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.
With a record number of Academy Award nominations, “La La Land” is certainly the talk-of-the-town. Recently, GQ provided a behind the scenes with “La La Land” star Ryan Gosling at a photo shoot at the Gellért Thermal Bath in Budapest.
Two New York Film Academy Documentary alumni had their hand in the video, as both Susi Dollnig and Nina Thomas work at the post-production company House of Trim, which provided the post-production for the video. Dollnig was the Colorist and Thomas was the Assistant Editor on this specific video.
House of Trim is a boutique post-production facility located in the heart of NYC. The team consists of a collective of talented editors, motion graphics artists and color graders who specialize in feature films, commercial campaigns, documentaries and branded content. Dollnig has been working at the company for about four years as a Colorist, and Thomas joined the company in October 2015 as an Assistant Editor, and recently started taking on editing jobs as well.
Both Dollnig and Thomas often does post-production work for GQ Magazine and for the Condé Nast group.
Last week, the New York Film Academy New York campus held the Spring 2016 Filmmaking Commencement and Final Screenings. The two-day event held an opening reception for students, friends and family, and concluded with students’ thesis film screenings at the campus’ brand new theater at 17 Battery Place.
“The thesis films made by the Spring 2016 graduating students were very impressive,” said NYFA Filmmaking Chair, Claude Kerven. “Across the board, the quality and the effort made was first rate. It’s remarkable to see how much the students have grown in just one year. The students, along with their instructors, should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
Congratulations to all of our filmmaking graduates! Check out the full gallery of photos from the graduation ceremonies on NYFA’s Facebook Page!
Below are the films that screened over the two-day graduation.
Back in 2009, the New York Film Academy offered a Brett Ratner Tuition Grant, which was awarded to a passionate young filmmaker from Switzerland, Jean de Meuron. While at NYFA, de Meuron got a full scope of the movie-making landscape, studying filmmaking, screenwriting, and cinematography at both the New York and Los Angeles campuses.
Now residing in Los Angeles, de Meuron was recently Executive Producer on the short film “La femme et le TGV,” directed by Timo von Gunten and starring César Award nominee Jane Birkin. The short film, which was inspired by true events, was nominated for a 2016 Academy Award in the Best Live Action Short Category!
We had a chance to speak to our former student before his big day at the Academy Awards this upcoming Feb. 26th, 2017.
Congratulations on your film’s Academy Award nomination! In your own words, what is “La femme et le TGV” about?
“La femme et le TGV” is a charming tale about a lonely woman who, through poetic and thoughtful letters, connects and builds a close relationship with a TGV train driver that passes her house at 190 mph every single day. As the two anonymous souls share their worlds by writing to each other, one fateful day the train does not pass her house, leading her to embark on a journey away from the place she calls home in search of that lost connection.
How did this film come about and how did you become involved with the project?
Our director, Timo von Gunten, read this incredible true story in a Swiss tabloid about a woman who’s been waving at the passing TGV train for many years from her balcony. He immediately fell in love with the whimsical nature and tone of this true story: A woman and a man writing letters to one another without ever meeting in person — or at least for the first couple of interactions. A huge inspiration for Timo has always been “Amélie” — and I think this is quite apparent in his work, as far as the visuals and camera blocking are concerned. However, Timo has such a strong style and visual sense on his own, so he puts his own stamp as a director, infused with elements from the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Wes Anderson.
I met Timo while I was a Jury Member at the Basel Gässli Film Festival, where I saw his short film that he had directed. I was immensely impressed with his visual flair, mise-en-scène, sensitivity with which he directed actors and staged scenes, as well as the color palette, soundtrack and edit. There was a filmmaker at work, who I considered a true artist that caught my attention. During the festival, I approached him, complementing his work and saying that I would like to work with him very much. The rest, so they say, is history.
How did you attach Jane Birkin to the project? And what was it like to work with her?
Timo tells this story best, so I extend the courtesy of having him share his thoughts here, as he as the director, worked most closely with her:
“First of all, I had to write a screenplay that was emotional, touching. I have a very good friend, a casting director and acting coach in London, who helped me to pass on the script to Jane’s agent. What I didn’t know, of course, and I was quite lucky — I have to admit that — the topic of solitude resonates so much with her. She just fell in love with the story. She called me up and said wants to do it. However, the funny thing was, first she said, “I want to do it, but I can’t because I’m not supposed to ride bicycles anymore.” And as you know, the film has loads of biking scenes… Working with Jane was quite an extraordinary experience because she has this inner beauty still kept alive. She’s quite fragile but very, very truthful. That’s what’s really great about her.” — from Timo von Gunten’s interview with ScreenPicks (Alfonso Espina) – Interview: Timo von Gunten Talks About ‘La Femme et le TGV’
I would add that Jane has this incredible generosity and gentle kindness that I witnessed while we were attending the Locarno Film Festival, where she was awarded the Golden Leopard for her Life Achievement.
Can you tell us how you found out about NYFA and the Brett Ratner Tuition Grant?
While I was a student at the New York Film Academy, NYFA founder Jerry Sherlock, who had always been very supportive of me, suggested that I should apply for the Brett Ratner Tuition Grant — as I had done several short films during my studies that did the festival circuit. While applying, I put all of my passion and dedication into my application materials, meaning I went above and beyond by presenting a strong package. When I was awarded the Brett Ratner Tuition Grant I was very proud, as Brett’s impressive career has inspired me very much and continues to do so. His journey from having Steven Spielberg support his student short film, “Whatever Happened to Mason Reese” (1990), to becoming a Hollywood movie mogul (co-financing the slate of Warner Bros. with his company RatPac) is immensely awe-inspiring.
Would you say your NYFA experience was useful in terms of being able to produce this film?
Certainly. I always liked the New York Film Academy’s philosophy and educational approach of “learning by doing.” The practical experience enabled me to gain a very sophisticated understanding of physical production, and all its challenges that come with it. As my favorite filmmaker of all time, Steven Spielberg, once noted, “Filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.” That being said, with director Timo von Gunten and my producing partners Giacun Caduff and Bela Böke, we had a wonderful synergy of complementing components, as we each could rely on each other’s strengths and interests.
Jean (on the right) attending the Golden Globes
What has been the reaction of your team, knowing you have a one in five chance of winning an Academy Award for this short?
I think every filmmaker aspires for his or her work to be critically acclaimed — some more than others of course — but in the end, storytelling is also entertainment, and as such we thrive to speak to, emotionally engage and captivate an audience. The reaction has obviously been overwhelming, however, we won’t define the success of our film solely on awards, but also on how the story resonates with our audience and how we are able to touch and move people. It is a tremendous honor and privilege to be considered for Academy Award consideration and we are infinitely grateful.
Why do you feel your film deserves to win the Academy Award? What makes it so unique?
Tough question. I think every film that has been nominated is there for a reason and deserving of such an accomplishment. What makes “La femme et le TGV” unique — at least as far as I am concerned — is its fairytale element that makes this story not only very charming and uplifting, but also relevant and meaningful. Our story, more than ever, is timeless because of the fact that although developed between written letters, most people of several generations (young and adult) can relate to our protagonist’s journey where, in the digital realm of things, loneliness and longing for something, are huge components of our daily lives.
Where would we be able to see this film?
“La femme et le TGV” is currently available on iTunes.
Are you currently working on any other projects you’d like to discuss?
Yes, I am currently developing a feature film with Timo and my producing partner Chady Eli Mattar, who, like myself, worked for prolific and immensely gifted producer Scott Rudin — a true industry icon. The film is called “The Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower” and tells the true and epic tale of a charismatic con-artist, Victor Lustig, whose journey culminates in pulling off the biggest scam in the history of mankind — selling the Eiffel Tower — ensuing in a manhunt across the world that threatens to tear apart his beloved family.
Since graduating from the Animation School at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles, Alexandra LoRusso has worked on the visual FX for major Hollywood movies like “Suicide Squad,” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” She currently works for the VFX company MPC Montreal, where she is now working on two other films.
While the animation alumna has admitted she’s extremely busy with her work, she took the time out to answer a few questions about her career in FX.
Which film would you say is the reason you chose this profession?
It’s hard to pick just one. I will always remember the first movie I saw and it was also my first Disney movie. “Dumbo” inspired me to want to work in the world of Animation/VFX, and in films in general.
Which area of 3D animation and VFX has been your focus since graduating?
Since completing the 1 Year Animation program, my focus has been in Effects Animation.
Which films or projects most proud of, and why?
Out of all the films I’ve worked on so far, I think I would have to say that I’m most proud of the work I did on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
still from “Suicide Squad”
If you take a look at this still from “Suicide Squad,” I was tasked to do all the tracer hits, so all the sparks/debris/smoke.
still from “Fantastic Beasts”
For the still from the final trailer of “Fantastic Beasts,” I was tasked to break the crate when it hit the Occamy, and added in splinters.
When you’re working on the FX for a film, who are you typically collaborating with?
I collaborate the most with my lead/leads and other FX artists on the film. We do also have daily review sessions with our FX Supervisors who give us feedback on the shot/shots we are working on.
Would you say your experience at NYFA’s Animation School was useful in terms of the work you’re currently doing?
The tools I learned while at NYFA were a great introduction to what I’m currently doing.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Since finishing up on “Fantastic Beasts,” I’ve gone on to work on two other films, which I can’t really say anything about at the moment.
The new term is well underway, and the incoming Spring Broadcast Journalism class will soon be here. Before we look to the future, we thought we’d highlight more of our successful Broadcast Journalism alumni.
NYFA Broadcast Journalism grad Nour Idriss is still working at CBS News, but now she has two jobs… She continues to be part of the production team for The CBS Evening News Weekend Edition.
“I produce and edit VO’s and teases, and some packages by myself. I also oversee the headlines and help with research and material gathering for other producers.” During the week, she is over on the digital side at CBS.com as a freelance Associate Producer for video. “Basically I publish CBS content on the web, using a variety of software.”
Regular readers will recall some of the stories we featured when Yasmine Muffoletto was a NYFA student. After graduation back in May, she returned to France and a job at Vice Media. Here is the latest from her…
“I recently joined the VICELAND production team and am no longer with Vice Digital. I also want to thank you once again for everything you taught me. I would not be at Vice anymore if I didn’t know how to edit or even write a script. Those long hours in the edit room actually paid off.”
We heard from Summer Session grad Starla Sampaco as well.
“I just wrapped up an internship at KING 5 (Seattle’s NBC affiliate station) and am about to move to Olympia, Washington for a full-time internship at TVW (Washington state’s version of C-SPAN) during the legislative session. My internship will require me to do on-air reporting, write scripts and interview legislators. I would not have had the skills necessary for this role if it weren’t for NYFA.”
Finally, last week we featured Francielle Maines’ marvelous “summer in the city” story, with one of the most remarkable “stand-ups” I have ever seen. (That’s a street dancer flying over Francielle in City Hall Park in New York City.)
Well, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Francielle was there as part of a production team. (Who do you think shot the video?) That team included Barbara Makarevich, who for two years hosted a TV talk show in her hometown of Moscow. Barbara has now moved to another famously cold city — Chicago — where she is working on a Masters Degree in Journalism at DePaul University.
Francielle wrote: “Had a great time studying at the NYFA. This was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned a lot! Remember that hot day, Barbara?” Who responded:”Sure, I don’t forget things like this. You really did a great job, and I was glad to be a part of your team!”
A number of Broadcast Journalism graduates from the New York Film Academy got in touch with Chair Bill Einreinhofer over the holidays, to inform him of some of the success they’ve achieved in 2016. Below are just a few of the graduates who have gone on to begin their careers in the industry.
Cameron Costa started a new job just days before she graduated from the September 12-week Evening Broadcast Journalism Workshop. Costa’s hard work got her a job on the CNBC show Squawk Box. She reports for work 4:30 am weekday mornings at the NASDAQ Stock Exchange here in Manhattan, and helps produce the leading cable business news morning program in the United States. In fact, the program is seen globally as well on CNBC International. Congratulations, Cameron!
Francielle Maines, a Summer Session graduate from Brazil, is now working a video editor at Record TV in her home town of Santa Catarina. She has been assigned to a wide range of projects, and we have no doubt she is doing remarkable work. We will always remember her for the fabulous story she did on a sultry August afternoon about dancers in City Hall Park, not far from NYFA’s Battery Place campus. (Don’t miss her remarkable stand-up, at :44 into the story.)
Laura Isern is also from Brazil. She attended the September 2016 4-week Broadcast Journalism workshop. Just before the Christmas holiday, she told me that she was hired as a Journalism Intern at media giant Globo. (Globo dominates the media scene in Brazil, across print, broadcast, cable and digital media platforms.) “During my interview, it was clear that my experience at NYFA was the one thing they liked the most about my curriculum,” said Isern. “I’ll be writing articles, but mainly, I’ll be practicing my audiovisual skills, producing content for their social networks.”
The first class Einreinhofer taught at NYFA when he became the Chair of the Broadcast Journalism department was the 12-week Evening course, and one of the graduates from that first class was Linda Zhang. Born in China, she moved to New York as a teenager. Bilingual and bi-cultural, she is a talented reporter. Last year she joined the news staff of KION in Salinas, California. While the Central Coast is generally considered a small TV market, Linda is right next door to Los Angeles, the #2 market in the country.
Congratulations to all of our graduates! We wish them much success as they continue represent the Academy all over the world.
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.
From November 28 through December 4 YouTube hosted “Russian Cinema Week.” During that period more than 200 Russian films were available in to watch in full. To launch that project Google has partnered with multiple production companies and distributors.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the list of featured movies included the Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning film “Leviathan,” Timur Bekmambetov-produced, New Year’s themed franchise “Yolki” (Christmas Trees) and one of Russia’s all-time box-office champions a Nikolai Lebedev’s hockey biopic “Legenda Nomer 17” (Legend No. 17).
NYFA is pleased to announce that the short film, “Suka” — created and produced by New York Film Academy alumni, producer Maria Rogotskaya and director Cyril Zima — was chosen to be a part of the short selection of the site. It is now the film with the most views!
“Suka” previously won Best Foreign Film Award at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival and was renowned at many others film festivals including San Jose, BUSHO, and Sapporo Short Fest.
producer Maria Rogotskaya and director Cyril Zima
Rogotskaya and Zima are currently working on a feature noir / Sci-Fi thriller called “Charon,” which takes place in present-day Los Angeles. As a former crime journalist, Zima uses his huge investigating experience to work on the story development. Without giving away any spoilers, the film is a very deep physiological drama.
“When Maria and I came to NYFA to obtain our Master’s Degree, we already had a solid background in the field, but we had no experience working in Hollywood. NYFA was a good transition; we obtained a lot of practical experience and met a lot of collaborators who we continue to work with after graduation,” said Zima.
Victor Okoye Frank came to the New York Film Academy from Nigeria to further pursue his passion for storytelling. “After college and research, I knew there was no better place to learn the precious art of storytelling than the prestigious New York Film Academy,” said Frank.
His first semester in the 1-Year Filmmaking Conservatory has been selected into a couple of festivals and won six awards including two from “My Rode Reel,” a competition that included over 1,500 submitted films from around the world. Recently, “Purpose” was nominated for Best Short Documentary and Best Director in a Documentary Award at the New York Short Film Awards (SOFI). The winners will be announced in December.
“I was thrilled to receive the announcement from Rode,” said Frank. “Being such a big company and having over 1,500 movies to sort through — mine came in the top 2 in the Judges’ best films. Also, from the SOFI awards, I’m hopeful for the best overall film, but I will find out in the coming month.”
“Purpose” is a personal film, not just of his story, but of countless people around the globe who struggle through daily activities, doing things that barely make them happy. “It’s a story of hope and of a revelation that ultimate happiness can be found in doing what you love, and there’s no better time to get to it than now,” the director says.
“I remember discussing the movie with my directing teacher [at NYFA],” Frank recalled. “He gave me tips of how to propel the story. Overall, my training at NYFA gave me a good boost toward perfecting the film.”
Frank is currently in pre-production on his first feature film “365.” He also runs a vlog about filmmaking, “Fourth Film,” which he says he attributes to the knowledge he received from NYFA.