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  • Insomnia on STARZ Executive Produced by New York Film Academy Alum Slava N. Jakovleff

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    Many artists dream of creating something entirely original, but to realize that dream on prime-time television is extra special. New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles Filmmaking grad Slava N. Jakovleff has done just that, distributing not one but two of his original series to major networks; Siberia, to NBC, and Insomnia, now seen worldwide on STARZ.

    Here, Slava shares some of the amazing story behind producing his hit series with the NYFA Blog.

    *Please note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    INSOMNIA | TV SERIES | TRAILER 1 [HD] | STARZ from Slava Jakovleff on Vimeo.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit your journey, and what brought you to NYFA?

    Slava: I wanted to be an actor — this is my passion. I graduated as an actor after four years at one of the best and most famous Russian acting schools in Saint Petersburg, and then got a PhD as an acting and voice teacher. I always thought about directing and producing. I figured out that the knowledge of acting and directing was not enough to make my dream happen. I needed to study filmmaking. And where is the best place to do it? Of course in Los Angeles, the global center of the film industry.

    I checked online resources and found that New York Film Academy had Filmmaking courses at Universal Studios. So, I joined the school at 36. Yes! At 36. It’s never too late to learn.

    NYFA: You wear many hats, as an actor, director, and producer. What inspires you about these various roles, and how does changing between them inform your work?

    Slava: It’s great that now I know something more about acting, directing, and producing. I know how to play, how to be an actor on the set or on the stage. For me, acting is an absolutely phenomenal state of mind. To me, it’s not a job! It’s a state of mind, of soul. Acting is a study of the human soul. This is the first and inner circle.

    Acting really helps me to direct. I’m more an actor’s director than just a director; I love actors and love to work with them. Directing makes it possible to not only deliver the story and actors’ emotions to the audience, but also to make the audience think, laugh, or cry — in short, feel something — while watching a screen or a stage. This is the second circle, a bit wider.

    Producing is the third, wide circle, and gives me the opportunity to care for the first two circles and bring all of these three circles to the audience.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?

    Slava: I loved how the learning process was organized at the Academy. I got so much professional information in such a short time.

    NYFA: Before establishing yourself in Hollywood, you worked as an actor in Russia. How did you navigate that transition from one industry to another, including acting in another language?

    Slava: Yes, I was a pretty established actor at that time in Russia. When I moved to LA for business reasons, only one thing was important to me: I wanted to establish myself in Hollywood as a producer and director. … But regarding acting as a whole, if you are a professional, educated actor, it doesn’t matter in which language you act. It’s only about the professionalism.

    NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about your company, Welldone Production?

    Slava: I founded Welldone Production as my own company in 2004, during my time at NYFA, as a filmmaking company.

    The first project I did in LA was a stage play called The Last Night of The Last Tsar, a mysterious story about the last night of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II Romanov and his family — and what happened with the lead executioner, Yurovsky, exactly 20 years after the execution. We played 6 weeks at the Stella Adler Theater in 2005. It was a successful run, and I told myself, “Let’s start to write the script for my own feature film.” We are now in pre-production. I rewrote the script many times since the start, researching historical information and studying archives. And now I am completely happy with the script I have, titled Swampy Roads. It seems like a very long journey just for one project, but I am completely satisfied and proud of that.

    At the same time, my company and I did many projects in Russia and the U.S. One of them was my first TV project here in Hollywood, Siberia (2013), where I was an executive producer and director of some episodes. Siberia was completely independently financed, and afterward the show was bought by NBC for prime-time airing. It was the first time that a Russian producer sold his own independent TV show to NBC. I am very proud of that.

    Siberia TV Series_NBC_ Official Trailer from Slava Jakovleff on Vimeo.

    NYFA: As executive producer and director for STARZ series Insomnia, what inspired you to take on this project? 

    Slava: Insomnia was also a completely independently financed TV series, and when the show was completely ready it was picked up by STARZ.

    My Russian friend, a producer, showed me a story on which he was working at that time. I loved the concept, because I thought this could work for any audience around the globe. I bought the license from him to make an English version, and invited an American-Canadian writing team to rework the story. At the end we got a deep, very edgy psychological thriller, an action story with sci-fi elements.

    I knew that not everyone would like this story, and some networks and streaming platforms would be afraid to put it on the air, saying that the story is too extreme for them. My team and I tried to show the truth that human life costs nothing in modern life. My entire team, cast, and crew members — including one of the best directors of cinematography, Primetime Emmy winner John S. Bartley (LOST, X-Files, Bites Motel), and one of the best casting directors, Primetime Emmy winner Stephanie Gorin (Fargo) — tried to make it happen. I understood that many of us would not like to hear the truth. I really do not like it either, but I needed to say this about it to sort it out myself. I needed to say it without any “politeness” and “polishing.” I wanted to make the viewer think and draw conclusions.

    After the show was done, STARZ picked up the series for worldwide distribution. I am very proud of that.

    NYFA: Were there any challenges along the way in bringing Insomnia to Starz?

    Slava: Bringing any projects to any network or distributor is a big challenge for every team, and this project was no exception.

    The story of Insomnia was set for filming in Washington D.C., but when I was scouting locations there I realized it was impossible. I took a week-long break and announced to my team that the show would be filmed in Moscow, Russia, and the first day of filming should be June 1. This was a real challenge: the team was booked for principal filming starting on April 15 in D.C.

    We had only six weeks for making changes in the script, finding a local Russian production company, organizing to bring the entire American-Canadian team to Moscow, rescheduling the production, new location scouting, language problems (as we had two teams), etc. But we went through all these incredible difficulties (just imagine the problem with visas or understanding between two different languages and mentalities on set) and began to shoot exactly as planned, on June 1.

    Then we figured out that Insomnia is not just the title of this series, but actually what became a way of life for the cast and crew! Filming for all eight episodes took place over 68 working days, 2/3 of which were night shoots. We needed to shoot everything by the end of August, as the story takes place during four consecutive summer days. Management of the production was critical, as filming night scenes during the summer in Moscow was challenging — some nights only had around 2-3 hours of darkness, and the weather is unstable: the sun, clouds, and storms.

    The entire show was filmed in Moscow, with scenes set in New York and Cambodia being filmed on sets. We were able to film in unique locations, such as Red Square and near the Kremlin, Bolshoi Theatre, the Federal Assembly of Russian Federation, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the Four Seasons, and the Ritz Carlton Presidential Suite with its authentic view of the Kremlin and Bolshoi Theatre — no other foreign production companies have been allowed to film in this location before. By the way, Insomnia’s production company, Welldone Production, is the only foreign production company in the last 20 years to be able to film in the highly secure Red Square.

    All explosions, car crashes, gunshots, and underwater scenes were filmed without CGI, and all action scenes were filmed by the main unit team (we didn’t have second unit).

    Then, we spent months editing the series here in Los Angeles in one of the best post-production facilities in town: Burnish Creative. They’re such a talented, professional, and passionate young team. When the show was picked by STARZ, we entered the delivery process and had to go through quality control. It was such a great challenge and big experience.

    The series employed 720 people from nine countries and filmed around 750 total scenes. And I want to again say thank you to my entire team and the people who worked for Insomnia.

    NYFA: What is your best advice for NYFA students who are interested in following your footsteps and founding their own production companies, in Hollywood or elsewhere?

    Slava: In short I can say: break the rules (which is very tough sometimes), and never give up.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing for the work you are doing now?

    Slava: No doubt!

    NYFA: Anything I missed that you would like to speak on?

    Slava: Many years ago, when we were young, my army friend, on the day when we finished our service in the tank troops, gave me a simple drawing of our tank with the inscription, “Follow your star!” Here I am, still following.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Slava N. Jakovleff for his generous interview.

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  • New York Film Academy Open House in Moscow

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    Recently, the New York Film Academy held an Open House in the heart of Moscow. Close to one hundred people attended the event to learn more about NYFA programs. Prospective students had an opportunity to meet NYFA admissions representatives and alumni, who have achieved a lot of success in the professional field, including executive producer of TV channel “Success” Guram Gabunia, independent filmmaker Costa Fam, producer Andrei Kim, director Anna Lobanova, and documentary filmmaker/TV-host Leyla Agirbova.

    At the beginning of the event, admissions representatives, Olga Mescheryakova and Elena Kulikova, spoke about the variety of programs NYFA has to offer in the United States, Australia and Europe, answered questions about upcoming Moscow Workshops, and went over details of admissions requirements.

    We are very happy that a number of former NYFA Moscow students came to speak and share their stories with the audience. This mini reunion did indeed become the best part of the evening. Loads of warm memories were brought up, which filled the room with inspiring vibes.

    moscow nyfa

    Director Anna Lobanova, who finished a 4-Week Screenwriting NYFA Program in Moscow, said that it gave her a better understanding of a screenwriters’ work and she now uses that understanding to develop a better director/screenwriter relationship. At the moment, Anna Lobanova is, as a director, finishing a new series for the main Russian TV-channel and co-writing a feature script with former NYFA classmate, Ekaterina Mazo.

    Author, and TV Host, Leyla Agirbova, who attended a 2012 Screenwriting Workshop with Paul Brown said, “In those two weeks I’ve got unforgettable experience. There is nothing more valuable than a human emotion and there is nothing more valuable than the energy that motivates you, stimulates you, sets the pace, and I got all of it at NYFA.”

    Currently, Leyla Agirbova not only continues to successfully develop her career in film and television, but also plans to launch her own business project using her pitching skills to attract investors.

    There was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere during the evening. Our grads were able to spread around their positivity, passion for the profession and love for NYFA. One of the open house guests, an actor, Aleksey Bogdanov, said that it was very inspiring to hear stories of former students and learn about the changes that have occurred in their careers.

    nyfa moscow

    A pleasant surprise for all was the Skype chat with New York Film Academy Los Angeles instructors, Lydia Cedrone and Paul Brown, who will visit Moscow at the end of October with intensive weekend Screenwriting and Producing Workshops. Also, the Director of the Academy, Dan Mackler, joined the conversation and spoke with the audience in fluent Russian, which was met with a storm of applause!

    “It was nice to meet instructors and Director of the Academy via Skype, to see their faces. It gave me even more motivation and hope for the future,” said Alla Volodkina, who recently got enrolled into an 8-Week Screenwriting Program in NYFA Los Angeles.

    We would like to thank everyone who came to the Open House. New York Film Academy is very proud of all our graduates and look forward meeting new students. See you soon!

    Moscow Weekend Workshop dates are Saturday, October 22 and Sunday, October 23, with an Orientation on Friday evening, October 21. 
You can apply here.

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    October 4, 2016 • Community Highlights, Road Show • Views: 4577

  • NYFA Awards “The King of Judo” at Moscow Pitch Fest

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    The Youth Center of the Union of Cinematographers of the Russian Federation held its eighth Pitch Fest for Debutants as part of the 38th Moscow International Film Festival on June 21-22. Over the years, more than 2,000 young filmmakers, from leading art universities and film schools, have attended the Pitch Fest and about 20 of their films have been produced.

    moscow pitch fest

    This year 686 projects were submitted for consideration (289 – short films, 236 – features, 124 – TV series, and 37 – documentaries) and 10 from each category were chosen for the final Pitch Fest. Young filmmakers had an opportunity to present their ideas to an expert jury consisting of professionals in the field of film and television.

    And we are happy to announce that a special prize from the New York Film Academy—a One Week Workshop Certificate in any subject—was awarded to professional journalist and aspiring screenwriter Alexey Khodorych for his television project, The King of Judo.

    The King of Judo is a family mini-series adaptation of the eponymous story by Albert Ivanov. This is a story of growing up, which explores the theme of the manifestation of evil in man rising.

    Coincidently, Alexey Khodorych had a previous encounter with the New York Film Academy. In 2008 he interviewed NYFA Instructor an award-winning writer, director and producer, Paul Brown, for a major Russian newspaper, Kommersant. At the time, Paul Brown who worked on such series as The X-Files, Quantum Leap, The New Twilight Zone, Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise, was visiting Moscow with NYFA for a hands-on workshop. Now Aleksey can come to Los Angeles to continue their old conversation while learning new crafts and gaining new skills.

    We hope to see Alexey Khodorych among our students soon! And we also would like to wish the best of luck to all the Debutant Pitch Fest participants in their careers! Believe, dare, do!

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    July 6, 2016 • Community Highlights • Views: 4428

  • NYFA MA Grad Konstantin Frolov on How to Be Productive

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    After taking a look at the list of successful projects that New York Film Academy graduate Konstantin Frolov worked on during his first year after graduating, we can confidently say that he is not only talented and organized, but also knows how to make connections. In 2015, Frolov worked as a director of photography on several projects, including:

    • yumnaA music video for Abdulrahman Mohammed (directed & produced by NYFA Grad Hanaa Saleh Alfassi) that already has almost 2 millions views on Youtube
    • A feature documentary on the Russian Special Olympics
    • A music video for Baby Kaely called “Smile” (directed by NYFA Grad Mykyta Samusiev and produced by former NYFA student Kelline Kanoui)
    • A commercial for the Suites Investment (directed by Mykyta Samusiev)
    • A short “YUMNA” that received an Award of Merit Film festival, an Award of California Film Festival and will be represented at Marché Du Film at Cannes in May 2016 (directed by NYFA Grad Noor Al Yaseen)
    • A short “Fire Water” (written and directed by NYFA grad David B. Johnson)
    • A music video for the Russian singer Selfieman called “For All The Broken Hearts,” which will premiere on Valentine’s Day (produced by former NYFA student Kelline Kanoui)

    Despite his busy schedule he was recently able to share a few interesting stories about his career as a cinematographer.

    What made you decide to study at NYFA?

    I was working as a cameraman in Moscow and was thinking about getting a cinematography education abroad. I checked out options in France, England and the United States. And I guess NYFA was my destiny. On one cloudy day I was walking through the center of Moscow. I had no plans, but it was cold and I wanted to stop into some place to warm up. Then, I noticed a banner on the street saying New York Film Academy. It was exactly what I needed. So I went in. A girl with a smile told me the Master Class with American screenwriter Paul Brown was about to begin. He didn’t simply walk into the room, he was almost flying. It turned out that he was a bit late, and I was just on time—otherwise I would have missed the beginning. Paul Brown told the story of a strange flock of penguins in the Moscow Metro, which were probably going to the North Pole, so they created traffic. Then, he began to talk about movies, about the Academy, and all of it was so fascinating that I applied a week after.

    fire water

    David B. Johnson and Konstantin Frolov on the set of “Fire Water.”

    Is there any secret how to be so productive?

    The most important thing is to organize the process in the correct way. This list of my rules will explain:

    • Most of the meetings I arrange are on one day of the week, so the other 6 days I can work on the projects.
    • I don’t answer calls after 9 pm, unless we have scheduled it in advance.
    • Before I go to bed I spend time on creating storyboards, shot-sheets or watch movies. I believe that filmmakers have to devote at least an hour every day to watch a movie or new TV-series, even if it is not very interesting.
    • I also try to minimize the number of meetings that can be solved by e-mail.
    • I spend about an hour a day walking. The best way to do it on a regular basis is to get a dog.
    • One day a week I fully dedicate to myself.

    What would you say are the main keys to success?

    Experience is a large part of the success, and you shouldn’t fear participating in experimental and complicated projects. Be hardworking and remain humble at all times. And listen more than you talk!

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    January 29, 2016 • Cinematography, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 3948

  • NYFA Finding Talent in Moscow

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    moscow open house

    The New York Film Academy recently wrapped another successful Producing Workshop in Moscow! During the last two weeks of October, NYFA marked the 5th Anniversary of its Moscow Workshops and Guest Lectures with a Two Week Producing Workshop attended by more than 20 industry professionals from Russia and surrounding countries. The Workshop included hands on instruction in U.S. standards of producing, production management, screenwriting and directing. The students, all working professionals in the Russian and surrounding countries’ film and television industries, came together for a two week intensive course that ended with an exciting Producers Pitch Fest, where each student pitched an original project conceived and developed during the course.

    Representing NYFA at the workshops were Head of MFA Feature Productions and former Producing Chair, Lydia Cedrone; veteran NYFA screenwriting and directing instructor, James Rowe; and NYFA Chair of Producing, Tony Schwartz.

    Also while in Moscow, Lydia Cedrone and James Rowe met over 100 guests and attendees at the NYFA Open House held on October 25 –more than 100 guests attended! Guests interested in degree programs abroad at NYFA campuses, along with those interested in short term workshops both abroad and in Moscow, attended a guest lecture of James Rowe, a highlight of the Open House.

    And we’re not done in Moscow. NYFA faculty will also be at the Radisson Royal Hotel, Moscow on November 8th and 9th to hold auditions, portfolio reviews and information sessions. If you’re interested in signing up for any of these events at the Radisson Royal Hotel, please CLICK HERE.

    moscow nyfa

     

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    November 4, 2014 • Community Highlights, Filmmaking, Producing, Screenwriting, Study Abroad • Views: 5068

  • NYFA and Russian Production Company Partner in Screenwriting Contest ‘Glavpitching’

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    3407-GlavKino-GlavPitching-2500px
    Glavpitching is the first all-Russian screenwriting contest that was initiated by the major Russian Film production company Glavkino and the New York Film Academy in the Autumn of 2013. The contest is a platform where novice writers and producers can meet key players in the Russian film industry to pitch their projects, or sell the story or launch the project into production. 
     
    1,930 authors from all over Russia and CIS countries submitted more than 2,500 scripts for assessment.
     
    The jury consisted of leading television and film professionals: Fyodor Bondarchuk (Art Pictures Studio, Glavkino), Roman Borisevich (Koktebel Film Company), Michael Galustjan (Fresh Film), Sergey Selyanov (STV Film Company), Igor Tolstunov (Film Profit), Ilya Bachurin (Glavkino) and CEO of TV Channel One Konstantin Ernst.
     
    Final Event and Award Ceremony took place at Glavkino soundstage on November 27th, 2013.

    The absolute winner of GLAVPITCHING is Alexander Yaropolsky, 16 year-old Journalism student of Moscow State University. He pitched a script of the feature thriller “Virus” about three teenagers who shoot violent viral videos for YouTube, and even though their videos have the fantastic popularity and thousands of hits, they inevitably lose something much more important – humanity.

    Alexander won the main award of the contest: the certificate for the services of the Glavkino in equivalent of 1,000,000 Rubles, Special prize from ROSKINO: Trip to the Cannes Film Festival and participation in the training program Producers Workshop and Bondarchuk’s Grant from NYFA for a 2-week Screenwriting Workshop in Moscow in Spring 2014.

    Next GLAVPITCHING contest will take place in the Autumn 2014.

    If you’re interested in enrolling at New York Film Academy in Moscow, Russia, click HERE for more information.

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    December 6, 2013 • Contests, Screenwriting, Study Abroad • Views: 3981