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  • NYFA Musical Theatre Alum Felipe Vasquez Encamilla to Perform in BroadwayMania’s Virtual Production of “In The Heights”

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    A performer and an alum of NYFA’s 2-Year Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre (PCMT) program, Felipe Vasquez Encamilla, like many others, was devastated when the pandemic hit and productions shuttered their doors and performers could no longer perform live and in-person. 

    Now, with Broadway and other theatre institutions around the world slowly beginning to open their doors again, the performing arts world is starting to rejoice as productions are being cast and virtual performances continue, one of which is the BroadwayMania virtual production of Lin Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, where Encamilla will perform as the Piragua Guy.

    Promotional photo of Felipe Vasquez Encamilla for “In The Heights”

    In The Heights is one of the most wonderful musicals that I have ever known,” shared Encamilla. “It has a special value for me because the musical represents the Latinx community of which I’m proudly part. It is so important to have a voice and In The Heights is giving me a huge voice. We, as a cast, are recording videos and the audio from our own homes, and then the production and editing team do the incredible magic to put the show together.”

    Encamilla came to study at NYFA in 2018, where he credited instructors like Deidre Goodwin, Michelle Potterf, Kristy Cates, James T. Lane, Kevid David Thomas, D. Michael Heath, Wysandria Woolsey, Mark Price, T. J. Mannix, Stephen Nachamie, among many others, for providing such an immersive experience in the Musical Theatre program. 

    “They are legends! I had heard about them in Chile before, so you can imagine how excited I was to know them [the instructors] in person,” said Encamilla. “ Another big reason for coming to NYFA was the possibility to make a movie musical in the second year. None of the academies or schools that I had seen had this in their curriculums and I consider it so important! Actually, the pandemic has made me use a lot of the things that I learned at NYFA about how to perform musicals in front of the camera.” 

    Encamilla as Monsieur Thénardier in “Les Misérables”

    From playing King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar to Pirelli from Sweeney Todd, Encamilla revealed that his favorite part of performing is the relationships formed on and off stage. “For me, it’s the relationships with my colleagues and the connections that we can create on stage. Not only because the characters have to have a connection, but also because all the good energy is reflected when you are performing. People can totally see those connections. And that is so beautiful! I think if you work with love, respect and kindness your performance always will be the best.”

    As for what’s next after In The Heights, Encamilla is developing a few projects with his husband Pablo, including producing the play Llamada Entrante (“Incoming Call” written by Pablo and directed by Encamilla), which they are looking to expand after a few successful live online performances. 

    Felipe Vasquez Encamilla in “Sweeney Todd”

    “We are also are writing a musical that talks about homoparental adoption, which is a huge topic for so many people, especially in countries like Chile where it is not allowed. We think that we need more representation in the Musical Theatre world: one of my huge dreams is to write more musicals that contain more representation to the Latinx Community, gay people, immigrants, and people who came to this country to contribute with their talents but so many times they are non seen.”

    An advocate for the voiceless and determined, Encamilla urges those looking to expand their craft to follow their dreams no matter the circumstances. “You have to follow your dreams and make it real. It’s hard, I know. Sometimes you feel that they never will come true. Many times nobody believes in you, including yourself. But you have to find the strength to fight and don’t give up. You deserve it. Never stop dreaming!”

    Official poster for “In The Heights”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Felipe Vasquez Encamilla on the exciting opportunity to be part of BroadwayMania’s production of In The Heights. You can see the show online, with performances streaming on May 15 at 7:00 pm ET, May 16 at 2:00 pm ET, and May 22 at 7:00 pm ET. For tickets and more information, click here.

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  • Founder of VanPack Productions, Vseant Nath, Talks Learning Filmmaking Online at NYFA and His Upcoming Projects

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    Vseant Nath has been studying improv since 2017 and immediately fell in love with it. He then decided to take some acting workshops not long after to fully understand the craft of performance, where he discovered he thoroughly enjoyed the direction given by the instructors.

    “This sparked my interest in producing and directing,” he shared. “I purchased books on filmmaking, but I had been researching the NYFA program as well. Then, COVID hit and it was a standstill for all, but my passion for learning continued and I was further drawn towards NYFAs hands-on approach.”  

    Vseant Nath in “Ganush: The pursuit of 5 Stars”

    Nath then decided to be one of the first groups of people to take NYFA’s new Online Film Directing Workshops. While it wasn’t in-person learning because of the pandemic, Nath was able to still have an active creative learning experience from the comfort of his own home, interacting with the instructor and his classmates over Zoom, and creating original work. 

    “I was now being taught by the best of the best instructors at NYFA, right from the safe space of my home,” said Nath. “It was one of the most exciting things in my life at that moment and the experience was further amplified by the whole world being at a standstill. I felt it was an extreme privilege to be learning with other students from across the globe.” 

    After getting to take the Online Workshop course at NYFA, Nath shared that anyone who wants to go out and become a filmmaker needs to seek to create for themselves. “Create films, as many as you can. Study them, make them better each time. You’ll have good ones and bad ones, but they’re yours. Be open to criticism; good bad and otherwise.”

    Now that he is done with his course, Nath has been focused on creating inspiring stories with impactful scenes with his VanPack Productions. Inspired by his grandmother who raised him, his inherited love of storytelling inspired him to create the production company and produce content, with his current goal to produce 20 short films before his first feature film.

    Film poster for the upcoming film “Neighborhood Racket”

    Nath’s company is currently working on shooting a new episode of Ganush: The Pursuit of 5 Stars, which is based on Nath’s own experience with unfair online reviews. “It made me think about the struggles of the business owner and the reviewer,” he remarked. The NYFA alum also has also created film festival favorites Nature Crawls, Pigs in a Blanket: A Bloody Tale, and Mic in: Dead Silent, and is currently working on more shorts including the horror film Inked.

    Booked and busy on his next projects, NYFA congratulates alum Vseant Nath on his upcoming projects and is excited to celebrate Nath upon the release of his first feature film in the near future. 

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    April 1, 2021 • Diversity, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1384

  • New York Film Academy Partners with the 2021 FOLCS – International Short Film Competition

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is excited to announce another year of partnership with the Forum on Life, Culture and Society (FOLCS) International Short Film Competition in a five-day virtual event, culminating in an Awards Night on April 8, 2021.

    FOLCS is a non-profit organization that houses culturally relevant conversation topics, providing a unique and enriching experience for audience goers that speaks to the moment with captivating conversations from special guests across multiple industries. NYFA has been a co-host on the FOLCS series of events for the last three years. 

    The annual FOLCS – International Short Film Competition (F-ISFC) is a special event that showcases short films that explore themes of justice, human rights, and the law by emerging filmmakers from all over the world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the very first time, FOLCS, in partnership with NYFA, will be virtually hosting its annual short film competition, allowing viewers to screen all of the finalist entries over the course of five days starting April 5, 2021.  

    Finalist films for the FOLCS – International Short Film Competition

    This year’s official film selections include titles from Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Malaysia, and the United States, giving entrants the opportunity to have their films shown to a wide audience and films viewed by distinguished professionals including renowned filmmakers, actors, writers, and journalists. Previous F-ISFC judges from NYFA include Cinematography Chair Piero Basso, Screenwriting Chair Randall Dottin, Filmmaking Chair Andrea Swift, and Filmmaking instructor Jonathan Whittaker.

    Actor William Fichtner

    All ISFC attendees will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite short, which will be counted towards the Audience Favorite Award which will be announced during Awards Night on April 8, 2021. The awards night is open to all F-ISFC ticketholders and will feature a discussion with the finalist filmmakers, NYFA’s own President Michael Young, and actor William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Prison Break, The Perfect Storm, The Dark Knight), who will present the award for The Best Short.

    HOW TO WATCH THE FILMS & VIRTUALLY ATTEND:

    The first 200 people to register for this year’s F-ISFC will receive tickets for the virtual film screenings free of charge, while all other registrants will be charged a $2 fee to unlock the official film selections. To view the F-ISFC slate of films selected for this year’s competition, click here. If you would like to register to attend one or all of the screenings for this year’s F-ISFC, click here to register. On April 5, 2021, you will receive an email with instructions on how to unlock and watch each film online. 

    New York Film Academy is a proud partner of this year’s FOLCS – International Short Film Competition and looks forward to being part of this special event celebrating aspiring independent filmmakers from around the globe. 

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  • The 93rd Academy Awards Includes NYFA Alum Shivani Rawat’s “The Trial of The Chicago 7”

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    On Monday morning, Oscar hopefuls awaited as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (“The Academy”) announced the highly anticipated list of Academy Award nominees vying for a gold statue at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards.

    With the COVID-19 pandemic, the award ceremony got pushed from its normal February/early March broadcast and will now be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, honoring the films released in 2020.

    (L-R): Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), and Steven Yeun (“Minari”)

    In the midst of Hollywood’s pandemic year, the 2021 Oscars nominations shattered some historic milestones that have cemented this year’s ceremony as one to watch, with nods that include:

    • Netflix setting a record for distributors with 35 total nominations in 2021. The streaming giant also leads the Best Picture category with two nods, while Amazon, A24, Focus, Searchlight, and Sony Classics held one nomination each. This year, major studios were not present in this category, a notable exception given the tumultuous distribution efforts major studios faced with releasing tentpole and lower budget films across the production slate in 2020.
    • Chadwick Boseman has become the seventh actor to receive a posthumous nomination for his work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
    • Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim actor to be nominated in the Best Actor category for his performance in The Sounds of Metal.
    • Steven Yeun, the first Asian American to receive a Best Actor nod, and Best Supporting Actress nominee Youn Uh-Jung are the first actors born in Korea to earn Oscar recognition for their performances in Minari.

    Best director nominees Chloé Zhao (Left) and Emerald Fennell (Right)

    While there are already incredible highlights from this year’s nominees, the most striking and celebrated have been the nominations received among women, with previous records being shattered across multiple categories including the best director category, which has received criticism in the past for the lack of women’s representation.

    “NYFA is celebrating Women’s History Month by recognizing the women making history at the 93rd Academy Awards. 70 women received 76 nominations – the most in a given year! It’s the first time the Academy nominated two women – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – for Best Director at the same time. Zhao is the first woman of color to get a nod in that category and also nabbed nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Fennell’s nomination is also the first time a woman has been nominated for her first feature.

    Viola Davis is the most-nominated Black actress ever, with her fourth Oscar nod. Women are also getting the spotlight in the Best Documentary Feature category with 4 of the 5 nominated films being directed by women. We’d like to also give special recognition to a former NYFA grad, Shivani Rawat (1-Year Screenwriting alum), who executive produced The Trial of Chicago 7 – a Best Picture nominee. We look forward to watching these inspirational ladies take the red carpet on April 25th!” – NYFA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council

    (L-R): Shivani Rawat (“The Trial of The Chicago 7”), Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Christina Oh (“Minari”), and Ann Roth (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)

    Other notable records made this year include a historic nomination for Minari producer and NYFA guest speaker Christina Oh, who is the first Asian American woman to receive a nomination for best picture. Meanwhile, costume designer Ann Roth ties for the oldest Oscar nominee-at-large and is nominated for her work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at age 89.

    New York Film Academy is incredibly excited to congratulate the talented and diverse group of nominees representing the body of work at this year’s Academy Awards and will be cheering on NYFA alum Shivani Rawat’s The Trial of The Chicago 7, which is nominated for six awards.

    _______________________

    BEST PICTURE

    “The Father”
    “Judas and the Black Messiah”
    “Mank”
    “Minari”
    “Nomadland”
    “Promising Young Woman”
    “Sound of Metal”
    “The Trial of the Chicago 7″

    ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

    Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
    Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
    Olivia Colman, “The Father”
    Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”
    Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”

    ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

    Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
    Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
    Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night in Miami”
    Paul Raci, “Sound of Metal”
    Lakeith Stanfield, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

    INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

    “Another Round” – Denmark
    “Better Days” – Hong Kong
    “Collective” – Romania
    “The Man Who Sold His Skin” – Tunisia
    Qu Vadis, Aida? – Bosnia and Herzegovina

    DOCUMENTARY (SHORT)

    “Colette”
    “A Concerto Is a Conversation”
    “Do Not Split”
    “Hunger Ward”
    “A Love Song For Latasha”

    DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

    “Collective”
    “Crip Camp”
    “The Mole Agent”
    “My Octopus Teacher”
    “Time”

    ORIGINAL SONG

    “Fight For You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”
    “Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
    “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”
    “lo Sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)”
    “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami…”

    ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

    “Onward”
    “Over the Moon”
    “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”
    “Soul”
    “Wolfwalkers”

    ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

    “Borat Subsequent MovieFilm”
    “The Father”
    “Nomadland”
    “One Night in Miami”
    “The White Tiger”

    ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

    “Judas and the Black Messiah”
    “Minari”
    “Promising Young Woman”
    “Sound of Metal”
    “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

    ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

    Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
    Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
    Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
    Gary Oldman, “Mank”
    Steven Yeun, “Minari”

    ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

    Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
    Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”
    Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
    Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”
    Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

    DIRECTOR

    Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”
    David Fincher, “Mank”
    Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”
    Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”
    Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

    PRODUCTION DESIGN

    “The Father”
    “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
    “Mank”
    “News of the World”
    “Tenet”

    CINEMATOGRAPHY

    Sean Bobbitt, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
    Erik Messerschmidt, “Mank”
    Dariusz Wolski, “News of the World”
    Joshua James Richards, “Nomadland”
    Phedon Papamichael , “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

    COSTUME DESIGN

    “Emma”
    “Ma Rainey’s Blackbottom”
    “Mank”
    “Mulan”
    “Pinocchio”

    ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND

    “Greyhound”
    “Mank”
    “News of the World”
    “Soul”
    “Sound of Metal”

    ANIMATED SHORT FILM

    “Burrow”
    “Genius Loci”
    “If Anything Happens I Love You”
    “Opera”
    “Yes-People”

    LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

    “Feeling Through”
    “The Letter Room”
    “The Present”
    “Two Distant Strangers”
    “White Eye”

    ORIGINAL SCORE

    “Da 5 Bloods”
    “Mank”
    “Minari”
    “News of the World”
    “Soul”

    VISUAL EFFECTS

    “Love and Monsters”
    “The Midnight Sky”
    “Mulan”
    “The One and Only Ivan”
    “Tenet”

    FILM EDITING

    “The Father”
    “Nomadland”
    “Promising Young Woman”
    “Sound of Metal”
    “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

    MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

    “Emma”
    “Hillbilly Elegy”
    “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
    “Mank”
    “Pinocchio”
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    March 17, 2021 • Diversity, Entertainment News, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 617

  • Producer & NYFA Alum Alex Lampsos on His Latest Film “Breaking Fast”

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    Born in Beirut and brought up in Abu Dhabi and Canada, Alex Lampsos was always drawn to film and entertainment. From his beginnings in the film festival to producing indie films and music videos for the stars of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Lampsos has also produced commercials for Marvel, Disney, Sony, and LA Models in collaboration with Sir Elton John. 

    After working managing festival experiences and logistics at the Toronto International Film Festival for two years, Lampsos then decided it was time to dive into the technical and creative world of filmmaking itself and moved to Los Angles where he enrolled in NYFA’s 1-Year Filmmaking Conservatory. “Halfway through, I honed into my love of producing and took on as many projects that came my way, starting with thesis short films through the school network and slowly expanding into the real world,” he recalled. 

    NYFA alum Alex Lampsos

    The NYFA alum has since gone to produce music videos for Ru Paul’s Drag Race stars which have garnered millions of views and have been featured in Forbes, Entertainment Tonight, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Paper Magazine, Out, and more.

    He has also produced incredible projects, from Cherry Pop, a NYFA thesis project that got picked up by Netflix, to feature Breaking Fast, which is now available to rent. Collectively, both films have garnered over 30 awards and have had an impact in the queer and indie film community. 

    Film poster for “Breaking Fast”

    His latest feature film, Breaking Fast, is a romantic comedy that follows Mo, a practicing Muslim still reeling from heartbreak. When a guy named Kal offers to join him in his nightly Iftars – the traditional meal eaten by Muslims during Ramadan – meal after meal, the two start to discover they have more in common than they initially thought.

    Lampsos first got involved on the project after a serendipitous encounter with the film’s writer and director Mike Mosallam. “A friendship quickly bloomed, leading us to collaborate on the short film version of Breaking Fast – the genesis of the feature,” recalled Lampsos. “After finding much success with the short, we spent approximately three years developing the feature with a team of leading producers, finally securing the funding and entering production in 2018.”

    Alex Lampsos at premiere for “Cherry Pop”

    As for what he has taken with him since studying at NYFA, Lampsos shared that it’s all about community. “NYFA taught me the importance of building a filmmaking family that can grow and prosper collectively over time, often with fellow students that eventually become long-term collaborators,” he remarked. “It [NYFA] also gave me the framework to approach the industry with a strong sense of ambition and a self-starting mentality; the ‘it’s what you make of it’ mindset, while giving me the technical foundation to thrive.”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Alex Lampsos on his latest release Breaking Fast and looks forward to sharing new updates on what’s next from the talented alum. Click here to learn more about Breaking Fast and where to watch the film. 

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    March 8, 2021 • Diversity, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 748

  • More Than a Career Move: Filmmaking as a Medium of Truth With NYFA Documentary Alum Jia Wertz

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    Canadian native Jia Wertz exited a 20-year career in the fashion corporate world to dive into the filmmaking industry. With a background in photography and a passion for social issues and bringing a voice to the voiceless, Wertz decided it was time to answer her calling – becoming a storyteller.

    “I didn’t want to simply work at a job that was focused on making profits for a corporation without doing any good in the world for other people,” shared Wertz. With the decision to make a career shift, Wertz remembers the moment it all changed for her. “ I was at Adnan Syed’s post-conviction hearing in Baltimore and Amy Berg’s team was there filming the HBO docuseries The Case Against Adnan Syed and a light bulb just went off.”

    NYDA alum Jia Wertz

    Wertz realized that filmmaking would be something that she could do to reach a large audience and impact social change by speaking on the conflict of the institutional correction systems and the wrongfully accused.

    “I have been passionate about wrongful convictions since I was in my twenties,” revealed Wertz. “My interest in this cause began when I read Rubin Carter’s book The Sixteenth Round, and I’d wondered ever since what I could do to help people who have been unjustly imprisoned. There is something about an innocent person being silenced that really shakes me to the core. After hearing Adnan Syed’s story on the Serial podcast, I was really motivated to do something.”

    And she did. Wertz took a 6-Week Documentary Filmmaking Workshop at NYFA and went on to direct the true-crime documentary Conviction, now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. The documentary short follows the wrongfully convicted Jeffrey Deskovic of the rape and murder of a fellow classmate at the young age of sixteen and how he fought the justice system against all odds to prove his innocence. “The film tells his story, in his own words, and sheds light not only on the shortcomings of the justice system but the physical and emotional impacts that wrongful convictions have on the lives of innocent people,” revealed Wertz.

    “I was inspired to work on this documentary because I thought it would be an effective way to spread awareness about wrongful convictions, and also because Jeff’s story is so inspirational – it’s truly a testament to the human spirit. Jeff now has a non-profit organization that helps other people who are wrongfully convicted, and by sharing his story I am able to support his organization and the work he does.”

    With a crew of NYFA students and the encouragement of NYFA instructor Kuldeep Sah Gangola, Wertz worked on the documentary during her course. “From the very first day shooting the film while I was attending NYFA, it just felt right – like I was in the right place, doing exactly what I should be doing,” shared Wertz. 

    Behind the scenes of “Conviction”

    “Every part of the process has been a learning experience and extremely enjoyable – from filming with Jeff who is such a great interviewee, to the excitement (and surprise) of being officially selected at eleven film festivals, and now to have the film streaming on Amazon Prime. I would’ve never thought that we could’ve accomplished all of this in a short year after finishing the documentary program at NYFA.”

    The documentary is a testament to Wertz’s hard work and dedication on transitioning into her true calling – being a storyteller and advocate for the unheard. “My hope is that the film spreads awareness of a cause that I think often goes unnoticed. Unless it impacts you personally, you may not even think of wrongful convictions as a major issue in our country. A very conservative estimate is that about 2-5% of people incarcerated in the US are wrongfully imprisoned. At this rate, it could mean tens or even hundreds of thousands of people – the numbers are staggering.” 

    Jeffrey Deskovic and Jia Wertz (“Conviction”)

    People are beginning to take notice of Wertz’s Conviction. From the multiple festival laurels  Wertz has received to the Emmy Award-winning show The List, people are taking note of Jeffrey’s story and Wertz’s passion to bring his voice to the forefront  – and she isn’t done yet. The NYFA alum is currently in post-production of a feature-length version of Conviction and aims to finish and distribute the film this year.

    New York Film Academy celebrates Jia Wertz’s work for her applauded first film Conviction and looks forward to seeing what story Wertz will focus on next. Conviction is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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    March 4, 2021 • Diversity, Documentary Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1097

  • Meet NYFA Cinematography Instructor & ASC Member Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

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    At New York Film Academy, the faculty is an incredibly talented group of artists that teach the next generation of filmmakers and creators all while being active members in their industry. For NYFA Cinematography instructor Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC, this is no exception. 

    Maddox-Upshaw has lensed fan-favorite shows like Empire, Snowfall, Tales, and On My Block, to name a few, and teaches 35MM, Advanced Lighting, and Stage to Screen for Actors in NYFA’s Cinematography department. 

    Maddox-Upshaw first got interested in the world of lensing and cinematography when his sister Kyla got him on set as a Production Assistant for a Hype Williams music video when he was 19 years old. “I saw how the Cinematographer worked with everyone and created such beautiful images and I already liked photography,” he shared. “I was like, ‘I want to do what he does’ and I set out to learn what I could even though my college didn’t have a film program and really no film studies.”

    Photo courtesy of Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

    From there, Maddox-Upshaw notes that the documentary film Visions of Light inspired him even further to pursue a career in cinematography, and the NYFA instructor began picking up work between his Boston hometown and New York City while continuing to further his education in cinematography. His work for commercial clients like Ford, Allstate, and HBO, to name a few, helped develop working relationships which led Maddox-Upshaw to eventually work alongside visionaries like Spike Lee and Matthew Libatique, ASC.

    He provided VFX additional photography on A Star Is Born, and worked on the second unit for Straight Outta Compton, both shot by Libatique, and shot additional photography on feature films Grown Ups 2, Beyond the Lights, and The Circle. Maddox-Upshaw also served as the director of photography (DP) for Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, Hello Beautiful: Interludes with John Legend, Fixed, and more.

    Photo courtesy of Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

    Recently, Maddox-Upshaw was recognized by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and was welcomed as a member of the ASC. The distinguished honor is one that names Maddox-Upshaw among the legacy of celebrated directors of photography over the last 100 years.

    “Becoming part of the ASC has been a goal of mine since the time I really started to study and read American Cinematographer Magazine and watch Visions of Light when I was about 20 years old,” revealed Maddox-Upshaw.

    For his students and aspiring cinematographers, Maddox-Upshaw encourages them to study more than what’s on the other side of the lens to become a good DP. 

    “Study the art of understanding good screenplays. understand the Black and White of the page so then you can make the correct emotional decision from what is written. Try and watch a movie a day; it makes a difference after a couple of years of doing it. You can recall so much and understand why certain things in cinema work,” Maddox-Upshaw explained. 

    No one can dream bigger for you. You have to enjoy the process of your own journey you should want to be on set and learn from other people. You can learn this on your own and don’t be afraid to make mistakes especially in a learning environment.”

    In addition to teaching at NYFA, Maddox-Upshaw recently photographed Season 6 of the Fox drama Empire. Additional credits from Maddox-Upshaw include season three of the FX drama Snowfall, season two of Netflix’s On My Block, and season one of the Netflix comedy Huge in France

    New York Film Academy congratulates Maddox-Upshaw on his recent induction into the ASC and is excited to have the opportunity for Maddox-Upshaw to continue to teach NYFA students about what it means to be a director of photography.

    To learn more about NYFA’s Cinematography programs, click here

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    February 23, 2021 • Cinematography, Community Highlights, Diversity, Faculty Highlights • Views: 1048

  • Akinola Davies Jr. Awarded Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance For Film “Lizard”

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Akinola Davies Jr. has won big at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize for his film Lizard.

    Sundance announcement of “Lizard” winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize

    The film was written by Davies and his brother Wale Davies, and was backed by BBC Film and producer Rachel Dargavel. Lizard follows an eight-year-old girl, Juwon, who has the ability to sense danger. After getting ejected from a Sunday school service, Juwon witnesses the underbelly in and around a Mega Church in Lagos, Nigeria. In addition to the Sundance win, the film was also nominated for an ALFS Award by the London Critics Circle Film Awards.

    Film poster for “Lizard”

    Davies has previously made short films Zazzau and Unity Is Strength. The UK-Nigerian filmmaker is known for his exploration of themes of community, race, spirituality, identity, and gender. Ultimately, through his work in film and music videos, Davies aims to navigate the collision of both colonial and imperial tradition, whilst advocating a return to indigenous narratives. His next slated project will be sci-fi film X Us.

    NYFA alum Akinola Davies Jr.

    “I’m overwhelmed and as much as I’d love to gloat, filmmaking is really crazy hard,” shared Davies on his Instagram after the winners were announced in a virtual ceremony. “Big love to all those who were part of the shorts program – it’s an honour to be amongst such brilliant films. I have to say this award is really for the whole cast and crew who worked so hard and committed their all to this little film pre and during a global pandemic. I’m so proud this was made in Lagos by the many hands that make up the beautiful people of Nigeria.”

    To view the full list of Sundance Film Festival winners, click here.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Akinola Davies Jr. on his important Grand Jury win at Sundance for his short film Lizard and looks forward to seeing the film’s impact and Davies’ upcoming projects.

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  • NYFA Alum Boise Esquerra’s “Blackwater” Screens at 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

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    Known both as a festival “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” and for its Oscar-qualifying short film awards, the Slamdance Film Festival has long been a mecca for emerging independent directors. This year NYFA alum Boise Esquerra, a graduate of the Los Angeles campus’s MFA Filmmaking and MFA Screenwriting programs, will be right in the middle of the action when his episodic film Blackwater screens in the virtual festival February 12 – 25, 2021. 

    In the days leading up to the festival Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, caught up with Boise to talk about the personal experience that inspired his series and the importance of filmmakers from diverse backgrounds telling their own stories.

    NYFA alum Boise Esquerra

    Cricket Rumley (CR): Hi, Boise! Congratulations on getting into Slamdance! Tell us a little about yourself.

    Boise Esquerra (BE): I’d be happy to. I am a Native (Hopi) and Mexican American filmmaker enrolled in the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Parker, AZ. I am a recent graduate of the New York Film Academy (MFA Screenwriting) and hold a BA in Digital Filmmaking and Video Production and an additional MFA in Filmmaking from NYFA. I love storytelling, creating, and everything that entails filmmaking from start to finish. Currently, I reside here in lovely Burbank, CA, and am represented by Sandra Avila at Inclusion Management.

    CR: Tell us about your film. What is it about and where does it take place?   

    BE: Blackwater is an episodic pilot about Native American country music star Birdie Blackwater whose career is fizzling due to excessive drinking that began 10 years ago. Upon moving back to her home reservation, barely clinging onto what little dignity she has left, Birdie is arrested for a barrage of drunken charges and lashing out at tribal police officers during a late-night performance. The next day, tribal courts order Birdie to complete 180 days of wellness therapy and intense probation or face two years in prison. Birdie now finds herself contending each week with a group of offbeat individuals who each possess their own…“unique” mental limitations. The story takes place on a fictional Native American reservation call Red Rock. 

    CR: Sounds very powerful. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this story? 

    BE: The inspiration for Blackwater came about in September of 2018… a tough experience. I had started a new class (Transmedia) at the New York Film Academy in Burbank, CA. The ultimate goal of the class: develop, write, and shoot a web series pilot. During the first half of the six-month course, I was given the news that my older brother Brandon had developed cirrhosis of the liver to such a serious extent that he would need a liver transplant. My brother had gotten this condition from depression and extreme alcoholism after the death of our mother in 2015. The additional news I would receive from him is that he would be opting for hospice care and wanted to just go peacefully with family for the remainder of his time. That news, to say the least, was devastating. 

    Shortly after his funeral, I returned to my Transmedia class. The project I had been working on up to that point was scrapped. I wanted to write something I was familiar with. I had felt my brother in my heart moving me to lean into all that I had experienced with drug addiction and dependency. I also wanted to heal from losing him to alcoholism. Thus, I put forward a new proposal to my instructors, which was Blackwater

    CR: Boise, I’m so sorry for your loss and the pain your family must have experienced. It’s truly inspiring how you were able to transform your personal tragedy into a meaningful story, and so quickly. 

    What was it like to direct the film?

    BE: My favorite experience directing Blackwater was working with such a phenomenal cast and crew who brought their A-game to each and every scene both on and off-screen. I mean, this was a set from heaven, and pulling off a thirteen-page script in just one day with minimal time, a skeleton crew, and several different scenes went by like clockwork. Heck, we even had an hour to spare after the whole thing was over! Directing that day was one of the best experiences I ever had on set.

    Kyla Garcia as Birdie Blackwater (“Blackwater”)

    CR: You directed a thirteen-page script in one day? Wow! Dare I ask what was the most challenging thing about making the film? 

    BE: It’s crazy because you usually are anticipating challenges that may or may not arise on the day of production, and they did of course, but they were minor and quickly remedied. No. The challenges here were definitely in the final days leading up to production. You would think that getting a simple location (an empty room) for the group scene would be easy-peasy in LA, but when you’re working with a shoestring budget, a simple task all of a sudden becomes a near impossibility. And that was the case up until the last week of location scouting. We finally locked our location, which was an old American Legion post here in Burbank. It was great because they had everything we needed for each scene! 

    The other difficult part was not in pre-production or production, but actually editing. Here I am, dealing with footage of numerous great takes from each actor/actress and reviewing them over and over. Now, you have to realize, that when you’re dealing with high caliber talent as we had, each throwing you grade-A performances with each take, it is extremely hard to pick the right one! This was mainly the case with our main character, Birdie Blackwater, portrayed by Kyla Garcia. What she brought was gold, I tell ya…GOLD. So for her, sorting through the stuff she gave us and settling on certain clips was by itself a two-month process. Keep an eye on Kyla, SHE IS AMAZING!

    CR: It’s true – Kyla is downright riveting to watch. Besides the editing, what did you learn while making this film?  

    BE: To say I didn’t learn much would be a “shooting myself in the foot” moment and never being able to walk right again, hahaha. I learned a hell of a lot. But I’ll narrow it down to one thing above others, and that was giving my talent the freedom they needed to experiment with their characters and craft on set. There was a lot of ad-libbing, and the more I stepped back and let them have at it, the more they gave. Their performances were elevated, and aside from the few adjustments I gave every now and then, I just kept my mouth shut and steered the ship. I believe this is extremely important because, by the end of any script, these people are going to be the ones who embody this person you wrote, and ultimately bring them to life – and not only the talent, but the entire crew as well. 

    As a director, I realized that you can only hold onto the material for so long before giving it up. You must trust your talent and pass the baton you have and be the coach they need, guiding them from the sideline. Hopefully, if you put in the hard work needed in pre-production and cast the film right, the process will fully evolve on its own. You only need to sit back and enjoy the show at that point. 

    CR: Can you talk about the development process for this pilot and the class you developed it in? 

    BE: Given I had changed my proposal during the six-month Transmedia course, development for Blackwater was done in a three-month period, which is not much time. But…it came very easily to me. The vision for it was clear, so it was really a matter of honing in on what was already in my head. I knew I wanted to do something that was set in a Native American world, and I completely cast with Indigenous talent. This was something I have always wanted to do, I just felt I hadn’t honed in on my craft enough back then. But now it was different. I felt confident enough to give it a try. It was a matter of finding the right, tone, cast, and overall theme, which it turned out to have many. 

    CR: Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?  

    BE: One of the coolest things about the Transmedia 1 & 2 courses at NYFA were instructors Jenni Powell and Chris Modoono. Not only were they extremely wise and easy to talk to, but their guidance was priceless as they were able to get me from concept to a finished pilot. I can’t stress enough about the creative freedom Jenni and Chris gave us in class. I really owe the experience and opportunity to them and to NYFA. 

    CR: That is so cool. You know every teacher’s dream is to inspire and elevate students at the level you just described. 

    Let’s talk about the amazing festival run you’re having with Blackwater.  

    BE: Blackwater has garnered twenty festival selections, five of those being the Austin Film Festival, Slamdance, Nashville Film Festival, Hollyshorts, and Cinequest Film and VR Festival. 

    CR: That is any filmmaker’s dream list! So what are you looking forward to with Slamdance? 

    BE: I hope to get as much positive attention as possible and of course find a potential buyer or investor for continued production. Native American content and storytelling are so important in this day and age — and extremely hard to find. Slamdance is one of those benchmark experiences you constantly take a step back and go “Wow, I did something really cool here” and realize you’re on the right path. I also hope to network virtually and meet many of the talented filmmakers at this year’s festival! 

    Poster for “Blackwater” pilot

    CR: You will definitely have some great opportunities there. Do you have any advice for recent graduates making their way into the professional world?  

    BE: I would say be consistent, persistent, and honest in your work and what it is exactly you want for your future. Filmmaking and its many crafts are a life long pursuit. Pursuing it should make you happy, grateful, and full of good spirit to have such a calling. If it doesn’t, maybe take a step back and re-evaluate. Focus on what you want, whether that is screenwriting, directing (or both), and constantly sharpen your craft and talents in that world every day in some shape or form. Look to each day as an opportunity to move towards that ultimate goal, and eventually one day…you’ll find yourself there. But don’t forget to have fun and relax along the way. Be happy. 

    CR: Those are very wise words. And speaking of wise words, let’s talk about these trying times we live in today. Do you want to share any thoughts about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now? 

    BE: Well, if I do share anything, it’ll be about the importance of diverse inclusion in today’s film industry and breaking the current mold at hand. And I am speaking specifically to Native American inclusion. Native Americans are perhaps the most underrepresented culture in the film and television industry right now in terms of film and television content, screenwriters, directors, and leading talent. We as Native Americans have been fighting an extremely uphill battle in finding large, fair platforms or opportunities to tell “our own stories,” tell our own history, and voice our own point of view. Since the dawn of cinema, history has been flat-out brutal in our depiction, reducing us to “elk skin and feathers,” mascots, savages, and whatever else the multitude of history books will have you believe. We as a people, as a culture, need to be allowed to write and depict our own stories, our own views, and our own history. Blackwater is one such example out of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States. The time for diverse inclusion is now, and Hollywood needs to comply accordingly. 

    CR: The time is definitely now, and I’m so happy that you and your work are a solution to this lack of diversity in Hollywood.

    So how we can watch your film during Slamdance and see your Q&A? 

    BE: Slamdance is an online format this year, meaning anyone with a computer or smart TV can access it for only ten bucks. Yes… $10. We’re talking the crème of the crop here, people! Although the official schedule of events isn’t out yet, getting your pass now will ensure you do not miss a single screening. All films will be viewable throughout the festival from February 12th – 25th

    Blackwater will be screening in the “Episodes” block with many other awesome filmmakers and their films, and you will also be able to watch our Q&A as a bonus feature. Go to www.slamdance.com now for your ticket! 

    CR: Thanks for stopping by, Boise. Congratulations and best of luck!

    [NOTE: NYFA students can get their festival passes for $5 by using their NYFA email address].

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    February 11, 2021 • Diversity, Entertainment News, Film Festivals, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1326

  • NYFA Alum Lana Condor Stars in “To All The Boys: Forever and Always” on Netflix

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Lana Condor returns as Lara Jean Covey in Netflix’s original film To All The Boys: Always and Forever. The film is the third and final installment in the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series adapted from the novel series of the same name from Jenny Han.

    Lana Condor and Madeleine Arthur and in “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” (Netflix)

    After attending Acting for Film at NYFA’s camps, Condor graduated high school and had her film debut as the popular mutant Jubilee in the summer blockbuster X-Men: Apocalypse. Immediately following, Condor appeared in the Mark Wahlberg thriller Patriots Day, co-starring alongside fellow NYFA alum Themo Melikidze. Condor has also appeared in Alita: Battle Angel, the TV series Deadly Class, and the coming-of-age film Summer Night.

    To All The Boys: Always and Forever will have fans seeing beloved character Lara Jean (Condor) faced with the difficult decision of what to do after she graduates high school and whether her future includes long-term boyfriend Peter, played by Netflix favorite Noah Centineo (The Perfect Date, Sierra Burgess is a Loser). From the film series beginning with 16-year old Lara Jean having her secret love letters go public to all of her crushes, to the unexpected twists along the way leading up to the third film, fans will have to say goodbye to Condor’s character as she closes her high school chapter.

    Noah Centineo and Lana Condor in “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” (Netflix)

    What is the NYFA alum up to now that the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy has concluded? Condor is still booked and busy and will appear in the upcoming films Moonshot and the edgy comedy Girls Night. In her spare time, the actress has been known to share style and beauty tips on her social media channels and was most recently profiled by Vogue.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Lana Condor for bringing the character Lara Jean Covey to life over the past few years and looks forward to her future roles in Hollywood and beyond. To All The Boys: Always and Forever will be available to stream on February 10, 2021, on Netflix.

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    February 10, 2021 • Acting, Diversity, Entertainment News, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 716