July 7, 2017

NYFA New York City recently welcomed a part of the team behind the Netflix Original Series, “Brown Nation” to our Guest Speaker Series. NYFA musical theatre conservatory alumnus Jaspal Binning stars in “Brown Nation,” which is directed by NYFA filmmaking graduate Abi Varghese. Joining them was “Brown Nation” producer and line producer Atit Shah. Students viewed a special screening of “Bown National” Season 2 as well as the trailer for Jaspal Binning’s upcoming production, “Doomsday.”

The sense of NYFA community ties was strong, as Abi Verghese greeted his audience of students with, “We’re very excited to be here at New York Film Academy.”

New York Film Academy’s Director of Recruitment Roger Del Pozo moderated a conversation that saw many students leap at the chance to ask all three guests focused questions on navigating the industry, on topics that ranged from securing visas for international students to finding distribution for original work. Students were also treated to behind-the-scenes insights on the making of “Brown Nation.”

Citing influences like “The Office” and “Arrested Development,” director Abi Varghese shared that part of the inspiration behind “Brown Nation” was a desire to see more South Asian content on television. He and his writing partners created a script that drew on personal experiences, and he advised students to never let themselves feel stuck with writer’s block when writing: “Get collaborators, that’s an easy way to do it.”

Verghese and his collaborators spent about three months in auditions to find their cast, including lead actor Jaspal Binning. After filming the pilot and showing to investors, they decided to figure out distribution independently because, Varghese shared with a laugh, they thought the “networks took too long.”

Varghese recalls that they went on to film all 10 episodes of the first season in just 30 days, “wanting to do it on our own and see what happened.” It’s highly unusual to film a whole series without distribution, and Varghese laughed, “Don’t know if it’s the wisest thing to do.”

Obviously, the risk worked well in the case of “Brown Nation.” Verghese pointed out, “With platforms with Netflix and Amazon they’re pushing new content, so it’s a good time for all of us. It was just about being in the right place at the right time.”

Producer Atit Shah agreed that finding producers and distribution can be a challenge, and explained the reason pilots are generally created with partnerships already in place. “If you really have something for a network pilot you’re generally not recommended to produce a pilot independently on your own,” He said. “One, it’s too expensive, and two, you really want backing to come from network or studio. But if you’re doing something much smaller, I do think [a pilot] helps attract producers.”

Actor Jaspal Binning explained that it was the team’s management that helped them secure the deal with Netflix, which has been a fruitful partnership.

The busy actor recently turned his hand at directing in the upcoming series “Doomsday,” for which Binning won the best director award at New York Television Festival. Binning shared that it was actually the process of using the Meisner acting technique that inspired him to want to direct, saying, “Working with actors and also seeing them get better really excited me.”

Binning himself had no formal training before his studies at the New York Film Academy. “I really did learn everything here,” he said, pointing out many of his former teachers in the audience, including out Deidre Goodwin, Rob Maitner, Anna Peters, Paul Warner, Michelle Potterf. He told students, “You have a great outlet in terms of the faculty here because they’re all working actors, producers, directors as well, so I heavily encourage you to maintain those relationships and ask as much advice as you can. That’s what I did.”

Producer Atit Shah also offered students insights on pitching projects to producers. He used his own experience on “Brown Nation” as an example. “I was not involved in the pilot,” he revealed. “I saw pilot then got involved in the production. I don’t necessarily know if I would have gotten involved if I had just read it; it definitely helps to have something visual to show.”

Many international students in the audience were inspired by Jaspal Binning’s example. The actor was happy to speak candidly on his experience as a British national pursuing both an education and a career in the United States. His advice to students was to work as much as possible to gain experience and build a strong case for Visa paperwork. He said it was also important to find an entertainment lawyer and master American accents through the use of the phonetic alphabet. “It is an honor to work here,” he said, “And good luck.”

Atit Shah noted that an entertainment lawyer can also serve to help aspiring artists access with navigating legal contracts, and more: “If you don’t have something specific in terms of a contract that need to be reviewed, an entertainment lawyer can double sometimes as a producer and help you find access to resources.”

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jaspal Binning, Atit Shah, and Abi Verghese for sharing their expertise with our community in the Guest Speaker Series.