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  • New York Film Academy Hosts Screening of Veteran Documentary

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    Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 11.33.56 AM

    This past Thursday, the New York Film Academy, in collaboration with the Soldiers Project, a non-profit which provides confidential readjustment counseling to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, held a screening of Where Soldiers Come From. The screening was immediately followed by a Q&A with currently enrolled veteran students at NYFA.

    nyfa veteransThe film is based on a four year journey of childhood friends whose lives are forever changed by war. Where Soldiers Come From, provides a glimpse beyond the guns, glamour, and politics of war, and highlights family, friendship, community and the impact of war on our returning service members and veterans.

    The Q&A allowed currently enrolled civilian students, faculty, and staff to ask the panel of veteran students about their experiences, while in the military, after the military, and now as a college students. The panel consisted of a former special operations service member (BFA Screenwriter), a Marine who deployed to Afghanistan (BFA Filmmaking), and two Army veterans (BFA Acting/MFA Acting), including a woman veteran who served as an MP (Military Police).

    “The event brought together not only our veteran student population, but our entire campus community as a whole to learn about the experiences of our veterans,” says John Powers, Director Office of Veterans Services at NYFA. “With more than 200 veterans on campus, we are focused on providing services to ensure that NYFA veterans are meeting their educational and artistic goals while bridging the civilian, military gap.”

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    October 15, 2013 • Community Highlights, Guest Speakers • Views: 3389

  • How David Marshall Grant’s Persistence Led to His Success

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    This Monday, the New York Film Academy hosted a screening of ABC’s Brothers and Sisters with executive producer/show-runner David Marshall Grant. The event was moderated by Producer, Tova Laiter.

    In addition to Grant’s success in television as Executive Producer/show-runner of NBC’s Smash and ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, he is an accomplished actor and playwright. His first play, Snakebit, was nominated for both a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. His second play, Current Events, was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000. His most recent play, Pen, opened in 2006 at Playwrights Horizons. As an actor, Grant is best known for playing opposite Richard Gere in Broadway’s Bent and for his Tony-nominated performance in Angels in America. His acting credits include film and television work in such projects as The Devil Wears Prada, The Stepford Wives, The Rock, Air America, And the Band Played On, Citizen Cohn, thirtysomething, Eli Stone, and Party Down.

    david grantAfter attending the Yale School of Drama, David went to the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference in Connecticut where he did a workshop of Bent. He was very lucky to experience immediate success right out of school when the production, which was bound for Broadway, asked him to star opposite Richard Gere. “So much of life is what fate brings you, and so much of life is what you bring when fate shows up,” said Grant.

    It was during his time at the playwright’s conference that David became fascinated with story and by the idea that the way an actor’s mind thought could actually help you as a writer. This kept gnawing at him until one summer he began to write a play. He wrote 23 pages the first day, assuming he could have the production up and running in no time. However, he ended up working on the play for five years and it was never produced despite his efforts.

    When his acting career stalled after Bent, David started taking writing more seriously. His second play was entitled, Snakebit. It was twelve years before this film was produced on a very small scale at Grove Street Theater in New York. There was an audience of 53 people. One of these people was Peter Marks of The New York Times. Marks wrote a great review of the play, and the next day everyone was calling David. It seemed there was a renewed interest in him.

    At the time, David was auditioning for episodic television and not getting the parts, so he decided to “open the door that wasn’t locked” and become a writer. Although, even that became an immense struggle for David. Five or six years later, John Robin Bates called David and asked him if he wanted to be a story editor on Brothers and Sisters, and he hasn’t stopped working since then.

    David always tries to impress on his students that, “Failure is the norm,” and this industry is a long game. “You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize, and if it doesn’t happen today, it might not happen for the next five years. But that doesn’t mean you give up.”

    David was also one of the first brave actors to play gay characters, like he did in Bent, when other actors (straight or gay) wouldn’t. This was also at a point when David hadn’t been out with the public. In thirtysomething, David took the opportunity to play a gay character, even though he was convinced it would ruin his career. He brought up the point that there hasn’t been a major movie actor that has come out yet. You can’t be Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise and be known as gay.

    QUESTION: Can you give advice to actors who want to transition into producing?

    DAVID: An actor’s job should always be to figure out how he or she can support the STORY—understand what your place in the story is. You are a part of the larger thing—and that thing is everything—STORY.

    QUESTION: What are some of the roles of a show-runner?

    DAVID: Your first job is to come up with a story every week. You follow the story. Also, it’s about navigating personalities—the demands of the studio and the actors on the script. That’s what the show-runner does. In the process of pushing that story up the hill, he deals with every human being that touches that story.

    David’s story was inspirational in regards to the success one can achieve in this industry through endurance and never giving up. He made the point to say that you must consciously inspire yourself. “It really works by failing every single day, until the world sees,” he concluded.

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    October 11, 2013 • Acting, Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Musical Theatre, Screenwriting • Views: 9812

  • Literary Agent Says TV is Where it’s At

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    melinda jason

    Once again, producer Tova Laiter put together an exclusive event for New York FIlm Academy students in Los Angeles. One of the toughest obstacles coming out of film or acting school is landing the right agent — or landing any agent for that matter. Given the full house at Warner Bros, Theater 4 for this event, students were anxious to get some inside information from Melinda Jason and her business partner Simon Ore. Melinda is a prominent literary agent at Conspiracy LLC – with her partner Simon Ore – a production and management company based in Los Angeles. As a former lawyer at 20th Century Fox and former Head of Literary Department at Gersh, Melinda has also established producing deals with Universal Television, Disney and Sony Pictures, and has produced five feature films. Some of the talent she is most famous for discovering are Michael J. Fox, Dean Pitchford (writer of Footloose), Ron Bass (writer of Rain Man and My Best Friend’s Wedding), and David Saperstein, whose manuscript Cocoon she sold to Fox. Melinda and Simon Ore are currently developing an animated series, several feature films, and several television pilots, including one in partnership with Producer Nick Welchsler (The Road, Requiem For A Dream, Sex, Lies & Videotape, Drugstore Cowboy).

    Melinda wasted no time in getting straight to the point, “In order to get yourself out there nowadays you have to be a great writer, get a producer, make content and create experiences!” Melinda, who has a first look deal with Fox Television, thinks television is where it’s at today. “TV is great now, it’s on a higher level intellectually, you can get your writers paid and once they are respected there they really get to show what they’ve got. These writers really think, they do research. The arch is different than in film, the characters have a lot of potential. TV is about being strategic.” Melinda clearly cares about her writers.

    Simon spoke in terms of what young writers tend to do when getting off the ground. “Sell your passion!” exclaimed Simon. “Once you are in, find the happy medium in compromising with your work.” Don’t sell out, don’t be unreasonable and inflexible.

    Melinda continued on, saying how a good writer must constantly read. “Read good stuff and bad stuff, lots of it. Go to places like www.simplyscripts.com and do the work.” Simon added that a writer needs to be patient. “Some of it is not over when you’re done. Take a break. Come back to it.”

    One thing the pair really stressed is how in today’s market, writers need to MAKE CONTENT! “Create something, put it on the internet.” However, once you get the ball rolling with credibility, it is important to know where content belongs. “Know the networks, they want different things,” said Melinda. “You have to know where content could live.”

    Her final words of advice, “You have to be really careful to never make a choice based on money. Follow your passion. You must feel strongly about it!”

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    September 27, 2013 • Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 7103

  • NYFA Screens James Dean with Director Mark Rydell

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    Mark Rydell with NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo

    Mark Rydell with NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo

    Academy-Award Nominated director & actor, Mark Rydell, was a recent New York Film Academy guest speaker at Warner Bros, following a screening of 2001´s television movie, James Dean. As a Veteran of the US Military, Mark studied with Sandy Meisner on the GI Bill for his first full year, until Meisner gave him a scholarship to continue into the second year. From that point on, Mark has had an incredible career spanning decades, which include directing the films The Cowboys with John Wayne, On Golden Pond with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, and The Rose with Bette Midler. The NYFA Q&A event was moderated by Filmmaking Chair Mike Civille and NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo, who happens to be a friend of Mark’s.

    Mark was especially qualified to direct the James Dean television movie, as he was close to him on a personal level. “I knew Jimmy very well, and working with him as an actor was very exciting. Jimmy was very alive…his motor was always running.”

    At 84 years of age, Rydell had some thoughts about the business today. “Today it´s disappointing how much misplaced focus there is on monetary success. It´s like the ugly pursuit of the dollar as opposed to the art.” He finds that collaborating and being open-minded is key. Cinematography, for example, is a critical element. And just like acting, it´s important to be, “friendly, constructive, inspiring and to create an atmosphere of creative freedom.” Finally, he stated that, “You have to be open! Whoever it is on the set – even the catering guy – you never know where the next great idea will come from!”

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    September 24, 2013 • Guest Speakers • Views: 5598

  • ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ Screening with Taylor Hackford

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    Taylor Hackford

    Taylor Hackford at NYFA LA

    Last Wednesday, at the Warner Bros theater in LA, New York Film Academy students were treated to a screening of the classic Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves film, The Devil’s Advocate. Following the screening, director Taylor Hackford dropped by to talk about the film and his career on a whole. Taylor, who directed such films as An Officer and a Gentleman and Dolores Claiborne, says he developed an interest in film during his time in the peace corps in Bolivia. He saw many films there and shot his own on super 8 film. After coming back from the peace corps, he went to law school for two weeks, but then quit because he decided he really wanted to work in the film industry.

    His first job was in the mailroom at the Los Angeles TV station KCET. He began writing copy, editing, shooting and reporting for their news program. Working as a journalist really helped Taylor develop as a director–learning how to tell people’s stories and make them feel comfortable enough to open up. He also learned how to “deliver on a deadline” with the high turnover rate in news. He eventually started making documentaries for the news station and became passionate about the stories he was telling.

    taylorTaylor also has a love for music and it’s no surprise that his films are known for their great soundtracks. In An Officer and a Gentleman, Taylor knew that music was important to the working class people the movie was about. Taylor went to great lengths to find the right music and especially in convincing the producers to spend the money on the soundtrack. His persistence didn’t stop there. In order to convince the studio to shoot the opening of An Officer and a Gentleman in the Philippines (which sets up Richard Gere’s backstory), he agreed that any expenditures that went over budget for the additional shooting would be taken out of his own salary. Paramount never realized what an amazing movie they had, until it sold so well and became such a success. “Nothing is ever predictable,” Taylor told the students. “All you can do is keep your vision. That is all you have.”

    While shooting The Idol Maker, Taylor was not as experienced as a director. He came onto set with a very detailed plan as to how he wanted to shoot everything. However, his cinematographer and 1st AD had different opinions, and since they were much more experienced than him, Taylor ended up using their ideas. When he saw the dailies two days later, Taylor realized he had made a big mistake–the drama wasn’t there and the shots didn’t mean anything. After that, Taylor remained firm in following his own vision. There was a reason he was hired to direct the movie. “You have to make decisions. If you must, ‘get on with it’ and you can’t ‘take your time.’ Time is money with filmmaking. Preparation is key–you can work through most of your potential mistakes if you think it out ahead of time.”

    Taylor now directs a scene without providing blocking instructions to his actors and tells them to “do the scene.” The actors typically find a few great moments that Taylor will incorporate into the scene. This way the actor feels like he is using their ideas and he’s able to include some spontaneous moments that he hadn’t thought of. Directors have to learn how to work with an actor until they can catch them in an authentic moment. Taylor used the example of working with Keanu Reeves who is not, at first, as spontaneous as Al Pacino. He would have to do eight takes with Keanu before he would break out of his preconceived notions of how to perform. This is a tactic that he had to employ as a director, which worked for this particular scenario.

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    September 23, 2013 • Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 7609

  • A Standing Ovation for Jonah Hill at NYFA

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    Jonah Hill with Tova Laiter

    Jonah Hill with Tova Laiter

    Jonah Hill has come a long way from his brief comedic appearance in the The 40 Year Old Virgin, to his Oscar nomination in Moneyball. His comedic presence and timing puts him at the top of his class, and yet his transition into more dramatic roles has been something to marvel. This week, the New York Film Academy was thrilled when Mr. Hill came in to speak with students and alumni. As a testament to his comedic timing, Jonah started the evening shouting,”I’m here! I’m here already!” as Eric Conner, the Dean of Students, introduced the actor who had already been sitting in the back of the room.

    Jonah was in high spirits throughout the night, quickly acknowledging his true passion in life – making movies. He feels it’s what he’s been put on this Earth to do, and he encouraged the crowd to aggressively pursue filmmaking if they feel the same. “This business is so weird,” said Jonah. “If this isn’t the only thing you want to do in life, then leave the room and don’t do it. But if this is the only thing you want to do in life and can’t imagine doing anything else, then don’t worry about how much time it’s taking. It will happen in whatever incarnation it’s supposed to happen. But you have to just ‘make stuff’ constantly and don’t worry about ‘making it.'”

    At a young age, Jonah wanted to direct, but says he was really bad in giving directions to actors. So, he took acting classes to find out how an actor would want to be given direction. As a result, he fell in love with acting as well. He studied Meisner in school, but admits he now uses a variety of techniques that vary from film to film. He also likes to improv, as long as it’s about the character and not to be funny. Jonah recalled his improved scenes with Martin Scorsese in The Wolf of Wall Street. “It’s so cool that new stuff can happen, that no one knew about ever, and that makes the reactions real – because they’re hearing it for the first time.”

    In regards to the challenges he faces as an actor, Jonah said, “I think the most challenging part of being an actor comes from the days where something really bad is happening in your personal life. Let’s say some death or breakup or friendship thing – some personal thing that’s going on outside of work – and you have to show up that day and act and give your performance like none of that is happening.”

    His journey through Hollywood grew as he managed to maintain friendly working relations with so many talented artists, namely Judd Apatow, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen. “You find the people who you’re creatively in tune with.”

    Like most people, Jonah recognized how some would have assumed he, being the comedy guy, would be an odd casting choice as the second dramatic lead next to Brad Pitt in Moneyball. Typically, once you’ve successfully done one thing in Hollywood, most people will push you to do the same thing over and over. But, for Jonah, it’s important to make all kinds of movie. “I think I’m a product of two things: The Simpsons and Goodfellas.” The Simpsons encouraged his taste in comedy and Goodfellas, the other side of things.

    While admitting he was nervous talking about himself, Jonah was very appreciative of being able to speak in front of our students and his positive rapport was undeniable after closing on a standing ovation. He’s currently writing a movie that he plans on directing next year. His new movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, will be out in theaters on November 15.

    standing ovation

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    August 21, 2013 • Guest Speakers • Views: 8284

  • Advice From a Hollywood Talent Manager

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    susan zachary

    Talent Manager Susan Zachary was our guest last night, arriving to a packed crowd of students in the Welles screening room at New York Film Academy Los Angeles. The moderator was Producer Tova Laiter, who just so happened to bring Susan to NYFA.

    Susan started out working at a number of different jobs, including public relations, advertising for film, and working within the studios. From there, she produced several films. Then, about 11 years ago, she founded her own management company, where she definitely seems to have found her niche.

    As a manager, Susan deals with the clients, talent, producers and goes through the breakdowns, which is a key element in the Hollywood casting process. “The management business is secure and predictable, compared to the life of an independent film producer.” said Susan. “It’s all about selling! Whether it’s a network or studio – when pushing talent – you’re always essentially in sales.

    So what makes a great manager? “An honest, communicative and persistent one. We always hear NO – a lot of reasons why an actor does not potentially work – so it all comes back to selling.

    In regards to what exactly managers look for in a client, Susan said, “We are very selective. You should ideally have a body of work, a reel, a resume, and be SAG eligible.” When asked by a student if there were any exceptions to this, as far as taking on new talent, she told the students that managers go to “The Leagues” (acting school showcases) every year, and on rare occasion 1-2 people will get signed.

    She was realistic about the hardships of getting picked up by a manager without lots of experience, but also stressed how perseverance is key and encouraged the students to love, practice, and hone the craft of acting. Most importantly, find ways to make yourself stand out.

    zacharysHere are some great tips she provided for our students:

    • Join casting director workshops
    • Make a reel
    • If you don’t have content for a reel, create it!
    • Do the ‘work’ – take acting classes!
    • Don’t sit around and wait
    • Treat acting like a job
    • Get recommended by someone
    • Show ingenuity
    • Make yourself marketable for the manager and be creative about it

    Susan also stressed the importance of making and maintaining good relationships in the business. In the literary world, it’s important to be cooperative (take notes and directions when asked to change scripts) and the same goes for actors as well. While actors can get away with more undesirable behavior if they have pure talent, it is rare these days because of the state of the economy. Her final words of advice, “Auditioning is a job! You must treat it like one.

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    August 15, 2013 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 13278

  • Disney Star Sierra McCormick Speaks to NYFA High School Students

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    sierra3

    This summer, the New York Film Academy summer camp students in Los Angeles were treated to a special guest appearance by Disney star, Sierra McCormick. We screened the most recent episode of her Disney Channel show, A.N.T. Farm, which is a huge hit with the tweens!

    Sierra became interested in acting at the age of 8 years old, when she took an acting class at her school. Her acting teacher saw something in her and got the ball rolling from there. She landed her first role on the TV show, ‘Til Death. Now, at the age of fifteen, she’s already appeared in TV and film, with genres varying from comedy to more darker, dramatic roles.

    “Working within the Disney family has been great!” said Sierra. “They treat you very well and really accommodate you.” She started with a small role in Disney’s Hannah Montana and is very fond of the character she plays on A.N.T. Farm, the super smart Olive.

    When asked by a high school student, Lulu, what her favorite film genre is, Sierra answered, “Cerebral movies: including comedies, dramas, horror, and foreign films.” Pretty diverse for a young mind. She added that she likes roles that are challenging, empathetic, different from her real self – she loves strong female characters. In regards to auditioning, she says it’s very important for her to memorize lines, so that she is not distracted, and can focus on the acting. To calm her nerves, she’s changed her attitude, realizing, “I have nothing to lose.”

    Being such a young actress, Sierra must balance her career and education. “It’s my main goal to go to a good college.” She gave example of plenty of “cool actresses” that have done so, such as Natalie Portman and Claire Danes.

    With wit and poise, Sierra shows definitive signs of maturity. Her time away from the camera is primarily composed of “doing regular things” and surrounding herself with “grounded people.” Something that is dearly needed with a girl in her position. Sierra closed with these wise words of advise, “Don’t let yourself slip away. Hold onto yourself and your beliefs.”

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    August 7, 2013 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 7449

  • Martin Landau Discusses His 60 Years in the Business

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    martinlaundau

    On August 1, the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles welcomed Academy Award winning actor Martin Landau for a screening of Ed Wood (1994), followed by a Q&A between Mr. Landau and NYFA students.

    Mr. Landau, 85, has worked on stage and screen for 60 years, appearing in films such as North by Northwest (1959), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and Tucker: A Man and his Dream (1988). His television credits include the classic 1960s show Mission Impossible and more recently, several episodes of Entourage.

    Mr. Landau explained to students that he left his early career as a cartoonist to join 2,000 other applicants who auditioned for the Actor’s Studio in New York, ending up as one of only two students selected for admission (the other was Steve McQueen). Offering a history of the Actor’s Studio, Mr. Landau also described his instrumental role in creating Actor’s Studio West in Los Angeles, where he still serves as Artistic Director.

    laundauWith such a rich history in the entertainment industry, Mr. Landau told stories of working with Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, and Tim Burton. He spoke candidly about the actor’s job, and explained that actors must always be observant of what is around them, making their daily lives a preparation for various roles. He demonstrated his own lifetime of observation by precisely impersonating Hitchcock, or by speaking with the Irish and Italian accents of his childhood friends. He said that only bad actors pretend to laugh or cry, and that instead, it’s the actor’s job to prepare and focus on the details and emotions of each character in each moment.

    To that end, Mr. Landau encouraged students to enjoy the filmmaking process as it’s happening. He even showed that he still subscribes to this idea – when asked by a student which of his films was his favorite, Mr. Landau quipped, “Whichever film I’m working on now.” Wrapping up, he told students to reach for the stars: tired of seeing “robots…and more robots” in today’s movies, Mr. Landau convinced the young filmmakers in attendance that it was up to them to once again make movies about real people.

    The NYFA students and staff in attendance were awed by the talent and humor of Mr. Landau, and appreciated his time and important advice.

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    August 6, 2013 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 6972

  • ‘Broken City’ Director of Photography Chats at NYFA Union Square

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    benseresin

    Last week, the New York Film Academy in Union Square hosted an exclusive Guest Speaker event with Cinematographer, Ben Seresin. Ben has been a member of the British Society of Cinematographers (BSC) since 2010, and the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) since 2011. He has worked on the films Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, World War Z, Pain & Gain, and more. With over twenty years in the business, Ben has worked with many of Hollywood’s top directors. Recently, blockbuster director, Michael Bay, has chosen to work with Ben on Transformers and Pain & Gain.

    On Wednesday, NYFA screened Ben’s film, Broken City, an action thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe. While the movie sounds like a big Hollywood film, Ben says he had to work on a bit of a low budget. He admitted having to film major scenes in the course of a day. His goal was to shoot the noir in a contemporary way and to make New York City feel more like a home, as opposed to the glorified movie set it is so often portrayed as. Ben also noted that Russell Crowe was the most technical actor he’s ever worked with. “He had a great sense of the camera.”

    benseresin2

    One of the topics of the conversation between Ben and moderator John Loughlin was overshooting a scene, or allowing oneself to get wrapped up in the mechanics of filmmaking while on set. “Having a safe option can potentially be damaging,” said Seresin. “Compromises can be made if you over cover a scene. It can then be edited in many ways.” Ben added, “There’s a mechanical element that can distract you from film making. It’s dangerous if you get caught up in the mechanics. You lose sight of what’s really important.”

    His advice in avoiding this potentially damaging aspect of film making, “Try to stay detached. Be relaxed. Do not be stressed and trust your eyes.”

    Ben hopes to diversify his upcoming projects as he loves exploring all genres of cinema. We look forward to seeing more great work from Ben!

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    August 5, 2013 • Cinematography, Guest Speakers • Views: 6542