NYFA Veteran Students with Col. Jack Jacobs (NYFA Chair of Veteran Advancement Program)
Everybody knows by now that the Internet is filled with countless blogs, from globally famous media companies to ones covering even the tiniest of niches. But there’s at least one blog that’s doing great work serving an often overlooked yet large and vitally important demographic—the United States military community.
The blog, We Are The Mighty, is for veterans, servicemen and women, and their families, and covers everything from military news to pop culture, with both thoughtfully penned articles and silly, amusing listicles. Overall, WATM’s mission statement is “Celebrating military service with stories that inspire,” but in doing so, it’s also provided a way for the community to congregate, communicate, and share their ideas and views through its site and social media.
NYFA BFA Filmmaking and MFA Screenwriting Alum Tim Kirkpatrick
Tim Kirkpatrick is one of the writers for We Are The Mighty, and has already built an impressive portfolio of articles. Kirkpatrick is a Navy veteran, having entered as a Hospital Corpsman in 2007. In the fall of 2010, he was deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines.
After coming back stateside, Kirkpatrick enrolled at the New York Film Academy and earned his AFA degree in filmmaking from our Los Angeles campus. Honing his skills even further, Kirkpatrick followed his filmmaking education with NYFA’s 8-Week Screenwriting workshop.
One of his most recent pieces is about the New York Film Academy itself, highlighting the Academy’s relationship to the Military and veteran community. As Kirkpatrick mentions in his article, “At any given time, NYFA caters to over 200 veterans in the student body and the school takes pride in putting a camera in their hands on the first day of class,” while also adding that NYFA has enrolled over 1500 veterans and dependents of veterans in total.
The Military and veteran community is an important part of the NYFA family. Kirkpatrick mentions in his article the Academy’s V.S.A., or Veteran Student Association, where vets from different branches of the armed forces come together over their shared love of film and the visual arts.
Kirkpatrick also shouts out the venerable Colonel Jack Jacobs, who in addition to being a Medal of Honor recipient and on-air military strategist for NBC/MSNBC, is the Chair of the NYFA Veterans Advancement Program.
The Military and the film industry are a more natural pairing than some may suspect. Kirkpatrick writes, “As in the Military, the film industry uses a precise chain of command for its operational purposes, so vets feel right at home on set — hierarchy and order (and yes, even paperwork) have been branded into their solid work ethic.”
You can check out Tim Kirkpatrick and the other writers at We Are The Mighty here.
NYFA May 2017 Diploma of Filmmaking End of Year Screening & Graduation
For New York Film Academy Gold Coast’s May 2017 Diploma Filmmaking students, the holidays didn’t just represent the end of 2017, but the end of a year of learning, training and artistry. On the 21st of December, the group held their graduation at Event Cinema Pacific Fair, along with the End of Year Screening of their final films.
With a packed house of friends and family, the group of talented, passionate filmmaking students were able to share their achievements in a tangible way, by showcasing the films their vision and hard work made manifest. By having a full theatre audience and seeing their final films up on a big screen, the students got a taste of what their future careers could look like. Being inspired and surrounded by loved ones, the filmmakers were able to celebrate the holidays and their accomplishments of 2017 all at once.
In addition to gaining vital filmmaking skills, learning by doing, and applying them to their work, the students’ time at NYFA was valuable in other ways. Filmmaking lecturer Trevor Hawkins elaborated, “What is apparent—apart from learning the art and craft of filmmaking, after spending the year working on each others’ films—the students have formed bonds and connections that will continue on into their professional filmmaking careers.”
NYFA May 2017 Diploma of Filmmaking End of Year Screening & Graduation
Indeed, forming relationships with colleagues is just as important to the collaborative art of making movies as the practical skills needed to bring them to life. While this is just the beginning of their careers, the students were already showing off their distinct talents. Each of their final films portrayed their own unique voice, and demonstrated just how much they’ve grown since starting the program in May.
Hawkins added, “We wish them all the best and look forward to all their future projects.” The New York Film Academy congratulates the students on their films and a job well done!
With the 14th Annual Dubai International Film Festival coming to a close this December, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia profiled six pioneering female filmmakers from the Middle East, including New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Khadijah Kudsi. The in-depth piece about the six directors not only celebrates their hard work and achievements, but highlights the cultural shift taking place in the 21st Century Middle East, and subsequent progress women have made in playing a larger role in society—including the arts.
NYFA alum Khadijah Kudsi grew up in Saudi Arabia and was always artistic and interested in storytelling. She told Harper’s Bazaar, “I went to New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi in 2014. I only meant to go for four weeks, but that turned into eight, which led into a year and then into a whole career. I did a diploma in filmmaking and then I started working on short films and writing.”
After graduating from the Academy, Kudsi quickly found work for a Chinese television channel. As her career has progressed, Kudsi likes to focus on stories from Abu Dhabi and the Middle East, including one film that’s premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and another currently in production focusing on Dana Al Ali—the first Emirati woman to climb Mt. Everest.
Kudsi continued, “I think it’s important to have ties to this region and highlight positive stories coming out of it. But it’s not always easy—the funding is hard. As is finding the right producer and managing your time being a mother and a working woman.”
Festivals in the Middle East have grown in importance as more and more voices from the region are making themselves heard. The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) first launched in 2004 with 76 films and 13,000 attendees. During its initial six-day run, acting legend Omar Sharif was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The festival has steadily grown since then, with over 60,000 admissions to its 2016 event. This year marked the 14th Annual Dubai International Film Festival and presented Lifetime Achievement Awards to Irrfan Khan and Sir Patrick Stewart.
As the region modernizes and women are being given more and more freedom, their roles in society are becoming more prominent as well. For Middle Eastern women working in the arts, that uphill struggle feels all the more real, considering the industry has been historically unequal not just in the region but around the world. Kudsi told Harper’s Bazaar, “I have four children, whereas most of the crew you work with on set are single or have no kids. They don’t understand when you say you need to wrap by a certain time because I need to go see my kids.”
The New York Film Academy strives to give filmmakers and artists of all kinds a voice, and prides itself on its diverse student body. By learning and working hands-on together, students find their differences are a strength—learning and sharing experiences not just from the school but from one another. If you’re interested in filmmaking or the visual arts, you can find more information about NYFA’s programs here.
NYFA has committed itself to giving aspiring storytellers in the Middle East an education they can build their careers on. The New York Film Academy is thrilled to see Khadijah Kudsi recognized for her inspiring work and career, and looks forward to the stories she will tell in the years to come. “I love the rawness in the stories here,” professed Kudsi, “and we have so much to talk about.”
“I Heart Jenny” at the New York Film Academy’s New York City Theatre
“I Heart Jenny,” a heart-wrenching and beautiful documentary by producer and director Blake Babbitt, had a special screening this December at the New York Film Academy’s recently opened New York City Theatre. The film follows Babbitt’s close friend Jenny Rie Vanderlinden as she struggled with and eventually succumbed to a rare form of ovarian cancer. More importantly, the documentary focuses on the powerful positive spirit Jenny embodied, inspiring her friends, family, and eventually total strangers with her optimism and zestful love of life.
In a piece written about Jenny, the Huffington Post wrote, “Jenny doesn’t seem terrified of this thing that is so far beyond us, this thing that none of us can now see… Instead, she’s investing her unconquerable energy in living the spectacular life she’s always lived—skiing, canyoneering, rafting, traveling and raising four amazing children—with a bit more urgency.”
“I Heart Jenny” started documenting Jenny’s journey over a year after her diagnosis, and followed her right up until her untimely end, a death she refused to allow to shadow her life. Babbitt was inspired to make the documentary after seeing the “I Heart Jenny” stickers their mutual friends began posting frequently as badges of support.
“I Heart Jenny”
The initial idea of the documentary came to Babbitt during a pitch session that was part of his curriculum while attending the New York Film Academy’s Evening Producing workshop. From there, he started a years long journey, utilizing the skills, resources, and colleagues he met while at NYFA. “I had never made a film before,” said Babbitt, “but I was able to use the resources at NYFA to get my feet underneath me. At NYFA I was surrounded by people who really knew what they were doing. I felt supported by NYFA the entire way.”
Shooting the film took two years, and was in post-production for another three—a long, laborious process that is not uncommon for documentaries, especially works of passion and as personal as “I Heart Jenny.” During this time, Babbitt not only applied the skills he learned at NYFA, but also used the connections made there to help his film see the light of day. In addition to being a distinguished alumnus, Babbitt is also currently the school’s Associate Director of Recruitment. With this notable position, he is able to guide incoming students as they look to grow as artists and filmmakers in their own right.
Producer & Director Blake Babbitt
As a result of the relationships formed at the New York Film Academy, Babbitt was able to recruit a strong, talented crew for “I Heart Jenny”—many alumni and staff from the school—including:
Kathleen Harris – DP/Producer
Brad Gallant – Lead Editor/Producer
Zena Wood – Associate Producer
Mike Diaz – Editor/Story Producer
Chris Hayes – Editor
Mike Walls – Camera Operator
Shani Patel – Sound recordist/2nd Camera Operator
Lexi Phillips – Colorist
It was only fitting then that “I Heart Jenny” had its initial preview at the New York Film Academy. Babbitt continued, “It was an honor to be able to host my first screening in our stunning new screening room.”
Andrea Swift, New York Film Academy’s Chair of Documentary Filmmaking, was in attendance, and was very impressed with Babbitt’s debut film. “It takes extraordinary passion, commitment, and talent to make a film like this.” She added, “This film can do real good in the world.”
The specific cancer that took Jenny’s life was related to the BRCA gene, a sequence of DNA that has become more and more noted in recent years for its ominous relationship to many types of cancer. While making “I Heart Jenny,” Babbitt linked up with Jonathan and Mindy Gray, founders of the Basser Center for BRCA at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. The Basser Center is the first of its kind to focus specifically on BRCA-related cancers, and Babbitt has tied his film to their worthy cause, helping to raise donations for further research (click here if you’d like to support the Basser Center as well.)
While it’s been a long, winding road for Babbitt and “I Heart Jenny,” their journey is far from over. Babbitt’s goal is to get the documentary into the Telluride Film Festival, based in Colorado where Babbitt is from and where he first met Jenny. According to Babbitt, “If it gets in, she wants me to bring a cardboard cutout of her—LOL!”
In addition to submitting the film to as many festivals as possible, Babbitt is also hoping to get distribution, hoping the more people who see the film, the more they will take home its poignant message and look to support the fight against BRCA-related cancers. Babbitt continued, “We’ve had so many supporters along the way, and anytime I felt dejected or lost in the process, I would just think about our supporters and Jenny. I knew I couldn’t let her or them down.”
Supporters of the film can follow updates on Facebook as well as on Twitter. You can also follow Babbitt’s filmmaking exploits on Instagram.
The New York Film Academy is proud of Blake Babbitt and “I Heart Jenny,” and wishes him the best of luck as he continues the legacy of Jenny Rie Vanderlinden and her powerful story.
Lucia Barata wanted to support the Dancing Wheels Company & School, an organization dedicated to teaching and showcasing dancers both with and without disabilities. Lucia decided to put the filmmaking skills she had learned over the years toward this goal to bring more exposure to Dancing Wheels and help them find more support and sponsors. Her efforts are paying off as her documentary, “Dancing Wheels,” is quickly collecting both awards and acclaim, including Best Film at the International Student, Newcomer, and Woman Movie Awards (ISENMA) 2017.
Since 1980, Dancing Wheels has dedicated itself to providing “a unifying expression of movement for all,” exhibiting dance as an essential illustration of the human spirit, including from people of all abilities. Since adding a school to its company in 1990, Dancing Wheels has become one of the foremost arts and disabilities organizations in the country.
By using the medium of film to showcase both the incredible dancing of the company’s members, as well as the passion and heart behind these beautiful physical movements, Lucia Barata was able to bring Dancing Wheels’s mission statement to a larger audience, including those outside the United States.
The International Student, Newcomer, and Woman Movie Awards are held in Indonesia and were founded in 2015, collaborating with the Film Festivals Alliance. Creating a platform and opportunities for both Indonesian and International filmmakers, the festival accepts narrative and documentary submissions from film students, newcomers (non-student, professional, recreational, or amateur filmmakers) and female filmmakers from around the world.
Out of a selection of 350 films, “Dancing Wheels,” was nominated for Best Film alongside three other films. Despite the competition, the documentary was an audience favorite and took home the big prize. The award ceremony was held in Bali and attended by an illustrious crowd, including Indonesian royals. Barata accepted the Best Film award from His Majesty the King of Bonea Selayar, H. Andi Mahyuddin.
While ISENMA presented “Dancing Wheels” with its first Best Film award, the documentary has already picked up several other accolades, including the Diamond Award in Short Documentary and Platinum Award for Editor of the Year at the Directors Awards, the Medal of the Year and Platinum Award for Director of the Year from the Filmmakers of the Year Film Festival, and the Royal High Achievement Award from Royal World Prize & Records.
“This film is the one I’m very proud of,” remarked Barata, adding, “there are no boundaries to dance.” Barata was born in Brazil and already had an impressive education in art and architecture before enrolling at the New York Film Academy in 2012. Taking the 1-Year Filmmaking program in New York City, Barata learned the skills necessary to telling a story—fictional or nonfictional—through a visual medium.
The New York Film Academy congratulates alumna Lucia Barata on “Dancing Wheels” and its awards, and looks forward to seeing what further accolades her career will bring!
On the morning of November 26, 2017, Paul Brown, a notable Hollywood writer, director, producer, as well as a screenwriting instructor at the New York Film Academy, arrived in Guangzhou, China. Just a few hours later, Brown hosted a Master Class at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (GAFA), where students and faculty from the GAFA animation department and others packed the house.
Brown has taught several screenwriting workshops at the New York Film Academy, and has a distinguished career in the film & television industry. Starting over twenty-five years ago, Brown has produced more than one hundred television dramas and movies, working on illustrious series as “The X-Files,” “Quantum Leap,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Brown has won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best TV Drama, and has been nominated for three Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes.
In the Master Class “The Secrets of Great Stories,” Brown used “Wall-E” as an example of a film that truly brings its characters come to life in an emotionally powerful way. Brown elaborated on how mystery is at the heart of all great stories, following up with a discussion about the hidden ways that makes the audience can care about and connect with memorable characters whose desires, flaws, and need for change awaken secret wishes for a transformation in our own lives.
After the class, Brown engaged with many students in a Q&A session and gave notes on students’ scripts until the end of the session. Overall, the afternoon was very well received and the audience from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts had many words of appreciation and gratitude for Paul Brown and the Master Class.
New York Film Academy College of Visual & Performing Arts (NYFA) MFA Alumnus Dias Azimzhan was always interested in storytelling, starting out as a blogger before deciding to pursue filmmaking. Azimzhan’s transition to a new profession wasn’t seamless and he had to spend some time working for an international airline company before attending NYFA.
Eventually, with help of the Kazakh Bolashak Scholarship program, Azimzhan was provided the opportunity to attend NYFA, and recently graduated completing the education he dreamed about. His first film, “Moments of Enlightenment,” screened at numerous festivals, taking home awards from the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival.
NYFA sat down with Azimzhan to find out more details of his journey.
NYFA: Based on your experience, what do you recommend to those who are just planning to apply for the Bolashak scholarship program?
DA: At the beginning of the process, you may be scared and demotivated by the list of documents that you need to collect, but this procedure is also similar in other countries (including the U.S.) when applying for certain grants, so I advise you to be patient.
Look at this process as the first step of the journey to your dream. Further, during following stages, be self-disciplined and organized as possible. Plan and rationally use your time for preparing other documents and visas. It is important do not be late for the beginning of the academic year. Start dates can vary depending on the school and country.
NYFA: What was most difficult during the Bolashak application process?
DA: During the examinations, I often heard from the candidates for the scholarship that the third stage is the most difficult, that is, the last stage of the selection. In this round, the candidate surrounded by members of the selection committee (usually composed of the President of the Center of International Programs, doctors of science, professors and public figures) answers various questions. Those questions can be absolutely unpredictable — they can ask you about the constitution of the country, continuing with questions in poetry, mathematics, history, psychology, foreign languages, etc.
However, personally, for me, the most difficult stage was the second one, where the candidates who passed the first round have to take an IQ and psychological test. Additionally to logic tasks, it includes various mathematical and geometric questions. About 500 questions in total.
It’s also important to mention that each Bolashak scholarship candidate has to know Kazakh language on a very high level. Everyone will have to pass KAZTEST in the first round (analog to TOEFL and IELTS), and based on results you will either go to a second round or not.
DA: It all started in 2011 when I decided to write a script. At that time I had a blog (where I was writing my thoughts and observations) and I thought that it would not be difficult for me to write a story for the movie. I installed “Finaldraft” (screenwriting software) and started. But on the first paragraph, it became clear that I did not have enough knowledge in this area. I did not know how to structure and tell the story for the screen using pen and paper. The art of screenwriting has its own nuances (for example, you can not write the characters’ thoughts as in novels, as the viewer simply does not see it). I began to look for materials and educational institutions to fill the gap.
I primarily considered the New York Film Academy because of the intensive program, with an emphasis on practice. Also, NYFA instructors are working in the film and television industry, which is important in terms of gaining new knowledge from them.
Unfortunately, at that time I did not know about Bolashak, and did not have the necessary financial funds to apply. I had to postpone my dream. And, as it turned out, everything does happen for reason: While creating a financial basis for the future, I was working in the international airline company. I saw the world and got acquainted with the culture of many countries, which helped to significantly improve and broaden my horizons and critical thinking. Those qualities are very important for the director and filmmakers in general.
Eventually, already with little life experience and certain skills, I decided to return to the realization of my dream and plunge into the creative process, which imbued the walls of NYFA.
NYFA: What is your impression of your NYFA program? Do you have a favorite subject or instructor?
I would like to highlight screenwriting instructor, Lee Gordon. In his class, I gained knowledge on structuring story and the ability to apply this knowledge directly to the shooting process. Also, a thank you goes out to directing instructors Steve Morris and Michael Sandoval, for teaching me working with actors and listening and feeling every member of the crew. All these years, Carl Bartels taught us the art of cinematography. In his classes, we learned different cameras, lenses, compositions and how to feel the visual components of the frame. I also want to highlight Mark Horowitz, who shared his huge experience in the film business and content promotion.
NYFA: Your short social drama “Moments of Enlightenment” has won many awards at various film festivals. Tell us how the idea for this film was born?
DA: In 2008, one of my friends lost her job. It was during the global financial crisis. By the way, I also lost my job then. I think almost everyone remembers this difficult period for many in the world. On one cloudy autumn day, I met her at the cafe, and she told me about her difficult situation, including problems in the family. I was helping her as much as I can. Part of her story remained in my head forever.
And when I had an opportunity to tell the world a small story, I decided to share that period of my acquaintance’s life (with her permission), through the prism of two immigrants living in the U.S.
NYFA: Recently, you starred in Alisher Suleimen’s “Cloud on the Roof.” Did you use behind-the-scenes experience and knowledge in acting?
DA: I think behind-the-scenes experience gives a huge advantage to the actor, not only in knowing the geography of the scene and the shooting process but also in understanding the story itself since not every actor can think like a director. But neither does every director think like an actor in terms of becoming a new character; finding and making new skills, habits, weaknesses and strengths his own.
I had the opportunity to synchronize my knowledge in both, because I already had acting experience in small projects, as well as experience in studying the art of improvisation at NYFA along with the courses I had taken in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
NYFA: What did you learn from acting as a director?
DA: Nowadays, due to lack of time and the fast pace of pre-production, not every director, unfortunately, has the opportunity for deep and detailed exploration of characters, giving preference to breaking down the story itself — which is also very important. Actors can fill that gap and breathe life into the characters, but they need to do it together with the director and screenwriter; otherwise, free interpretation can have a negative impact on the story and even ruin the project.
NYFA: What projects are you currently working on?
DA: Now is the editing process of the recently shot short “Interius: The War Within.” I think we will finish the post-production of the film by fall.
Also, we shot three music videos with Kazakh singers. One of them has already been aired on the national music channel. All of them were shot in Los Angeles, and I was responsible for the script and directing of storyline.
In parallel with the editing, I am writing a script for a feature film under the working title “Pure Society.” I write in English, but depending on where it will be shot script can be translated and adapted.
WATCH “Ulitio” Official Trailer :
NYFA: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
DA: I see myself the founder of production studios and a film school. Perhaps, the director-inspirer of the younger generation, who still has to keep building our society together with you, a society of people with an unconventional thinking and a fair approach to life.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Dias Azimzhan for sharing with us his story. We believe that his experience is truly inspiring and would like to wish him all the best with his filmmaking career.
Recently, New York Film Academy Australia filmmaking alumnus RK Musgrave returned to give a Q&A at the Gold Coast campus as a part of the Guest Speaker Series.
RK graduated from the Diploma of Filmmaking program in 2013 and has since become a working writer and director in Queensland.
He recently wrote, directed and produced the dark comedy theatre production “The Turn of Winston Haggle,” which ran for three nights at the Gold Coast Arts Centre Independent Season. Joining RK for the Gold Coast Q&A was one of the stars of the production, NYFA Gold Coast Acting Lecturer Dean Mayer.
Students at the Gold Coast campus were given an insight into how RK established a creative relationship with his actors and how he utilized this during rehearsals as they collaborated to develop the characters.
RK explained to the students, “It might be my script but it becomes everyone’s to a point. I’m leading the team, but if Dean comes to me with an idea we test it out to see if it works and if it does, great, we’ll use it … you can’t have an ego about what you’re doing.”
As an actor, Dean Mayer explained what makes a good director: “Good communication makes me strive as an actor. They have to know what they want and know how to communicate it to actors.”
RK also informed the students the importance of networking, as well as how it’s critical to establish long-lasting relationships with both filmmakers and actors. RK stated, “I was originally reluctant towards networking but I had to change my opinion. You’ve got to network. A lot of opportunities I’ve got is through the people I’ve gotten to know … now that I’m out in the industry, I’m meeting people and it’s important to build a team you want to constantly work and bounce ideas with … that’s what Steven Spielberg did, he works with the same people.”
RK further spoke about how he won the 2013 Script-To-Screen longline competition while he was studying at NYFA, which granted him free script coverage. RK was also the winner of the 2016 Australian Commercial Radio Awards for Best Written Commercial.
RK is currently developing a TV series and pitching to production companies Teddy Browne and Can’t Country. He also has written a 30-minute TV pilot that has been shot with Australia actor, Damian Garvey from “The Kettering Incident,” and is now in post-production with a view to pitching ABC later in the year.
May 2017 Acting Diploma student Joshua Mackenzie was enthusiastic about the Q&A event: “It was so amazing to hear about his process of rehearsal, working with actors and how to network and maintain working relationships with filmmakers. I learnt a lot.”
March 2017 Filmmaking Diploma student, Phillip Paton stated, “In one word … inspiring.”
Anthony James Faure worked in the film industry for five years before coming to the New York Film Academy. When he started the 1-Year Filmmaking Program he was also starting the post-production process on his latest film, “Kids with Guns.”
Using Paris, France, as a backdrop, he shot the feature film over the summer of 2014. The story follows Arno and Mo, two unimportant drug dealers who happen upon a bag filled with MDMA. They decide to sell the trendy drug to the Parisian Golden Youth. Soon they’re forced to navigate the dangerous territory between the real owner of the bag and an overzealous cop that swore to stop him.
The French thriller was produced with a budget of just €30,000, or around $35,000 in U.S. dollars. He earned the majority of the money via crowd-funding sites, personal savings, and a few grants. Then entire cast and crew worked on a volunteer basis.
Faure attributes much of that success to his friend and producing partner Antony Renault. Faure said of the experience, “We were trying to get a short film produced in France for a long time. During that time, we wrote ‘Kids with Guns.’ Once the script was done we thought we should just shoot it. It’s that spontaneity that makes the essence of our film: we wanted to shoot now.”
Faure’s scrappy nature had earned him great footage, but turning it into a film would be an entirely different process. “NYFA helped me in my rewriting process during postproduction. Indeed, after the course I took at NYFA, my understanding of film had evolved, and I managed to use that new knowledge in the editing.”
The visual effects artist, postproduction manager, and sound mixer for “Kids with Guns”were all students Faure met at NYFA. He enjoyed his experience at NYFA so much he’ll be returning next semester: “I will never stop learning. I have a few feature film ideas and treatments I’ve been working on for a while, going back to NYFA in the screenwriting course will hopefully give me that little push I need to execute them.”
Faure’s next project is a superhero story. “Super Zeroes” is the story of superheroes forced into retirement by a world tired of the destruction their crime fighting causes. They retire to Trinidad-and-Tobago but a crime committed on the island will force them to work together, even if their powers are a bit rusty. NYFA alumni Jolene Mendes and Chloe Na will work with Faure as producers, Sashank Sana is the director of photography, Carolina Lara will do production design, and Daniel Techy is editing.
The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Faure’s success. To learn more about Faure click here.
New York Film Academy Improv instructor Bill Watterson’s directorial debut film, “Dave Made a Maze,” was recently highlighted in Variety as a ‘notable title’ in competition at Slamdance 2017. The festival, which launched in 1995 as an alternative to Sundance, has included showings of such notable titles as Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity.” The fest, which takes place at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City, Utah, from Jan. 20 to Jan. 26, will screen 19 movies: 12 world premieres, three North American debuts, and one U.S. launch. Slamdance alumni include Christopher Nolan, Marc Forster, Jared Hess, Lena Dunham, Benh Zeitlin, Seth Gordon, and Lynn Shelton.
Watterson also has a series of web shorts that he wrote and directed, which led to a TV deal with Brandio Entertainment. As an actor, he performed motion capture and voice over for the video games “LA Noire” and “Lost Planet 3”; appeared in the films “Ouija,” “Jenny’s Wedding,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys”; and TV credits include “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” “The Soul Man,” and “The Young & The Restless.”
“Dave Made a Maze” took home the Audience Award at Slamdance, and did so again at The Omaha Film Festival, Boston Underground Film Festival and Fantaspoa Brazil. The film also garnered Jury Prizes at Florida Film Festival, Sun Valley, and Calgary Underground, and has played festivals in Switzerland, Poland, South Korea, and more.
“Dave Made a Maze” will show at Sitges later this year in Spain, and the trailer reached over 2 million views in two weeks. The film is being distributed in North America by Gravitas Ventures and will be in theaters in over 15 cities in the US and Canada, including here at The Santa Monica Laemmle, starting on August 18th.
We had a chat with the director and instructor before his upcoming January premiere at Slamdance.
Congrats on being accepted to Slamdance! Can you tell me what “Dave Made a Maze” is all about?
“Dave Made a Maze” re-imagines classic 80’s adventure films with a modern comedic edge and a higher body count. Dave, a frustrated artist, gets lost inside the cardboard fort he builds in his living room, and his girlfriend Annie must lead a band of oddball explorers on a rescue mission. The handmade fantasy world features the in-camera effects of puppetry, stop motion animation, and optical illusions.
How did the film come about?
A friend of mine from Second City started writing a whacked out script based on an anecdote I’d told him about my mother coming home and panicking that I had gotten lost in a pillow fort I’d made in my bedroom, even though I’d followed protocol and left a note saying I was having dinner at my friend John Richards’ house. She tore the fort apart looking for me. Steve had 60 pages by the next day. Eventually we zeroed in on the themes and started working together to finish the script.
How were you able to raise funds for the production?
We got some great talent attachments early on, drawing on contacts at Second City and work we’d done as actors. Some of our production design team came from “Robot Chicken,” and since the handmade look and animations in the film were so important, that caught a lot of investors’ eyes. The film is entirely independently financed.
Will we be seeing you on screen as well in this film?
I have a very brief cameo as a still photo on a keyboard box. It was such an ambitious film and we had so little time to prep and even less to shoot. It felt irresponsible to focus on anything other than directing.
As an improv teacher, what sort of advice or direction did you give your actors?
It’s always good to be in touch with your instincts, to respond honestly to the things happening before you, to be quick on your feet, and to ask yourself and your actors ‘what if?’ Those are foundational improv skills that also apply to directing. I definitely let the actors play around with dialogue to make sure they were comfortable and felt safe and supported, and because they’re all so gifted comedically. But we had a lot to get done, so I had to be careful not to let the train get off the tracks.
What do you hope to achieve at Slamdance? Are you looking for a distributor?
Right now, we’re meeting with sales agents to help us find a distributor at the festival. It’s an honor to be there, and we want to be sure to capitalize on the opportunity. We made a very strange movie, and I’m hoping to find like-minded people in Park City who enjoy the silliness and heart of the film.
What advice can you give to filmmakers looking to direct their first feature?
Take all your successful director friends out to lunch and pick their brains. Shadow them on one of their projects if they’ll have you, and take lots of notes. Ask your editor what they hate about directors they’ve worked with in the past, and what mistakes to avoid on set.
Read Sidney Lumet’s “Making Movies” and know your movie’s theme in and out, and filter all your decisions through that. Everybody wants to direct the movie; keep a small council, and defer to the best idea, whether it was yours or not. Know that the movie you shot will be different from the movie you edit; don’t fight it. Be grateful to the people who are working their butts off to bring your project to life. You cannot get anywhere without them.
Anything else you’re working on now or in the near future that you’d like to share?
I just walked out of a pretty huge meeting that I don’t want to jinx. I shot a series of shorts with a puppet that I’m almost ready to share, and I’m dusting off other pitches to have a better answer to this question come festival time!