Before he unexpectedly passed away last summer, New York Film Academy (NYFA) 1-Year Screenwriting conservatory and BFA Acting for Film alum Elan Vega lit up the lives of everyone around him, especially his NYFA classmates. His positivity, hard work, and commitment to the arts now lives on through NYFA’s Elan Vega Award, and it was no surprise that the award’s first recipient was NYFA 1-Year Filmmaking conservatory student and BFA Acting for Film grad Michael Johnson.
Both Johnson and Vega graduated from the BFA Acting for Film program at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. Both alumni also sought to expand their artistic talents into other avenues; in Spring 2019, Johnson enrolled in NYFA-LA’s 1-Year Filmmaking conservatory while Vega began studying in the 1-Year Screenwriting conservatory. Vega was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who had a huge heart and who personified service, perseverance, and passion. Johnson is also a military veteran, having served in the US Army, and shares these same virtues, making him the perfect choice to receive the inaugural Elan Vega Award.
NYFA alum and Elan Vega Award recipient Michael Johnson
The award will be distributed each semester by New York Film Academy in Vega’s honor to students that embody Vega’s kindness, selflessness, and thoughtfulness, students who have demonstrated the desire to help their fellow artists whenever and wherever needed, as Vega had done so many times. Vega loved the process of storytelling, our community, and the friends he made at NYFA, and elevated both his classmates and his program with his enduring attitude.
To that end, the Elan Vega Award includes both a beautifully-crafted plaque and a financial grant to help recipients further their studies and artistic pursuits. Johnson received the award in February in a ceremony attended by, among other NYFA senior faculty, actor and NYFA Master Class instructor Matthew Modine.
Michael Johnson receiving the Elan Vega Award with senior NYFA faculty
Like Vega, Johnson is beloved by his peers in the NYFA community, as well as his instructors and other faculty and administration. While the tragic passing of Vega will never be forgotten, his spirit living on through his friends and through future graduates of NYFA who embody that spirit is something to celebrate. Friends and classmates of both Vega and Johnson were glad to see Vega’s memory honored by Johnson, who gave a heartfelt acceptance speech at the award ceremony.
New York Film Academy congratulates 1-Year Filmmaking conservatory and BFA Acting for Film grad Michael Johnson on receiving the inaugural Elan Vega Award and honoring the spirit of NYFA alum Elan Vega.
NYFA alum and Elan Vega Award recipient Michael Johnson
Tayla Schaffner, graduate of the New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA in Acting for Film program, has been turning heads with her thesis film When It Rains, which has been steadily winning awards since its debut.
Schaffner originally hails from Johannesburg, South Africa, where she first auditioned for NYFA Associate Director of Recruitment Blake Babbitt. “She immediately stuck me as incredibly talented, professional, and driven,” says Babbitt of their first meeting. “I’ve been fortunate to get to know Tayla as a person during her studies at NYFA and we’ve kept in touch since her graduation from our BFA Acting for Film program. It’s inspiring to see Tayla’s growth as an artist.”
After getting her feet wet in her school’s drama club, Schaffner left her home country and headed to study at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. Through the course of her BFA studies, she was cast in a total of 17 student-directed films and an Off-Broadway production of Antigone by Sophocles in which she played the lead at the Majorie S. Theater in Times Square, New York.
“I believe my time at NYFA shaped me into an on-the-spot thinker,” says Schaffner. “It taught me to take exactly what I have, and work with it. There is no point in fussing over what you don’t have.”
Her hard work came to fruition with When It Rains, her short film about a woman named Lila who discovers she has cancer for the second time. Apart from playing the lead, the film was also written and produced by Tayla as part of her final thesis project for her Bachelor in Fine Arts.
The film has gone on to win several nominations and awards, including:
Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival – Winner – Best Drama Short
Best Shorts Competition – Winner – Award of Recognition
Los Angeles Film Awards – Honorable Mention – Student Film
United International Film Festival – Winner – Award of Merit
The IndieFEST Film Awards – Winner – Award of Recognition
Los Angeles Movie Awards – Honorable Mention
Los Angeles Cinefest – Semifinalist
Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards – Semifinalist
Taking time to reflect on her achievements and never forgetting her roots, Schaffner shares a very important message to her fellow South Africans back home: “Anything is possible if you just believe. The opportunities are endless.”
New York Film Academy congratulates BFA Acting for Film alum Tayla Schaffner on the success of her film When It Rains and looks forward to seeing her future successes!
Connor Williams has truly hit the ground running in Los Angeles, not only booking a lot of professional work as an actor but also keeping up with his studies in the intensive New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA program in Acting for Film. It’s a schedule that would certainly prove challenging for anyone, yet Williams shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
With his strong supporting role in feature horror flick Happy Hunting newly released on Netflix — along with his supporting role in indie feature The UnMiracle — Williams found some time to tell the NYFA Blog some of the secrets behind the hard work, dedication, and talent that go into the blistering pace of his life in acting for film.
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film BFA program?
CW: I had made a feature film heading into my senior year of high school. Relativity Film School reached out to me and offered me a full tuition scholarship, which was great, but I turned it down. I was just really unsure what I wanted to do after high school, and college was not in the plans. I then informed my parents of my plan that I was going to work full time in Utah (where my agent was located) and audition for smaller parts when movies came to town. They thought maybe I was making a mistake, so they asked me to reconsider. I called the school back about two weeks later to see if the scholarship was still good. They said it was, but in the meantime I had a buddy that was in my feature film Spoilers move to LA, and his place was right across the street from NYFA. I looked into NYFA, filled out the app, sent them my reel, and overall just had a better vibe with everyone at NYFA, so I decided to go there.
NYFA: Why acting? What inspired you to pursue this craft?
CW: I booked a commercial as a baby. …When I watched the videotape of the commercial years later, I told my parents I always wanted to be a actor. My dad did some networking, and two weeks later I had booked a part in a feature film. I was two-for-two for auditions! …
When I was 10 years old, my dad realized he was waiting for people to do projects, so he paid for a two-day film camp. My brother Aidan and I learned how to shoot, light, boom, and edit. My dad would write these two-minute scripts for us, and we would do the rest. We won some awards, money, and prizes, which kept us motivated. From then on, I knew I wanted to make movies or act.
NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments or classes from your time studying with us so far?
CW: The very first semester our class was obviously all new, and we rented a limo bus and took it around LA. That was fun. And I really enjoyed shooting an episode from Friends [in class]. Not only is it my favorite show, but I also worked with Isabella Hoffman, who is a great director, and did this with a bunch of my NYFA friends. It was a real fun shoot.
Regarding moments, I have really clicked with a couple of teachers that really care about my auditions and want to help and guide me. That’s been pretty cool. We will break down the sides and make choices.
I’ve always lived with NYFA students and it’s been great meeting people from all across the U.S. and abroad. I just got done with my voice-over class and just made a VO reel, which I’m really happy with.
One other thing about NYFA classes: before I came here I had never taken an acting class, so this has really helped me understand the process so much better.
My favorite thing about NYFA is all the connections I’m making. My classmates will always be my friends forever. I actually call them family.
NYFA: You’ve been working professionally while also balancing your full-time studies at NYFA Los Angeles. What does that look like for you?
CW: … At the beginning I would get an audition and go. Now, my manager and agent have my schedule and I ask them not to schedule an audition during class time. I can’t afford to miss class for an audition. You only get so many missed days and then your grade is dropped. I need to save those days for when I book something.
NYFA: What is your advice to your fellow students for finding a balance between the intensive schedule at NYFA, and beginning to build your resume in the wider industry?
CW: I would do the opposite of me. Just come here, do your school work, get involved, and learn the craft. The gigs will be there when you graduate.
I would suggest that on the days off, go do background work on film and television. While on those sets, watch and listen, and when you go back to NYFA it will make a little bit more sense. Take it slow.
Just by coming here, you will have an awesome reel before you leave. The talent here is crazy. Your game will go up just by being here.
NYFA: Tell us a bit about your work in Happy Hunting. How did that project come about for you, and what was that experience like?
CW: It was weird how fast that happened. I drove in from Idaho and had an audition set up for Happy Hunting through Actors Access. We get to LA with the car jam packed with all my junk, and we don’t have time to go to my new apartment and chill. We went straight to the audition. I remember thinking, “This traffic is insane and I really wish I had time to clean up and not so be rushed!”
So I go in there, sign in and take a seat, and I really wanted to focus. Right when I sat, they call me in. I do my lines and they ask me to do it again. To me, that’s always a good sign. I leave the room tell my parents it went great, they remind me this is LA, not Idaho or Utah, and not to stress about it.
We were finally driving to my new apartment and my phone rings. It was the Happy Hunting gang and they asked if I would turn around and read for a bigger part. I did, and I got the gig!
I’m not sure what the record is but I feel like I have it: I was literally in LA less than 10 minutes before I booked my first feature film! We shot in Barstow and the Salton Sea. My part shot for nine days. What I didn’t know at the time was that the co-writer/director is Mel Gibson’s son, Louie. He just wanted to be one of the guys. I respect him for that.
NYFA: Happy Hunting has just released on Netflix — congrats! How does that feel?
CW: It feels pretty awesome. …
The UnMiracle with Kevin Sorbo and Stephen Baldwin is also on Netflix. I got that part by skyping my audition and a callback from my bedroom in Idaho, and we shot that in Chicago. I actually shot that while in high school, but it was held up for whatever reason and got released about six months ago.
NYFA: What have you learned that has surprised you the most in your NYFA studies?
CW: First off, the teachers care about us. They want us to succeed. I have a teacher that helps me all the time with my auditions. It’s intensive but fun.
NYFA: Are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?
CW: The feature film Regionrat, where I play the lead, is now hitting the festival circuit. So far so good, as we just won the Chandler Film Festival for Best Feature! I flew out there for that. It has also won Best Feature at Barcelona Planet Film Festival, Festigious Film Festival and Best Ensemble at Festigious.
NYFA: What’s next for you?
CW: With Regionrat I have won Best Actor at the London Independent Film Awards, Festigious Film Festival and Stars Hollywood Film Festival. I was up for a fourth but didn’t win.
I’m also up for Breakout Performer and Best Actor in a Feature at the First Glance Film Festival. Regionrat plays at that festival March 10 at 8 p.m. in North Hollywood. I guess I’m seeing what happens to me and this film … but I really think 2018 is going to be a great year for me.
Congratulations, Connor! Thank you for sharing some of your story with the NYFA Blog.
NYFA Alumnus (Actor/Producer) Jesse Kove, along with (Director/Writer/Producer) Richard Zelniker, and other cast members Luke Baines, & Myko Olivier, all from the Upcoming Feature Film “AS NIGHT COMES”.
On Tuesday, November 4th, New York Film Academy Alumnus (Actor/Producer) Jesse Kove, along with (Director/Writer/Producer) Richard Zelniker, and other cast members Luke Baines and Myko Olivier, all from the Upcoming Feature Film, As Night Comes, visited the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles branch to screen their film and participate in a Q&A with BFA Acting, MFA Acting, BFA Filmmaking, and other degree and short term program students. The film follows a troubled 17-year-old Sean Holloway as he falls in with a group of teenage outcasts called ‘The Misfits,’ whose charismatic leader, Ricky, takes him under his wing. As Sean becomes more and more entangled in the gang’s anarchist ways, things begin to spiral out of control, and Sean realizes Ricky is a ticking time bomb on a rampage of revenge.
During the Q&A, NYFA alumnus and co-star/producer Jesse Kove talked about the types of obstacles the crew and cast encountered during production and how they overcame them to produce such a solid product. As anyone who has ever attempted to make a film knows, it’s not an easy task–add a large ensemble cast, plenty of action, multiple locations, and top notch costume and production design and the odds are stacked almost completely against you. However, it was clear that all parties involved in the making of AS NIGHT COMES embody the “no matter what” mentality required to do this type of impossible. Not only that, but what they did was darn good too.
New York Film Academy Los Angeles September 2012 MFA and AFA Film Graduates gathered at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood, California dressed in cap and gown and walked on stage to receive their diplomas. Art Helterbran (Chair of the Filmmaking Department), Mike Civille (Dean of Academic Advising), Adam Finer (Chair of Industry Outreach and Professional Development), and Eric Conner (Dean of Students) spoke to the graduates, offering moving words of encouragement for the future. The Commencement Speaker, Harley Peyton (Producer and writer for television shows Twin Peaks and Dracula and feature films Bandits and Friends with Benefits), inspired the graduates with very practical advice for navigating the entertainment industry. Mr. Peyton was extremely surprised and touched when Eric Conner presented him with an Honorary MFA Degree in Producing from the New York Film Academy. Graduates and their family and friends assembled at Bugatta Supper Club afterwards for a fun celebration.
BFA, AFA, and MA Filmmaking and Acting Graduation in Los Angeles
NYFA graduates from the September 2012 BFA Film and Acting, September 2012 MA Film, and March 2013 AFA Acting programs received their degrees during an exciting commencement ceremony at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood California. Dan Mackler (NYFA Los Angeles Director), Lynda Goodfriend (Acting Department Chair), Art Helterbran (Filmmaking Department Chair), and Adam Finer (Chair of Industry Outreach and Professional Development) presided on stage and spoke to the graduates, reminiscing of their time together and encouraging them to pursue their future careers with as much enthusiasm as they did their degrees. The Commencement Speaker, Yuri Lowenthal (one of the most prolific voice over actors in Hollywood and the voice of famed cartoon character Ben Ten), gave a rousing and entertaining address to graduates about the importance of constantly producing work and always finishing what you started. Family and friends in attendance erupted in applause and cheers when degrees were officially conferred upon the graduates and they threw their caps in the air.
Master of Arts Filmmaking Degrees Conferred Upon NYFA Graduates
On a beautiful day in Hollywood, California, NYFA Los AngelesMaster of Arts Film graduates sharply dressed in cap and gown, walked the stage at the Harmony Gold Theater and received their diplomas in front of an audience of proud family and friends looking on. Dan Mackler (NYFA Los Angeles Director), Eric Conner (Dean of Students), Mike Civille (Dean of Academic Advising), Adam Finer (Chair of Industry Outreach and Professional Development), and Louis Fantasia (Dean of Faculty) were in attendance and addressed the graduates, congratulating them on their significant accomplishment and giving sage advice for the future. The Commencement Speaker, Maureen Milligan (who has produced for television shows such as One Tree Hill, Reign, and Eastbound and Down), spoke to the graduates about the importance of pursuing work that incites a spark of inspiration inside them, which coined as “alchemy.” Congratulations to these New York Film Academy Master of Arts Film graduates and the best of luck pursuing your dreams!