mike civille
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  • NYFA Dean of Academic Advising Screens His Newest Film “The Rachels”

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    Dean of Academic Advising at the New York Film Academy, Michael Civille, screened his third feature film, “The Rachels,” at the Los Angeles campus. Civille was joined by actress, Rebecca Stone, who has over fifty credits in shorts, features, and television series. The star of the film, Caitlin Carver, was also in attendance. Carver is set to portray Nancy Kerrigan in the upcoming film, “I, Tonya.”

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    Finally, Michael Pesa was in attendance. He is the former Chair of NYFA’s Cinematography program in LA and has over sixty credits, including “The Rachels.”

    Lydia Cedrone, Chair of Feature Track at the New York Film Academy LA, hosted the evening. She kicked off the Q and A by asking Civille to elaborate on the development of the project.

    “I am married to a very beautiful woman, named Hannah,” Civille began. “She is also an Executive Producer and the mother of my children. She works as the Senior V.P. of MarVista Entertainment, and we had talked for some time about wanting to collaborate.”

    ‘THE RACHELS’ EXCERPT (LIFETIME) from Michael Pessah on Vimeo.

    “Finally, this script came up and she handed it off to me,” he continued. “We hired a writer, then she hired Rebecca to shepherd us as a producer. The production came together very quickly. We shot for fifteen days in July and August. We locked picture in about five weeks and then we spent the fall getting it done.”

    Civille admitted to only taking about two months off from working full-time to complete the film. He says his secret is, “Work late and get up early.”

    That work ethic was present throughout the film shoot. At one point in the evening, the cast and crew began to discuss the dreaded “bathroom day,” referring to a scene in the film that takes place in the bathroom. A tight budget and a single location meant the cast and crew would have to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

    the rachels

    Stone elaborated, “We were lucky that we found a location for our school that allowed us to move around as needed. Thankfully, we were able to, for example, shoot everything in the bathroom in a day. It was ambitious.”

    The rest of the cast and crew quickly chimed in agreement. Civille spoke of 110-degree days and a record-breaking heat wave. Of course, “bathroom day” fell on one of those days.

    Carver spoke about her thirteen-page workday, “Bathroom day was one of the most challenging days. Madison, who plays Rachel Nelson, she and I were having the worst time with that scene. I think it was just being locked in a bathroom all day with toilets behind you and there are ten of our crew dudes behind us, and Mike is in there with us… It was a very challenging day. But then, Mike looked at us, ‘Let it go. Just let it go. I don’t care about the dialogue right now. Just let it go.’ And I think it ended up being one of the best scenes in the entire film.”

    From all of the stress came an incredibly successful film. “The Rachels” had its premiere on January 15th on the Lifetime Movie Network.

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    February 28, 2017 • Cinematography, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 3678

  • NYFA LA Instructor’s “The Rachels” to Air on Lifetime Movie Network

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    Filming the dramatic finale on a rooftop in Marina Del Rey, CA.

    Many of our instructors are working professionals outside of the classroom. New York Film Academy instructor Mike Civille’s feature film thriller “The Rachels,” which he directed in the summer of 2016, just sold to Lifetime and will air on the Lifetime Movie Network on Jan. 15, 2017.

    Civille was also recently published in the Fall 2016 issue of “Cinema Journal” (one of the top peer reviewed academic journals in the field) with his article “Ain’t Got No Chance”: The case of the Breaking Point (1950).”

    His upcoming film, “The Rachels,” is about the teen queens of Hills High School. When one of them suddenly dies, the other basks in the glow of the social media attention, until a former friend begins to unwind the tangled threads of the mysterious death.

    We had a chance to talk to Civille before his movie airs on Jan. 15th.

    How did you become involved with this project?

    They say there’s always a bit of luck involved — in my case I’m happily married to a very successful development and production executive: my wife Hannah Pillemer is Senior VP at MarVista Entertainment. She and I had been speaking for some time about collaborating on a film, but we had not been able to coordinate our schedules over the last couple of years. Finally, this project came up, the timing was right, I loved the script, and Hannah hired me to direct it for MarVista. We met with the writer, Ellen Huggins, to hash out some ideas in the spring, and then in the summer I took two months off from NYFA as we went into preproduction and filming.

    Was there any particular element of the story / premise that made you want to direct?

    I had taken time away from directing to earn my PhD, but I eagerly dove back into it with this project. I loved that it was a commentary on celebrity culture, and how far people are willing to go to become recognized and remain well known. This is something I actually studied for my PhD, so I loved being able to weave some of my previous research into the story. I also valued the ability to use the camera and production design to show the difference between a person’s filtered social presentation and the real (sometimes fiendish) selves that they try to keep hidden. This idea of perception versus reality really fascinated me, and how we all craft our own version of ourselves and the events in our lives. The movie suggests that truth can be slippery, and things are not always what they appear to be.

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    Still from the film of Rachel Richards (Caitlin Carver) and Roxie (Daniela Bobadilla)

    It’s hard to not notice a similarity in the logline to the film “Heathers.” Was there any inspiration from that film?

    Any high school movie featuring characters with the same name who are fixated on their own popularity has to pay some debt to “Heathers.” I love the tone of “Heathers,” and we tried to instill some of the same feeling into this film, with a little of the same bite. At the same time, it was also important for me to understand and even like these characters to avoid making them one dimensional and shallow. So I worked with the actors to bring some humanity to their performances — they all hurt, they all feel, they all desire validation. So while they might sometimes stray down the wrong path or lash out, there’s something tragic about the ways they are trying to keep up with each other and the world around then. I think it was important to add that layer to our film, which wasn’t a straight satirical comedy like “Heathers.” Instead, we called it a “mischievous thriller” — a self-conscious film about a celebrity that has fun while also providing traditional elements of drama and excitement along the way. Other films that inspired us thematically were “To Die Fo”r (1995), “Sunset Blvd.” (1950), “Virgin Suicides” (1999), and “Mulholland Drive” (2001), with a little dash of “The Conversation” (1974) and “Rashomon” (1950) thrown in.

    How did Lifetime come about? Was this a project you sold to Lifetime prior to production or rather did you sell the finished film to the network?

    The project was produced without a distribution deal, so I was excited to hear that MarVista recently sold it to Lifetime. They have sold other projects to Lifetime, so there’s a relationship there, but there was no guarantee from the beginning. I was proud that the film sold, because it told me that others see value there, it confirmed MarVista’s faith in me, and it validated my wife’s decision to hire her husband!

    Directing actress Caitlin Carver.

    Mike Civille directing actress Caitlin Carver.

    Did you learn anything while directing this film that you would like to share with your students?

    This was my first time as a “director for hire,” so this was the first time I had to passionately push for certain creative decisions. I had produced previous projects, so I always only had to convince myself. But this was the first time I had to present my ideas to producers and argue for why it should be that way (and not the less expensive way!). Of course, you have to pick your battles, but there were a handful of things I really wanted for the movie, so I had to prepare notes and sketches and descriptions and film clips to show how and why it could work. It reminded me that you have to be energetic and determined in your vision — you don’t yell at people to get your way, but rather you thoroughly present your case to convince them. And at the end of the day, we were able to accomplish a lot, including the most elaborate and dangerous stunt in MarVista history. There’s no such thing as too much preparation, and if you don’t have a vision for how you see it, people are not going to buy it.

    I also was reminded that motivating a cast and crew comes from the top. Early on, DP Michael Pessah, AD Karim Nabil, and I decided that we were going to have fun and keep people motivated by making every day, every shot a fun experience — no matter the hot temperatures, an intense shooting schedule, and several complicated setups. Of course we had stressful moments, but mostly we had fun and the crew appreciated that we were enjoying the process so much. I respected the cast and crew so much, and I decided not to be a director working in a bubble and only talking to actors and the DP. Instead I got to know everyone, and thanked them by shaking everyone’s hand at the end of every shooting day. I wanted to let everyone from the DP to each PA know that I appreciated their effort and what we accomplished. At the end of the shoot, many of the cast and crew remarked that they would do another project with us at any time because they had so much fun and appreciated our gratitude. I’m really proud of that.

    Still from the film of Rachel Richards (Caitlin Carver) and Rachel Nelson (Madison Iseman).

    Still from the film of Rachel Richards (Caitlin Carver) and Rachel Nelson (Madison Iseman).

    Can you tell us about the stunt that you were able to pull off?

    We filmed a dangerous stunt in which we dangled an actress off the roof of a building seven stories up. Our incredible stunt coordinator Tim Mikulecky helped design and achieve this stunt with steel cables — he was such a pro and always looking for how to do the stunt effectively and safely. I’ll never forget standing on the roof during the location scout, and looking over the side with Tim, and he says, “You know, we could actually hang her off of here pretty easily…as long as she’ll go for it.” So when I asked the actress, she said, “Sure, sounds like fun! It will help my performance!” It was by far the most stressful night of the shoot because if anything went wrong, it could be disastrous. But it all went great — thanks to a lot of detailed prep and Tim’s expertise.

    Were there any of crew members from NYFA?

    One of the background performers was former NYFA BFA Acting student Giullianna Martinez. She was a student in my American Cultural History class and it was great to see her on set! Because I knew her, I was able to get her more prominent placements onscreen.

    The DP Michael Pessah used to be the Chair of the Cinematography department at NYFA’s LA campus. I’ve known Michael for 15 years, and he introduced me to the folks at NYFA LA when I moved out to LA. He’s an incredibly talented cinematographer and a joy to work with. His crew respects him so much that they would run through a brick wall for him. Bringing that kind of loyalty with him on set was vital for us to achieve a stylish film in a short production window.

    Finally, I could not have done this film without the support of NYFA administrators Jean Sherlock, Dan Mackler, Sonny Calderon, and Mary Samuelson, plus the valuable input I got from our instructors, who always made themselves available for tips and advice.

    I’m hoping to have Michael, lead actress Caitlin Carver, and producer Rebecca Stone join me for a screening and Q&A at NYFA on February 13!

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    January 5, 2017 • Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking • Views: 7462

  • Renowned Casting Director John Levey Visits NYFA

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    New York Film Academy students gathered this week to view the pilot episode of Showtime’s hit TV series Shameless, and participate in a Q&A with the show’s illustrious casting director John Levey. The Q&A was moderated by NYFA LA’s Dean of Academic Advising Mike Civille.

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    Mike Civille with John Levey

    John Frank Levey is a casting director for John Welles Productions and is one of the most respected in the industry. Levey has won four Emmy awards (ER and West Wing) and is the recipient of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Casting Society of America. Levey is best known for his casting credits for hit TV shows like Southland, ER, The West Wing, China Beach, Third Watch, and Shameless (currently airing on Showtime). Levey started his career as a theater director with the NEA fellowship at the Mark Taper Forum and continues to direct theater in Los Angeles today.

    John stressed the importance of working with a casting director in low-budget films. The role is often considered nonessential given the restrictions on this level. Although a student film, for instance, may not be able to afford to hire John, the production could work with his assistant who has access to his knowledge. Having an expert to “people” your film (as John puts it) is just as important, if not more, as having a cinematographer, production designer, or digital editor. After all, it’s the characters who keep the audience’s interest.

    When asked what John focuses on most during an actor’s audition he said “the life within them.” John often “plays the fool” in the audition room to keep a light atmosphere in which the actors feel comfortable in allowing their true self to come out. It’s a talent for allowing magic to happen and identifying the right flavor of persona that John has refined throughout his career.

    Actors in the audience were interested in knowing how they could get the attention of a prominent casting director such as John. His answer to this question was simple, “Do the work!” There is no substitute for this. Any other explanation for why an actor hasn’t been discovered, for instance, “I don’t have the right agent,” is just an excuse. It is your hard work and talent that will bring you success and nothing more.

    John is currently casting for his fifth season of Shameless.

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    October 24, 2014 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 5943

  • NYFA Screens James Dean with Director Mark Rydell

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    Mark Rydell with NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo

    Mark Rydell with NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo

    Academy-Award Nominated director & actor, Mark Rydell, was a recent New York Film Academy guest speaker at Warner Bros, following a screening of 2001´s television movie, James Dean. As a Veteran of the US Military, Mark studied with Sandy Meisner on the GI Bill for his first full year, until Meisner gave him a scholarship to continue into the second year. From that point on, Mark has had an incredible career spanning decades, which include directing the films The Cowboys with John Wayne, On Golden Pond with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, and The Rose with Bette Midler. The NYFA Q&A event was moderated by Filmmaking Chair Mike Civille and NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo, who happens to be a friend of Mark’s.

    Mark was especially qualified to direct the James Dean television movie, as he was close to him on a personal level. “I knew Jimmy very well, and working with him as an actor was very exciting. Jimmy was very alive…his motor was always running.”

    At 84 years of age, Rydell had some thoughts about the business today. “Today it´s disappointing how much misplaced focus there is on monetary success. It´s like the ugly pursuit of the dollar as opposed to the art.” He finds that collaborating and being open-minded is key. Cinematography, for example, is a critical element. And just like acting, it´s important to be, “friendly, constructive, inspiring and to create an atmosphere of creative freedom.” Finally, he stated that, “You have to be open! Whoever it is on the set – even the catering guy – you never know where the next great idea will come from!”

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    September 24, 2013 • Guest Speakers • Views: 5678