On December 20, New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA student Shi Tanxuan showcased his short film, Lip Reader: Game of Detective at the 15th Guangzhou College Student Film Festival, one of China’s most prestigious student film festivals. It came away as one of the festival’s biggest winners.
Lip Reader: Game of Detective is a comedic detective story, written to be part of a cinematic, “special detective universe” — a rare and ambitious trait for a student film. Lip Reader tells the story of Lin, a college student with a severe hearing impairment, who has a fantastic talent for reading lips. Lin, who works as an “intelligence analyst” for a paparazzi company, must track down a missing $20 million diamond necklace two days before a popular Chinese actress is to wear it at the Academy Awards.
Lip Reader stood out from more than 500 short films at the 15th Guangzhou College Student Film Festival. The event is one of two college student film festivals approved by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. Popular with students across the country and beyond, it plays an important role in promoting Chinese movies.
By the end of the festival, it had won the Gold Award in the “Original Motion Picture and Animation Film Competition (Drama) competition. Additionally, it picked up the “Huayi Brothers Media Group Star-making Entertainment Special Award” at the award ceremony.
Shi Tanxuan started the MFA in Filmmaking program at New York Film Academy in Summer 2017 at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. In addition to writing and directing Lip Reader, he also put together a cast and crew of several other Chinese students and alumni from NYFA, including:
General Executive Producer Peipei Duan 2017 Fall MFA Producing
Second Unit Director Kaibo Xu 2017 Fall MFA Filmmaking
1st & 2nd Assistant Director Fei Chen Mengmeng 2018 Fall BFA Filmmaking
Post Supervisor Cherry Cao MFA Fall 2015 Filmmaking
Post Production Coordinator Zhenghao Yang 2016 Fall MFA Filmmaking
Cast: Klay Li 2016 Spring MFA Filmmaking
2015 Spring MFA Acting for Film
2018 Summer MFA Acting
BFA Fall 16 Acting 1C
BFA Acting 2017
The New York Film Academy congratulates the above students and alumni on their hard work and wishes Shi Tanxuan the best of luck as he expands the story and universe of Lip Reader: Game of Detective!
The tradition of hosting a welcome dinner for the incoming cohort of New York Film Academy Foreign Fulbright Grantees continued at the New York Film Academy College of Visual & Performing Arts in Los Angeles (NYFA-LA) last week.
Fulbright Grantees with Dan Mackler, NYFA’s LA Campus Director, Amy Ellenberger, Miguel Cruz, NYFA´s Director of Fulbright Initiatives and Marcus Louis Fien
NYFA-LA Campus Director Dan Mackler, and NYFA Director of Fulbright Initiatives Miguel Cruz hosted the six Fulbright students who are on campus for the 2018/2019 Academic Year.They include four grantees in the MFA Filmmaking Program, one grantee in MFA Documentary Filmmaking, and one grantee in the 1-Year Acting for Film Program. Represented countries are Spain (3), Paraguay, Peru, and Bahrain. NYFA is pleased to recognize a Fulbright finalist from Estonia as part of the group as well.
In recent years, NYFA has welcomed nearly 60 Fulbrighters to our campuses in Los Angeles and New York City. NYFA Fulbrighters have hailed from more than 30 countries.
Dr. José Siles, President of the Fulbright Alumni Association of Los Angeles, joined the celebration, as did Amy Ellenberger, NYFA Director of Recruitment, and NYFA Admissions Specialist Marcus Fien. Dr. Siles invited the Fulbrighters for a tour of NASA Space facilities where he is engaged in research.
Fulbright grantee Maya Riquelme, with Amy Ellenberger, NYFA Director of Recruitment
NYFA-LA Campus Director Dan Mackler enthusiastically stated, “For me, meeting the extraordinarily talented Fulbright students that come to study at NYFA-LA is one of the highlights of the start of every academic year.”
Mackler continued, “In these global creators of visual and performing storytelling, I am provided hope for a future that will be both exciting and impactful. They connect us with a greater humanity.”
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government through the U.S. Department of State.The Program operates in more than 140 countries and offers opportunities for students and young professionals, as well as for post-doctoral teachers and researchers to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching.
The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,900 are to U.S. students, 4,000 to foreign students, 1,200 to U.S. scholars, and 900 to visiting scholars. In addition, several hundred teachers and professionals receive awards.
NYFA is proud to be the school of choice for so many inspired and creative minds and to participate in numerous Fulbright initiatives, including producing two TEDxFULBRIGHT events and conducting documentary filmmaking workshops at the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program Conferences.
On August 13, 2018, the New York Film Academy’s Department of Veteran Services, was honored to host an advanced screening of the next chapter in the Louis Zamperini story, Unbroken: Path to Redemption. The film is the sequel to the 2014 film, Unbroken, directed by Academy Award Winner®, Angelina Jolie, and hits theaters later this year. Following the screening, producers Matthew Baer and Luke Zamperini, son of Louis Zamperini, treated the audience to a Q&A moderated by Navy veteran and New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Acting Alumnus, Ron Ringo.
The event was part of the NYFA DVS series of events that includes guest speakers, film screenings, master classes, workshops, and employment trainings — all which promote industry engagement for NYFA’s veteran-students and the wider veteran communities in Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami (South Beach).
Photo Caption: (left to right) Ron Ringo, Matthew Baer, and Luke Zamperini discuss their experience in creating Unbroken: Path to Redemption.
Baer and Zamperini shared their experiences creating the film, as well as stories about Louis Zamperini himself. With having only 20 days to shoot the entire film, Baer addressed the challenges that he faced along with sharing a lot of valuable information for aspiring filmmakers. Zamperini shared stories of his father and explained how powerful it is seeing his father’s inspirational story depicted on the big screen for everyone to experience. Being on set and seeing his family members being portrayed by actors was incredibly surreal to him.
BFA Producing student and US Navy veteran Jonathan Garza commented, “Louis Zamperini’s inspirational and powerful story should be seen by everyone. He is a true American Hero.” He added, “I also enjoyed hearing from Matthew and his insight from years of producing. He mentioned that he still runs into the same problems producing studio films that he did when he was in film school, but on a larger scale.”
Luke Zamperini is the President and CEO of the Louis Zamperini Youth Ministries Foundation.Matthew Baer’s other producing credits include The Hurricane starring Denzel Washington, City by the Sea with Robert De Niro and James Franco, and the first chapter in the Louis Zamperini story, Unbroken — among many other successful films.
The New York Film Academy thanks Matthew Baer and Luke Zamperini for their generosity and willingness to share their stories and to help students pursuing careers in the film industry.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) student Pablo C. Vergara recently worked on the independent feature film Adverse, a drama/thriller written and directed by Brian A. Metcalf. The film is being produced by the actor and musician Thomas Ian Nicholas, who previously starred in Rookie of the Year and the American Pie films, and who stars in Adverse as well.
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.
Lou Diamond Phillips, Brian A. Metcalf, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Pablo C. Vergara
In July, Vergara had the opportunity to work as a production assistant on the set of Adverse, a role into which the always hard-working and committed filmmaker threw himself with gusto. While on set, he got to work closely with Nicholas and Metcalf, as well as stars Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba, Stand and Deliver) and Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way, Kindergarten Cop).
Describing his experience, Vergara said, “I had the chance to watch Thomas and Lou work together on a scene and that was truly inspiring. We exchanged knowledge between takes about their craft and life in Los Angeles in general — Lou was a really cool guy and with an amazing personality, cracking jokes and talking to the rest of the crew regularly.” He continued, “The shoot went well and after wrap up, everyone’s spirits were high.”
Pablo C. Vergara
A friendly, energetic personality, Vergara also spoke with Nicholas about a possible on-camera role. He got to spend a lot of time with the producer and actor, driving alongside him to and from locations in a U-Haul full of film equipment for the independent shoot. They discussed film and music and their own careers, as well as Nicholas’s previous Q&A with the New York Film Academy. In 2017, Nicholas and Metcalf screened their previous film The Lost Tree — starring Michael Madsen, Lacey Chabert, and Scott Grimes — for NYFA students, which preceded their guest panel.
Adverse’s locations included 4 Hearts Studios in Sylmar, CA, and a private home used for an entire day’s worth of shooting. Vergara got to see the newest RED 8K camera in action up close and personal. “Being a cinematographer myself, I was excited to see this fine piece of equipment operate, and the visuals it captured were fantastic!” he exclaimed.
Vergara added, “No doubt this film is going to turn out to be incredible and I was very fortunate to be able to be part of it for a few days. The entire team was very embracing and cordial, and it forged great friendships.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates Pablo C. Vergara on his exciting experience, and looks forward to seeing him return to NYFA next Spring to complete his MFA thesis!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Elizabeth Soto-Lara can now add a feature film to her list of screenwriting credits after finishing production on the film Un Regalo Esencial (An Essential Gift). Not only is she the film’s screenwriter, but Soto-Lara also served on set as the First Assistant Director.
Un Regalo Esencial was filmed in more than 30 locations in Costa Rica over the course of about ninety days. It was co-written and directed by Jose Mario Salas Boza. Both Boza and Soto-Lara graduated from the New York Film Academy’s Fall ’16 MA Film & Media program.
The film tells the story of a grandfather who relives the memories of his first romantic relationship to share life lessons with his grandchild about the consequences of jealousy and insecurity. It merges genres of romance, drama, comedy, and musical, and looks to make its audience ride a rollercoaster of emotions. Its setting ranges from the 1980s to the near future, all in a running time of about 90 minutes.
Un Regalo Esencial stars notable Costa Rican actors Viviana Calderon and Pablo Rodriguez, as well as featuring Mauricio Hoffman and Norval Calvo in supporting roles. It is currently in post-production and will be released in October 2018.
Soto-Lara is a Mexican filmmaker who has been writing for television and film for more than four years. She has written and directed more than 10 short films within both Mexico and the US. Soto-Lara won the award for Best Short Film at the Mexico International Film Festival for her film Restored, which was originally her NYFA thesis film. Restored is also an Official Selection at the 2019 Los Angeles CineFest.
Of her work on Un Regalo Esencial, Soto-Lara remarked, “It was an unforgettable experience to be able to be on set and see how the words I put on paper came to life. I feel very lucky and thankful to have had this opportunity to share a beautiful story, make friends from around the globe, and learn in the process.”
She continued, “This experience will remain as an indelible mark in me for the rest of my life.”
New York Film Academy congratulates Elizabeth Soto-Lara’s on her well-earned success and encourages her and the rest of our students to continue writing and keep sharing their stories.
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 screened this Feb. 5 in Sydney shortly before its digital release 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.
Pillion took some time during the busy week leading up to his 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.
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.
Far From Here is available from the following sources: iTunes Australia iTunes USA Amazon USA
The Arabian Warrior is not only the very first American-Saudi film production, but has also celebrated its premiere in Saudi Arabia at a historic moment, just as the Kingdom celebrates the opening of its movie theaters for the fist time in 35 years. The film followsAnmar, a young Saudi man who dreams of becoming a professional football player. It’s a deeply human story about navigating the tension between following one’s dreams, honoring one’s family and traditions, and finding one’s own way in a complicated world.
After an incredibly successful red carpet premiere covered by major news networks in Dubai, the film is screening across the Middle East with Grand Entertainment — and soon the world, with a distribution deal with MultiVisionnaire Pictures, and an upcoming digital release on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.
In the midst of his busy opening month, director and New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Aymen Khoja found the time to sit down with the NYFA Blog via email to talk about the film, the Dubai screening, and what’s next.
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?
AK: Passion and ambition. My active soul pulled my body from all the challenges I faced to the city of angels to study what I’ve dreamed of: becoming a filmmaker!
NYFA: Why filmmaking? What inspires you most?
AK: Filmmaking is the best way to get into people hearts! People would listen when they see things through films more than if you talk to them face to face. Plus, I love inspiring people with what I believe is right. Also, I love putting a smile on people’s faces!
NYFA: Can you tell us what brought The Arabian Warrior project to life? How did the film come about for you?
AK: Young people always fight to achieve their goals against their parents, society, or any challenges could stand in front of them. I wanted to explain the pressure young people face when it comes to making their choices about what they want to be in the future.
NYFA: The Arabian Warrior tells a story that highlights some tensions between a young man with a dream to pursue a non-traditional career, and his parents’ concerns for his future. What resonated with you about this story?
AK: I’ve seen this situation around me with friends, family. To me the most important question is, how can the son reach his goals but at the same time respect his parents?
The Arabian Warrior poster via IMDB
NYFA: Congratulations on screening The Arabian Warrior in Dubai! How did this event come about? Can you tell us a bit about the process of organizing the screening and how it feels leading up to the screening?
AK: Thank you! It feels wonderful.
I’d love to thank Dubai for welcoming my first of all time film premier! It was a super exciting process from very the beginning, when we signed Grand Entertainment to distribute our film in the Arab region.
Big thanks to Isaac, who really worked everything out! It just can’t get better!
Our film played in 48 theaters all over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Fantastic success. I thank God, and everyone who helped me with this achievement.
NYFA: Did anything surprise you during filming, or where there any hurdles you overcame? Any words of wisdom for our students from your production experience?
AK: A lot of surprises and many challenges, from losing locations, working with actors, staying within the budget, getting creative shots to save the day, etc.
Advice I can give: be collaborative. Listen. Build a fantastic positive team. Move on. Don’t get stuck with one challenge; fix it and move on.
Director Aymen Khoja via IMDB
NYFA: What’s next for The Arabian Warrior?
AK: It will be released on digital platforms in the U.S. and Canada: Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. We’ve signed with an international distributor worldwide, MultiVisionnaire. The film already has been released on TV, in some part of Asia and Africa.
NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
AK: I’m developing three projects at the same time. I prefer not to speak about them now, but all what I can say is, they will see light soon inshallah!
NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful for the work you are doing now?
AK: NYFA is one of the main reasons for me to be at this place. I can’t thank NYFA enough. Instructors, environment, departments, classmates, everyone were super helpful. They gave me all the knowledge I needed for this wonderful journey in creating my first feature film! I’m still in touch with all my instructors, we became like a family! Thank you, family of NYFA, from my heart.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Aymen for his interview, and congratulate him and Mohammad on the great success of The Arabian Warrior!
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.