Born in Manila, Philippines, Heinrik Caesar Matias flew to New York City in 2016 to study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. Matias says he is passionate in acting, and creating realistic and immersive stories with characters that the audience can connect to. His passion and determination led him to create the award-winning film, “Like Father, Like Son,” while attending NYFA.
His film received “Best Short Film” nominations at film festivals all over the world, including Chandler International Film Festival (USA), Los Angeles CineFest (USA), Barcelona Planet Film Festival (Spain), MedFF (Italy), and Feel The Reel International Film Festival (UK). It won the Gold Award for Best Short Film at the NYC Indie Film Awards.
“The experience I had, and the lessons I learned from the New York Film Academy were all applied in the making of this film,” said Matias. “It had to be or there was no way this film could have been made given the conditions we faced. I never had any experience in filmmaking prior to NYFA and, I will admit, it was very difficult. We didn’t have a big budget plus there were only four crew members, including me as the director, and three cast members. We all had to work twice as hard. It was very draining and it was a very challenging time for all of us, but we all felt like this was a story that needed to be told. I was lucky that I had a very professional crew and a talented cast that were all patient with me and the film during its production.”
The short film is a psychological drama that explores the dark natures of depression and how it can even affect the people around the person who’s depressed. After 20 years, Charles, an unemployed alcoholic, finally reunites with his absentee father. The two of them soon realize that the apple does not fall far from the tree.
“Many people fail to see the magnitude of depression and it is very often dismissed as ‘all in your head,’ but I believe that this is a real thing, and it is a serious matter that must be dealt with,” says Matias.
According to the Word Health Organization, as of 2016, depression is the most prevalent mental illness with 350 million cases worldwide and, if left untreated, can often lead to suicide.
While Matias also continues to focus on his acting career, he’s currently working on two different projects — a short story that he hopes to film this year and his first feature film screenplay.
David Epstein came to the New York Film Academy from Vancouver to pursue his passion for acting in the heart of the film industry, Los Angeles. “Growing up, I was always very active on the stage, and after my undergraduate in theatre I felt ready to get auditioning for film and TV in Vancouver. After a year and a half, I didn’t book a thing! I figured it was because I had no idea what I was doing when it came to acting for a camera, so I started looking into programs,” said Epstein. “New York Film Academy seemed like the most hands-on school I could find. I thought, ‘I could wait it out and audition in Vancouver for another two years with nothing to show for, or enroll at NYFA. Not only would I get to complete a Master’s Degree, but I would also gain the hands-on film experience day in, and day out.’”
And right after graduation he landed a role in the animated feature “The Son of Bigfoot” directed by Jeremy Degruson and Ben Stassen.
Congrats on getting the part. How did your role in “The Son of Bigfoot” come about?
Epstein: I was actually camping in Yosemite Valley for the weekend with no wifi or cell phone service. We were about to go on a hike for the day when we stopped off in a lodge. I guess we hit a cell phone spot and my phone just started blowing up. Text messages and phone calls galore from my mom, brother, and agent all trying to get a hold of me. When I called them and, they told me that I booked this part in an animated feature – a project that I had zero recollection of ever auditioning for. Weeks earlier, I had just gotten my reel from school and was showing it off to a friend of mine. Fast forward a couple of months and her dad is directing this project called “Son of Bigfoot.” I don’t know the details, but apparently one of the other actors had to drop out and they needed to fill the roll very quickly. He listened to my reel and decided to give me a shot. It was one of those “right place, right time moments.”
Please tell us about your experience working on this project. What did your learn as an actor?
Epstein: While I had spent many hours working in the NYFA booth, this was my first time acting in a proper animated film, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I remember flipping furiously through my voice over textbook leading up to the shoot, giving myself a quick refresher before going into the studio… ironically the writer was actually playing one of the leads in the film. The first thing I thought when I got there was: “Where’s that smell of bacon coming from?” Of course, I followed it and saw walls just covered in classic cartoon cells and a huge trophy case filled with Emmys. It was very surreal. I got the chance to meet some of the other cast members and we were all called in one by one into our recording sessions. None of the animation was done at the time of the recording, so we didn’t have to worry about matching the characters’ lip flaps, which was nice, but that said, there wasn’t a whole lot to work off of, either. It was a really steep learning curve trying to figure out how to create the world without any other actor to work off of and no real picture of what the scene would look like. That said, it was a pretty freeing experience too, in that there wasn’t really a wrong answer. Only limit was imagination.
One of my biggest surprises about the experience was how quickly everything moved. It was like a machine gun session in there. I was given my script, asked to give a few reads of each line and we would move on. Occasionally, there was a redirection, but I was in and out of the studio within an hour. It was crazy!
Were there any challenges working on this project?
Epstein: The biggest challenge working on the project was not being able to really prepare. I wasn’t given my script until the day, so I was really going in blind. There was a small character description that was sent to me in advance, but everything was really explained to me on the day. Also, there was no animation at the time, so to this day I still have no idea what my character even looks like. The director just said “alright give me the voice you were thinking of doing,” and I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. I guess it worked because we just kind of went with it. I would have loved the opportunity to play a bit more and really find my character, but everything moved so fast. Just trusted my gut and hoped for the best.
What projects are you currently working on?
Epstein: Next week I start shooting for my role in the show “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.” I am also excited to collaborate with my friend/coach Carol Stanzione, Elliot Herman and NYFA alumnus Kevin Chua in an upcoming animated series called “Lei Gong: Chronicles of the Sword.”
Until then, I have been fortunate enough to get a gig hosting a game show for Hyundai at Auto Shows around the states. It has been such a great experience getting to travel around the country and work a job that is creative in nature.
Who do you believe will get the most out of the NYFA program?
Epstein: I think anyone with a true passion and the desire to learn will get the most out of the program. There are so many great opportunities and teachers, that if you care to work, you can learn so much! That said, you’re only going to get what you put into the program. It’s one thing to be in class and to do your assigned work, but it’s the work you do outside of the curriculum that is really special. NYFA’s consult program lets you meet with any of your teachers outside of class time. It’s a private coaching session with industry professionals. I don’t know many other places that offer that.
What, if any, do you think are the biggest obstacles for new actors in Hollywood?
Epstein: I think the toughest thing about Hollywood is being seen. You could be doing great work, but it’s getting the right people to see your work that is the real challenge. Coming to LA you hear it over and over again, “there’s so much competition!” At first, I took that to mean that I would be sitting in an audition room with 50 David Epsteins that look just like me. The truth is, the competition is really getting into the door. A good part can get 3000+ submissions. When a casting director has three hours to see 90 actors, why are they going to pick your headshot over anyone else’s? You hear it all the time: This business is all about networking. It’s figuring out the creative ways that you can get on these casting directors’ radars and then about winning them over so they bring you back again and again.
If anyone has come to LA to become rich as an actor, they could have a rude awakening. It is a super competitive job and while the payday can be sweet, work can definitely be sparse (especially at the beginning). I have often found myself comparing my lifestyle to my doctor and lawyer friends. It can be very disheartening to hear about the condos they are buying or the cars they drive, but it has begged me to check in with my passions. While my car and apartment are far from fancy, I wouldn’t want to do anything else in the world.
Kevin Tellez began having an interest in dance when he was four years old, but his talent was far beyond your average four-year old’s little shimmy. By the time he was seven years old he won first place at The World Latin Dance Cup.
Kevin Tellez with Gloria and Emilio Estefan
“His father loves music, but I think that his talent comes from his hard work because he loves acting and dancing more than anything.”
Kevin has made appearances on several TV shows, including Ellen where he was able to show off his skills to the host, who is known for her love of dancing. He is now in Gloria Estefan’s Broadway show “On Your Feet,” where he has performed for over a year as the young Emilio Estefan.
Now at the age of 11, Tellez has taken up the 12-Week Kids Acting for Film Weekend program at the New York Film Academy.
“Before NYFA we tried other programs where he didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t enjoy it,” said Tellez’s mother, Anny Tellez. “At NYFA, he is learning and doing what he really loves. We definitely have seen improvement and growth in his acting.”
Like most parents with children in show business, Tellez’s parents were nervous about letting their son travel around the world and performing on Broadway. “Our main concern was school,” said Mrs. Tellez. “We thought it was going to be too much for him; going to school like everyone else and then going to Broadway. Luckily, we have been able to manage the acting and dancing career as well as school. He is a very responsible child and he has amazing grades in school. My husband and I didn’t want him to be home schooled. Kevin is the type of child that enjoys being around his peers and we try to keep his life as normal as possible.”
Kevin dreams to some day be an actor in Hollywood and hopes he will inspire other kids to follow their dreams.
“As a parent I would say that our job is to support our children in whatever it is that they want to do,” said Mrs. Tellez. “I never in my life thought that my son would be on Broadway and have a career in entertainment at such a young age. Sometimes it’s not easy to make time for everything that as parents we have to do, but we always want our children to be happy and will do the impossible for them — and some way or another we manage to do it. At the end of the day all of the sacrifices that we make are so worth it.”
Acelina Kuchukova is a talented and ambitious woman who began working as a model at a very young age. In addition to modeling, Acelina received a degree in finance in her home country of Kazakhstan. After achieving many accomplishments in her career, she decided to become an actress. Now she works in Hollywood and can be seen in commercials, music videos and films. Despite her busy schedule, Acelina continues to improve herself and always has a positive attitude. She is already a SAG-AFTRA member and is ready to share some of her professional secrets.
Acelina, please tell us how you became a model? Was it your childhood dream?
No, it happened suddenly. When I was 13, two other girls and I were chosen from our school to present flowers to the President of Kazakhstan during some of the major official events of Astana. They taught us how to dress up, to do beautiful make up and so on. I was going to school in the mornings, and after that I attended different events in the national costume. I did not think I would become an actress at that time, but I became the face of Procter & Gamble Company in Kazakhstan in 2008. One of the tasks of that project was to make a short film. I started to work with a famous actor, Sergey Ufimtsev. I felt in my heart: “Oh, I like it, I want to become an actress.” At that moment my destiny was determined. When I won the “Miss Kazakhstan” competition, I went on to another competition, “Miss Universe.” There I was presented with a certificate for training at NYFA in Los Angeles in the Acting for Film program. It was in 2010. It was more important than the crown for me; it was the fulfillment of my dream!
Before entering NYFA I decided to go to one last competition, “Miss Multiverse,” and won the crown there. When my victory was announced, I was so excited. I did not expect that. Before that I had never won any international competitions. It was a worthy finish to my career as a model. I started my education in America in January 2014, in Hollywood, the home of the film industry.
You are in SAG-AFTRA, the Actor’s union. Please tell us what is required to enter SAG-AFTRA?
It is not easy. Anyone can get there, but there are some requirements. I started to work as an extra. It is very important to accept every job, because you do not know which will open the door for your career. This happened to me. I went to a small project and the director of a bigger project noticed me there. They accepted me because of my role as an extra in “La-La Land.” I received a SAG voucher on March 8, 2015, but became a full member of the union only six months ago because you have to pay a fee to join. You need to work on a large project if you want to become a member of SAG. In fact, you can be in commercials for big companies to enter the Union, but this project should be big.
Tell us more about your projects?
When I graduated NYFA, I got an OPT and had a lot of practice before I started fully working. I starred in short films, feature films, TV shows. I played in a commercial for Hulu. Recently, I had a part in a commercial about skin care products for a big company, Kayani. This was a very big project with video and brochures; I was a lead. I also starred in many music videos including RedOne’s “Don’t You Need Somebody,” Don Broco’s “Automatic,” Chris Brown’s “Picture Me Rollin” and AWOLNATION’s “Woman Woman” directed by Marc Klasfeld to name few.
Don Brosco’s “Automatic”
Can you tell us about your work in the theater?
Yes, 2015 was very productive for me on stage. I was in the play “Imported Bride” at the Torrance Cultural Arts Theatre with 500 seats. Then I had a lead role in “Morbid Cabaret” at the McCadden Place Theater for two months. At the Next Stage Theatre I played in “The Dark Side of the Moon” directed by Chris Berubes. Also, when I was at NYFA, I performed in several plays.
Which projects are you most proud of?
My Kazakhstan TV project with Procter & Gamble, the television show “Pantene.” Also, I am very proud to have been awarded the crown at “Miss Multiverse” in 2014.
I starred in a commercial with Antonio Banderas, which was very important to me. In Hollywood, I am proud of my performances at the Torrance Cultural Arts Theatre, where for the first time I played in front of such a large audience. I am very proud of my work in the Hulu and Kayani commercials as well.
Acelina, please tell us about your experience at NYFA.
When I had the dream of becoming an actress I couldn’t imagine that I would study in Hollywood. But when I was awarded the certificate to study at NYFA in the Acting for Film program, I realized that my dream could become true.
In the Academy I felt at home. The director, Dan Mackler and all the instructors were so attentive to each student, as if they were their own children. They dedicate a lot of time to each individual. Instructors have vast experience and continue to work in their profession. I listened to lectures with great pleasure, trying to write everything down. I also took extra individual lessons. The program is very intense and well planned out. Of course, I had no time for a private life, only for classes. But I was happy! My favorite instructors were Ken Lerner, Andrew Bloch, and Suzanne Kemp.
Can you share with us the secret of your success?
I always set up goals and I am very persistent. Every year I write the plan for the next year on December 31. At first, I write big goals, and then break down steps for achievement. This year my mission was completed, because today I completed the last goal for 2016 — I got a driver’s license!
You need to write everything down, plan and do all you can towards your dream. It is very important to make priorities. It helps me not to dissipate attention and focus from the essentials. I attend all new screenings and film festivals. I try to spread positivity around me. I love what I do, and I would like to give advice to future students of NYFA: “If you chose acting, you should adore it. Otherwise, it is better not to start.”
Where do you see your career in a few years?
I will star in Hollywood blockbusters. In three to five years I will receive the Oscar!
Can you promise to give us an interview when you get the Oscar? We will remember this conversation.
Yes, of course I promise (laughing).
New York Film Academy would like to thank Acelina Kuchukova for taking the time to speak with us. We wish her success in all of her projects and achievement of all her goals.
If’ you’re looking for a critically acclaimed bitter sweet comedy to watch over the holidays, be sure to check out “The Edge of Seventeen,” starring Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, and New York Film Academy alumnus Hayden Szeto.
“The very first few hours on set I remember being extremely starstruck, however, this wonderful cast demystified themselves very quickly,” said Szeto, about his experience working with such a talented cast. “Major props to our director, Kelly Fremon Craig and the legendary James L. Brooks for creating such a close-knit-family feel on set where we felt safe.”
“The Edge of Seventeen,” which is reminiscent of John Hughes classics such as “Sixteen Candles” and “Breakfast Club,” earned first time director Kelly Fremon Craig a New York Film Critics Circle Award.
In the film, Szeto plays Erwin, the lovestruck classmate of Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld). Throughout the movie, Erwin tries to pursue Nadine in a variety of ways which elicits very awkward and hilarious situations.
“I remember being on set the first day and saying to myself ‘Thank goodness I went to film school.'” recalled Szeto. “They say a little kindness goes a long way in this industry and it’s very true; one thing I take away from NYFA is appreciating the crew on both sides of the camera and understanding how much a film set is an ensemble piece where nobody has superiority over anybody. We are a team. Combining the knowledge of teamwork and my education at NYFA, I was not afraid to ask questions or try new things on set. It has made me fearless and allowed me to do my job more efficiently.”
Sezto says his character is a ‘revolutionary role’ written for Asian Americans. “I’m so honored and blessed to have been given this opportunity to represent a voice that is often silenced,” he added.
New York Film Academy Improv instructor Bill Watterson’s directorial debut film, “Dave Made a Maze,” was recently highlighted in Variety as a ‘notable title’ in competition at Slamdance 2017. The festival, which launched in 1995 as an alternative to Sundance, has included showings of such notable titles as Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity.” The fest, which takes place at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City, Utah, from Jan. 20 to Jan. 26, will screen 19 movies: 12 world premieres, three North American debuts, and one U.S. launch. Slamdance alumni include Christopher Nolan, Marc Forster, Jared Hess, Lena Dunham, Benh Zeitlin, Seth Gordon, and Lynn Shelton.
Watterson also has a series of web shorts that he wrote and directed, which led to a TV deal with Brandio Entertainment. As an actor, he performed motion capture and voice over for the video games “LA Noire” and “Lost Planet 3”; appeared in the films “Ouija,” “Jenny’s Wedding,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys”; and TV credits include “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” “The Soul Man,” and “The Young & The Restless.”
We had a chat with the director and instructor before his upcoming January premiere at Slamdance.
Congrats on being accepted to Slamdance! Can you tell me what “Dave Made a Maze” is all about?
“Dave Made a Maze” re-imagines classic 80’s adventure films with a modern comedic edge and a higher body count. Dave, a frustrated artist, gets lost inside the cardboard fort he builds in his living room, and his girlfriend Annie must lead a band of oddball explorers on a rescue mission. The handmade fantasy world features the in-camera effects of puppetry, stop motion animation, and optical illusions.
How did the film come about?
A friend of mine from Second City started writing a whacked out script based on an anecdote I’d told him about my mother coming home and panicking that I had gotten lost in a pillow fort I’d made in my bedroom, even though I’d followed protocol and left a note saying I was having dinner at my friend John Richards’ house. She tore the fort apart looking for me. Steve had 60 pages by the next day. Eventually we zeroed in on the themes and started working together to finish the script.
How were you able to raise funds for the production?
We got some great talent attachments early on, drawing on contacts at Second City and work we’d done as actors. Some of our production design team came from “Robot Chicken,” and since the handmade look and animations in the film were so important, that caught a lot of investors’ eyes. The film is entirely independently financed.
Will we be seeing you on screen as well in this film?
I have a very brief cameo as a still photo on a keyboard box. It was such an ambitious film and we had so little time to prep and even less to shoot. It felt irresponsible to focus on anything other than directing.
As an improv teacher, what sort of advice or direction did you give your actors?
It’s always good to be in touch with your instincts, to respond honestly to the things happening before you, to be quick on your feet, and to ask yourself and your actors ‘what if?’ Those are foundational improv skills that also apply to directing. I definitely let the actors play around with dialogue to make sure they were comfortable and felt safe and supported, and because they’re all so gifted comedically. But we had a lot to get done, so I had to be careful not to let the train get off the tracks.
What do you hope to achieve at Slamdance? Are you looking for a distributor?
Right now, we’re meeting with sales agents to help us find a distributor at the festival. It’s an honor to be there, and we want to be sure to capitalize on the opportunity. We made a very strange movie, and I’m hoping to find like-minded people in Park City who enjoy the silliness and heart of the film.
What advice can you give to filmmakers looking to direct their first feature?
Take all your successful director friends out to lunch and pick their brains. Shadow them on one of their projects if they’ll have you, and take lots of notes. Ask your editor what they hate about directors they’ve worked with in the past, and what mistakes to avoid on set.
Read Sidney Lumet’s “Making Movies” and know your movie’s theme in and out, and filter all your decisions through that. Everybody wants to direct the movie; keep a small council, and defer to the best idea, whether it was yours or not. Know that the movie you shot will be different from the movie you edit; don’t fight it. Be grateful to the people who are working their butts off to bring your project to life. You cannot get anywhere without them.
Anything else you’re working on now or in the near future that you’d like to share?
I just walked out of a pretty huge meeting that I don’t want to jinx. I shot a series of shorts with a puppet that I’m almost ready to share, and I’m dusting off other pitches to have a better answer to this question come festival time!
New York Film Academy Acting for Film alumna Ingrid Vollset was born in Los Angeles to Norwegian parents and moved back to Norway at an early age where she spent her childhood and early adolescence. Growing up she was drawn towards storytelling — through the craft of acting, writing and directing — with the belief that film and theatre are some of the most important tools we have to change the world.
Since graduating from NYFA’s New York location, she has been in numerous independent films, including the upcoming film, “You Can’t Say No,” which stars the legendary “Easy Rider” actor Peter Fonda. Vollset is also active on the writing, producing and directing side of things and is currently working on a script for an independent feature.
We had a chance to catch up with Ms Vollset to find out more about the film and her career post-NYFA.
Congrats on your upcoming film, “You Can’t Say No.” Can you tell us in your own words, what you believe this film is about?
To me, this film is about social, moral and relationship values; integrity of character and sanctitude of bonds between human beings. It is about soul-mates and serendipity, about honesty and commitment, and about being willing to think outside-the-box and follow your dreams without losing sight of what is most important at the end of the day — taking care of yourself and the one’s you love the most.
How did the role of Allison come about for you?
Allison is a nomadic vagabond free-spirited young woman in the midst of her journey of life discovery. Her and Hank’s serendipitous crossing of paths turns out to be that of a very valuable friendship for the both of them — driving the story forward in a way where Hank’s value system and integrity is challenged, and he ultimately ends up earning a place in all our hearts by the end of their arc.
What were some of the challenges of getting into your role?
The subtle balance of naiveté and bravery. Allison is so willing to put her heart on the line — to risk being hurt — just to stay true to every present moment and living it freely. Accessing her vulnerability and her loneliness and yet letting her strength supersede it all — she is someone with an amazing capacity for forgiveness, understanding and compassion. She will willingly dry her eyes and smile at the world, no matter how many times it seemingly lets her down — she doesn’t see it that way and accepts whatever comes her way as ‘meant to be’.
Were you able to work directly on set with Peter Fonda?
Unfortunately, my shooting days were not aligned with Peter Fonda’s, as our characters did not meet in the film. I heard amazing stories of the other actors and crew members of how much they learned from him and enjoyed having him on set!
Would you say your NYFA experience was useful in terms of being prepared to perform in this film and other films/shows you’ve worked on?
I’ve learned many valuable skills and tools at NYFA that I have been able to use in all my work as an actor. Acting for Film classes with Paul Warner taught us how to meticulously break a script down and unveil beats, actions and tactics that ultimately help reveal the physical life of your character.
The Improv classes were extremely helpful as so much of the work on set and in rehearsal is improv based. And the Meisner work helping to get you out of your head as an actor and better trust your instincts and impulses in the moment.
The Shakespeare classes with David Vando taught us how to let the text float as a boat on the river of the inner life that is present in the actors. And our scene study classes with Glynis Rigsby taught us to understand our characters on a deeper level, ask questions, be curious and connect with the story and the objectives in a way where you end up having real skin in the game. The wide variety of classes offered allowed us as students to find out where our strengths and weaknesses as actors lie.
Also, the experience of acting in the directing students’ short films created amazing hands-on experience that prepared us for professional settings in the safest of circumstances.
Which role are you most proud of thus far? Why?
The role I am most proud of this far is the one of Paula in “Paula, Why?” This is a film I wrote and produced myself, and has a very autobiographical component to, so it was one of the most challenging parts I have ever had to play.
Are you currently working on anything new and exciting that you’d like to share?
Currently, I am co-producing and acting in the first season of a dramedy webseries where we are hoping for an early 2017 release. Two friends decide to open up an Airbnb in their apartment to cover their NYC rent and do not expect it to be a life-changing experience.
I am in post-production for “Paula, Why?” where we are hoping for a late 2017/early 2018 release mainly geared towards the festival market. The music and boxing themed story of an immigrant brother and sister’s survival in the outskirts of NYC.
We will be going into production before the end of the year on a short film called “Tendencies”: the story of two sisters cleaning out their mother’s house as she needs to move into a retirement home due to early onset Alzheimer’s and everything they discover over the course of that weekend.
On Wednesday, November 2, the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus hosted a screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest venture, “Before the Flood.” Directed by Fisher Stevens (“John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown,” “Another World”), “Before the Flood” is a powerful documentary following DiCaprio as he interviews scientists about global warming and its impact on the human race. The film features legendary scientists, politicians, and religious leaders including Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and Pope Francis.
Students from all departments packed the theater to be the first to glimpse the film. Acting student Zayne Clayton said, “I came because this is Leo’s project. He’s a great actor and I want to see what he’s doing in his off time. It’s kind of inspiring.”
Some came because of the star power, others for the film’s message. “I’m very interested in how climate change is affecting the world. I want to see how we can change it,” said John Porras.
After the screening, there were several tears and many planned to act on the call to action. Helen Ávila, who has been following DiCaprio’s activism and the development of Before the Flood through his Instagram, said, “This film shows what’s really happening. I hope people see the film and start to act.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Tova Laiter for helping bring this film to NYFA students. “Before the Flood” is now in theaters.
New York Film Academy was proud to welcome actor, producer, and now, director Jon Abrahams to their Los Angeles campus. Students from both the high school and teen summer program were in attendance. The comedy classic, Meet the Parents, was screened after which Tova Laiter, producer of The Scarlet Letter and Varsity Blue, and Christopher Cass, Associate Chair for Acting for Film Studies, conducted an interview with Abrahams.
Abrahams began his career when he was still in high school. He was discovered in Washington Square Park when filmmakers, Harmony Korine and Larry Clark, were casting their film Kids. Abrahams wasn’t their first choice. He was selected to play Steven after the first actor cast was arrested. Upon release, parents and school systems alike were outraged by the films’ perceived message, but Kids would later become a cult classic and the standard by which all gritty coming-of-age stories would be judged.
From there Abrahams went on to star in films such as House of Wax, Scary Movie, Meet the Parents, Mourning Glory, and Hitchcock. He’s also had a long established career in television. Some of his roles include Jerry on Masters of the House, Zach Fischer on Boston Public, and guest appearances on Boston Legal, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, The Astronaut Wives Club, and The Mentalist.
When asked about his preparation Abrahams described going to acting class like going to the gym. This work ethic was cultivated when he was still in high school. At his performing arts school, he would spend time after classes doing improvisational work with a teacher. The result, he was able to, “…better flex his (acting) muscle.”
He’s a fierce student having not only studied with The Groundlings but also with famed acting coach Margie Haber.
Abrahams revealed he’s recently taken a turn at directing. After being named the guardian of both his cousin’s children and his best friend’s children, Abrahams began thinking, “What if, god forbid, something should happen to both my cousin and best friend on the same day and I’m suddenly the guardian to three kids?” Abrahams, having grown up in Tribeca, still had some unresolved issues about 9/11 that he wanted to explore. His writing partner thought perhaps the two ideas could be combined to tell a story. They were able to secure an investor for their human-interest piece, a rare feat. They’ve just begun the festival application process and are hoping to sell the film later in the year.
Next, it was time for the students to ask questions. Makayla, a student in the high school summer program asked, “What tips do you have for high school and college students wanting to get a start in the industry?”
“My tip is do anything and everything that comes your way. I’ve always had a kind of blue-collar approach to acting. I like to work. I like to punch in and out.” He continues, “And no job is too small, for me. I love movies. I grew up watching movies all the time. I always will remember the guy who had one line in the movie, if they were really great. So, you know, don’t have an ego about it. Also, don’t hold it all so precious. Do something. Be bad at it. You’re going to do something else. You’re going to grow. No one is expecting you to be a high school actor be the most wonderful actor ever…”
“Work really hard, but to come into it and be a perfectionist in the first gig, is silly. Look at it as you’re going to be working for your whole life. Do anything and everything. Student films, commercials, whatever. Work extra so you know how a set works. And then, stick around. I think Clint Eastwood said, ‘Don’t go to lunch. Stay around the crew during lunch. Figure out what they’re doing. Know what lens they’re using. Knowing these things is great. Just learn. Just be there to learn. The best schooling you can get is working.’”
Later another student inquired about how to get back up after one has performed poorly. Abrahams responded, “I once had someone refer to making a movie as boxing match. If you lost the second round you can come back tomorrow shoot and do another scene. That’s round three. You could win round three. You could win round four.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Jon Abrahams for his time. You can learn about Abrahams’ forthcoming film by clicking here.
Honoring films like The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby, the Finnish film discusses current topics such as women’s rights, man’s relationship with nature and young people’s difficulty to find their way into the work life. The story revolves around a young textile student, who takes on a summer job at a secluded and totally self-sufficient town. The cast consists of upcoming actors like Veera W. Vilo, Saara Elina, Ari Savonen and Enni Ojutkangas who have become known as the faces of the new wave of Finnish genre movie with films like Bunny the Killer Thing and Backwood Madness.
“In addition to the fact that the story discusses extremely important topics, it does it with a very raw and objective voice, which for me was very fascinating from the get-go,” said Olenius. “It was important for me to tell this exact story at this point of my life because it really allowed me to throw my questions into the film and at the same time transform myself into a better person. Even though the story is fictitious (and in ways goes over the top), it points out some mindsets and behavior patterns that currently take place in Western countries and especially in Finland, which for me was a way to connect with the story. The possibility to make a film that has the potential to challenge the audience to think about their own values and opinions in life, is, for me, the whole point of filmmaking.”
Olenius, who has consistently worked as an actor in his home country after graduation, is also producing the film and responsible for the adapted screenplay, which is is based on an original play of the same name by Neea Viitamäki. Kyrsyä – Tuftland is currently in production and set to premiere in 2017.
“My training at NYFA has helped me enormously in terms of understanding all aspects of filmmaking and how they play together in a film production,” said Olenius. “Even though I studied acting, thanks to the versatile program I attended, I already had a good understanding of filmmaking after graduation and, therefore, the potential to pursue the making of this film after working only few years in the industry. Studying acting for film in Los Angeles has given me resourceful tools to get cinematic and true performances out of the wonderful cast of this film, which I believe will really make this film extraordinary.”