On Friday, December 14, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of A Country Christmas Story (2013) followed by a Q&A with director and NYFA instructor Eric Bross, and writer and NYFA instructor Steven Peros, moderated by NYFA student, Bakyt Zhumadilova.
Bross is known for directing Affairs of State (2018), Traffic (2004) and Stranger Than Fiction (2000) and Peros is known for writing Footprints (2009), The Undying (2009) and The Cat’s Meow (2001).
Zhumadilova opened the Q&A by asking Peros about his inspiration for the screenplay. Peros said he started by researching the history of country music and its prevalence in the South, then adding layers of complexity to the story by making the protagonist both a child of divorce and biracial within that world.
Peros also wanted the film to be about the various characters’ relationships with music and the arts and added that the music teacher in the film was inspired by a teacher he had when he was a kid.
Zhumadilova inquired about what it was like for Peros to writeA Country Christmas Story star Dolly Parton’s lines knowing she was going to be playing herself in the film. “The funny thing about writing her was, I had written this thing… and suddenly I’m on set going, ‘I’m about to meet Dolly Parton!’ Is she gonna come up to me and say, ‘Well, first off, Steven, I don’t talk like that at all,’” joked Peros. “But she didn’t at all! She didn’t want to change anything… so I was somehow channeling my inner Dolly Parton.”
“I just thought he really captured her voice,” added Bross.
Peros shared that Parton suggested that she sing instead of just introducing the music contest at the end of the film. “She just kept giving us gifts.” said Bross.
Peros shared that one of the most notable moments of the shoot was when Parton sang in between takes to entertain extras in the audience. “She knew that all those extras who were there pretty much for free… were there for her,” he said. “She never left the stage… she sang ‘Tennessee Waltz’… and it was like a moment out of a movie; one by one, everything started to get silent.”
The discussion then moved onto producing a film like A Country Christmas Story on a tight shoot schedule and a tight budget. Bross advised filmmakers to keep the frame focused on the actors as much as possible when working with a small budget because sometimes it’s difficult to afford full, dressed sets. This way the story would still be the center of the film.
New York Film Academy would like to thank A Country Christmas Story filmmakers Eric Bross and Steven Peros for sharing their entertaining anecdotes from the shooting of the film, as well as their production advice for students.
A select group of New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary and Filmmaking students were invited to attend The Price of Free, a feature-length documentary which screened on November 10, 2018 at the Studio City Film Festival. The film depicts Kailash Satyarthi, who left a career as an electrical engineer to start Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) in an effort to rescue children from slavery.
Along with Sanora Bartels, Chair of Documentary NYFA-LA, the selected NYFA students in attendance were from both BFA and MFA programs and included, from Documentary: Lucia Florez, Assemgul Sarsembayeva and Khalila Suprapto; and from Filmmaking: Jose Miguel Perez, Jenny Mochahari, Katherine Russell, and Aastha Verma.
All of the students felt it was an important event and looked forward to attending. Before the screening, Katherine Russell, Spring 2018 BFA Filmmaking student, told NYFA:
“I’ve always considered myself very socially conscious. I began my first undergraduate career as a political science and sociology double major at Penn State. Throughout my filmmaking career at NYFA and beyond I plan to inject these passions and what I’ve learned into my films. This film piques my interest for these exact reasons.”
The film did not disappoint; Derek Doneen’s direction is deeply moving. The story opens in a raid on a factory to save several children from slave labor. The camera work and action immediately pulls the audience into the center of the conflict.
The audience is then taken back to the beginning of Satyarthi’s work, and the history of the struggle is conveyed through masterful animation and several interviews with key supporters of the cause. Some of the most compelling footage is “observational” — using hidden cameras — of the charity workers as they go undercover as “buyers of goods” in an attempt to expose the locations of illegal factories and their captive labor.
The work is not for the faint of heart. Throughout, the worthiness of the project is expressed in the experiences of the children who are freed from shackles and able to pursue education.
The screening was followed by a Q&A session with The Price of Free director, Derek Doneen, and its featured subject, Nobel Prize winner Kailash. Satyarthi was asked how he had the courage to begin and continue the work to free children from slavery, considering the dangers involved. In addition to the very real threat of reprisal from the criminals running the factories, there are police officers who are bribed and, at best, look the other way, and, at worst, savagely beat those who attempt to break the children free.
Satyarthi replied to the question with a smile and shared a lovely Indian folktale:
“One day a terrible fire broke out in the jungle – a huge section was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the jungle. As they came to the edge of a stream, they stopped to watch the fire and were feeling very discouraged and powerless.
“They all bemoaned the destruction of their homes, except the hummingbird. The hummingbird swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water in its beak and flew into the jungle to put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. Finally, the tiger grew concerned for the hummingbird’s safety: ‘It is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire. What do you think you’re doing!?’
“The hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, ‘I am doing what I can.'”
After the screening, the students enthusiastically shared their experience and thoughts about moving forward:
“After watching The Price of Free you will never be the same. You will carefully read the labels in supermarkets. You will evaluate your every purchase and think whether [you] really need another decorative box or a candle. Consumerism at its highest degree of barbarism is the focus of Derek Doneen’s film… Kailash Satyarthi has a mission: the battle for the right of every kid on this planet to have a childhood.”
—Asem Nurlanova, Fall 2017 MFA Documentary
“From the opening of the documentary to the last frame, there was not a minute where I felt unmoved or a disconnect by the reality of the harsh hitting stories. The director, Derek Doneen, did an exceptional job bringing the reality to life. As the credits rolled, I saw people right, left, and center tearing up, almost sobbing.
“Not a lot of people have the power to move the world forward with them, he surely is one of them. It was an honor and an inspiration to be in the same room and having a moving conversation with the humble man himself, Mr. Satyarthi. I highly recommend for everybody to watch The Price of Free and would like to thank Crickett Rumley and NYFA-LA for the opportunity.”
On December 20, New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA student Shi Tanxuan showcased his short film, Lip Reader: Game of Detective at the 15th Guangzhou College Student Film Festival, one of China’s most prestigious student film festivals. It came away as one of the festival’s biggest winners.
Lip Reader: Game of Detective is a comedic detective story, written to be part of a cinematic, “special detective universe” — a rare and ambitious trait for a student film. Lip Reader tells the story of Lin, a college student with a severe hearing impairment, who has a fantastic talent for reading lips. Lin, who works as an “intelligence analyst” for a paparazzi company, must track down a missing $20 million diamond necklace two days before a popular Chinese actress is to wear it at the Academy Awards.
Lip Reader stood out from more than 500 short films at the 15th Guangzhou College Student Film Festival. The event is one of two college student film festivals approved by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. Popular with students across the country and beyond, it plays an important role in promoting Chinese movies.
By the end of the festival, it had won the Gold Award in the “Original Motion Picture and Animation Film Competition (Drama) competition. Additionally, it picked up the “Huayi Brothers Media Group Star-making Entertainment Special Award” at the award ceremony.
Shi Tanxuan started the MFA in Filmmaking program at New York Film Academy in Summer 2017 at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. In addition to writing and directing Lip Reader, he also put together a cast and crew of several other Chinese students and alumni from NYFA, including:
General Executive Producer Peipei Duan 2017 Fall MFA Producing
Second Unit Director Kaibo Xu 2017 Fall MFA Filmmaking
1st & 2nd Assistant Director Fei Chen Mengmeng 2018 Fall BFA Filmmaking
Post Supervisor Cherry Cao MFA Fall 2015 Filmmaking
Post Production Coordinator Zhenghao Yang 2016 Fall MFA Filmmaking
Cast: Klay Li 2016 Spring MFA Filmmaking
2015 Spring MFA Acting for Film
2018 Summer MFA Acting
BFA Fall 16 Acting 1C
BFA Acting 2017
The New York Film Academy congratulates the above students and alumni on their hard work and wishes Shi Tanxuan the best of luck as he expands the story and universe of Lip Reader: Game of Detective!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum António Botelho hails from Lisbon, Portugal and has acted, produced, written, shot, and crewed on several projects both in his home country and aboard.
Botelho attended NYFA’s 2-year Filmmaking program in 2008 at our New York City campus, where he gained invaluable experience directing and shooting his own films as well as serving as an integral crewmember on other students’ films.
His education and professional experience culminated this year in the release of Ruth, the Portuguese feature film directed by Botelho. Ruth is set in the early 1960s and tells the story of Eusébio, an immigrant from Mozambique and football (soccer) superstar who finds himself in a heated sports rivalry amidst political turmoil during the country’s fascist regime.
The New York Film Academy spoke with Botelho about his film and career earlier this year:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): Can you talk a bit about the process involved in getting Ruth subsidized by Portugal?
António Botelho (AB): In Portugal there are hardly any private companies (film or other) that finance their own movies. There isn’t a studio system. There are film companies who produce movies mostly by grants and state competitions with many categories (short films, first features, feature films, documentaries, documentaries short, animation, etc.).
It was through one of these state competitions that Ruth was subsidized. The film company in charge of the production had to present a budget and all sorts of documents boosting the film’s value and whatnot.
My part, in that competition entry, was to write a director’s view kind of document, with my own personal approach on how the movie would be made. It’s a matter of luck. It’s one in a billion.
NYFA: How do you approach the filmmaking process?
AB: I’m a very practical filmmaker. I consider myself a film buff first, then a filmmaker. Great movies are made every year, some of them share the same story, and so I know the movie that I’m making is probably not going to be a Citizen Kane… movies shouldn’t impose on themselves or their filmmakers.
I try to make a movie that makes sense. I put the script and the actors first, then I adapt to several circumstances… as all filmmakers do.
As [NYFA’s founder] Jerry Sherlock put it: “Story, story, story.”
NYFA: How did NYFA help prepare you to be on set for your feature film debut?
AB: NYFA helped me prepare in a sense that it taught me to having the most done — as a director — before entering the set. I prepare myself so that each day I know what I’m shooting, but also how it’s going to cut together. Having a big sense in all film areas, provided by the faculty, helps the filmmaking process and teaches you to respect your fellow colleagues. Filmmaking isn’t a solo thing.
Also, it taught me to act quickly in the face of adversity, because most times you’ll have to adapt.
NYFA: Will Ruth be available online or in other countries?
AB: Eventually it will be online in some of the screening platforms. What I can say for now is that there’s a possibility of it premiering in France in January 2019, and maybe also Germany.
The New York Film Academy thanks António Botelho for his time and thoughtful responses and wishes him the best of luck in his promising career!
On Friday, December 7, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a guest lecture by Peter Rainer, noted Christian Science Monitor film critic, Bloomberg News columnist, and reviewer for National Public Radio’s FilmWeek.
Rainer began by sharing the origin of his interest in movies. When he was a boy, there were not very many movies on television; because of this, he would re-watch the same movies over and over again when they aired, and doing this caused him to examine and question various elements of the films.
Once he was older, he started attending screenings of classic movies at revival theaters in New York City and reading film history books and articles by critics. He was inspired by the work of critic James Agee, who he felt elevated film criticism to art by writing with passion and style and not just listing the pros and cons of films.
“It made me think for the first time that maybe, you know, I could write about movies and be a real writer… and not just a recounter or a reviewer,” said Rainer. Rainer added that Pauline Kael was another film critic that influenced him; her style was “acerbic” and “opinionated” but distinct from other critics of her time because she was unafraid to ruffle Hollywood’s feathers.
When Rainer attended Brandeis University, he wrote movie reviews for their newspaper, The Brandeis Hoot; in Rainer’s opinion, the late 1960s to early 1970s — when he attended college — were the “Golden Age of American cinema.” During this time, Rainer had the opportunity to review classic films like A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Godfather (1972) and Cabaret (1972), and he built a portfolio of work that he later used to try to get jobs as a professional writer.
Eventually, Rainer got a job as a film critic for Mademoiselle magazine, but it was not enough to support him financially. He co-wrote a screenplay and it was produced as a film called Joyride (1977) starring Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Melanie Griffith, but Rainer’s heart was still in film criticism more than filmmaking. “I still had this jones to be a critic.” said Rainer.
Rainer then went on to work for the daily newspaper, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where he worked for 10 years as chief critic. When The Herald Examiner ceased publication, Rainer was hired as a film critic for the Los Angeles Times. He struggled at the Times because their editors were hesitant to criticize films made by big Hollywood production companies — they didn’t want to lose the companies’ advertising money. Rainer was frustrated with the Times’ priorities and ultimately moved on to other publications, eventually landing at the Christian Science Monitor, at which he has worked for 13 years. Additionally, he is a reviewer for National Public Radio.
Rainer shared that, as movies are increasingly distributed through digital streaming networks like Netflix, the experience of a film critic has evolved; now critics are expected to watch and review more and more movies at a time and more and more movies in a digital streaming format rather than at a theater. Rainer feels that this infringes on the critic’s — and ultimately the moviegoer’s — experience because it reduces one’s ability to be absorbed into the world of the film. Additionally, some films have special effects and production design that is better showcased on a big screen.
Rainer inquired about the students in the audience and their filmmaking aspirations. “I think in the end, filmmaking, acting, writing, producing is the same thing as what I do,” said Rainer, “in the sense that you have to sort of find who you are and work out of your own experience.” Rainer emphasized the importance of authenticity in the art of moviemaking but, he added, “I don’t know if it’s that simple.”
Ultimately, a film’s quality is based on a balance between a basic knowledge of the process and history of filmmaking and how well the story is conveyed by the actors and production team. A film critique’s quality is based on that film knowledge as well as a clear point-of-view about the movie being reviewed. Additionally, Rainer added that serious criticism is about dissecting the various aspects of a film and whether or not they conveyed the story and tone in a clear way, rather than just sharing opinions for the sake of sharing opinions — an activity heavily encouraged by the rise of internet culture.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank film critic Peter Rainer for discussing lessons learned throughout his career, and for his advice for young filmmakers from a critic’s perspective.
Lujein Ashi is a filmmaker, graphic designer, and storyteller who works for Saudi Arabia’s leading oil company, Saudi Aramco. In August, Lujein completed the 4-week Filmmaking workshop at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus after winning a scholarship with a 1-minute video.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) met up with Lujein to find out what her experience was like with the program, and what her plans for the future include.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): So, how did your interest in coming here start?
Lujein Ashi (LA): I’ve always loved filmmaking stories since I was a child. I told stories to my sisters before we’d go to sleep, stuff I’d make up. I remember there was one moment that really stood out to me in my life. I went to watch Lord of the Rings in the cinema. I was with my friends. When we left everybody was so happy, but I felt sad. I didn’t understand it then. I understand it now. I felt like I was on the wrong side of the screen, like I was the one who was supposed to be giving people that feeling, not people giving that feeling to me. So, stories have always been a part of my life.
When it came time to choose what I wanted to study in college, I had to choose something that was practical. In the Gulf, we don’t have many opportunities for film, but then the New York Film Academy came to Bahrain to do a promo. I went and I just sat there and listened to [Dean of Enrollment Services] Tami Alexander do the presentation. She was really sweet.
I told her one day I’m going to come — hopefully, if it’s meant for me — and I signed up to their newsletter. I think it was like a month or two later, I get an email saying there was an opportunity for two scholarships for Saudi students. They want to encourage Saudi filmmakers because they’re opening cinemas in Saudi.
I saw the email late. I had two days to come up with my 1-minute video. I’ve never done a film before, but I knew I could write. So I wrote a script really fast and I did a very little video. I must have done something right, because she contacted me and told me I was one of the two students that got the scholarship. I was really, really happy. I cried hysterically.
So I came here. It’s been a crazy four weeks. It’s just so amazing, the collaboration that you have with people… people that were strangers to me on Day One are like really close friends. There’s nothing like it, really. It’s everything I thought it would be, and even more.
LA: I think there’s no place better to learn filmmaking than in Los Angeles because it’s the hub of worldwide, excellent movies. It’s where the Hollywood industry is. Universal, Warner Brothers… all of these places, they’re all here. So there’s no place better to learn filmmaking.
NYFA: What did you learn about filmmaking?
LA: It’s all about story, that’s for sure. If your story is weak, then it doesn’t matter what you’re going to do. It’s not going to be something that touches people. Also technically the camera is your eye. You need to be one with the camera. You have to look through it, and if you don’t like what you see then you’re not going to like your movie.
I mean, it’s not like people can imagine what you meant, you know? So you have to be aware of the technical stuff. Which [at first] was very hard for me, because I’ve never touched a camera before, but Charlie did a really good job teaching us.
NYFA: Is this something you want to continue doing? What’s your plan after this?
LA: I found my heart here. I really did. It’s an amazing thing to find. People live their whole lives trying to find that thing they love. I think that’s the key to a happy life. I really feel like I found it here. I’m really going to try and do my master’s in this. Hopefully, then I could just do this for as long as I can.
NYFA: Do you see opportunities opening up in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain?
LA: Yes, for sure! Especially with the opening of cinemas, the government has been opening different entertainment entities trying to open things up to the people. I think there’s definitely going to be a demand for that. It’s going to be an exciting time for Saudi.
NYFA: As Saudi opens up, is there a place there for you? Do you see yourself working there?
LA: I don’t know. I mean, sure, if there’s a place for me in Saudi to make great movies. I would love to. I mean, it’s my country. But to me, my geographic location was never something that was important. I’m very multicultural. My father is from Saudi, my mom’s from Lebanon, I lived in Baghdad, and I’m married to a Palestinian. I come from very different places, so I never felt like I belonged somewhere. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage, but sometimes it’s an advantage. Wherever you are, you feel like you can just connect with people because you’re from everywhere, basically.
So yeah, I mean, I could be — for example— in LA or in New York or anywhere with like-minded people, trying to do the same thing, just doing what we love; ultimately making somebody feel something. That’s why we go to the movies, right? Because we want to feel something! I could make somebody feel like Lord Of The Rings made me feel or Game of Thrones or any of these shows that have changed me so profoundly. It just amazes me how somebody could get that feeling out of you. It’s so satisfying.
NYFA: You mentioned two high-fantasy titles — is that kind of your thing?
LA: I love fantasy, yeah. I mean, I love getting out of the real boring world and leaping into somebody’s imagination. That’s something out of this world!
NYFA: Why do you think stories are important?
LA: I think they make people feel empathy for one another and understand each other on a level that maybe we don’t. In real life, there are a lot of issues that, when a film sheds light on them, could actually bring people closer together. You know, I think arts and filmmaking have the capacity to change people’s lives, to change societies and to open people up.
Truthfully, it’s fundamental for our growth. It’s fundamental for us to connect and to see the point-of-view of other people. If I saw it from your perspective, which is what film lets you do, maybe I’ll be able to connect with you and understand you.
The New York Film Academy wishes Lujein Ashi the best of success with her future endeavors, and hopes to see more of her amazing and beautiful stories in the near future!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Instructor Ben Cohen has had a productive 2018. His sitcom screenplay, The Library, recently made the 2nd Round at the 2018 Austin Film Festival. Additionally, it was a finalist in the New York Screenplay Contest.
Cohen hails from Decatur, Georgia and is currently based in Brooklyn. He has studied at various institutions across the globe, and has honed his comedy chops at Upright Citizen Brigade, among other theaters and playhouse troupes.
In addition to writing and performing, he currently teaches for the Filmmaking school at New York Film Academy’s New York City campus, where he has gained a reputation for being incredibly devoted to both his students and his fellow faculty members. He is also a great role model for the aspiring film school students he teaches, as he balances his position at NYFA with a working career in the film and comedy industry, much like most of the Academy’s experienced, industry-savvy faculty members.
It’s no surprise then that his script for The Library made it to the 2nd Round of the 2018 Austin Film Festival (AFF). The AFF was founded in 1994 and has a focus on screenwriters, and has had judges from Warner Bros., Pixar, ABC Studios, and Nickelodeon in past years.
Ben Cohen Hosting 2018 NYFA Emmy Party in NYC
Cohen’s script was also a finalist for the New York Screenplay Contest, a premiere global screenwriting contest that has introduced numerous talented and unique voices to the industry. Being named as a Finalist or Winner of the contest is a coveted, distinct honor.
Cohen has remained modest about his recent achievements, telling NYFA, “It’s nice to see my writing get some recognition, but it’s important for folks to know rejection isn’t the negative — it’s the norm.”
Expounding on this, he continued, “Much more of your creative life is spent being told that you’re not good enough, but you have to keep writing, and more importantly, keep sharing your writing. I’ve learned to appreciate the good days (like this one) and just keep going. It helps to care about other things. My students know I’m just as happy to talk sports or Bowie as I am to talk about writing.”
Additionally, Cohen was recently featured in a PBS Documentary produced by NYFA alum Ashton Brooks, and he plans to continue writing and pursuing gigs in the industry.
The New York Film Academy congratulates filmmaking instructor Ben Cohen on his recent successes and looks forward to those still yet to come!
Jameelah Rose del Prado Lineses has won several awards for her various film projects since attending New York Film Academy (NYFA), and last October, she added another. At the 8th Annual International Film Festival Manhattan, Lineses earned the Best Cinematography Award for her music video, Atareek.
The 2018 International Film Festival Manhattan (IFFM 2018) opened on October 17 and ran until October 21, with its awards ceremony held on October 18 at the Philippine Consulate in New York City. Lineses screened Atareek at the Producers Club Theaters, just a few blocks from Times Square. Saudi Vice Consul of the Saudi Arabian Consulate, Mazin AlMouallimi, was in attendance at the event.
Atareek is “a journey to the colorful streets of Old Balad” that explores “the beautiful history of the city’s rich culture and heritage.” It was the only film representing Saudi Arabia at this year’s festival, and was shot, directed, edited, and produced by Lineses, who was assisted by her mother throughout the shoot.
Lineses picked up a lot of the skills necessary for filmmaking, from pre-production through post-production, at the New York Film Academy, which she first attended in June 2011 when she enrolled in the 8-Week Filmmaking workshop. Two months after that, she deepened her studies and attended the 1-Year Filmmaking program at NYFA’s New York City campus.
Atareek was filmed in 2017 entirely in Jeddah during the Atareek festival and is the third production Lineses has made that features Historic Jeddah. Her previous films, Historic Jeddah and Our Journey to Hijaz, have garnered significant praise from multiple festivals in the last several years.
In addition to Atareek, Lineses worked on two other films that were Official Selections at IFFM 2018. She was Associate Producer on Reunion as well as Assistant Director, Editor, cast member, and one of the producers of Mindanao.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Jameelah Rose del Prado Lineses on her film Atareek and her latest award win!
Claudio Casale is a busy filmmaker, but recently he found the time to speak with New York Film Academy (NYFA). It was here that he attended our 8-week Filmmaking workshop in April 2017, where he quickly added an arsenal of skills to his already impressive filmmaking prowess.
“Claudio was one of those students a teacher is so happy to have in the class,” tells his NYFA directing instructor, Thomas Barnes, continuing, “brilliant, passionate, original, and supportive of his colleagues.”
Claudio has been incredibly productive since finishing the Filmmaking workshop, working on all sorts of different projects—short films, feature films, narratives, documentaries. In the summer of 2018, he achieved a career highlight when his documentary My Tyson won the MigArti Best Documentary Award at the Venice International Film Festival.
Claudio spoke with NYFA about that film and win, as well as filmmaking in general, working in documentary, and what lies ahead for him:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Claudio Casale (CC): I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. I graduated in Business Management, and at 22 I took two years abroad, mainly in India and Southeast Asia, where I started filmmaking constantly. Many shorts later, NYFA was the first proper education I received on filmmaking. I was mostly self-taught and I joined the 8-week program to gain experience on set dynamics and directing actors.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your film My Tyson?
CC:My Tyson is a 15-minute short doc on Alaoma Tyson, an Italian teenager born in Italy from Nigerian parents. Today, at 18 years old, Tyson is the Italian boxing champion in the youth heavyweight category. Patience, his mother, sews traditional clothes for the Nigerian community in the Roman suburb they live in.
As Tyson trains for his next match, Patience tells him the story of their family, revealing ancient rituals, financial struggles, and a severe migration experience.
CC: Migration is an issue worldwide, from the US all the way to Australia. In Europe, Italy is the first port of arrival for the majority of migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and Maghreb. As many filmmakers of my generation, I felt the need to take a stand on this issue, by offering to the audience a perspective that might get lost in the news cycle. Observation and research was key, as I had to find the story – and therefore my inspiration – on the field: I spent five months with Alaoma Tyson and his family before shooting a single frame.
NYFA: How did you get your film involved with MigrArti?
CC: MigrArti is a yearly call made by the Minister of Culture in Italy (MiBAC). The production working with me on My Tyson had to submit a detailed dossier for our project. MigrArti can be very competitive, and I was honoured that our project was among the selected ones. Watching our short doc premiere during the 75th Venice International Film Festival was really emotional, and I feel grateful that the Jury awarded My Tyson as MigrArti Best Documentary.
NYFA: What are your plans for My Tyson after Venice?
CC: We are sending out My Tyson to festivals, as that’s a great way to receive professional feedback and connect with fellow filmmakers. I would be delighted to personally attend international festivals as well, so to see by myself how different audiences relate to the story.
On the other hand, in Italy we are planning screenings solely for migrants, thanks to the cooperation of NGOs such as ARCI Solidarietà Onlus. Bringing cinema to places where it usually hasn’t belonged, like migration centres and public schools, is a duty as well as a chance to test the impact our little film may have on people we can’t reach with a traditional theatrical run.
Then, at the end of the festival distribution, at least in Italy we are working to have a selected theatrical distribution, likely paired with a feature documentary.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
CC: In September, I was in Sicily to direct a narrative short film in 35mm, Inshallah, about to enter post-production. Also, I have a feature documentary in creative and financial development, in which I will invest most of my time this year. It’s a project I am very attached to and I can’t wait to get myself on set to shoot it.
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on My Tyson, or your work in general?
CC: Among the lessons I received at NYFA, two came particularly handy in this project. First, as director you have got to leave the camera to the operator! As many native-digital filmmakers, I also grew very attached to the camera body (I was my own operator on my first shorts). It wasn’t necessarily easy to delegate that, as it is an act of trust toward the operator, especially on a documentary where things happen out of script and must be captured instinctively.
But at NYFA, I learned to do just that: trusting the crew I work with and delegating everything that may distract me from the scene. In some projects I would still be my own operator of course, but thanks to NYFA I could recognize that My Tyson wasn’t one of those cases.
Second: directing actors! I find the method taught at NYFA to be extremely effective. Honestly, that module alone was worth the whole course for me. With time, I changed it a little to adapt it to documentaries, where you don’t direct actors but subjects, so the relationship is more subtle and the non-actors’ spontaneity is the first priority and must always be protected. I believe that directing actors and non-actors is what ultimately makes a director great, and that’s something hard to learn without seeing some experts at work, either by joining a school or by being on set as 1st or 2nd AD.
NYFA: Do you prefer working in narrative or documentary filmmaking?
CC: When I started shooting, I had only narrative filmmaking in mind, and frankly I still look forward to direct a feature narrative one day. Documentary happened by chance, yet for the moment I found my little niche here.
As for today, I certainly prefer working on documentary filmmaking for a variety of reasons: first, it’s cheaper, so development and pre-production are generally quicker compared with narrative. Second, you can easily practice rhythm and pace with a running time of 52 minutes or longer, a key area of learning for any aspiring director. Last but not least, documentary today is wide open to visual experimentation, an ideal condition for me.
NYFA: What differences or similarities do you find between narrative and documentary filmmaking?
CC: Comparing short films only, in my opinion the key advantage of documentary filmmaking is the level of experimentation it allows. I honestly find narrative short films too rigid sometime, as nowadays the pressure to deliver the highest possible production value risks to overpass the focus aspiring directors should be putting into the storytelling.
After all, short films are the only tool we have to discover who we really are as visual storytellers. The similarities between narrative and documentary filmmaking are more than one could tend to believe: year after year, more documentaries are shot with a real cinematic language in mind. And I believe that’s one of the reason behind today’s boom of documentaries: many narrative storytellers are getting into documentary, shaping it with their own tools.
On the other hand, generally speaking, narrative filmmaking may allow for a wider freedom of expression, especially if you get to write and direct your own script. In conclusion, I would suggest students to be open to both forms, as for different reasons they are equally important in the early stage of a filmmaker’s career.
NYFA: What other advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
CC: If you are a total newbie on filmmaking, be ready to run and absorb everything you’re told. Raise your hand and ask your classmates for help, as at the end of the day, it’s all about the teamwork.
While If you have some filmmaking experience already, as I did, be ready to put everything you know aside. Don’t let your previous knowledge block you from learning further. Be open and receptive, and you will take something new and essential with you every day.
NYFA: Anything we missed you’d like to speak on?
CC: No questions about the Deli down in Battery Park? I must admit, sometimes I miss that sushi! 🙂
The New York Film Academy thanks Claudio Casale for his time and thoughtful answers, and looks forward to seeing what inspiring films he comes out with next. We sincerely hope he comes back to New York for a visit sometime and has some sushi from the Deli downstairs!
On Friday, November 18, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of IFC’s DriverX (2018), followed by a Q&A with director/writer and NYFA instructor, Henry Barrial; producer, Mark Stolaroff; and star, Patrick Fabian; featuring and moderated by NYFA Acting Dept. Associate Chair, Anne Moore.
Barrial is a writer, director, and filmmaking/acting instructor at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. DriverX marks Barrial’s fifth feature. His previous credits include The House That Jack Built, Pig, and Some Body,which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Stolaroff is a producer with 25+ years in the business, and is considered to be an expert in micro-budget filmmaking. He has produced all five of Barrial’s features.
Fabian has been a working actor for over 25 years, with 115+ credits to his name. He currently stars as Howard Hamlin on AMC’s Emmy-nominated Better Call Saul. His other credits include Friends, Grey’s Anatomy, The Newsroom, Criminal Minds, and Will & Grace, to name a few. Film audiences may know him best as Reverend Cotton Marcus in The Last Exorcism, and he is also fondly remember as “Professor Lasky” in Saved by the Bell: The College Years. Fabian has also starred in NYFA alum Aymen Khoja’s Arabian Warrior, the first ever Saudi-American feature.
Moderator Anne Moore opened up the Q&A by asking Barrial about the collaboration between Fabian and himself on the script, as Barrial wrote the part of Leonard Moore specifically for Fabian. “I had the outline of the script worked out before I brought it to Patrick, and from there we worked on the character development,” says Barrial. He added, “In terms of the actual writing of the script, that was all me.”
Barrial went on to discuss the importance of collaboration and community in this business, with Fabian chiming in by asking, “Who on this stage has been playing beach volleyball for the past 15 years together?” Barrial, Fabian, and Moore all raised their hands and it was revealed they have been friends and colleagues for a very long time.
Barrial went on to talk about the personal nature of this project and his collaboration with producer Mark Stolaroff. “Most producers won’t tell you what their budget was, but I will!” exclaimed Stolaroff. Immediately a Filmmaking student asked what the budget was, with Stolaroff answering, “We started with a budget of $100,000 which got us through production. From there we did a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds we needed for Post, so all in the budget is $140,000.”
Obviously the movie is a labor of love as many of the cast and crew have worked on Barrial/Stolaroff films before.
When asked about how Fabian worked around his Better Call Saul shooting schedule, Fabian replied, “First off, I have to say how happy I am that I have a job that needs to be worked around. Henry and Mark were great about my schedule, but that’s what you do, you make it work.”
Fabian went on to talk about his longevity in the business, and the importance of being prepared: “You need to show up, be ready, and be early. And take care of yourselves when you don’t get the part. Go hiking, drink juice, do whatever you need to get you through the tough times, because if you stay focused and committed, things will go your way.”
The New York Film Academy thanks Patrick Fabian, Mark Stolaroff, and Henry Barrial for sharing their insights about making an independent film on a micro budget with a challenging schedule.
DriverX opens November 30th in theaters and on demand.