NYFA Filmmaking Faculty: Interview with Claude Kerven

September 29, 2022

Life has a funny way of throwing you a curve when you least expect it. For Claude Kerven of NYFA’s Filmmaking department, that curve hit when he first went to college. His aspirations for being a doctor were quickly dulled, but they were replaced by something for which he would be even more passionate – filmmaking. That passion would lead him into a career that would see him work with living legends like Stevie Wonder, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, and more.

He’s been a member of the faculty of NYFA for over 15 years, but his career stretches back even further, arming him with a wealth of knowledge he can use to educate and inspire students in our New York campus’ filmmaking programs.

NYFA Filmmaking Faculty Claude Kerven

Claude’s career began as a producer, director, and editor of the short film Candy Store, which won the Academy Award for Best Dramatic Student Film. He went on to serve as a director for the venerable late-night comedy franchise Saturday Night Live, where he accumulated over 20 short film credits from 1982-1985. He also directed multiple ABC Afterschool Specials, including High School Narc, The Almost Royal Family, A Very Delicate Matter, and Starstruck. More recently, he directed the short They Never Found Her (2007) starring Elizabeth Moss and Peter Stormare and co-directed Man Under the Moon (2015). As a writer, he’s crafted screenplays for Mortal Thoughts (1991), which starred Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, as well as The Shadow War and a Darkman sequel called Circus of Fear.

We talked to him about his beginnings in the industry, his biggest influences, and how he works to connect with his students.

NYFA: How did you first get interested in filmmaking?

CK: After high school, I headed off to SUNY Buffalo with the intention of becoming a doctor. But after taking my first calculus test, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. Then one day, someone told me I could get a degree in filmmaking. And the rest is history.

NYFA: What have been your favorite projects/productions to work on to date?

CK: Working at Saturday Night Live was a thrill. I had always been a huge fan of the show, but it never occurred to me that I would ever be directing short films for them. I got to work with Stevie Wonder, Lily Tomlin, and all the great SNL players like Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Julia Louis Dreyfus. 

NYFA: Tell us about your time at NYFA.

CK: It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 15 years. Watching the film department grow, and being a part of that growth, has been an enormously gratifying experience. I don’t think students realize what a profound impact they have on their instructors. I can still fondly recall the students from my very first class. 

READ MORE: African Filmmakers and NYFA Alumni Present Feature Film, ‘Air Conditioner,’ in New We Are One Film Festival

NYFA: What are your favorite courses to teach?

CK: I love teaching directing and screenwriting, which now almost seem inseparable to me. And, of course, being on the set with my students. 

NYFA: How would your students describe your teaching style/methods?

CK: I think they would say that I relate to them as filmmakers and not students. I never talk down to them. And I don’t b.s. them. I think that by being real with them, I’m able to form a bond of trust. I want each of them to succeed, and I think they feel that. But most importantly, I think they would say that I’m able to communicate my passion for filmmaking to them. 

NYFA: What are your favorite aspects of the film community in New York?

CK: It’s not Hollywood. In New York, filmmaking is just another profession. But in Hollywood, a one-industry town, filmmaking is everything. I think this leads to a lack of perspective and an overly inflated sense of importance.

SEE MORE: New York Film Academy Looks Back at the 2022 Highlights

NYFA: Who do you believe have been some of the most significant individuals in filmmaking?

CK: Edison & the Lumiere Bros. Chaplin. D.W.Griffith. Adolph Zucker, Louis B Mayer, and the Warner Bros. Alfred Hitchcock. Billy Wilder. Howard Hawks. Kurosawa. Bergman. Fellini. Godard. Truffaut. David Lean. Coppola. Scorsese. Speilberg. Woody Allen. Fincher. Ridley Scott. Spike Lee. Alfonso Cuaron. Soderberg. Wong Kar Wai. Tarantino. Wes Anderson. Christopher Nolan. 

NYFA: What are some of your favorite films?

CK: On the Waterfront. The Graduate. Jaws. The Godfather. Taxi Driver. Young Frankenstein. The Pink Panther. King Kong (the original). Lord of the Rings. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The Right Stuff. A League of Their Own

NYFA: What advice would you give a prospective student looking to get started in filmmaking?

CK: The film business seems like it’s a million miles away. It’s not. It’s much closer than you think. But it’s a highly competitive business that demands passion, talent, resilience, tenacity, and people skills.

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