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.
Outside of the New York Film Academy, Acting Instructor, Chris Devane is a giant in the casting industry. Devane detailed his experience with large casting calls, which can include seeing over 400 people in a single day, to an hour-long casting rehearsal with a single actress. With clients like Wal-Mart and major production studios, Devane knows everything there is to know about the casting process. Most importantly, he has been able to pass that information on to acting students. Here are the top 5 lessons we took from Devane’s Casting Class.
There Are a Lot of Actors Actively Seeking Work
Devane began the class with a simple question, “How many union actors are working in the United States of America?” After letting students take a guess, Devane revealed the staggering number.
There are 160,000 actors in the union and untold scores of hopeful eyed youngsters trying to enter the industry every day. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that the average income for those 160,000 union actors is $7,000. This includes big stars like Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana who make millions of dollars per movie.
Devane brought up these numbers to make a point. Those that want to act had better be prepared to work for free or very little. They will need to love their craft beacuse acting is not always kind to actors.
“The only person who can help your career is you,” Devane told his students. “Getting success is easy. Keeping it is a challenge.” Many actors come to LA from smaller cities where they have had some success. It means nothing when they get to Hollywood. “There are no failed actors. Just people who quit.”
You Have to Really, Really Love Acting
“There’s more competition in acting than any other field in the world,” Devane said. While working for free or very little upfront may be necessary, eventually, payment will be required. “Who’s paying your rent or putting gas in your car if you work for free? This is show business,” Devane warned. Deciding how much one’s work is worth can be challenging.
This is all part of the gig. Actors typically work twelve to eighteen hour days, six days a week. This is an exhausting and demanding schedule. All the while, actors are being judged. They’re judged for their looks, they are judged for their talent, and they are even judged for their behavior. This scrutiny tends to get the better of most people.
Self-promotion is of the utmost importance. There are more opportunities to be seen with YouTube and other social media platforms but there’s also a bigger opportunity to fail. A good casting director will not place an actor in a role for which they are not prepared. But the advent of casting based on followers has a lot of young talent scrambling to put out any work they have in hopes of gaining a following.
Devane suggests putting only polished work out for consumption. Start developing a style and a voice now. Don’t rely on followers. They do not denote talent. Do solid work, help others in developing their work, and promote the finished projects.
Casting Has Nothing to Do with Talent
When Devane revealed this information there was tangible hitch within the audience. Talent, fairy tales would have you believe, is the most important aspect in getting started in the entertainment industry. How else can someone with little experience get his or her start?
Devane says the most important thing an actor should be able to do is be themselves on camera. It is the job of a casting agent to find the best person for the role and not the best actor in the world. So, if an actor is relaxed and natural on camera than they can be cast in something.
Most people who have difficulty getting cast believe it’s something they have done wrong. According to Devane most of these people are missing a personality. Many balked at this statement because it can be rather difficult information to process. Some take it as an insult. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is a problem. Devane suggests actively listening to get more parts. Listen to the partner in the scene. Don’t just wait for the next line. Also, listen to the casting director. If one is asked to try the line a different way, you should really think about how that note changes the reading. Being able to take direction makes any actor more desirable.
Reputation Travels Faster than any Human
Reputations cannot be bought or erased. They are earned through the most precious non-renewable source, time. With this in mind, Devane advised students to guard and protect their reputations with everything they have.
“The person who gets cast is the one who can work with the director.” Being a diva on set or overstepping boundaries will have an actor on the outs faster than they can sign a contract. Once a job is booked, it’s important to know on-set rules so as not to become a liability. “If you hear ‘points’ on set you need to know what that means and act accordingly,” Devane told students.
Don’t turn down work. “Look, sometimes being picky can be beneficial, but when someone brings you a job turning it down can look ungrateful at best and disrespectful at worst.” When auditioning for a role make sure the shoot days do not conflict with any other projects or personal appointments. If there’s a potential for conflict mention it at the start of the audition.
Be on time. Every minute of production can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Crew call is often much earlier and much later than an actor’s call time. There is zero excuse for holding up a production and everyone will remember who caused that hold up.
There is No Way to Tell Why You Did Not Get Cast
Devane let students in on a secret that most professional working actors do not know. He told them that not only does talent not matter but there are a million little reasons behind why an individual does get cast. “Get rid of the feeling of I could have done better.”
Sometimes one individual will pair better with an actor that has already been cast. Other times a director might have a working relationship with an actor. Sometimes a client will change their mind and want a different look than they originally set out to cast. It could be that there was just a better actor in the room that day.
It is important to remember that, “You’re going to be frustrated throughout your entire career. Be positive and confident in your ability, skills, and knowledge. It’s the only thing to separate you from the 180 other people auditioning for the role.”
It’s heartbreaking to get rejection after rejection but again, acting is not for the faint of heart. It requires great passion and equally as much patience and keep in mind that somewhere out there is the perfect role.
Devane left students with this thought, “The harder you work, the more fortune you’ll have.” Do not wait to be chosen. Be your own biggest advocate.
NYFAA Gold Coast May ’17 Acting Diploma student Abeer Salem was given the outstanding achievement of being one of three finalists for 2017’s Queensland Training Awards.
Out of 800 applicants, the Queensland Training Awards selected Abeer as a South East Queensland Regional finalist, recognizing her achievement as a vocational student. Abeer accepted her certificate at the 56th Queensland Training Awards State Gala Dinner on July 21.
Born and raised in Egypt, Abeer found her way to the sunny Gold Coast in 2012 and has been determined to further an education in business. To date, she has completed over 15 Diplomas.
Abeer states, “The quest for knowledge is never ending. No one is ever too good to learn. Successful people live each day with a relentless desire to improve.”
After years of studying and working in business, Abeer found her passion in acting. She says, “I quit my job to attend NYFA … I’m in love with acting and its craft. If I don’t become an actor I want to teach acting. It’s my new passion in life.”
She further explains, “I love NYFA and have known about the Academy for years. The Academy has such a great history and a fantastic support system for its actors … In my short time at NYFA I’ve learnt so much and look forward to doing the Advanced Diploma.”
It’s been a busy semester at for the Acting for Film Department at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles. In addition to our fabulous curriculum, we also hosted industry guests speakers, produced student directed plays, a 10-minute play festival, and presented our second successful alumni industry showcase.
Industry Guest Speakers
Next up was veteran Casting Director Tineka Becker, former Manager of Feature Casting at Paramount Pictures. She told tales from the trenches of working with Tom Ford and Robert Zemekis, and on such projects as “Twilight: New Moon” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
Finally, Image Consultant and Branding Specialist Tom Burke was a huge hit with students as he helped them recognize what type they are most likely to be hired to play, and how to best promote themselves in a crowded market.
The upcoming guest list includes managers, agents and an expert on creating internet content (her music videos have gone viral with millions of views). Stay tuned!
Student Directed Plays
It was an exciting semester of student directed plays. The students were ambitious with their self-generated projects. The plays included the dark drama, “Mujeres De Arena,” by Humberto Robles (directed by Guillermo Orozoo). This courageous play explores sex trafficking and the exploitation of women.
“All this Intimacy,” by Rajiv Jospeh (directed be Roberto Jadue) explores the protagonist’s inability to have intimate relationships with various women, ultimately causing him isolation and despair.
The very complex play “Arcadia,” by Tom Stoppard (directed Daniel Pareja) is a play concerning the relationship between past and present, chaos and order, certainty and uncertainty.
“A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle (directed by Timothy Herrera), is a science fantasy about time travel, finding home, and ultimately that one cannot live without love.
Congratulations to all the students involved this semester!
Alumni Industry Showcase
After an exciting round of auditions, 15 alumni students were selected to participate in our second industry showcase directed by Associate Chair Anne Moore. The actors were showcased in both film and live performance. The turnout was terrific, and many of our actors had opportunities to meet with top agents and managers, as well as casting directors from ABC, NBC, CBS, Warner Brothers, and Sony Pictures.
Our alumni chosen this round were Jordan Knapp, Gonzalo Martin, Jolie Chi, Christopher Akens, Martta Rebekka, Reinaldo Garcia, Demyra Ravyne Payne, John R. Twohy, Victoria Schneider, Christopher Allyn Rybka, Nathan Rosado, Brieyonna Monet, Aditya Joshi, Camila Mejia Duque, and Matt JJ Miller.
The Graveyard Plays
Our second playwriting festival was a huge success. The idea for the 10-minute festival originated in David Robinette’s Playwriting Studio Class. He saw it as a great opportunity for our actors to develop their voices as writers. This semester’s location was set in a graveyard. Given the opportunity they had to choose directors, cast the play, and get the plays on their feet for a live performance.
The playwrights chosen were Sam LaFrance, Miranda Guzman, Zane Hudson, and Luis Alfredo Gonzalez. The event was stage managed by our wonderful student Simmie Sangian, Morgan Aiken, and set design was done by Daniela Gerdes.
May 2017 Graduation
It was a beautiful day at Harmony Gold. Lynda Goodfriend gave a touching farewell to our students. Joshua Bitton, our guest speaker, brought lots of laughter and great industry advice to our spring graduates. We want to wish our students great success in their future endeavors. All that hard work paid off. Congratulations, Class of May 2017!
This week, Acting for Film Chair Glynis Rigsby welcomed back her former student Caitlin Cooke for an Industry Trends Series discussion. Aside from her acting career, Cooke is a Casting Associate at Donna Grossman Casting, a full service boutique casting company based in Manhattan. Donna Grossman Casting cast commercials, print, beauty, editorial, TV, film, theater, web series, live events and special projects.
photo by Alejandra Arias
Cooke began the talk by saying, “This school to me, it kind of makes me emotional,” said Cooke. “It brought me a lot of friends and a lot of opportunities and I met a lot of people in the industry. Everything I learned here was helpful. I learned a lot of the business side. Also the access to the equipment I had here is insane. Access to the industry here was way better than other places. And the advice that Glynis [Rigsby] and other instructors offer is invaluable.”
Facing the competitive field of actors after graduating, Cooke landed notable TV series and feature films such as Emmy-winning NBC series, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and the star-studded comedy blockbuster, “Grown Ups 2.” Most recently, she had the chance to guest star in an episode of “Tough Love,” a web series created by her friend Steven Bell. To further her and her friends career, she created an original series, “Rules of Cool,” which she was able to sell.
“Creating your own work is very important,” she said. “When you get out of school you’re not sure what to do next. We decided to take control and create our own opportunities.”
Cooke provided invaluable insight into the casting process, breaking down the process and providing tips and suggestions to improve NYFA Acting for Film students’ auditions.
“Auditions are like a first date,” said Cooke. “Act natural, but if it doesn’t work out there’s always someone else. Always take a chance and always listen to what they have to say. Always be appropriate for what the role is. Look appropriate for what you’re doing.”
NYFA would like to thank Ms Cooke for taking the time to speak to our students, and we wish her the best of luck on her blossoming career!
New York Film Academy Acting for Film alumnus Kojo Boama’s newest short film, “Proceed With Caution,” has been picked up by Amazon Prime video. “Proceed with Caution,” written by NYFA alumnus Joey Colebut, is about an upcoming NYC music producer who stumbles on his way to stardom by getting his mistress pregnant. The film has been talked about by major hip-hop artists such as P.Diddy, Jadakiss, and Swizz Beatz.
We had a chat with Boama to find out more about his new film, and about how aspiring filmmakers should never give up.
Hi Kojo. Can you tell us where you’re from and what brought you to NYFA?
I was born in Ghana, West Africa and raised in Harlem, NY. My mother lived in London and had me educated in England as well. She was going to have me stay and live the rest of my life there, so NYFA in NY was an alternative escape route to move back in with my father up in Harlem while seeking to further my education and study a craft.
And the craft you studied was Acting for Film. Can you tell us about your experience in NYFA’s Acting for Film program?
I absolutely loved the acting program. Meisner technique is an essential tool I still use today: always listening to determine the true meaning underneath a person’s statement was a technique that was very useful in the making of this film. This is because I had to multitask around the set — produce, semi-direct and clean the set while playing the lead role. So aside from memorizing my lines, actually paying attention to other actors responses helped save me from potential bad acting.
How did this short film come about? What made you want to create “Proceed with Caution”?
This short film was written by fellow NYFA student Joey Colebut, who had originally had me act in his final showcase at NYFA. I fell in love with the process. Most of our journey can be found on our episodic youtube documentary called “Never Give Up,” which showcases the trials and tribulation it took to actually make this project a reality. “Proceed with Caution” was scheduled to be wrapped in six months, but due to setbacks it ended up taking four years. (Below is the first episode of “Never Give Up.”)
You have some really notable hip-hop artists and celebrities talking about your film. How did that come about?
Due to the hardships of making this project a reality, I always had to plot ahead to see how I could overcome any giving situation. Initially, I worked over at CBS and used to rush down celebrities every time they came by to get some endorsements. One endorsement from Jack Thriller, which I actually got on 125th street in Harlem, helped turn this project around. I knew that hiring my co-star, Jack Thriller, who is signed with 50 Cent, and is talked about in the streets to be the next Kevin Heart, would help open other doors to various people within the entertainment business. (Check out this episode for more details.)
Why do you believe people should see your film?
Aside from the fact that it’s mere entertainment, I also want to give aspiring artists hope that they could do it as well. Thus, the making of the behind the scenes episodic documentary “Never Give Up.”
What do you hope to achieve with this film?
I hope this film helps open doors for me to grow as a filmmaker within the industry, and for me to be able to make a few feature films.
Are you planning to film a feature version of “Proceed with Caution”?
I could make a feature version of this project if need be, but I have already written another feature, “Blue Grease,” which I believe would be a great challenge for me if I’m able to accomplish it. “Blue Grease” is an urban love and basketball themed movie.
We wish you the best of luck with everything!
If you’re interested in checking out “Proceed with Caution,” CLICK HERE.
Tom Machell is an actor, writer and comedy performer originally from the UK who decided to attend the New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film program for the school’s hands-on approach. “There is no school in the UK that offers as much on screen time as NYFA,” said Machell.
Machell is part of the award-winning comedy team zazU, a group that has had sell out runs at the Soho Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and are currently developing their work for television and radio.
As an actor, Machell has worked in the UK, Europe and the USA and can currently be seen in feature film “Dinosaur Hunter” starring Jenny Agutter and shorts “Litterbugg” “Sticky” and “Die Agentin,” which have been screened at the BFI and the Berlin Film Festival respectively. Tom is currently filming the BBC Television Movie “Babs.” His theatre credits include New York City’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot playing Antipholus E in “The Comedy of Errors,” “The Love and Devotion of Ridley Smith” at the Old Red Lion Theatre, London, and three runs of Guinness World Record holding comedy show, “News Revue,” which he also writes for.
Machell is now making his Off Broadway Debut in the award-winning play, “Life According To Saki.” The play’s life began at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was the winner of the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award. It is the debut play of award-winning author Katherine Rundell and will play at The New York Theatre Workshop at the 4th Street Theatre in Manhattan until March 6th.
“Life According to Saki” is inspired by the life and short stories of British satirist Hector Hugh Munro, nicknamed “Saki.” We meet Saki in November 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, where he and his fellow soldiers bear witness to a world turned on its head. Their only refuge is the fantastical world of the imagination — Saki’s world.
Each actor has multiple roles in the play. Machell’s main character, Walter Spikesman, is Saki’s right-hand-man in the trenches.
“My NYFA training really helped me in the rehearsal room, as there was a lot of devising and focus needed to make the piece,” said Machell. “During my training we had a lot of improvisation training, which hugely aided in creating the multitude of characters that I needed to create for the play. Also, by having such an international class, I was able to pick up numerous helpful accents along the way.”
“Life According to Saki” is now playing at the 4th Street Theatre until March 5, 2017. For tickets and information, please CLICK HERE.
Attendees visited the sets of The Today Show and NBC Nightly News and gained deeper insight into how a major news network provides content for its viewership.
“Every time I set foot on a professional set, I get chills! This is why I came to NYFA! I want to be on television!” exclaimed U.S. Navy veteran, Julia Velasquez, Acting for Film graduate, upon seeing the giant production set as the group walked into the MSNBC studio.
After touring the sets, students were brought to the MSNBC control room where they were treated with a very interesting situation occurring in real-time: A scheduled interviewee was late for their interview spot and the control room personnel were involved in a whirlwind of action trying to fill air space while the person made there way through heavy cross-town traffic!
Colonel Jacobs used the opportunity to provide a learning experience for the NYFA students, explaining the demanding conditions they must navigate through to provide a seamless broadcast to audiences at home.
The veterans soaked up the lesson Colonel Jacobs was instilling: Every position at the network is specialized and translates into the creation of a product that is greater than the sum of its parts when the team works together.
“Television is a collaborative production — just like filmmaking. People work together and pool their talents to create art,” mused Army Veteran and NYFA Filmmaking and Photography Conservatory graduate, Anthony Floyd.
Acting for Film graduate Mey Ferdinand, who came to NYFA from Brazil, has recently spent a week in Los Angeles to act in the Brazilian-American production called Thumbs Up, directed by NYFA alumnus Brian Visciglia. The LA based film was produced in partnership with local and international artists, and the production company Red Line Filmes.
Still from “Thumbs Up”
Thumbs Up surrounds Internet celebrity, Gabriel, a young Brazilian artist who becomes lost in his own fame. Dealing with his agent, personal problems, as well as his superficial and selfish decisions moves him into an entirely new lifestyle that is anything but “normal.”
With an international cast and crew, the movie focuses on the fact that today’s Internet stars are the new decision-makers in the entertainment world and, often times, are not prepared to handle the responsibilities. The goal of the film is to show how the Internet influences our youth not only in the US and South America, but in the entire world.
Still from “Thumbs Up”
The film is also an important lesson to all of our students, as we always encourage our graduates to work on projects with the people they hit it off with in school.
“NYFA was very important to my career,” said Ferdinand. “Not only for its acting lessons, but all of the networking I was able to do while attending.”
Upon her return to New York, Ferdinand will be acting in another short called Model Life, where she plays a fashion director of a magazine. The film will be released for cable in Manhattan.
One of the many appealing features of attending the New York Film Academy is your ability to study “bicoastally” at both our New York City and Los Angeles locations. Essentially, getting the best of both worlds. Acting for Film graduate Johanna Finn studied her first year in New York and the second year in Los Angeles. In this time, the Finnish native acted in about 35 student student films in both NYC and LA.
“At NYFA, I learned a specific skill set for film acting, met a lot of future filmmakers, and I also learned about building a career as an actress from a business standpoint,” said Finn. “However, the great thing about life is that you are never ‘done’ and there is always more room to grow and learn.”
Finn was fortunate enough to work with her NYFA instructor Lanre Olabisi as an actress in his award-winning film Somewhere in the Middle. Olabisi’s film won the grand prize ‘Best Feature Film’ at the San Antonio Film Festival in Texas and the audience award ‘Best Feature Film’ at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York.
“Somewhere in the Middle was born out of a year long improvisational process, which made it a fascinating project for me as an actress,” recalled Finn. “The main cast was able to contribute to the script much more than in traditional filmmaking, and I have huge respect for Lanre for taking this approach as a director.”
In the short film Hot Therapy, Finn won an award for ‘Best Actor in a Short Dramedy’ at the Best Actors Film Festival 2015 for portraying an insecure woman, battling to find inner peace.
And now, Finn will be appearing in an episode of Lifetime’s and A&E’s My Haunted House.
Finn says her ultimate goal as an actress is to help tell stories that create understanding, empathy, compassion, and hope in the world. “I believe that compassion is a powerful force that can really change the world. The camera comes so close to the actor in a close-up that the audience can see the actor’s bare soul living in the character, and the audience will reflect this onto themselves.”
We look forward forward to seeing more of Finn on film and television as she continues to empower and inspire her audience.