• NYFA Screens Best Picture Winner ’12 Years A Slave’ with Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt

    Sean Bobbitt at NYFA LA

    Sean Bobbitt at NYFA LA

    A day after 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, New York Film Academy Los Angeles students were treated to a private screening of the film at Warner Brothers studios followed by a Q&A with Sean Bobbitt, the film’s acclaimed cinematographer (fresh from winning the Spirit award for his work the previous day).

    Sean Bobbitt is a British cinematographer, born in America, but grew up all over the world including England where his father was in the oil industry and worked abroad. He spent years working as a news and documentary cameraman before moving into narrative. He met Steve McQueen thirteen years ago when the director of 12 Years a Slave was doing art installations. After seeing Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland, Bobbitt’s first narrative feature, McQueen’s wife admired his work and encouraged McQueen to meet Bobbitt. During his first meeting with McQueen, Bobbitt recalls thinking the director was “Either an absolute genius or an absolute lunatic, but either way it was going to be interesting doing something with him.”

    Throughout the years, Sean Bobbitt and Steve McQueen have developed a potent cinematic language that is such a breath of fresh air. An example of this is their propensity for long takes. Regarding this, Bobbitt said, “I think a part of the reason it is so powerful is because of that simplicity. We’re not used to it anymore. We’re used to the edit, the edit, the edit, so when you walk away from that people really look at it because it’s unusual, it’s different. And I think by extending those shots, it draws people into the scene, hopefully.” In regards specifically to the long shot in 12 Years a Slave in which actress Lupita Nyong’o’s character gets relentlessly whipped Bobbit said, “What we think happens is by not putting an edit here, particularly in scene of extreme violence, the audience is pulled in further and further into the story. As soon as you put a cut in, they are subconsciously reminded that it’s a film and that they don’t need to be upset because it’s a film. If there’s no cut, there’s no escape.”

    Bobbitt discussed the thrill of exploring different techniques with different directors. Different from McQueen’s style, on “A Place Beyond the Pines” director Derek Cianfrance would run take after take and experiment with improve. “Derek is someone who you go into a scene and you just go at it. All handheld, thirty-five millimeter, two-perf, and we would literally just put another mag on a go and go. But he had a reason for that and a method to it that was so fascinating to watch,” Bobbitt said. “The actors were really able to explore the scene itself and come around to a performance.”

    After being asked about the sacred relationship between the cinematographer and director Bobbitt said, “From day one it has to do with personality. If you get on with a director and you see the same things, or you over time start to see the same things. It does take time and it takes effort from both people. It’s important as a cinematographer that you get as long of a pre-production period as you can. On average, if you do not have five weeks of pre-production with the director, you don’t have enough time. Because as you become closer to the (shoot) day, your access (to the director) becomes less and less. So you’ve got to come in with ideas.”

    A student asked Bobbitt what he looks for when choosing a project to work on, to which he said, “I have always been very choosy about the projects I’ve done. I have waited months, unemployed, for the right films. And I have designed my life so that I can go for months without an income. And I think that’s the key. Because you’re going to be giving your life, or you should be giving your life, to whatever film you’re going to be doing. So do the films you think are worth it, in any point in your career. The only caveat I would give to that is that in the early part of your career as a cinematographer, shoot anything. It’s about experience, and the only way you get experience as a cinematographer is by shooting. Nothing else.”

    Bobbitt said that he reads every script that he receives and that, “The first time I read it I don’t read it as a cinematographer. I just read it… thinking is this a good story? Did this move me in some way? Is this interesting, is this original, is there something here that’s worth the effort?”

    What was blatantly apparent during the Q&A was how extremely authentic Sean Bobbitt is. Clearly this permeates through his work and allows him to create such meaningful art. It was a pleasure to hear him speak and he offered sage advice to the audience who clung to his every word. A giant within his craft, Sean Bobbitt’s work has elevated the cinematic art form and his future is now brighter than ever.


    March 5, 2014 • Guest Speakers • Views: 7040

  • NYFA Grads Film ‘Deep Water’ in Alaska


    deep waters

    Two New York Film Academy graduates, Daniel Zagaevsky and Xiaolong Liu, teamed up and set out on a mission to film an ambitious project in Alaska. The short, Deep Water, was written and directed by Daniel Zagaevsky with Xiaolong on board as cinematographer. The film juxtaposes two completely different locations, New York City and the vast wilderness of Alaska.

    Deep Water was a big challenge; something that a lot of people thought would never happen,” said Daniel. “I had a chance to do something different for my film and I chose ‘The Last Frontier’ as a set for my story – Alaska”

    Daniel contacted Xiaolong Liu three weeks before the first day of shooting Deep Water. He felt Liu was unafraid to stretch his creativity to make this film happen and that he had the right vision. Given the small crew size, a student budget, and the frigid cold environment, the two were in for quite a challenge.

    “Xiaolong is a very talented Director of Photography – full of resources and ideas – a hard-worker. Through technique and skill, he was capable of capturing the best images for the story.”

    The crew had to shoot in close quarters with an actual grizzly bear, on a fishing boat in the middle of rough seas, and with a crane in the middle of a glacier. Not exactly your typical student film set. Nevertheless, the crew triumphed through adversity to make this film a reality.

    Xiaolong Liu was also nominated for Best Cinematography at the La Jolla Fashion Film Festival and International Fashion Film Awards for his work on Anatomy of Gravity. Check it out!

    THE ANATOMY OF GRAVITY from arthurvalverde on Vimeo.



    November 26, 2013 • Cinematography, Film School, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 9021

  • Oscar-Winning Cinematographer and Veteran Actor Visit NYFA Students

    Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler speaks to students

    Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler speaks to students

    Haskell Wexler recently visited students at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. The 91-year-old cinematographer was named as one of the ten most influential cinematographers by the International Cinematographers Guild. In the course of his career, he lensed such seminal films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, In the Heat of the Night, American Graffiti, and The Thomas Crown Affair. He has been nominated for a total of 5 Oscars, and has won two.

    Wexler watched clips of cinematography students’ films, and gave them valuable feedback. “It was an amazing experience to have him share his thoughts and experience with us,” said Diego Gilly, an MFA Cinematography student. “I feel deeply honored to have had the opportunity to share some of our work with him, and hear what he had to say.”

    Robert Forster sized select

    Actor Robert Forster leads a master class for actors

    Oscar-nominated actor Robert Forster, who starred in 1969’s Medium Cool, written and directed by Haskell Wexler, also recently paid a visit to New York Film Academy. In addition to his numerous television roles, Forster is known for his roles in Mulholland Drive, Me, Myself, & Irene, The Descendants, and his Oscar-nominated role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

    Forster led a master class for acting students, telling stories from his life and career, answering questions, and giving advice. “The camera looks real deep into you,” he said. “It knows whether you’re lying or not. If you want your audience to admire you, you have to be someone they can admire. You have to have the qualities that make a person worth admiring. Then it’s easy to deliver that on screen.”


    February 25, 2013 • Academic Programs, Acting, Cinematography, Guest Speakers • Views: 7065

  • Oscar Winner Wally Pfister Talks Chris Nolan


    Over 400 students signed up to attend Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister’s Q&A in after the screening of Inception for New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. The atmosphere in the room could only be described as a rock concert. And though Pfister was recovering from a bout of food poisoning, he wasn’t going to let down the auditorium full of excited students, who greeted him with cheers of “Wally! Wally!” He spoke about his long-time collaboration with Chris Nolan, saying, “Chris is an incredible storyteller and incredible screenwriter.”

    Following an interview with producer Tova Laiter and Cinematography Chair Michael Pessah, Pfister took questions directly from the students who lined up in what can only be described as a conga line to ask the master about his work. “You have to take risks,” he said. “That’s what will make your career last longer. You have to fight to get your vision on the screen (but not fight with your director).”

    Besides winning the Oscar for Inception in 2011, Wally also garnered Oscar nominations for The Dark KnightThe Prestige, and Batman Begins, and is well known for his work on Insomnia, The Italian Job, Moneyball, Memento, and The Dark Knight Rises.

    MFA Screenwriting student Jordan Farrester said, “It was great to be there with someone who has worked on some of the biggest films of the past ten years. He was really thoughtful and insightful, and had a lot to say about the industry and his vision.”

    Pfister’s latest project is his feature film directorial debut, Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, and written by NYFA instructor Jack Paglen. The film is slated for release in 2014.



    January 31, 2013 • Academic Programs, Cinematography, Guest Speakers • Views: 8231

  • The Square Premieres at Sundance


    Congratulations to Mohamed Hamdy, New York Film Academy Documentary graduate and Cinematographer of the much anticipated, The Square, which premiered at The Sundance Film FestivalThe Square, a new film by Jehane Noujaim, looks at the hard realities faced day-to-day by people working to build Egypt’s new democracy. Catapulting us into the action spread across 2011 and 2012, the film provides a kaleidoscopic, visceral experience of the struggle. Cairo’s Tahrir Square is the heart and soul of the film, which follows several young activists. Armed with values, determination, music, humor, an abundance of social media, and sheer obstinacy, they know that the thorny path to democracy only began with Hosni Mubarek’s fall. The life-and-death struggle between the people and the power of the state is still playing out.

    In February 2011, Egyptian, particularly young one, showed the world the way people demanding change can drive an entire nation to transformation. The result was a profound movement toward democracy that is still evolving across the Arab world.

    Hamdy shot over 500 hours of the Tahir Square revolution as he lived it, and ended up the Cinematographer of Jehane Noujaim’s new documentary made from inside the Tahir Square revolution by young Egyptians who were (and still are) part of it.

    “Aside from Hamdy’s excellent cinematography, my favorite thing about The Square is that it is about and by people who lived it – and are still living – the revolution,” said NYFA Documentary Chair, Andrea Swift. “Hearing their voices, rather than that of third party reporters, makes this the most immediate and important accounting of the one seminal events of our century. Not to mention, it’s the best.”