This Friday, HBO will premiere its newest comedy series, A Black Lady Sketch Show, executive produced by New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Issa Rae and created by Robin Thede. The landmark show will be the first ever sketch series on television starring an all-black women cast, as well as the first with an all-black women writers room.
The first season of A Black Lady Sketch Show, which debuts August 2, 11:00-11:30 p.m. ET/PT, comprises six episodes and around forty sketches. The show is a direct response from veteran comedy writer Robin Thede to the traditional lack of diversity in comedy; in 2015, Thede had become late night’s first black woman head writer when after joining The Nightly Show.
“[A Black Lady Sketch Show] was definitely written from a very specific point of view,” Thede tells Salon, “but it’s from a diverse array of black women. So you’re going to get sketches that have aliens or musicals or thrillers or murder. You’re going to get sketches with all sorts of different things because of the diversity amongst the black women in our writer’s room … For us it’s really about showcasing something that is seen as very homogeneous and showing the layers that black women have. And even on this show, in six episodes, we can’t, we’ve barely scratched the surface.”
The cast will include Thede, as well as Ashley Nicole Black, Gabrielle Dennis, and Quinta Brunson. The show will be co-executive produced by Issa Rae Productions, the production company of New York Film Academy alum Issa Rae.
After graduating the 4-Week Filmmaking Workshop at NYFA’s Burbank-based campus, Rae turned the success of her award-winning web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl into a deal with HBO. The deal included her series, Insecure, which she writes, produces, and stars in, and for which she earned Golden Globe nominations in 2017 and 2018. It also included developing more projects for HBO with a special focus on diversity. A Black Lady Sketch Showturned out to be the perfect fit for Issa Rae productions.
New York Film Academy prides itself on its diverse, international student body with aspiring performers and visual artists coming from over 120 countries in a nearly even female-to-male ratio. Recently, NYFA Screenwriting alum Abby Ajayi was one of 63 black female writers featured in an epic photo shoot by The Hollywood Reporter late last year. Other notable women of color that have graduated from NYFA include Amy Wright, Furaha Bayibsa, Omoni Oboli, Paquita Hughes, and Akila Robinson.
New York Film Academy congratulates Filmmaking alum Issa Rae on her latest production and wishes the best of success to Robin Thede and the cast and crew of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show!
On August 15, 2018, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of HBO’s Silicon Valley followed by a Q&A with creator and showrunner John Altschuler. NYFA Director of the Q&A Series, Tova Laiter, moderated the event.
As a student at University of North Carolina, Altschuler created the first comedy sketch show on the university student TV. He and his co-writer, looking to capitalize on their venture, sent written material in three boxes to three owners/editors of the National Lampoon magazine, adding a dollar to each to get their attention. It worked! He became a writer for the most iconic humor magazine of its time, until he moved to Hollywood.
After moving to Los Angeles however, he realized that his previous workwas not going to magically open doors in the industry, so he worked odd jobs until he started getting gigs as a production assistant. He was careful not to pitch himself, instead concentrating on the job at hand. He told students, “Whatever job you get, just do that well… make their lives easier and they will look out for you; they will want to help you because you made their day that much easier.”
His first writing job, on HBO’s The High Life, led to his becoming an executive producer and showrunner on FOX’s King of the Hill for 12 years and the relaunch of Beavis and Butt-headfor MTV. He then co-created Silicon Valleyfor HBO, and Lopezfor TV Land, starring George Lopez. He’s also produced Mike Judge’s film, Extract (2009) starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis and Ben Affleck, and co-wrote Blades of Glory (2007) starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder.
A student asked Altschuler about his inspiration for Silicon Valley. He replied, “I was reading a biography of Steve Jobs and there was a quote in there where Bill Gates was ridiculing Steve Jobs: ‘The guy can’t even write code!’ Altschuler thought: “The guy created the biggest brand in the world and there’s somebody up in Silicon Valley sniping at him; I was like, “This is hilarious!'”
To the question of whether the creators knew Silicon Valley culture or only did research when they wrote the pilot, the answer was, “Both.” Altschuler had family members who were engineers, but they also did further research:
“We went up to Silicon Valley… and it was so funny, because… everybody kept talking about how they were making the world a better place… The sanctimony was so thick that I thought, ‘well this is something to make fun of.’ It’s… fun to take on the big guys and try to deflate them.”
Laiter noted that sometimes it’s easier to make fun of something when you’re outside of it, and Altschuler concurred.
One student asked about Altschuler’s tips for pitching a show or movie to a producer. Altschuler advised, “[When] you go in, have your story and try to start off with a topic sentence or a personal story… try to make it a conversation, not a laundry list of ‘first this happened and then that happened.'”
Altschuler imparted to the students that no matter what, they have to like what they’re making or no one will want to consume it. And when they write, and a scene doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to let it go. “If it’s really great, it will get its way in back later.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank John Altschuler for sharing his industry expertise and advice for our film school students!
HBO’s Women in Comedy Festival (WICF) is an inclusive event focused on smashing gender inequality in comedy, where they flip the usual gender ratio in comedy: 80% of WICF performers are women.
The ninth annual WICF will be held April 19-22 in Boston. Along with HBO, this year’s event is sponsored by NBC, ImprovBoston, and Le Chevalier. Major stars are headlining, including Wanda Sykes and Tig Notaro, with additional performances by Kat Radley, Gina Yashere, Emma Willman, and Kelly McFarland.
Although Wynona Barbera studied documentary filmmaking at NYFA, El Cat is a fiction film — which just goes to show how NYFA students can apply their skill set in so many ways as they forge their own paths as storytellers.
“Congratulations to Wynona,” said NYFA New York Chair of Documentary Filmmaking Andrea Swift. “HBO’s Women in Comedy Festival is a major player in launching the next generation of leaders and innovators in comedy. It just goes to show the skills NYFA Documentary Filmmaking students develop here can be applied to all kinds of content, especially fiction films. Can’t wait to see what’s next!”
El Cat will be competing in the The HBO Insider Comedy Short Challenge and WICF Comedy Short Contest with Paul Feig on Saturday, April 21, in Cambridge, MA. #WomeninFilm #WomenOfNYFA
NYFA Documentary Filmmakng alumna and former NYFA teaching assistant Anais Michel brings that rarest of all documentary talents to the table: comedy.
When her film “Coach Mike” screened at the Wythe Theater in Brooklyn, the audience started laughing at minute two and didn’t stop until the credits ran out. Aptly, while she’s developing her new comedic doc inside the world of dance, the New York Film Academy grad is also busy honing her comedic chops working with comedy powerhouses Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner on the editing team of their new HBO series.
While HBO has yet to release many details on the new series, we can reveal that Anais’ editing team is headed byHBO’s Gladys Murphy, who was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Editing: Documentary and Long Form for her work on 2016’s “Larry Kramer in Love and Anger” for HBO.
Coming from a background in competitive ballet and jazz dance, Anais has worked hard to position herself amongst some of the most successful female industry leaders working behind the scenes of film and television as directors, producers, editors, and writers in an industry plagued by gender inequality.
Anais earned her master’s in journalism at France’s prestigious French Press Institute (Institut Français de Presse) before attending the New York Film Academy’s Documentary Filmmaking conservatory program, as well as the digital editing workshop.
Since graduation, Anais has worked as an assistant editor with the internationally popular “VICE News Tonight” for their French edition, as well as working as an editor for documentary projects for prestigious nonprofit organizations including the Metropolitan Museum and the NoVo Foundation. Her short film “Hand Sight,” about a four-year-old blind girl, is an official selection of the upcoming International Festival of Red Cross and Health Films.
The New York Film Academy was extremely proud to have Producer, Deniese Davis, at our Los Angeles campus. She spent more than an hour with the African and Black American Film Club answering questions about the industry, her career, and how to craft great stories.
Davis said that she began her career like many of the students who currently attend NYFA, by working on short films. Soon after, however, she found herself working with New York Film Academy alumna Issa Rae on her YouTube show “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” She was also the associate producer on the film “Burning Sands” which focused on the hazing culture within college fraternities. The film was an official selection at Sundance this year and is a Netflix Original Film. Davis continued her work with Issa Rae as Co-Producer on HBO’s “Insecure.” She is also working on a new television series titled “Minimum Wage.”
Davis had a great deal of advice for the students. “You never know who is going to be the next big actor, director, or producer…” She encouraged students to build lasting relationships with their peers and not to spend all of their energy working with established professionals.
The ABA Social Media Manager, Reed Douglass, had this to say about meeting Davis; “After speaking with Deniese I felt much more informed. I felt that I had acquired information that was useful for both my career and myself personally. I also felt like club members gained a lot from the discussion as well.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Deniese Davis for taking the time to speak with our students. Season two of “Insecure” is now available on HBO.
“A Girl in the River” has been nominated for three Emmy Awards, including Best Documentary and Best Documentary Short. The HBO documentary was edited by New York Film Academy’s own Master Class Lecturer and Curriculum Advisor Geof Bartz.
Directed by Sharmeen Obaid, executive produced by Sheila Nevins and Tina Brown, and produced by Lisa Heller, the film follows the story of one woman who survived an “honor killing” attack in her native Pakistan.
Geof Bartz is Supervising Editor of HBO Documentary Films. “A Girl in the River” marks Geof’s 12th Emmy nomination (with five prior wins). The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, which marked Geof’s fifth Oscar, and director Sharmeen Obaid’s second. It’s an incredible awards season journey that, perhaps even more remarkably, has made a real-world impact.
“First they won the Oscar,” observed NYFA New York Chair of Documentary Filmmaking Andrea Swift. “Then they won the DuPont. Now, the Emmy nomination. Yet the most important and satisfying part of all, is that ‘Girl In The River’ actually inspired the Pakistani government to reconsider their laws.”
The New York Film Academy will hold a master class with Geof Bartz in early August that will include a special screening of “A Girl in the River.” The film will also serve as a jumping-off point for student instruction and exploration.
“We’re all looking forward to watching the movie with Geof and discussing the intricacies of creating Oscar-worthy docs,” noted Andrea Swift.
New York Film Academy alumni Susana Matos and Javier Colon have just finished their latest film “Yo soy un Politico” (I am a Politician). The film is about Carlos, an ex-convict looking for a job where he can make a lot of money without putting in a lot of work. After discussing it with his cellmate, they decide that the only job that fits that description is governor of Puerto Rico.
The filmmaking duo presented their film at the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus on Saturday, March 4. The film will also screen at the Chicago Latino Film Festival and the San Diego Latino Film Festival. It will begin airing on HBO starting this September 2017.
We had the opportunity to talk to both Matos and Colon after the screening to get more insight into how the film came about.
Tell us about what drove you to make “I Am a Politician.”
Susana: Javier’s first movie was titled “I am a Director.” When he produced that movie, there was an ongoing conversation about how to make a trilogy of these I am… films. The character could be a different profession every time. It could be “I am a Regueton Artist,” “I am a Doctor”… so when the election year rolled around we settled on “I am a Politician.” I wrote the first 25 pages as a draft to motivate Javier into doing the film and he liked them so we finished the script… and began working on preproduction.
Was this a collaborative effort in terms of writing and directing? Were you both writer/directors on this film or did you have different roles?
Javier: It was a collaborative effort. The Idea for this film was on the drawing board since I shot my first film I am a Director. I didn’t really want to do a sequel to that film but Susana began throwing ideas around for this story. One day she just sat down and wrote 20 something pages, I liked them so we finished the script together.
Even though I have the directing credit on the film, Susana was a very big part of the directing process and decisions during the shoot. And beside being a writer, she was one of the producers of the film.
How were you able to raise funds to produce this film?
Susana: With Javier’s first feature film “I am a Director” he got distribution from Starz, Sundance, Canal +, and Croatia. Thanks to his reputation with the 1st film, we were able to raise funds through private investors.
How did the meeting with HBO come about? Can you tell us a little bit about that process of selling your film
Susana: With the first feature, Javier acquired a sales agent. He was very interested in our future projects. In 2015 we went to Argentina for a Film Market, and we told him our idea; he loved it and signed a sales contract with us. He shopped the film around and sold it To HBO
Talk about audience reactions to the film? Is the reaction what you expected or was it different? How?
Susana: We are so pleased with Saturday’s screening at the New York Film Academy. We had a full house! It was the first time we had so many people watching the film whose first language was not Spanish and we were happy to hear them laughing.
Javier: We definitely did not expect that many people to come watch our film and laugh as much as they did. It’s a comedy with subtitles, so we weren’t sure if English speakers would understand the humor, but based on the comments we received after the screening, seems like they really enjoyed it.
What was the message you were trying to leave for the audience in this film?
Javier: When we began writing this film, we knew we wanted it to have a positive message. Susana’s favorite directors are Matt Stone and Trey Parker. In the style of South Park, we wanted to create a satire with a message. The message in I am a Politician focuses on not waiting for politicians to fix our problems. We all should be part of going out there to make a change.
What was the biggest hurdle in completing this project?
Susana: The biggest hurdle is taking on a film with a very limited amount of money. So many people helped us because they believed in us but I would have loved to pay people well for the work they put in. Which is why we always like to take the time to thank our crew and cast for being a part of this project.
What are you most proud of in this film?
Javier: The HBO sale is the first thing that comes to mind, but, also, whenever we watch a screening of the film and I hear someone laugh. It amazes me that I wrote and created something that makes people laugh.
Would you say your NYFA experience was useful in terms of being able to create this film?
Javier: I actually took a digital course in filmmaking in 2002 in New York. At that time my plan was to be an editor, NYFA help me realize that what I truly wanted was to be a director and tell stories. Im 100% sure that if it wasn’t for that small course, first I wouldn’t be in the situation that we are right now, and most importantly, I wouldn’t have met Susana
Susana: The NYFA filmmaking course helped me develop my skills as a director and for me the greatest asset was the people I met on the program. My classmates are still part of my work.
What’s up next for you guys?
We’re working on getting the funding for our next project, “Who Cares?,” a road trip dramedy with the tone of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Our goal is to begin pre-production at the end of this year.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Susana Matos and Javier Colon for taking the time to discuss their work. You can learn more about this dynamic duo on Facebook.
This past Friday, Dec. 9th, the New York Film Academy’s new theater at 17 Battery Place hosted Kim Cattrall for an exclusive Q&A with Acting for Film Chair Glynis Rigsby and Chair of the Department of Contemporary Photography Ralph Gibson.
While known by an entire generation for her role as Samantha Jones in the HBO hit series, “Sex and the City” — for which she received five Emmy Award nominations and four Golden Globe Award nominations, winning the 2002 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress — some in the audience were surprised when Cattrall admitted, “I’m not like Samantha at all, but I’d like to have some of that.”
Cattrall has starred in many popular films such as “Porky’s,” “Police Academy,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” “Mannequin,” “Masquerade,” “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” and “Ice Princess.”
Aside from her film and TV career she also starred in the 1986 original Broadway production of “Wild Honey,” as well as staged productions of “Antony and Cleopatra” at the Liverpool Playhouse, “Private Lives” on Broadway, and “Sweet Bird of Youth” at London’s Old Vic. Since 2014, she has starred in her passion project, the HBO Canada series, “Sensitive Skin,” which she is also an executive producer on.
Cattrall eloquently elaborated on her long career in show business and gave an abundance of advice on the craft of acting. She also discussed the challenges of her new endeavor as executive producer of “Sensitive Skin,” which she says has a cadence to it that feels very British. Having been involved with the arduous process of bringing the show to life, Cattrall feels she now knows what it’s truly like to be an executive producer. “Don’t assume that everybody is on the same page,” she says. “There is a clear path to inviting people into your story.”
Like many of the students in the audience, Cattrall’s dream coming out of high school was to go to New York to study theater. “It was a chance to experience living in others people’s shoes,” said Cattrall, who grew up in a middle-class Canadian family. Trained in Stanislavsky, Cattrall says, “Every line I’m trying to get something from the other person. I know when I land a moment.” She did add, “What makes my job easier is a good script. That’s why I like to do Shakespeare.”
While many artists seek perfection in their work, Cattrall admitted, “There are always going to be glitches. You can’t hold onto perfection. You will learn more from when you fail than when you succeed.”
When asked by Ralph Gibson how she sees the camera, Cattrall said, “The camera is always connected to the cinematographer, so I always flirt with the cinematographer. I try to make the cinematographer be somebody who I can possibly be in love with.”
For acting students going on auditions, Cattrall remembered the advice she had been given, “Someone told me when I come into a room to audition that I should be auditioning them.”
The entire day was filled with golden nuggets of advice for actors and storytellers. Cattrall said she knows when she puts on a good show if the audience members are leaning forward in their chairs. Well, the entire hour talk had NYFA students leaning forward to listen to her captivating words of wisdom.
Mike Judge’s HBO comedy, Silicon Valley, which surrounds the lives of young computer programmers who head out to Northern California to succeed in technology, has been a wild success thus far. Now in its third season, those of us at the New York Film Academy may recognize Acting for Film Instructor Ken Lerner in a few episodes.
Ken Lerner, left, and T.J. Miller in “Silicon Valley.” Credit John P. Johnson/HBO
Lerner has been playing the character of Arthur, who is Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti’s Business Manager.
In addition to his teaching at NYFA, Lerner has acted in many major film and television productions, including his most recent appearance on the FX’s mini-series The People Vs O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. He’s also appeared in The Mentalist, NCIS, In Plain Sight, Two and a Half Men, Desperate Housewives, Castle, Weeds, CSI, Without a Trace and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. He has had over 40 film roles, including Unlawful Entry, The Doctor, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Running Man, The Story of Us, Immediate Family, Irreconcilable Differences and Project X. In addition to film and television, Ken has starred in productions at The Pasadena Playhouse and Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theater and off-Broadway.
“My experience in the industry seems to be the biggest factor in my ability to be trusted that I know what I am teaching them, especially about auditions,” says Lerner. “I constantly use my acting jobs as reference for my students’ learning.”
Mr. Lerner is just one of the many examples of how our students have the privilege of working with current industry professionals who can provide unparalleled insight into the business.
Filmmaking students from New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus gathered with family and friends at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood on Saturday, September 19th to receive their MFA, MA, and BFA degrees. There were two commencement ceremonies that occurred at 2pm and 6pm, each completely filling the 400-seat venue. Presiding over the ceremony, speaking, and presenting degrees from the Filmmaking Department were Chair Art Helterbran, Associate Chair David Newman, and Associate Chair Ed Timpe, as well as Dean of Students Eric Conner, and Dean of Academic Advising Mike Civille.
Commencement Speakers Erik Bork and Peter Strauss gave words of inspiration and advice for the future. Erick Bork is best known for his work on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon, for which he wrote multiple episodes and won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards as part of the producing team, and his blog Flying Wrestler for which he was named one of the “Top 10 Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers” in 2014.
Since 2001, Peter Strauss has served as Executive Vice President of Mandalay Pictures (Sleepy Hollow, Donnie Brasco, I Know What You Did Last Summer). Before that he presided as EVP and Director at Allied Artists Pictures Corporation (Cabaret, Papillion, and The Man Who Would Be King), EVP at Rastar Films, President of Panache Productions Inc., and President, CEO and Chairman of the Board at International Movie Group Inc.
The graduates and their guests celebrated afterwards in the stylish party atmosphere of the Andaz Hotel’s Riot House Restaurant on the Sunset Strip.
Congratulations to New York Film Academy’s MFA, MA, and BFA Filmmaking Graduates!
Seung Hoon Han
Amber Darlene Hayden-Gardenhire
Chantal Le Hunte
Kah Kai Liew
Oliver Ernesto Olivo Batista
Alvaro Ortega Sanahuja
Stjepan Ostoic Papic
Javier Salvago Escalera
Juan Sebastián Sarmiento Bazzani
Carolina Mejia Lartilleux
Mariana Robles Thome
Jose Guilherme Correia Jr.
Fernando de Oliveira Haddad
Brooke Marshal Hagen
Oscar Ferid Hasbun Alcala
Pierre Beaufrand Mendoza
Kamala Khanna Chittoor
Daniel Frank Demenezes
Joaquin Fernandez Martin
Markel Goikoetxea Markaida
Lyndall Eileen Klinkert
Adesola Ibrahim Omidina
Carla Roda Gomez
Shobi Nadeesha Chamini Seneviratne
Sophie Ellen Taylor
BFA in Filmmaking
Pedro Paulo Araujo
Maria Gabriela Cardenas
Bud Jones Jr.
Chi Shun Lee
Kwok Yaw Loh
Diego Mejia Lartilleux
Marcelo Rodrigues Barbosa
Brianna Flores Stanton