Earlier this year, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film alum Jason Shah was interviewed in a Q&A with The Tribune, the daily English-language newspaper that has been circulated throughout India since 1881.
Shah first attended NYFA’s Acting for Film program in September 2009 at our New York City campus, where he received a hands-on education from working, professional actors, writers, directors, and producers who are veterans of Hollywood, independent film, and television. In addition to acting, he has modeled and worked as a fitness coach.
His credits include Indian productions such as Bigg Boss, Chandrashekhar Azaad, Inside Edge Season II, and the film Dev D. His latest role in the historical drama Jhansi Ki Rani, which co-stars Anuja Sathe, Aishwarya Raj Bhakuni, and Rajesh Shringarpure, gained Shah enough buzz for The Tribune to sit down with him for an interview.
Shah spoke of his background—he is half English and half American—as well as his new role in Jhansi Ki Rani. The series, which premiered this year, is the story of the fierce warrior Manikarnika, who was later given the name of Rani Laxmibai, Queen of Jhansi. Shah credits his fluency in Hindi as a crucial skill for landing the part, as well as sharing a lot in common with his character, a foreigner in India.
Acting isn’t Shah’s only passion. When asked by The Tribune where he saw himself in five years, Shah replied, “I feel after this I might want to go into direction and produce something myself. I have been working on it with a few friends, just waiting for the right time.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film alum Jason Shah on his Tribune interview and his role on Jhansi Ki Rani!
Boxing Girls, a new Arabic-language drama from the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) premiered earlier this year and is the screenwriting debut of New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Afnan Alqasimi. Additionally, the program features actress and NYFA alum Dana Al Salem.
Alqasimi hails from the United Arab Emirates and attended NYFA’s 4-week Filmmaking workshop in April 2012. Alqasimi previously worked on the animation short Homecoming. Al Salem is originally from Bahrain and enrolled in NYFA’s 4-week Filmmaking workshop at our Los Angeles campus in August 2015. Al Salem previously appeared in The Sleeping Tree and the short film Canary.
Boxing Girls is gaining buzz for its focus on female characters and stars several well-known Arabic performers, including Fatima Al Hosani, Ali Al Sherif, and Shaifan Al Otaibi. The program was directed by Saudi filmmaker Samir Aref and was produced by O3 Productions and twofour54 Abu Dhabi.
“This drama production is particularly unique, because it puts a real emphasis on the region’s young talent — both in front of and behind the camera,” says Maryam Eid AlMheiri, CEO of Media Zone Authority, Abu Dhabi (MZA) and twofour54.
The program was shot over two months across various locations in Abu Dhabi, before completing production in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Additional cast members include Mila Zahrani, Abdul Aziz Skeirin, Alaa Shaker, Anoud Al Saoud, Abeer Sander, Noura Ezzer, Mohammed Meshaal, Rakan, Zuhair Haider, and Zara Al Balushi.
Boxing Girls debuted in February of this year.
The New York Film Academy congratulates workshop alumni Afnan Alqasimi and Dana Al Salem on the production and success of Boxing Girls!
Melissa Sullivan was so shy growing up, she would stare at the ceiling to avoid looking at people. Eventually, realizing “ceilings weren’t going to get me anywhere in life,” she decided to make a change—and committed to talking to one stranger a day. That, plus an affinity for the stage, got Sullivan out of her shell and into a variety of performing arts: theatre, television, film, and music.
Sullivan, who teaches acting and is the musical director of the NYFA Glee Club, took some time to discuss her career as a multi-hyphenate and her upcoming album.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): How/when did you know you wanted to pursue the performing arts?
Melissa Sullivan (MS): In Naha, Okinawa, my mother put me in a ballet class. I remember a performance being back stage. I loved it. The smell of the stage, the curtains, the anticipation of the performance. I wasn’t the best dancer but the experience was informative and I knew I was at home in the theatre.
NYFA: You’ve performed in a variety of fields—theater, television, film, and music—and have also directed. As an artist, how do you see yourself and why?
MS: When I first moved to Los Angeles things were very different than they are now. I heard “Are you an actor, or a singer? You need to pick one.” Now it is much more fluid. Performers have more freedom to explore, perhaps because of technology and the access to it. The connection of artists globally through technology is amazing. I studied at California Institute of the Arts where all disciplines lived side by side. You would hear music in the hallway, walk by a piece of art, see dancers in the distance, artists in the gallery discussing someone’s work, and watch filmmakers editing in the graffitied sub-level. It was such a great environment. After I graduated, I never gave that spirit up.
NYFA: Speaking of, you have a long list of credits in various mediums. Of all the work you’ve done, what are you most proud of and why?
MS: Recording my album of original music and playing Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Actors Studio, directed by Barbara Bain.
NYFA: Additionally, are there any others that stick out in your mind of being particularly memorable and why?
MS: Filming an episode of Shameless. I had been called into the casting office for Shameless for a few years and was happy to finally land a part. I’m really happy with the work that I did on that show. The experience was fast paced and yet enjoyable. It is a great production from the actors, directors, AD’s, scripts, grips and on.
NYFA: As a multi-hyphenate, what is the most challenging aspect about wearing different hats, project to project? How do you take on the challenge?
MS: Working on a few things at once suits my mind. I am very busy, so I write music while I walk my dogs or drive to work. I wrote some of my favorite songs in my car. I guess to be a multi-hyphenate you have to organize your time well and I have gotten better at this. Teaching has inspired me to take more risks. When you talk with students about their growth and how to facilitate it, you in turn have to follow suit with your own work.
NYFA: You’re the musical director of the NYFA Glee Club and have said that “music can transform people.” Can you elaborate on that?
MS: I have seen students petrified to sing in front of one person, but at the end of the semester they are performing in front of an audience of 90 people. Singing brings people confidence. It is a raw emotional expression. With the Glee Club I try to foster leadership and collaboration. We have student conductors and section leaders. I am blown away by their talent.
NYFA: Speaking of music, you have an album coming out in December. How would you describe your music?
MS: I am a trained jazz singer so my songs come from a jazz foundation, but it is an amalgam of genres: jazz, blues, and pop. I am almost finished! It’s been quite a journey.
NYFA: What’s your favorite thing about teaching at NYFA?
MS: I admire my colleagues. I appreciate the support that the acting and filmmaking teachers give to one another. I also love the fact that the students are from all over the world. I have so much respect for foreign students who open their hearts and act in a second language. I also really like working with the veterans. I appreciate the time they served for our country and I find most of them are highly disciplined at NYFA. They are brave and want to dive into the craft.
Several students attending New York Film Academy (NYFA) in Florence, Italy came together to shoot a stunning new video about the experience of learning film and acting in the breathtakingly beautiful city.
All of the Fall 2018 Florence students were invited to participate in the shooting of a new video and photo shoot for NYFA’s Florence programs. By working as crew members, and acting in the piece, the students were getting first-hand experience doing the very things they came to Florence to learn.
The students went through auditions and casting, as well as interviews, to mimic the process it takes to score coveted roles in a highly competitive industry. While some of the students were assigned smaller roles than they may have tried out for, it was nonetheless a lesson in humility and acceptance that is needed to continue a career in the visual arts.
The leading actors cast in the video were students David Puskas (1-semester Acting for Film) and Faranak Moradi (1-semester Filmmaking). Additionally, Filmmaking students Joren Pelsma, Pietro Barba, Scott Carlson worked as camera assistants and second unit director of photography. Several other NYFA Florence students participated in the shoot as supporting actors, extras, make up artists, and other roles.
Everyone involved showed a deep level of commitment toward their craft and a passion for learning as much as possible. The shoot started at dawn—the Magic Hour—so the students were up very early and ready to work. To mimic a professional set, the students all sat and ate breakfast together before the first shot.
Students weren’t just involved in the production of the video, but the post-production as well. They were given the opportunity to watch an early cut of the video and give their feedback and notes for the next re-edit.
Projects such as this newest video are not uncommon at NYFA Florence, and students often have a chance to work on projects outside of their own that are deeply tied to the Renaissance city. Thanks to a well-established relationship between NYFA and the municipal government of Florence, NYFA students and staff are often invited to shoot professional videos in collaboration with the city of Florence itself, including its orchestral Strings City event. This, in turn, also gives the students professional credits to add to their resumes before they’ve even finished the program!
You can find more information on the programs offered at NYFA Florence HERE.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Fatima Al Taei stars in Justice, the procedural drama set in Abu Dhabi that is now available on Netflix. The 18-part legal series originally premiered on OSN HD in 2017 and is now available for streaming with subtitles in 20 different languages.
Al Taei first attended NYFA in 2009 in Abu Dhabi. Since then, she has gained steady work as an actress, including a lead role in When the Autumn Blooms, Saudi Arabia’s first longform drama series.
Justice (Qalb Al Adala) was created by Oscar nominee Walter Parkes (He Named Me Malala) and Emmy award-winning producer William Finkelstein (LA Law) and was filmed and produced in Abu Dhabi by Image Nation and Beelink Productions. The story follows a passionate lawyer, Farah, who rebels against her father’s firm and sets out on her own to become a defense attorney.
The series uses actual cases from the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department as a basis for their stories, and was directed by Ahmed Khalid. In a recent Harper’s Bazaar Arabia piece, Al Taei’s character was called a “strong, ambitious” lead”—an important milestone for female representation on television in the Middle East.
New York Film Academy spoke with alum Fatima Al Taei about her experiences at NYFA and filming her culturally important lead role in Justice:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Justice?
Fatima Al Taei: When I was learning at NYFA, they made sure not to tie me into a specific technique—they taught us different ways to get into the character and it helped me in different situations during the shoot, being flexible and open yet focused and specific.
Also, they taught me how to deal with other actors and directors. NYFA was a lab for me, with great helpful tutors!
NYFA: Can you speak a little about your experience playing a strong, ambitious Emirati woman? Do you see yourself as a role model for other Emirati women?
Fatima Al Taei: It was a unique experience. We had the opportunity to shoot inside actual courtrooms, because all the cases are based on true events.
Playing a strong Emirati woman is the same to me as playing any “strong woman,” an inspiration for all women to follow what they believe in no matter what kind of pressure they may be under. So it’s not only for Emirati women, but for all women.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
Fatima Al Taei: NYFA will teach you so many things. You will be surrounded by people who have the same passion, which is good networking as a start.
But NYFA will not do the job you have to do—you have to secure your dream and make it happen. If it takes months or years, studying at NYFA won’t be a waste unless you give up. Many students disappeared after graduation because they didn’t have enough patience and didn’t want to get out of their comfort zone.
The industry is not much in interested in your specific acting techniques (these are your tools.) If the industry is interested in “You” they will work with you—your attitude and passion is important, so MAKE THEM WANT TO WORK WITH YOU.
The New York Film Academy congratulates actress and alum Fatima Al Taei on her success and encourages everyone to check out her legal drama Justice on Netflix!
After graduating, Novak worked as an admissions specialist at NYFA’s New York campus, helping fellow aspiring artists from Brazil enroll at the Academy. She’s acted in commercials, short films, and most recently, the feature film River Runs Red.
River Runs Red is a thriller/drama written and directed by Wes Miller and starring Taye Diggs, John Cusack, George Lopez, Luke Hemsworth, and RJ Mitte. Miller previously directed Prayer Never Fails and Atone, and is completing production of Hell on the Border, starring Ron Perlman and Frank Grillo.
New York Film Academy recently spoke with Mey Novak about River Runs Red, her passion for acting, and what she learned at NYFA that she still applies to her work to this day:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us what drew you to acting? What brought you to the New York Film Academy?
Mey Novak (MN): Acting has always been inside me. I was in all the school plays, performing for my family during Christmastime, I always watched movies… it was kind of my happy place growing up. I always knew I wanted to be an actress. I remember being around seven years old watching movies and saying I wanted to do that one day.
When I got my theatre degree in Brazil I knew it was time to go to the US to study my craft further, and I saw that the New York Film Academy was auditioning in Brazil and that it was my time.
NYFA: Is there anything about your Brazilian background that you apply to acting in the United States?
MN: Yes, I was very versatile because of my Brazilian background. We are a very culturally rich country, so I realized I could play all sorts of foreign roles the industry requires all the time. My first commercial in the US I played a Russian girl. I hadn’t even thought about it before, then I noticed there was a whole thing for foreign accents and types in the US.
NYFA: Can you tell us about River Runs Red?
MN:River Runs Red tells the story of an African American judge whose son is murdered by the police. It’s a very strong and currently relevant plot—it’s necessary because it talks about the racism that still exists nowadays in the US, in Brazil, and the whole world.
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on River Runs Red,or your work in general?
MN: So many things!! NYFA was a stepping stone in my career!
First, I have learned with the best teachers—I’ve found mentors for life that even after school was over I had supporting me. I’ve also learned how to be a professional—it was more than just going to class, learn a method, and go home—I learned about the real world of acting and the industry. And I had the chance to practice while I was in school. This is very important. I was in touch with the filmmaking students, I was auditioning, shooting with them, also with the photography students, etc.
So when my first big job arrived, I was ready. It was very important. For my acting specifically, I’ve learned my favorite method, the “Meisner technique” at NYFA, it’s necessary to me on set.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
MN: I’m currently in Brazil shooting a show in Portuguese called Os 3 Irmaos (The 3 Brothers). It’s my first time acting in Portuguese after such a long time working in the US. After this I have plans to work in Europe for a while.
NYFA: What’s your dream role?
MN: I love action movies, I’m obsessed with them!!! I practice martial arts and have studied Stage Combat since my NYFA days, and my dream is definitely a strong female role in an action movie with amazing choreography, like in John Wick.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
MN: I’d say enjoy your time there and listen to every single thing your teacher has to say—they really know about the industry. Be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave, it really pays off!
NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on?
MN: I want to say to all the aspiring actors to follow their dreams! Sounds cliché but there will be doubts, there will be moments you just want to give up, but you just need that one person to believe in you and that one “Yes” that changes everything. Be grateful and embrace every step of the journey!
The New York Film Academy thanks actress and NYFA alum Mey Novak for taking the time to answer our questions and wishes her the best of luck as her career continues to grow!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Tyler Williams can be seen in the new Netflix series, Medal of Honor, a docudrama anthology series based on real life servicemen who have earned the military’s highest award for valor. It’s perfect casting for the Robert Zemeckis-produced series, as Williams isn’t just a graduate of NYFA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting for Film program, but a military veteran as well.
Shortly after 9/11, Williams joined the Marine Corps, where he was eventually assigned to a top secret joint task force. After four years, Williams received an Honorable Discharge and attended business school full time in New Mexico.
After trying out for a local production starring Val Kilmer and Gary Cole for a small part as a Marine, Williams was asked to be the military technical consultant for the film, as well as a stand-in for Val Kilmer. It was his first film role and first time on a movie set. He tells NYFA, “I remember looking for the director like, ‘Who’s the General around here?’ I had no idea who did what on the set.” By the end of the shoot, Williams had fallen in love with acting for film.
The background casting director of Medal of Honor, looking to use actual veterans, had contacted New York Film Academy, knowing the school has enrolled nearly 2000 veteran students and military dependents since 2009. This was how Williams found himself on the set of the Netflix series as a background actor.
After one of the featured actors, Paul Wesley, was injured on set by a ricochet special effect, Williams was called over to double for him. After impressing the crew with his expertise around military weapons, he was invited to sit with the “stunt table” at lunch. By the end of that day’s shoot, Williams had been asked to do more stunts the following day. One complicated stunt Williams performed for the crew involved being yanked back while in a “jerk vest” to simulate being thrown back by an RPG explosion. “It looked amazing on camera!” Williams tells NYFA.
Williams credits not just his stunt classes at NYFA but also the school’s instruction in camerawork with helping him tailor his stunts to the specific scenes and set-ups.
Other film credits for Williams include the films Gamer, The Spirit, and MacGruber. Currently, Williams is working as a stunt coordinator on an MFA Thesis film, as well as auditioning for roles on major television series. He is also developing content for his YouTube channel, and advises fellow NYFA students and alumni to make their own content to help break into the industry.
“NO EXCUSES!” Williams exclaims. “Make that short film, write your own feature films, produce your own IG videos, make a YouTube channel — just get out there and use the editing and filmmaking knowledge we learned in school.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film alum Tyler Williams on his latest role in Netflix’s Medal of Honor and looks forward to watching his career develop!
Just as 2018 was wrapping up, Netflix managed to squeeze one more buzzworthy hit movie into the zeitgeist with Bird Box, a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Sandra Bullock and featuring a haunting, memorable scene with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film instructor, Happy Anderson.
Bird Box was an instant hit, dominating social media with both high praise and viral memes. According to Netflix, it was the media company’s biggest opening to date, having been streamed by over 45 million accounts in its first week alone.
The film, directed by Susanne Bier and written by Eric Heisserer based on the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, is a story about survivors who must keep themselves blindfolded to stay alive from mysterious creatures who drive people insane once they look at them.
Some of the infected victims are compelled to force survivors to open their eyes and look at the creatures. As Sandra Bullock’s protagonist rows down a river blindfolded while protecting two children, a mysterious River Man comes out of the fog and attacks them. The scene is moody and tense before coming to a violent, thrilling, and frightful conclusion. The River Man is played by actor and NYFA instructor Happy Anderson.
Anderson had a blast shooting the scene, posting photos to his social media of the complicated rig needed to shoot in waist-deep water. “Bird Box time was a very fun time!” he wrote, included with a production still.
Bird Box is the latest in a string of impressive credits for Anderson, including another Netflix original film, Bright, starring Will Smith, and Mindhunter, the drama series from David Fincher that was also produced and distributed by Netflix.
Other credits include Gotham, The Blacklist, The Tick, and The Knick, co-starring Clive Owen and NYFA alum Eve Hewson. Upcoming projects include the X-Men horror film The New Mutants and the highly-anticipated television adaptation of Snowpiercer.
Anderson teaches Acting for Film at NYFA’s New York campus, along with many other working professionals who teach at the acting school. The Academy prides itself on its faculty, who share with students their experience and expertise from working in a dynamic, competitive, labor-intensive industry.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film instructor Happy Anderson on his latest role and encourages everyone who hasn’t to check out the mysterious and haunting thriller, Bird Box!
Isabel, a short film starring New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film alum Ioanna Meli, is now available on Amazon Prime Video, allowing millions of the streaming service’s subscribers to check out the haunting drama.
Ioanna Meli originally hails from Greece, and studied for her Master of Fine Arts in Acting for Film from NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, where she was trained and taught by a faculty of working professionals from Hollywood, Broadway, and the independent film industry.
NYFA’s MFA in Acting for Film program is an intense commitment — students learn two years’ worth of education in only sixteen months, and are often rehearsing and studying on weekends, in evenings, and wherever they can find those extra minutes to devote to their craft. Meli was more than up for the task however, and her work in Isabel shows off her talent and the skills she picked up while at the Academy.
Written and directed by Alex Knudsen based on a story by Charlotte Zang, Isabel tells the story of an elderly woman named Isabel Dove at the very end of her life. However, when she seemingly passes away, she wakes up hours later as her younger self. The mystery grows deeper from there as Isabel searches for answers and reflects on the life she thought she was leaving behind. The film stars Jamie Donnelly and Lauren Elyse Buckley as old and young Isabel, respectively; Meli co-stars as Meredith.
About her experience filming the short, Meli tells New York Film Academy, “Working with Alex on set was a fantastic, collaborative experience. The film’s dialogue was composed to express only what was necessary to move the story forward, creating a sense of mystery that’s powerful in this film.”
Meli continued, “The scene we did with Lauren was challenging; our energies and objectives in the story are very different and in the scene, we meet under circumstances that both of our characters are uncertain about. Working through that together was an interesting process.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film alum Ioanna Meli on her stellar work in Isabel, and encourages everyone who can to check it out on Amazon Prime Video!
On Wednesday, December 5th, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a Q&A session with Emmy Award-winning editor, actor, writer, and director, Steven Sprung, following an episode of Community which Sprung directed. Sprung is best known for his editing work on Star Trek Beyond, Entourage, and Arrested Development.
The Q&A began with a student who inquired about Sprung’s time at Syracuse University. Sprung shared that in college, he and his friends were very enthusiastic about filmmaking and worked together to produce numerous short films. During this time, Sprung got the chance to write, direct, edit, and act as these short films had very small production teams and needed many roles filled by very few people. He discovered that he had a special talent for editing and was nominated for an A.C.E. Eddie Award for outstanding achievement in editing while still an undergraduate at Syracuse.
Another student asked what advice Sprung had for actors trying to perform comedic material. “Do a lot of live productions ‘cause you can get instant feedback on whether people are finding things funny,” answered Sprung, “…and… don’t try to be funny; that’s the biggest killer of all.” Sprung suggested that actors “really get invested in the drama of a scene” because a character’s investment and reactions in the moment heighten the humor.
One student in the audience asked if Sprung felt that the entertainment industry was progressing in terms of the number of roles available for actors of color and international actors. Sprung said that, in his experience, most mainstream television shows and movies have mostly white and American production teams and actors. However, he added that there are increasing roles for actors of color and international actors because there is “so much content” available to consumers: cable TV, streaming services, web series etc.
Another student asked Sprung what makes actors stand out in auditions, inspiring casting directors to choose them as opposed to their peers. Sprung discussed how he cast one of the actors in the episode of Community that the students had just watched; he ultimately chose this actor because he “lit up the room” in auditions — Sprung liked his energy and his delivery. He informed students that casting is not an exact science or necessarily predictable; casting is based on a number of factors including industry relationships, whether casting directors are looking for known or unknown actors, personal opinion, etc.
One student asked Sprung how to become a known actor. Sprung said that he believes that that type of motivation to be unsustainable in the long run. He added, “If your primary motivation is to entertain people, or to engage creatively with others… if you have a vision for your life, then you can do that no matter who’s paying you, no matter who’s validating you, or hiring you or not hiring you.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Emmy Award-winning editor, actor, writer, and director, Steven Sprung for sharing his industry experiences and wisdom with our students!