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  • NYFA’s Q&A-List Welcomes President of MGM Motion Picture Group Pam Abdy

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    NYFA had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with the President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group, Pam Abdy, to discuss the film production process with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Abdy is the current President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group and oversees the development, production, and post-production for all MGM and Orion films. Abdy is currently developing a multitude of films such as Fiddler on The Roof, Project Hail Mary, and Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, amongst others.

    At her previous position, Makeready Films/eOne, the company financed and produced Queen & Slim from director Melina Matsoukas and writer Lena Waithe and A Million Little Pieces from director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Previously, Abdy served as President of Production at New Regency, where they released the acclaimed Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Academy Award-winning Birdman, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Adam McKay’s Academy Award-winning The Big Short, and Iñárritu’s The Revenant in 2016, which received twelve Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Pam Abdy (Right)

    Laiter began the conversation by asking Abdy what a day in the life of the President of MGM Motion Picture Group looks like. Abdy explained that most days consist of hours of Zoom meetings from pitching and financial planning to meetings with production staff and discussing forward slate planning. “It’s an all-encompassing job especially being at home with my daughter in the next room,” shared Abdy. “It’s a little chaotic, but that was just today. Every day is different.”

    Abdy, whose original plan to be a dancer got derailed by injury, got her first big break as Danny DeVito’s assistant, after working at the front desk at DeVito’s Jersey Films. “It was a life-changing opportunity for me,” she remembered. “He is a mentor to me and a second father. I learned how to make movies at that company and was given space to grow and they [the whole team] really taught me how to make films and be on set.”

    Sometimes the best education is watching and observing something Abdy does to this day, even as President at MGM Motion Picture Group. She urged NYFA students to remember that no job is too small to do no matter how many years of experience you have. “It doesn’t matter what I have to do. Every job is meaningful and nothing is beneath me,” said Abdy. “I will do whatever it takes to navigate a problem. I feel like some people think things are not their job, but to be a great producer, you have to manage so many different personalities and money. It’s an incredible responsibility that doesn’t get enough credit.”

    Part of being a great producer means being able to collaborate with the director, something Abdy mentioned as being one of the most important parts of putting a movie together and in production. “It’s everything to find the right director for your film,” she emphasized. “If it’s not the right director the film won’t have the right point of view. The best day of a producer’s life is getting the director on the movie, but it’s also the worst day because it becomes the director’s and you may not agree with everything they do. Your vision may not be their vision. But when that person comes on and they elevate that, there’s nothing better.”

    Pam Abdy (Left) with the cast and crew of “Queen & Slim”

    One of the career highlights for Abdy has been the vision of Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe, with whom she worked with on Queen & Slim. While on the film, Abdy learned a very important lesson that has stayed with her to this day. “I usually have to be part of everything and find solutions. That movie wasn’t about that. It was about creating a safe space and giving Melina and Lena the floor while I stand in the background to help navigate things as they needed them,” she began. “What was so joyful about that film is both of those women are such visionaries. Allow artists and visionaries to have the space to tell their stories. Don’t impose your own on their process. I learned about creating space for artists’ voices and it was the greatest joy of my career.”

    Abdy, like many others in the film industry, is continuing to adapt to the film industry facing restrictions due to the COVID pandemic. “Before, you hustled, made major movies, dealt with your budget, and put the movie together which – sometimes things took longer. Now, you don’t have the luxury of time anymore. You are locked down. If you are not working in a pod, then you leave the set. It’s not as fun,” she laughed. “Sometimes magic happens when you are making a film and I worry that the new rigidness may impact that work. There’s no answer right now as to when this part is going to stop, and it’s so expensive. What it’s doing is putting a burden on film budgets for COVID costs. There is a danger that good movies won’t get made because the cost is too burdensome.”

    Pam Abdy during promotion for Zach Braff’s “Garden State”

    One student asked Abdy how to become a better producer. Abdy urged them to get their hands on as many scripts as possible, even the one that got made already. “Study filmmakers. Filmmakers love to know their producers understand other filmmakers’ work. Take time and watch how filmmakers grow. See what changes. Watch the language and understand the common thread of their films throughout. Then, define your taste and identify what actually is your taste.”

    As Laiter closed the discussion and thanked Abdy for her generous wisdom, Laiter asked Abdy what has made her so successful in her career. Abdy replied it’s all the positives and the negatives about herself combined. “As I get older I recognize my flaws and I’m trying to do better with delegating. Be kind and be generous to everyone. This whole business is based on relationships and the experience of those relationships.”

    Abdy’s upcoming slate includes Joe Wright’s Cyrano, Ridley Scott’s Gucci, Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin’s Dog, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled upcoming film. New York Film Academy would like to thank Pam Abdy for sharing her time and invaluable knowledge of the film business with NYFA students and looks forward to welcoming her back again in the near future.

    To watch the full conversation, click here or view the video below:

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    February 18, 2021 • Acting • Views: 904

  • Julie Pacino Producing Mary Pickford Biopic

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    Mary Pickford is finally getting the Hollywood treatment from the Hollywood she helped to create. Pickford, the curly-haired ingénue considered cinema’s first “America’s Sweetheart” was a huge star in the silent era and early days of Hollywood.

    Pickford wasn’t just one of the first starlets of the silver screen—she was also a powerful force behind the camera. During her career, she co-founded two significant institutions. The first, with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and her husband Douglas Fairbanks, was United Artists, a studio controlled by actors and filmmakers in an attempt to wrest power from the major studios. UA continues as a major producer to this day as part of MGM.

    Pickford’s other contribution was even greater—she was one of the original 36 co-founders of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the organizations of cinema’s professionals in all fields and provider of the annual Oscars. Pickford won two Academy Awards herself, a Best Actress Oscar for 1929’s Coquette and an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 1976.

    It’s no surprise then that her fascinating life is being made into a film, adapted from Eileen Whitfield’s biography Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood. The movie is being scripted by Josh Fagin and directed by Jennifer DeLia. DeLia is producing the film with Julie Pacino, a New York Film Academy graduate who co-founded Poverty Row Entertainment with DeLia. The two also collaborated on Billy Bates, the haunting look at a tortured artist. Pacino, the daughter of Al Pacino, is the perfect choice to tell the story of a Hollywood legend.

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    March 12, 2015 • Entertainment News, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 9232

  • Mad Men’s Harry Hamlin Teaches NYFA Students the Power of ‘No’

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    Harry Hamlin

    Harry Hamlin at NYFA LA

    One of the shows that put AMC on the map was Mad Men. The 1960’s period piece captures the life of a prestigious ad agency and its mysteriously talented leading man, Don Draper. Coming aboard the popular drama this past season as ‘Jim Cutler,’ was venerable actor, Harry Hamlin. Last week, Harry was a special guest to an audience of New York Film Academy students. Many acting students were thrilled to greet Hamlin after a screening of an extremely entertaining episode of Mad Men, starring the actor. Hamlin was originally up for a bit part as a swinger who attempts to seduce Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) and his wife. He didn’t get the role, but Harry didn’t exactly want to play a swinger anyway. Three months later, they offered him a part that was supposed to be only one day of work, but ended up being a reoccurring character on the show this past season.

    Harry originally took up acting through a series of rather bizarre circumstances. Originally, he set out to study architecture, but he was late for registration and enrolled in acting school (imagining that he would enroll in classes at the architecture school next quarter). One of the requirements for the acting school was that he audition for a play. He ended up landing his first role, and was cast afterwards in every play that performed at Berkley. Needless to say, architecture school was no longer on the forefront of his mind.

    Harry went on to finish his bachelor’s degree at Yale. At the time, Yale did not allow an exclusive degree in acting, so he had to double major in psychology.

    hamlin2After Yale, he was offered a scholarship to ACT (the American Conservatory Theater) in San Francisco. His parents were so against him attending the program that Harry’s father had removed the timing mechanism from his car so that it wouldn’t run. That didn’t stop him. Harry intentionally bounced a check to fly to ACT and register.

    He received an MFA at ACT. He applied for a Fulbright scholarship and got it. A casting director at Warner Bros., who saw him preform in a play in San Francisco called Equus, asked him to come into the studio for a meeting. Harry had no desire to do film; he considered himself a theater actor. He reluctantly agreed to see her and she immediately offered him a part in a television mini-series. Harry turned down the role, because he wanted to continue studying with his Fulbright scholarship. The studio was amazed that Harry turned down his first job offer, much less the starring role in a big television series! That stirred everyone up and only increased interest in him. The studio kept offering him bigger parts and more money, and he kept saying NO. “The power of ‘no’ caused Warner Bros. to stand up and say, ‘who is this guy?’” said Hamlin. “They ended up offering me a huge three picture deal – the same deal that Clint Eastwood had been given – it was called the ‘Clint Deal.’”

    On the day Hamlin was supposed to sign the contract, he told Robert Shapiro, the president of Warner Bros. at the time, that he wanted it to be written into his contract that he would have some say in the movies that he does. They wouldn’t give him that degree of freedom, so he didn’t sign the contract. Warner Bros. was stunned. Harry knew it was the right decision for him at the time, because he knew the movies that they had in mind for him and he didn’t like them.

    At the very same time Warner Bros. was talking to Harry about signing this contract, MGM wanted him to do Clash of the Titans, which he ended up doing. Obviously he wouldn’t have been able to star in it if he had taken the Warner Bros. deal.

    Afterwards, 20th Century Fox approached him to star in Making Love, which was the very first studio picture involving a gay love story. Harry took the role because he loved the script and felt it would have a great social impact. While it was a great artistic decision, it was a terrible career move. After playing a gay character, nobody wanted to cast him. Harry didn’t work for the next two years.

    Finally, 20th Century Fox came to Harry with the pilot script for L.A. Law. The script sat on Harry’s coffee table for a month, because he didn’t think he was interested in TV. His friend convinced him to read it, because it was the “hottest script in town.” Harry read the pilot, and to this day it is the best thing he has read. He worked on the show for the next five years.

    On the whole, it was refreshing to hear how an actor can stay true to his artistic integrity and still find a path to success in an extremely cutthroat business. The New York Film Academy truly enjoyed Hamlin’s story and advice, and wish to thank him for joining us!

    Hamlin and Tova

    Producer Tova Laiter with Harry Hamlin

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    October 22, 2013 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 7583