Making your first feature film is a challenge. Making your first feature film in a foreign country is an even bigger challenge. Yet rising Aussie director and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking MFA graduate James Pillion did just that with his feature debut, Far From Here. Shot on location in Bucharest, Romania, the film screens Feb. 5 in Sydney before a digital release later this month on iTunes and Amazon.
Pillion’s successful debut is even more impressive when you hear the backstory. Overcoming many obstacles, including losing his visa and being refused entry to the U.S., Pillion and his writing partner/leading man Jonathan Ahmadi were able to convert a formidable crisis into a poignant work of art. The result is a lush coming-of-age story that follows a young couple navigating pressures that may sound familiar for many NYFA students — holding onto love, living in a foreign country, sacrifice, following a dream, and facing the tough decisions that define your life.
“The more you surrender your ego and open your eyes and ears to everything around you, the stronger your chances are of ending up with a film greater than the sum of its parts,” the director wrote in Australia’sFilmLink.
Now, Pillion takes some time during the busy week leading up to the film’s Sydney premier and digital distribution to share an exclusive peek into his process with the NYFA Blog.
NYFA: What program did you take at NYFA and when did you finish?
JP: I graduated with honours from the New York Film Academy Los Angeles campus in 2013 after completing the two-year accelerated Masters in Filmmaking (MFA).
NYFA: What inspired you to make Far From Here?
JP: Far From Here follows a young couple, Grant and Sofia, struggling to keep their marriage afloat in a foreign country. When a family crisis pulls them apart, the physical and emotional distance forces the couple to take a hard honest look at their choices and to confront a decision that could alter their future forever.
The script was conceived in the wake of a life-changing event. I’d lost my visa to the U.S. and had been forced apart from the love of my life in the process. The script was an attempt to examine my newfound circumstances and was written in a very fast four month window over Skype with my writing partner, Jonathan Ahmadi. Jonathan would also go on to play the lead role in the film.
NYFA: What are your future plans for Far From Here and beyond?
JP: Far From Here was shot on location in Bucharest and received a very generous distribution deal, with the film screening in 40 cinemas across Romania — an amazing feat for a $100,000 budget!
To celebrate the Valentine’s Day release of the film on iTunes and Amazon this year, we’re holding the Australian premiere at the Ritz Cinema in Sydney this Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Click here for more information — a few tickets are still available!
I’m also in pre-production on my new feature Fire Island — a psychological drama — which is due to shoot in Australia towards the end of this year.
NYFA: What if anything have you learned from your NYFA experience that has helped you with your professional career?
JP: My time at NYFA was invaluable. It taught me the value of failure and gave me the opportunity to explore and experiment in a way that I’d never had the confidence to do. Embracing failure is such an important part of my creative mantra — it helps me to continually sharpen my voice as a storyteller.
Congratulations to James Pillion and the Far From Here team! Check out more of the behind-the-scenes story of Far From Here in Pillion’s four-part series on FilmLink. If you’re in Sydney, check outFanForce for screening information and tickets. If you can’t make it to the Sydney screening Feb. 5, watch Far From Here on iTunes and Amazon on Valentine’s Day.
On Saturday, September 23rd, 2017, the New York Film Academy congratulated another graduating class as they crossed into the next stage of their professional careers. Three ceremonies were held throughout the day to accommodate the more than two hundred students who have now completed their education at NYFA.
Many students spent the previous day at Warner Brother’s Studios screening their final films on the backlot. The occasion is always an emotional one. Warner Brothers is a Hollywood institution that has been home to some of the greatest names and films in the entertainment industry.
Families were able to gather for photos before the ceremony began. A NYFA backdrop had everyone looking red carpet ready. When it was time for parents to take their seats, students formed neat rows as they filed into the building.
This year’s commencement speakers ranged from a Hollywood star, a casting director who worked closely with Stephen Spielberg, and a producer/writer for several of the greatest television shows ever made. Each speaker had a copious amount of advice to give to the graduates. A common theme to all the speeches was that the students should learn from the speaker’s own mistakes so they could do even better in their own careers.
The first speaker to grace the stage was Valorie Massalas, casting director extraordinaire. Her credits include “Indiana Jones,” “Chaplin,” “Total Recall,” “Alive,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” “Gods and Monsters,” and “Back to the Future II” and III. She received an Emmy nomination for her work on “Annie.” She is a new inductee into the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Massalas spoke directly to the actors about how the industry has changed since she began her career. The most disturbing change to Massalas is the rise of the social media actor. These are Hollywood hopefuls who have never taken an acting class but have 20 thousand or more followers, and they are being cast in major motion pictures because the heads of studios believe they can put audience members into seats.
“I’m sharing that with you because it’s disturbing to me that you spend all your time training like you’ve done, with these beautiful people, honing your craft, but if you don’t have social media numbers you could lose a job to somebody who does,” Massalas said. “It’s important for you to be aware of that because it’s just part of our world today. It’s not going to go away, In fact, it’s going to get worse.”
It wasn’t all bad news. Certainly, some of the changes would be favorable for the next generation chosen to run Hollywood. Social media is also giving other creatives access to the tight-knit entertainment community. “When I was first starting out you didn’t have the kind of access that you have today with social media,” Massalas said.
“The most important thing you must always remember is that you are the president of your own company. You have to be prepared to run your business like the president of a company. If you’re not doing that, you’re failing your career because nobody is going to run your business better than you.” Massalas warned students.
The second commencement speaker to take the stage was actor Joshua Helman. Helman’s credits include some of the biggest action films of the last ten years including “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Jack Reacher.” He’s also been prolific in television starring in HBO’s “The Pacific,” the mini-series “Flesh and Bone,” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Wayward Pines.”
Throughout Helman’s hilarious speech, he blended solid life advice with anecdotes from his time getting started in the industry. He began with a bit of advice he had learned from a teacher. “When I was in acting school, a singing teacher told me that the most valuable things an entertainer has to offer the audience are vulnerability and generosity. And not only have I never forgotten that, but I found it to be true.” He concluded this thought saying, “Come back to vulnerability and generosity. It will never be wrong. Find the stuff that challenges you, the truth that scares you, and offer it up to the world with joy.”
Helman also wanted to prepare students for the reality of how long it can take to start a career. “You have to prove yourself and that can suck. It means working a day job, it means losing sleep, and it means facing long stretches of seemingly infinite time when you feel like you are going nowhere. That is par for the course. Each of you, if you’re not an insane person, is going to want to give up at some point…”
But, Helman amended, there’s a way to survive the hard years. “You can make peace with it if you never forget that you are doing it in order to do the job that you love and that (entertainment) is your real job.”
The final speaker of the night was Cherie Steinkellner. She is perhaps best known for producing the multi-award winning television show, “Cheers.” She also wrote for such groundbreaking shows as “The Jeffersons” and “Who’s the Boss?” Finally, she wrote for and produced the Disney animated series and feature film, “Teacher’s Pet” starring Nathan Lane.
Steinkellner takes issue with the adage, “Those who can’t-do, teach.” “I don’t believe that to be true,” she said. “I think those who can’t-do, learn. Which is to say, if you find yourself to be an irresistible force up against an immovable object, if you find that you can’t achieve something, instead of fighting the same darn thing, consider that the point isn’t to step over that obstacle. Maybe the point of the lesson is: What can I learn from this?”
With that thought in mind, Steinkellner also wanted to make sure students didn’t think that graduating meant their best days were behind them. She closed out her speech stating,
“When I was in school, in the seventies, people would say to me these are the best years of your life. I hated that. School is short and life is long. You will never forget the years that you have spent here at the New York Film Academy. I haven’t forgotten the years that I spent in college. Please, trust this elder. The good stuff is all ahead of you. Let’s see what you make. Let’s see what you do. Let’s see your ‘weird.’ Congratulations on your graduation and welcome my friends to the best years of your life.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Joshua Helman, Valorie Massalas, and Cherie Steinkellner for taking the time to speak with our students. We’d also like to congratulate all of our incredible students on their graduation. We hope to see you back here soon, telling the next generation your success story.
New York Film Academy College of Visual & Performing Arts (NYFA) MFA Alumnus Dias Azimzhan was always interested in storytelling, starting out as a blogger before deciding to pursue filmmaking. Azimzhan’s transition to a new profession wasn’t seamless and he had to spend some time working for an international airline company before attending NYFA.
Eventually, with help of the Kazakh Bolashak Scholarship program, Azimzhan was provided the opportunity to attend NYFA, and recently graduated completing the education he dreamed about. His first film, “Moments of Enlightenment,” screened at numerous festivals, taking home awards from the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival.
NYFA sat down with Azimzhan to find out more details of his journey.
NYFA: Based on your experience, what do you recommend to those who are just planning to apply for the Bolashak scholarship program?
DA: At the beginning of the process, you may be scared and demotivated by the list of documents that you need to collect, but this procedure is also similar in other countries (including the U.S.) when applying for certain grants, so I advise you to be patient.
Look at this process as the first step of the journey to your dream. Further, during following stages, be self-disciplined and organized as possible. Plan and rationally use your time for preparing other documents and visas. It is important do not be late for the beginning of the academic year. Start dates can vary depending on the school and country.
NYFA: What was most difficult during the Bolashak application process?
DA: During the examinations, I often heard from the candidates for the scholarship that the third stage is the most difficult, that is, the last stage of the selection. In this round, the candidate surrounded by members of the selection committee (usually composed of the President of the Center of International Programs, doctors of science, professors and public figures) answers various questions. Those questions can be absolutely unpredictable — they can ask you about the constitution of the country, continuing with questions in poetry, mathematics, history, psychology, foreign languages, etc.
However, personally, for me, the most difficult stage was the second one, where the candidates who passed the first round have to take an IQ and psychological test. Additionally to logic tasks, it includes various mathematical and geometric questions. About 500 questions in total.
It’s also important to mention that each Bolashak scholarship candidate has to know Kazakh language on a very high level. Everyone will have to pass KAZTEST in the first round (analog to TOEFL and IELTS), and based on results you will either go to a second round or not.
DA: It all started in 2011 when I decided to write a script. At that time I had a blog (where I was writing my thoughts and observations) and I thought that it would not be difficult for me to write a story for the movie. I installed “Finaldraft” (screenwriting software) and started. But on the first paragraph, it became clear that I did not have enough knowledge in this area. I did not know how to structure and tell the story for the screen using pen and paper. The art of screenwriting has its own nuances (for example, you can not write the characters’ thoughts as in novels, as the viewer simply does not see it). I began to look for materials and educational institutions to fill the gap.
I primarily considered the New York Film Academy because of the intensive program, with an emphasis on practice. Also, NYFA instructors are working in the film and television industry, which is important in terms of gaining new knowledge from them.
Unfortunately, at that time I did not know about Bolashak, and did not have the necessary financial funds to apply. I had to postpone my dream. And, as it turned out, everything does happen for reason: While creating a financial basis for the future, I was working in the international airline company. I saw the world and got acquainted with the culture of many countries, which helped to significantly improve and broaden my horizons and critical thinking. Those qualities are very important for the director and filmmakers in general.
Eventually, already with little life experience and certain skills, I decided to return to the realization of my dream and plunge into the creative process, which imbued the walls of NYFA.
NYFA: What is your impression of your NYFA program? Do you have a favorite subject or instructor?
I would like to highlight screenwriting instructor, Lee Gordon. In his class, I gained knowledge on structuring story and the ability to apply this knowledge directly to the shooting process. Also, a thank you goes out to directing instructors Steve Morris and Michael Sandoval, for teaching me working with actors and listening and feeling every member of the crew. All these years, Carl Bartels taught us the art of cinematography. In his classes, we learned different cameras, lenses, compositions and how to feel the visual components of the frame. I also want to highlight Mark Horowitz, who shared his huge experience in the film business and content promotion.
NYFA: Your short social drama “Moments of Enlightenment” has won many awards at various film festivals. Tell us how the idea for this film was born?
DA: In 2008, one of my friends lost her job. It was during the global financial crisis. By the way, I also lost my job then. I think almost everyone remembers this difficult period for many in the world. On one cloudy autumn day, I met her at the cafe, and she told me about her difficult situation, including problems in the family. I was helping her as much as I can. Part of her story remained in my head forever.
And when I had an opportunity to tell the world a small story, I decided to share that period of my acquaintance’s life (with her permission), through the prism of two immigrants living in the U.S.
NYFA: Recently, you starred in Alisher Suleimen’s “Cloud on the Roof.” Did you use behind-the-scenes experience and knowledge in acting?
DA: I think behind-the-scenes experience gives a huge advantage to the actor, not only in knowing the geography of the scene and the shooting process but also in understanding the story itself since not every actor can think like a director. But neither does every director think like an actor in terms of becoming a new character; finding and making new skills, habits, weaknesses and strengths his own.
I had the opportunity to synchronize my knowledge in both, because I already had acting experience in small projects, as well as experience in studying the art of improvisation at NYFA along with the courses I had taken in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
NYFA: What did you learn from acting as a director?
DA: Nowadays, due to lack of time and the fast pace of pre-production, not every director, unfortunately, has the opportunity for deep and detailed exploration of characters, giving preference to breaking down the story itself — which is also very important. Actors can fill that gap and breathe life into the characters, but they need to do it together with the director and screenwriter; otherwise, free interpretation can have a negative impact on the story and even ruin the project.
NYFA: What projects are you currently working on?
DA: Now is the editing process of the recently shot short “Interius: The War Within.” I think we will finish the post-production of the film by fall.
Also, we shot three music videos with Kazakh singers. One of them has already been aired on the national music channel. All of them were shot in Los Angeles, and I was responsible for the script and directing of storyline.
In parallel with the editing, I am writing a script for a feature film under the working title “Pure Society.” I write in English, but depending on where it will be shot script can be translated and adapted.
WATCH “Ulitio” Official Trailer :
NYFA: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
DA: I see myself the founder of production studios and a film school. Perhaps, the director-inspirer of the younger generation, who still has to keep building our society together with you, a society of people with an unconventional thinking and a fair approach to life.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Dias Azimzhan for sharing with us his story. We believe that his experience is truly inspiring and would like to wish him all the best with his filmmaking career.
On May 4th, students at the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy enjoyed a screening and Q&A of the Ron Howard film In the Heart of the Sea. On hand to discuss the film was the composer of its musical score and current NYFA Filmmaking MFA student, Roque Baños.
Originally from Spain, Roque is an acclaimed film composer whose credits include The Machinist, Sexy Beast, the 2013 remake of Evil Dead, Spike Lee’s Oldboy, and many award-winning films from Spain, including the 2004 hit El Crimen Ferpecto.
Roque was trained as a jazz saxophonist and classical composer, and he brings an eclectic blend of styles to his film scores, making him a much sought after composer for filmmakers of all genres.
In addition to mastering many musical genres, Roque doesn’t rely solely on traditional instruments for his scores. For In the Heart of the Sea, Roque created samples for his score by bringing the actual whaling ship from the film into the famed Abbey Road Studios in London and playing it like a percussion instrument.
This willingness to work beyond the typical is what makes Roque’s scores so appealing and memorable. When the moderator, NYFA’s Dean of the College Sonny Calderon, asked Roque about his approach, Roque replied, “Music is all experimentation. You never know what could make your movie more powerful. The best thing to do is collaborate with someone, and experiment. Fifty percent of the movie is sound. You might have a good movie, but if you have the wrong music, your movie will be bad.”
When Sonny asked how Roque was hired for the film, he explained that legendary composer Hans Zimmer (Batman v Superman, Interstellar, Sherlock Holmes, Pirates of the Caribbean) recommended him for the job. After meeting with Ron Howard, Roque was hired. This story illustrated the importance of having a network of collaborators who support you and your work.
When a student asked what kind of language a director should use when working with a composer, Roque responded, “You have to say what you expect from the music, just as you do with any actor; it’s the same emotions.”
NYFA’s Dean of the College Sonny Calderon with Roque Baños
Finally, Roque explained that he wanted to earn an MFA in Filmmaking from New York Film Academy in order to better understand the entire filmmaking process. In this way, he said, his musical contributions to film can be even more effective.
Roque’s latest work can be seen in the biblical epic Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) and directed by Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld, The Count of Monte Cristo, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).
We thank Roque for sharing his wisdom with our students, and wish him continued great success.
Coming off the success of her award-winning short film, 7 Hours, which screened at over 30 film festivals across the world, New York Film Academy MFA Filmmaking graduate Farah Fuad ALHashem has a new film currently making the rounds at festivals around the world.
The documentary film, Breakfast in Beirut, recently screened at the Lebanese Film Festival in Sydney, Australia and is currently circulating around the Arab world with screenings coming up at the Alexandria International Film Festival for Mediterranean Countries 2015 (September 2nd-8th, 2015 in Egypt). In November, it will screen at the Cairo International Film Festival as well as screenings in Paris, Venice, Beirut and Dubai.
The documentary film’s experimental direction examines Beirut as a chaotic city and its inhabitants’ relationship with it. But underneath this chaos, the heart of Beirut is waiting to be discovered.
After writing 17 different versions of the script, with script supervisor Rachel Vine in Universal Studios, Hollywood, writer and filmmaker Farah ALHashem kept changing the storyline until her arrival in Beirut, where she ended up shooting a completely different version of the script.
For more information about the film, you can visit the Facebook Page. Also, have a look at the trailer below!
On Saturday, May 30th, New York Film Academy Los Angeles students from the Filmmaking, Acting, Producing, Screenwriting, Photography, Cinematography, Game Design, and 3D Animation and Visual Effects disciplines gathered to receive their degrees during two commencement ceremonies at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood, California. Deans Louis Fantasia, Eric Conner, and Mike Civille as well as Department Chairs Lynda Goodfriend (Acting), Tony Schwartz (Producing), Nunzio DeFilippis (Screenwriting), Mark Sawicki (3D Animation and Visual Effects), Michelle Kirk (Photography) and Associate Chairs Mike Williamson (Cinematography), Adam Finer (Screenwriting), and Julia Raz (Game Design) addressed the students, congratulating them and giving personal fair wells and final advice for the future. School Director Dan Mackler and Dean Louis Fantasia presented diplomas.
actor Manish Dayal
Manish Dayal, film and television actor known for his recurring role as Raj Kher in the hit TV show 90210 and starring in a leading role in the film The Hundred Foot Journey, was the Commencement Speaker for the Acting and Screenwriting graduates. Mr. Dayal relayed the importance of having a positive perspective of “failing” in life as every success he’s experienced would not have been possible with the failures that led him there.
David A. Permut, television and movie producer known for creating Richard Pryor: Live in Concert and Dragnet, which was an early example of remaking a television series into a motion picture, was the Commencement Speaker for the Film, Producing, Cinematography, Photography, Game Design, and 3D Animation and Visual Effects Graduates. Mr. Permut stressed the importance of remaining positive and having patience in the film industry as the average time it takes an idea to debut on the screen from conception is seven years, and the time it’s taken for many of his projects to come to fruition has well exceeded that.
After the commencement ceremonies, graduates and their family and friends celebrated at the Riot House Restaurant in West Hollywood’s Andaz Hotel on the Sunset Strip. Congratulations to all of NYFA’s 2015 degree program graduates!
MFA in Filmmaking
Eduardo Michel Piza
MA in Film & Media
Ahmed Farouk Ibrahim Al Ayooti
Abdullah Bin Kulaib
Paulo Erico Claridades
MFA in Acting
Ricardo Diaz Guillen
Omar-Farouq Ayorinde Edu
Brandon James Gailliard
Ivonne Garcia Asimbaya
Jong Man Kim
Nozipho Jamilah Profit-Mclean
Fernando Quintana Lasso
BFA in Acting
Diana Valencia Medina
AFA in Acting
Carlos Rodrigo Chavez
Karen Flores Kauffman
Michael Brandon Lamkins
Hadas Sima Lev
MFA in Producing
Ismelda Cruz Mojica
Marisela de Los Angeles Delgado Fuentes
Ana Pou Valeriano
Tripp Townsend III
Since graduating from his MFA in Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles in 2012, Antonio Chavez Trejo has established himself as the Director of Production and Creative Services for a 360 production and social media marketing company based in LA, called Supersonix Media Inc. Having come from a film school background and being well versed in the many facets of filmmaking, Antonio served his hand as producer, co-director and camera-op on his feature film entitled, El Freeman. Antonio and his team are now handling distribution, marketing, and crowd funding.
The film is about El, an immigrant from Kazakhstan who is trying to raise money to hire a lawyer to get his papers in order. He ends up meeting the wrong set of people, and works at a moving company with a few low life criminals who steal from the owners of the homes. During one of his jobs, El meets a man who will become his mentor and help him correct his path. In addition to his eventual brotherhood with his fellow criminals, there’s also a love story that pushes the interior motives of El and his connection with his values and his family.
“Working on El Freeman taught me something very important,” said Trejo. “Im up for the challenge, and I have acquired the leadership I need to run any film I want to make.”
Trejo had been assembling the team for about two years, which includes former classmates of his, director Yelhas Rakhimbekov, director of photography Erik Kjonaas, and 1st AD Carolina Sandoval. This tight group of filmmakers worked arduous schedules to complete production of the film.
“We had days when we had to shoot 6, 7, 8 or 9 pages a day,” recalls Trejo. “With their eyes and ears and my directing keeping the vision of Yelhas, we shot something that looks as beautiful as the script is.”
Trejo and his team finished principal photography, and are currently in post-production.
Aside from this project, Trejo has been showcasing a few of his short films and has a feature script which he hopes will see a green light soon.
As we all know, networking is an essential element in becoming a success in the entertainment business. But how do you begin networking when you have no connections or resources to begin with? That’s often where the New York Film Academy comes into play. Many of our students come from locations all around the world and end up establishing and maintaining lifelong relationships, both personally and professionally. Juan (JMR) Luna and Kane Senes met in their MFA Filmmaking program in 2008 and became very close friends. They began supporting each other’s writing and producing each other’s directorial works. Since graduating less than five years ago they have earned immense success. Their latest feature film, Echoes of War, starring Ethan Embry, William Forsythe, James Badge Dale and Maika Monroe will be released May 15, 2015. Their future is limitless.
We had a chat with these two graduates about their film, and how they have successfully navigated the industry thus far.
Can you tell me what Echoes of War is about?
Kane: Echoes of War is about a soldier returning from the Civil War to his family in the remote Texan countryside. There he discovers that the neighbors have been stealing from his family while he’s been gone and so he takes matters in to his own hands, sparking another senseless and tragic war. It’s a film about loss, really.
Where did the idea for Echoes of War come from?
Kane: My thesis short film at NYFA in 2010 was called A Relative Stranger. Juan was the cinematographer and co-producer. Echoes of War began as a feature adaptation of that short and grew into something else. The short came from my own relationship to my family, coming home every now and then from living in the States and feeling like things have changed while I’ve been gone. Obviously coming home from war is a whole other matter that I have never experienced and would never pretend to understand, but we spoke to as many veterans as we could and tried to ground it in a universal, human story that we can all understand and relate to — no matter our experiences.
When did you two first start collaborating, and ultimately begin writing the script for Echoes of War?
Kane: Our directing instructor was Adam Nimoy, who taught me everything I know. Juan directed some of his own stuff but gravitated towards cinematography, so he began shooting most of my projects, starting with my Year One Film and then my thesis. From there, we worked on each other’s films throughout school.
The script I began writing with my writing and producing partner John Chriss, who produced my thesis. He didn’t go to NYFA but he was basically an honorary student as he worked on a lot of our films. I graduated NYFA at the end of 2010, and we were writing by mid-2011. A year later the script was done and Juan came onboard to help produce.
Juan: My relationship with Kane can’t just be contained on Echoes of War. We have been friends all throughout, and we support each other constantly. When I was directing my movie Kane was there helping out too — emotionally and giving me notes and helping out with whatever he could.
Can you tell me a little bit of how this film came together? Raising funds, attaching talent, etc.
Kane: Juan and I were going door to door in Australia, meeting with film investors I knew there and trying to raise funds. It didn’t go as well as we were hoping, and Juan brought in some producers he knew from LA who graduated from AFI the same year we graduated NYFA. They had a connection to Emily Schweber, a wonderful casting director. A few weeks later, I was flying back to LA and meeting with actors every day for six months. We were fortunate enough to put together a great cast, which Juan was able to use to land the rest of the money we needed, and we shot the movie.
JMR Luna and Kane Senes
Would you say your training and education at NYFA was useful in terms of writing / directing / producing this film?
Kane: 100%. People often ask whether or not to go to film school. I always say the same thing: for me, I needed to know I could do this and school gave me the confidence by encouraging me to make films and seeing that they worked. They started bad and got better and I could see the pieces coming together. I could see I was improving and that was a direct result of film school: being in that environment, with good teachers and a great class room of participating students.
Juan: I always felt that film school is what you want to make out of it. I feel being in class with Kane defined our careers. We both realize very early on that we had similar objectives, and the same passion for movies. I believe we always had a healthy competition going on. And it has been very stimulating and we both challenged and encouraged each other. We are better filmmakers because we both grew together. I feel film school gave us that safe environment and working structure to achieve it.
Are you currently working together on another project?
Kane: We’re always throwing ideas around but nothing is in place just yet. Maybe Juan thinks I’m one of those crazy directors he doesn’t want to work with again. You should ask him!
Juan: I am working on different things right now. The Runaround, which will star Emile Hirsch and J.K. Simmons (two former NYFA Guest Speakers) was announced yesterday on The Hollywood Reporter, and it’s my next movie.
We are currently working on THE SAME film together, as we have to distribute it still. People think that after you shoot the movie, you are done with it. But we are still working daily on it. The moment we are both done, I would love to find something else we could do together. I feel we both have grown a lot in the last three years, and our friendship has changed and evolved. So this movie would surely be very different from the first one and hopefully much better!
JMR and Kane will be hosting a special “How to Make it in Hollywood” lecture at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles on May 14, 2015.
New York Film Academy Chinese Student Club invited one of our MFA Filmmaking graduates, Jing Wen, a Chinese filmmaker who studied at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles to screen her short film A, B, C or D? followed by a Q&A last week.
“I like to observe people’s facial expression, voice, and body language in order to understand them,” says Jing. “That’s one the most important skills a director needs to learn and practice because film ideas are inspired by observations from life and they are a reflection of reality.” As a writer and director with a record of success, Jing Wen is never satisfied with her own films and always believes that there is something she could do better.
Inspired by the story structure of Run Lola Run, Rushmore and the 2006 Chinese comedy Crazy Stone, Jing wrote the short film A, B, C or D? as her thesis project. Her final shooting script came out after workshops during her thesis committee meetings and was rewritten seven or eight times during her study at the Academy. “The production only took about two days and in fact we shot for one and a half days.” Jing described, “it saved us a lot on budget, but the biggest challenge we face, like many young filmmakers doing student films, is that we lost one of the main cast a few days before the principle of photography started.” It helped that three quarters of the crew working on her short film were friends who she met on classmates’ sets and were doing her a favor. She suggested that our current students at New York Film Academy begin coming up with ideas no later than March if they want to start shooting between May and July. “It’ll give you enough time to absorb others’ opinions and achieve a more mature storytelling,” she said.
Jing not only shared her production experience but also gave important lessons she learned along the way. “It is extremely difficult for an Asian director to climb up the ladder and direct a major hit feature in Hollywood. Your experience and networking are equally important whether you want to stay in Hollywood or go back to China,” she says. In addition to filmmaking, Jing has a strong background working in the Television Industry in China. She started interning at major Chinese TV station at a young age and participated in productions of hit variety shows and games shows when she was only 19 years old. Her advice to those seeking a career in the industry was to build a relationship with people. “The most important lesson I learned is that you can’t work alone as an individual but need a team that supports one another no matter what you do or where you are,” Jing explained. “Teamwork in this particular industry together with the network you built is a weapon that will get you far.”
Jing Wen has been selected to direct a forthcoming feature comedy The Disappeared Fish later this year. The film is scheduled to release theatrically after premiering at 2016 film festivals in China. Jing is currently working with Chinese financiers on a second feature written by her. She’s working in development with a production company and is considering a TV platform release. Our Chinese students at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles campus had a blast listening to Jing Wen’s unique experience and we sincerely thank Jing Wen for taking the time to openly share her insight with us. We also look forward to seeing the Chinese Student Club host more events in the future to benefit NYFA students.
One of our MFA Filmmaking graduates, Zaid Abu Hamdan, a Jordanian filmmaker who studied at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles, is generating buzz with his newest project Daughter’s of Abdul-Rahman. The film, which raised more than $23,000 on indiegogo, is a dramatic comedy about four estranged and very different sisters.
Following the mysterious disappearance of their father, the eldest sister, Zainab, must now reunite with her three sisters at the family home to find their patriarch. Only by coming together will they be able to locate their missing father, and, in the process, overcome their differences and realize who they truly want to be. A drama with a unique, Jordanian sense of humor that is full of light heartwarming moments, Daughters of Abdul-Rahman is natural and organic. Yet, the screenplay tackles serious issues and taboos in a poetic, dark, but still comedic style.
The four female leads of Daughters of Abdul-Rahman loosely represent the wide spectrum of women in Amman while their old traditional father represents the patriarchal structure in Jordan. Given the endless list of differences between them and their divergent social lives, the four sisters do not choose to embark on a journey together to find their missing father, but they must. The sisters’ journey creates a whirlwind of fear, tears, new discoveries, and laughter. Through difficult times, the daughters find their inner voices, not only as individuals, but also as a union of women—sisters.
“I am a strong believer in the voice of women, the strength of women, the freedom of women, and the much-needed intellectual liberty of women and men in the region,” states Abu Hamdan. “If I wish for something, it would be that this film contributes to a larger movement for women’s liberation in my own country, or even in the Middle East. And when that happens, I will be there, with my mother.”
Abu Hamdan has proven to be a very prolific and successful filmmaker since leaving the Academy. The Jordanian filmmaker has directed a number of short films including Bahiya and Mahmoud, which won the Best of Festival Award at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival and Shortfest, and was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2012.
You can view his award-winning film below.
If you’re interested in donating to Daughter’s of Abdul-Rahman, click here.