Guest Speakers

  • Director Doug Liman Speaks to NYFA Producing Students


    Doug Liman

    Noted director Doug Liman, whose film Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, is currently playing on over 3,400 screens across the U.S., recently appeared at the New York Film Academy as part of the Producing School’s Industry Speaker series.

    Participating in a lengthy question and answer session with Producing Department Co-Chair Neal Weisman, Doug spoke about various aspects of his career. The discussion largely focused on his process making such seminal independent films as Swingers and Go. He also gave great insight into the development and production of The Bourne Identity, which spawned the ongoing film franchise. Doug’s perspective on his career, and the current state of the film/tv industry, was truly inspiring for the gathering of NYFA producers, filmmakers, and screenwriters.


    June 16, 2014 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 4978

  • NYFA Meets the Hollywood Monster Makers



    On June 11th, the New York Film Academy Animation department hosted an anniversary screening of The Terminator (1984) to a full house. The film remains exciting as ever as evidenced by the thunderous applause during the end credits. After the film, co-chair of animation Mark Sawicki moderated a panel of artists who created the amazing effects for the film. Guest artists and Oscar nominees Shane Mahan and John Rosengrant were character creators and puppeteers of the Terminator robot for the film. The Terminator was the first film they worked on with the legendary Stan Winston. Upon Winston’s passing in 2008, Shane and John co-founded the Legacy studio to carry on the tradition of excellent character creation and practical effects work on such films as Aliens, Predator, Jurassic Park and Iron Man. Also joining the event was guest artist Ernest Farino who was responsible for the main title and graphics work on the picture. Mark Sawicki worked with Ernest as an optical consultant to help devise the look and procedures to generate the robot’s eye view or Termovision. Ernest is a two time Emmy winner for visual effects and is now directing.

    The group shared marvelous stories from the movie such as rubbing honey into the make up of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face to attract a freshly refrigerated fly as it woke from its frozen slumber. Another trick shared by Ernest was a shot of Arnold pushing his fist through the windshield of a moving car. This was accomplished with a stationary car with a mechanical battering ram in the shape of Arnold’s fist. The illusion of movement was created by having a truck drive by with a fake wall of plastic bricks attached to its side. The bricks moving quickly behind the stationary car made it appear that the car was moving quickly past a static wall as the fake hand shattered the windshield.

    Terminator posterBoth Shane and John emphasized the importance of story and sticking to reality to create believable effects. John said that to make a believable dinosaur you have to obey the laws of physics and have a two-ton dinosaur move with heft and weight and not fly around like a bumblebee.

    After an engaging discussion of trends and techniques, the panel was open to questions from the audience. Many students asked what it was that made older practical effects more appealing than today’s CGI. Shane suggested that in the past horror and fantasy films were overlooked as small pictures and the filmmakers had much more freedom to entertain happy accidents or try bold lighting and other techniques. Today’s multi million dollar blockbusters have a great deal at stake and much more input is given from not only the studios but other large franchises like McDonald’s who use movies as cross promotional vehicles. One student compared older effects to gleaming silver while CGI was more like polished steel. Mark mentioned that lighting is very difficult to mimic in a virtual environment and can create the impression the student mentioned but there are ways to improve upon it such as the use of HDRI imagery to light the CGI characters. John pointed out that CGI could be exceptional if done well with attention to detail and dedication to realism as exampled by Jurassic Park.

    There was a great deal of interest among students to either pursue the field as artists or make use of these tried and true techniques as directors in their own right.
    The event wrapped up with our guests receiving complimentary gift bags from NYFA as they graciously autographed their names to The Terminator poster that will soon adorn the halls of our school.

    Thank you Shane, John and Ernest for inspiring us all and reminding us all about the importance of story and characters!


    June 13, 2014 • 3D Animation, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 5620

  • Matthew Modine Guest Lectures at First Acting for Directors Class

    Matthew Modine

    Matthew Modine

    Acclaimed, veteran actor, Matthew Modine paid a visit to the New York Film Academy’s first Acting for Directors class in Los Angeles, where he was able to elaborate on being an actor as well as a director. Modine, known for his role as “Joker” in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Full Metal Jacket, has directed a number of short films and is currently in pre-production on a feature called The Rocking Horseman. In addition to Kubrick, he has also worked with Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Demme, and countless others.

    “He was very approachable and casual, and discussed the importance of being prepared before going on set and how an actor has to do his work beforehand,” said NYFA LA Acting Instructor, Paz Leon. “He also told us that when he worked with Christopher Nolan, he noticed that he never looks at the monitor and always stays close to the actors. This made the actors feel safe and protected by him. So he advised the students to try that instead of being so close to the monitor.”

    Students were thrilled with the experience, one student said, “It was really great to meet an actor of his stature, yet see how down to earth he is.” While another added, “It was obvious from his energy that he’s passionate not only about acting, but also directing. I was really inspired.”

    The New York Film Academy is grateful for having such a prominent actor like Matthew Modine come in to provide insight and encouragement to our students. Once again, we’d like to thank Matthew for his time at NYFA!


    June 12, 2014 • Acting, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 5794

  • NYFA LA Screens “The Skeleton Twins” with SVP of Acquisitions at Sony

    Joe Matukewicz

    Joe Matukewicz at NYFA LA

    This week New York Film Academy students in Los Angeles were treated to a special sneak preview screening of the hit Sundance award-winning comedy The Skeleton Twins followed by a Q&A, moderated by Tova Laiter, with the SVP of Acquisitions at Sony, Joe Matukewicz. The film, which won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award this past Sundance Film Festival and currently has a 100 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, delighted students with its offbeat comedy and surprisingly profound performances by NYFA alum Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig. The discussion that followed with Joe Matukewicz shed light on the less known world of film acquisitions.

    Joe Matukewicz is the current Senior Vice President of Worldwide Acquisition for Sony Pictures. His past positions include SVP and Head of Worldwide Acquisitions at Relativity Media, VP Acquisitions and Co-Productions at Paramount Vantage, and Director of Acquisitions and Co-Productions at Paramount Classics. Among the many films with which he was involved with were Act of Valor, House at the End of the Street, Hustle and Flow (2005 Oscar Winner for Best Original Song), The Machinist, and An Inconvenient Truth (2006 double-Oscar winner for Best Documentary and Best Original Song).

    Skelton Twins

    Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader in ‘The Skeleton Twins’

    At Sony, Joe acquires forty movies a year of all genres, some of which are distributed by Sony and others with indie labels. Some movies can be bought at script stage, if there is a package attached, while others can be very execution depended — distributors may wait to see the movie, even though it can be more competitive.

    When Joe first began in the acquisitions world as an assistant, he didn’t even know what “acquisitions” was. He soon discovered that the purchasing of film properties was an art form and one for which he had a knack. Deciding what to buy and when to buy it is a game for which there is no definitive strategy. Joe Matukewicz considers many factors including cast, execution, genre, social/political climate at the time and, of course, story. The one thing he doesn’t care about is the film’s budget. The producers are never obligated to reveal the true budget of the film. However, Joe will ask as many people involved with the film as he can what the budget is, but mainly to see how many different answers he can get. This will reveal the filmmakers’ expectation of how much they can sell it for, which is a more important factor in how much the film will end up costing him than the budget itself.

    Mr. Matukewicz acquired The Skeleton Twins at this past Sundance Film Festival. His yearly schedule is jam-packed with film festival appearances. Although his job is exhausting, traveling around the world, watching films and making big picture deals is an exciting gig that Joe is very grateful to have. We wish Joe Matukewicz continued success in the world of acquisitions and hope that his next purchase makes a huge splash in a theater near you.


    June 11, 2014 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 6261

  • A Retrospective Look at the Works of Gordon Willis


    gordon willisThis week began on sad note, as we learned of the passing of legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, ASC. Many consider him the father of modern cinematography, and he is noted for both the precision of his compositions and the boldness of his lighting. Willis set the tone for Hollywood in the early 1970’s, shooting a string of classic films including “The Godfather I and II“, “Klute“, “Manhattan“, “All The President’s Men” and “Annie Hall” to name only a few.

    Michael Pessah, Chair of the LA Cinematography School, has prepared a special lecture class to honor Willis’ contribution to the art form and present selected scenes from his films. Entitled “A Retrospective Look at the Works of Gordon Willis”, this lecture will take place at the LA campus on Thursday, May 22nd at 7pm. Willis’ images have inspired several generations of cinematographers, and New York Film Academy is proud to honor his legacy by presenting his work to our students.


    May 22, 2014 • Cinematography, Guest Speakers • Views: 3497

  • DGA Training Program Chair Speaks at NYFA LA


    Darrell Woodard

    Special guest Darrell Woodard, co-chair of The Directors Guild of America’s Training Program for the west coast, recently visited the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. He talked to students about the DGA Training Program, the submission process, and specifically encouraged minorities, women, and veterans to apply. Darrell attributes his successful assistant directing career to the opportunities he’s been given as a participant and graduate of the program himself. Cheryl Bedford, NYFA’s own producing instructor and Chair of Diversity Development, moderated the interview.

    The first step of applying to the DGA’s Training Program for the west coast requires the applicant to fill out a form and write a personal essay. For this step, Darrell emphasized that best way you can “stand out” is by “following the rules.” One would be surprised by how often this isn’t done. So ensure you read the directions and fill out everything correctly. If you make it through the first phase, the second involves a group interview in which the applicants are judged on how well they work as team members. The difficulty here lies in not being too overbearing or passive—in other words, you must be a quiet leader. In the final stage you are interviewed intensely by a DGA Training Program committee. Be prepared, as they will leave no stone uncovered in regards to the information you’ve included on your application and your motivations for attending the program.

    Mr. Woodward made it clear that assistant directing within the American film industry is NOT the best path to actually directing. In fact, the assistant director may be the closest person to the director, but he or she is the furthest from the director’s chair. The AD position is intentionally designed this way so there is no conflict of interest. While having allegiance to the director, the assistant director must simultaneously maintain autonomy from them. The AD is ultimately beholden to the producer and he must always do what’s best for the production as a whole. Because of this, the AD is obligated to finish the project with or without the director. Although there have been assistant directors who have made the transition to directing, it is not common. Therefore, assistant directing is a career path in and of itself, not a means to the end of becoming a director.

    For those passionate about assistant directing, the DGA’s Training Program is as good as it get’s in terms of a platform to launch your career. If ADing is a passion of yours then apply this year! We sincerely thank Darrell Woodward for the time he spent with the New York Film Academy and the opportunities he’s giving up-and-coming professionals through the DGA Training Program.


    May 13, 2014 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 6384

  • Legendary Director Peter Medak Speaks at NYFA LA

    Peter Medak

    Peter Medak and Tova Laiter

    Last week, acclaimed director, Peter Medak visited New York Film Academy Los Angeles after a screening of his 1980 horror film The Changeling at Warner Bros. Studios theater for an in-depth Q&A with Tova Laiter and students. As a first assistant director, Peter worked with legendary British film directors Sir Carol Reed, David Lean, Fred Zinneman, and Alfred Hitchcock. As director, Peter Medak’s 1972 film, The Ruling Class, starring Peter O’Toole, was nominated for an Oscar. His other works include The Krays, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg with Alan Bates, The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Mandy Patinkin and Salma Hayek, and Romeo is Bleeding with Gary Oldman, to name a few. In television he has directed episodes of iconic series such as Breaking Bad, House, The Wire, and Hannibal.

    peter medakPeter had a rocky upbringing growing up Jewish during the Nazi invasion of Hungary and the events that followed. He spent much of his childhood years inside his family’s apartment, unable to attend school because the threat World War II and the subsequent occupation of Soviet Forces posed. He would often look through the keyhole in the apartment’s door, struggling to see what little he could of the outside world. The few films Peter was exposed to were magical to him and ignited his imagination. His aunt was a world-famous traveling opera singer who visited Peter often and gave him a camera and some film as a present. Peter was hooked on filmmaking from that moment on. Later Peter and his family fled to England as refugees. His aunt was able to help him get is first filmmaking job as a trainee in an editing room. He eventually moved up the ranks to work as an assistant director. However, Peter always had ambitions to direct. His big break ironically came when he made one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Peter had failed to call an important actor to set one day. The producer was furious and made Peter admit his mistake to the director himself. Instead of firing Peter though, the director simply coached him on how he could do better next time. The director inquired about his accent and Peter informed him that he was a Hungarian refugee. Admiring his perseverance in the face of adversity the director promoted Peter the very next day to second unit director and his directing career began.

    Peter’s 1980 film The Changeling is regarded as a masterpiece in the haunted house/thriller genre. The director admitted the script gave him chills the first time he read it. He couldn’t put the screenplay down and the material actually frightened him. Peter said that a script that can affect you so profoundly is gold and you should pursue is relentlessly. Throughout his life, Peter has always had an intimate connection to the paranormal. He believes in ghosts and confesses to having seen them. Peter’s experience with the supernatural has informed his filmmaking within the subject. It’s not the ghost that you see up close, right in front of the camera that’s frightening, because it never happens that way. It’s always a glimpse of something that you catch in the corner of your eye that makes the hair on your arms stand up. To that effect, Peter suggested that to show a ghost on film you could fog up a room and wait until only ten percent of the smoke remains. It’s not the effect that’s in your face but the subtle hint of something there that’s scary.

    Peter Medak went on to entertain students with stories from his legendary career and share invaluable advice he’s gained along the way. It was a privilege for all attending to be in the presence of and learn from such a master of his craft. We look forward to seeing what this brilliant mind produces next.


    May 5, 2014 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 8249

  • Screening of ‘Donnie Darko’ with Producer Adam Fields

    Adam Fields NYFA LA

    Producer Adam Fields

    New York Film Academy Los Angeles students were treated this month to a screening of the cult smash hit Donnie Darko at Warner Bros. studios. Following the screening was a Q&A with the producer Adam Fields, moderated by Tova Laiter.

    Although there may be mass confusion as to the meaning behind Donnie Darko, most people can agree that, for one reason or another, they love it. This was the case for producer Adam Fields when he first read the script and decided to spearhead the project. Adam didn’t know exactly what the story was about, but he was deeply drawn to the project. Most notably, the dialogue of the struggling high school students felt more real and moving than anything else he had ever read in that genre. So Adam followed his gut and took on the project. Before he had secured any financing, he went out on a limb and announced a future shooting date in the trade papers. Agents began calling and asking to read the script, their clients loved the material, and soon everyone was interested. This momentum attracted money and eventually Drew Barrymore, who helped complete financing. By believing the project was definitely happening and acting as if it were, Adam Fields manifested the reality he desired.

    The value of “trusting your gut” was an important theme of the night. Trusting his gut is also something Adam did when deciding to produce the film Ravenous. Similar to Donnie Darko, this film was obscure and didn’t fit perfectly into any one particular genre like Hollywood likes, but Adam loved it. Without Adam’s enthusiasm for this offbeat script with cannibalistic content and humorous undertones, Ravenous would never have seen the light of day. He was eventually able to convince a studio executive to read the script. Although the executive told Adam that he “hated it,” he didn’t give up. While courting the executive over breakfast, he learned that he was a vegetarian, which explained to Adam why he wouldn’t like a script about cannibals. However, Adam cleverly spun the project as a “pro-vegetarian” piece. Adam was able to help the executive see what he saw in Ravenous and the project was green-lit.

    Adam Fields rise to the top was definitely an unorthodox approach. He didn’t care about what was popular or trending and simply pursued those projects that he connected with. His successes, (that he has either produced or supervised) — An American Werewolf in London, Six Weeks, Missing, Endless Love, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Great Balls of Fire, Ali, Brokedown Palace, Blue Crush, and Limitless with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro — were all the more satisfying because of this. This was an important lesson that Adam taught NYFA students.

    We wish Adam Fields the best of luck with his future projects such as Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Wedding Ringer, a TV series based on James Mangold’s Copland, and Gone Baby Gone from author Dennis Lehane.


    April 28, 2014 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 7030

  • Award-Winning Legal Affairs Correspondent to Conduct Workshop for NYFA Broadcast Journalism Students


    truTVFor more than a decade, Grace Wong has covered dozens of high-profile court case. Working first for Court TV, then for CNN’s sister network truTV, on Friday, May 2 she brings her expertise to the New York Film Academy.

    Grace is an expert in a field with a number of unique challenges. First and foremost, you have to explain the circumstances and the personalities involved in a specific case. Next you need to put this particular case within the context of a complex legal system. Then you must communicate what happened in court on a given day, and how it fits in with the testimony and evidence that preceded it.

    Now, do this every day for a month…

    Grace Wong will make a formal presentation, including samples of her work, and then will participate in a Q&A session. The workshop will be moderated by Emmy Award-winning news producer Bill Einreinhofer, the Chair of the Broadcast Journalism department.

    The class starts at 10:00am, and takes place on the Battery Place campus. Current, former and potential NYFA students are invited to attend.


    April 25, 2014 • Broadcast Journalism, Guest Speakers • Views: 4189

  • ‘Justified’ Star Erica Tazel Surprises Acting Students at NYFA Battery Park

    Erica Tazel

    “Justified” actress, Erica Tazel

    This past Thursday afternoon, the New York Film Academy One-Year Acting students were surprised with a special guest, actress, Erica Tazel. Erica is best known for her role of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks on the hit FX television show, Justified. Moderating the event was Acting Chair, Glynis Rigsby, who was more than delighted to pick the talented young actress’ mind.

    While Erica was, for the most part, a working actress coming out of school, she reached a point while living in Los Angeles where she had to make a game changing decision in her life. She was offered a teaching job at Spelman College in Georgia, but wasn’t sure if that would be giving up on her career. After a personal one-on-one with her agent, Erica made the decision to turn down the job, even though it would bring stability to her life. As fate would have it, Erica was called in to audition for a pilot the next day. That pilot was Justified. And not only did she nail the audition, she is now a series regular on the hit show that just wrapped its 5th season.

    However, auditions were not always automatic for Erica. “I don’t even call them auditions anymore,” said Tazel. “I call them opportunities.” In a business that requires a thick skin and the ability to accept rejection gracefully, Erica developed several techniques to bring the whole process into a positive light. It was this attitude, in addition to her obvious charm, beauty, and talent, that has enabled Erica to reach her current level of success.

    Another interesting anecdote from Erica’s talk was how she told the students that she sat down and watched the entire first season of Justified during the hiatus. She carefully studied her part and the show on a whole. With that, she came up with several suggestions for the writers of the show. Low and behold, her initiative ended up creating an entire episode, devoted to her character and her ideas. Just goes to show the kind of commitment and enthusiasm that is needed to succeed in this industry.

    Aside from being a terrific actress and charismatic speaker, Erica is heavily involved with a charity called Get on the Bus. The charity reunites children in California with their mothers and fathers in prison. It is a wonderful cause and something Erica cares very deeply about.


    April 11, 2014 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 7167