The number one movie at the box-office, The Conjuring, screened to a full house of New York Film Academy students with guest speakers, twin brothers and writing team, Chad and Carey Hayes. The horror, thriller is based on actual events and focuses on a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.
Chad and Carey began their career as actors and eventually transitioned into television writers. After writing a modern version of House of Wax, the duo found themselves in the midst of “huge buzz” and their screenwriting careers began to take off. They followed the script with the horror films, The Reaping,Whiteout, and now, The Conjuring. “We treat writing like taking the audience to an amusement park,” said Chad. “It needs to be safe, scary and a great ride.”
The writing brothers were thrilled about the box office success of The Conjuring this past weekend and noted that this was the first feature they wrote in which they had total control of the writing process from beginning to end. After a bidding war among the studios, New Line picked up the film. Chad and Carey couldn’t have been more thrilled with them.
When asked about the discipline of writing, Chad responded, “We write everyday. We do it because we like it. If you don´t love it, and you don´t feel that passion, then it´s going to be a long, difficult journey. You must love writing.” Carey added, “We try to build on an initial thought, some of it is technical and about building a rhythm, but character is always at the center. You have to care about the characters.”
Finally, a New York Film Academy student simply asked the question on everybody’s mind: HOW TO GET STARTED. Here was their advice:
1. RESEARCH! Take a trip to India if you have to (they actually did that for a project). Immerse yourself in research!
2. Watch a lot of movies.
3. The Internet! There is so much out there!
4. People share their stories. Find them and listen!
Last week, the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles screened the final episode of the television series, Southland, and the fourth episode of Band of Brothers. Why you ask? Because of our special guest, actor, Michael Cudlitz. From his introduction to when he left the stage, Michael was very down-to-earth and cordial – something that is truly refreshing in this town.
Michael discussed his fondness for TV work, due to the fact that most series are very character driven. He also talked about coping with the ups-and-downs of being an actor. Even Michael is currently “unemployed” (although, of course, he has prospects) and this didn’t seem to bother him in the least. He encouraged NYFA’s acting students to surround themselves with positive people who motivate, not bring them down, and to always be doing something to progress their career. “I think it’s all hard and it’s all exciting,” added Cudlitz.
Another aspect of acting that Michael stressed was research and “doing your homework.” Michael had been on at least twenty ride-alongs with cops while preparing for his role of Officer John Cooper on Southland. Though, he admits he was fairly unprepared for his role as a World War 2 soldier in Band of Brothers.
“You need to just go with what’s there. You need to live in that moment… What’s important is, whatever work you do at home, trust that it’s going to be there when you’re at work, and forget about it, in a way. I mean, forget about it in the moment. Don’t get so lost in the process, that the process is screwing you up. Because other people, other actors, directors, everyone’s going to bring different elements into it, things that you never thought of, and it’s going to help elevate what you’re doing.”
All in all, his love of acting was very inspiring. He’s truly the kind of guy you’d want in your group of friends. It’s clear that his success was a result of focus and hard work.
Last Wednesday at Warner Bros, the New York Film Academy was honored to host the talented actor, Josh Brolin, following a screening of the Coen brother’s No Country for Old Men. In addition to the Coen brothers, Josh has worked with major directors, like Gus Van Sant, Robert Rodriguez, and Oliver Stone. His filmography includes a slew of successful films, like W., Milk, True Grit, and don’t forget his first film, The Goonies. Josh admits going on about 300 auditions before landing The Goonies.
Producer Tova Laiter moderated the guest speaker event, and it wasn’t before long until we noticed how smart, funny, and humble Josh was. He told a number of entertaining stories about his long and successful acting career, including his recollection of his first audition for No Country. While on location for Grindhouse, Josh did a taped audition that was shot and directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The only initial reaction from the Coens’ was,”Great lighting.” Then, months later, his agent landed him a second audition. On a mere three hours of sleep, Josh stopped in a Boot Barn to buy a cowboy hat, which he rubbed on the ground to get dirty. Perhaps it was the rugged cowboy hat that sold the Coen brothers, but we’re sure Josh’s talent had something to do with it.
Josh offered some words of advice for the aspiring actors in the audience, “When accepting or preparing for a role, fear is the motivating factor. Do it because you love it, not just for the success or the ego. It’s nice to see when people like acting.”
Josh also stressed that identification by an audience is key. “I’m glad when movies or roles I play touch other people. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick and I love the psychology of acting. Every movie is a dark tunnel, and you are just looking for the light.” When preparing for his famed role in Oliver Stone´s W., Josh worked on Alexander Technique and even sought dialect coaches. “Oliver Stone saw it in me before I did – that I could pull that role off.”
In addition to his film work, Josh has a special appreciation for the theater and literature. “Theater taught me a lot. I love prep, research, and putting stuff together – even more so than the actual acting.”
On Tuesday evening, the New York Film Academy was treated to a special screening of the Sundance Grand Jury Nominated feature, The Kings of Summer. The film stars Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman, Mad Men’s Alison Brie, and Will & Grace’s Megan Mullally. The story revolves around three teens, who decide to escape their dull parents for the summer and build their own home in the middle of the woods. Despite their lack of experience in the wilderness, the boys do their best to “live off the land.”
Joining us afterward was screenwriter, Chris Galletta, who answered questions from our moderator, Ben Cohen, and students. Surprisingly, Chris mentioned how this was his first screenplay and even he was surprised just how well the ball began to roll. The script gained Chris representation, was sold, was made, made it to Sundance, and will be released theatrically on May 31 by CBS Films. Clearly a testament to his talents, but self-admittedly some luck came into play. It was soon after Nick Offerman offered to play the father role that the film really became a reality. “I’m a huge fan of Nick’s,” said Galletta. “I love him on Parks and Recreation and couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”
Like most screenwriters, Chris admits he is highly critical of his work. He says he was rewriting drafts of his script all the way up until the movie began shooting. “I wanted to keep it funny throughout. I didn’t want it to lose its humor in the third act, like a lot of other comedies I’ve seen where it just wraps up the plot.” Some sound advice. Know your genre and maintain its tone from beginning to end.
Chris is currently working on a new comedy adventure, which is still being scripted.
Nia Vardalos visited New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus last week for a private screening of her hit film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, followed by a Q&A with students. After training at Chicago’s famed Second City, Vardalos was struggling to find work as an actress. She says she was told she “wasn’t pretty enough to be a leading lady, and not fat enough to be a character actress.” Determined to forge her own path, she wrote her own one-woman show in Los Angeles, based largely on her own upbringing in a Greek family. Rita Wilson came to see it, and returned again with husband Tom Hanks. The couple would soon give her the opportunity of a lifetime: to write and star in her first feature film.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a sleeper sensation, becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, and earning Vardalos an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. She followed up by writing, producing, and starring in Connie and Carla, and co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in My Life In Ruins. She made her directorial debut with 2009’s I Hate Valentine’s Day, and co-wrote the box-office hit Larry Crowne.
Vardalos shared stories about her rise to fame with New York Film Academy students, and even brought prizes that she gave away throughout the night. “It was amazing how she was so humble and down to earth,” said MFA Filmmaking student Edrei Hutson. “She was willing to share her experiences and gave great advice on writing and filmmaking in general.”
Vardalos answered dozens of questions from excited students, and said, “Learn the rules, so you know what you’re breaking. Be true to yourself and find people who support what you want to do.”
She is currently working on a project at Paramount, which she describes as an anti-romantic comedy for single people. Vardalos also recently released her first book, Instant Mom, in which she opens up about the heartaches, headaches, and humor of becoming an adoptive parent.
This Tuesday, the New York Film Academy in Union Square welcomed long time professional cinematographer, Fred Murphy. Fred has worked on dozens of films and television shows, including: Hoosiers, Secret Window, Stir of Echoes, Fringe, and most recently, The Good Wife. Coming from a background in architecture, Fred found an interest in shooting short film pieces, which later developed into feature cinematography work. His career catapulted after his work on Heartland was recognized by the Berlin Film Festival with a Golden Berlin Bear in 1980.
Fred shared an episode of The Good Wife and several scenes from the film, Secret Window, starring Johnny Depp. He spoke about the “classic Hollywood style” that he tends to use as a templete for The Good Wife, and described some of the tricky shots from Secret Window. Some of the major differences Fred notices between film and television, “There are hardly any surprises in TV – whereas in movies – everyday is a different day. I learned in movies, there’s really only one camera. In television you have to come up with a lighting solution that allows for multiple cameras.”
Speaking in terms of the single camera rule, Fred recalled his work with Paul Schrader on the film, Auto Focus. Paul suggested they try going with two cameras on the shoot, but alas it just didn’t work.
On the whole, Fred gave students over an hour of insight as to his experiences on set of both television and film. In closing, Fred left students with simple, yet wise advice, “Just keep shooting.”
NYFA Cinematography Chair John Loughlin with Adam Holender
This Tuesday, the New York Film Academy in Union Square welcomed cinematographer, Adam Holender. His most notable credit is Director of Photography on the 1969 classic, Midnight Cowboy, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. Adam suggested we screen another classic from 1971, starring the then unknown Al Pacino. The Panic in Needle Park is a stark portrayal of life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in New York City’s “Needle Park.” The film was a part of the early 1970’s cinéma-vérité. Adam’s use of hand-held cameras, real-life urban location, sounds and lack of traditional soundtrack set the tone for a new style of realism. According to Adam, the film was shot primarily on-location in forty-three days.
Living mere blocks away from the main location of the film up on 71st and Broadway, Adam and his director, Jerry Schatzberg, spent months in New York City diligently preparing for production. “Pre-production is the most important part of the process,” said Adam.
Coming up in a time when film was meant to be gritty and real, Adam admits digital filmmaking is the obvious wave of the future. “If people have something to say, it really doesn’t matter if it’s digital or film,” admitted Adam. Though, he does feel a certain loss of intimacy between the cinematographer and the actors’ performance when shooting digitally as opposed to 35mm.
When asked by a student if he typically criticizes his films or often thinks about “going back and making changes,” Adam said, “Your work is really never finished. It’s only abandoned.” Wise words from a DP with a long and successful career in the industry.
The New York Film Academy recently invited Esq. Productions to a discussion called “The New Normal? Lessons Learned from Toronto, Sundance & More.” The panel examined the current state of independent film production and distribution, the continuing evolution of multi-platforming, and provided students with practical tools they can use to capitalize on a resurgent indie film marketplace. The symposium, co-sponsored by RAW: Natural Born Artistsand Backstage, featured guest speakers Steven Beer (Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell & Vassallo, PC), Jerry Dasti (Sloss Eckhouse Law Co), and Emma Marie Riley (Creative Director, RAW: Natural Born Artists Brooklyn).
Empowering creative artists. That is the mission at the heart of the 501(c)(3) non-profit Esq. Productions. Co-founded in 2010 by then-first year law student Latha Duncan, the company’s goal is simple: to provide creative artists across the various entertainment industries with the tools they need in order to successfully manage their careers from a commercial perspective while simultaneously protecting their artistic integrity.
Esq. Productions puts together educational programming that focuses specifically on the business and legal aspects of entertainment. Motivated by the realization that many indie filmmakers don’t have the benefit of exposure to business and legal counsel, Latha sought to fill the void. “Many filmmakers get caught in a Catch-22 situation,” Latha said. “Before you’ve made a name for yourself, it’s often difficult to secure representation, whether that means an agent or an attorney. But when faced with the spectre of truly independent film production, it can be just as difficult to make a name for yourself without the help of those business and legal counterparts. I wanted to break that cycle.”
The company, now run by Latha and his law school roommate, Brett Deacon, encourages artists to get involved in their own business affairs. “The reality is that there is a lot the artist can do him- or herself to secure their position,” said Latha. “A foundational understanding of relevant legal principles, knowing when and where to look out for red flags, and recognizing where you have leverage in different transactional settings can all go a long way. We’re not trying to turn artists into attorneys or to stifle creativity. But the nature of the marketplace is such that the days of a one-size-fits-all approach are long gone. Our goal is to get artists – whether filmmakers, fashion designers, musicians – to incorporate what they learn from our programming into a holistic approach to their careers.”
Before approaching the New York Film Academy, Esq. Productions has worked with the Art Center College of Design, the DePaul University School of Cinema & Interactive Media, and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Always looking to provide attendees with the broadest perspective possible on the issues addressed, they brought together entertainment attorneys from Lionsgate, UTA, and Weintraub Tobin. “Entertainment attorneys play very different roles depending on where they work,” Latha said. “Bringing together people with different backgrounds and who represent different interests helps to hammer home that very point – that within the structure of any given deal, there are multiple competing interests at play. Politics can be just as important – and often is more important – than the black letter law.”
Having focused exclusively on the film industry to date, Latha and Brett are excited to be moving into both fashion and art in 2013. “We have a number of partnerships that we’re excited about,” said Brett. “Not only RAW Artists and Backstage, but also top law firms in LA and NYC. As the scope of the services we provide continues to expand, we’ll continue to focus on quality. These new partnerships will help us take our programming to the next level.”
Director Linshan Zhao at New York Film Academy in Union Square
This Thursday, the New York Film Academy welcomed Chinese director, Linshan Zhao, to screen his film The Assassins. The Chinese historical drama stars Chow Yun-fat as Cao Cao, a prominent warlord who became the de facto head of government in China towards the end of the Han Dynasty. Being that the film has yet to be released in the United States, our students were in for a rare cinematic treat.
Having ten years of commercial directing under his belt, Zhao had been writing a screenplay for four years. Once producers got their hands on his script, they knew it needed to be made. With that, Zhao raised nearly eighteen million dollars to shoot what would become his first feature film, The Assassins. “It has always been my dream,” said Zhao “Since I was little, I wanted to be a director, and that was my biggest inspiration.”
Zhao’s next steps are to release the film all over the world, starting with Asian countries and working his way toward North America. He’s also working on his next project, My Super Ex, based on a popular Chinese Twitter feed. Zhao jokingly commented on how we all have those stories from past relationships, and he’s willing to hear them all to help shape his next film.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler speaks to students
Haskell Wexler recently visited students at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. The 91-year-old cinematographer was named as one of the ten most influential cinematographers by the International Cinematographers Guild. In the course of his career, he lensed such seminal films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, In the Heat of the Night, American Graffiti, and The Thomas Crown Affair. He has been nominated for a total of 5 Oscars, and has won two.
Wexler watched clips of cinematography students’ films, and gave them valuable feedback. “It was an amazing experience to have him share his thoughts and experience with us,” said Diego Gilly, an MFA Cinematography student. “I feel deeply honored to have had the opportunity to share some of our work with him, and hear what he had to say.”
Actor Robert Forster leads a master class for actors
Oscar-nominated actor Robert Forster, who starred in 1969’s Medium Cool, written and directed by Haskell Wexler, also recently paid a visit to New York Film Academy. In addition to his numerous television roles, Forster is known for his roles in Mulholland Drive, Me, Myself, & Irene, The Descendants, and his Oscar-nominated role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
Forster led a master class for acting students, telling stories from his life and career, answering questions, and giving advice. “The camera looks real deep into you,” he said. “It knows whether you’re lying or not. If you want your audience to admire you, you have to be someone they can admire. You have to have the qualities that make a person worth admiring. Then it’s easy to deliver that on screen.”