On Friday, April 12, New York Film Academy hosted a filmmaking workshop for students participating in “Looking Ahead,” a program under the umbrella of The Actors Fund which provides education planning, counseling services, leadership, community service and social opportunities for professional young actors. “Our program’s all about giving students the opportunity to learn about the industry in a hands-on environment—beyond acting—to see what happens behind the scenes and broaden their perspectives,” shared “Looking Ahead” youth services specialist, Vy Nguyen.
NYFA’s collaboration with The Actors Fund and “Looking Ahead” is part of our community outreach program, which strives to give young adults who are not typically given opportunities to express their voices and realize their dreams the chance to do so.
The workshop, led by NYFA Filmmaking instructor Bart Mastronardi, provided a full overview of all the technical elements of shooting a scene, from lighting to camera operation to sound to set decoration and continuity. The students were enthusiastic learners and were complimented multiple times for their respectfulness and adaptability. Mastronardi was very impressed by the group; he informed them that their focus and politeness would take them far in the entertainment industry.
Harry White, age 13, acted as a director during the workshop; he got to call “Action!” and “Cut!” as well as help out the lighting team. “I had a lot of fun today,” he said, “I learned a lot about how the camera works and the calls and what all the stuff means.”
Justin Claiborne, age 12, had one of the most technically complex jobs onset: camera operator. When asked about his experience with “Looking Ahead,” he said, “I thought it was amazing; I always wanted to be one of the [camera operators]; it was really cool to have that experience.”
KylieRae Condon, age 14 and one of the most inquisitive students in the group, performed another technically complex role—focus puller; it was Condon’s job to make sure that the actors were always in focus during shooting. “I had a lot of fun,” she said, “and I thought it was very informative and hands-on.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates the bright group of young students on their successful completion of our filmmaking workshop and thanks The Actors Fund and “Looking Ahead” for all their assistance in the collaboration.
Several students attending New York Film Academy (NYFA) in Florence, Italy came together to shoot a stunning new video about the experience of learning film and acting in the breathtakingly beautiful city.
All of the Fall 2018 Florence students were invited to participate in the shooting of a new video and photo shoot for NYFA’s Florence programs. By working as crew members, and acting in the piece, the students were getting first-hand experience doing the very things they came to Florence to learn.
The students went through auditions and casting, as well as interviews, to mimic the process it takes to score coveted roles in a highly competitive industry. While some of the students were assigned smaller roles than they may have tried out for, it was nonetheless a lesson in humility and acceptance that is needed to continue a career in the visual arts.
The leading actors cast in the video were students David Puskas (1-semester Acting for Film) and Faranak Moradi (1-semester Filmmaking). Additionally, Filmmaking students Joren Pelsma, Pietro Barba, Scott Carlson worked as camera assistants and second unit director of photography. Several other NYFA Florence students participated in the shoot as supporting actors, extras, make up artists, and other roles.
Everyone involved showed a deep level of commitment toward their craft and a passion for learning as much as possible. The shoot started at dawn—the Magic Hour—so the students were up very early and ready to work. To mimic a professional set, the students all sat and ate breakfast together before the first shot.
Students weren’t just involved in the production of the video, but the post-production as well. They were given the opportunity to watch an early cut of the video and give their feedback and notes for the next re-edit.
Projects such as this newest video are not uncommon at NYFA Florence, and students often have a chance to work on projects outside of their own that are deeply tied to the Renaissance city. Thanks to a well-established relationship between NYFA and the municipal government of Florence, NYFA students and staff are often invited to shoot professional videos in collaboration with the city of Florence itself, including its orchestral Strings City event. This, in turn, also gives the students professional credits to add to their resumes before they’ve even finished the program!
You can find more information on the programs offered at NYFA Florence HERE.
On Saturday, March 30, the New York Film Academy hosted the graduation of the Duke Youth Media Camp class of 2019. The Media Camp—which kicked off its collaboration with NYFA on January 26 at our Los Angeles campus—is sponsored by the Duke Media Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Bill Duke in 2010.
Bill Duke, a filmmaking instructor at NYFA, is a veteran director and actor, known for high-profile roles in several television series and films, including American Gigolo, Black Lightning, Mandy, Predator, and X-Men: The Last Stand. He’ll also set to appear in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh film, High Flying Bird. At the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, Duke was nominated for the Palme d’Or for his film, A Rage in Harlem.
The partnership between the Duke Media Foundation and New York Film Academy began in 2016, and their joint-effort Duke Youth Media Camp seeks to train and empower teens through hands-on instruction and by teaching students the tools and skills needed in a constantly evolving media environment. The Duke Media Foundation and NYFA aim to help inner-city youth become more competitive with those who’ve typically had greater access to the education and equipment needed in a television, film, and digital media landscape.
The 2019 graduation ceremony was the largest ever with 16 graduates instead of the usual 12. When Duke Media instructor Lee Davis spoke to the students and their proud parents, he shared that this was the most talented group of students he had ever seen in the program.
Michael Sandoval, a NYFA instructor involved in the program, added, “It was a pleasure to work with this group of students,” and said that the only time the students were ever told to quiet down was when they were laughing too loudly because they were having such a good time.
Echoing Davis and Sandoval, Media Camp co-founder Carl Gilliard said, “I am so full today.” He continued, “Build a name that commands something [but] don’t forget to give back.”
Paul Caruso from Lost Kids of Los Angeles Inc., one of the sponsors of the program, gave some advice to the graduates: “Make sure the world is a better place tomorrow than it was today … pay it forward.” After some words of wisdom, Caruso surprised the graduates with brand new Dell laptops—a gift from DHL, one of LKLA’s partners. Caruso shared that he wanted to make sure the students had the tools to help them be as successful as possible in the internet age.
The students were then asked to speak about what they learned from the camp; many spoke about how much they enjoyed trying out every aspect of filmmaking and about the friends they made. One student, Lexi Sherwood, spoke to one of the deeper aspects of the program: “If we don’t tell our stories, who will?”
At the end of the ceremony, Bill Duke spoke to the students, saying, “I cannot tell you how proud I am of you. You’re part of our family forever.” Following one of the themes of the afternoon, he added, “Don’t forget those that didn’t have the same opportunities that you did.”
The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate this year’s Duke Youth Media Camp graduates and thanks the Duke Media Foundation for creating this wonderful opportunity for these aspiring storytellers.
On March 21, Students from Sun Valley High School were able to attend a filmmaking workshop at the New York Film Academy-Los Angeles (NYFA-LA) that allowed them to produce short films at the highest level over the course of a single day.
NYFA’s hands-on approach gave the students a chance to learn college- and professional-industry level practices on the Universal Studios Backlot, where students of NYFA’s conservatories, workshops, and degree programs also have the opportunity to shoot their films. Over the course of the day, the Sun Valley students were able to shoot, direct, and edit their very own short films.
The students were broken up into teams and worked closely with NYFA instructor Steve Morris to make their films. The students had a great time and were able to enjoy a professional atmosphere created by the NYFA team that will prepare them should they ever enter the industry. The goal of the workshop especially is to inspire them to be creative and believe in themselves as creatives.
New York Film Academy has been partnering with Sun Valley High School for several years. The four-year educational institution is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District and has a goal to “shape young minds to be prepared for tomorrow’s challenges not only in film, but in life and give [their] students the ability to cognitively understand society and allow them the freedom to make choices for their own success.”
Some of the Sun Valley students spoke about their films and their experience making them:
Daniel: “One thing I like working on the backlot of Universal Studios is just seeing everything how it was back then and what it looks like now … Right now we’re working on a comedy film, where a guy is meeting up with his crush and he just has bad luck—he’s trying to get to her but he keeps having bad luck that stops him … They meet up and in the middle of the film she hits her face on a pole and that’s his bad luck happening to her. My favorite thing about working here is being able to have the experience and work with teens like me and just learn the everyday things and I just love it”.
John: “We’re working on a film about a kid—so basically he’s supposed to tie his shoe but he can never tie his shoe because there’s always something distracting him … He ends up seeing the guy who robs him for his shoe and gets his shoes back and that’s basically it. I’m not gonna lie—our shot was a little rough in the beginning because we had some complications, but we worked it out and discussed it and we’re just rolling with it. It’s going pretty good now and we’re almost close to finishing it. What I like most about being on the backlot is the new experience—it’s my first time being here. I’ve never seen a backlot like this before. I always wanted to work in the film industry; personally, I want to be a screenwriter, but I wouldn’t mind acting because it’s pretty cool out here.”
Fernanda: “I’m the director of the short film that we’re filming here on the Universal backlot and our film is basically about a girl that falls in love with this guy and they end up getting pregnant, but the guy doesn’t want the baby so he beats her and becomes really abusive and she has a miscarriage. My favorite thing about the universal backlot is we get to location scout … We don’t have time to procrastinate so everything’s really fast and fun. My favorite scene was the beating scenes because it was so intense and getting the shots and angles for that scene especially was so cool. I feel really confident with my accomplishments.”
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Alexandre Kyriakidis grew up watching movies, and eventually, started making his own. Kyriakidis attended NYFA’s 8-week and 12-week workshops in 2001 before going on to shoot multiple short films as well as over 50 music videos across the globe.
Kyriakidis hails from France from Greek and American parents, and has lived both in Europe and California, watching movies from his grandmother’s vast film collection nearly as early as he can remember. Those movies both inspired and influenced his own projects, which he started making at a young age and continues to make today.
Filmmaking runs in the family — Kyriakidis’s aunt is producer, director, and Oscar-winning actress, Jodie Foster. While Kyriakidis says their artistic sensibilities differ greatly, Foster has still appeared in some of his favorite films.
The New York Film Academy spoke with Alexandre Kyriakidis earlier this year about his background, his work, and about the four movies that had a lasting impact on his filmmaking aesthetic:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Alexandre Kyriakidis (AK): I was born in France from a Greek father and an American mother, and have been living in Europe most of my life with some extended periods in the USA, in California mostly. I started making backyard films in high school until landing an internship at 14 years old for the French visual effects company DUBOI (they don’t exist anymore), who were doing Alien: Resurrection at the time.
What brought me to NYFA was that after graduating from high school I couldn’t find a film school that I liked; most of them would rely too much on theory and not enough on practice, and I also didn’t want to sit in classes for hours learning about the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder for example, when I had already seen these films and built my own film education since I was a kid.
But then I learned about New York Film Academy and it suited me perfectly; it was all about practice and hands on, where just after the first day you would already touch and use the most important tool in filmmaking — the camera. It was all about living, breathing, and dreaming films.
NYFA: What was your time at NYFA like?
AK: It was the best time in my life, because nothing around me was important, nothing else mattered but films, and I was surrounded by people just like me — people who loved films more than anything.
I also met some of the most amazing people in my life, other students with whom I shared the same passion, other students with whom I can talk about movies that weren’t just blockbusters, and students from all over the world who became friends and with whom I still communicate today.
NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on directing?
AK: I always wanted to tell stories, to make movies, but I wanted to be the person who was in charge of the creative aspect — deciding what was going to be on the screen, basically put on the screen what is in my head — and that is why I wanted to become a director.
I have had many influences from when I was a kid, and even today I’m influenced by many great filmmakers. But when I was a kid, four movies had a big impact on me, and three were directed by the same person.
First was Raiders of the Lost Ark by Steven Spielberg. I think I saw that film on VHS when I was four or five years old, and I remember seeing it in Greece at my godfather’s home. Looking back at it today, it’s a harmless film, but … leaves a big impact on you as a kid.
The other film was Robocop, that I saw on VHS at six, and when I first saw it, it felt like if I was watching something forbidden, something I wasn’t allowed to see … Then when I was eight, Total Recall was being replayed in Greece one night on a giant screen on the beach, and my dad and godfather took me to see it.
And then when I was ten, I was in Los Angeles one summer and my grandmother showed me Basic Instinct. So as you have guessed, Paul Verhoeven had a big impact on me.
After that my grandmother, who owned at the time a huge film collection, started to show me everything she owned, from the films of Werner Herzog, to the classic Italian films like Last Tango in Paris, as well as the films of Akira Kurosawa, the films of Stanley Kubrick, French films, German films, Soviet films — I basically saw everything, and I mean absolutely everything.
So my film education came from there, and it’s after seeing all these great works of art that I wanted to make films myself.
AK: I had always wanted to make music videos, but never really knew how to get into it. All I knew is that great directors like David Fincher, for example, started in music videos and still make some once in a while.
In my case, there is this guy I know in England who was starting his own music company after owning an event company for whom I shot videos in nightclubs, and he asked me to make a music video for a Romanian singer.
And I had never worked on a music video before, never learned how to make a music video, so really I didn’t know much, but I told him I would do it. A few weeks later we were shooting on the Mediterranean with a skeleton crew and a Canon 5D camera.
And after the success of that music video, a second music video was made for the same singer; again it was a success, eventually new artists were signed up, mostly metal and hard rock, so I ended up doing more music videos.
Eventually other music companies from all over Europe, even Russia, contacted me, and I made music videos for them. Some being hits, some doing well, others doing less well, and once in a while there is a controversial one that ends up in flaming internet debates.
Now even after making 50 music videos, I still feel that I’m learning more every day, and each one of these 50 are like making a new short film each time. A good thing about music videos is that they allow you to experiment, to test new tools or to try things you would never dare doing in a movie.
NYFA: What kind of music videos do you prefer working on? Is there a particular genre of music you feel lends itself better to the medium?
AK: I have done mostly rock, metal, and gothic music videos, but I have also done a lot of pop music videos in Eastern Europe, in Southern Europe, and in Russia. My first music video was a pop one.
My taste in music is rock with a preference for ’90s and ’80s rock. I have always been a rock fan, so I’m always enjoying making rock music videos.
But I still feel pop music videos are the ones that are the most fitted for music videos, because the songs are often so overproduced and have so much Auto-Tune in them that they are often recorded with a music video already planned.
Rock music is made for the stage, pop is made for the screen.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your short films? What are they about and what inspired you to make them?
AK: My first short film, Blues Stop was made right after NYFA, shot on Super 16mm. It’s a thriller about a Bible salesman who falls for a psychopathic, beautiful female serial killer who ends up framing him for murder. The film was never shown in its home country of France, but it was screened in festivals all over the world, including in Los Angeles.
My second short film, C22, made many years after my previous one, is a sexual thriller with a dose of action, a dose of horror — it’s about a kidnapping gone wrong. This film once again didn’t get shown in any festivals in France, but was shown in festivals all across the world, including North America.
And my third short film, Sfagi, is just a small-budget martial arts action movie about capturing a fugitive. Originally it was just going to be a demo reel for a group of martial artists and stuntmen, but I managed to convince them to make a short film.
You can check out Alexandre’s film below, though speaking with NYFA, he made it clear that since it was his first film straight out of school, he finds it very hard to share with anyone these days.
“I will always be proud of it,” he says, “on the other I have made so much progress since.”
But even in his first film, his talent is evident and shows the potential of his craft that would come later. Alexandre also made sure to give props to his experienced crew, many of who had just come offLove Actually and Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief. The director of photography of the film was focus puller on Star Wars: A New Hope.
NYFA: Besides Raiders and the films of Paul Verhoeven, what are some of your other favorite films or types of films?
AK: I don’t have a type of film, I like any film — science fiction, drama, horror, action, or comedy. I can enjoy just as much a classic heavy duty drama just like I can enjoy an old ’70s exploitation film.
But my all time favorite film, the one that is all the way up there, would be Gone with the Wind and then I would say the following: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Blade Runner (the original one), Ran, Suspiria (the original one), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Léon: The Professional, Schindler’s List, and I can go on because I have actually done a list of my 200 favorite films of all time. But as you can see in just these titles, it’s very diversified.
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you’ve applied directly to your filmmaking?
AK: I learned to think and not be impulsive. By that I mean back when I was at NYFA we still shot on film, meaning that each time we pressed the camera trigger it would mean money being lost — so if you failed your shot, or if an actor messed his lines, that is money lost that you will never see again… While today with digital we can shoot all day; sure it saves a lot of money, but you end up not thinking as much anymore before shooting. While I, because I learned on film, I tend to treat digital the same way I learned to treat film.
Also the fact that NYFA is very hands on, I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty… how many times was a prop in the way and I would just go and move it myself, instead of having the 1st AD call the Prop Master so he would come and move it? How many times have I picked up the camera myself and taken the shot myself, and little details like that?
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
AK: I have been trying for years now raising enough money to make a feature film, it’s a vampire film — it’s at the same time a sexual thriller, a horror, and a romantic film. But it’s not easy.
I’m also trying to make another short film named Femme Fatale that is a tribute to the old “film noir” movies of the ’40s and ’50s. And I’m trying to finish a script named The Lobster Shift that is a mix between After Hours by Martin Scorsese, Into the Night by John Landis, and the Japanese anime Cat’s Eyes.
NYFA: How has your aunt, Jodie Foster, as either an actress or director, influenced your own work?
AK: Our works are the total opposite — she’s more cerebral than me while I’m more impulsive and react more by instinct. And you can notice it in her films, her films as a director are always very character-driven, while my works are more visually driven.
As an actress she happens to be in three of my all-time favorite 100 films — Taxi Driver of course, Silence of the Lambs obviously, and Bugsy Malone, a forgotten gem that happens to be Alan Parker’s first film.
It’s not an influence, but each one of my works — being a music video or a short film, even my scripts — she’s always the first person to see them (even sometimes before the actual producers or bands) or the first reader, especially when it comes to scripts; her advice and opinions are very precious, and help me to make them better.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
AK: Be ready to live films 24/7 … try not going out at nights and have fun learning about your passion, and you are all in good hands.
The New York Film Academy thanks alum Alexandre Kyriakidis for taking the time to answer our questions and looks forward to following his continued success as a filmmaker!
On Friday, February 15, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of El Freeman, followed by a Q&A with NYFA alumni Elhas Rahim and Antonio Chavez, co-directors of the film. The event was moderated by their former instructor, James Rowe. Rahim, who also acted in the film, is from Kazakhstan and Chavez is from Mexico—their film, El Freeman, explores the immigrant experience in America.
Rowe opened up the Q&A by asking Rahim and Chavez how they personally related to the story in the film. Rahim discussed how there was a time when, in America, he lived in his car and had to navigate being homeless and an immigrant in Los Angeles. This really helped him relate to the film’s themes of desperation and feeling like an outsider.
Another experience that really shaped Rahim’s life—and ultimately the script for El Freeman—was when Rahim tried to save a young woman in Kazakhstan who was attempting to commit suicide by jumping into a river. Rahim almost drowned attempting to save her: “I felt like I [could] die,” he said. That experience pushed Rahim to do whatever necessary to get the script for El Freeman finished, as well as inspired the backstory for the romantic relationship in the film.
Rowe noted that in El Freeman Los Angeles is represented in a grittier, less glamorous fashion than it is in most Hollywood films. Chavez shared that the production team watched a number of films with an unrefined aesthetic to get inspiration: “You start caring more about the characters because you want to pull a bit away [from the fantasy of an idealistic Los Angeles].
One of the members of the audience asked Rahim about why he pushed for a lot of rehearsal before shooting the film. “I knew this film would be more on the acting side of [things],” he replied. Rahim wanted to work through the emotional moments of the script before arriving on set. The other benefit of this was that the actors were more likely to get good takes faster, which helped with an extremely limited shooting schedule.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA alumni Elhas Rahim and Antonio Chavez for sharing their experiences as immigrants in the American entertainment industry and their advice for our students and independent filmmakers.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking alum Pablo C. Vergara has shot and is in the process of finishing the feature film metal horror, Necromurder. Vergara hails from Mexico City and works as a cinematographer, actor, and filmmaker, among other roles.
He enrolled at the New York Film Academy’s Filmmaking program in New York in Fall 2016, before moving to Hollywood to work on completing his MFA at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. In Los Angeles, he has worked on several projects, including Adverse, starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Thomas Ian Nicholas.
New York Film Academy recently spoke with Vergara about his film and how the NYFA community can support it, as well as about his passions and his ambitious plans for the future of his career and his artistic output:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Pablo C. Vergara (PCV): Hi! My name is Pablo C. Vergara. I was born in Mexico City. I am a musician and a filmmaker and have travelled the world for most my adult life and lived everywhere! This quest for adventure led me to discover the New York Film Academy when in 2016, I was invited to join them in NYC after applying for their consideration. Best decision I’ve made in my entire life!
NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on filmmaking?
PCV: This is a rather personal question but to narrow it down, I became a father and was struggling in a failing music career where basically I was stuck and being ripped off left and right and was going nowhere. So I decided to make a drastic decision, and that was to change careers and move into film, another of my main passions! I shot many, many music videos and some music documentaries while being a pro musician, so it was just underlying for me. Film it is!
NYFA: Can you tell us about your film Necromurder?
PCV: This film is going to be HOT real soon, because a new movie called Lords of Chaos has been released and it’s creating quite an impact. This movie is basically what I based my story upon. Some real crimes committed by some young crazy musicians back in the 90s. I used the same story and added some fiction and biographical elements into it.
I wrote, directed, and acted as the lead, so it was quite a challenging thing for me. And yes, I am very, very tired, but also very satisfied with the end result!
People can support the film in three ways: first, by buying into our Perks (which will be very rewarding at the end, as we are giving generous perks). Secondly, by sharing on their social media and with their email contacts, family and friends. And lastly, by working with us! This one’s the special one. If you’re in NYFA and want to be part of this project, we will be casting for actors and doing interviews for crew around the fall of this year (subject to change).
So just keep in touch, and eventually you’ll hear news about it and you just have to email me your headshot and resume and we’ll go from there! Just keep in mind it’s a heavy metal horror movie! Yes, we have zombies, too, and a scene in Limbo. In conclusion, you could support by doing all of those things, too, which wow, would definitely make you our heroes… for real!
NYFA: What inspired you to make Necromurder?
PCV: Coming from the Metal music background myself and being a musician professionally for 15 years, I got as far as getting a record deal, getting management and offers for full European tours. Two of my favorite movies are The Crow and The Doors, so basically I wanted to pay tribute to these films by making a very music-oriented movie along with strong visuals and cool dialogue and character design.
Of course, a horror too, which is my favorite genre and I’ve written four other horror screenplays. Basically, being part of the Metal world and a musician I knew about the story that I mentioned before—The Lords of Chaos—and I wanted to make a film about it. It had been documented and in countless articles and books so I thought, why not make a film about it?
But that happened right when Jonas Akerlund got the rights to do the story of the book, so I had to recreate a new story, but still based on those real events. Kind of a fictional biopic of some sorts! Plus, we shot in NYC throughout all four seasons so it’s visually striking!
NYFA: What are your plans for Necromurder after it’s completed?
PCV: I haven’t got that far yet, but definitely move it to the festival circuit a bit to see where that takes us and definitely make it a franchise! If you invest in us and this becomes a hit, I can guarantee you we’ll have Necromurder II, III, IV and maybe a Space 3D version too! Why not?!
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
PCV: When I am through with Necromurder (and it might take a while) I will definitely want to shoot my other screenplays, real cool sci-fi and serial killer stories that I wrote. Those movies would look so cool if ever made. My plan I guess is just to consolidate as a serious filmmaker and keep bringing good quality films and stories into the world!
I would love to act more, too. I love acting, but it’s hard when you are on both sides of the camera, so I would welcome acting gigs more! If anyone needs an actor, hey, I’m here!!!
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work?
PCV: I learned a lot, especially by having to multitask the way I did. I would definitely never do it that same way ever again. But that being said, it was like a “baptism by fire” and it was purely coincidental since my lead actor dropped out 12 hours prior to rolling cameras and I had to step up and take the role! A friend, trying to calm my nerves, said to me, “Just do it! You wrote it, you know the story better than anyone, and you’re a real musician! Just do it, dude!”
And so I did, but it was very hard. I know how I would want to do things differently when a new project arises. That, and having a solid screenplay! Luckily as part of acing the course, I had to have a screenplay approved and it got reviewed by three professionals and drafted to it’s eighth or ninth version!
So yes, this story kicks serious ass and it’s real solid! I also learned a lot about all that it entails to produce a film. NYFA has been pivotal in my film career and the pinnacle of it as well!
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
PCV: Enjoy it! As hard as it gets and as tired as you may get, don’t quit! Trust me, you will regret it in the end, and I’ve seen it happen. If you stay, you will cherish those memories for the rest of your life because we’re fortunate to be part of such a great film institution—the best!
NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on?
PCV: Just to remind people that even if your budget is tight to buy perks, sharing our link is another way of also helping the project. When big movie studios check us out (and they will!), they’ll want to see numbers! This is test-proven, too… So we need all the “Likes” you can give us!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Furaha Bayibsa has kept herself very busy since graduating the Fall 2015 1-year Filmmaking program—not just as a writer and director, but as a producer as well.
Bayibsa is very passionate about her craft after growing up with a love of film and television. She seeks out artists who share that passion, and strives to work with those who truly care about what they’re putting on the screen.
With that in mind, Bayibsa produced a feature film called Landfill, directed by MFA Filmmaking student Yesser Laham, as well as produced a few short films together with other NYFA alumni. In between producing projects, Bayibsa continues to write screenplays that she plans to either sell or direct herself.
New York Film Academy recently spoke with Furaha Bayibsa about some of her work, what drives her as a filmmaker, and her love for all things Shonda Rhimes:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Furaha Bayibsa (FB): I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, but originally from Congo. I’ve always been kind of obsessed with TV and movies. It’s kind of cliche because every filmmaker says that (haha) but really… It was cringe. Movies and TV was the only thing I was talking about. At work people told me to shut up. My friends got upset because every Friday night were occupied for “Shonda Rhimes TGIT.”
It wasn’t until my mom was like “Okay Furaha, it’s time to choose school because you can’t be home watching movies all the time,” and I was like “Okay, I’m going to film school in LA then.” It was an awkward silence at first, but then she said “okay” and four months later I got my acceptance letter.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your film 1989 and what inspired you to make it?
FB: My older sister is a politician in Sweden for the Social Democratic party, a party running Sweden as we speak. The party basically stands for equality and giving back to the less fortunate. She’s my biggest role model, and I’ve always wanted to be like her. Do something meaningful, so my entire life hasn’t just been movies. It’s been movies, demonstrations, manifestations, voting parties, lectures, and a lot of political engagement.
Discovering Shonda Rhimes, I realized I could use a film as a tool to speak about really intense stuff, and not make it too much of a lecture. So I decided to make a film about rape, and make it as a ten-minute real-time moment in a couple’s life where they are discussing the topic casually, like couples do all the time (or in Sweden at least).
I remembered a guy telling me this story of how he was sexually harassed by another man one night, and he never told anyone because he was embarrassed, but it really affected him. It pissed me off, because—hello—this happens all the time, so why should he feel embarrassed? So in the film I have the couple watching a news broadcast about a rape victim who killed their attacker, and then got convicted. After the broadcast we’ll find out that the man is enraged, and his fiancee doesn’t understand why. So they go back and forth until… you need to watch the movie, haha.
FB: One of my closest friends, Luis Quijano—we met in film school. He pitched the idea to me 18 months ago. He’s obsessed with horror movies, and he’s from Mexico, so he wanted to make it in Spanish. When he was younger, he worked as a missionary in Mexico, and he grew up hearing a lot of folk tales about monsters in the woods.
The “Huay Chivo” is a Mayan beast—half-human and half beast with really creepy eyes. He can turn himself into a goat, a disguise he uses to eat livestock (at least that’s what I understood from it). Luis really wanted it to be as authentic as possible, so together with our friend and cinematographer Andrii Lantukh, we literally went in with our hearts and souls and we made the legend come to life.
I produced it together with Luis and it was the realest experience I’ve ever had as a filmmaker. I knew it would be. Luis is amazing at what he does, Andrii too. We’re turning it into a feature film as well. So much fun.
NYFA: How do you decide which films to produce? What draws you to them?
FB: In the beginning, I’d get a text saying “Hey Furaha, I have a friend who needs help… are you free?” And that’s literally how it’s been. Just me being nice, saying “yes” to almost everyone. Then I guess the word got out that “Hello everyone, Furaha produces movies and she can raise money too!” And I realized that okay maybe I should find a strategy because I’m only one woman.
I’ve tried to produce several short films at the same time, and line produce them too with directors I didn’t connect with. So I had to step back one day and think, “Okay Furaha, why are you here? Because you love storytelling right, not producing.” So now I ask for three things before even agreeing to a meeting. “Script, crew list so far, and budget.” Script to see if I need to help them develop it a little more, budget meaning what they want for the film, and how much money they have on their own so far.
Then I read the script, break it down in my head, check the budget, google search the crew. I take my notes, then I meet with them. Even if the material is flat I meet with them because sometimes they have no idea what they’re talking about but they’re just so adorable in person and I kinda love them instantly.
So I decide to work with them anyways and help them with literally everything – hold their hand through every step until they don’t need me anymore. Because what draws me in is the director’s passion. The story is more important to me than the script, so I always ask them “tell me about the story” and if I can sense that they love filmmaking as much as me in that meeting, and I can laugh with them (super important), then let’s go. The process sounds strict, but the ones I’ve worked with have appreciated my straightforwardness and work ethic, so there must be something I’m doing right (right?)
NYFA: You have produced, written, and directed—do you have a particular preference for one of these roles?
FB: Writing and directing goes hand-in-hand for me, and they are my favorites. But producing is so much fun when I work with directors who know the craft, as well as respect the craft. So I don’t know really.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
FB: Right now? Like, right this second? Right this second I’m only working on one project. I’ve written two feature films that I’ll direct, or sell, or do something with in the future. But now I’m writing a Swedish feature film called Silver Wedding; I want it to be the first feature I direct. The goal is to shoot it in Sweden together with my two favorite filmmaking friends from LA when the time has come.
Then there’s another feature film I’m line producing for a friend of mine. A romantic comedy, but it’s standing still right now because our investor is still waiting on the final draft. So that’s gonna be fun too. But it’s the filmmaking industry, so you never know, maybe Shonda Rhimes will call me tomorrow wanting to add me to HTGAWM writer’s room, who knows really?
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your filmmaking?
FB: Nothing… Just kidding! Too much to tell you about right now. But there were some things that I remember from my education that I will always keep with me. The class Film Art and the class Critical Film mainly. We had to read all the history from the beginning of cinema until the present.
I was one of those students who actually read all the chapters, took notes, watched all films, prepared study questions, etc. No I’m not embarrassed, yes my classmates thought I was extra. But now I know so much of the little things people don’t talk about anymore. Those books tell us how past filmmakers thought and experimented with cinema, struggles they faced and how they overcame it. How much they hustled and thought outside the box to achieve their goals.
I was also one of the fortunate ones to have Gil McDonald as my screenwriting teacher, and he taught me everything I know about writing. The most important part was that we should show and not tell, and most importantly not to write what the character is thinking or feeling, but instead only write their actions. That’s been my life savior really.
My directing instructors (Joe Burke, Nick Sivakumaran, and David Armstrong) all taught me everything else I know about filmmaking. All of these classes have really taught me that we’re all artists painting on a blank canvas, so we should just let our imagination run free. They taught me that cinema is the place where the impossible is done, where there’s no limitations, we just have to put in the work. Maybe that’s why I am the way I am today, because I never let anything stop my creativity. My instructors taught me that. Now I’m teaching you that. You’re welcome!
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
FB: First things first, read the answer to my previous question and if you’re at the LA Campus, find these instructors and befriend them. They’ll change your life I promise. Secondly, and please take this to heart: we’re all different, so don’t compare yourself to another artist. It’s easier said than done I know, but I promise you everyone is going through their own struggles and just because someone might seem to be better than you or have it better than you, please don’t put yourself down because you really have no idea what they had to go through to get there.
So what if there’s someone in your class you think is a better writer than you? Go and read more scripts of films you like to learn more about the craft of screenwriting and become as good as them. So someone in class directed a great film and you’re jealous? Go and talk to that person. Ask them about the stuff you admired in the film, how they thought of it, the process. Go online and read trivia from directors from movies you like. Break down movies you like to understand them better.
Anyone can watch three movies a day, but you need to put in the behind-the-scenes work to actually grow. And don’t rush please, because we all grow at our own speed, okay? Also, be nice. Not just to your classmates, instructors too. They’re people just like you with feelings. Just trust me on this one—always be nice.
NYFA: Anything else you’d like to speak on?
FB: First day of class, ask for the club brochures and join a club! If there’s no club you like at NYFA, create one yourself. No, it’s not as time consuming as you think, or as lame. NYFA has the resources to make your stay at school more than amazing with their student led clubs, and as a founder and former president to one of NYFA’s coolest and I want to say all-time best (?) clubs, I know what I’m talking about. Join a club! I’d recommend the African Black American (ABA) Film Society at the LA Campus if you’re there. I’ve heard some great things about them.
The New York Film Academy thanks Filmmaking alum Furaha Bayibsa for taking the time to answer our questions and wishes her the best of luck as her career moves forward!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking alum Kane Senes’ first feature, Echoes of War, is a period Western featuring high-end production value and a name cast. Where does one go from there? In Kane’s case, he went back to his DIY film-school roots. Armed with a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign and only the outline of a script, writer/director Kane Senes and fellow NYFA alum and director of photography Anton DuPreez hit the road (literally) and made For Now.
According to its official website, For Now is a “look at twenty-somethings adrift in the limbo between adolescence and adulthood, grappling with the superficial connections that define their generation.” The film was “shot on the road over seven days on a shoestring budget and with entirely improvised performances.”
As if this wasn’t enough of a challenge, Senes and his fellow writers (Hannah Barlow and Katharine DuBois) were playing variation of themselves. And the tight schedule and budget meant they had no time for second takes or traditional coverage.
The result? A poignant coming of age/road movie akin to Diner, Noah Baumbach’s Kicking & Screaming, and the improvisatory works of John Cassavetes. Senes, DuPreez, Barlow, and DuBois had their official LA premiere of For Now at NYFA and talked about how they made their feature with little money and even less time.
After attending a Q&A with low-budget maestros The Duplass Brothers (The Puffy Chair, The MisEducation of Bindu), Barlow was inspired to create a film loosely centered on her relationship with her dancer Hannah Connor. An incredibly short four months and one Kickstarter campaign later, principal photography on the film was complete!
Though initially hesitant to perform as the somewhat unsympathetic character “KANE SENES,” co-director Kane Senes realized that he needed to throw all aspects of himself into the project. This included some personal moments from his relationship with girlfriend/co-director/co-star Hannah Barlow. The filmmakers soon discovered that the more personal they went with their story, the more relatable it became. However, DuBois (who is flat-out hysterical in the film) did stress that her character’s more “friendly” characteristics were pure fiction.
While a traditional narrative film might have a 10-to-1 raw-footage-to-final-edit shooting ratio, the For Now team’s approach meant they only had a few hours of footage to use. As an editor, Senes spent an extended amount of time in post-production and one lone day of reshoots to shape the improvisatory tale into a more cinematic story. Completing the film then led the team to their next big hurdle: distribution. Barlow and Kane connected with fellow NYFA alum Claudia Pickering, whose micro-budget film Frisky received international distribution and is currently being adapted for television.
Pickering’s sales agent watched For Now and fully committed to finding the movie distribution. And now, For Now has transformed from a improvisatory, crowd-funded project to a feature available to buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon, and countless other video platforms.
The New York Film Academy congratulates the filmmakers for taking their passion project all the way to the finish line!
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.