Phillip Noyce, the acclaimed and award-winning director, screenwriter, and producer of film and television, has joined the New York Film Academy (NYFA) faculty and this week taught his first master class to MFA Filmmaking students at our Los Angeles campus.
Throughout his prolific career, Noyce has worked with such celebrated luminaries performers as Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Michael Caine, Meryl Streep, Val Kilmer, James Earl Jones, Rutger Hauer, Kenneth Branagh, Angelina Jolie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Bridges, Willem Dafoe, Liev Schreiber, and Renée Zellweger.
Noyce began his first NYFA master class by showing behind-the-scenes footage from his award-winning film, Rabbit-Proof Fence, before going into the early beginnings of his filmmaking career. Noyce was born in New South Wales, Australia, and moved to Sydney at a young age. Before he was twenty years old, he started running the Filmmaker’s Cinema along with Jan Chapman, where for three years he screened the short films of directors who would go on to develop the Australian New Wave, such as Gillian Armstrong, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, Paul Cox, and George Miller.
After working in television and directing a few feature productions, Noyce made his breakout film, Dead Calm, which launched the career of Nicole Kidman. Soon after that, he was living in Los Angeles directing major Hollywood studio films, including the Jack Ryan films Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, starring Harrison Ford.
Since then Noyce has written, directed, and produced numerous commercially and critically successful films like The Saint, The Bone Collector, Salt, The Giver, The Quiet American, and Rabbit-Proof Fence, as well as various TV pilots, episodes, and miniseries like Vietnam, Tru Calling, Luck, Roots (2016), and the recent Netflix original What/If.
Noyce has been recognized for his outstanding contributions as a filmmaker, earning multiple nominations and awards for his work. These include a National Board of Review award for Best Director, a London Critics Circle Film Award for Director of the Year, several awards from film festivals like the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Bangkok International Film Festival, and numerous awards from Australian institutions including Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards for Best Film, Best Director, and a special Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his new role on New York Film Academy’s faculty, Noyce instructed MFA Filmmaking students on several aspects of the craft, using scenes from his films Dead Calm and Rabbit-Proof Fence to illustrate many of his talking points, using his decades of experience as a director, writer, and producer. He described how “having a hard back and soft front” was vital for directors–a strong vision and determination that cohabitates with a willingness to listen and accept new ideas.
On directing the right screenplays, Noyce expressed that the most important thing for a good script is that you have to love it–to have an emotional connection to it and be passionate about the story. He proved his own point by relating to the class how he passed on a huge offer to direct the next Jack Ryan movie so that he could focus on the indie film Rabbit-Proof Fence.
Additionally, Noyce covered everything from artistic voice and vision to the practicalities of directing stunts and action scenes, such as the famous truck sequence from the Angelina Jolie vehicle, Salt. The master class even included a trust exercise where students took turns guiding other students whose eyes were shut around the room without using dialogue, forcing them to connect and place trust in one another.
After covering several aspects of filmmaking in detail, the master class concluded with a lecture on television, including a video of a TV series pitch that a writer had recorded for Noyce. He contrasted it with a written pitch that he distributed to the class, who then discussed which pitches they preferred and why. Phillip finished the night by taking suggestions from students for other subjects they’d next like to learn more about, promising to focus on these and more in upcoming master classes he’ll be teaching at the Academy.
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