Student and Alumni Spotlights

  • New York Film Academy Friends & Family on ‘SNL 40′

    nyfa snl

    Last night, NBC and Lorne Michaels managed to manifest the highest population density of celebrities, musicians and comedians into one studio. That studio was 8H, and it was for the 40th anniversary of the iconic sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live. 

    Fans had the opportunity to see old sketches reprised, such as Dan Aykroyd’s Bassamatic, Celebrity Jeopardy, Wayne’s World and countless others. The event included appearances by a star-studded list of celebrities and former hosts like Robert De Niro, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin…the list goes on and on. To put it simply, it was like heaven on Earth for SNL fans.

    While being captivated by television history, we recognized some New York Film Academy friends and family.

    Former guest speaker, Molly Shannon, surprised fans with her socially awkward, Catholic school girl character, Mary Katherine Gallagher. Performing in front of some of the most well known and respected entertainers in the world, Mary became very nervous and began smelling her armpits…like this. Though, soon after, she proclaimed that she was still a Superstar!

    Molly Shannon

    Actress & SNL alum, Molly Shannon at a NYFA Guest Speaker Event

    You may have also noticed another former guest speaker and Master Class Filmmaking Instructor James Signorelli. The SNL 40 show paid tribute to Signorelli by giving him his own unique SNL-style graphic during the broadcast. Signorelli has been a part of the show since 1976, having been the film segment producer for more than 400 episodes. He’s considered the king of ad parodies. If you’re thinking of a popular SNL commercial parody right now, James likely produced it.

    Looking back at many of the classic comedy sketches from the early 1980s, you may recall the famous “Synchronized Swimming” sketch with Harry Shearer and Martin Short, or the classic “Assassination of Buckwheat” with Eddie Murphy. What you may or may not know is Claude Kerven, the New York Film Academy in New York City’s Chair of Filmmaking, directed these short comedy films along with many others.

    The New York Film Academy is proud to have connections to the long-standing, ground-breaking show, SNL. Here’s to another 40 years!

  • NYFA Students Visit Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    james webb

    New York Film Academy students had the rare opportunity to visit the renowned Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Friday, February 13, 2015. JPL is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in Southern California.

    NYFA students, admin and faculty were given a personal tour of the facility and got to experience first hand the technology and work that is going into the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and its MIRI (Mid Infrared Instrument) component.

    As part of a collaboration with NASA, JPL, and Northrop Grumman, New York Film Academy students have had the opportunity to pitch a series of commercials, PSA’s, and promotional pieces for the development of the JWST, planned for launch in 2018. The JPL visit was part of the students’ research for their film projects.

    “It was incredible to be given the opportunity to visit the NASA/JPL facilities,” said BFA Filmmaking student, Mariana Thome. “My project will be definitely enriched with details and insights of space.”

    james webb

    On the tour, JWST and MIRI project scientist Michael Ressler and Project Manager Kalyani Sukhatme, MIRI Cooler Test Facility Lead Engineer Jason Zan, and Cryocooler Delivery Manager Konstantin Penanen, informed students on how MIRI will help make the Webb Telescope a Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) that will offer unprecedented resolution and sensitivity in its observations. So much, in fact, that the JWST will see deeper into space than any telescope ever has.

    Students were allowed to get a hands-on look at the cold room where MIRI flight hardware is tested, as well as the sensor room where all the electronics of the MIRI component are tested and aligned under a series of extreme temperatures that the telescope will experience in flight and operation.

    In addition, students were taken to the indoor “Mars-Yard” where rovers and other vehicles are tested before being deployed to the surface of Mars. Perhaps the highlight of the whole trip was a tour of the ground floor of JPL’s Mission Control. Mission Control monitors all of JPL’s current space flight missions which include the Curiosity Rover on Mars, the Cassini-Huygens mission orbiting Saturn, the twin Mars Exploration Rovers – Spirit and Opportunity, the Dawn spacecraft observing dwarf planet Ceres, and many more.

    The trip was organized as part of NYFA’s STEAM Education Initiatives by Rajiv Uttamchandani. Mr. Uttamchandani states, “At the New York Film Academy we continually emphasize education based on actual experience, whether it be within the realms of filmmaking or the sciences.”



    February 16, 2015 • Community Highlights, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 984

  • Oscar Nominated Writer/Director Dan Gilroy Thrills NYFA Students with ‘Nightcrawler’

    nightcrawler screening nyfa

    Mike Civille, Tova Laiter and Dan Gilroy

    On Thursday, February 12, New York Film Academy Los Angeles students gathered at Warner Bros. studios for a screening of Nightcrawler (2014), starring Jake Gyllenhaal, followed by a Q&A with the film’s Oscar-nominated writer/director Dan Gilroy. Nightcrawler is a chilling, brilliant portrait of a driven young man, desperate for work, who muscles into the world of L.A. crime photo journalism, only to become the star of his own story. Mr. Gilroy is an experienced Hollywood screenwriter – his credits include Two for the Money (Al Pacino & Matthew McConaughey), Real Steel (Hugh Jackman), and The Bourne Legacy (Jeremy Renner) – and Nightcrawler is his directorial debut. He also wrote the film, and his efforts were rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The Q&A was moderated by producer Tova Laiter and NYFA Dean Mike Civille.

    Nightcrawler is the type of film that makes a lasting impression and forces you to think. Hollywood movies almost always feature a redeeming hero with a character arc, and these rules are rarely questioned. However, Mr. Gilroy admits to purposefully making a film with no character arc at all, since this Hollywood standard doesn’t translate to real life. Instead, Louis Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, doesn’t change throughout the course of the film and he doesn’t learn a single thing that makes him a “better person.” To that end, he says that he intentionally did not create a backstory for Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, to avoid falling into the trap of creating another conventional Hollywood character. The result is a complicated, attractive, yet morally ambiguous protagonist, and an emotionally stirring film that incites much debate on narrative convention and morality in the movies.

    dan gilroy

    Write/director Dan Gilroy

    Because he made the film outside of the studio system, Mr. Gilroy also says that he had the opportunity to take an unorthodox approach to the screenplay format as well. He says that his script includes no scene headings, no INT. or EXT. indications for locations, no parentheticals, and minimal to no character description. He also played with font size and ellipses, developing a screenplay that reflected his stream of consciousness rather than a traditionally structured script. He recommend that the students read the script as an example of how different a screenplay can be, and described these alternative creative techniques in one word: FREEING.

    Mr. Gilroy acknowledged that he wanted to make a film that commented on today’s world, which is focused on “hyper-capitalism” and the predator/prey nature of success. While Louis Bloom has sociopathic tendencies, Mr. Gilroy suggested that Louis’s behavior is a product of modern society, in which competition brings out the “amoral animal” in people. He suggests that he and Jake Gyllenhaal saw Louis Bloom as a starved coyote that comes out of the mountains at night to feed. When Gyllenhaal lost 25 pounds for the role, it thus lent his character a hunger that required his survival instincts to kick in. While this was the central subtext of the film, the commentary is never overdone. Mr. Gilroy encouraged the students to make movies that say something, but cautioned them to avoid making a “message movie.”

    Nightcrawler was no easy task for a first time director. The movie was made for a small budget ($8.5 million) and was shot in twenty-eight days with mostly night shoots. Taking this into consideration when experiencing the elevated artistry of the film, it’s truly astounding. There was no room for error when shooting Nightcrawler, yet it seems like a perfect film. How a director with no previous on-set experience pulled that off is mind blowing. Dan Gilroy attributes his success when the odds were against him to his easy-going attitude, and a positive assumption that creativity would allow the best of even the most stressful moments to emerge. He rolled with the punches, collaborated with his team, pushed through, and took ego out of the equation. This is great advice to any director starting out.

    Mr. Gilroy insisted on staying until the long line of students had asked every last question. We sincerely thank Mr. Gilroy for taking his time to visit NYFA and offer an incredibly in depth and entertaining Q&A. We highly anticipate his next great work.

  • Acting Advice From Instructor Robert Lipton

    rob liptonBeing brought up in New York City with a passion for acting, New York Film Academy Acting for Film Instructor Robert Lipton was fortunate enough to have studied with both Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. Like so many other successful actors in the business, Lee and Stella shaped Lipton as an actor and teacher of the craft. With an extensive list of film, television and theatre credits like Bullit, Die Hard 2, The X-Files, Melrose Place and many more, Lipton’s experience has been a valuable tool for blossoming actors in the classroom.

    “I love working with young people at the Academy — the changes are dramatic and it all happens very quickly,” says Lipton. “I believe great actors don’t happen by accident. They have a method, a technique, a way of working.”

    One of the most important pieces of advice Lipton stresses is not to go out into the “real world” of acting until you are truly ready. Rather, be sure you’ve mastered your craft through student films, small theater performanes, or other independent projects that provide you with real behind the camera experience. The reason being, when you go on auditions without having quite found your comfort zone, casting directors will notice and remember you. This makes it much more difficult when you keep coming across a casting director who has already dismissed you as a talented actor.

    Lipton 60s“I’ve known actors over the years who were talented but didn’t audition well. Most of them have moved on to other careers. It’s unfortunate, but a fact of life,” admits Lipton. “Don’t audition well — don’t get the part.”

    Having been on countless auditions throughout his career, Lipton has gathered this: to have a successful audition an actor must have a technique in place. It will give them confidence in their choices and allow them to become more relaxed and focused.

    While acting is in his blood for life, Lipton’s recent focus has been more toward screenwriting. He’s recently optioned a television series, which is semi-autobiographical, and has another project that he feels can be a success in today’s market. Knowing the material is crucial toward the overall success of the film, and plays hand-in-hand with the actors’ performances.

    “For me, it’s about understanding the material and the character’s relation to it. Most problems come from an actor not getting the logic of a scene and the character’s objective in it. Understanding a character’s overall objective in a script or play helps an actor to find meaningful choices that support the logic of the material.” Another valuable piece of advice that actors and filmmakers alike should understand before going into production.

    It has been a privilege to have Mr. Lipton as a member of our esteemed staff of instructors. It’s artists like Robert Lipton that continue to make the New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film Program one of the most sought after institutions for aspiring young actors.

    February 12, 2015 • Acting, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1325

  • BFA Filmmaking Student Wins Student Filmmaker Award

    served coldSimilar to the NCAA Basketball’s March Madness Tournament, the Student Filmmaker Awards’ Audience Choice Award was created for student filmmakers to compete against other film schools, universities and colleges in a 64 film bracket challenge. The films that receive the most votes advance in the bracket until there is only one standing.

    The New York Film Academy is proud to announce that one of our BFA Filmmaking students, Talha Binabdulrahman, won the Audience Choice prize by beating out 63 other films in the competition! As a result, Talha’s film Served Cold screened alongside Student Filmmaker’s Official Selections on January 21st in Heber, UT. The film is also featured on their website at

    His story focuses on a former drug lord, who is sentenced to life in prison after killing an undercover cop. With the help of his shady attorney he has to take desperate measures in order to be with his teenage daughter.

    “I learned a great deal of skills in both directing and writing Served Cold, especially from hands-on workshops,” said Talha in regards to his experience at NYFA.

    In addition to Served Cold‘s exposure from Student Filmmakers, Talha landed a distribution with the SHORTS TV Channel, where its expected to premiere during the second quarter of 2015.

    As for his next project, Talha says he is working on a new crime/comedy project that is inspired by the well known story of Bonnie & Clyde, but with a modern twist. We look forward to seeing it!

    talha awards

    February 9, 2015 • Filmmaking, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 880

  • Military Student Michael Valenzuela Overcomes the Odds


    As an extremely talented musician at a very young age, Michael Valenzuela learned to play over 20 instruments. Performing in diverse ensembles comprised of choir, musicals, marching, jazz, rock, folk and contemporary bands, Valenzuela was nearly a prodigy. Despite that, his artistic talent took a back seat after graduating from high school due to his life-long dream of serving his country as a Naval Aviator.

    Valenzuela enlisted in the United States Naval Academy, even though he could’ve attended the Berklee School of Music. “I joined the Navy because I wanted to be a fighter pilot since I was a little kid and serve our country,” said Valenzuela.

    In 2000, Venezuela received his wings of gold and began a career as a carrier-based F/A-18 Strike/Fighter Pilot. Over the course of his military career between combat operations, Valenzuela was given the unique opportunity to be a Demonstration Air Show Pilot, VIP Liaison, and was introduced to the art of filmmaking by working in front of the camera on over 20 episodes of dramatized training films for the Naval Aviation community.

    His passion for the arts continued while stationed in San Diego. While taking commercial and acting for film workshops, Michael appeared in numerous television shows, movies, commercials, as well as documentaries, which inspired him to work on a travel series called Aviator’s Paradise. It was from there where Valenzuela’s life would take a drastic turn.

    “Unfortunately, both my aviation and acting careers were brought to a sudden and tragic halt due to a work accident that left me paralyzed from the waist down for a span of two years,” recalled Valenzuela. “After two major reconstructive surgeries and years of rehabilitation, I returned to the cockpit as an Advanced Aerobatic and Emergency Maneuver Training Instructor. During my recovery, I discovered Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP), becoming a Professional Athlete in the arena of SUP and Snowkiting, and recently became a Crossfit instructor.”

    Turning his life around tenfold, Valenzuela found a new calling in athletics and reaching out to other Disabled Veterans. He began volunteering a considerable amount of his time mentoring and coaching other disabled athletes. He essentially became an ambassador for Disabled Veterans in local and international competition and his accomplishments were featured on an AT&T Uverse Sports series about inspirational athletes.

    With a diverse range of hurdles and accomplishments behind him and with the help and guidance of the staff and students at the New York Film Academy, Valenzuela is enthusiastic about returning other passions of his: acting and filmmaking.

    “I wanted to continue working in the film industry and improve my skill set from a reputable institution. I am looking forward to exploring my passions for motion picture storytelling and have the ability and desire to not only act in front of the camera, but I look forward to collaborating with other artists in a creative environment, obtaining the all-around filmmaking experience to ensure my success within the profession.”

    As a current student, the sky is the limit in terms of what projects Valenzuela would like to pursue after graduation. Though, his interests as of now lie in commercials, travel shows, adventure documentaries and feature films.

    With Valenzuela’s proven track record of overcoming arduous obstacles, we believe he has a bright future ahead of him in the sometimes daunting pursuit of filmmaking and acting.

    February 4, 2015 • Acting, Filmmaking, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1158

  • AACTA International Awards & G’DAY USA Winners Announced in Los Angeles

    Scarlett Johansson Presents Chris Hemsworth at 2015 G'DAY USA and AACTA International Awards 2015

    Scarlett Johansson presents Chris Hemsworth ‘Excellence in Film’ award at G’DAY USA and AACTA International Awards 2015 (Source: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images North America)

    It’s starting to feel a lot like awards season. As the Australian 4th Annual Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards in Sydney concluded, the AACTA International Awards commenced in Los Angeles on 31 January 2015. 4th AACTA International Awards has partnered-up with G’DAY USA, joining forces for a star-studded night. The night gives much deserved recognition to Australians performing exceptionally in film and television outside the country.

    AACTA President, Geoffrey Rush, shared the stage with fellow presenters including Nicole Kidman, comedian Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Debicki, John Travolta, Jonathan LaPaglia, Rachel Griffiths and Russell Crowe.

    Award winners included:

    • BIRDMAN for ’Best Film’, ‘Best Screenplay’, ‘Best Direction’ (Alejandro G. Iñárritu) and ‘Best Lead Actor’ (Michael Keaton)
    • STILL ALICE for ‘Best Lead Actress’ (Julianne Moore)
    • BOYHOOD for “Best Supporting Actress” (Patricia Arquette)

    Chris Hemsworth was also honored with the ‘Excellence in Film’ award, presented to him by Scarlett Johansson.

    Our New York Film Academy Australia students were recently invited to attend their 4th Annual AACTA Awards, with their highlights (amongst the many) including, watching Cate Blanchett host the Award Ceremony, talking to the Spierig Brothers about their film Predestination, shaking hands with AACTA President Geoffrey Rush, getting photos taken with Rose Byrne, and speaking with Bobby Canavale. NYFA Australia student Chantelle Von Appen added that the event was, “Basically getting an inside to the Industry.”

    Students have also showcased their personal photos from the event on Facebook.

    With the Australian awards all wrapped-up, the US film industry has just started warming up for the Oscars with nominees having just been announced.

  • Music Video Students Visit Rolling Stone HQ

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    For many decades, Rolling Stone Magazine has been a leading force in music and entertainment culture. Its ability to catapult an artist’s career is quite remarkable. The same could be said for the music video and its ability to launch the careers of so many talented directors. In fact, a slew of today’s top film directors like David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Brett Ratner began their careers by making music videos. In the New York Film Academy’s Rolling Stone Music Video Workshop, we provide that very same training ground.

    rolling stone

    This week, our music video students had the privilege of visiting the world famous headquarters of Rolling Stone Magazine in New York City. As part of the tour students had an opportunity to gawk at the Hallway of Covers, which displays every Rolling Stone cover since its inception in 1967. As you can imagine, our music video students were in awe of the massive display. Our hope is that it was also inspiring for the young artists. You never know, perhaps their face could be on the cover someday.

    rolling stone mag

    January 30, 2015 • Community Highlights, Filmmaking, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 724

  • Australian Film Awards 2015: Russell Crowe, Rose Byrne and NYFA Australia

    4th Annual AACTA Awards 2015

    4th AACTA Awards Red Carpet (Image from AACTA Facebook)

    The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards 2015 second star-studded awards event last night announced Russell Crowe directed film The Water Diviner and The Babadook (debut film for director Jennifer Kent) dual winners for ‘Best Film’. CEO Damian Trewhella considering this unusual, but not unprecedented.

    The big names kept coming, with AACTA president Geoffrey Rush awarding Rose Byrne the ‘Inaugural Trailblazer Award’.

    The Babadook , as expected, cleaned-up on the night, taking home three of the total four nominated categories (how they didn’t win an Oscar is beyond us). Other multi-award winner also included:

    • The Code for ’Best Television Drama Series’, ‘Best Direction in Television Drama or Comedy’, Ashley Zukerman for ‘Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama’ and Chelsea Preston Crayford for ‘Best Guest or Supporting Actress in Television Drama’
    • Please Like Me for ‘Best Screenplay in Television’ and Debra Lawrence for ‘Best Performance in Television Comedy’

    This year nominees and winners definitely raised the bar for the Australian film and television industry.

    On the night, a group of film and acting students from our very own New York Film Academy Australia had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with their idols. They walked the red carpet and took part of all the events of the ceremony including meeting with the actors, directors, produces and influential industry professionals. They took advantage of the opportunity to network and collated their own celebrity snapshots.

    NYFA Australia offer a range of industry related hands-on courses including Filmmaking, Acting for Film, Screenwriting and many more. The programs are designed to allow students hands-on and real-life industry experience and this particular event is the perfect example of what the Academy has to offer.

    For further details on New York Film Academy courses throughout the Australian and abroad, contact us.

  • Producing Grad’s ‘Ten Thousand Saints’ Premieres at Sundance

    Janek Ambros

    Janek Ambros (far left) with Emile Hirsch and the producers

    One of the most desired destinations for a filmmaker on the rise is The Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It’s a festival that has launched the career of so many filmmakers who are now considered household names. This year’s festival welcomed one of our very own, Producing graduate Janek Ambros. Janek came to the New York Film Academy in 2011 to gain a better understanding of how to produce a film — with the eventual hope of producing his own films.

    “My experience with NYFA was very useful,” said Ambros. “Professors like Lydia Cedrone, Jaime Burke, and Adam Finder educated me on the importance of digging for good content to be a part of, investor relations, and a general knowledge of the craft of producing.”

    This past Friday at Sundance, Janek’s film Ten Thousand Saints, which he was a co-producer along with Celine Rettray (The Kids Are All Right), premiered at the Eccles. Janek initially got on board with the project by raising equity for the film and its producers.

    ten thousand saints

    Based on the acclaimed novel, Ten Thousand Saints follows three lost kids and their equally lost parents as they come of age in New York’s East Village in the era of CBGB, yuppies, and the tinderbox of gentrification that exploded into the Tompkins Square Park Riot of 1988. The cast includes three time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Emily Mortimer, Julianne Nicholson, Academy Award nominee Hailee Steinfeld, and former NYFA guest speaker Emile Hirsch.

    The film is in the process of finding the right distributors, and Janek believes the film will get the most attention during next year’s award season.

    For now, Janek is focusing on selling a documentary he directed that was executive produced by Academy Award nominee James Cromwell. The documentary is looking at a 2015 release and is about the War on Terror and the importance of Civil Liberties.

    January 29, 2015 • Producing, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1064