guest speaker

  • NYFA LA Welcomes Writer & Producer Neal Baer as Guest Speaker


    On Wednesday, June 21, Neal Baer came to the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus to talk about his illustrious career in television. Baer has the distinction of being a key figure in two groundbreaking series. He was a writer and producer on both “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “ER.”  Director of the Q and A series, Tova Laiter, hosted the evening.

    Baer Q and A 004

    Students filled the Riverside Theater to hear Baer speak about the history of the television industry. Many of the students were surprised to learn that “ER” once enjoyed an incredible share of the market. “There’s no drama airing today that comes close to having 40 million viewers. Not even ‘Game of Thrones.’”  

    Of course, a huge portion of the show’s success was the wildly talented and relatively unknown cast, including George Clooney. Baer recalled the excited fan reaction to seeing Clooney in a tuxedo. So mad was the fury, that Baer made sure to include a scene with him in a tuxedo in “Hell or High Water.” The episode went on to be the show’s highest-rated and even earned Clooney an Emmy nomination.

    “I’ve had a very different career than my friends. I’ve only ever been on four shows,” Baer said after being asked about his incredible trajectory. “I started in 1994. That’s twenty-three years. I don’t know anybody else who has done four shows straight through.”

    Whether it was talent, luck, or a combination of both that kept Baer on top, he always made sure to use the best of the time he had. “I loved SVU because every week I got to explore. You had to get into the story through a murder or assault but then I could do a show about teen access to abortion. They let us do amazing things with guns, homeschooling, HIV deniers, euthanasia, everything I was interested in was put into the show.” 

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    That inspiration translated into his hiring practices as a showrunner. Baer was fond of calling obscure actors from childhood favorites to come on the show. Carol Burnett chastised him when he called to ask her on the show: “You used to watch me with your parents on weeknights, didn’t you?” Once, Debbie Reynolds even shared a saucy story about Ava Gardner with Baer.

    “How could you not want to bring these people on your show,” Baer said. “I’ve been very blessed to work with incredible people.”

    One student asked if Baer had any advice for students looking to break into the industry. Baer responded, “They’ve made it very difficult to be a director. I think what you have to do if you want to work, as a director, is shadow. You attach to a director and you just become their shadow. You’ll go to casting meetings, location scouts, anything the director does, you’ll be there.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Baer for taking the time to speak with our students.

  • Veteran Film Producer Tom Sternberg Joins Enthusiastic NYFA Students for Screening and Q&A


    On September 15, New York Film Academy in Los Angeles hosted veteran film producer Tom Sternberg, where he joined students for a screening of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman, which Mr. Sternberg produced. A lively Q&A, moderated by Lydia Cedrone, Interim Chair of Producing and Head of MFA Feature Productions in LA, followed the screening.

    Tom Sternberg

    Mr. Sternberg gave an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and of working with the highly respected director and stellar cast, including the discovery of Jude Law in his star-making role.

    He spoke of his collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola at Coppola’s American Zoetrope, where he produced the Academy Award-winning film “Apocalypse Now,” “The Black Stallion,” and “The Black Stallion Returns.” His conversation provided students with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the much-publicized, volatile set of “Apocalypse Now.” Sternberg also fielded several questions from the audience, and discussed his work with acclaimed director David Lynch, as producer of Lynch’s “Lost Highway.”


    NYFA’s Lydia Cedrone with Tom Sternberg

    In addition to his work with Coppola and Lynch, Mr. Sternberg’s credits as producer include Wayne Wang’s “Dim Sum” and “Eat A Bowl Of Tea”; Audrey Wells’ “Under the Tuscan Sun” starring Diane Lane; Hossein Amini’s “The Two Faces of January” starring Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst; and Kenneth Branagh’s “Sleuth” from a script by Harold Pinter and starring Jude Law and Michael Caine. Mr. Sternberg expressed his delight in working closely with the renowned Pinter on the development of the script for “Sleuth.”

    From there, Sternberg spoke candidly about the changes in the business of filmmaking from the 1970’s to the present day, and how several producers and production companies become attached to films. He spoke with much enthusiasm on his current project in development, and his own efforts in seeking funding and distribution in the modern landscape of the industry. He advised students to be passionate about each film he or she develops, and not to take personally the many rejections he or she will face on the journey of getting his or her film made.


    An inspiration to the many students in the audience, Mr. Sternberg has served as the American representative for many notable foreign film producers, selling the North American distribution rights to several important foreign-language films, including “Il Postino,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “Mediterraneo,” “Europa Europa,” “Indochine,” “Jean de Florette,” “Manon des Sources,” “To Live,” “The Story of Qiu Ju” and many of the films of Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer.

    A most gracious and inspirational guest, Mr. Sternberg was met with much applause and gratitude at the end of the Q&A, as he took time to pose for several photos with students. We sincerely thank him for his visit and wish him much success with his next film.


    October 7, 2015 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 7136

  • Photography Guest Speaker Jen Davis: Body Image, Intimacy, Self Identity

    Jen Davis - Photography

    Photography Guest Speaker Jen Davis

    Jen Davis, a photographer renowned for her intimate self-portraits, was our guest lecturer last Friday, February 20th at the Battery Place campus.

    Photography students were taken through Davis’ 11 year journey of honest self-portraits dealing with issues regarding personal growth, self identity, body image, love, intimacy and self acceptance. The journey was not just personal, it also gave students great insight into her technical photographic development.

    “Mapping the trajectory of her career and showing her most recent work, she gave us a completely uninhibited view of her working methods and her approach to personal discovery through photography.  It was an inspiring afternoon in the presence of a provocative contemporary artist.” Paul Sunday, New York Film Academy’s Co-Chair Photography Department summed up the afternoon.

    During her early years at Columbia College Chicago, completing her BFA in Photography, she began experimenting with natural light. “Light became very seductive to me,” Davis explains. “The light guided the photography” and with her transition from a 4×5 to medium format, she felt this allowed her to learn “about how the frame works in a different way.”

    All of her of work developed from her interest in women, the body and how it “related to me.” She began studying her own body as her interest in flesh and skin became her main focus. Her first image with herself as the subject (or “object” as she describes it), was taken at the beach. As this specific image was projected on a white screen in front of a lecture room of students, she explains that she never expected to share this photo as it was done purely for herself.

    Once she began her MFA at Yale University, she began to explore men as her subjects, capturing “masculinity and vulnerability” while also “using photography to gain access” to forms of intimacy with her male subjects. As Davis presented her work to the students, it became clearer that she, in fact, used her photography to guide her though her personal growth. “[Photography] was a vehicle to experience that,” she said when referring to her introduction to love and intimacy.

    As the talk came close to an end, a Q&A session left the audience with these wise words: “Don’t worry about putting yourself against what has already been done, because everything has already been done.” Just don’t put walls and limitations on yourself. She recommends “putting tape over your digital SLR.” Stop judging your work and “just shoot, shoot, shoot!”


    February 27, 2015 • Guest Speakers, Photography, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 6605

  • Director Rupert Wyatt Screens ‘The Gambler’ at NYFA LA


    Rupert Wyatt

    On Wednesday January 14th, New York Film Academy Los Angeles students came to Warner Bros. studios for a screening of The Gambler, in theaters now, and participated in a Q&A with director Rupert Wyatt. The discussion was moderated by producer Tova Laiter.

    Rupert Wyatt began his career developing features for Miramax and working in British television. After creating several short films, Rupert Wyatt made his feature writing and directing debut with The Escapist, a prison escape drama starring the remarkable Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Homeland’s Damian Lewis. The Village Voice – always one of the toughest critics to please – called it “a taut thriller that ends on a note of unexpected grace.” If that wasn’t enough for a debut, Mr. Wyatt even managed to get Coldplay to pen the movie’s title track. His next feature film – Rise of the Planet Apes – showed that a franchise can reach its creative peak in its seventh installment. Featuring the best motion capture performance to date by Andy Serkis, Rise showed that a blockbuster effects-driven movie can challenge and move its audience while creating empathy for the most unlikely of characters. Caesar might be a CG Chimpanzee, but he’s completely three dimensional and human. In Rise, Mr. Wyatt re-launched a 45-year-old franchise and brought CG character animation to a new creative high. Mr. Wyatt next directed the stirring pilot of the Civil War Drama TURN before turning his eye towards the battlegrounds of LA’s underground gambling scene in The Gambler. Working with a script from Academy Award winning writer William Monahan, Mr. Wyatt brings the same nuance and visual control to this character driven drama that he’s demonstrated in all his work.
    the gambler screening
    Rupert is the perfect example of how perseverance and hard work can pay off in Hollywood. He had the dream of being a director all of his life but it wasn’t until he reached the age of thirty-five that he got received his first opportunity to direct a feature film he had been toiling to make for many years. That film – The Escapist – was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival and his life was changed forever. This is why Mr. Wyatt encouraged students to stick with the project you are passionate about even when it seems impossible. The biggest mistake can be continuously changing course with projects that are shiny and new but getting nowhere in the process. Whatever film you end up making will most likely take years to get made anyway, so you might as well stick with it.

    Mr. Wyatt’s greatest advice to actors was to be flexible. Sometimes actors will expect the director to say exactly the right thing and shut down if he or she falls short of this. However, this type of attitude is the enemy of creativity. It could be that the crazy bit of direction you give an actor to mix things up in take four falls flat, however, it could also be what unexpectedly brings the scene to life. So take chances, play, and let go of your ego.

    When asked if there is particular genre Mr. Wyatt prefers he said that it was really story that is important to him. In this way he manages create something fresh by subverting genre altogether. While producers may feel they need to sell a movie as one that falls neatly in a specific category, once the audience is in the theater Rupert gives them something they’ve never experienced before. He’s not afraid to try new things which is what makes him such an exciting force in Hollywood.

    rupert wyatt gambler

    We sincerely thank Rupert Wyatt for his enthusiasm in answering students’ questions and wish him the best of luck with his next directorial endeavor.

    Written by Eric Conner and Robert Cosnahan


    January 16, 2015 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 6324

  • Screenwriter Ian Shorr Joins Business of Screenwriting Class


    Ian ShorrOn November 18th, screenwriter Ian Shorr dropped by our Business of Screenwriting class to explain how he went from literally representing himself to becoming one of the most sought after rising screenwriters in town.

    “My career really had two beginnings,” Shorr explained. The first came while Ian was still living in his home state of Utah, desperately trying to find a way to break into Hollywood without any contacts. Shorr didn’t have an agent or manager, but he knew that he needed one. So, he decided to represent himself… No, really.

    Shorr created a fake agency persona, David Lortz, top brass at the fake agency he created, The Sundance Literary Agency. “Being from Utah I knew the Sundance Film Festival was a big deal, so I figured any association with that was probably a good thing.” The surprising thing about Shorr’s bold tactic was it actually worked — maybe too well.

    “I bought myself a Hollywood Creative Directory and would have David call up and speak to development executives about an exciting new screenwriter whom he wanted to make them aware of – um, me.” Executives would read and liked the writing, which was an early good sign, and some even assumed the agency David Lortz ran was associated with the Sundance Film Festival. Shorr booked meetings (that he set for himself) and was starting to get some real exposure. “The irony was, people really liked David Lortz, I think even more than Ian Shorr,” Shorr joked. Eventually, however, people got wind of what he was up to, and after a cease and desist letter from the Sundance Film Festival’s lawyers, Shorr fired/retired Mr. David Lortz.

    Ian’s second career start came soon after when he packed it up in 2003 and left Utah and moved to Los Angeles, attending USC’s Film School. Meeting his manager (Langley Perrer of Mosaic) at a Pitch Fest in 2007, he sold his senior thesis project EXEMPT to Overture Films – about a troubled teen who falls in with a group of “diplobrats”: foreign teenagers with diplomatic immunity from the law.

    Since then, Shorr has been on a tear – working steadily and continuously as a writer. He sold his spec script Substitution, a teen thriller re-imagining of Strangers on a Train to Alcon Entertainment. In 2008, his low-budget horror movie Splinter was produced and released by Magnolia Films. He set up his spec sci-fi thriller Cristo (a sci-fi reimagining of the Count of Monte Cristo) at Warner Bros. in 2011. In 2013, he sold his sci-fi spec Capsule to Twentieth Century Fox and just had his second feature produced Marble Hornets: The Operator,a found-footage horror movie based off the popular web series Marble Hornets.

    On his visit, Shorr answered a variety of questions for NYFA’s MFA Screenwriting students with his eloquent matter-of-fact humor, drawing from his own insights and breakthroughs in his career thus far. “No matter what you’ll get notes,” Shorr explained, “notes from everyone — your reps, your producers, studio execs, friends, your dog, and you really have two options: see them as a blessing or see them as a fight.” Shorr went on to explain that the best thing is “to see the note behind the note. It’s their job to point out the problems, but it’s your job to find the solution.”

    Shorr is also a big proponent for aspiring writers to NOT get jobs in the film business. “In my experience, it’s far better to let your film school friends do that, and for you to get a job that allows you the most time to write.” Shorr explained. “And guard that writing time like it’s treasure, because frankly, it is.” Shorr explained that while he doesn’t write every single day, he’s constantly thinking about the project he’s working on even when he’s not. “I probably write 5-6 days a week on average,” Shorr said.

    Shorr also explained that writers shouldn’t chase trends but should write to market, which can seem a bit of a paradox, until you unravel it. “Ideas, concepts are entirely execution dependent. You want that idea to be smart, interesting and commercial for the market, but most importantly, it has to be well written and original.” Shorr explained that reps and producers will want to put you in a certain “genre sandbox” and so it’s important early on to write in a sandbox that you really want to play in.

    Television writing was something Shorr definitely encouraged and something he himself is getting into. “Look, only roughly 1,600 writers in any given year make any money as a feature screenwriter —which his pretty damn bleak, but in television, the numbers are at least four or five times that. Neither is easy to break into, both are highly competitive, so why limit yourself to one arena?”

    In fact, Shorr has been branching out into other media arenas as well, including being recently hired to adapt one of his projects into an audio drama for, as the company has recently announced that it will move into the original content creation space. “It’s all tell and no show in audio dramas,” Shorr explained, “not something us screenwriters are classically used to, but it’s been a great ride of figuring out how to use voiceover, dialogue and sound effects in creative ways to your advantage.”

    Closing out, Shorr offered some truly intelligent advice that all writers would be wise to take with them as they move forward in their careers. “You have to remember that what producers and studios are buying from writers is their unique point of view, their voice. Therefore, everything you write needs to be something that feels like it could only be written by that one distinct person – you. The story, the dialogue, the description, every line of that script must come from you, and you alone. Be the person for whom others can read and hear their voice on each page undeniably. Be that guy, and I promise you good things will happen for you…”

    Shorr is repped by UTA and Mosaic and is currently hard at work on a variety of projects he has in development, including an upcoming mind-bending sci-fi thriller.


    December 3, 2014 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 8044

  • Renowned Manager/Producer Ben Press Speaks at NYFA Los Angeles


    Ben Press

    Students were thrilled to hear renowned manager and producer Ben Press speak this past Monday at New York Film Academy Los Angeles’s School for Acting. Ben’s radiant energy spread through the packed room as he entertained and enlightened students with stories from the Hollywood agency world and solid career advice to those starting out in the industry. Manager/Producer Ben Press started as assistant to legendary ICM agent Ed Limato and his roster of stars: Richard Gere, Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Anthony Hopkins, Steve Martin, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Edward Norton and Marlon Brando among others. As Paradigm Talent Department Co-Head, Ben packaged America’s Next Top Model, produced/hosted by Tyra Banks and negotiated the $1.5 million talent holding deal for William Baldwin (one of the industry’s most lucrative). Ben now manages clients Elle Macpherson, Rick Yune, Jennifer Esposito, as well as Taylor Swift’s future feature film acting career.

    Ben press never thought he’d work in entertainment. Off a whim and recommendation from a college friend, he landed an interview at ICM, one of the industry’s top agencies. The tradition in Hollywood agencies is to always start from the bottom. After nailing his interview with ICM, Ben did just that; his first job was literally working in the mailroom and pushing a cart. Being accepted into the agent trainee program at top agencies such as ICM, CAA and UTA, however, is a highly sought after position as mailroom workers are likely to be promoted within the company. Whereas the traditional route is to slowly climb the agency ladder, Ben took a different approach. Legendary ICM agent Ed Limato was who Ben wanted to work for and he didn’t want to wait in line to get that job. Ben convinced Mr. Limato’s current assistant to allow him to come into the office early and help him organize and plan for the day. This way Ben would know the ins and out of Ed Limato’s office and be prepared when his opportunity came. The way Ben Press’s opportunity did come is a twist of fate so far-fetched it’s hard to believe even within the context of Hollywood’s crazy world. Because of his determined nature, Ben had already made a name for himself at ICM in the short time he was there and landed an interview for the job of Ed Limato’s assistant when his former assistant was leaving. Ben was wary of his chances of getting the job, because he seemed to be the candidate with the least amount of experience. Soon after his interview, Ben came across a female agent trainee who had collapsed in the mailroom and wasn’t breathing. Luckily he had just learned CPR and immediately began performing it on her as he ordered the other trainee’s to call 911. Ben ended up saving the woman’s life. When Ed Limato got wind of the fact that Ben Press had saved someone’s life in the office he said, “I want THAT guy working for me!”

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    March 14, 2014 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 8932

  • Joel Silver on the State of Hollywood


    “Joel has never been afraid of color,” said producer/moderator Tova Laiter.

    Mega-producer Joel Silver recently visited New York Film Academy for a Q&A and special screening of his 1988 classic, Die Hard. “We were kind of crafting a new genre,” said Silver. “Summers weren’t full of action films then.” He said he had originally wanted Richard Gere to play the lead, who turned down the role. They took a risk with Bruce Willis, an actor best known at the time for his starring role on TV’s Moonlighting. It paid off, becoming an international hit that would go on to spawn 3 hit sequels. The fourth sequel, A Good Day to Die Hard, is slated for release in February 2013.

    Silver has produced more than 60 films, earning more than $13 billion worldwide. His credits include the Academy Award-winning The Matrix trilogy, the blockbuster Lethal Weapon franchise, and the sci-fi thriller, Predator. More recently, he launched the Sherlock Holmes franchise for Warner Bros. He is co-founder of Dark Castle Entertainment and owner of Silver Pictures. His newly-launched division, Silver Pictures Entertainment, announced a five-year distribution deal with Universal Pictures. Silver said the new division plans to make movies in various genres with mid-sized budgets of $40-60 million. He joked, “There’s always going to be artistic films out there, but I want to make the movies people actually see.”

    Answering questions from New York Film Academy students, Silver commented on the state of the industry, saying, “The Hollywood system is better than it has ever been. People are going to the movies more than ever, and all over the world. It’s a great time.” He continued, “People are making movies for 20 bucks … We’re living in a golden age of Hollywood.”

    Speaking to the young filmmakers and actors, he said, “You have to be passionate about movies. I’m excited every day. I love the process. I know the process. I live crisis. Crisis is a part of my life … If you bang your head against enough walls, eventually you’re going to break through.”

    He also put to rest rumors about revisiting the Lethal Weapon franchise, saying, “I’d rather be dead,” eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd.


    July 5, 2012 • Guest Speakers • Views: 6801