Faculty Highlights
Category

  • NYFA Hour Chats with Acting for Film Instructor Ken Lerner

    New York Film Academy Acting for Film instructor Ken Lerner was the most recent guest on NYFA Hour. Lerner brought great advice from his acting class The Business of Acting and personal stories from his journey including shooting “Happy Days” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

    The New York Film Academy Hour is a weekly podcast hosted by Joelle Smith and Pegah Rad on The Popcorn Talk Network. A prestigious alumnus or highly touted faculty member gives a mini master class each week on their cinematic specialty.

    Lerner discussed comedic acting by highlighting moments from his career including playing the lawyer who is stabbed in the back in “Running Man” and the Snicker’s commercial for which he won an award.

    When asked about how he prepares for his roles Lerner had this to say:

    “When I was younger I did really a lot of research. I would call up hospitals if I was playing a doctor or a heroine addict. I even went to a friend who’s an obstetrician and watched. I asked cops if I could do a drive around. They said no, but I tried. I once played an army guy on Project X. I went out to the air force and watched the guys work. You pick up things. I did the research, that’s what I advise my students.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Lerner for coming on The Popcorn Talk Network to discuss his career. You can watch Lerner in episodes of “This is Us,” “Legion,” and “Feud: Betty & Joan.”

    March 17, 2017 • Acting, Community Highlights, Faculty Highlights • Views: 426

  • NYFA Instructor Wins Directing Awards for “The Engine of our Ruin”

    engine is in our ruinWith politics at the forefront of our daily news, it’s refreshing to see New York Film Academy Acting for Film instructor Maria Gobetti’s thought-provoking political play “The Engine of Our Ruin,” which played at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank, California.

    Written by Jason Wells and directed by Gobetti, the play provides plenty of laughs but also offers some chewy nuggets of political give-and-take to savor. One wrong word or one wrong inflection can lead to crisis in our volatile modern world.

    The play is an LA Times Critics Pick that has won several awards, including Gobetti’s 2016 Arts in LA Stage Award for Directing. The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) recently announced its nominations and special awards for excellence in Los Angeles, and The Milton Katselas Award for career or special achievement in direction went to Maria Gobetti.

    Set in a luxury hotel suite somewhere in the Middle East, diplomat Charles Manning-Jourdain meets with delegates of an unfriendly nation in the hope that a simple trade agreement will bring their two countries closer together. But this routine mission quickly becomes an international incident thanks to an idealistic interpreter with an agenda of her own; a belligerent official who brings a rumor of war; and Charles’s own staffers, whose attempts to cover up an after-hours party might just topple a foreign government.

    engine of our ruin

    “This was one of the best directing experiences I’ve had, and I’ve directed over 80 plays — most of which have been world premieres,” said director Gobetti. “I could not have done this without experienced actors. Students should know that these actors were always prepared, always ready to work, and had great ideas. I did not have to ever ‘coach,’ only ‘direct’ actors who were already making strong choices.”

    Gobetti and Tom Ormeny, co-artistic directors of the Victory Theatre Center, are pleased to announce their next project — the first production of their season scheduled to rock the Little Victory — the world premiere of “Pie in the Sky.” Directed by Gobetti and produced by Ormeny, Katie Witkowski, and co-produced by Gail Bryson, “Pie in Sky” is set to begin previews on March 10 and is scheduled to run from March 17 through May 23.

    March 2, 2017 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, Musical Theatre • Views: 1262

  • NYFA South Beach Faculty Team Up for “Scenes From Our Young Marriage”

    New York Film Academy South Beach faculty teamed up to produce the short film “Scenes From Our Young Marriage,” which will premiere at the Miami Film Festival on March 11, 2017. Ronald Baez, who will soon be teaching producing at NYFA South Beach, directed the film; Kevin Ondarza, NYFA South Beach Equipment Room Manager is a producer; Eddy Moon, NYFA South Beach Editing Room Manager, is a co-writer and producer; and Kyle Fritsche, NYFA South Beach Editing Room Supervisor and Facilities Coordinator, is the editor of the film.

    scenes from young marriage

    Founded in 1984, The Miami Film Festival is a charity that connects art with audiences, and fosters a value for cinema for future generations. Stars that have graced their red carpet through the years include Gregory Peck, Sofia Loren, Kris Kristofferson, Candice Bergen, Kevin Kline, Michael Caine, Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Willem Dafoe, Demi Moore, Amy Irving, and many more.

    In the film, “Scenes From Our Young Marriage,” a young couple shares seemingly innocuous conversation in bed as we explore the emotional vastness of their short tenure in marriage.

    “My experience of making the film and seeing it fully realized was one that was full of perseverance and personal growth,” said producer Kevin Ondarza. “The set always had a positive vibe, and the work and passion that went into it from the cast and crew comes across on the screen. The process was long and strenuous, but probably one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.”

    The official Florida premiere screening will be March 11, 2017 at 3:30PM at O Cinema Miami Beach.

    For tickets and more information, please CLICK HERE.

    March 1, 2017 • Community Highlights, Faculty Highlights • Views: 1245

  • NYFA Dean of Academic Advising Screens His Newest Film “The Rachels”

    Dean of Academic Advising at the New York Film Academy, Michael Civille, screened his third feature film, “The Rachels,” at the Los Angeles campus. Civille was joined by actress, Rebecca Stone, who has over fifty credits in shorts, features, and television series. The star of the film, Caitlin Carver, was also in attendance. Carver is set to portray Nancy Kerrigan in the upcoming film, “I, Tonya.”

    the rachels

    Finally, Michael Pesa was in attendance. He is the former Chair of NYFA’s Cinematography program in LA and has over sixty credits, including “The Rachels.”

    Lydia Cedrone, Chair of Feature Track at the New York Film Academy LA, hosted the evening. She kicked off the Q and A by asking Civille to elaborate on the development of the project.

    “I am married to a very beautiful woman, named Hannah,” Civille began. “She is also an Executive Producer and the mother of my children. She works as the Senior V.P. of MarVista Entertainment, and we had talked for some time about wanting to collaborate.”

    ‘THE RACHELS’ EXCERPT (LIFETIME) from Michael Pessah on Vimeo.

    “Finally, this script came up and she handed it off to me,” he continued. “We hired a writer, then she hired Rebecca to shepherd us as a producer. The production came together very quickly. We shot for fifteen days in July and August. We locked picture in about five weeks and then we spent the fall getting it done.”

    Civille admitted to only taking about two months off from working full-time to complete the film. He says his secret is, “Work late and get up early.”

    That work ethic was present throughout the film shoot. At one point in the evening, the cast and crew began to discuss the dreaded “bathroom day,” referring to a scene in the film that takes place in the bathroom. A tight budget and a single location meant the cast and crew would have to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

    the rachels

    Stone elaborated, “We were lucky that we found a location for our school that allowed us to move around as needed. Thankfully, we were able to, for example, shoot everything in the bathroom in a day. It was ambitious.”

    The rest of the cast and crew quickly chimed in agreement. Civille spoke of 110-degree days and a record-breaking heat wave. Of course, “bathroom day” fell on one of those days.

    Carver spoke about her thirteen-page workday, “Bathroom day was one of the most challenging days. Madison, who plays Rachel Nelson, she and I were having the worst time with that scene. I think it was just being locked in a bathroom all day with toilets behind you and there are ten of our crew dudes behind us, and Mike is in there with us… It was a very challenging day. But then, Mike looked at us, ‘Let it go. Just let it go. I don’t care about the dialogue right now. Just let it go.’ And I think it ended up being one of the best scenes in the entire film.”

    From all of the stress came an incredibly successful film. “The Rachels” had its premiere on January 15th on the Lifetime Movie Network.

    February 28, 2017 • Cinematography, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 1392

  • NYFA Produced Movie Musical “Streetwrite” Introduced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

    The Musical Theatre Conservatory at the New York Film Academy (NYFA) is one of the only musical theatre programs in the world that teaches both musical theatre for the stage and film.

    Blanche Baker

    Blanche Baker

    A recent prime example is “Streetwrite,” written and directed by Blanche Baker, an Emmy Award winning actress and Senior Faculty member of the New York Film Academy, and shot by Piero Basso, an award-winning Director of Photography. The film was fully funded by NYFA, with an international cast of talented Musical Theatre students working alongside NYFA’s faculty and staff of professional artists.

    This Feb. 14, 2017, “Streetwrite” was introduced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Bonnie Sacerdote Lecture Hall. The introduction included a screening of the trailer, followed by a 20-minute performance work by Artists Fighting Fascism: Rebecca Goyette, Brian Andrew Whiteley and Kenya (Robinson).

    Opening remarks were given by International Institute for Conservation (IIC) Council Member, Amber Kerr and introductions by Moderator, Rebecca Rushfield. IIC is an independent international organization supported by individual and institutional members. It serves as a forum for communication among professionals with responsibility for the preservation of cultural heritage. It advances knowledge, practice and standards for the conservation of historic and artistic works through its publications and conferences. It promotes professional excellence and public awareness through its awards and scholarships.

    “We were thrilled that the New York Film Academy and Blanche Baker allowed the International Institute for Conservation to open its Feb. 14, 2017 colloquium, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a showing of the trailer for the NYFA Musical Theater film ‘Streetwrite,’ said Rebecca Rushfield, IIC Conference Organizer. “With an explosion of sound, movement, and color, “Streetwrite” set the context for the discussion that followed, demonstrating how art is created as an expression of protest or outrage.”

    blanche at the met

    Political graffiti has a long history dating back to the walls of Ancient Rome. It represents an alternative means of expression that gives voice to the issues and concerns of the common people. This tradition of free expression forms the basis of “Streetwrite,” a movie musical that asks the question, “How can speech be free if only those who pay can speak?”

    Using street art as a focal point, the film examines the various ways people struggle to express themselves in situations where free speech is curtailed or suppressed. It also explores how certain kinds of expression can be repressive to individuals.

    “Streetwrite’ will have its public world-premiere at The Cutting Room (44 East 32nd Street, NYC 10016) on Sunday, March 12th from 2pm-4pm. It will also have its East Coast Premiere at The Queens World Film Festival on Sunday, Mar. 19 in the Zukor Theatre at Kaufman Astoria Studios. The film has also been accepted to screen at Cinémonde, a private film series at the Roger Smith Hotel in NYC.

    February 20, 2017 • Acting, Community Highlights, Faculty Highlights, Musical Theatre • Views: 2186

  • NYFA Instructor James Lecesne to Premiere “The Mother of Invention”

    mother of inventionAbingdon Theatre Company presents the world premiere of “The Mother of Invention,” a new play by New York Film Academy Documentary Story instructor James Lecesne, who is an Academy Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award-winner. Ranked by the NY Times as “among of the most talented solo performers of his (or any) generation,” Lecesne has shared the screen with Robert Downey Jr., Ian McKellan, Claire Danes, Holly Hunter, the Sex in the City cast, Anne Bancroft, and many others. He has also shared the stage with Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones, and many others.

    Performances are set to begin January 28, prior to an official press opening on February 9, at The Abingdon’s Theatre (312 West 36th Street). Artistic Director Tony Speciale, who also directed “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is set to direct.

    When Dottie Nerber’s son and daughter arrive to pack up the contents of their mother’s Florida home, their conflicting memories of her collide. As the siblings unpack family secrets, they must separate fact from fiction and are forced to question the narratives of their own lives. James Lecesne’s new full-length play is an unflinching and comedic look at how one family deals with the effects of Alzheimer’s. It asks why we tell the stories we do about the people we love, and how we live with those stories after they’ve been debunked.

    Concetta Tomei, best known for her roles on TV’s “China Beach” and “Providence” and on stage in “The Elephant Man” (opposite David Bowie) and Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House,” leads the cast as Dottie Nerber.

    Joining Ms. Tomei are James Davis (Broadway revival of “The House of Blue Leaves,” Soho Rep’s “We Are Proud to Present…”), Dan Domingues (INTAR’s “Locusts Have No Kings,” The Civilian’s “The Great Immensity” at The Public), Angela Reed (Broadway’s “The Country Girl” and “The Rainmaker,” and national tours of “War Horse” and “Spring Awakenin”g), Isabella Russo (Broadway’s “School of Rock”), and Dale Soules (“Orange is the New Black,” Broadway’s “Hands on a Hard Body” and “Grey Gardens”).

    The creative team includes Jo Winiarski (Scenic Design), Daisy Long (Lighting Design), Paul Marlow (Costume Design), Christian Frederickson (Sound Design), and Jerry Marsini (Props Design). Deidre Works is Production Stage Manager.

    “The Mother of Invention” runs January 28-February 26: Tuesdays-Saturdays at 7:30PM; plus matinees Saturdays at 2:30PM and Sundays at 2:00PM (with the following exceptions, no matinees January 28-29) at Abingdon Theatre Company’s June Havoc Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues).

    For tickets, visit abingdontheatre.org or call 212-352-3101.

    Use code Mother35 for $35 discount tickets during previews* (Jan 28 – Feb 8).

    January 26, 2017 • Community Highlights, Documentary Filmmaking, Faculty Highlights • Views: 1069

  • NYFA LA Instructor’s “The Rachels” to Air on Lifetime Movie Network

    civille

    Filming the dramatic finale on a rooftop in Marina Del Rey, CA.

    Many of our instructors are working professionals outside of the classroom. New York Film Academy instructor Mike Civille’s feature film thriller “The Rachels,” which he directed in the summer of 2016, just sold to Lifetime and will air on the Lifetime Movie Network on Jan. 15, 2017.

    Civille was also recently published in the Fall 2016 issue of “Cinema Journal” (one of the top peer reviewed academic journals in the field) with his article “Ain’t Got No Chance”: The case of the Breaking Point (1950).”

    His upcoming film, “The Rachels,” is about the teen queens of Hills High School. When one of them suddenly dies, the other basks in the glow of the social media attention, until a former friend begins to unwind the tangled threads of the mysterious death.

    We had a chance to talk to Civille before his movie airs on Jan. 15th.

    How did you become involved with this project?

    They say there’s always a bit of luck involved — in my case I’m happily married to a very successful development and production executive: my wife Hannah Pillemer is Senior VP at MarVista Entertainment. She and I had been speaking for some time about collaborating on a film, but we had not been able to coordinate our schedules over the last couple of years. Finally, this project came up, the timing was right, I loved the script, and Hannah hired me to direct it for MarVista. We met with the writer, Ellen Huggins, to hash out some ideas in the spring, and then in the summer I took two months off from NYFA as we went into preproduction and filming.

    Was there any particular element of the story / premise that made you want to direct?

    I had taken time away from directing to earn my PhD, but I eagerly dove back into it with this project. I loved that it was a commentary on celebrity culture, and how far people are willing to go to become recognized and remain well known. This is something I actually studied for my PhD, so I loved being able to weave some of my previous research into the story. I also valued the ability to use the camera and production design to show the difference between a person’s filtered social presentation and the real (sometimes fiendish) selves that they try to keep hidden. This idea of perception versus reality really fascinated me, and how we all craft our own version of ourselves and the events in our lives. The movie suggests that truth can be slippery, and things are not always what they appear to be.

    civille

    Still from the film of Rachel Richards (Caitlin Carver) and Roxie (Daniela Bobadilla)

    It’s hard to not notice a similarity in the logline to the film “Heathers.” Was there any inspiration from that film?

    Any high school movie featuring characters with the same name who are fixated on their own popularity has to pay some debt to “Heathers.” I love the tone of “Heathers,” and we tried to instill some of the same feeling into this film, with a little of the same bite. At the same time, it was also important for me to understand and even like these characters to avoid making them one dimensional and shallow. So I worked with the actors to bring some humanity to their performances — they all hurt, they all feel, they all desire validation. So while they might sometimes stray down the wrong path or lash out, there’s something tragic about the ways they are trying to keep up with each other and the world around then. I think it was important to add that layer to our film, which wasn’t a straight satirical comedy like “Heathers.” Instead, we called it a “mischievous thriller” — a self-conscious film about a celebrity that has fun while also providing traditional elements of drama and excitement along the way. Other films that inspired us thematically were “To Die Fo”r (1995), “Sunset Blvd.” (1950), “Virgin Suicides” (1999), and “Mulholland Drive” (2001), with a little dash of “The Conversation” (1974) and “Rashomon” (1950) thrown in.

    How did Lifetime come about? Was this a project you sold to Lifetime prior to production or rather did you sell the finished film to the network?

    The project was produced without a distribution deal, so I was excited to hear that MarVista recently sold it to Lifetime. They have sold other projects to Lifetime, so there’s a relationship there, but there was no guarantee from the beginning. I was proud that the film sold, because it told me that others see value there, it confirmed MarVista’s faith in me, and it validated my wife’s decision to hire her husband!

    Directing actress Caitlin Carver.

    Mike Civille directing actress Caitlin Carver.

    Did you learn anything while directing this film that you would like to share with your students?

    This was my first time as a “director for hire,” so this was the first time I had to passionately push for certain creative decisions. I had produced previous projects, so I always only had to convince myself. But this was the first time I had to present my ideas to producers and argue for why it should be that way (and not the less expensive way!). Of course, you have to pick your battles, but there were a handful of things I really wanted for the movie, so I had to prepare notes and sketches and descriptions and film clips to show how and why it could work. It reminded me that you have to be energetic and determined in your vision — you don’t yell at people to get your way, but rather you thoroughly present your case to convince them. And at the end of the day, we were able to accomplish a lot, including the most elaborate and dangerous stunt in MarVista history. There’s no such thing as too much preparation, and if you don’t have a vision for how you see it, people are not going to buy it.

    I also was reminded that motivating a cast and crew comes from the top. Early on, DP Michael Pessah, AD Karim Nabil, and I decided that we were going to have fun and keep people motivated by making every day, every shot a fun experience — no matter the hot temperatures, an intense shooting schedule, and several complicated setups. Of course we had stressful moments, but mostly we had fun and the crew appreciated that we were enjoying the process so much. I respected the cast and crew so much, and I decided not to be a director working in a bubble and only talking to actors and the DP. Instead I got to know everyone, and thanked them by shaking everyone’s hand at the end of every shooting day. I wanted to let everyone from the DP to each PA know that I appreciated their effort and what we accomplished. At the end of the shoot, many of the cast and crew remarked that they would do another project with us at any time because they had so much fun and appreciated our gratitude. I’m really proud of that.

    Still from the film of Rachel Richards (Caitlin Carver) and Rachel Nelson (Madison Iseman).

    Still from the film of Rachel Richards (Caitlin Carver) and Rachel Nelson (Madison Iseman).

    Can you tell us about the stunt that you were able to pull off?

    We filmed a dangerous stunt in which we dangled an actress off the roof of a building seven stories up. Our incredible stunt coordinator Tim Mikulecky helped design and achieve this stunt with steel cables — he was such a pro and always looking for how to do the stunt effectively and safely. I’ll never forget standing on the roof during the location scout, and looking over the side with Tim, and he says, “You know, we could actually hang her off of here pretty easily…as long as she’ll go for it.” So when I asked the actress, she said, “Sure, sounds like fun! It will help my performance!” It was by far the most stressful night of the shoot because if anything went wrong, it could be disastrous. But it all went great — thanks to a lot of detailed prep and Tim’s expertise.

    Were there any of crew members from NYFA?

    One of the background performers was former NYFA BFA Acting student Giullianna Martinez. She was a student in my American Cultural History class and it was great to see her on set! Because I knew her, I was able to get her more prominent placements onscreen.

    The DP Michael Pessah used to be the Chair of the Cinematography department at NYFA’s LA campus. I’ve known Michael for 15 years, and he introduced me to the folks at NYFA LA when I moved out to LA. He’s an incredibly talented cinematographer and a joy to work with. His crew respects him so much that they would run through a brick wall for him. Bringing that kind of loyalty with him on set was vital for us to achieve a stylish film in a short production window.

    Finally, I could not have done this film without the support of NYFA administrators Jean Sherlock, Dan Mackler, Sonny Calderon, and Mary Samuelson, plus the valuable input I got from our instructors, who always made themselves available for tips and advice.

    I’m hoping to have Michael, lead actress Caitlin Carver, and producer Rebecca Stone join me for a screening and Q&A at NYFA on February 13!

    January 5, 2017 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking • Views: 3344

  • Film Critic Peter Rainer to Teach at NYFA Los Angeles

    Part of what makes up a successful filmmaker is a having a vast knowledge of cinema history. Look no further than Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, who are both well known for having an encyclopedic memory of films over the last century.

    peter rainer

    Peter Rainer with NYFA President Michael Young

    Given the importance of film and cinema studies, the New York Film Academy is delighted to welcome its newest faculty member, Peter Rainer, who has thirty years of professional experience as a film critic. “There is still nothing like seeing a movie in a theater on a big screen and being awed by the whole experience — that communal feeling,” says Rainer.

    Rainer is currently the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor, a columnist for Bloomberg News, the president of the National Society of Film Critics, and a regular reviewer for FilmWeek on NPR. He’s also written for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, New York magazine, and New Times Los Angeles, where he was a finalist in 1998 for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. He is also a three-time winner of the Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award for best online film critic.

    The first film Rainer reviewed professionally was “Chinatown,” which is considered a must-see for any aspiring screenwriter or director.

    “I really had this jones to be a critic ever since my dad gave me this book called ‘Agee on Film: Criticism and Comment on the Movies,'” says Rainer. “I learned you could be a real writer and still be a critic.”There is still nothing like seeing a movie in a theatre on a big screen and being awed by the whole experience, that communal feeling.

    rainer and calderon

    NYFA Dean of the College Sonny Calderon with Peter Rainer

    Beginning this spring, Rainer will begin teaching a special topics seminar at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, which will consist of eight courses. His love for Robert Altman’s career will be an integral part of his course as he intends to screen and discuss much of his work.

    In addition to his seminars, Rainer has been a guest speaker at NYFA LA and intends on speaking at its New York campus in 2017.

    January 4, 2017 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking • Views: 1618

  • NYFA LA Faculty and Staff Holiday Party

    This past week the faculty and staff at the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus held their annual holiday party with the theme of “Casino Night.” The gambling may have been pretending, but the fun was real. A photo booth, crap tables, and an ugly sweater contest were the highlights of the evening.
    holiday cheer

    Copious amounts of food including cakes and fruit lined an entire wall of the Burbank Studio. A dance floor complete with DJ kept happy feet busy all evening. The photo booth even had a gif-making feature.

    gifnyfa la partynyfa la partynyfa la gif

    “It is always nice to put on your ugly sweater and get to know the people you work with outside of a working environment,” said NYFA LA Marketing staff member Ekaterina Terekhovich. “We danced, we laughed, we got to have a fun time. I met new and interesting people from departments I don’t interact with on a regular basis. I think we should get together more often!”

    The ugly sweater contest was a huge success with many members participating. The winners were:

    1st Place – Christina Tchamkertenian (Human Resources)

    2nd Place – Travis Holder (Acting)

    3rd Place – Anthony Cook (Cine Dept. Faculty and Coordinator)

    A huge thanks is owed to the Animation Department for creating gifs of party attendees. The New York Film Academy would also like to thank all faculty and staff who made this party possible, and wish a happy holiday to all.

    December 23, 2016 • Community Highlights, Faculty Highlights • Views: 1794

  • NYFA Improv Instructor Bill Watterson to Premiere “Dave Made a Maze” at Slamdance 2017

    New York Film Academy Improv instructor Bill Watterson’s directorial debut film, “Dave Made a Maze,” was recently highlighted in Variety as a ‘notable title’ in competition at Slamdance 2017. The festival, which launched in 1995 as an alternative to Sundance, has included showings of such notable titles as Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity.” The fest, which takes place at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City, Utah, from Jan. 20 to Jan. 26, will screen 19 movies: 12 world premieres, three North American debuts, and one U.S. launch. Slamdance alumni include Christopher Nolan, Marc Forster, Jared Hess, Lena Dunham, Benh Zeitlin, Seth Gordon, and Lynn Shelton.

    bill watterson

    Watterson also has a series of web shorts that he wrote and directed, which led to a TV deal with Brandio Entertainment. As an actor, he performed motion capture and voice over for the video games “LA Noire” and “Lost Planet 3”; appeared in the films “Ouija,” “Jenny’s Wedding,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys”; and TV credits include “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” “The Soul Man,” and “The Young & The Restless.”

    We had a chat with the director and instructor before his upcoming January premiere at Slamdance.

    Congrats on being accepted to Slamdance! Can you tell me what “Dave Made a Maze” is all about?

    “Dave Made a Maze” re-imagines classic 80’s adventure films with a modern comedic edge and a higher body count. Dave, a frustrated artist, gets lost inside the cardboard fort he builds in his living room, and his girlfriend Annie must lead a band of oddball explorers on a rescue mission. The handmade fantasy world features the in-camera effects of puppetry, stop motion animation, and optical illusions.

    How did the film come about?

    A friend of mine from Second City started writing a whacked out script based on an anecdote I’d told him about my mother coming home and panicking that I had gotten lost in a pillow fort I’d made in my bedroom, even though I’d followed protocol and left a note saying I was having dinner at my friend John Richards’ house. She tore the fort apart looking for me. Steve had 60 pages by the next day. Eventually we zeroed in on the themes and started working together to finish the script.

    How were you able to raise funds for the production?

    We got some great talent attachments early on, drawing on contacts at Second City and work we’d done as actors. Some of our production design team came from “Robot Chicken,” and since the handmade look and animations in the film were so important, that caught a lot of investors’ eyes. The film is entirely independently financed.


    Will we be seeing you on screen as well in this film?

    I have a very brief cameo as a still photo on a keyboard box. It was such an ambitious film and we had so little time to prep and even less to shoot. It felt irresponsible to focus on anything other than directing.

    As an improv teacher, what sort of advice or direction did you give your actors?

    It’s always good to be in touch with your instincts, to respond honestly to the things happening before you, to be quick on your feet, and to ask yourself and your actors ‘what if?’ Those are foundational improv skills that also apply to directing. I definitely let the actors play around with dialogue to make sure they were comfortable and felt safe and supported, and because they’re all so gifted comedically. But we had a lot to get done, so I had to be careful not to let the train get off the tracks.

    Bill & Meera

    What do you hope to achieve at Slamdance? Are you looking for a distributor?

    Right now, we’re meeting with sales agents to help us find a distributor at the festival. It’s an honor to be there, and we want to be sure to capitalize on the opportunity. We made a very strange movie, and I’m hoping to find like-minded people in Park City who enjoy the silliness and heart of the film.

    What advice can you give to filmmakers looking to direct their first feature?

    Take all your successful director friends out to lunch and pick their brains. Shadow them on one of their projects if they’ll have you, and take lots of notes. Ask your editor what they hate about directors they’ve worked with in the past, and what mistakes to avoid on set.

    Read Sidney Lumet’s “Making Movies” and know your movie’s theme in and out, and filter all your decisions through that. Everybody wants to direct the movie; keep a small council, and defer to the best idea, whether it was yours or not. Know that the movie you shot will be different from the movie you edit; don’t fight it. Be grateful to the people who are working their butts off to bring your project to life. You cannot get anywhere without them.

    Anything else you’re working on now or in the near future that you’d like to share?

    I just walked out of a pretty huge meeting that I don’t want to jinx. I shot a series of shorts with a puppet that I’m almost ready to share, and I’m dusting off other pitches to have a better answer to this question come festival time!

    December 2, 2016 • Acting, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking • Views: 2207