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  • NYFA Improv Instructor Bill Watterson to Premiere “Dave Made a Maze” at Slamdance 2017

    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.

    bill watterson

    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.”

    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.

    Bill & Meera

    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!

    December 2, 2016 • Acting, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking • Views: 2211

  • NYFA Instructor’s “Porgies & Bass” Wins Best Short at Coney Island Film Festival

    porgies and bassNew York Film Academy Filmmaking instructor Thomas Barnes’ latest short film, “Porgies & Bass,” recently won Best Short Film at the Coney Island Film Festival and will be screening at the Big Apple Film Festival, which will take place at the Village East Cinema in Manhattan on Friday, November 4th at 8:30pm.

    The film was co produced by NYFA instructor Richard D’Angelo, and the crew featured numerous NYFA alumni and teacher’s assistants.

    The story surrounds Ben, a native fisherman on Long Island, New York, fishing for the prized large striped bass. Meanwhile, Jorge, a Latino immigrant catches porgies, a more common and smaller size fish. What starts out as a beautiful day on the beach turns into a skirmish over territory, and finally erupts in an unforgettable manner.

    We had a chance to speak with the director and NYFA instructor, Thomas Barnes, before his upcoming screening at the Big Apple Film Festival.

    What are some of the themes we can take from your film?

    With all the talk of building walls to keep people out and fears of outsiders stoked by politicians, this film explores social and racial tensions via a tense fishing story. Hopefully, the film transcends political sloganeering to get to a more complex view of people and their struggles to coexist.

    Thomas Barnes

    Thomas Barnes directing his actor on the set of “Porgies and Bass.”

    How did this film come about? 

    The story was devised after several years of fishing on beaches in Long Island, meeting men like the characters in the story, and imagining what would happen in a tense conflict between them. With script in hand in summer 2015, I invited NYFA instructor Richard D’Angelo to come on board as he is an experienced Long Island producer where the film was to be shot.

    I raised the money for production privately and then successfully crowd-sourced the funds for post production via Indiegogo.

    What was the most challenging aspect of the production?

    The changing weather, tides, ocean conditions and light were all challenges. Shooting totally out of sequence and keeping on top of continuity was a headache.

    Also, working in the water with actors, props and camera made for some very tricky set-ups.

    porgies and bass

    Can you tell me the students and alumni involved with the production? 

    Co- Producer Richard D’Angelo helped to hire the following alumni:

    • Production Designer: Roxy Martinez
    • Associate Producer: Jolene Mendes
    • Assistant Director: Attapol Worrawuttaweekul
    • Production Coordinator: Francesca Morello
    • Key Grip: Mateo Salcedo Cancino
    • Gaffer: Miguel Garzon Martinez
    • Editor: Ross Vedder – works with NYFA Editing Dept. I met him through NYFA instructor Lanre Olabisi.

    What do you hope to achieve with this film and its screening at the Big Apple Film Festival?

    It’s a competitive awards festival, so I hope to earn the votes of our supporters in the audience!

    Are there any other screenings or festivals coming up where we can see the film?

    To be confirmed. It just screened at Woodstock Film Festival last week.

    November 1, 2016 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1348

  • NYFA Instructor Joe Burke Stars in Romantic Dramedy “Dependent’s Day”

    With gender equality being ever more present in today’s modern relationships, the upcoming film, “Dependent’s Day,” tackles this theme after the leading woman claims her boyfriend as a dependent on her tax returns. Directed by Michael David Lynch, the romantic dramedy stars New York Film Academy Los Angeles Directing instructor Joe Burke, along with actress Benita Robledo. Outside of his teaching, Burke has appeared on the critically acclaimed Showtime series “Ray Donovan,” as well as the popular Disney show “Dog With A Blog.”

    depedents day

    We decided to have a little chat with the actor, filmmaker, and NYFA instructor, to find out more about his upcoming film, which recently received a glowing review in the LA Times.

    Congrats on the film! How did this role come about for you?

    The role of Cam in “Dependent’s Day” came about through a mutual friend. Writer/Director Mike Lynch was preparing to make a new short film and was looking for a lead actor who would be perfect for his project; and our mutual friend Josh Staman (also in the movie) recommended me to Mike. At the time, Mike knew me more as a filmmaker, not as an actor, but still invited me in for a table read after Josh’s recommendation. So I met with Mike, and actor Benita Robledo, and we did a table read of the short film Mike had written. We ended up improvising on top of the short film script and exploring the material a bit (which was a lot of fun). After one thing led to another, Mike quickly decided this idea was not meant to be a short film, but something bigger.

    After exploring the idea of making a web series, we landed on going out and making a feature film two months later. I personally knew Mike Lynch before “Dependent’s Day,” and was actually an extra in his student thesis film yeas ago. But I think that’s a great story, and one I always share with my students, because you never know who you might meet in film school and later collaborate with down the road. And to go from being an extra in one project to the lead in the next (10 years later), just shows how much you need to trust the process and stick with it.

    Dependent’s Day Trailer from Michael Lynch on Vimeo.
    Can you tell us a little bit about your character and his role in “Dependent’s Day”?

    I play the role of Cam in “Dependent’s Day.” He’s our hero character that we follow through the film (as flawed at times as he may seem). But he’s a dreamer. And a guy going after his dreams in Hollywood. Something I can certainly relate to…we all can. And he struggles on finding the balance of how to both go after his dream while stepping up his game in his relationship with his girlfriend, Alice (played by Benita Robledo), who is the breadwinner of the relationship. Cam is a very sweet character with a big heart, and though he doesn’t always make the best decisions at times, he is certainly trying to do his best in life and figure it out. It’s a really hilarious and heartfelt role, and I had a blast playing it.

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    behind the scenes of “Dependent’s Day”

     

    You seem to have such a camaraderie with Benita in front of the camera? What’s the secret?

    Working with Benita Robledo was great. We hit it off early on at the table read and found a great rhythm for these two characters. I think the key to developing a great chemistry with your co-stars is to really allow yourself to dive deep into the world of the character. To really feel like you’re in the characters shoes and to be grounded in all your decisions. Even for a comedy like “Dependent’s Day,” we always wanted to play it ‘real and honest.’ And another big key factor is to truly listen. The art of ‘listening’ as an actor is super important. It keeps you on your toes and allows you to react naturally in the moment to what’s going on. I always say keep it authentic. Mike, Benita, and I had a really fun time bringing these characters to life.

    Do you consider yourself primarily a filmmaker or actor? Or both?

    I definitely consider myself both a filmmaker and an actor. I have been doing both since I was a young kid. I did focus a bit more on filmmaking in college, but I truly enjoy both so much that I wouldn’t be able to do just one. And on “Dependent’s Day,” I was still in a position to bring my filmmaker side to the project, collaborating closely with director Mike Lynch. I am co-producer on the film, and also had fun helping develop the story and edit the movie.

    HOUSE SITTING from Joe Burke on Vimeo.
    I write and direct a lot of my own films as well, and most recently I wrote/directed a new short film titled “House Sitting,” which I also starred in. So working behind the lens and in front of it at the same time was really an exciting challenge and something I look forward to doing a lot more of — as well as looking forward to more awesome opportunities to play great characters and collaborate with other talented filmmakers on their projects.

    Do you believe it’s important for young filmmakers to understand and perhaps get some hands-on experience as an actor?

    I think it’s so important for a young filmmaker to understand the process of acting. I think the more you understand acting, and have some experience being an actor, the better director you will be. Also, having directing experience will make you a stronger actor. It all goes hand-in-hand. But I think getting strong performances is the most important part of making a movie… and in order to really achieve that, you have to have a really strong grasp and understanding on what the process of acting is all about. You have to really know how to communicate well with your actors. I would encourage every young filmmaker to take a couple of acting classes and learn that side of it. It’s very valuable and will make you a much better director.

    So when can we see it?

    We put a lot of time and energy into making “Dependent’s Day” and we can’t wait for everyone to see it as soon as it releases on VOD October 18th.

    October 13, 2016 • Acting, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking • Views: 1515

  • NYFA Alumnus Directs Hillbilly-Horror “Tuftland”

    Roope Olenius, who graduated with his BFA in Acting for Film from the Los Angeles campus in 2013, is currently working on his directorial debut Kyrsyä – Tuftland, in Finland.

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    Kyrsyä-elokuvan kuvaukset.

    Honoring films like The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby, the Finnish film discusses current topics such as women’s rights, man’s relationship with nature and young people’s difficulty to find their way into the work life. The story revolves around a young textile student, who takes on a summer job at a secluded and totally self-sufficient town. The cast consists of upcoming actors like Veera W. Vilo, Saara Elina, Ari Savonen and Enni Ojutkangas who have become known as the faces of the new wave of Finnish genre movie with films like Bunny the Killer Thing and Backwood Madness.

    “In addition to the fact that the story discusses extremely important topics, it does it with a very raw and objective voice, which for me was very fascinating from the get-go,” said Olenius. “It was important for me to tell this exact story at this point of my life because it really allowed me to throw my questions into the film and at the same time transform myself into a better person. Even though the story is fictitious (and in ways goes over the top), it points out some mindsets and behavior patterns that currently take place in Western countries and especially in Finland, which for me was a way to connect with the story. The possibility to make a film that has the potential to challenge the audience to think about their own values and opinions in life, is, for me, the whole point of filmmaking.”

    roope

    Kyrsyä-elokuvan kuvaukset.

    Olenius, who has consistently worked as an actor in his home country after graduation, is also producing the film and responsible for the adapted screenplay, which is is based on an original play of the same name by Neea Viitamäki. Kyrsyä – Tuftland is currently in production and set to premiere in 2017.

    “My training at NYFA has helped me enormously in terms of understanding all aspects of filmmaking and how they play together in a film production,” said Olenius. “Even though I studied acting, thanks to the versatile program I attended, I already had a good understanding of filmmaking after graduation and, therefore, the potential to pursue the making of this film after working only few years in the industry. Studying acting for film in Los Angeles has given me resourceful tools to get cinematic and true performances out of the wonderful cast of this film, which I believe will really make this film extraordinary.”

     

    September 5, 2016 • Acting, Filmmaking, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 3828

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

    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.

    May 4, 2016 • Filmmaking, Screenwriting, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 2130

  • Prolific TV Director Mary Lou Belli Brings Her Acclaimed Sitcom Workshop to NYFA

    mary lou belli

    New York Film Academy students received a special treat when Emmy award-winning TV director Mary Lou Belli taught her acclaimed sitcom directing and acting workshop at the school. Mary Lou has been directing television for over 20 years and the shows she’s worked on include NCIS New OrleansMonkHart of DixieWizards of Waverly PlaceSister SisterCharles in ChargeGirlfriends, and The Game, to name a few. She has co-authored three books, “The NEW Sitcom Career Book,” “Acting for Young Actors,” and “Directors Tell the Story,” with fellow DGA member Bethany Rooney.

    mary lou belli

    The theater was packed with filmmaking and acting students thrilled to learn more about the art of sitcom. Mary Lou first lectured, sharing crucial sitcom concepts and vocabulary, and then brought groups of volunteering students to the stage where she paired them off to run classic sitcom scenes. Mary Lou critiqued the students’ performances using the concepts and vocabulary she taught them, and had them run the scenes again and again until they perfectly popped like any comic gem you’d see on television. She also cycled in and out filmmaking students to shadow her as director and jump in with their own scene critique and reworking when called upon. The energy in the room was high and students raced to the stage to be the next to participate. The audience cheered and burst out in laughter at every scene iteration.

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    NYFA students were also happy to discover that the curriculum and experience that they received is very close to what they saw from a world-class sitcom director.

    We sincerely thank Mary Lou Belli for imparting her wisdom on to us and look forward to the next wonderful TV show she directs!

    January 18, 2016 • Acting, Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 1785

  • NYFA Welcomes ‘Bread and Butter’ Director Liz Manashil

    Liz Manashil

    Recently, the New York Film Academy welcomed Liz Manashil, who directed the award-winning indie, anti-romantic comedy Bread and Butter. The film stars Lauren Lapkus, SNL’s Bobby Moynihan and former NYFA guest speaker Micah Hauptman.

    Manashil screened the trailer to our students and discussed the difficult process of crowdfunding and casting. Manashil wore multiple hats on the project, including writer, director, producer, and casting director. She even had to rewrite the script to make the project affordable and raise the money. Once the money was mostly in place, she was able to go after the cast she wanted for the film.

    Manshil went on into detail on how she obtained VOD/digital distribution for the film and how that process worked. Afterward, students asked a variety of questions, ranging from what were the most popular perks on her Kickstarter (blueberry bread baked by her parents) to what did she learn from the project (to write something that’s even cheaper to produce next time).

    After learning a few lessons about indie filmmaking, it’s no wonder Manashil is currently working on an indie sci-fi feature with one location.

    January 12, 2016 • Acting • Views: 1767

  • Producing Department Speaks with Award-Winning Producer and Director Alan Poul

    Last week, the New York Film Academy’s Producing Department welcomed award-winning film and television producer and director, Alan Poul, in a Q&A session moderated by NYFA Chair of Producing Neal Weisman.

    As it happens, Poul broke into the business through his knowledge of the Japanese language. His first major gig was working on Paul Schrader’s Mishima as associate producer. From there his reputation of the Japanese language and culture spread and, before he knew it, he was working on Ridley Scott’s Black Rain, which took place in Japan.

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    Producer / Director Alan Poul at NYFA

    After ‘learning by doing’ from the best, Poul spread his wings and began what would become a prominent career as a producer and director. His credits are quite extensive and very impressive. Over the past twenty years Poul has received an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, two Producers Guild Awards, four GLAAD Awards and three Peabody Awards. Together with arguably the most well known screenwriter in Hollywood, Aaron Sorkin, Poul worked as executive producer and director of Aaron Sorkin’s Golden Globe-nominated series The Newsroom. He recalls Sorkin’s original pilot script coming in at 110 pages for what was supposed to be an hour drama. Given the clout and success that Sorkin has in the business, Poul and his producing team were able to work out a 75 minute pilot that ended up airing on HBO.

    Prior to that, he served as executive producer of HBO’s acclaimed Six Feet Under for its entire five-season run. In 2008, he executive produced CBS’ provocative 1970’s-era drama Swingtown, and directed four episodes, including the pilot. In 2003, Poul was nominated for both a directing Emmy and a Directors Guild Award for the Six Feet Under episode, “Nobody Sleeps.” Poul has also directed multiple episodes of HBO’s historical epic Rome and polygamous family drama Big Love. His most recent work includes directing the pilots for the TNT series Perception and the ABC series GCB. He also produced the cult classic series My So-Called Life, which propelled the careers of both Claire Danes and Jared Leto.

    As for the feature film world, Poul made his directorial debut in 2010 with the romantic comedy The Back-up Plan, starring Jennifer Lopez and Alex O’Loughlin. Previously he produced the Fox Searchlight film Woman on Top (2000), directed by Fina Torres and starring Penelope Cruz, Skip Woods’ debut film Thursday (1998), Jean-Marc Vallée’s Los Locos (1997), Scott Winant’s ‘Til There was You (1997), Monique Gardenberg’s The Interview (Jenipapo) (1996), and the Clive Barker/Bernard Rose horror classic Candyman (1992).

    Some other notable work in Poul’s TV career has been his close collaboration with author Armistead Maupin, resulting in three miniseries based on Maupin’s Tales of the City books (Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City), each of which was nominated for an Emmy award. While considered edgy material in its time, Poul brought the series to life through British TV’s Channel 4 and eventually to Showtime for seasons two and three.

    alan poul and neal weisman

    NYFA Producing Chair Neal Weisman and Alan Poul

    Poul clearly has a knack for finding quality material and choosing the right people to work with. He says, “I need to be inspired, so I’m always looking to work with people that I admire.”

    As to what keeps him going, or as he puts it “fill the hole,” Poul says, “The opportunity to make something that wasn’t there to begin with.”

    He warns young filmmakers not to just jump right into the process of filmmaking or producing without first seeking out a mentor or someone who knows the world much better than you. He recommends budding talent take up an apprenticeship in their field and to learn from the best before doing it on their own.

    The New York Film Academy would like to sincerely thank Mr. Poul for sharing his insight and advice to our students. We wish him much success on his upcoming adaptation of the classic Andrew Holleran novel Dancer from the Dance, which he will direct.

    December 1, 2015 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 2120

  • Screenwriter Max Landis: A Thrilling New Voice in Hollywood

    Max Landis is the most energetic, talkative, and downright hilarious screenwriter you’ll ever meet. The man breathes movie concepts and characterizations. Listening to him talk is an inspiring, enlightening, laugh out loud funny, and at times confounding (in a good way) experience.

    New York Film Academy students gathered in NYFA’s Los Angeles theater to watch Chronicle, written by Max Landis, and participate in a Q&A with one of the most original voices in movies and TV. Producer Tova Laiter and NYFA Screenwriting instructor David O’Leary moderated the discussion.

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    Max Landis at New York Film Academy Los Angeles (photo by Enrico De Conti)

    Featured as one of Forbes 30 under 30 two consecutive years, Max Landis is an outspoken rising star in the screenwriting world. Landis’ first produced feature, Chronicle, startled at the box office and led to more sales. He currently has several projects in different stages of post-production: Victor Frankenstein, starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy and directed by Paul McGuigan; the feature film he wrote and directed, Me Him Her, starring Haley Joel Osment, and featuring Geena Davis and Scott Bakula, which premiered at the Seattle Film Festival; the action comedy, American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart; and Mr. Right, starring Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick, which premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

    Landis is currently in the process of cracking into the television world, having sold two pilots, as well as moving into more directing and producing. He recently sold Dirk Gently, based on the Douglas Adams graphic novel, to BBC America. As a producer he set up Channel Zero, a horror anthology with Nick Antosca writing, at the Syfy Channel.

    Landis has found success both inside and outside of the studio system, and has had a rare amount of tremendous success with original ideas. Barring Victor Frankenstein, which is a complete reinvention that he brought to the studio rather than an assignment he won, all of Landis’ produced films are original ideas.

    The number one thing you take away from meeting Max Landis is the importance of persistence and being prolific in your work. Max has sold 23 screenplays. He had penned a feature script the week before his Q&A with NYFA in just THREE days. If Max wasn’t always writing, he says he’d be depressed. Writer’s block is something that he just doesn’t understand. He has multiple ideas for movies a day. There aren’t enough hours in a day for him to get all his ideas on paper. If you consider yourself a writer, Max says it’s your job to push yourself to this type of creative fluency—if it doesn’t already come to you naturally. You are only a writer if you WRITE.

    Max Landis detailed a reality of the movie industry that many are not aware of—”spec scripts are dead”—at least in the sense that studios, big and independent, aren’t really buying them anymore. Studios are almost exclusively purchasing branded content or intellectual property. “All this changed,” said Max, “when Pirates of the Caribbean made a billion dollars.” He asked a student, “What does the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland have to do with the movie?” When the student replied with, “Nothing,” Max said, “Wrong! They have the same name!” Spec scripts are being bought and made by private financiers, and the films are being distributed on alternative platforms like Netflix. Landis relayed this information not to discourage students, but for them to better plan their career route. Opportunities, and even better ones, remain, but in a different arena now.

    We sincerely thank Max Landis for bringing his brilliance and enthusiasm to the halls of NYFA and look forward to his next cutting edge film in theaters!

    October 26, 2015 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 2858

  • Filmmaking Grad Sean Robinson’s “Indigo Grey: The Passage” Features Hammerstep and Soundtrack by Amy Lee

    In addition to the New York Film Academy’s intensive curriculum, which provides artists the opportunity to explore their craft in a hands-on environment, students are strongly encouraged to network both inside and outside of their programs. One of our filmmaking graduates, Sean Robinson, was introduced to the popular, modern Irish step-dance team Hammerstep through NYFA Musical Theatre alumnus Conor McIntyre. Following the introduction, the Brooklyn based award-winning director was hired to direct and edit a film—with cinematography from NYFA grad Esteban Robles—to promote their dance troupe. After Robinson had the trailer ready to go, it caught the eye of Amy Lee, the famous lead singer of Evanescence. She was so impressed with the film that she came on board to compose the original score, along with Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer.

    “Amy’s involvement is what really catapulted the project, lending its visibility in mainstream platforms,” said Robinson.

    sean robinson

    Sean Robinson at the LA Shorts Film Festival

    The completed short, Indigo Grey: The Passage is a seven-minute audio-visual experience that premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles International Short Film Festival and has so far been officially selected to screen at 19 International film festivals and has won 4 awards, including best original score. The film has already garnered praise from publications like ABC and the Huffington Post.

    “Whisking you away with its sweeping cinematography, the film was well edited, elegantly directed, and hypnotically choreographed to a riveting soundtrack. Indigo Grey: The Passage is a truly one-of-a-kind project that merges the worlds of film, dance, sci-fi, art and music. With its lack of dialogue, the young Lok’s budding acting performance is extremely impactful as he relies solely on his emotional expression and movement to carry the narrative. A lavish feast of sensory stimulation, this short film has successfully captured the attention of its viewers by transporting them to another dimension and most impressively, all within its humble seven minutes.” — Huffington Post

    Robinson is now working on developing Indigo Grey: The Passage into a feature, in collaboration with Jason Oremus and Garrett Coleman.

    “My filmmaking knowledge derives from training and working with instructors at NYFA—namely Paul Warner, who is my biggest mentor,” said Robinson. “It sounds cliche, but NYFA has definitely changed my life.”

    Additionally, Robinson is in the middle of editing a third feature, The Independents, with cinematography by NYFA Cinematography Instructor Piero Basso and line-produced by NYFA Producing Instructor Dorottya Mathe.

    As you may be able to tell, Robinson’s NYFA roots go deep and his networking has paid off ten fold.

    October 21, 2015 • Filmmaking, Musical Theatre, Student and Alumni Spotlights • Views: 2937