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  • Screenwriting Grad’s “Business” to Screen at Cannes Cinéfondation

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    businessFor those of us in the film industry, the month of May has always been synonymous with the Cannes International Film Festival. This year’s festival, the 69th since its inception, will run from May 11-22nd, with Woody Allen’s Café Society being its opening film.

    In more recent years, part of the prestigious festival is the Cinéfondation, which selects some of the best short films from young filmmakers around the country. This highly competitive competition is often the goal of many of our students and graduates. This year, the New York Film Academy proudly recognizes Malena Vain, who studied at our 8-Week Screenwriting Workshop in 2014. Vain’s short film, Business, is an official selection in the Cinéfondation.

    The Short Films Jury—presided over by Japanese director and writer Naomi Kawase, as well as Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Marie Larrieu, Radu Muntean and Santiago Loza—will be awarding prizes for three of the 18 student films shown as part of the Cinéfondation selection. The jury must also name the Short Film Palme d’or winner from among the 10 “In Competition” films selected. This will be awarded at the closing ceremony of the “69th Festival de Cannes” on Sunday, May 22nd.

    We had the opportunity to ask Ms. Vain a few questions about her and Business before she heads off to Cannes.

    Can you tell us a little bit about your film, Business — what is about?

    A girl, alongside her guitar, reunites with her father in a hotel room. He’s a business man on a visit to Argentina, the country he once called home. She’s back from playing at a concert. Night falls between those four white walls, until the sun rises again.

    Where did the idea for this film derive from?

    It was slowly cooking for a couple of years. I first saw a site-specific type of a play called “Showcase,” by Richard Maxwell, which was staged in an actual hotel room. You were literally told to enter the room and sit there, while a man would perform the play. From then on, I was instantly attracted to the feeling of the hotel room, and its potential to create stories. These rooms are set in a way to make you feel comfortable, warm and safe, but in reality they’re also really impersonal and empty spaces. However, in a way, those places make you feel like nothing but who you are. The world is fast and chaotic outside, but inside the hotel room, time stops for you.

    Once I got this straight, I also had two characters I wanted to explore. I thought it would be interesting to make them meet in this type of space, after a long time.

    BUSINESS (2016) – TRAILER from Malena Vain on Vimeo.
    Would you say your experience at NYFA was useful in terms of writing and directing this film?

    Yes, for sure. My screenwriting skills definitely improved at NYFA. I had never had such intensive writing workshops or full knowledge of classical structures to generate conflicts and transform characters. It’s not easy. At first, you are really conscious of these tools and try hard to follow the rules, but then you let go and just write. Ben Maraniss, one of my teachers at NYFA, would ask us to write twenty pages in two or three days — it sounded impossible, but it really isn’t. As Kate Kirtz used to say, when you have a deadline there is no time for creative blocking. Eventually you incorporate what you learn in class and don’t feel so stressed out about finishing a script. If you keep your enthusiasm up, you will write something you can be proud of—even though you’ll always find mistakes—because you’re human and creativity is never perfect (and it shouldn’t). I’m also trying to refresh the pitching skills I learned with Nick Yellen, since I’m only two weeks away from Cannes Film Festival, those could be really useful now!

    Is your feature screenplay related to this film or another idea?

    Not really. However, I’d say they have similar topics in common. I’m really interested in distance between humans, and all problems regarding communication to bond with someone, especially in a time where our virtual selves are so present and our real selves are so concerned about our virtual selves. It’s hard to connect to what you really feel and what you really want. In my screenplays the question usually is: “Who would you like to share your time with?”

    I’m also fascinated about cities, and that love-hate relationship you have with the place you live in. My NYFA script was set in New York, and the city played an important role to make the story move forward, even with the obstacles. Business, even though it’s mainly about a father-daughter relationship in contemporary life, also talks about life in my hometown, Buenos Aires.

    Business will be screening on Friday, May 20 at 11:00a.m. (Cinéfondation programme 4) in Buñuel Theatre on the 5th floor of the Palais des Festivals.

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  • Composer Daniel Wohl Joins NYFA Screenwriting Class

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    daniel wohlOn January 13, 2015, composer Daniel Wohl sat down with New York Film Academy’s Business of Screenwriting class to offer up his unique perspective on how he broke into the entertainment business as a composer, and what he looks for when he’s designing the music for his film projects.

    “I didn’t go to school for film composing, I just went for composing generally,” Wohl explained. That he did…Wohl holds a BFA from Bard College, an MFA from the University of Michigan, and is in the process of getting his Doctorate in Music Composition from Yale University, an honor awarded to only a few musicians a year. His academic background in music theory and technique is vast.

    “I knew I wanted to make my own albums,” Wohl stated, “but I always have had a strong interest in writing music for film, TV and other forms of entertainment and being a part of the storytelling process. It’s something I’ve really grown to love.”

    Wohl’s 2013 debut album, the New Amsterdam Records’ Corps Exquis, a multi-media, chamber and electronics project created in conjunction with the TRANSIT new music ensemble and a collective of New York-based video artists, was hailed by the New York Times, Pitchfork and many others, and earned Wohl a coveted spot on NPR’s Top 100 Songs of the Year.

    Wohl also makes a living off commissions and music grants, of which he’s been awarded many. “In some ways, the music world is sort of the reverse of the visual arts world. Someone will commission you to write a piece, and then you get to make something, and it can be whatever you want it to be. In film, where, if you’re hired by a director, producers or studio execs, they have a real say over what your music turns out to be. The music world isn’t like that as much. That’s one of the freeing things about the professional music community, they really trust their artists and let them — encourage them really — to do their best work as they see it.”

    More recently, Wohl has become involved in the world of film composing, working on some impressive projects. He was the composer on The Color of Time, starring Mila Kunis, and Jessica Chastain, a poetic road trip through Pulitzer-Prize winning C.K. Williams’ life.  He also composed the music for the surreal drama Elixir, a film by Brodie Higgs, which recently premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, and The Fly Room, which was an official selection at the 2014 Woodstock Film Festival.

    Wohl explained that he’s basically “the third to last person to work on the film.” “It’s a close collaboration with the director. You usually have about six weeks to write the music. Sometimes, the director will give you a ‘temp track’, so you know sort of the tone they’re going for, but it’s really about figuring out what the director wants. All directors know what they don’t want and what they don’t like, but not all know what they want — until they hear it,” Wohl explained. “It’s part of my work to help get them there.”

    the color of time

    “The Color of Time”

    Wohl will often watch an early cut of the movie and/or read the script when he’s preparing to craft the musical tracks that will become the melodic pulse of the film.”The story and the music are intricately linked.” Wohl played selections from the recent films he scored, allowing the students to see some of his finished products.

    “Music definitely helps tell the story, and cue the audience into how to feel. Sometimes, it can save a scene, and deliver meaning that really isn’t obvious without the music. I definitely look for those moments of emotional catharsis and shift in the storytelling, so that the music works with the story seamlessly.” Wohl explained how on some projects the director might want a musical theme for each main character, and how his background in musical composition really helps generally.  “Films, like music, have a real rhythm, and you definitely have to listen for that. Even if you’re not an expert on a given style — say jazz — you may still have to write something in that style to go with intrinsic rhythm and mood of the scene.”

    Wohl has received support from grants including New Music USA, Meet the Composer/Commissioning Music USA, the American Composers Forum / Jerome Foundation, C.A.P, the Barlow Endowment, MET Life Creative Connections, and the Brooklyn Arts Council, amongst many others.

    His music has been heard at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Webster Hall,  Dia Beacon, Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center, Mass MoCA, Disney Hall’s REDCAT, the Chelsea Art Museum, MoMA, Arsenal de Metz (France), Warhol Museum, as well as over media outlets such as NPR, PBS, WQXR, CANAL +, TFI and FRANCE 2.

    Wohl is also passionate about bringing music to younger artists and has taught courses in composition, orchestration, and theory at Sarah Lawrence College and at Yale, and — in addition to NYFA — has given talks at NYU, Brooklyn College, Juilliard (evening division), and Amherst College.

    More info on Daniel Wohl can be found at his website www.danielwohlmusic.com. Born and raised outside Paris, France, Daniel Wohl currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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    February 17, 2015 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4586

  • Marketing Exec Josh Jacobs Joins Business of Screenwriting Class

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    Josh JacobsOn August 19th, marketing executive Josh Jacobs joined New York Film Academy’s Business of Screenwriting class to talk about classical and emerging forms of movie and television marketing. Jacobs held posts at CBS Films and FX before landing his current gig as the Director of Digital Marketing and Media at Game Show Network.

    One of Marvel’s first interns — back when they were just a small operation in 2001 — Jacobs shared his early career stories as a floater working at Artisan Entertainment, ultimately getting placed in their Film Acquisitions department (NOTE: Artisan was later bought by Lionsgate). “In Acquisitions, you occasionally watch some good movies but also endure a lot of bad ones,”Jacobs explained, before launching into a humorous story about one such bad film that was basically a naked man in a bathtub yelling at the camera. Jacobs had many unique experiences in his early years. He worked for actor/producer Billy Baldwin, who he said was a really nice guy, and where he learned a lot about indie filmmaking and independent producing. But it was on a stint working for writer/producer Dean Devlin that Jacobs first got to be a part of the marketing and distribution process. He also remembered the massive promotional campaign working on Flyboys, where they brought in small propeller planes to show entertainment journalists to get them buzzing about the film.

    After a series of jobs in film development working at production companies, however, Jacobs tired of working on projects that rarely got off the ground. It was then that he decided to switch full-time into advertising and marketing. “I love to work on campaigns that I know that people are going to actually see. I love tackling a difficult marketing problem and solving it. Marketing is like a creative puzzle.”

    Jacobs shared one of his proudest accomplishments on a unique marketing strategy for the horror film The Woman in Black for CBS Films, starring Daniel Radcliffe. “You know when you’re just sitting in a movie theater, before the movie or trailers start and generic pre-show ads are on the screen? We wanted to do something different there.”

    Jacobs then explained how he came up with the concept of a video where it would appear that the audience was being filmed in the theater and their images were projected up on screen. As people saw what looked like themselves on screen and gazed around confused, so too would the people in the video. The camera would slowly zoom in on a baffled couple and from behind a scary looking woman – the Woman in Black – would suddenly jump out! AHH! “She screamed so loudly, there was no way people didn’t look up at the screen at that moment– and even if they missed the ad, it was still just in time to see our title treatment on the big screen and spark curiosity.”

    Jacobs shared digital postcards he conceptualized for the FX show Wilfred, starring Elijah Wood, as well as explained the different forms of marketing, from A/V to print, as well as the digital and social spheres. And as we wrapped up, Jacobs closed by offering the students the most important advice he could give, amassed over his years working in the entertainment business.

    “Look, it’s a tough business out there. People will tell you ‘no’. They’ll disagree with your ideas and you’ll have to make compromises. But, and this is something it took me a long time to realize – it’s okay to ask “why” when someone has notes or constructively criticizes your ideas as there’s usually a good reason. And once you understand why they don’t see something the way that you do, you’ll know how to expand on the idea and solve the puzzle.”

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    September 8, 2014 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 6749

  • What Would You Bring to the New York Film Academy Café?

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    NYFA Cafe

    We at the New York Film Academy understand that creativity works in many forms. As such, we’ve decided to open up the brainstorming of the new New York Film Academy café in New York City to the world. Located on the busy corner of Lexington Ave. and 24th street, NYFA has ambitious hopes for what could become of the café. However, we realize that we may not have all the answers, and so we’re reaching out to you.

    If you’re an avid “foodie” with experience in the industry and have a great idea for a unique café, this could be a wonderful opportunity for you to launch your very own creation. Perhaps you have the next “Cronut” or “Ramen Burger.”

    If so, please email your resume to cafe@nyfa.edu along with a cover letter that expresses your creativity, unique café idea, and describes a signature dish you would bring to the NYFA Café. If we’re interested in your submission, we will be in touch to discuss it further.

    Best of luck. We look forward to reading your entries!

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    August 26, 2014 • Community Highlights, Contests • Views: 5117

  • Producer John Zaozirny Joins Business of Screenwriting Class

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    John ZaozirnyOn August 5th, film and TV producer John Zaozirny sat down with New York Film Academy’s Business of Screenwriting class to discuss advice he could offer writers, tips on breaking into the business, and his own perspective on what it takes to succeed.

    Zaozirny spoke first of his early days interning at Miramax, while still a student in Manhattan, and then later at Village Roadshow Pictures in Los Angeles. “I’m Canadian, so I knew the challenges facing foreigners looking to break into Hollywood”, Zaozirny shared. “My goal was to beef up my resume as much as I could early on, so I’d have a real shot. Internships also gave me a network, which helped put me on a path towards eventually getting a job…”

    That first opportunity came when Zaozirny landed a development desk working for the President of Production at Appian Way, Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company. “One of the most important things I learnt working at a star-driven company is that so many movies get made simply because movie stars want to be in them,” Zaozirny explained. “That’s the difference between a movie in theaters and a script sitting on the shelf. So, write a script that a star actually wants to star in. Make your protagonist, love interest, and antagonist’s roles as dynamic and interesting as you can.”

    After Appian Way, John went on to work for screenwriter Andrew Marlowe (AIR FORCE ONE, HOLLOW MAN), and illuminated students on the responsibilities of being a screenwriter’s assistant — including doing copious research, proofreading, and also being a fly on the wall to the creative process. “It was a rare, invaluable experience, which I’ll always be grateful for.” From there, Zaozirny landed as a writer’s assistant on ABC’s Castle and explained to students the different ways one can break into TV, as he sees it. He also shared what a writer’s assistant does day-in and day-out and the fast-paced reality of working on a network TV procedural.

    In 2010, Zaozirny launched his own production company, Bellevue Productions, after realizing he was growing more interested in producing than writing. “As a writer, you should be churning out three new pieces of material a year. I realized I wasn’t doing that, but I also had far more ideas than three that I wanted to be a part of and build from the ground up.” It was a smart bet. Since then, Bellevue has set up numerous projects at the studios, including Cristo at Warner Bros., Capsule at Fox, and Warden and New Line Cinema, as well as numerous other projects with financiers. Bellevue also got its first movie made last year, a found-footage horror movie entitled The Operator, which is currently in post-production.

    These days, Zaozirny continues to develop projects from the ground-up, working collaboratively with established and up-and-coming writers helping crack their stories in the room. After discussing this creative process, Zaozirny closed by emphasizing the most important element he looks for when beginning the journey with a new piece of material — “Concept”, Zaozirny proclaimed, “is honestly most of the battle. Having a great concept with a fascinating protagonist that offers maximum conflict — given the idea. You have to remember no one gets in trouble for saying no, for passing, so you need to have a piece of material that’s conceptually undeniable.”

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    August 12, 2014 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 6126

  • Abe Altman: Accountant to the Stars

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    Abe Altman

    Abe Altman at NYFA Union Square

    As Abe Altman greeted a packed house at the New York Film Academy’s Union Square screening room, he humbly admitted, “I’m an accountant, and usually the conversation ends there.” While the ice breaker may not work in most social settings, Abe assured the audience that his profession was much more exciting than it sounds. Abe was right.

    Having started out as a typical accountant, making a decent salary and supporting a family, Abe yearned for more in life. After several years of establishing himself as a reputable accountant at a standard firm, he thought it was time to branch out into something more exciting. Abe ended up landing a job with an accounting company that focused on entertainment clients. This provided a needed fulfillment, and Abe never looked back.

    After several years of working with clients from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and even Tom Cruise, Abe started his own firm. Now his company, “Altman, Greenfield, and Selvaggi,” is one of the most prominent entertainment accounting firms in New York City, with a branch in Los Angeles. His roster of clients include major talents like Sarah Jessica Parker, John Goodman, John Turturro, and many more. Abe understands the struggles of an actor and says, “As long as you’re an actor, I’ll take you on as a client.” Having witnessed firsthand the blossoming careers of many A-list actors, Abe understands the value of a struggling actor who is genuinely motivated.

    A rather interesting story that Abe shared with us, was when he offered his support for John Turturro, who finally raised funds to film a personal project called Mac. Abe was so excited for John, he was willing to help out on set in any fashion. He told John he would leave work at 3:00PM everyday, even if it meant serving coffee for his crew. A few weeks later, John reached out to Abe, only it wasn’t to serve coffee. Turturro felt Abe could play a small part in his film as a hardware store owner. Considering Abe was a business owner, John felt he was the only one who could truly grasp the role. And so Abe was cast in his first film. It didn’t stop there, however. Abe was recently cast as a rabbi in John Turturro’s upcoming film, Fading Gigolo, which stars Woody Allen, Liev Schreiber, and Sofia Vergara. Indeed his world of accounting was much more thrilling than the norm.

    Abe was a gracious host with an abundance of insightful “Hollywood business” knowledge. His advice for actors, and any person pursuing a career for that matter, was to “Keep moving forward and keep plugging away.” Abe is a true believer in the notion that if you know what you want to do in life, you can achieve that goal through patience and persistence.

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    October 17, 2013 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 16376

  • Producer Chris Brigham and His Road to "Inception"

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    Chris Brigham NYFAChris Brigham isn’t your typical “Hollywood” producer, which comes as a surprise, considering he produced global blockbusters such as Inception, The Aviator, and Analyze This. He doesn’t even live in Hollywood.“New York is a great place for a producer right now, especially with the tax breaks. There are more shows here now, which means more jobs.” Aspiring filmmakers looking to develop stories, however, should still consider Los Angeles. Everyone’s path will be different. It’s up to each individual to recognize which is one’s true calling.“Not everyone will have the chops for this business.”

    As the guest speaker for our Q&A on Thursday, Chris shared with us his journey from a P.A. in New York to the Hollywood powerhouse he is today. Hustling his way to the top, there was much to be learned in terms of film production. Most importantly, he learned quite a bit about dealing with people, which is something he credits to the Teamsters.The motto? “Money talks. Bullshit walks.” New York is a ‘show me’ city where you have to back up what you’re saying. Chris realized his ability in handling people and their problems was a valuable skill in the industry. Soon he began finding steady work as a line producer.

    So what is a line producer? “It’s a critical job. You are the eyes and the ears managing the movie. Being a line producer demands entrepreneurial skills.”Highlighting some of the details of his job, one learns it’s not your typical 9 to 5. Being a freelance line producer requires a lot of travel, networking, and wisdom to find the right project. “It’s better to work on quality projects but it’s a lot of hard work.”

    His recommendation for filmmaking success? “Get your foot in the door. Make phone calls and start out as a P.A. on set.” Eventually you’ll build a reputation and, who knows, you may end up waking up one day with a call from Christopher Nolan’s team to work on Inception. Luck may play a part, however, this game is a foot-race and the last person standing is the one who makes it in this business. Whether it’s writing, directing, acting or producing, there are thousands of people trying to do the same thing you want to do. The key is not losing sight of your dreams.

    What about maintaining a family and some sort of normalcy? Chris recounted some of his struggles balancing career and family. He recalled a shoot in Montreal where he drove six hours to see his wife and kids on the weekends. Character is indispensable. It seems kindness, too, can pay off in a business with a bad reputation for its conceited personalities.

    Twitter was abuzz for Brigham’s appearance. Irrefutably, the most submitted question of the night was “Is film school worth it?” In response, Chris cited his very first film class in college learning about Fellini and Kurosawa. It sparked his passion for the craft. He encouraged our students to collaborate, build bonds, and sustain a network. In this industry, it’s crucial to meet the right people. Create a foundation for yourself. Film school is what you make of it.

    After the Q&A, Chris handled individual students with personal questions, ranging from “Can I meet Christopher Nolan?” to “How do I get my screenplay funded?” Chris stayed for a good 45 minutes afterwards, patiently handling questions and proving to us how integrity can go a long way.

    Chris Brigham Q&A at NYFA

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    March 5, 2012 • Producing • Views: 6635