and wish him continued success.


    October 28, 2015 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 6142

  • Oscar Nominated Producer Michael Shamberg Visits NYFA for Screening and Q&A


    Michael Shamberg at New York Film Academy

    On October 6th, New York Film Academy in Los Angeles hosted renowned producer Michael Shamberg after a screening of one of his films, Out of Sight, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. Following the film was an in-depth Q&A, moderated by producer Tova Laiter and Dean of Students Eric Conner.

    Mr. Shamberg was the epitome of calm, cool and collected as he shared stories of his 35 year career as a producer of Hollywood favorites like Get Shorty, Be Cool, Pulp Fiction, Erin Brockovich, A Fish Called Wanda, Django Unchained and many, many more.

    Shamberg, previously a correspondent for Time Life, got a taste for film while working on experimental documentaries (or guerrilla television as he coined it). After moving to Los Angeles and reuniting with college buddy and beloved director Harold Ramis, Shamberg got his foot in the door producing the generational classic The Big Chill.

    After meeting actor Danny Devito and producer Stacey Sher, the three created Jersey Films production company, producing hit after hit like Matilda, Reality Bites and the night’s feature Out of Sight, which sparked a continual collaborative partnership with Steven Soderbergh.

    Shamberg postulated that the key to his successful movies is being commercially approachable with fresh aesthetics, and not necessarily execution-proof. He also noted the key qualities of a producer as a delicate balance of belief in the material, creative loyalty of the director, and a confident showmanship for the studio executives.

    Michael recalled a time when Soderbergh was adamant on shooting the meeting between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez’s characters in Out of Sight in one take. Though Shamberg initially supported the decision, studio executives hated the poor scores from audience screenings. He eventually made the call to reshoot with more coverage, and the scene became the legendarily steamy trunk scene that skyrocketed both Clooney and Lopez’s movie careers. “A producer has to make sure the movie is made and make sure the movie is made well,” Shamberg noted. “It’s not always the same job.”

    Shamberg has remained on the cutting edge of the rapidly changing state of media distribution. He was recently brought on as an advisor to the newly created Motion Pictures division of Buzzfeed, the wildly successful American Internet news media company. Michael describes Buzzfeed as a lab for filmmakers and studios, who can experiment with content in short form and see what sticks with the audience. In this way, creativity is maximized and nothing is lost if something doesn’t hit.

    We sincerely thank Michael Shamberg for his inspiring visit and wish him continued success in his career.


    October 12, 2015 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 5786