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  • NYFA Digital Filmmaking Alum Dylan Greenberg on Originality, Artistry, and Her Upcoming Film ‘Spirit Riser’

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    When Dylan Greenberg first came to New York Film Academy (NYFA), she was nine years old; one of the youngest students NYFA had ever enrolled at the school. In fact, due to NYFA’s program age restrictions, it was not common to have someone that young attend such an intensive program. However, Greenberg wowed NYFA early on with her film Ankh, which was inspired by director David Lynch, and the NYFA alum has never looked back since.

    Greenberg has gone on to direct the films ReAgitator: Revenge of the Parody, Glamarus, Wakers, and Amityville: Vanishing Point. Her third film, Dark Prism, was covered internationally by VICE, Rolling Stone, and Flavorwire, among others. She has also been featured in PAPER Magazine and has directed music videos for James Chance and the Contortions, Mac Gollehon, Pastel Confession, and many others. 

    Greenberg’s next project is set to release this year and is described as a supernatural martial arts movie. The film, Spirit Riser, stars Amanda Flowers, Cherie Currie, Kansas and Parker Bowling, Lynn Lowry, Jesse Yungbei, Patti Harrison, and will be narrated by the Tarantino-favorite Michael Madsen (Kill Bill Vols 1& 2, Reservoir Dogs).

    The New York Film Academy was able to get the scoop on Greenberg’s upcoming film and discuss the NYFA alum’s career as a director, actress, and a creative, who has a strong collaborative nature and a keen sense of originality woven into the fabric of any project she touches. 

    Photo Courtesy of Dylan Greenberg

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): What made you want to come to NYFA? Have you carried any learnings with you into your career?

    Dylan Greenberg (DG): I wanted to come to NYFA because at the time I was the only little kid in my neighborhood who seemed really interested in film, especially offbeat films. It was a way for me to find other kids with my interests. Most of the kids were older than me as I believe the classes went from ages 10-13, but it was the first time I was in a room with other children who shared my passions. At NYFA, I learned that realizing your vision is sometimes a fluid effort, and part of that is the understanding that what ends up on screen may not be exactly what you originally pictured. It was also the first time I walked through the process of writing, pre-production, shooting, post and a premiere.  

    NYFA: What have been some of your career highlights so far? 

    DG: One of my big career highlights was when the trailer for my third feature film Dark Prism was covered internationally  by VICE, Rolling Stone, Flavorwire and others. I was 18 at the time and that was the first time I saw my work get relatively mainstream attention. Another highlight was seeing a music video I directed for Sam Huber, on the True Groove Records Label, air on national television in Finland, on the YLE network. Those were two big firsts for me and encouragement that I was going in the right direction. 

    Dylan Greenberg (Right) and Lloyd Kaufman (Left) on the set of ‘Shakespeare’s Shitstorm’ in Albania

    NYFA: Can you tell us more about your collaborations with Troma Entertainment? 

    DG: I got my first job right out of high school working in the Troma offices. In fact, I was still in high school when I started working there. So, it was pretty great being 17 and 18 and having your first job in the field you wanted to be in. I was basically in charge of creating and editing the majority of their internet content while I was there, as well as special features for their Blu-rays. I’ve since become a freelance music video and commercial director, but continue to collaborate with Troma. Recently, I starred in their upcoming feature film Shakespeare’s Shitstorm, which is a super obscene, epic adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  

    Photo Courtesy of Dylan Greenberg

    NYFA: Can you tell us more about your role as a full time music video and commercial director?

    DG: A big reason why I’m able to work as a music video director full time is because of my third feature film Dark Prism. When it got all the press it did, it caught the attention of True Groove Records, who hired me to direct several music videos for them when for others that might have seemed like too much of a risk because the only music videos I had really done before were for my own music. As a result of my work with True Groove, who I still work with to this very day, I was able to get work with many other clients. I learned a lot of networking skills, as the truth is there are many artists in New York City that need a video that both looks one of a kind and is in their budget. So, once I had some more videos under my wing I could send it as examples of the kind of work I do.

    I fill the niche for “weird but engaging” videos, as I’m known for very colorful, in your face visuals. However, I’m able to shoot in any style the shoot demands, and last year when I directed my first commercial to air on CBS, NY1 and News12, I was asked to take a more conventional approach. It was for a disco mega-concert, and because of the commercial, it sold out within a week or so! They actually didn’t have to air the commercial for as long as they thought they did because the tickets sold so fast. I was really proud of that, and again I have True Groove Records and Tomás Doncker to thank for that. 

    NYFA: In addition to your career as a director, you’re also in a band. Can you tell us more about that?

    DG: I’m in a band called Theophobia, which I feel is very similar to a lot of my film projects. In fact, my band mate Matt Ellin was, and is, also a big part of my film projects and has created music for my feature films since they were a teenager. Initially, the band started when my solo song and self directed video “Mia” became an unexpected success and premiered in PAPER Magazine, so I decided to tour the song around New York and promote it at clubs and local television stations. I wanted to have a guitarist and a lot of my friends as backup dancers to make it very theatrical, and I asked my friend Matt to be my guitarist, since they were already such a close collaborator, and I always felt like they were a total whiz kid. At a certain point, we both realized we had such a mutual love for music like Sparks, the work of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, and we realized it would just be so much more fun to make it a collaborative effort where we contribute an equal amount of ideas, and shine the spotlight on each other. I feel like besides synthesizers and vocals, I also “play” the video, because video is a big aspect of our performance. 

    I program a lot of the synthesizer elements into video that plays behind us, and then we play along with that. Our performances and music are super theatrical and we act our shows out like an improvised play, we deliberately act like clowns and try to get a reaction out of the audience, we sometimes physically fight each other on stage and one time I brought a Christmas tree into the venue in the middle of the performance. It’s really cool to get to direct videos not just for my own music but for OUR music, because whenever I create anything I immediately have a visual image of what I want it to look like, so it’s so cool to get to bring that to life. Definitely one of my favorite parts of music is making music videos. I‘ve watched 80s music videos non stop since I was a kid and found Pop Up Video on TV, so music videos are really my whole life. 

    NYFA: Some directors choose to subvert a personal style or auteurist approach to directing, but that doesn’t seem to be your approach. What would you say makes something a “Dylan Greenberg” project?

    DG: I would say, that in terms of my feature films, many consider them giant music videos. I have a lot of music from all different kinds of artists in my films, and almost always have at least one scene where someone actually sings a song within the film. Like my music videos, my projects are super colorful and in your face. I use a lot of fisheye lenses after falling in love with Hong Kong action cinema and Scott Shaw’s Zen filmmaking. I try to get really dominant with the colors red, blue and green and try to shoot in colorful locations with colorful people. My new film Spirit Riser has a lot of music, and musicians in it such as Dorian Electra, Cherrie Curie, the late Alan Merrill, and of course music from True Groove. That’s my seventh feature film, and will likely see a premiere in October. It’s so long I might have to split it into two movies, actually! 

    Photo Courtesy of Dylan Greenberg

    NYFA: Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?

    DG: Oh my goodness, so many! As I mentioned before, I have a feature film called Spirit Riser coming very soon starring Amanda Flowers, Cherie Currie, Kansas and Parker Bowling, Lynn Lowry, Jesse Yungbei, Patti Harrison, and it’s narrated by Michael Madsen! The only way to describe it is a supernatural martial arts horror fairytale. It’s got music, animation, live action, the Statue of Liberty coming to life and destroying New York, giant talking hands, and ghosts! 

    Furthermore, I have a short film called The Bathtub, which is actually the first short I’ve directed since I was a teenager that doesn’t also serve its primary purpose as a music video. It took me three years to make with Khloaris and I consider it as big of an achievement to me as one of my feature films. 

    We shot the entire project on green screen and we then built all of the sets as miniatures, keying the actors in frame  by frame. It’s so cool, because for the first time ever I got to literally build a world from the ground up, out of paper and cardboard. The point wasn’t to make you believe the miniatures are full size or hyper realistic but rather to make you believe the actors really live inside these boxes, ride the train high above them, and interact with these surreal wacky environments. It’s truly an experience and it stars Bob Bert of Sonic Youth, who also contributes music to the film. We were supposed to premiere it in March at WFMU, but obviously that got delayed. It will be coming soon, though! New York Film Academy would like to thank Dylan Greenberg for taking the time to share more about her directorial style and passion for creation. NYFA encourages everyone to check out Greenberg’s upcoming project Spirit Riser, when it is released later this year.

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    August 11, 2020 • Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1837

  • New York Film Academy Alum Mirza Farhan Abbas (Mirzaab) Releases Film ‘The Chase’ on YouTube Amid the Global Pandemic and Discusses the Connection of Filmmaking and Reality

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    Like many filmmakers in 2020, Mirzaab (a.k.a Mirza Farhan Abbas) hoped his film would premier in a cinema for a live audience. His film The Chase, was slated to premier in Dubai on March 26, 2020, but then the global pandemic changed everything. The NYFA digital filmmaking alum decided to pivot and release his film on YouTube instead.

    Filmmaker Mirzaab was born and raised in Pakistan, but has been living in Dubai (UAE) since 2007. “I remember that from early on I always wanted to be a film director,” recalls Mirzaab. “There wasn’t a proper film school at an institute or university level known by me that catered to the passion of an emerging filmmaker. In other words, filmmaking was never considered as a full-time profession where I was growing up.”

    NYFA digital filmmaking alum and director Mirzaab (a.k.a Mirza Farhan Abbas)

    Mirzaab recalls being raised surrounded by career choices that only seemed to be in industries such as: medicine, banking, law, teaching, engineering and others. He eventually found himself working in banking to help share the financial responsibility for his family’s household while completing his postgraduate education. “Working there [at the bank] not only brought in the support my family needed, but at the same time I was starting to feel independent in making my educational choices.”

    With a never ending desire for filmmaking, Mirzaab recalls seeking out YouTube tutorials and learning everything from how to operate certain cameras to understanding lighting techniques as best he could. “But there was a major problem in all of it; the lack of process and guidance.” 

    He soon realized it was time to explore other options, so Mirzaab began reaching out to renowned pakistani film directors for guidance and eventually got hold of Mehreen Jabbar, who lives in New York, and encouraged Mirzaab to take a filmmaking course at NYFA. 

    Throughout his time as an independent filmmaker (Over 10 years), Mirzaab explains filmmaking is really about making a connection to life and reality. 

    “I realized that I didn’t need to learn the technical skills, but I did need to have the vision. The imagination should be as bright as the cinema screen and the director must be able to take his or her audience on a 90 minutes long journey where they also feel a part of it.” 

    Mirzaab says that it is the director who borrows a fraction of reality and translates that to an audience and “stirs emotions” among viewers. If that element is missing or is unclear, it may be a well made film but not a great film, which is how he thinks through each project and becoming a better director for the audience. 

    ‘The Chase’ film poster

    His past projects embody that sense of reality and emotion that he wants the audience to experience and relate to like Lasting Silence, which explores the relationship struggles between an able-bodied girl building a friendship with a special needs girl, without having any knowledge of sign language. Another film from the director, Thankful, portrays the relationship between a father and daughter and their different views on one single incident they experience together, while Extra explores ‘happiness’ and ‘contentment’ in life.

    Mirzaab’s latest film, The Chase, explores more themes that people may grapple with regularly such as: mental health, emotional well-being, affection, rejection, social connection, paranormal intuitions, manifestation, friendships and above all, the uncertainty of life and death. “I am a big fan of exploring human relationship stories, real or fiction, it doesn’t matter to me,” he shares. “I always enjoy it and my filmmaking is primarily based on such stories and all my films reflect that commonality.”

    Mirzaab reminds filmmakers, producers, and teachers of every caliber to remember: “The scale of production is a good measure to gauge the seriousness of a filmmaker, but many times we miss out those filmmakers whose passions go way beyond their lack of resources and apprenticeships.” 

    New York Film Academy congratulates Mirzaab on the release of his latest film and encourages everyone to check out The Chase, now available to watch on Mirzaab’s YouTube channel here.

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    July 30, 2020 • Abu Dhabi, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1525

  • Sarah Louise Wilson’s Feature to Air on PBS This Weekend!

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    Actor Steve Talley in ‘The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue’

    New York Film Academy MFA Film student Sarah Louise Wilson is riding a wave of success. Her films have played at 30 festivals worldwide. Her first short film, which premiered 3 years ago at Frameline, continues to make the rounds on the festival circuit, and is used as an educational tool in classrooms. She wrote, produced, and starred in her first feature film, Jelly, alongside Natasha Lyonne (Slums of Beverly Hills, But I’m a Cheerleader), and Ed McMahon in his last film role. Shot on 35mm, the film was sold to Sundance Independent and IFC. Her second feature length film, The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue, was bought by PBS, and will make its television premiere this weekend. Variety called it “Stylish and strange enough to mark Sarah Louise Wilson and [co-writer/producer] Neal Thibedeau as helmers to watch.”

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  • One Graduate’s Journey to the Cannes Film Festival

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    Faraz WaqarNew York Film Academy Abu Dhabi grad Faraz Waqar’s graduation thesis film 9:11 AM was selected for its world premiere at the Festival de Cannes 2012 Short Films Corner. The Short Films Corner hands you an annual tailor-made program of industry meets, workshops and conferences that deal with strategic issues. Faraz will benefit from all the advantages of being an accredited attendee of the festival. He can access the Marché du Film exhibitors or those in the Village International. Faraz will also be able to network with all the biggest industry players, whether they are institutions, financiers and the most important international reps in the film business. Talk about opening some doors. What more can a film graduate ask for?

    Tell us where your passion started?

    Studying film and working in film was always my dream. Reviving the film industry in my own country through films has always been my goal. However, the pressure for financial success and lack of support from my family forced me to study Business Management instead of filmmaking. I spent 12 years working in the corporate world as a banker in the Middle East but never let my dream of becoming a filmmaker die. After achieving a fair degree of success in my business career and achieving financial independence, I was in a position to finally pursue my dream and passion.

    What drives you as an artist?

    The Middle East has played a very important role in the of human civilization. In recent years, however, this region has been in the media for all the wrong reasons. Cinema is the most powerful tool to make or break the image of a person, culture or country. Becoming a film director puts you in a position of immense power. You can influence the hearts and minds of people of the world. This is the best way to contribute something which will benefit your own culture. You also enjoy the immense opportunity to be creative. You’re having fun too.

    How was your NYFA experience?

    I joined the 1-year Filmmaking program in Abu Dhabi last February. The institution brought to my doorstep the facilities and instruction that has trained so many prominent filmmakers in the United States. I graduated from NYFA two months ago. It was perhaps the most memorable year of my life. I truly lived my dream. The best part about studying at NYFA was learning from professors who had a wealth of experiences working as directors and cinematographers on world renowned film projects both in Hollywood and in the Middle East. The student body in Abu Dhabi is extremely diverse. We have classmates from Australia, India, Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, Lebenon, Switzerland, Iraq, UAE, Nigeria and Denmark. It was superb because you got to make some wonderful friends from different cultures and benefit from their vastly different perspectives. I formed some very close friendships and enjoyed working with this diverse international group. Film school always ends up attracting the most creative and passionate people. The network I’ve established will benefit me in any project I pursue.

    NYFA’s program is intensive and comprehensive. Film projects start from idea conception to script finalization, and ranges from casting, editing, production and post-production. I wrote, directed and edited 8 complete films during my one year at the school. In addition I was also involved in the production of 39 films in various capacities as part of the crew (short films, documentaries and music videos) for other directors. I got full freedom to experiment, shoot and work on different ideas and scripts for my projects.

    We had access to some of the best film cameras in the world. We shot from digital to 16mm, 35mm and even on the Red Epic. It was amazing.

    What is your perspective on screening at film festivals? Advice on the process?

    Recognition at quality film festivals do add a lot of credibility to a new filmmaker’s profile. It gives one confidence as a professional to people. Recognition at a major festival immediately bring you into the spotlight, especially in a market where filmmaking is still in a nascent stage and the people in the industry all know each other. It helps bring your name into notice amongst all in the film making circle. Never make your film with the intention of getting into any particular festival. That is not the way I would do it. Be selective about the festivals you apply to once your film is complete. I believe that whatever comes naturally from your heart will represent you and what you are most passionate about. It will turn out to be your best work. It is also very important to present their films professionally. Films submitted should be properly branded. DVDs must be labelled, craft themed posters meticulously, and make sure to select originally composed or royalty-free music. This improves the chances of selection too. Every small detail helps.

    What kind of advice would you give to the aspiring filmmaker and NYFA student dreaming to succeed?

    Be yourself. Let your work be original. Let it be your best creative effort on a subject you are passionate about. It will naturally bring out the best in you. Believe in your work but never shy away from feedback and criticism from a trusted source. The audience is your consumer, and you must communicate a certain point of view. Being too abstract for the sake of being artistic may cause the message of your film to be lost. Be intelligent. Do not focus on controversial topics for the sake of controversy. Base your film on a controversial topic if you truly believe in it. Your script is everything. Make sure it’s perfect. Make sure it’s engaging and interesting.

    Actors matter the most. Their performance can make or break your film. Select them wisely, prepare them well and value their time and effort. You cannot make a film alone. It’s a team effort. Your crew is contributing in a major way to give shape to your vision. Value them and treat them with respect. Build your team with the next project in mind. Don’t use and discard others. Selfishness and a bad attitude will take you nowhere in a very team-dependent industry.

    To learn more about NYFA in Abu Dhabi please click here.

    9:11AM

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    April 3, 2012 • Acting • Views: 5414

  • NYFA Graduate’s Film Sweeps African Academy Awards

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    The African Movie Academy Awards saw quite a bit of NYFA graduate Kunle Afolayan’s feature film, The Figurine, during their 2010 ceremonies. Out of the ten awards for which it was nominated, The Figurine took Best Picture, Achievement in Visual Effect, Heart of African Award for Best Film from Nigeria, Achievement in Cinematography and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. The film has solidified Afolayan’s future in filmmaking and attracted well-deserved attention to Nigeria’s rapidly growing film industry, Nollywood.

    Son of Ade Afolayan, the famed Nigerian actor, Kunle Afolayan didn’t exactly start out following in his father’s footsteps. A banker by profession, the Nigerian filmmaker at first regarded entertainment as more of a hobby. He spent a few years taking small acting jobs while working in banking. It wasn’t until 2005 that Kunle took a leap of faith and left his career to study digital filmmaking at the New York Film Academy in London.

    Irapada, his first work, gained recognition at a number of international film festivals and won the Best Indigenous Award at the 2007 AMAAs. Set in modern Nigeria, the film is colorfully injected with elements of Nigerian myth culture. After a successful building contractor tragically ignores an old relative’s devastating premonitions, he is forced to reassess his long-standing rejection of ancient superstitions.

    Kunle once again peppers a contemporary story with Nigerian folklore in The Figurine. A group of friends finds an effigy of Araromire, a goddess believed to grant good luck, and must confront the negative aspects of supernaturally bestowed fortune.

    Boasting relatively enormous production values, Afolayan’s work on The Figurine has made him a special effects pioneer in Nollywood. His intentions to revolutionize and promote the Nigerian film industry have also extended to his method of distribution. The film was shot with a movie theater audience experience in mind. In a move to reinvigorate Nigerian cinema culture, Kunle Afolayan has pushed for The Figurine to remain in theaters for as long as possible, in contrast to the usual DVD distribution goals of the average filmmaker.

    Kunle Afolayan’s unconventional approach to filmmaking and film distribution has put him at the top of the African film industry. Having recently run a filmmaking program in Abuja, those of us at the New York Film Academy are excited to see one of our graduates work to further advance the Nigerian industry.

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    May 26, 2010 • Acting • Views: 5600