Student & Alumni Spotlights

  • Q&A with 10 ARTS Foundation Scholarship Recipient, Lena McKnight


    ~Made possible by the generous support of the Hilaria & Alec Baldwin Foundation~

    Lena McKnight was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Harlem, New York. Lena attended the New York City Public School until 10th grade. After Lena decided to leave high school, she struggled with finding a passion to help her continue her education. She attended the Touro College in New York City where she got certified in audio engineering. It wasn’t until Lena got involved with Abyssinian Development Corporation’s YouthBuild, that she found her balance. Lena worked towards gaining her High School Equivalency Diploma and a construction trade. 

    YouthBuild gave Lena the opportunity to serve her community because one of the main components of the program was community work. Lena was able to plan and implement programs and projects that allowed her to give back to the Harlem community and later on start her own projects.

    Lena graduated from ADC’s YouthBuild in 2011 and was chosen to travel to Arica, Chile for six weeks to help rebuild homes in the community. When Lena returned she knew that she wanted to do more and be more involved in people’s lives. Lena enrolled in the Borough of Manhattan Community College and graduated from BMCC in 2015. She then transferred to City College of New York, where she became a Theater Major and Sociology Minor. At City College, Lena became a Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, Epsilon Tau Chapter and served as chapter president. Lena graduated in 2017 with a Bachelors in Theater and a minor in Sociology. 

    Lena began working with Youth because she believed they are the ones who will be taking care of us when we get older. She worked with the Harlem Children Zone as a 10th grade Student Advocate. Lena wanted to work with that specific grade because that was the grade she dropped out and she wanted to be able to influence the Youth to do better than she had. Lena enjoys giving back to her community and puts on community projects to help connect people with resources and mental health resources.

    After working with the Harlem Children Zone for two years, Lena was given an opportunity to become an Outreach Coordinator for Serviceworks with Abyssinian, where she learned the foundation of putting together community events on a larger scale. Lena has currently done more than 10 projects while working with Serviceworks her focus was feeding those in need, giving out female hygiene products, clothes, games days, spreading mental health awareness and, most importantly, connecting and uniting the Harlem community to come together to stop the violence.

    In 2021, Lena decided to relocate to Los Angeles, California. She wanted to focus more on the arts to be able to tell the stories of her community. Lena was able to land a job at Single Room Occupancy Housing where she serves as a case manager for the homeless on Skid Row. Lena enjoys being able to learn the differences between the east coast and the west coast communities. Working with SRO housing has helped Lena learn about the mental health crisis and ways

    she would like to give back to the homeless community. While working as a case manager, Lena earned a scholarship from the 10 ARTS Foundation to attend the 15-week online filming program at the New York Film Academy. It wasn’t until she attended the program she knew she made the right choice by moving to the west coast.


    Lena believes that faith in God, her self-confidence and the support of family and friends helped her accomplish her goals. Lena has started to build her own non-profit in 2018. Who Am EyE To You which focuses on mental health for women and men and bringing resources to those who may need them. Lena is currently holding her 4th annual Women empowerment Event (Women Can Run the World) on Sunday, March 27, 2022, and is launching her Men event in June 2022.  Lena is looking forward to what’s next in her life and feels the sky’s the limit. Lena learned to live by her mantra “You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable if you really want to grow”.

    Lena spoke with NYFA about her journey to NYFA and her dreams for the future. Check out the conversation below: 

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): When did you first hear about the New York Film Academy and when did you know you wanted to study here?

    Lena McKnight (LM): I heard about NYFA back in 2017 when I was looking up Black Female writers working in television. I looked up different writers and searched what schools they went to. I remember I was watching an episode of Insecure and thinking about who created the show. So I looked up information on Issa Rae and the places she studied at, one of which was NYFA. 

    NYFA stood out to me. I liked the fact that things were hands-on and you spend more time with equipment then just learning the fundamentals in a classroom. I also liked that it was a community and offered in three states (New York City, Florida, and California). I like that you students are able to have a sense of community and be near real production studios.

    I was graduating from The City College of New York in 2017 and learned the master program was only offered in Los Angeles. I felt defeated for a second, but 4 years later, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was able to move to Los Angeles while working remotely. 

    Moving to Los Angeles has been something I have been planning to do for 4 years. I wanted to separate myself from the community service work I was doing in NYC and do something in a different city. I wanted to focus more on being able to bring the story and experience to film. Upon learning of the demands of the NYFA graduate program, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to enroll. But thanks to my advisor Joey Zangardi-Dixon, who stayed in touch with me via email answering all my questions, I was able to look into the workshop programs NYFA offered. That’s what really made me want to attend any NYFA filmmaking program that was being offered. I liked that Joey was working with me, being patient, and giving me resources to help with my enrollment into a workshop program that fit my needs and interests.

    NYFA: How was your experience at NYFA?

    LM: My experience at NYFA has helped shape what I want to do within film. I can admit I was a bit nervous about the program being online. I learned I am a hands-on learner and work better when I am in person with an instructor. However, the support of the professors and being able to have one-on-one meetings with them has made my experience totally different. I didn’t think I was going to learn as much as I did. But the support of ensuring I had a computer to be able to complete my work was the highlight of it all. I really respect how helpful everyone was within my cohort. No one made anyone feel as if they didn’t belong in the program. I like how open everyone was with sharing their knowledge within film. It was great to have experienced people and people who were new to filmmaking. We were even able to start a Whatsapp group to help each other out and to stay in contact with everyone.  I also enjoyed the examples the professors used to help with understanding our projects. If it wasn’t for the willingness of the professor’s meeting with me inspite of the time difference, I don’t think I would have been able to gain the experience I was hoping for. 

    NYFA: How has your perspective changed since attending NYFA?

    LM: Now that I completed the 15-week online NYFA program, it makes me want to work on my projects that I have been saying I want to do. I was a theater major and I didn’t think I would fall in love with film until I held my first camera. It made me realize my love for directing and screenwriting. I learned the difference of what you can create on film, that live shows can’t show. I also learned to respect the time that’s put in when it comes to production for film. If I didn’t attend this program, I don’t think I would have had the push and courage to create anything. I now feel confident that I am just getting started and will do well. 

    NYFA: Do you hope to continue in the arts?

    LM: Yes, my dream is to become a screenwriter, director and actress. I am looking to further my studies in film and plan to create my bibles for the three projects I am passionate about. I want to be able to open a non-profit for inner city families to express themselves through the arts. 

    NYFA: What do you hope to do with the knowledge that NYFA provided you? 

    LM: NYFA has made me realize my passion and helped me figure out what about filming I enjoy. I was able to understand where my enjoyment was (screenwriting, directing and acting). I made connections and got advice from professors and classmates. I am looking for a master program in film that I am hoping to start by Fall 2022. 

    The 10 ARTS Foundation and NYFA are extremely grateful to the Hilaria & Alec Baldwin Foundation for their generous support in making Lena’s dreams come true!

    NYFA congratulates Lena McKnight on all that she has accomplished throughout the years and at NYFA! We are excited to see more of her work!



    February 23, 2022 • Acting, Diversity, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 877

  • Q&A with NYFA MFA Screenwriting & MFA Acting for Film Alum Antaneise Jasonya


    Antaneise Jasonya’s Headshot

    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Screenwriting and MFA Acting for Film alum Antaneise Jasonya is an actor and writer from the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois and recently booked her first commercial with DoorDash! Antaneise also wrote and starred in the short film I’m Press which has had a successful festival run. The film has been selected by Urban Media Makers Festival, Black Women Film Network and Feedback Romance Festival.

    Antaneise spoke with NYFA about the laughter of an audience as inspiration, the importance of slow and steady networking and her other projects!

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

    Antaneise Jasonya (AJ): My name is Antaneise Jasonya and I’m from the south suburbs of Chicago, a really small town called Monee. Growing up, I had a gymnastics and music background mostly but loved any and everything involving entertainment. I’d sit in front of the TV watching The Spice Girls movie for days at a time if I could. In 2015, I moved to California and performed as an LA Clipper’s entertainer for 3 seasons, teaching gymnastics on the side. Then, in 2018, I decided to go to NYFA to pursue my childhood dreams of becoming an actress. The best part was getting close to my classmates who are now life-long friends!

    NYFA: What projects have you worked on since graduating? Have you won any awards or been showcased in any festivals or competitions?

    AJ: Well, after writing my thesis script, premiering it at Warner Brothers theater for graduation and hearing real laughs from the audience at the showing, I was extremely inspired and actually decided to go back to NYFA to learn more about screenwriting. I just recently finished the MFA Screenwriting program and since then I’ve honestly gotten much needed rest. I also got an agent, booked my first commercial, and continued to fine tune scripts I began writing in the program. Currently, working on my web series The Love Equation; Romantic Dramedies are my favorite genre to write and act in, hands down!

    Check out the trailer for I’m Press below!

    NYFA: Tell us more about your latest project & how you got involved in the project?

    AJ: The latest project that I worked on was acting in the DoorDash commercial. Fun Fact: after getting my agent, this was the very first audition I was sent on. On set they asked if I wanted to rep a specific team since it was sponsored by the NBA, and of course I chose my team, the LA Clippers! It was so cool wearing that red shiny jacket and felt sort of full circle. Oh, I didn’t originally have the line I’m reading, they kind of just threw it to me on set, I went with it, and they chose it for the spot!

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to this project and others?

    AJ: From NYFA I learned to always be ready, take direction, and have confidence by making the line my own. Although I don’t consider myself the best networker because of how low key I can be at times, I also learned that networking even slowly helps. I say this because I ultimately received this opportunity because of my agency, getting an agent came about after interning with them first, and I interned with them because I took a chance at NYFA’s suggestion to find an internship.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Antaneise Jasonya on her first commercial booking and the success of her first short film!



    February 4, 2022 • #WomenOfNYFA, Acting, Diversity, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 832

  • NYFA Filmmaking Alum Jameelah Rose Lineses & Season 3 of The Khatak Film Society at the 11th IFFM Autumn 2021


    New York Film Academy (NYFA) 1-Year Filmmaking alum Jameelah Rose Lineses recently produced Khatak Film Society season 3 at the 11th International Film Festival Manhattan (IFFM) Autumn 2021 in October at the Producers Club Theater in New York City. Lineses served as a member of the jury for this year’s IFFM which marks her second time serving as a jury member for the organization. 

    Khatak Film Society Season 3 Programming is a collaboration project, just like the previous seasons, between the International Film Festival Manhattan and Lineses’ film organization The Khatak Film Society, a New York-based organization founded in 2020 during the peak of the pandemic – an organization dedicated to showcasing the works of new wave Tibetan filmmakers as well as other regions of the Himalayas to a global audience.

    NYFA Filmmaking Alum Jameelah Rose Lineses & Season 3 of The Khatak Film Society at the 11th IFFM Autumn 2021

    Khatak Film Society Season 3 programming included a total of ten films this year, most of which were Bhutanese. Screenings showcased an international array of artists and directors including Bhuchung, Tenzin Phuljung, Yeshey Namgyal, Sonam Gyatso, Norbu Tsering, Yeshi Lhendup, Sherabba, and Ugyen Tashi. 

    NYFA Filmmaking Alum Jameelah Rose Lineses & Season 3 of The Khatak Film Society at the 11th IFFM Autumn 2021

    Watch a short clip of the Khatak Film Society Season 3 film screening night at the 11th International Film Festival Manhattan Autumn 2021 with introductions by Jameelah Rose Lineses and the IFFM’s festival founder and organizer, Luis Pedron.

    The film screenings were followed by a Q&A with GDS Entertainment’s artist and founder, Karma Wangyel about his latest music video, Hollow directed by Sonam Gyatso, two of the festival participants. 

    NYFA Filmmaking Alum Jameelah Rose Lineses & Season 3 of The Khatak Film Society at the 11th IFFM Autumn 2021

    The Q&A featured director Yeshey Namgyal, one of the film festival participants who was present via video call, spoke about his award-winning short film My Paralympic Dream, which tells the story of the everyday struggle of a young man with a physical disability to overcome his physical obstacles and demonstrate his own artistic ability and achieve success. 

    NYFA Filmmaking Alum Jameelah Rose Lineses & Season 3 of The Khatak Film Society at the 11th IFFM Autumn 2021

    NYFA alum Jameelah Rose Lineses (left) accepting an award on behalf of Yann Moszynski and John Parl Luces for the film Exploring the Blue Depth with IFFM founder Luis Pedron (right)

    During the IFFM awards ceremony on October 14th, Lineses accepted an award on behalf of Yann Moszynski and John Parl Luces for their film Exploring the Blue Depth, a film that represented Saudi Arabia at the film festival. Included in the Autumn 2021 honorable mentions was GDS Entertainment’s founder and artist, Karma Wangyel for his music video Hollow.

    NYFA Filmmaking Alum Jameelah Rose Lineses & Season 3 of The Khatak Film Society at the 11th IFFM Autumn 2021

    NYFA alum Jameelah Rose Lineses (Left) together with her brother NYFA alum Joseph Lineses (Right) alongside City Council District 25 candidate Fatima Baryab (center)

    Catch video coverage of the event on October 17th, 2021:

    New York Film Academy congratulates Jameelah for the Khatak Film Society’s third season programming at the 11th International Film Festival Manhattan Autumn 2021. See some of the conversations, films, and more on the Khatak Film Society’s YouTube channel. For a recap of the festival’s season 2 programming, read here.


    January 20, 2022 • Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 670

  • Q&A with NYFA Filmmaking Alum Filipe Coutinho on Script ‘Whittier’ and the 2021 Black List


    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Filipe Coutinho is a Portuguese-born filmmaker with both short film and television experience. His credits include work as a producer, director, and writer for TV shows and short films such as Women on Top, The J&T Sketch Show, A Walk with James, and Time Asks Time.

    Coutinho recently made the 2021 Black List for his screenplay Whittier. Originated in 2005, the 2021 Black List features a year’s list of the most liked, but not-yet-produced screenplays. Many of the screenplays featured on the Black List have gone on to production and earned Oscars, including Slumdog Millionaire, Argo, The King’s Speech, and Spotlight.

    The alum spoke with us about his latest work, his selection for the 2021 Black List, and his learnings from NYFA. 

    Filipe Coutinho NYFA Alum

    NYFA Filmmaking alum Filipe Coutinho

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): What brought you to New York Film Academy?

    Filipe Coutinho (FC): Well, I was born in Portugal, where I spent the first 20 years of my life. My passion for film deepened after I watched a couple of films that completely transformed my perspective of what life is and what could be. 

    At the time, the only way for me to incorporate film into my life was to create a blog (very mid-2000s, I know!) and write about the films I watched. Turns out I was quite good at it, and shortly thereafter, I was invited to write for a few Portuguese publications. 

    When I finished college, I decided that it wasn’t enough for me to write about movies. I wanted to make them and I wanted to help other people in the same way movies helped me. With the full support of my family, I discovered New York Film Academy and made the transatlantic trip.

    NYFA: What projects have you worked on since graduating?

    FC: After graduation, my life took me in many unexpected directions. Being an immigrant in America while trying to find steady work in such a competitive industry was a daunting task. But eventually, I was able to find my footing. I worked as a researcher on a BET TV show called Being and developed three shows with FX. Afterward, I found a writing partner, Ben Mehlman, and we dedicated ourselves to the craft fully. 

    I made the quarter-finals of the Academy Nicholl’s Fellowship twice; hosted a table read of my script at the WGA with Reed Diamond, Merrin Dungey, and Hailey Erin; worked on a book adaptation; and then was selected to be a part of the Black List Fellowship Lab, during which I was mentored by Beau Willimon (creator of House of Cards) and Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials, Enola Holmes), and took masterclass sessions with Rachel Rovner, Lindsay Doran, and Liz Hannah.

    NYFA: What is your screenplay about?

    FC: Whittier is about a Los Angeles social worker who stumbles upon a political conspiracy while looking into a client’s murder in the wake of the 1987 Whittier earthquake. The film is a reflection on what it takes to keep fighting the good fight despite external circumstances of escalating difficulty. 

    It’s a story meant to shed light on the greed, corruption, and self-serving attitudes that start locally, expand nationally, and ultimately, plague us globally. The intention is to offer a sobering look at the backdoor politics that impact social issues like homelessness and gentrification. I want audiences to take home the idea that just because endings are not always ‘happy’ in a more traditional sense, truth is a cause always worth pursuing. Even though this story is set in 1987, the parallels to today are inescapable. 

    Making this a period piece helped create a healthy distance from the issues of today, allowing the challenging aspects of the story to be easier to digest. We’re hoping to attach a director and/or actor soon.

    NYFA: What was your reaction when you found out you were selected for the 2021 Black List?

    FC: Elation, of course. It’s a huge honor and point of pride to have written the 12th most liked, unproduced screenplay of the year, especially when there are fifty-thousand new pieces of writing every year in the U.S. alone (a very conservative number). It’s also great to get external validation about your work, especially in a field that often requires creating your own momentum.

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to this project and others?

    FC: I didn’t know anything about filmmaking before I arrived at NYFA. The way the program is structured was perfect for someone like me. Each week I wrote, shot, directed, and edited a new project. That allowed me to understand exactly what my strengths were and lean into them. 

    My technical film education happened at NYFA, for which I’ll always be grateful. Furthermore, I need to shout out one of my screenwriting teachers, Jack Paglan, who was a huge influence in the way I approach writing.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Filipe Coutinho for his well-deserved recognition and placement on the 2021 Black List for his script, Whittier


    January 11, 2022 • Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1333

  • Q&A with NYFA MFA Screenwriting Alum Cesia Cano


    NYFA MFA Screenwriting alum Cesia Cano (above)

    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Screenwriting alum Cesia Cano is a writer and producer with film credits for her work on the television series Robot Trains and Exorcism 101, as well as the short film High Score. The children’s show Robot Trains is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video

    Cano spoke with NYFA about her latest projects for film and television and her work that’s appeared on the film festival circuit. 

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): What brought you to the New York Film Academy to pursue your interest in writing?

    Cesia Cano (CC): I’m from Dallas, Texas originally, but after reading all the positive online reviews about NYFA, I decided to attend to pursue my passion for writing and storytelling.  

    NYFA: What projects have you worked on since graduating from NYFA? Have any projects won awards or have been showcased in festivals or competitions?

    CC: Since graduating from NYFA, I’ve been one of the writers for The Flamenco Killer pilot, a six-season series being pitched to Sony. I was also the co-writer and interview assistant for Taboo, a documentary by Angela Koh. The film won at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2020.

    I’ve also produced three short films and written over forty short scripts for the Neon Children’s Art Theater. I work as a volunteer to help alleviate the struggle theaters, and students face as a result of the global pandemic. These short scripts are read by students over zoom workshops to continue their practice and improve their acting skills. 

    I’m also the founder subscription business Story Layers, a biography service that helps people share and create tangible life stories with their loved ones. I was also the script supervisor for the multiple award-nominated short film High Score by Ethan Itzkow and Serena Ryen. The short film was the winner at the Chelsea Film Festival in 2020 for ‘Best Short Film.’ 

    NYFA: Tell us more about your latest project & how you got involved? 

    CC: One of my most recent jobs was writer for Robot Trains (Season 3), an animated television show currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. 

    As a result of my involvement with the series, I’m also working on my first children’s book set to be published in the Spring of 2022. I got involved in these projects by staying connected with other artists, reaching out to new people in the industry, and sharing my scripts with the right people.

    Robot Trains poster image

    NYFA alum Cesia Cano is a writer for several episodes of season 3 of the children’s show Robot Trains

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to this project and others?

    CC: One of the most essential things that I learned from NYFA was to have my sample scripts polished and ready because you never know when a potential employer might ask to see your work and you don’t want to keep them waiting.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Cesia Cano for her work, success on the festival circuit, and her upcoming book publication.


    January 11, 2022 • Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1221

  • NYFA Alum Pens First Tanzanian Film to Stream on Netflix, “Binti”


    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Screenwriting Alum Angela Ruhinda is a writer and producer from Tanzania. In 2018, Ruhinda started a production company, Black Unicorn Studios, with her sister Alinda. After holding a screenwriting competition for writers in Tanzania, they found the story that would be the studio’s first feature film, Binti.

    Binti, which centers on the lives of four women as they navigate entrepreneurship, motherhood, infertility and love in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, will premiere on Netflix on January 7th. It is the first Tanzanian film to be acquired by Netflix for global distribution!

    Angela spoke with NYFA about Binti, the start of Black Unicorn Studios and the challenges of doing post-production during a global pandemic.

    How did you come across the project or idea for Binti?  

    In 2018, I started a production company with my sister, Alinda. We named it Black Unicorn Studios. Our first project was a stage play that I wrote. After we wrapped our theatre run, we decided we wanted to venture into film. We had a screenwriting competition only open to Tanzanian writers. We asked for original stories that spoke to the theme of female empowerment. In early 2019, we picked our winning story – Her Life by Maria Shoo. We acquired the script and re-wrote it. We loved that it told the story of four contemporary Tanzanian women and thought it would be the perfect first project for our company. The name ‘Binti’ didn’t occur to us until we finished post production. ‘Binti’ is Swahili for ‘young woman’ and no other name is more fitting for this story.

    What was your process for writing and producing the film? 

    After acquiring the original screenplay, we approached a dear friend of mine named Seko Shamte to join our team as a director and producer. She ended up co-writing the shooting draft of Binti with me. We spent many Saturday afternoons writing powerful scenes together and the whole process took us about a month or so. And then the pre-production process began. The three of us assembled a dream team for the crew. Everyone in the crew was Tanzanian with only three exceptions. Our talented cinematographer, Justin Aguirre, flew in from L.A. I worked with him previously on a pilot called Occupied and really enjoyed working with him. Our sound guy was from Kenya and our assistant director flew in from Zimbabwe. Our director had a lot of experience with these two men and insisted they were the best of the best. We had open casting calls for the actors and saw a lot of great raw talent. There were chemistry tests to make sure we got the right leads in our four women. While we prepped the crew for the three-week shoot in July, we held rehearsals for our actors so that no steps were missed. The shoot was exactly 21 days in July 2019.

    Producers Angela and Alinda Ruhinda on the set of “Binti.”

    What was your biggest challenge while producing Binti?

    The greatest challenge I had while producing Binti happened during post-production. The pandemic completely disrespected our deadline. The film was initially edited in Tanzania but it also travelled to LA for more editing, Egypt for sound and to India for VFX effects. As you can imagine, each location had its own lockdowns and restrictions so we were constantly on standby and it delayed our deadlines. We ended up completing everything in early 2021 after we secured a distributor.

    Do you have a filmmaker statement you’d like to share about Binti?

    Binti is a love letter to African women. I also want everyone who watches Binti to see our strength, our beauty, our resilience and our ability to choose our own destiny.

    Has Binti been picked up for any festivals or competitions?

    Binti has already screened at several international festivals. It premiered at the Pan African Film Festival earlier this year. Binti has

    “Binti” movie poster

    also screened at Nollywood Film Week (Paris), Durban International Film Festival (SA), Jozi Film Festival (SA), Zanzibar International Film Festival and AFRIFF (Nigeria). In Zanzibar, Binti was awarded Best Feature Film which is something that we are really proud of. It’s a very prestigious film festival. Now we’re really looking forward to sharing it with the world via Netflix! January 7, 2022. Save the date!

    What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to this project and others?

    During my time at NYFA, I studied screenwriting. Thus, NYFA taught me a lot about the art of storytelling. I learned how to carefully weave a story, how to create compelling characters and how to move an audience. I always thought my first feature would be a comedy because it is a genre I’ve always been more comfortable writing. However, when I was given the opportunity to show contemporary Tanzanian women enduring specific hardships, I tapped in to all that I learned in school. Drama and comedy are often seen as polar opposites but I’ve found that sometimes one genre can inform the other. In terms of producing a feature film, I literally learned everything on the job. And boy did I learn a lot!

    Are there any other upcoming projects we should know about?

    I’m currently developing a TV series that I’m super excited about but can’t give any details on just yet. I would also like to write and produce one or two romantic comedies for 2022 and 2023. There are a lot of opportunities for African creators on the continent right now and it’s all very exciting!

    Do you have any advice for incoming NYFA students? 

    Soak in every single thing you learn at NYFA. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Start watching at least one film a day (something I was told during my first week). And if you can, start building your tribe by meeting creatives from other departments. If you’re a writer, collaborate with some of the producers, editors and actors. Make a few short films. Those relationships might become very valuable after you graduate and the practice will prepare you for the future.

    Be sure to catch Binti, today, on Netflix!



    January 6, 2022 • Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1563

  • Q&A with NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum & Cinematographer Shivashish Ahuja


    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Shivashish Ahuja is a Los-Angeles based Cinematographer with industry experience shooting and directing short films and music videos. Ahuja has worked with several well-known artists since graduating from NYFA, including Billie Eilish, Alessia Cara, Naomi Osaka, Tate McRae, and more. 

    Ahuja spoke with NYFA about his latest videos, career challenges, and experience traveling from a small town in India to the city of Los Angeles.

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): Tell us what originally brought you to the New York Film Academy and what prompted your interest in cinematography?

    Shivashish Ahuja (SA): I come from a small town called Kota, India, which is known for “manufacturing” engineers and doctors. With the strong support from my family, especially my brother, I took the step to move to the United States to pursue my dream of becoming a professional cinematographer. 

    I had an early interest in still photography but decided to pursue moving images after I covered Vin Diesel’s visit to India in a Behind the Scenes video. They were in town to film their movie xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

    For me, film is an engaging medium and forces you to not only think but to take a step toward change. My journey at the New York Film Academy was beautiful. The school not only gave me a platform but also made me aware of the culture and people in the United States. Without NYFA, I wouldn’t have been a member of the Academy Gold Rising Cinematography program in 2021

    NYFA: What projects have you worked on since graduating from NYFA?

    SA: Ever since I graduated from NYFA, I’ve managed to grow within the industry, including work as a cinematographer for the reality show Staycation and work with Grammy award-winning artists like Billie Eilish, Alessia Cara, and Carlitos Del Puerto. 

    I’ve also worked with Mena Suvari, Naomi Osaka, Tate McRae, and Diljit Dosanjh to name a few. Short films I’ve worked on for Dhar Mann Studios on YouTube have performed well and made it to the IndieFEST Film Awards, and the film Big Rant screened at the Fimucite Festival Internacional de Musica de Cine de Tenerife and made it to the Hollywood Music In Media Awards (HMMA). The movie Paper Boats was screened at the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival and my film FaceOff made it as a finalist in the Rethink Dance Film Festival. 

    NYFA: Tell us more about your latest work & how it felt to work with well-known artists? 

    Shooting the live performance with Billie Eilish was both challenging and fun. I got the chance to work with fellow NYFA MFA Cinematography alum, Mayur Patankar who was the gaffer, and I served as the rigging gaffer. 

    Billie Eilish was soft-spoken and very respectful to everyone on the set. Plus, to listen to her live was an incentive. I was given the opportunity to work with both Alessia Cara and Carlitos Del Puerto as the cinematographer through Richy Films LLC. 

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to this project and others?

    SA: NYFA taught me the importance of pre-production, especially on bigger sets where celebrities are involved. They have extremely tight schedules and so it’s best to be prepared with everything so when they walk in, you’re ready to roll. Another crucial learning from NYFA was understanding the director’s language. Some shoots demand you work fast, which means maintaining good quality with as few setups as possible in a limited amount of time. By understanding the directors’ and producers’ goals and deliverables, it becomes easier to perform your best. 

    New York Film Academy congratulates Shivashish Ahuja for his success in Hollywood and we encourage you to check out the show Staycation and watch the music videos included here. 


    January 3, 2022 • Community Highlights, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1044

  • NYFA Acting Alum Cleavandor Wright in ‘Meeting Juan Jones’ and ‘Diablo’


    New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Acting for Film alum Cleavandor Vandorn Wright is a retired Military Army veteran turned actor now working in the film industry. The Florida-based actor spoke with NYFA about his latest work, life after graduation, and advice for NYFA students. 

    Wright first started acting in 2016, at PlayBuilders of Hawai’i Theater Company in a production called ‘Dragonfly.’ The play tells the story about a girl’s journey through foster care and was directed by Terri Madden. The actor performed eleven times, playing six characters, each with dialogue, and toured with the troupe as performances were carried out throughout the island of Hawai’i. Wright was awarded the Ensemble Award at the theater company’s banquet, PO’ OKELA AWARD Ensembles Performance: Non-Traditional. 

    In 2017 Wright was also featured in the television series revamp of Hawaii Five-O in episode five of season eight alongside Chi-McBride. The NYFA alum played the role of a Security Guard. 

    Wright starred in the 2019 film Diablo directed by Cedric Livingston, a suspense thriller following protagonist Reggie who lurks from town to town, picking victims for murder. The film is available for streaming in certain locations on Amazon Prime Video

    NYFA Acting alum Cleavandor Wright plays Edgar in the film Meeting Juan Jones (2021) 

    NYFA Acting alum Cleavandor Wright plays Edgar in the film Meeting Juan Jones (2021)

    The alum also plays Edgar in the 2021 feature film Meeting Juan Jones, in which cryptocurrency trader Tim loses his life’s savings after an insider tip goes wrong. Tim meets Juan Jones, a local Miami shylock who takes Tim for a ride through the streets of Miami for a night of corruption and self-discovery. The film was both directed and written by Larry Camacho and Alejo Vega. The film was produced by Mcpree Production Films based in Miami, Florida. 

    A behind-the-scenes photos of the short film From Miami with love with NYFA alum Cleavandor Wright

    A behind-the-scenes photos of the short film From Miami with love with NYFA alum Cleavandor Wright (left)

    Wright teamed up a second time with Cedric Livingston (Diablo) to be featured in the short film From Miami with love, which was directed, written, and produced by Cedric Livingston. 

    In support of the NYFA community, the actor appeared in two NYFA student films which were directed, written, and produced by a NYFA student and alum from the South Beach (Miami) campus. The two short films Silver Mettel directed by 1-Year Filmmaking student Clay Ransom Greenwald, and 222 directed by NYFA BFA Filmmaking alum Zoe Bell, were also thesis films for the two filmmakers. 

    NYFA acting alum Cleavandor Wright on the set of the student short film Silver Mettel 

    NYFA acting alum Cleavandor Wright on the set of the student short film Silver Mettel

    When asked what he learned from NYFA that he applied to his work as an actor, Wright replied, “Everything, everything, and everything. I learned consistency, focus, a work ethic, discipline, and resiliency. How to dissect a script and get a visual understanding of what the character’s psychological mentality is so that you exact out the script what the director or writer wrote is what I took away from New York Film Academy.” 

    The actor has advice for incoming NYFA students, which is to “be on time to class and turn in your assignments before the deadline because this all ties into being on time to auditions and film sets. There’s a motto the Army lives by, which is also my motto since I’m a retired Military Army veteran, ‘If you’re early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late.’ Early arrival is always authorized.” Wright goes on to remind students to “ask questions, actively listen, be actively engaged during the exercises to construct techniques for your craft. And don’t forget to have fun!” 

    New York Film Academy congratulates alum Cleavandor Wright for his work in the acting profession, thank him for his service in the United States Army, and wishes him the best of success in his upcoming feature films. You can stay updated on Wright’s latest work by following him on Instagram (@mr_cleavandor).


    December 23, 2021 • Acting, Community Highlights, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 974

  • Happy Holidays from NYFA’s Division of Veterans Services


    NYFA Happy Holidays Veterans

    Dear NYFA Veteran Community,

    During this special time of the year, NYFA’s Division of Veterans Services (DVS) wants to make sure you know how much we appreciate you. As we wrap up 2021 and embark upon 2022, we hope that your holiday season is full of health, happiness and creativity.

    There is always so much interesting output from the talented NYFA veteran-students and veteran-alumni that DVS’s Director, Command Sergeant Major (ret.) Christopher Moore, has planned for a quarterly DVS newsletter in 2022. However, for now, please check out the provided links to see just a few examples of news from our community. Col Jack Jacobs produced a docu-series Ten Weeks on Roku, Director of DVS Chris Moore attending the Veterans Day Reception in NYC, and NYFA Alum, Zane Jones, received a 2021 Daytime Emmy for The Girl in Apartment 15.

    Best wishes for a safe and Happy Holidays and New Years from the Division of Veterans Services. We look forward to you all returning safely in 2022.

    ~ Christopher Moore, Mike Kunselman, Jonathan Cortez & Creshaun Sanders


    December 23, 2021 • Community Highlights, Student & Alumni Spotlights, Veterans • Views: 659

  • NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum Hongyu “Neo” Li on Life After Graduation as a Development Executive


    New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Hongyu “Neo” Li has been hired as the Development Executive and In-House Writer for Starlight Media. The production and finance company has produced several popular films including Crazy Rich Asians, Malignant, and Wuhan Wuhan. Li’s creative role includes overseeing treatments, ideas, pitches, and more. He reports directly to Starlight Media’s CEO, Peter Luo. 

    NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum, Neo Li

    NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum, Neo Li (above)

    The China-born writer and filmmaker began his career with short films, including Hank and Waiting For Frank, both of which received international recognition. Li screened his short films at over 30 film festivals, including the Palm Springs International ShortFest, Cleveland International Film Festival, and Chicago International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. His most recent screenplay My Chinese Neighbor was semi-finalist at the Austin Film Festival Script Competition, selected as a 2020 New Reality Screenwriting Program finalist, and named a semi-finalist at the 2021 Nashville Film Festival. 

    Li spoke with NYFA about his latest role and life after graduating in 2018. 

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): What can you tell us about what you do as a Development Executive for Starlight Media? 

    Neo Li (NL): As a development executive, I am responsible for generating ideas, treatments, pitches, and scripts, and guiding producers and writers in the development of content, curating a growing slate of film and TV projects. 

    NYFA: What type of projects do you oversee as a Development Executive?

    NL: I have been overseeing a couple of crime thriller projects, one with an Oscar-winning producer attached. 

    NYFA: What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your work in the industry?

    NL: There have been some challenges along the way. The biggest one was shifting my mindset from writing/directing to the perspective of an executive. As a writer/director, I mostly ask myself if the story is appealing to me or not, but as an executive, I have to consider more elements, such as talent, budget, IP, merchandising, distribution—it’s a package of deals. Of course, the story is essential, but it’s not the only factor that needs to be considered.

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied to your work and experience since graduating? 

    NL: Directing, writing, and producing my year one film and thesis film at NYFA helped me understand how to complete a film from the logline stage all the way to distribution. The difference is, budgets in the industry are higher, and filmmakers need their work to appeal to a wider audience and are also responsible to their investors and backers. 

    As a film student, I was only commercially responsible to my selfless parents! But I do think that your short films from your degree will be your calling cards as you set out on a film career – so it’s important to think about what your films say about what strengths you can bring to a project.

    In terms of specific classes, I think James Rowe’s directing class deeply enriched my knowledge in directing and story development. While developing my thesis film Hank, I wasn’t really confident about directing it myself, and my instructor David Newman strengthened my faith and confidence. 

    Mark Horowitz’s class in feature film sales, marketing, and distribution gave me a general idea of an executive’s world, which helped me stand out in my three-month internship. And I want to give a big shout-out to Crickett Rumley, who has been a steadfast supporter since I graduated and who has been a great resource for connecting alumni together. 

    NYFA: Are there any other upcoming projects or trends we should know about?

    NL: The biggest trend that I have been paying attention to is that of crime thrillers combined with high concepts. As evidenced by Squid Game, foreign language is not a barrier anymore. The determining element is the core and the theme – is it universal? People living in Seoul struggle with the issue of class, but so do the people in San Francisco.  

    NYFA: Do you have any advice for incoming NYFA students? Especially those seeking an MFA? 

    NL: Never underestimate the importance of your year one film, which is a great opportunity to make mistakes and conquer your fears. Stop submitting your films to those film festivals that will hand you 10 awards. Go to the real ones. Go to their screenings and panels and connect with people. You will get inspired, make friends and probably find your next director of photography, producer, or lead actor. When you have ten film ideas, choose the one that you personally respond to at an emotional level. For your thesis film, tell your OWN story and be sincere. 

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Li on his role at Starlight Media and his pipeline of projects. If you’d like to learn more about Neo Li’s work, you can visit his LinkedIn profile or read about him on his professional website.


    December 21, 2021 • Alumni Events, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 996