Student and Alumni Spotlights
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  • NYFA Acting for Film Alumna Samantha Hamadeh Hosts Comedy Central Arabia’s “Ridiculousness Arabia”

    In 2010 Samantha Hamadeh graduated from the One Year Acting Program at New York Film Academy. Her 3.9 GPA should have tipped everyone off that she was headed toward great things. In just a few years Hamadeh was on Comedy Central co-hosting one of their most popular shows. Hamadeh sat down with NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith, to talk about where it all began and how NYFA helped her to get where she is now.

    NYFA: When did you fall in love with acting?

    Hamadeh: I was in 1st or 2nd grade. My friend and I used to hand out little notes to people in the class to come watch our plays on the playground. There was a tree ring made of cement. That was our stage.

    NYFA: What were some challenges you faced in your craft before coming to NYFA?

    Hamadeh: Although I’m a firm believer that people are born with a talent, I still thought that there was so much that I needed to learn about myself in order to be able to understand and portray different characters. Also, I took 3 years off from the theater because I was getting a degree at university. I was nervous about getting back into the world of acting.

    NYFA: How did NYFA help you move through these challenges?

    Hamadeh: I had some of the best teachers and mentors. From Kelly Hughes to Caitlin Muelder, Scott Ferrara, Valorie Hubbard, and Anthony Montes – they were all so supportive and truly believed in me. In class, I was able to work on my technique while also developing new skills.

    NYFA: What is your best memory from NYFA?

    Hamadeh: My dream of going to film school came true! The entire experience was life changing. I also got to meet some of the most amazing and talented students who I look up to, especially Eliza Delacourt and Maria Carvalho, who are now family to me. Some of the best years of my life were in Los Angeles, both on and off campus.

    NYFA: Tell us about your show, “Ridiculousness Arabia.”

    Hamadeh: Ridiculousness is an American comedy clip show, which presents viral videos. Comedy Central Arabia got the rights and I got to co-host the Arabic version – “Ridiculousness Arabia.”

    Samantha Hamadeh | NYFA Alumni Spotlight

    NYFA: How did you become involved with the project?

    Hamadeh: I work in marketing and was at a meeting with Comedy Central because they were looking to film their stand up comedy show at my brother’s venue, Stereo Arcade in Dubai. The CC team mentioned they were also working on Ridiculousness and I got excited because I love the US version. The producer asked if I was interested in co-hosting. Obviously, I said yes.

    NYFA: What was your goal with the project?

    Hamadeh: It was pure improv so we didn’t have much time to rehearse and we filmed two to three episodes a day over five to six days. My goal was to stay focused and enjoy filming every episode. There’s no character work. What you see on tv is who I am in person.

    NYFA: What’s been the most rewarding part of being involved with “Ridiculousness Arabia?”

    Hamadeh: Being part of a production like this was a dream come true! And I enjoyed every single minute of it because I got to work with really talented guys; Mohanad, the host and Khaled, the co-host.

    NYFA: What advice do you have for an aspiring host?

    Hamadeh: You’re going to hear a lot of no’s before you get a yes. It’s hard to be patient, I know, but when the right opportunity comes along you’re going to be happy that you were.

    NYFA: Where and when can people watch your show? 

    Hamadeh: Every Sunday night on Comedy Central Arabia.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Samantha Hamadeh for taking the time to speak with us.

     

     

    August 18, 2017 • Acting, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 502

  • NYFA Power Couple Haik Gazarian & Valentina Rendón Share Their Success Story

    At the New York Film Academy, it is not uncommon to see actors and directors who have already made great strides in their career seek a focused short-term learning experience in order to brush up on a rusty skill or even learn an aspect of the movie-making business in which they have never participated.

    Already successful in their native Colombia,  NYFA graduates Valentina Rendón and Haik Gazarian have attended the New York Film Academy a combined 10 times and are self-described evangelists for the school. In Colombia, Rendón has worked as a pop star, soap-opera actress, and scriptwriter, and Gazarian has managed actors and written and directed features. The couple returns to NYFA before almost every project.

    Gazarian grew up in Venezuela shooting on an 8 mm camera. He worked for a television station where he saw how newsreels were made. He was fascinated. While there, Gazarian began meeting actors. As those connections grew he built a career out of those relationships. For the next 15 years he managed actors, but his dream to make feature films never faded.

    As his connections multiplied, Gazarian began to figure out how to make that desire a reality. He began writing and sought out fundraising opportunities. Gazarian is practical in everything he does. Despite his years in the entertainment industry and the incredible talent he was surrounded by, Gazarian wanted to go back to school.

    He wanted to make sure that the work he produced would be of a professional quality and he wanted to do it himself. In 1996 he found the New York Film Academy and enrolled in the eight-week filmmaking course. By the time he had completed the course he had the first draft of his script, “Venezzia.”

    He would spend the next eight years re-writing, workshopping and developing the script. During that time Gazarian kept an open mind about his work and was willing to hear suggestions on how to better it.

    One day while on set while visiting a client, Gazarian was taking photos as his client rehearsed a scene. Through a camera lens, he spotted Valentina Rendón. This would be an encouter that changed his life.

    Columbian actress Rendón is perhaps best known for winning “Bailando por un Sueño.” Her work includes appearances in television shows like “Copas Amargas,” “Tabú,” and “Allá Te Espero.” She was also one-fourth of the pop group Luna Verde in the mid-’90s. Now, Rendón has started to center her attention behind the camera. She came to NYFA to study editing.

    Rendón began her career in industrial design, when she was awarded a music scholarship at the age of 18. “Since I was a little kid, I was driven by the creative process,” Rendón said. She would write songs and poems, practice ballet, play guitar and paint. When the opportunity arose to go to the Acting School of the National Theater of Colombia via a scholarship, she found the perfect way to combine all of her talents and jumped at the challenge.

    As she settled into acting, she found herself curious about the work happening on the other side of the camera. “I was always asking the DPs about how the camera worked,” Rendón said. When she first started dating Gazarian she would give him notes on the script for “Venezzia.” Gazarian brought Rendón in for re-writes, and she wound up writing the final draft of the script.

    In addition to the filmmaking, directing, and screenwriting courses they have already taken, the couple is now taking on the NYFA’s 4-Week Digital Editing Workshop. They are working on their next feature and, while they will not be editing the project themselves, they thought it important to know the language and styles of editing before they began post-production.

    There are two reasons the couple keeps coming back to attend NYFA programs in between projects: it is a a process they compare to training for sports. “We’re about to start pre-production,” Gazarian said. “It’s like a fine-tune-up before going into battle. You want to keep pushing yourself. It gives you a version of the orchestra you’re conducting. You should know the limitations of each position.”

    “Learning new skills will give you more information. This is what NYFA’s short programs are made for. You get to practice what you’re learning,” Rendón said. Gazarian added, “All of the information you learn here is meant to be applicable.”

    The other thing that keeps them coming back is NYFA’s global community. “Hanging out with people outside of your purview helps you pick up on little things,” Gazarian said. Rendón said that in one of her classes there wasn’t a single student from the same country. She even learned the Bollywood style of filmmaking from a classmate.

    The couple was tight-lipped about their upcoming project, but said that there was already a major studio interested in producing it.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Valentina Rendón and Haik Gazarian for taking the time to share their experience.

  • NYFA Acting for Film Alumnus Hayden Szeto Visits Los Angeles Campus as Guest Speaker

    On Tuesday, August 15 New York Film Academy alumnus Hayden Szeto returned to the Los Angeles campus to share his latest hit “The Edge of Seventeen.” Q and A Series Director Tova Laiter hosted the evening.

    Szeto was the first actor cast in the film in what writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig thought would be the most challenging role to cast. But, after auditioning him, she knew Szeto was perfect for the part.

    It could not have come at a better time for Szeto. A Canadian citizen out of school, Szeto was running out of time to find work in the United States. He had just one week left on his visa. This, Szeto said, was a blessing and not a curse: He encouraged the other international students to view the time crunch as a gift. “You don’t want to go home. The weather in LA is great, but you’ve got to earn your stay,” Szeto said. Let the ticking clock be a fire that drives toward success.

    Szeto found NYFA on Google and knew immediately that this is where he wanted to go to school. He had studied theater at another school, but a lack of on-camera work drove him to come to NYFA. Being in Los Angeles with the opportunity to work on professional backlots just sweetened the deal. “This is one school that has everything you need,” Szeto said.

    Szeto encouraged students to take advantage of their time at the New York Film Academy. He stressed that skating by in school would not translate to a flourishing career in the real world. “You’ve got to find out what you’re good at here. Once you leave it’s your responsibility to build on that,” he told students. “Treat this space like a gym.”

    When it was time for the Q & A portion, one student asked, “What catches your eye when reading a script?”

    Szeto responded: “I have to be able to relate to the character. How can I give him dignity?” He said a lot of the decision comes down to talking with the director and writer. “You’re not just auditioning for them, they’re kind of auditioning for you too.”  As an example, Szeto comically described working with a director who gave vague descriptions on how to improve a scene in what would have been a big movie for him, but Szeto ultimately turned down the role.

    An Asian student asked, “Do you have plans to take on roles that deal with Asian American issues?”

    “Being an actor of color, people in your community will say you owe them something because of your skin color. No. If it’s about the Asian American experience and it’s well written than yes, I’ll do it. But  first, it has to be good.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Hayden Szeto for taking the time to revisit his old stomping grounds, and for passing along advice to the next generation of students. Szeto’s next film is “Truth or Dare,” alongside Tyler Posey and Lucy Hale.

  • NYFA Acting Instructor’s “The Good Catholic” Distributed by Broadgreen Pictures and Gravitas Ventures

    This September, New York Film Academy Instructors Zachary Spicer and John Robert Armstrong’s independent feature “The Good Catholic” will release in more than 20 cities across the U.S. and 15 countries worldwide, thanks to distribution deals with Broadgreen Pictures and Gravitas Ventures.

    Spicer and Armstrong created “The Good Catholic” with their production company Pigasus Pictures, and have just finished an incredible won on the festival circuit that saw them snag the Panavision Spirit Award for Best Feature Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the DaVinci’s Horse Award for Best Screenplay at the Milan International Film Festival, Best Picture at the Grove Film Festival, and more.

    We had a chance to catch up with Zachary Spicer via email to talk about “The Good Catholic” and his production company, Pigasus Pictures.

    NYFA:  First, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to NYFA?

    ZS: I grew up in small town Indiana, went to Indiana University where I studied archaeology — until I realized that Indiana Jones was much more fiction than fact. I was cast in a show my senior year by a visiting director who told me I should go to NYC to study to become and actor. I studied at Circle in the Square theater school, where I fell in love with theater.

    After graduation I began working a number of jobs while I beat the pavement trying to land auditions. I’ve been very fortunate in my career ever since. My first Broadway gig was with Cynthia Nixon in the Tony Award-nominated revival of “Wit,” followed by Kenneth Branagh’s “Macbeth” at the Park Avenue Armory. I began working on TV shows like “Law & Order: SVU,” “Blue Bloods,” “Gotham,” “Louie,” and “Master of None,” before I was approached by my old IU colleague John Robert Armstrong, who was an instructor at NYFA. They needed someone to come in and teach a substitute acting for film class, so I volunteered and fell in love with the place. I started teaching as many classes as I could get my hands on: Meisner, audition technique, acting technique, and so on.

    It was in the halls of NYFA that John and I developed our idea to start our film company Pigasus Pictures. Inspired by the students we taught each day and the talent and dedication of the instructors, we formed a game-plan to fully fund and produce our very first feature film, “The Good Catholic.”

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite moments as a NYFA instructor?

    ZA: My favorite moments at NYFA were in my acting for film class late on in the semester, seeing students who had been writing down these “theories” and “practices” of working on film, seeing them tool it over and over again, and then finally see the light bulb come on, seeing that moment of practical recognition of their craft and the power it gave them. How they could use it and seeing them begin to really gain confidence and believe in themselves.

    NYFA: Can you tell us more about what role NYFA played in the making of “The Good Catholic,” and about your collaboration with John?

    ZS: John and I met everyday in between classes and before and after classes, and started to try to figure out how we were going to pull this miracle off. We weren’t rich kids with money to spare and we didn’t have deep ties to the industry, so we really had to work from the ground up.

    I had this vision of a film company and what we could do, and John was the nuts and bolts guy of figuring out exactly how we could get it done. We would workshop scenes that were in the movie in our classes with students, seeing what would work and what wouldn’t, starting to map out shots and seeing character arcs explored with our students, and discussing the storytelling elements of one scene leading into another and what was significant about each moment in the script. Seeing how the film was playing in class really motivated us to continue our efforts to produce.

    NYFA: What inspired the idea for “The Good Catholic”?

    ZS: The story itself was inspired from writer/director Paul Shoulberg’s actual parents. Paul’s dad was a small town priest and his mother was a nun who had met in church, eventually fell in love, and left, married, and made Paul and his sister. Paul’s dad passed away a few years ago and Paul really wanted to write a story that was testament to his father. He wasn’t only writing what he knew, he was writing what he had to write.

    NYFA: You’ve mentioned that some of your former NYFA students were involved in “The Good Catholic” and other productions at Pigasus Pictures — can you tell us a bit about those collaborations?

    ZS: I was very lucky to be teaching some incredibly inspiring students while I was there at NYFA. The students there just blew me away with their passion, curiosity, and commitment. One class in particular formed a production company immediately upon graduating NYFA, and I work with several of those members today.

    Two former students from NYFA made the trip with us to Indiana to work on the film itself: Max Turner and Alice Deussant. They came on board in the beginning as assistants to the producer. However, by the end of the film they had ingrained themselves in almost every department of production. They learned the very first lesson in this business which is: make yourself invaluable. They would run off at a moment’s notice to do anything, volunteer for any work, and were just generally a pleasure to be around all day and night on set. On top of that they got to know and work with Paul, who sat down and watched their reels and their former work and said, “They’ve really got talent. I’d love to put them in something in the future.”

    With our next film “Ms. White Light” shooting this fall, we are looking to hire them and three or four more former students to come on board the adventure with us.

    NYFA: Speaking of “Ms. White Light,” can you tell us more about upcoming projects at Pigasus Pictures?

    ZS: At the same time of distributing “The Good Catholic,” Pigasus Pictures is currently financing a slate of six projects to be produced in the next three years: four feature films and two television pilots, all to be filmed in our home state in Indiana. The next production will be the dark comedy feature film written and directed again by Paul Shoulberg called “Ms. White Light,” the story of a young woman who works in the world of hospice that has a unique ability to connect with the dying … it’s just everyone else she has a problem with.

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Pigasus Pictures on their recent success with “The Good Catholic.”

  • Mid-August Updates From the NYFA Broadcast Journalism School

    In journalism, we always try to “get ahead of the story.” That is, not just report what has already happened but also cover what may well happen next. TVNewser had a great feature recently on how ABC News was out in front of one story by an astounding 38 years. In February 1979, Frank Reynolds — the anchor (presenter) of ABC’s evening newscast — wrapped up a story about a just-occurred solar eclipse with a unique tag:

    “So that’s it – the last solar eclipse to be seen on this continent in this century … Not until August 21, 2017 will another eclipse be visible from North America. May the shadow of the moon fall on a world in peace. ABC News, of course, will bring you a complete report on that next eclipse 38 years from now.”

    And he was right. In fact, a friend and former coworker of mine anticipates cutting at least one eclipse story for “Good Morning America,” ABC’s morning news/chat show.

    Back in the 21st Century, BuzzFeed and Twitter have announced a new morning news show of their own. It follows successful Election Night coverage last November, and not surprisingly will reflect the attitude and style of these two digital information giants. What is surprising is how in some ways the program will be similar to current network programs, only with more attitude and edge. It was also be “linear,” similar to conventional television, as opposed to a “non-linear” approach that lets viewers pick and choose what they want.

    On the other hand, CBS News — often seen as the most “behind-the-curve” operation when it comes to cross-platform distribution — has incorporated video-on-demand (VOD) functionality into their CBSN digital news platform. It can be watched either in linear or non-linear fashion. In addition, some CBSN content can now be seen on the main CBS broadcast channel as well.

    Speaking of cross-platform distribution, here is a story that NYFA Broadcast Journalism graduate Grace Shao did last week for China Global Television News (CGTN). It was fed out as part of regularly scheduled linear programs, integrated into an online posting, and distributed across a number of digital social media platforms. It’s a pretty good story too!

    We end this edition of the Weekly Update with good news about Evgenia “Genia” Vlasova, who many of you know as a classmate, a TA or an active freelance multimedia journalist. She can now add the title “NYFA Instructor” to her resume. Genia is taking the lead with the Personal Journalism course, and will also be teaching the 12-week Evening Broadcast Journalism workshop this fall. She came to NYFA with seven years of on-air experience in Russia, and combined that with all she learned here in the 1-year Broadcast Journalism Conservatory program. Tireless, upbeat, knowledgeable, talented, Genia is a great addition to the Broadcast Journalism faculty.

    Congratulations, Genia!
    (Picture courtesy of our regular camera instructor Daniel Hernandez.)
  • NYFA Filmmaking Alumna Ahd Kamel Stars in Netflix’s “Collateral”

    New York Film Academy 1-Year Filmmaking Program alumna Ahd Kamel will star in upcoming Netflix and BBC collaboration “Collateral.”

    As reported in Stepfeed, “Collateral” is a 4-part thriller set in modern-day London, which explores the aftermath of the fatal shooting of a delivery man. Kamel will portray a Muslim woman named Fatima, acting alongside Oscar-nominated superstar Carrie Mulligan as well as British actors John Simm, Billie Piper, and July Namir. The series is written by Oscar-winning screenwriter David Hare, known for such films as “The Reader” and “The Hours.”

    Kamel is a multi-hyphenate artist, especially notable as a female filmmaker in an industry and nation where women are extremely underrepresented. With a background in animation, Kamel has broken barriers not only an actress and filmmaker, but according to Huffington Post is also developing a new comic book series within the SGR (Saudi Girl Revolution) universe.

    The actress is perhaps best known for her turn as the severe headmistress in Haifaa Al-Mansour’s groundbreaking “Wadjda,” which follows a young Saudi girl in her quest to acquire a green bicycle by raising funds through a school competition. As the Washington Post notes, “Wadjda” made history: The film was not only the first Saudi film to be submitted to the Oscars race, but also the first feature created entirely in Saudi Arabia by a female filmmaker. Kamel’s own filmmaking debut “The Shoemaker” won Best Short Film at Beirut International Film Festival and won Special Jury Mention at the Arab Film Festival of Oran, Algeria. Her sophomore film “Sanctity” screened at the Berlin Festival, setting a record as the first Saudi film to do so.

    Kamel told Your Middle East that she is not interested in sending messages with her work, but rather in asking questions, using film for expression, and drawing inspiration from life. For her, there is a universal story to tell: “Being Saudi definitely opens the door, but I have to walk through it,” she told the magazine … “I think for me to grow, I need to be able to find humanity in any character and to be able to make any story regardless of its origin.”

    “Collateral” is due to release sometime in 2018.

  • NYFA Producing Grad Kalpana Malviya’s “Made in America” Airs on Zee TV

    New York Film Academy 4-Week Producing Workshop graduate Kalpana Malviya’s original reality program “Made in America” launches this week on Zee TV, India’s largest television network.

    India.com reports that “Made in America” is the first-ever English-language Bollywood reality program to be produced entirely in Hollywood. Hosted by Nina Davuluri, the 2014 Miss America winner, the show  chronicles the journey of six young South East Asian women selected from a pool of 6,000 hopefuls in a talent competition in the vein of “America’s Next Top Model.” The competition includes participation in acting classes at the New York Film Academy.

    Last fall, Malviya told the New York Film Academy Blog that her NYFA training was a help in poising her to launch her professional life in television: “I’m from India. Hollywood films really pop in India. I took what I learned at NYFA and landed a job with Zee TV.”

    It was while working with Zee TV that Malviya came up with the idea for “Made in America,” which combines Hollywood glamour with Bollywood power for an entirely unique reality television experience. Malviya recalled, “I pitched them the idea. They loved it and now, here we are.”

    As Sameer Targe, CEO, ZEE TV America explained to India.com, Zee TV is “the flagship television network for the South Asian community in the United States,” meaning that the new reality program will provide an exciting collaboration and cultural bridge between Hollywood and Bollywood.

    We had a chance to catch up with Kalpana Malviya to hear her thoughts about bringing her original series to life.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    KM: As a child I was always fascinated by films and wanted to make movies and TV shows. I pursued modeling in India to try and further my dreams. I won (first runner up) a beauty pageant, Miss Gladrags, 2009, and from there received many opportunities. After my modeling contract was up, I started working at various production companies. I soon realized I had to learn. So, I decided to come to the New York Film Academy to expand my knowledge in production.

    NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment from your time studying with us?

    KM: My favorite NYFA moment was the realization of my true abilities. I saw a new world opening with tremendous opportunities all around me. I was soaking up as much as I could, but it wasn’t until a professor from NYFA sat me down and told me that I had a natural talent for producing, I realized what I wanted to do within the industry.

    NYFA: What inspired your passion for producing?

    KM: In addition to my fascination with films, I had a knack for business. I am certain the business woman in me was influenced by watching my father run his own company. I found myself naturally gravitating towards producing, without realizing what it was at the time. There I could utilize both my creativity and business abilities to produce quality film & TV shows, which allowed me to bring all my skills to the table. It wasn’t just enough to understand the story, I had to visualize and work towards bringing my vision to the right niche market.

    NYFA: Now that “Made in America” has aired on Zee TV (congrats, again!), can you tell us how your role as a producer has evolved? Are there any aspects of bringing the production to air that have surprised you, or opened new challenges?

    KM: I would have to say that learning to market the show to the right audience was certainly a challenging and evolving aspect for me. In addition, to bring the story forth I had to explore new ways of marketing with social media, targeted ad campaigns, and press coverage, all while keeping in mind the final goal of increasing our show’s revenue.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful for preparing you for the work you are doing today?

    KM: Of course! I took my first steps toward development, direction and distribution (“Triple D’s”) at NYFA. There, I gained all the necessary knowledge and technical skills to become a creative mega force. All of those technical skills and creative understanding are critical for my role at Zee TV.

    NYFA: You’ve said in other interviews that part of your inspiration for “Made in America” was a desire to see more high quality South East Asian content on TV. Can you share with our international student community your view, as a working producer, as to why this is so important?

    KM: I think it’s super important to celebrate diversity within media. America has been recognized as the melting pot of cultures from my recollection. Its even more pertinent to bring this to our communities given today’s heated political climate. We can use media as an outlet to reflect different ethnicities, viewpoints, and lifestyles. I would urge to all student to choose a media platform that represents diversity.

    I am thankful to be a part of one such media force with a threshold of 1 billion viewers  over 171 countries around the world. Zee TV brings cultures together and celebrates differences in cultures of our unique countries to amplify the beauty.

    NYFA: For our producing students, can you offer any advice on bringing an original concept like “Made in America” to live on a major network?

    KM: Its a combination of finding the right media platform that allows you to be innovative and creative and where the executives fully support their staff’s new ideas. Without people like Sameer Targe (Zee America’s CEO) and Kitty Koo (VP International Relations at NYFA), among others, to support and believe in me, making these shows would not be possible.

    At the end of the day you need to believe in your own vision and people to help you make that vision a reality. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world” (Harriet Tubman)

    NYFA: Can you share with us about any upcoming projects you are working on?

    KM: I’m working on an array of new programs produced in the U.S. by Zee, which will air on the channel throughout 2017 and 2018. There’s a huge variety in what we’re producing — a matchmaking show, a business show, and a new style family quiz game show, as well as a docu-drama on successful Indian-American entrepreneurs.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Kalpana Malviya for taking the time to share a part of her story with our community.

  • NYFA Filmmaking Alumnus Rohit Mittal Feature “Autohead” Releases on Netflix, “Megalopolis” in the WordsTalks

    NYFA 1-Year Filmmaking Program alumnus Rohit Mittal has just wrapped production on his second independent feature film, “Megalopolis,” with his first, “Autohead,” released worldwide on Netflix.

    “Autohead” earned rave reviews and awards at major festivals worldwide — including 49th Sitges Film Festival, 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival, CPH:PIX, and more. “Autohead” attracted attention from major publications like The Hollywood Reporter, Huffington Post, Fangoria, and Al Jazeera before its worldwide digital release on Netflix. And that’s not all: anticipation is already high for  “Megalopolis,” which The Reel has highlighted as a smart meditation on a dark side of human nature.

    We had a chance to catch up with Mittal in the midst of his busy schedule via email to hear some of his insights on the process of producing his independent features and finding distribution with Netflix.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?

    RM: I was always interested in movies and literature, but after high school I had to go to law school because it’s a norm in India to get a degree so that you can get a job. But I was not interested in law. In law school all I ever did was watch movies, a lot of them (mainly foreign films), read books, and I wrote poems, short stories, and I also made short films. But after graduating from law school I had to take up a job.

    I worked in a law firm in Mumbai. It was the worst experience of my life. Even then I was making short films over the weekends. After a point it became really frustrating so I decided to quit the job and go to a film school, for two main reasons. One, that I can have a better understating of filmmaking, and the other, to leave the country.

    That’s when I got to know about NYFA. I researched a lot, and NYFA was the only place that offered a very practical hands-on training, and they had the one-year program. The idea to make a film every week really excited me, and a friend was already studying here. So I decided immediately to attend this school.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments?

    RM: Well, there were many. The best were with the friends I made. And all of them were from different countries, so making films with them was great fun.

    NYFA: What inspired your first feature, “Autohead”? Can you tell us a bit about that production process?

    RM: …I wanted to do a character study of a criminal. Also I wanted to explore and question the voyeurism of filmmakers, of films, of the camera. I wanted to question the eye. So yes, with all of this put together I came up with that story.

    We did a lot of planning before we started shooting. We planned for almost four months, because we did not have many days to shoot. We shot the whole film in 14 days, so we could not afford to make mistakes or lose time. In those four months of pre-production I also rehearsed a lot with actors and looked for authentic locations.

    NYFA: How did your distribution deal with Netflix come about? (And congrats!)

    RM: Thank you. Well I got in touch with one of the employees at Netflix. By that time the film had traveled to many festivals, won awards and also got many great reviews. So they got really excited about the film. They saw the film, loved it, and then my sales agent in France and I cracked the deal.

    NYFA: What inspired your shift from the documentary style of “Autohead” to the more surreal and poetic feel of “Megalopolis”?

    RM: The documentary style in “Autohead” was an integral part of the story, because the story was that there is this documentary crew filming an Aut rickshaw driver in Mumbai who turns out to be a killer. So the form became a part of the storytelling. Which is why I love the mockumentary format.

    In “Megalopolis” there is more a formalistic approach. I just wanted to go back to what cinema originally was, that is just visuals and sound. Also I think it is more honest. It is more me. “Autohead” was also honest but it was more angst-driven.

    “Megalopolis” is the kind of film I always wanted to make. Also, it’s based on a novel by my favorite novelist of all time, Fydor Dostoyevsky. So I have tried to adapt that in my own way into visuals and sound. And as far as surrealism is concerned, to be honest that’s how I see things. That’s how I see life. Maybe surreal is real. Or vice versa.

    NYFA: What were some of your greatest challenges in getting your feature films made? What advice would you offer to students looking to make that leap?

    RM: The biggest challenge as we all know is to get the funding. But the way I did it was as independent as things can get.

    For the first film I borrowed money from people which was enough to shoot and edit the film. Once I finished editing the film I started showing it around and that’s when I found another producer to finish the film. All of this took me around 10 months or so, including the wait.

    The idea is to be as realistic as possible, and it starts with your writing. I wrote those films knowing that there is going to be very little money. I had the budget in mind while writing the script. That way I was more realistic and did not build castles in the air, because to be honest I don’t like to wait.

    I don’t have the patience to wait for 10 years to get a big budget for my film, and today it’s possible to create a decent, sellable film with little money. And people made it even 20 or 30 years ago when there was no digital technology. So we have some great examples, and we can follow them and tell a very honest personal story.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all helpful in preparing you for what you’re doing today?

    RM: Yes. I would say so. That’s purely because of the practical training I had at the school. Also the time I got for myself, living in another country. So I figured what I like and what I don’t like, and what I am good at.

    Also I loved to break rules all the time in film school, I enjoyed that a lot and ended up learning a lot. And the biggest and best lessons I learnt were from making bad films. I cherish them. And I experimented a lot. A lot of times I failed, but they were great lessons. Thank god I made mistakes. Film schools are meant for that, to make mistakes.

    NYFA: What about the story or themes in “Megalopolis” felt like they needed to be told, now?

    RM: …You can say that “Megalopolis” or the big city is a metaphor for the human condition in today’s day and age. The city is the ultimate dream. I don’t know if it’s a good one or a bad one. And everything revolves around the city. The city is the central character. It consumes us all. It may be a monster … So yes, with all this I am trying to understand the violent nature of humanity.

    NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about what’s next for you — any upcoming projects or festivals?

    RM: I am still finishing the post-production of “Megalopolis.” And hopefully it will travel to festivals. And yes, I am planning to make another film soon. That is February, 2018.  I will start work on it as soon as I have finished writing the script.

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Mittal on all his recent success with “Autohead” and “Megalopolis” and wish him the best in his future endeavors.

  • NYFA Alumnus Pavel Suslov Talks About his Internship at Warner Brothers

    Growing up in Russia, Pavel Suslov developed his passion for filmmaking from the time he got his first camera at the age of seven. Who could have guessed that this camera would eventually lead him to an internship at Warner Brothers?

    “Kids today may not find this unusual (everyone has a smartphone in their hands from an early age),” noted Suslov, “But back then it was quite out of the norm.”

    Pavel Suslov |New York Film Academy Alumnus

    During school years, Suslov was making videos about his dogs, family members, friends, and toys. He soon realized that he wanted to turn this creative hobby into a professional career. After graduating from the St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television, he worked for five years creating music videos and commercials for such companies as Ski-doo and Mercury engines, as well as making video reports on local and international events for Gatebil, Formula Drift, and RDS.

    Suslov told NYFA, “At some point, I realized that I wanted to grow even more. That’s why I started looking for a film school abroad. There’s probably no better place to gain film industry experience and networking than Hollywood. It became one of the fundamental reasons I enrolled in the New York Film Academy’s MFA Filmmaking Program.

    Immediately after graduating, Suslov secured himself an internship at Warner Brothers, and was happy to sit down with us and share his experience with NYFA community.

    ET: First of all, congratulations on your internship with Warner Bros. Tell us, what is included in your daily duties?

    PS: Thank you! It’s hard to name it an internship; it’s more a full-time job. I work in the Visual Department, which is responsible for all the video content produced by the company: music videos, promo videos for social networks, new albums, singles, artists, etc. My duties include editing, project development, filming, creating graphics and concepts for various artists. One of my recent projects was a new clip for Linkin Park’s “Talking to Myself,” which was completed shortly before the death of the lead singer, Chester Bennington, and will be the last music video made with all the original members of the band. 

    ET: What day during the internship was the most striking and why?

    PS: It is difficult to single out a certain day, since each of them is very different from other. Today you are going to work on a shoot with Echosmith, tomorrow you are editing the Linkin Park music video, after that you are thinking through new ideas for Mastadon and how to revive their cover visually and dynamically, and the next day you go to the lobby where you meet the new singer of the label. I’m very grateful to my manager, Laura Mende, who tells me various stories about artists and the shooting processes.

    It is worth noting that team spirit is very developed at Warner Bros. Every week there are different staff lunches or meetings. Sometimes bands come to our office to give mini-performances for employees in the backyard. Every time a band or a single of the label goes to the top of the chart, we order huge pizzas for the entire office and arrange lunch in the courtyard.

    Pavel Suslov | NYFA MFA Filmmaking

    ET: How long will your internship last?

    PS: Under my current contract the internship will last 5 months. After that I can decide whether I want to stay or not. I think that my answer is obvious.

    ET: Do you think that the experience you got at NYFA has come in handy for you during this internship?

    PS: Definitely. Firstly, it’s about communications, and team work. Almost nothing can be done without a team. I learned this from numerous experiences at NYFA and from our group workshops.

    Then, the filming process. Of course I had experience in implementing projects before, but at NYFA I got an education that allows me to understand who is responsible for what on a set, as well as the main points of pre-production.

    I must say that the differences in the filmmaking process between Russia and here are enormous. I have never regretted going to NYFA, it allowed me to strengthen my filmmaking knowledge and afforded me the chance to intern at Warner Bros.

    NYFA: What are you planning to do after your internship at Warner Brothers?

    PS: In fact, there are many plans. Recently, I started my Vlog on YouTube: at the moment it is designed for a Russian speaking audience, but I have plans to expand it to the English speakers as well. I do not know yet where it will lead, but I can say one thing; for the time that I’m doing this internship, I met a lot of people from completely different industries. And with some of them, we have interesteing projects planned for the future. 

    At the same time, I manage to work on independent projects: commercials and music videos. I’m about to finish my short film and in August we have plans to shoot an Imagine Dragons video, but unfortunately I cannot disclose details yet.

    And, of course, I would like to continue working for Warner Brothers.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Pavel Suslov for his time and wish him continued success in his endeavors.

  • NYFA Filmmaking Alumnus Ruchir Garg’s “It’s Gawd” Screens in New York and Amazon

    New York Film Academy filmmaking alumnus Ruchir Garg was an executive producer on independent comedy “It’s Gawd!” starring Tommy Chong, Luke Perry and Rebecca Maden. The film has been released on Amazon and is screening August 24 at the AMC in Union Square, New York City.

    It’s Gawd!” follows the creator as he tries to save humanity (and his job) through a late night variety show and a variety of comedic high jinks. We had a chance to catch up with Ruchir and learn more about his journey with “It’s Gawd” from initial script read to Amazon distribution.

    For those in the New York City area, further information and tickets for the August 24 screening of “It’s Gawd” can be found here.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?

    RG: I have always had great love for stories. While growing up in India, we were surrounded by tales from puranas and jatakas (traditional folk tales). However, engineering and medicine used to be the most desirable professions, and so I studied computer science, and started working as a systems analyst. I came to the U.S. when Merrill Lynch interviewed me on the phone and offered me a job.

    At the time I came to NYFA in 2004, I had lived in NYC for 7 years. I was working in the financial services industry. I used to go to the movies a lot. I loved comedies. Most comedies used to be rom-coms, and I wished there was more diversity of themes in comedy. I read a couple of books on screenwriting at first, which piqued my interest in learning filmmaking. I wanted to direct. The 8-Week Filmmaking Workshop at NYFA was perfect because I knew I could convince my employer to let me take eight weeks off work. Anything longer than that would have been difficult.

    After the NYFA course I returned to India and participated in the production of a feature film, a family drama. I was mainly observing the process. I then realized that I would have to enter the industry as a writer or a producer. I started writing a comedy on the side. But I was never satisfied with what I wrote. After a couple of years, I put the dream on hold. And then “It’s Gawd” happened.

    NYFA: What inspired “It’s Gawd!”?

    RG: “It’s Gawd!” was inspired by the works of Neale Donald Walsch, which I happened to be familiar with. Jerry Brunskill, who had written the script, was crowdfunding for the film on Indiegogo. I came to know of it when Neale wrote a post about it on his Facebook page. I liked what I saw and contacted Jerry. He turned out to be a gem of a guy.

    After reading the script, I knew I wanted to do the project. Presenting God as a fun loving being was very original.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing for your experience as executive producer of “It’s Gawd!”?

    RG: The NYFA experience turned out to very useful because it was very hands-on. When I came across the script for “It’s Gawd!” I was familiar enough with the filmmaking process so I could ask the right questions to make an informed decision. In fact I am pretty sure that without some prior knowledge of the process, I would not have had the courage to take it up the project.

    NYFA: What was the process like for you finding distribution with Amazon?

    RG: We submitted the movie originally to several high-profile festivals. It was not accepted. The general feedback was that the movie seemed too commercial. We screened the film for some friends in the business, and received similar response. We were not successful with any major distributors either. They said they looked for critically-acclaimed festival winners.

    A friend and industry professional suggested that since our film had the hallmarks of a cult film (such as  “Idiocracy” and “The Big Lobowski”), we should promote it as one. Since there are no well-defined avenues to do that, we decided to self-distribute.

    We talked to some DVD distributors; but the money offered was very small. We thought we could use Tommy’s growing social media popularity. We started evaluating iTunes, Vimeo, Amazon, etc. and met with their representatives.

    It so happened that Amazon launched its Video Direct platform at this time; It let us present the film to a very large audience and do a bit of revenue sharing. It would take several million views to recoup our cost, but at least the film will be seen by a lot of people. To be accepted, Amazon required a high standard of technical quality, which we did have.

    After the invitation-only premiere in LA — which was very successful — we did a screening in Minneapolis, which sold out. Tugg makes it quite easy to do special screenings. Once a filmmaker has uploaded the film to Tugg, anyone can screen it, provided he/she can promote it and sell a minimum number of tickets.

    NYFA: What advice can you offer to aspiring NYFA student producers who are navigating the world of distribution?

    RG: The distribution industry and marketplace has been changing rapidly. So do your research, investigate options, talk to professionals, follow up. Use your contacts to connect with industry insiders.

    NYFA: Is there anything we didn’t ask you’d like to share with our community?

    RG: The most important thing is to continue to have enthusiasm, even in the midst of adversity. We had our bit of adversity, in every phase, but it was somehow overcome. There is no formula for success. But if we stay enthusiastic, inspiration will flow and doors will open.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ruchir Garg for sharing a bit of his story. And don’t forget to check out the August 24 screening of “It’s Gawd.”