New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with producer Hilary Shor to discuss her work as an executive producer on the Oscar-nominated film The United States vs. Billie Holiday with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Hilary Shor is a producer who has worked on multiple critically acclaimed films including Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Shor has had a longstanding relationship with Oscar & Emmy nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious, Empire), and has worked with him as producer/executive producer on The United States vs. Billie Holiday, The Butler with Oprah Winfrey, Forrest Whitaker, Lenny Kravitz, and The Paperboy starring Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron. She has also served as an executive producer on Eye of The Beholder, starring Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd.
Hilary Shor (Left) and Tova Laiter (Right) for NYFA’s Q&A-List Series
One of Shor’s first big productions, Children of Men, came to be after Shor optioned the book and held on for nine years. It was a testament to her ability to see a story worthy of being made and betting on the talent. It paid off when the-now-Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón directed the film and went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards.
Hilary Shor (Right) on set of Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy”
Shor has also had a longstanding relationship with her frequent collaborator and friend of 30 years Lee Daniels. “Back when we were both agents, [Daniels] would always try to sign my clients behind my back,” joked Shor. Eventually, Shor and Daniels began working together on his films, noting their shared love of humor on set, for Daniels’ films The Butler, The Paperboy, and now The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
“It’s the first music-driven film I have worked on and it was really wonderful to see the period come alive,” Shor shared about working on The United States vs. Billie Holiday. “There’s such a richness. It was really wonderful to gather this extraordinary cast including the incredible Andry Day, who is nominated for Best Actress at this year’s Oscars.”
“Emily in Paris” star Lily Collins (Left) and Hilary Shor (Right)
Laiter also commented on Shor’s ability to focus on people, remained a trusted friend among Hollywood’s top talent including Nicole Kidman, Lily Collins, Charlie Hunnam, and more. “My role as a producer is to protect the environment [on set]. Talent instinctively knows who is a safe resource. I love them [the actors] and I really see them. When I work on a film, I want the actors to know I am really there for them and I’m in their corner.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Hilary Shor for sharing her time and invaluable knowledge of the producing world with NYFA students and alumni and showing students that, no matter how high you climb in the business, taking your ego out of the equation will always get you farther.
As we look back through a challenging year that was 2020, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments the New York Film Academy (NYFA) community was able to achieve. In the below infographic, we have selected a handful of the many successes our alumni, students, faculty and staff were a part of.
For more NYFA community stories, you can read more on our blog and headline articles.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the opportunity to host a live video Q&A with the Head of the Motion Picture Literary Department of ICM Agency, DOUG MACLAREN. The discussion with NYFA students and alumni was centered on the agency world and how agents work with their clients in the entertainment industry, especially now in the middle of a pandemic. TOVA LAITER, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Doug MacLaren is Partner and Co-Head of ICM’s Director’s Group. He is a talent and literary agent at ICM Partners, where he represents directors, writers, and actors across both movies and television. His current clients include Tom Hooper (Best Picture and Best Director Oscar winner for The King’s Speech; Les Miserables; The Danish Girl), Vince Gilligan (Emmy award-winner for Breaking Bad and Better Caul Saul; El Camino), Gurinder Chadha (Blinded By The Light; Bend It Like Beckham), Neill Blomkamp (District 9; Elysium), Peter Weir (multiple Oscar nominee for Dead Poets Society; Witness; The Truman Show) Joseph Cedar (Foreign Oscar nominee for Footnote and Beaufort; Our Boys), and Michelle MacLaren (Emmy award-winner for Breaking Bad; Game of Thrones; Westworld; The Walking Dead).
Tova Laiter (Left) and Doug MacLaren for NYFA’s Q&A-List
Laiter began the discussion by asking MacLaren how he ended up in the entertainment agency business, to which he replied that right out of college he was involved in the banking industry. After working in Hong Kong at a French bank, MacLaren realized he needed to reevaluate what it was he actually wanted to do with his life. After coming back stateside, MacLaren decided to finally let his love of cinema lead a path to Los Angeles where he started meeting with companies who made movies he liked and eventually landed a job in the industry.
Laiter questioned how is the agency able to keep up with the multiple companies around, from studios, streamers and so many independents (when she started in the business there were 5 studios and two independents). MacLaren explained how the agency world is keeping up with the changes. “We have staff covering it all and we meet several times a week where we cover all kinds of possibilities for our clients” he explained. “We need to be specialists in all areas from animation to the independent filmmaking market, and I have a division of people who I can work with for all kinds of projects [studio and streaming alike].”
Doug MacLaren (Right) with “Breaking Bad” creator and client Vince Gilligan (Zimbio)
“There’s a lot of ways we can keep things COVID-safe with what we do,” shared MacLaren. “We are finding that scheduling Zooms with studios and big production companies is actually easier to get everyone together. In fact, it’s a plus not having to drive to studios or companies across heavily trafficked Los Angeles. It’s now easier to work with people’s schedules including managing clients in multiple time zones and helping in work/life balance to take moments to relax.
While the pandemic has changed the way agents are working, studios and streaming services have already been changing the way they pick and choose their projects, MacLaren noted. “Studios like Sony and Warner Bros. are mostly looking for the pre-branded IP (Intellectual property). That shift has been going on for a long time as there is international value in it.”
“For those of us who grew up loving dramas, comedies, and thrillers, that can be frustrating because of the narrowing of movies that are being made,” he said. “The hope is that the streamers don’t have to worry about the Box Office and streamers like Netflix are making everything from documentaries to sit-coms to replace your cable box.”
On the other hand, MacLaren warned that the data streaming platforms collect can also be threatening. “My fear is, because I represent a diverse group of artists, is that they [streaming platforms] start to develop an echo chamber and say ‘oh well if people are watching action comedies, let’s make more action comedies and IP-driven blockbuster movies’.”
Still from Doug MacLaren’s Tedx Talk “Primal Processing Power of Our Brains”
Laiter also asked MacLaren whether creatives and agents need to have more of a package, even if its middle names of talent, put together before showing it to studio or streamers for a project, to cut through the noise or send a screenplay unattached. “In general, yeah, we are taking things a bit further down the road before exposing them to studios,” he revealed, noting that that the production can be easily imagined by studios if the project has the thoughtfulness and care already put into it. However, if the script is exactly what the studio or streamers are looking for- then yes, just send the screenplay.”
Laiter then closed the conversation by thanking MacLaren for pulling back the curtain as to what is happening in the film industry right now and what his job entails. MacLaren replied that he was grateful to join the conversation and wished NYFA students and alumni the best of luck. “Keep making stuff. Keep writing stuff. This is an exciting time for the industry!”
New York Film Academy would like to thank ICM Partners’ Doug MacLaren for sharing his time and film industry experience with NYFA students and alumni. To hear the full conversation with MacLaren’s insight into the industry and what he thinks will become of movie theaters as a result of the pandemic.
On December 9, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with actress & NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza, actor Christopher Abbott, actress Sarah Gadon, and former NYFA instructor and director of the film, Lawrence Michael Levine, to discuss their highly-anticipated new film Black Bear. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
The movie Black Bear is a meta thriller about movie-making, creativity, and ego from writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine. The film debuted earlier this year at Sundance and is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Black Bear boasts an incredible cast, featuring NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza(Ingrid Goes West, Parks & Recreation), Christopher Abbott (Catch-22, First Man), and Sarah Gadon (True Detective, Alias Grace).
Laiter opened up the conversation by asking Levine how the film itself came to be made. The director cited his wife and frequent collaborator, Sophia Takal (Black Christmas; Hulu’s New Year, New You) as his inspiration. “I can remember the origins of part two was the working relationship with Sofia [Takal], but I wouldn’t say it would resemble the one in the film.”
The film, Levine explained, is also a result of what many artists tend to do when they are stuck; try something new. “I think I just wanted to do something different and I was writing all this stuff that was very boring and conventional. I was going through a rough time and was bored professionally. It [Black Bear] was, in some ways, kind of about what I was going through.”
(Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine
Then Plaza got involved in the project and, in addition to landing the starring role, became a producer on the film. In one of her best performances to date, the NYFA alum revealed that the toughest scene for her was the infamous “breakdown” scene in the second part of the film. “The movie within the movie just because that scene was very complex (a lot of people and a lot of chaos). That was the day, I was always scared and terrified to shoot it and it was a lot to keep all of those things in play and, in a technical sense, it was very trippy.”
The meta concept of a movie within a movie, for some, seemed to reveal a more mysterious plot than Levine originally intended. “It’s interesting because the response has been ‘the film is mysterious.’ I guess I will say the simplest thing about it is it’s one artist [played by Plaza] doing two interpretations of a scene. The audience is left wondering: Which is real? Are they both real? When does she start writing this? Is it prior to or after meeting the couple? It’s two different ways of exploring the theme of heartbreak and betrayal.”
Allison (Aubrey Plaza) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)
In each part of the film, Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon give knockout and emotionally-driven performances, playing dual versions of their role. “I was very intrigued to get two parts in one movie. It’s like you’re getting paid for one but doing two parts,” joked Abbott. “Larry [Levine] wrote something so genius, especially with something with Aubrey [Plaza] and Sarah [Gadon] attached to it.”
When asked by a student whether it seemed “daunting” to play different characters, Gadon, who plays Blair, shared that it actually wasn’t daunting at all for her. “When I read the script, I was really excited. It was such an original script and I had never read anything like it, and I knew it would make for a really intense movie.”
Caption: Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)
After discussing Black Bear, the guests turned the conversation towards more technical questions from NYFA students and alumni, who asked the artists about both the directorial and acting process. For directing, Levine provided that sometimes directing means “stepping away, trusting, and letting them [the actors] take the reins and be comfortable. The intention is to make the actors feel safe and supported by having their back if they are lost. I had faith in these three [Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon] and I was dying to work with them for Black Bear.” Abbott reminded actors that in most characters, there’s “always a little bit of you in there,” but it’s about determining “how different the character is from you” versus how you are alike that will help you be able to fully dive in. Gadon added that it’s about making a character feel as fleshed out as possible, a nod to screenwriters everywhere to remember to help the actors let that character leap off the page.
Plaza shared that it’s important for those about to enter the film industry to continue to explore their craft, make mistakes, and network. “It’s important to focus on those kinds of communities and collaborations rather than figuring out how to ‘get in’ to the industry. If there is anything concrete, you want to get in front of casting directors more than anyone. So focusing your strategy and surrounding yourself around a community of like-minded people is important, because you don’t know what could lead to the next opportunity.”
Aubrey Plaza, Lawrence Michael Levine, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon at Sundance Film Festival (Zimbio)
Plaza also remarked during the discussion about her NYFA days and shared with students that “New York Film Academy was so important.” She reminisced that prior to getting into the Teen Filmmaking program that she would stay up late at night and look at the pictures, “dreaming about being in that program.”
Laiter thanked Plaza, Levine, Abbott, and Gadon for taking the time to join the conversation and for discussing their process and experience filming their critically acclaimed film Black Bear, as well as sharing their expertise with students.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine for sharing their time and acting experience with NYFA students and alumni.
On October 15, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with acclaimed actress Nathalie Emmanuel to discuss the acting craft and her latest project Die Hart (now streaming on Quibi) with NYFA students. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Nathalie Emmanuel is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after English actresses and well-known to many as ‘Missandei’ in the critically acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones. Emmanuel can now be seen in Quibi’s comedic series Die Hart, starring alongside Kevin Hart and John Travolta. The actress was recently seen in Hulu’s romantic comedy series Four Weddings and a Funeral and made her US feature film debut with the wildly popular Fast & Furious and is expected to appear in the ninth installment, F9.
Emmanuel has also been heard as the voice of Deet in Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and starred in 20th Century Fox’s Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Emmanuel is also set to star in Josh Friedlander’s directorial debut Holly Slept Over, alongside Ron Livingston, Josh Lawson and Britt Lower.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Nathalie Emmanuel (Right) for NYFA’s The Q&A-List
Laiter began the conversation with the Die Hart actress by asking about how she started in the business. Stating she was a shy kid growing up, Emmanuel remarked how she got into the arts as a fun hobby until she finally got her big break on British TV show Hollyoaks.
Now Emmanuel is known all over the globe and her most recent project, Die Hart, is the latest comedy from bite-size content streaming provider Quibi. Laiter, who also has experience with Quibi for the reboot of Varsity Blues, asked Emmanuel about her experience shooting the show and the unique breakdown of each episode. “It was a four week shoot and we shot based on where we were and what we could get and it can be quite challenging shooting out of sequence, but the script was so great I remember leaving it and laughing so much and my character was such a fun challenge for me.”
Nathalie Emmanuel and Kevin Hart in ‘Die Hart’ (Quibi)
The discussion then opened to questions with one student asking Emmanuel about what she looks for in a script when deciding on a role. “I look for the challenges and aspects of the character that I can relate to,” she began. “As a woman and as a woman of color, I want to ask myself ‘what else can I bring to this?’ It’s also interesting to play people who are complex and when there is variety in the character’s journey.”
Speaking of characters, Emmanuel shared with the audience some advice on how to further connect with their characters if they are feeling stuck. “Sometimes my character can be inspired by music or it’s as simple as putting on your character’s clothing, but it depends on the part and sometimes the day. Once I am sure I really understand the scene and what I am about to do, the character’s world and the people around them, then it helps me connect to my character quicker.”
Nathalie Emmanuel in ‘The Fate of The Furious’ (Universal Pictures)
When building out her characters, Emmanuel shared that the process is different each time depending on the story and motivation of her character. “It really depends on the story. My character is a badass in Game of Thrones, but in a different way from my character in Fast & Furious is,” she recalled. “I would just try to prepare the character and identify all their qualities and flaws. I try to treat each character as an individual person and focus on their actions and what they do.”
Emmanuel also encouraged students who are making the move in the industry to have a solid support system nearby. “I’ve had to work hard at positive affirmation. I have control over the things that I can control in my career and there is a confidence that comes with that,” she shared. “You have to give yourself time though. Things won’t happen at the speed like someone else.”
Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei in ‘Game of Thrones’ (HBO)
Students were also able to ask Emmanuel about getting the part of her most iconic role, Missandei on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Emmanuel joked that she kept harassing her agent about to find a role to audition for on the show.
After landing the role and winning over audiences everywhere, Emmanuel remarked that her favorite director on the series, Mark Mylod, was outstanding at making everything comfortable on set for an intimate scene with fellow actor Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm). “Mark took the best care of us and gave us his ideas and would allow us to provide feedback. He was so respectful and so wonderful and just helped us bring out the beauty of that scene to where we felt like we just earned this moment.”
When working with directors, Emmanuel shared that she likes it when she can get direct feedback, even if it’s criticism. “As long as people are respectful to me when giving a note, I am fine with it,” she elaborated. “When it is laid out in a clear way, even if it’s negative, they [the director] are allowed to do that. Sometimes, you just have to work stuff out, get frustrated, and work through it.”
Nathalie Emmanuel in ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ (20th Century Fox)
At the end of the discussion, Laiter thanked Emmanuel for taking the time to speak with NYFA students and giving them insight into getting into character and working on set. “It was my pleasure honestly,” replied Emmanuel. “When I had seen the amazing talent of the people who have been on this series [Q&A-List], I was flattered to be here. I also get so excited about the talent that’s coming into the industry; you guys [NYFA students] are going to take hold of that whole shift that is happening.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank actress Nathalie Emmanuel for taking the time to speak with the NYFA community and invite the actress to come back in the future as many times as she wants!
Nathalie Emmanuel can be seen in Quibi’s Die Hart, now available to stream by downloading the Quibi app in the app store or through Quibi.com.
On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with manager and producer Risa Shapiro, where Shapiro shared her career expertise with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Risa Shapiro began her career in the entertainment business at The William Morris Agency in New York in 1981. She helped discover and cultivate the careers of such stars as Julia Roberts, Jennifer Connelly, Rosie O’Donnell, David Duchovny, Andie MacDowell and many more. In 1991, Shapiro left William Morris to join the ICM agency, where she continued to thrive as one of the most powerful female agents in the industry. In 2008, she decided to pursue management and production.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Risa Shapiro (Right) for NYFA’s Q&A-List
As a manager, Shapiro continues to represent Cher, Jennifer Connelly, Heather Graham, Steven McQueen, Christian Madsen, and many others. She co-financed Saw (2004), was an executive producer on Burlesque (2011), and produced the television movies Dear Mom, Love Cher (2013) for Lifetime and Love At First Glance (2017) for the Hallmark Channel.
Laiter opened up the discussion by recalling how, when Laiter was working as Co-President at Imagine Entertainment, Shapiro was just introducing the world her new upcoming client, Julia Roberts, who because her brother was already famous, “knew her way around the set and knew what actors were like and I knew she will go places and signed her,” remembered Shapiro.
Laiter then commented how Shapiro has such a keen eye for talent and asked whether she was born with it, or if it was something learned. Shapiro explained that it’s something you develop over time and it’s about loving actors and the movies. From there, she explained, it’s about “finding those roles [for your actor] that you can then show to the next director, and the next director, and the next one to get them (the clients) to that next big role.”
Film poster for ‘Burlesque’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)
As for the role of a Manager vs Agent, (and she was both) Shapiro explained that, in her role as a Manager, she is charged with being the point person to help guide her client’s career but an agent has most of the information from staff meetings so the ideal is to have both. She then shared a time when she received a producer credit on Burlesque without even pursuing one because, ultimately, the director knew that Shapiro was the reason that Cher [her client] remained there shooting the film and was a huge comfort for the actress.
Shapiro explained that one of the biggest challenges actors are facing now in the business is competition. She shared that, due to the high volume of talent and availability, actors have to “be really great these days,” and reminded NYFA students: “You’re not going to do a great job on your own. You have to stay in class and you have to get a coach.”
(Left to Right) Producer Donald De Line, restaurateur Victor Drai and executive producer Risa Shapiro
A student then asked about how someone would go about finding an agent if they are new in the business and Shapiro had this advice to share:
“Put together a reel you are proud of and just remember: People in the entertainment business have a short attention span, so don’t make it too long. Then, go online and find the names of managers and agents and make sure they are relatively young and send material on yourself to them (your picture, resume, reel, where you went to school, etc).”
Laiter then added “make friends with the assistants of those people,” to which Shapiro agreed, noting that you should always get to know the people around the point person you are trying to reach when finding an agent. Laiter and Shapiro also suggested that actors and others should invest in IMDBPro so they can keep up with who represents who in the industry.
Another student looking for advice from Shapiro asked, if they have other talents other than acting, whether they should begin looking for representation as an actor first, rather than for all the other disciplines.. “Don’t be spread too thin,” Shapiro replied. “Try and get an agent as an actor and then branch out. When you work on a set as an actor, you’re going to meet people that will help you in other areas later on.”
Shapiro closed the conversation by encouraging students to create using the resources they have today. “People in the industry today can make a movie by themselves on their computer. You could write and star in your own movie, but always have something to show people that will make others impressed.” Laiter agreed and added, “use this time in school to do the best short, broadcast segment or project that you can be proud of.”
Actors Amy Smart and Adrian Grenier in ‘Love at First Glance’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)
Laiter closed the conversation by thanking Shapiro for sharing her time and vast knowledge of the business side of the movie industry.Shapiro expressed her enjoyment of the conversation and wished NYFA’s students the best of luck in their future endeavours.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Manager and Producer Risa Shapiro for sharing her time and expertise with students and alumni looking to explore the business side of the film industry as actors, filmmakers, producers, and more.
This summer, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure of hosting a live video Q&A with the talented Producer Christopher Leggett to discuss his current success with multiple films and projects in recent distribution, including Ask Dr. Ruth, Mike Wallace is Here and Honey Boy, Shia LaBeouf’s award winning, screenwriting premiere.
Producer Christopher Leggett, along with Rafael Marmor, is a controlling partner at Delirio Films, a production company with a long list of award-winning films, both documentary and narrative, and several compelling non-fiction television series on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, The History Channel and NBC, to name a few.
NYFA instructors Sanora Bartels (Top Left) and Roberta Colangelo (Top Right) with Christopher Leggett
The Q&A was conducted by Los Angeles Chairs of the Documentary and Producing Departments, Sanora Bartels and Roberta (Robi) Colangelo, respectively. They were excited to speak with the producer, who has a very active and successful record with both documentary (where he started) and narrative filmmaking; his credits are a testament to the importance of storytelling, regardless of genre.
The discussion focused on how to make the transition from film student to filmmaking professional and the most important aspects of a successful professional career. Leggett was generous with his time and inspiring with his answers.
His advice to students in film school was to work on their tangible skill sets and noted that, for him, that includes editing: “I was a swimmer in college…so I had a little bit of the athlete mentality of just constantly doing the work was really important right out of school.” He went on to say that while you’ll have a lot of uncreative, “grunt work” to perform, “everything is a stepping-stone at that level.”
Leggett (Far right) on a press junket for ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’
Once he mastered the technical level of the work and had something tangible on his resume, he knew he had to move on from the secure job and get himself out into the world networking in order to use his storytelling skills picked up in school. He also acknowledged the importance of internships during school, which allowed him to maintain professional relationships that he would reconnect with after getting some experience under his belt.
He also used his connections in the competitive swim world to differentiate himself as a filmmaker. In other words, he understood that he needed unique access to a world outside of filmmaking in order to tell stories that he was uniquely qualified to tell. This allowed him to pitch an idea to NBC, get hired and move up the rungs of the ladder at NBC Universal where he worked on Against the Tide and began cutting his teeth as a producer.
Of his time at NBC, Leggett reveals that “when you’re in an organization like that, there are a lot of boundaries… your job goes from here to here [hands about six inches apart]…and I think good people are constantly pushing at it to try to get more responsibility.”
This desire for more responsibility caused Leggett to develop his own project, The Short Game. He admitted that he did this while employed by NBC and because golf was not yet an Olympic sport, it did not pose a conflict of interest and he was able to see it through. He called it his “side hustle.”
Leggett (Left) at New York premiere of ‘Mike Wallace is Here’
His practicality and go-getter attitude spills into his philosophy around “luck,” which he believes is presented as an opportunity, but you have to say yes. “I learned early in my career not to be scared that I don’t know what I’m doing. So luck happens when you say yes.”
Talking to him about his producing philosophy led to an interesting discussion around titles versus ego versus the very real job of the producer, Leggett shared: “The Producer’s role I feel is so vast,” he explained. “You are an essential person to have birthed this project into the world.”
With this, he shared how he transitioned from documentary to narrative filmmaking, something many find difficult, but his message was all about the work and he stressed the importance of business relationships built on trust and the ability to speak the same “language.” He eventually created Delirio Films based on relationships and the desire to help filmmakers evolve.
Alma Har’el (Left) with Christopher Leggett at the Tribeca Film Festival
Because Leggett is already pushing the boundaries of budgets on his documentaries, transitioning to traditional scripted narrative filmmaking came naturally. He chose to produce Honey Boy based on a past relationship with Alma Har’el and, again, he stressed the importance of trust and their mutual belief that they were “soldiers of cinema” who get things done.
When asked how he chooses the artists on his team and how he defines which relationships are important to develop, he had this to say:
“I do think that a lot of the directors that I respond to have strong opinions, are collaborative but have strong opinions! I’m not going to push them over. They have their take and I can try to poke holes through their take, and they will come up with solutions, not put up walls.”
Leggett also shared additional advice to grow and develop your skills and become a talented professional:
“I said yes to a lot of things and then I googled later what I said yes to….you learn so much by just being in it. You may not want to be an editor but learn it. You [as a student] have a great curriculum that leads up to a thesis film. Embrace that and try to learn every sphere when you’re doing the thesis film. You’re going to have so many more tangible skills.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Christopher Leggett for sharing his time and expertise with NYFA students and guests on developing tangible skills and saying “yes” to projects and opportunities to be a great filmmaker and producer.
On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with award-winning and celebrated actor Alec Baldwin to discuss the acting craft with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.
Alec Baldwin has received a Tony nomination for his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, a supporting actor nomination at the Oscars for The Cooler (2004), and he has won three Emmy awards, three Golden Globes and seven consecutive Screen Actors Guild Awards for ‘Best Actor in a Comedy Series’ for his role as Jack Donaghy on NBC-TV’s 30 Rock.
Tina Fey (Left) and Alec Baldwin (Right) pose with their SAG Awards for ‘30 Rock’
Baldwin’s filmography also includes the critically acclaimed film The Hunt for Red October, for which NYFA’s Founder, Jerry Sherlock, was Executive Producer, as well as Glengarry Glen Ross, It’s Complicated, The Departed, Pearl Harbor, Blue Jasmine, Still Alice, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and many more.
More recently, Baldwin has gained critical acclaim and popularity surrounding his portrayal of President Donald Trump for Saturday Night Live, joining the cast regularly for ongoing appearances as the 45th President.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Alec Baldwin (Right) for The NYFA Q&A Series
Laiter began the Q&A by asking Baldwin about his successful career and finding his place in Hollywood. “In the beginning, you have a boyish gratitude [on set], similar to being a guest in someone’s house,” he began, “everyone on the set knows more than you, but that changes later on when you are on a film and someone says something to you and you go ‘no, I think it’s this,’ as you begin to understand what will make a scene work.”
The conversation then switched to Baldwin’s successful career as not only a dramatic actor, but a comedic performer, where Laiter brought up Baldwin’s hilarious and well-timed character Jack Donaghy on NBC’s critically acclaimed TV series 30 Rock. “The show, to me, is one of the ultimate examples of me being the beneficiary of very good writing,” he shares. “The writing was the best I had ever seen in terms of comedy and it was natural to me.”
Baldwin on set for Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’
One student asked Baldwin about how he chooses the right script as an actor. Baldwin responded: “I try to decide ‘is this movie a movie I want to make or I want to see?’ Then, I look at my character. I’ve played parts where my character wasn’t the biggest role or well-served in terms of page count, but there was an opportunity to me where I could see that character having an impact on that film.” When it comes to looking at a script, Baldwin explains that it’s about the quality of storytelling and the impact of your character that matters.
Another student asked Baldwin about what it can be like for an actor when giving a performance in a film versus acting in television series.
Baldwin as President Donald Trump for ‘Saturday Night Live’
“Moviemaking is intense because you have to narrow everything down to what is worthwhile and what works,” he shares. “Television allows for more time to spread your character arc or story along. There is more complexity involved because there is more time. If not in this episode then in the next…”
To the question of whether one should try everything or stick to the one that already works, Baldwin recommended that when you are just starting out and you are young, to try everything to become the actor you can be and want to be, Baldwin reminded students that it isn’t just about finding an agent, “making it,” or getting everything “right” after studying acting: “Join a rep company. Do as many shows as you can. Do as many roles as you can off the beaten path so you can make your mistakes under the radar before you get typecast.”
Steve Martin (Left) and Alec Baldwin (Right) host the 82nd Academy Awards
Baldwin also provided profound advice to students when auditioning for a role. “Remember they asked you there.” He explains that it can be easy to go into an audition with a “people pleasing attitude,” but “they want what you have; they invited you to come to audition and they need you. You are a professional and they are looking for someone to play a part, and you give everything you’ve got in the audition. Once you walk into the room and realize no one is doing anybody any favors, it’s business, and you’re a part of that business, then everything is going to change for you.”
Baldwin closed the conversation by thanking Laiter for the conversation and the students for their time, and expressed that he hoped his words were helpful to those looking at a career in acting.
New York Film Academy would like to thank the talented Alec Baldwin for sharing his time and acting experience with NYFA students and alumni.
To listen to the full conversation, click the video below or check it out on our YouTube channel here.
On Tuesday, July 14, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to hold a live video Q&A with critically acclaimed actress MENA SUVARI to discuss her acting career with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.
Mena Suvari is an award winning actress known for her roles in hits such as American Pie (1999) and the five-time Oscar-awarded American Beauty (1999). Directed by Sam Mendes, her genuine and moving performance as the character Angeles Hayes in American Beauty earned her a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ nod by BAFTA and a SAG Award for ‘Best Ensemble Cast.’ Suvari also won a Movieline Award for ‘Breakthrough Performance’ for her role.
Following the success of American Pie, she reunited with Jason Biggs in Amy Heckerling’s romantic comedy Loser (2000) and continued to show her acting range in projects like Jonas Åkerlund’s cult-classic Spun (2002), Rob Reiner’s Rumor Has It (2005), Tony Scott’s Domino (2005), and Factory Girl (2006), amongst others.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Mena Suvari (Right) during live Q&A
Laiter opened the conversation by discussing Suvari’s career in the entertainment industry, which began with Suvari booking modeling and commercial jobs, which then turned into guest star roles on television. After booking her first film, Nowhere (1997), other indie film gigs soon opened up for the actress, eventually leading her to her biggest break yet, a lead role in the cult-classic, blockbuster film American Pie.
Suvari recalls the audition for high school chorus student Heather being very relaxed and not as intense as her audition for American Beauty. After shooting American Pie, Suvari remembers going into film Sam Mendes’ heavily awarded film American Beauty, playing a more dramatic role as Angela Hayes, known for her iconic, risqué rose petal scenes throughout the film.
“I honestly remember thinking, at the time, ‘I’m so happy to have a job’ not necessarily the big names around me and they [American Pie and American Beauty] saved me at the time during a very personally challenging moment in my life.”
Kevin Spacey (Left) and Mena Suvari (Right) in ‘American Beauty’
Suvari, who has experienced shooting some intimate scenes across her filmography, also touched on what it can be like for actors on set when filming a very sensual or more explicit scene.
“It can definitely be awkward sometimes,” she laughs, “I have worked in all types of scenarios, but when you are shooting intimate scenes you want to keep the crew as small as possible and make everything feel very considerate.” For American Beauty, Suvari recalls everything being handled very professionally and carefully and remembers that Mendes was “very supportive” throughout the process.
Mena Suvari in ‘American Pie’ (1999)
A student then asked Suvari how she personally gets into approaching a role when reading a script. “It depends on the project,” she shared. “I am currently working on a project now, for example, where there is a tight family dynamic and I am trying to understand where the characters are coming from and their motivations.”
Ultimately, Suvari explains, approaching a script is really about collaboration, as well. “I want to approach the writer, the director, and whoever I can to understand the genesis of the story and what it means to them, and ask as many questions as I can.”
Mena Suvari (Left) and Alicia Silverstone (Right) in ‘American Woman’
Suvari closed the conversation, by sharing some advice with NYFA students that has always stuck with her throughout her career while she was shooting Orpheus in 2007. “It was something that you think would be so simple, but the director [Bruce Beresford] just said ‘listen, listen listen,’ which can be tricky if you think about it, because you already know the script and what will happen because you are familiar with everything, but you need to be as present as possible in the moment.”
Laiter then thanked Suvari for joining the conversation and giving students some excellent insight for their future productions in front of the camera or for those directing actors, while Suvari exclaimed she was so happy to be part of the conversation and to speak with the students.
New York Film Academy would like to thank actress Mena Suvari for sharing her time and her experiences working on set from being a young actress to a seasoned performer. NYFA encourages everyone to check out Suvari’s upcoming film Grace and Grit, set to release later in 2020.
On July 9th, Game Designer Elan Lee talked with NYFA’s Scott Rogers as part of the Masters of Game Design speaker series.
Elan Lee (Left) and NYFA’s Scott Rogers (Right)
Lee discussed his origins working at Microsoft on classic games such as Halo. Lee chronicled his co-creating the Alternate Reality game genre with Jordan Wiseman on the Steven Spielberg’s the Beast. Rogers and Lee chatted about projects I Love Bees and Why So Serious? and Year Zero which were created by Lee’s 42 Entertainment. Lee discussed his transition from digital to tabletop games and the design and marketing of the Kickstarter record-breaking game Exploding Kittens. Lee also took questions from the Zoom audience.
Exploding Kittens game created by Elan Lee
A recording of this talk with Elan Lee will be available at a future date. To learn more about upcoming Masters of Game Design speakers, please join the NYFA Game Mentor Network at Meetup.com. For more on NYFA’s School of Game Design, click here.