New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking Instructor Jessica Wolfson produced and directed The Columnists for WSJ. Magazine, a video series of intimate conversations with renowned figures reflecting on various themes that have guided their careers.
The project has its roots in On Point, a coffee table book from WSJ. Magazine, a glossy news and lifestyle monthly magazine by the publishers of The Wall Street Journal. The book, released September of last year, included interviews from the publication’s renowned column The Columnists. The new series has six parts and a 20-minute short film, directed and produced by Wolfson.
This is the second project Wolfson has made for The Wall Street Journal. Her earlier project was Drawing the Future, a video tech series. Wolfson is a photographer and documentary filmmaker who has directed shorts including Night People, IowaMixtape, and Play a Round with Me, as well as films Radio Unnameable and Hot Grease. Additionally, she teaches for the Documentary Filmmaking department at New York Film Academy’s New York City campus.
Episodes of The Columnists are based on a particular theme, including Luck, Mistakes, and Willpower. Notable subjects speaking on these topics include author Fran Lebowitz, director Lee Daniels, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington and television star Rainn Wilson.
“What I really loved most about making this series was having conversations with the subjects about emotional and philosophical topics such as willpower, advice, envy—rather than the typical career questions they are normally asked,” Wolfson tells NYFA. “This made for a very interesting dialogue.”
Wolfson also worked with Associate Producer and graduate of NYFA’s Documentary Filmmaking program Nancy Dionne. Dionne researched crew and shooting locations in Canada, Paris, London, and New York for the series. “It was the kind of call where you hang up and jump up and down smiling saying, ‘Yes!’” Dionne tells NYFA. She was also more than happy to work with Wolfson, who she met at NYFA.
“I don’t think I had ever been so excited to see her in action,” Dionne says of Wolfson. “What struck me first was how calm Jessica and her crew were, not that they were not feeling stress, but how they handled it and how they communicated with me and each other—just so professional and smart with no effort wasted.”
Currently, The Columnists is a limited series, but Wolfson is eager to shoot additional seasons in the future.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Documentary Filmmaking instructor Jessica Wolfson and alum Nancy Dionne on The Columnists, and thanks them for taking the time to speak to NYFA about their experience!
On Tuesday, January 15, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of the pilot episode of Project Blue Book, a new original series from HISTORY (formerly The History Channel) that adapts the real-life US Air Force investigations of UFOs in the 1950s. The screening was followed by a Q&A with creator and former NYFA screenwriting and producing instructor, David O’Leary, moderated by NYFA Producing instructor, Ashley Bank.
O’Leary is a former development executive who has worked for Bellevue Productions, Valhalla Entertainment, Kopelson Entertainment, Rogue Pictures, Warner Bros., and Industry Entertainment. He is also a producer on two features set for release this year, Parallel for Bron Studios and Eli for Netflix. Additionally, O’Leary is adapting a sci-fi book series for A+E Studios.
Bank opened up the Q&A by asking about how O’Leary became a writer. He shared that he started his career as an intern at New Line Cinema and decided he was interested in development, so he moved to Los Angeles where he worked with a friend at Village Roadshow Pictures. From there, O’Leary worked his way up from the mailroom to assistant jobs and became a development executive, himself, at the age of 28. He realized, however, that his true dream was to be a screenwriter. “I pivoted and I’m a big believer in pivoting,” said O’Leary.
O’Leary shared that even though he knew he was passionate about becoming a professional writer, that wasn’t enough. “Honestly, I had to get good at being a writer; I was not a very good writer when I made that choice.” He continued, “I think the way that you get better at being a writer is you have to keep writing, but you can’t keep writing in a vacuum; you have to keep showing your work to people and you have to keep getting feedback… you need people you trust to tell you ‘Here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t, and here’s why.’”
O’Leary added that working as a screenwriting instructor at NYFA required him to be extra knowledgeable about professional screenwriting. “It really forced me to practice what I was preaching,” he said. O’Leary then shared that something that helped him stay positive while he worked toward becoming a successful professional screenwriter was “celebrating small victories” because trying to be successful in the entertainment industry is a long and arduous process and one needs to have stamina to make it all the way to their end goal.
O’Leary made it clear to the audience that hard work is important but sometimes luck also plays a role in success; with Project Blue Book, “It was sort of the right idea at the right time at a network that was looking to grow and move into scripted series.” The simplest way that O’Leary could sum up the show to pitch it to producers was “X-Files meets Mad Men,” which was a concept that had not really been explored before.
One of the members of the audience inquired about navigating a narrative based on real events. “Every week we look at a real-life case… so it has that kind of ‘based on true events’ cache,” said O’Leary. “[Lead character] Hynek was a real-life guy; we ended up recruiting both [of] his sons as consultants on the project… I really want the show to be entertaining, but I also want to educate people on this phenomenon.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank former instructor David O’Leary for sharing his experiences and advice for writers as well as details about the development and production of Project Blue Book.
A special screening of Netflix’s hit series, Medal of Honor, was held at the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Theater in New York City last week, hosted by NYFA’S Division of Veteran Services (DVS).
Commissioner Loree Sutton MD (Brigadier General Ret.) of New York City’s Department of Veteran Services and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Jack Jacobs (Ret.) participated in an unfeigned discussion with attendees after the screening of Episode 8, which featured the heroic story of Staff Sergeant Ty Cater, who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2013 for his heroic actions in Afghanistan.
Reflecting on the Medal of Honor experience from a personal perspective, Colonel Jack Jacobs, who has been the Chair of New York Film Academy’s Veteran Advancement Program since 2014, and is also an on-air Military Analyst at MSNBC/NBC news, answered questions from the audience along side the Commissioner Sutton.
NYFA Acting for Film alum Tyler Williams, who portrays Ty Carter in the episode, not only conveyed the authentic challenges service members face in their transition back from combat, but will be screening the episode with veteran students at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus on February 11.
“A successful transition home is important not only to veterans, but the families and communities they return to,” asserted Commissioner Sutton, an Army psychiatrist and a fierce advocate in New York City for services that protect and empower returning service members.
Attendees engaged openly with the Commissioner Sutton and Colonel Jacobs in a series of questions that ranged from the philosophical (“Do you think that Plato was right when he stated that only the dead have seen the end of war?”) to the pragmatic (“How do vets leverage the skills they learned in the military if they want to work in film and television?”)
Both speakers believe the arts offered great opportunities for healing. Army veteran Justin Ford, a NYFA Filmmaking & Producing conservatory grad, enthusiastically stated, “It was a really great opportunity to hear Commissioner Sutton’s and Colonel Jacobs’ thoughts about the Medal of Honor, war, and returning home from the defining moment of many young veteran’s life—combat.”
The Netflix screening and special quest speakers made for a very moving and emotional evening, which was made all the more special by a touching and warm exchange of military challenge coins that passed reciprocally between Colonel Jacobs and Commissioner Sutton at the event’s conclusion.
New York Film Academy students can attend another screening of Medal of Honor at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus on February 11, with special guest Tyler Williams — you can RSVP for the event here.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a quick look at some recent achievements of the NYFA Documentary Filmmaking alumni, faculty, and students:
Victoria Bergqvist (Fall 2017 1-Year) crewed as a production coordinator on the documentary Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played With Fire, which is competing at Sundance this year (she did this just prior to coming to NYFA). Now based in Los Angeles after graduating from NYFA’s 1-Year Documentary program, she currently works for George Media creating branded content as a director. Here’s what she had to say about her experience at NYFA and how it serves her in the professional world:
“I can honestly say that the 1-year documentary program at NYFA in Los Angeles gave me very well-rounded skills. Although it was an intense program, I learned how to do literally pretty much everything myself. Meaning: writing, producing, directing, filming, editing, and sound mixing. And also how to make completed films during a short amount of time.
“It turned out that this was exactly what George Media in Venice was looking for. The official job title of the position is ‘Young Director,’ but we are expected to do almost all the things mentioned above ourselves, except we get to work with a DP. The job entails making 12 short videos [in] six months, so having learned to make films under time pressure was incredibly helpful. Also, since the documentary program at NYFA is so hands-on and we make six films [in] one year, it gave me the confidence to keep doing what I had already done at school multiple times in the professional world.”
Producer Julia Cheng (’18) launched production of two feature documentaries in Beijing: The Invisible Shore, a feature doc directed by Qi Zhao, who produced both Last Train Home, The Chinese Mayor, and The City Dream, directed by Weijun Chen who previously directed Please Vote for Me.
Guy Yang (Fall 2016 MFA) Right after graduating with his MFA in Documentary Filmmaking, Guy Yang was hired by Radio Free Asia, based in Washington D.C. as a broadcaster. The station has also asked him to develop three documentary series that focus on social issues in Eastern Asia. He will work with a team, researching and producing episodes and also filming, editing, mixing and, delivering packages to the station. Yang says, given his experience at NYFA of working on multiple projects quickly, he will continue to produce and direct his own documentary projects as well.
Ashley Harris (Fall 2015 MFA) is served in the U.S. Navy as a Second Class Petty Officer. She came to NYFA in Fall 2015 and graduated with an MFA in Documentary in September 2017. In November of that same year, she interviewed with and was hired by Participant Media as Assistant to the Senior Vice President, Documentary Film and TV. She said that she loves the work and continues to grow with the company.
Paul Gallasch’s (‘11) new feature documentary, Love in the Time of Antidepressant, produced with grants from both Screen Australia and the South Australian Film Corporation, premiered to great enthusiasm at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival. Paul was also a 2018 Points West Fellow at the 2018 Camden Film Festival.
Dikeos Foudeas (Spring 2015 1-Year) was hired for A/V production at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, Alaska for the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kay (as we affectionately refer to him) has said “I strongly believe my employment was influenced by the training I received at NYFA.” He also continues to work freelance as a videographer in Anchorage, Alaska.
Dade Shields (Fall 2014 1-Year) is a native to Southern California and was always interested in outdoor cinematography. In 2018, Shields produced and shot several branded content mini documentaries for TravisMathew (a sportswear clothing line) as part of their Life on Tour series. Shields continues to shoot sports-themed documentary footage and recently partnered with professional skimboarder Blair Conklin to create YouTube channel Skid Kids, which quickly amassed over 2,000 subscribers.
Rachael Pelzer (Fall 2014 1-Year) is originally from the Midwest and began working as a logger for Herzog & Co right out of graduating NYFA’s Documentary program. She’s been at Herzog for four years and is now their Post Production Coordinator. Her credits include: 1968: The Year that Changed America and The History of Comedy—both series aired on CNN. Rachael continues to credit NYFA for training her in production and this past year revived her 1-year film to develop it into a feature documentary with the help of fellow alum, William Nestlehutt. The two continue production on Rachael’s Hip Hop Ohana.
Marie Vanderrusten (’16) signed on as editor of Ma Ville, Notre Idéal (My City, Our Ideal), airing daily on France 3. The series focuses on young people inventing new apps and industries to take on problems including climate change, overpopulation, poverty, overconsumption, and pollution.
Executive producer Yusaku Kanagawa (’15) hired Mariko Ide (’16) as a story consultant on his Creators Program platform at Yahoo Japan.
Peabody Award-winning production companyTransform Films staffed Nancy Dionne (‘18) as Associate Producer. Her semester one film, All I See Is the Future, will also premiere this month at Winter Film Awards International Film Festival, screening on Feb 19 and Feb 20.
In a unique trifecta, NYFA Docs grads became chief filmmakers for three of the foremost arts institutions, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Alex Guns (‘10), Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater (JR Cronheim (’12), and New York City Ballet (LauraSnow ’11).
Santiago Machado (’18) began a gig with the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI) for the television section of the News and Content Branch, News and Media Division.
Francesca Pagani (’11) shot, produced, and/or associate produced several new VICE pieces including: Fighting in Drag with LGBTQ Wrestlers,Inside the FBI’s Hunt for “Black Political Extremists, Fighting the Use of Electric Shocks on People with Disabilities, and Inside the Gambling Scandal That Rocked The NBA. Her photos were also featured on the front cover of Politiken as part of a profile of gun violence survivor Jaqueline and her family who arrived in Tijuana with 3,200 others from the migrant “caravan.”
Colorist, Susi Dollnig (’12) has been invited to present a seminar at this year’s Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival).
David Diaz won the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship, for If They Build It, What Will Come, which he premiered at Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival.
Hannah Currie was awarded Best Director at Under Wire Film Festival, for We Are All Here which is now also an Official Selection for both DOCfeed 2019 Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival.
Krisztina Danka’s Final Film, Violet and the Wildman, will make its North American premiere February 16 at the Cinema Verde Environmental Film Festival after winning the Golden Fox Award for the Best Educational Film in Kolkata, India.
Edwige Pezzulli Stępniewska and Maria Giulia Mancuso Prizzitano‘s final film project for NYFA, Embodiment, is now an official selection of Corvallis Queer Film Festival, the Prisma Independent Film Awards and Ivelisecinefestival.
Academy Award nominations were recently announced for Free Solo, edited by Bob Eisenhardt and RBG, whosedirector of photography is instructor Claudia Raschke.
Director/instructor, Maxine Trump, premiered her new film, To Kid or Not to Kid at DOC NYC, published The Documentary Filmmaker’s Roadmapfor Focal Press, delivered a pilot for an ITVS series, and started production on The Tongass Legacy in Alaska.
Editor/instructor, João Queiroga, also Chair of Post-Production, directed Our Skin, which screened at IDFA, Hot Docs, BFI, and DocLisboa, and was nominated for the Iris Prize and received the Lili Award. He produced the feature film I Can Only Be Mary Lane premiering at Doc’n Roll Film Festival in the UK, and is in production on both Digging For Life and Behind the Sun.
Producer/instructor Tracie Holder’s film Grit, directed by Academy Award-winner Cynthia Wade, premiered at Hot Docs and will air on PBS/POV later this year. A film she is currently producing, The Quiet Zone, received Sundance, NYS Council for the Arts, and IFP/HBO funding, while A Place of Absence, the other film she’s producing, was awarded a prestigious grant Tribeca Gucci grant.
Producer/instructor Dorottya Mathe finished post-production of Impossible Monsters a psychological thriller starring Santino Fontana that will be premiering at Cinequest on March 9, line produced the recreation segment of the documentary A Cops and Robbers Story that will be released in 2020, finished and produced The Independents, a modern folk ’n roll comedy that will soon be screened across the US after a successful festival run, and began production of The Tongass Legacy directed by fellow instructor, Maxine Trump.
Chair of Documentary Filmmaking Andrea Swift taught a special workshop facilitating some of the kids from Newtown, CT in making micro-docs as well as a different micro-docs workshop for over 400 Fulbrightersat their annual conference.
And finally, Dunya’s Day, associate produced by NYFA Documentary student, Aya Hamdan, won Sundance Film Festival’s Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction this January.
On January 18, Everygirl opened at the Kallio School in Helsinki, Finland. Directed by Annemari Untamala, the play was written by actor, director, and Acting for Film instructor at the New York Film Academy (NYFA), Peter Allen Stone. The play concerns a 17-year-old girl who finds out she is dead at the beginning of the story.
Everygirl is based on a famous morality play from the 15th century, updated by Stone with a transgender character and LGBTIQA+ themes. The original medieval play, Everyman, was used by the church to encourage people to be good, or they may end up going to hell. In 2013, after watching 16 high school plays in two days while at a theatre competition, Stone began devising a more modern version.
“I thought it would be interesting to set it in a modern high school, play with current archetypes, and make the themes spiritually universal,” says Stone. “I always intended that play be performed by younger actors and for a younger audience that would hopefully receive the core message to be kind to one another.”
The next weekend, Stone outlined his vision for the play. After three years of talking about it with colleagues and running it through his mind, he finally sat down and wrote a first draft while teaching at NYFA’s Florence location. Later that year while back in New York, Stone workshopped the play with some NYFA students.
By the time a final draft was written, Everygirl had also included themes like minimalism and consumerism. One character, Things, appears through Facetime. Other characters include Death, Best Friend, Father, Fear, Beauty, Strength, and Knowledge.
However, it is the play’s connection to youth and the place of kindness in the modern world that serves as the story’s backbone. Explains Stone, “There is a transgender character named Kindnessin the play that represents the kind acts that we can do to one another everyday of our lives regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation if we choose to lead with love.” Additionally, there is a character named Boyfriend/Girlfriend, a fluid role that can be played by a performer of any gender.
These themes are close to Stone’s heart. In 2012, Unnatural Acts, co-written by Stone, was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Produced by Classic Stage Company, the play is based on true events revolving Harvard deans trying to expel the school’s homosexual population in 1920. “I spent over six years creating that play about the injustices done to the LGBTQ community with an exceptional group of artists,” says Stone. “We fought then, and I will continue to fight for equal rights for the rest of my life.”
Everygirl premieres January 18, where the Deputy Mayor of Education for the City of Helsinki will be in attendance. Information about the play can be found on Helsinki’s Arts and Culture website.
The New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA instructor Peter Allen Stone for continuing to apply his talents and passion to praiseworthy projects like Everygirl both home and abroad!
On Friday, December 14, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of A Country Christmas Story (2013) followed by a Q&A with director and NYFA instructor Eric Bross, and writer and NYFA instructor Steven Peros, moderated by NYFA student, Bakyt Zhumadilova.
Bross is known for directing Affairs of State (2018), Traffic (2004) and Stranger Than Fiction (2000) and Peros is known for writing Footprints (2009), The Undying (2009) and The Cat’s Meow (2001).
Zhumadilova opened the Q&A by asking Peros about his inspiration for the screenplay. Peros said he started by researching the history of country music and its prevalence in the South, then adding layers of complexity to the story by making the protagonist both a child of divorce and biracial within that world.
Peros also wanted the film to be about the various characters’ relationships with music and the arts and added that the music teacher in the film was inspired by a teacher he had when he was a kid.
Zhumadilova inquired about what it was like for Peros to writeA Country Christmas Story star Dolly Parton’s lines knowing she was going to be playing herself in the film. “The funny thing about writing her was, I had written this thing… and suddenly I’m on set going, ‘I’m about to meet Dolly Parton!’ Is she gonna come up to me and say, ‘Well, first off, Steven, I don’t talk like that at all,’” joked Peros. “But she didn’t at all! She didn’t want to change anything… so I was somehow channeling my inner Dolly Parton.”
“I just thought he really captured her voice,” added Bross.
Peros shared that Parton suggested that she sing instead of just introducing the music contest at the end of the film. “She just kept giving us gifts.” said Bross.
Peros shared that one of the most notable moments of the shoot was when Parton sang in between takes to entertain extras in the audience. “She knew that all those extras who were there pretty much for free… were there for her,” he said. “She never left the stage… she sang ‘Tennessee Waltz’… and it was like a moment out of a movie; one by one, everything started to get silent.”
The discussion then moved onto producing a film like A Country Christmas Story on a tight shoot schedule and a tight budget. Bross advised filmmakers to keep the frame focused on the actors as much as possible when working with a small budget because sometimes it’s difficult to afford full, dressed sets. This way the story would still be the center of the film.
New York Film Academy would like to thank A Country Christmas Story filmmakers Eric Bross and Steven Peros for sharing their entertaining anecdotes from the shooting of the film, as well as their production advice for students.
A select group of New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary and Filmmaking students were invited to attend The Price of Free, a feature-length documentary which screened on November 10, 2018 at the Studio City Film Festival. The film depicts Kailash Satyarthi, who left a career as an electrical engineer to start Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) in an effort to rescue children from slavery.
Along with Sanora Bartels, Chair of Documentary NYFA-LA, the selected NYFA students in attendance were from both BFA and MFA programs and included, from Documentary: Lucia Florez, Assemgul Sarsembayeva and Khalila Suprapto; and from Filmmaking: Jose Miguel Perez, Jenny Mochahari, Katherine Russell, and Aastha Verma.
All of the students felt it was an important event and looked forward to attending. Before the screening, Katherine Russell, Spring 2018 BFA Filmmaking student, told NYFA:
“I’ve always considered myself very socially conscious. I began my first undergraduate career as a political science and sociology double major at Penn State. Throughout my filmmaking career at NYFA and beyond I plan to inject these passions and what I’ve learned into my films. This film piques my interest for these exact reasons.”
The film did not disappoint; Derek Doneen’s direction is deeply moving. The story opens in a raid on a factory to save several children from slave labor. The camera work and action immediately pulls the audience into the center of the conflict.
The audience is then taken back to the beginning of Satyarthi’s work, and the history of the struggle is conveyed through masterful animation and several interviews with key supporters of the cause. Some of the most compelling footage is “observational” — using hidden cameras — of the charity workers as they go undercover as “buyers of goods” in an attempt to expose the locations of illegal factories and their captive labor.
The work is not for the faint of heart. Throughout, the worthiness of the project is expressed in the experiences of the children who are freed from shackles and able to pursue education.
The screening was followed by a Q&A session with The Price of Free director, Derek Doneen, and its featured subject, Nobel Prize winner Kailash. Satyarthi was asked how he had the courage to begin and continue the work to free children from slavery, considering the dangers involved. In addition to the very real threat of reprisal from the criminals running the factories, there are police officers who are bribed and, at best, look the other way, and, at worst, savagely beat those who attempt to break the children free.
Satyarthi replied to the question with a smile and shared a lovely Indian folktale:
“One day a terrible fire broke out in the jungle – a huge section was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the jungle. As they came to the edge of a stream, they stopped to watch the fire and were feeling very discouraged and powerless.
“They all bemoaned the destruction of their homes, except the hummingbird. The hummingbird swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water in its beak and flew into the jungle to put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. Finally, the tiger grew concerned for the hummingbird’s safety: ‘It is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire. What do you think you’re doing!?’
“The hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, ‘I am doing what I can.'”
After the screening, the students enthusiastically shared their experience and thoughts about moving forward:
“After watching The Price of Free you will never be the same. You will carefully read the labels in supermarkets. You will evaluate your every purchase and think whether [you] really need another decorative box or a candle. Consumerism at its highest degree of barbarism is the focus of Derek Doneen’s film… Kailash Satyarthi has a mission: the battle for the right of every kid on this planet to have a childhood.”
—Asem Nurlanova, Fall 2017 MFA Documentary
“From the opening of the documentary to the last frame, there was not a minute where I felt unmoved or a disconnect by the reality of the harsh hitting stories. The director, Derek Doneen, did an exceptional job bringing the reality to life. As the credits rolled, I saw people right, left, and center tearing up, almost sobbing.
“Not a lot of people have the power to move the world forward with them, he surely is one of them. It was an honor and an inspiration to be in the same room and having a moving conversation with the humble man himself, Mr. Satyarthi. I highly recommend for everybody to watch The Price of Free and would like to thank Crickett Rumley and NYFA-LA for the opportunity.”
Just as 2018 was wrapping up, Netflix managed to squeeze one more buzzworthy hit movie into the zeitgeist with Bird Box, a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Sandra Bullock and featuring a haunting, memorable scene with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film instructor, Happy Anderson.
Bird Box was an instant hit, dominating social media with both high praise and viral memes. According to Netflix, it was the media company’s biggest opening to date, having been streamed by over 45 million accounts in its first week alone.
The film, directed by Susanne Bier and written by Eric Heisserer based on the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, is a story about survivors who must keep themselves blindfolded to stay alive from mysterious creatures who drive people insane once they look at them.
Some of the infected victims are compelled to force survivors to open their eyes and look at the creatures. As Sandra Bullock’s protagonist rows down a river blindfolded while protecting two children, a mysterious River Man comes out of the fog and attacks them. The scene is moody and tense before coming to a violent, thrilling, and frightful conclusion. The River Man is played by actor and NYFA instructor Happy Anderson.
Anderson had a blast shooting the scene, posting photos to his social media of the complicated rig needed to shoot in waist-deep water. “Bird Box time was a very fun time!” he wrote, included with a production still.
Bird Box is the latest in a string of impressive credits for Anderson, including another Netflix original film, Bright, starring Will Smith, and Mindhunter, the drama series from David Fincher that was also produced and distributed by Netflix.
Other credits include Gotham, The Blacklist, The Tick, and The Knick, co-starring Clive Owen and NYFA alum Eve Hewson. Upcoming projects include the X-Men horror film The New Mutants and the highly-anticipated television adaptation of Snowpiercer.
Anderson teaches Acting for Film at NYFA’s New York campus, along with many other working professionals who teach at the acting school. The Academy prides itself on its faculty, who share with students their experience and expertise from working in a dynamic, competitive, labor-intensive industry.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film instructor Happy Anderson on his latest role and encourages everyone who hasn’t to check out the mysterious and haunting thriller, Bird Box!
You’d be hard pressed to find a New Yorker who doesn’t experience their fair share of frustration with the MTA, the corporation that runs the city’s sprawling and crowded transit system of trains and buses. Especially these days, as commuters deal with train construction, delays, and an impending apocalypse, while fares continue to increase (the MTA announced just this week their plan for yet another fare hike of 4%).
And every New Yorker deals with it in their own way. Some of us mutter under our breaths, while others aren’t afraid to scream and yell at the top of their lungs. Some of us weep silently when we finally get home, while others pray to themselves that they’ll actually get home.
But what most of us haven’t done, is sing a song about it. With Kristy’s Lament: Another Awful Day with the MTA, a new musical number performed by Broadway actress Kristy Cates, that’s no longer the case. And now that it has an accompanying music video produced by the Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre at the New York Film Academy (PCMT at NYFA), the song is easily available for everyone to share, relate with, and sing along to.
Kristy’s Lament is very much based on a true story. “I have the worst train luck,” Cates tells NYFA, continuing, “I’m always stuck underground with no explanation, waiting for a train that never shows up, or on the car with the person about to puke. And I often share these wild stories on social media.”
After one particularly nasty commute for Cates, where one bizarre thing followed another as she tried to make her way home from her Broadway show, she recounted the entire nightmare on Facebook. Her story quickly gained traction and gained a lot of attention on social media. Typically, the story would end there, but not for Cates.
After seeing her commute from hell, lyricist Chris Giordano was inspired to adapt the tale into song, writing lyrics for a number that step-by-step portrayed Cates’s disastrous trip. Soon, it was put to music by composer Ryan Edward Wise, and Kristy’s Lament was born. It wasn’t long after that that a music video was produced to accompany the track.
The video features Cates playing multiple roles — not just the tragic commuter narrating the song, but also a rude passenger carrying numerous bags, a stoner, and a homeless man, among others. It is mostly a stage production, filmed at NYFA’s 1st Floor Theatre, with gorgeous lighting direction and a minimal subway set. The video was also partially shot in an actual subway station, where the video opens and closes.
The video was produced by the PCMT at NYFA, where Kristy Cates also serves as Creative Director. The renowned musical theatre school prides itself on giving its students real world training that prepares them to achieve success in a competitive, empowering industry, creating an educational experience few other musical theatre schools can offer.
Aspiring performers develop their skills as triple threat performers by studying with faculty — like Kristy Cates — who have appeared in numerous Broadway and touring productions, top-rate regional theatre, opera, hit movie musicals, and television shows. NYFA’s musical theater alumni include llda Mason (On Your Feet), Pierre Marais (Aladdin), Christopher Viljoen (Les Misérables), Kylan Ross (Straight Outta Oz), and Tony Award-winner Yael Silver (Once on this Island).
Additionally, the PCMT at NYFA is able to use all of the resources shared by NYFA’s film school, cinematography school, and other departments. Using the Academy’s resources and state-of-the-art filmmaking equipment, its stage and its location in the heart of the New York City, and some of the Academy’s highly-talented staff — including director Jonathan Whittaker, editor Sean Robinson, Broadway veteran and choreographer Deidre Goodwin, and costume designer David Withrow — Kristy’s Lament was able to take advantage of high production values to really sell the humorous lyrics and support Cates’s powerful yet hysterical performance.
“One thing I love about working for NYFA,” Cates says, “is their willingness to explore new projects. As a result, our ability as a program to collaborate with up-and-coming composers and lyricists.” She adds, “It was wonderful to combine the expertise of our faculty, the passion of our alumni, the ingenuity of the composer and writer, and the generosity and support of the Film Academy.”
Cates is no stranger to high production values and show-stopping numbers. She is a member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA and has starred in Wicked (Broadway, First National Tour, Chicago) as Elphaba, as well as playing Miss Bassett in Finding Neverland (Broadway), Grandma Josephine in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Broadway), and has had roles in a handful of off-Broadway shows and many regional productions. Additionally, she performs as a professional voiceover artist.
The Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre at the New York Film Academy is proud to have Kristy Cates as an original and current member of its faculty, and was equally as proud to produce Kristy’s Lament: Another Awful Day with the MTA with her. Next time you’re stressed and stuck on the subway, check it out and let yourself laugh a little — if the wifi is working down there, of course.
The New York Film Academy’s Industry Lab and African American Black Film Society (ABA) kicked off the first official screening of internationally acclaimed short film, The Counter: 1960. Seven Industry Lab members contributed to the making of the film, and were invited along with cast and crew to the screening.
The Counter: 1960 gives the account of three “woke” students from 2017 that find themselves seated at a lunch counter in 1960. Will they be served?
On February 1, 1960, four young educated African American men attending North Carolina A&T decided to make their mark in history. On that cold blistery day, the A&T Four — which they would soon to be named — walked to the local Woolworth lunch counter and sat down to be served. Keep in mind African Americans were able to shop in Woolworth’s but not eat there. This non-violent protest known as a “sit-in” became a common demonstration as a way to abolish segregation in eating establishments across the rural south.
The Q&A was moderated by Chair of the Industry Lab and producer Kimberly Ogletree and ABA President Furaha Bayibsa; panelist and director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd shared stories about the making of the film; actress/producer Ashley Jackson, daughter of civil rights activist Reverend Jessie Jackson offered advice regarding producing and acting; editor and NYFA Editing instructor Leander Sales crafted the creative techniques used in the editing process that assisted in delivering a strong well-rounded message; and actor Charles Malik Whitfield shared stories about the making of the film.
The film has been an Official Selection in numerous film festivals, including the Jaipur International Film Festival. The US Premiere was held during the Pan African Film Festival. Lights and cameras flashed as the producers, director, and cast walked the red carpet and spoke with media promoting the film. Producer Kimberly Ogletree said, “I’ve always supported this festival and by this being my 3rd film in PAFF this is a great night. Just being surrounded by filmmakers from the black diaspora is a humbling experience. It’s important in our history that we as African Americans control and document the true narrative of our stories for the generations to come.”
The Bentonville Film Festival was the next stop on the festival circuit. The screening was well attended and the audience became emotional during the screening. The film was in competition with other amazing short films. Although we didn’t bring back a win, the film was part of the top five shorts in the festival. Since then, the filmmakers have been asked to submit The Counter: 1960 into the Bentonville Film Festival archives, which is paramount for the film and the New York Film Academy Industry Lab.
The Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival awarded Best Actorin a Short Film toBuddy Lewisfor the role ofJoseph and NYC Indie Awards winner. The Counter: 1960 also won the Gold Award in the LA Shorts Awards.
The Official Selections continued with Garifuna Film Festival in Los Angeles and the British Urban Film Festival in London. The night was filled with British filmmakers and celebrities. The winners will be announced later in the year and will be celebrated in June 2019.
However, it wasn’t until the Diversity in Cannes Film Showcase that the film won for Best Cinematography and the Audience Award. The film was placed in the Women In Formation category, which focused on strong social and political messages from a female perspective. Out of 260 official selections from 25 countries with an acceptance rate of 10%, The Counter: 1960 became an Official Selection in the 2018 showcase. Yolonda Brinkley, Creator of the Short Film Showcase, commented, “I’ve created a needed platform for underrepresented filmmakers from diverse backgrounds to showcase their stories that would normally not be seen at the Festival de Cannes.”
As quoted from the Entertainment Sun news article “JuVee Productions’ Julius Tennon And Viola Davis Support Independent Filmmaker Initiative Promoting Diversity And Inclusion At 71st Festival de Cannes”, AJUUA Entertainment and Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis and husband Julius Tennon, President, Development and Production stated: “For the last eight years, Yolonda has been focused on shining a light on films about people of color. The curtain has been lifted, and a fresh conversation can now be had about how inclusive and diverse films travel. A global audience awaits and is ready to be served.”
In April 2018, director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd won Best First Time Director in the Top Shorts Online Film Festival. “It felt amazing, freeing. It felt like someone else sees what’s been burning inside me for years. My fears were unfounded and I’m thankful I took the leap,” commented Tracy.
Additional accolades mount as our most recent Official Selections include the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, where the film received a standing ovation and the Bronzelens Film Festival in Atlanta, Georgia; which is forthcoming.
The Industry Lab’s number #1 goal is to strive to make award-winning productions to further our alumni and student professional work ethic and experiences in the entertainment industry.