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
It was that time of year once more as graduating MFA and BFA New York Film Academy Screenwriting students recently attended their culminating Industry Pitch Fest Event, held at the penthouse ballroom of the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood surrounded by astounding views of Los Angeles.
A catered event and mingling opportunities for the students, executives, and faculty alike, this capstone evening celebrates the New York Film Academy’s graduating Screenwriting students, offering them a unique opportunity to jumpstart their professional development by pitching their Film and TV thesis projects to entertainment industry professionals.
These exceptional writing students spent their final semester in their Business of Screenwriting classes working with Business of Screenwriting Instructors Ashley Bank and Jerry Shandy in conjunction with Faculty Chair Nunzio DeFilippis and other members of the Screenwriting Department, preparing and fine-tuning their pitches.
The students’ dedication and passionate love for their work shined as they pitched their thesis projects, which they had developed for nearly a year. Students left with new contacts, excitement about the scripts they’d worked so hard on and a sense of what it’s like to meet with industry professionals.
Considered by the school to be their first night as professional screenwriters, this group of talented and creative student’s hard work paid off, as they pitched agents, managers, studios, and Digital, VR, TV and Film production company execs in a relaxed, round-table environment.
Organized and hosted by Jenni Powell, Ashley Bank, and Adam Finer, the event featured representatives from Hollywood companies, including —
Jim Henson Company, Warner Brothers Animation, Covert Media, Madhouse Entertainment, Orion Pictures, MGM, Practical Magic, We Are the Mighty, Tremendum Pictures, and The Wolper Organization.
NYFA wishes to thank all of its participants, particularly our industry guests, without whom this evening could not have been possible. Also, we’d like to extend a big congratulations to all of our MFA and BFA graduates and wish them the best as they move forward in their professional journeys!
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Photography Department’s third annual trip to The Palm Springs Photo Festival was the best yet.
“Everyone I met with said they were really impressed by the work from the students at The New York Film Academy,” said NYFA Photography Instructor Amanda Rowan. “I felt so proud to be representing our school and the amazing and talented emerging image-makers in our program.”
NYFA Instructors took 13 students and collectively attended more than 50 portfolio reviews. The review meetings included photo editors from People Magazine, National Geographic, Wired Magazine, and Vanity Fair, as well as gallerists from both emerging and established national galleries.
In addition to having portfolio reviews, the students attended several lectures and career retrospective presentations by legendary image-makers such as Stephen Wilkes, Dan Winters and Erwin Olaf. The festival hosted networking events and parties every night, which NYFA students were able to attend to connect with the wider photography community.
NYFA BFA Photography student Lotta Lemetti said,“For me the biggest lesson this festival gave me, was having to learn how to articulate what my work means to someone who has never seen it before.”
“It was really cool to get to talk about my work and show my images to fresh eyes,” agreed NYFA 1-Year Photography student Maddie Smith. “I had no expectations going in but was just excited. The feedback was amazing!”
Each year at The Palm Springs Photo Festival, students receive valuable feedback that often lead to jobs or gallery exhibitions. Last year MengMeng Lu met with the curator from Embark Gallery in San Fransisco and a few months later was a part of an amazing exhibition there. In addition, Alejandro Ibarra met with an Editor from BuzzFeed and was then published.
Amanda Rowan and Kean O’Brien organized this event alongside the director of The Palm Springs Photo Festival, Jeff Dunas. The festival is very generous in supporting the New York Film Academy’s students each year. We cannot wait to go back next year.
The Los Angeles Campus of the New York Film Academy welcomed back actress Candy Clark following a screening of the classic film American Graffiti. Previously, Clark had joined us for a Q&A following the classic David Bowie Film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Prolific Film Critic Peter Rainer moderated the event.
Candy Clark has worked in the film industry for nearly four and a half decades, with roles in classic films including George Lucas’ American Graffiti, The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Fincher’s Zodiac, Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Clark has also worked on TV series including Magnum P.I.,Criminal Minds, anda few episodes of the 2017 version of Twin Peaks.
Peter Rainer has been in the industry for over 30 years, and currently writes for NPR, The Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. He’s also the author of Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era.
George Lucas’ American Graffiti is a coming-of-age comedy based heavily on Lucas’ own teenage years in Modesto, CA. It was a huge success, and is one of the films that led to the start of the “summer blockbuster.” The film’s success also gave Lucas the funding for a film he’d wanted to do for a long time — a space opera that eventually became Star Wars.
Rainer and Clark opened the discussion by talking about the doubts studio executives had about American Graffiti, specifically: “they hated the title … nobody knows what graffiti means.”
Producer Francis Ford Coppola asked everyone on set — actors included — to come up with a new title. Coppola’s suggestion was “Rock Around the Block,” but Clark said they held firm. “American Graffiti has a good rhythm … it just sounds great.”
One audience member asked if Clark always knew the film would be a success. With a big smile on her face, Clark said that she always thought it would be a hit. Earlier in the Q&A, Clark even talked about how she had a first audition before she’d seen the script, and after reading it, she insisted her agent get her another audition so she could do the writing justice. She really identified with the characters, as she had spent her youth cruising between drive-ins in Fort Worth, Texas.
Clark talked about her experiences on set, including the fact that “there would not be many takes at all, they had to move on.” Regardless, Clark said she always had confidence in her portrayal of Debbie, who she felt was an easygoing and kind character.
Clark also reminisced fondly about her castmates and told stories from their time together, including one about Richard Dreyfuss: He was late meeting her for dinner because Harrison Ford and Paul Le Mat threw him in the hotel swimming pool.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Candy Clark for coming back and speaking to our students about this classic film, and Peter Rainer for his insightful moderation.
On Monday, April 2, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) was honored to host Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Culture (GCA) at our Los Angeles campus as a part of the Authority’s “Saudi Cultural Days.”
Traditional Arabic coffee and caramelized sesame-covered dates were served, as Saudi students mixed and mingled before a screening of student work in the New York Film Academy’s theatre, followed by a Q&A.
“Today is about embracing our culture, and inspiring kids from all over Saudi,” Rakan Anneghaimshi said with enthusiasm. He and Maan Bin Abdulrahman hosted the Q&A with legendary Hollywood producer Ted Field, best known for both Jumanji movies, The Chronicles of Riddick franchise, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and much more.
During the event, NYFA had the honor of hosting distinguished guests including Khaled Al Saqer, Meshal AlSaleh, Abdulaziz AlMutairi, Faisal Al Houli, and Abdulla Alsaboosi. News channels from Saudi Arabia, including Saudi Channel 1 and Rotana, were also in attendance.
From left to right: Aziz AlMutairi, Faisal AlHouli, Khaled AlSaqer, Dan Mackler, and Meshal AlSaleh.
Preceding the Ted Fields Q&A, NYFA screened seven short filmsfor these impressive guests, each directed and/or produced by a Saudi student or alumni. Each filmmaker had the incredible opportunity to show these guests their passion for cinema, and display skills they had gained by dedicating themselves to the craft of storytelling at NYFA.
Following the screening of the short films by NYFA students, Guest Speaker Ted Field said of the work, “I was truly touched … The editing was masterful; the pacing was perfect … whatever mentoring was involved was first class.” Field said he could tell the instructors have a considerable amount of passion for what they do. Convinced that the students’ work could be accepted into Sundance and Cannes film festivals, he also encouraged the students to submit their films to the Academy Awards.
New York Film Academy Dean of Enrollment Services Tami Alexander said of the event, “The Academy is very proud of our Saudi students and alumni, and we are honored to be able to host the GCA at NYFA Los Angeles. What a wonderful way to celebrate Saudi Culture, our students and the important work the GCA is doing. We look forward to future collaborations.”
The mission of the GCA involves creating change, delivering to the world something unique from Saudi Arabia, and increasing cultural acceptance through art such as film, music, and theatre. After a 35-year ban on theatres in Saudi Arabia, as of December 2017, The Kingdom is embracing the cinematic arts by opening theaters across the country. According to the GCA’s VP of Foreign Affairs, it is a massive step forward for Saudis, who can now contribute more directly to this global and unified language.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Saudi’s General Authority for Culture, our honored guests, and all those involved in the creation of this event for their contribution to this important mission.
Did you know that April is World Autism Month? This week kicked off with World Autism Day, an event where, as Autism Speaks explained, “hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world, light blue in recognition of people living with autism.”
With the world coming together in blue light for World Autism Day, New York Film Academy BFA Filmmaking grad Shivalik Shankar went a step further to promote awareness and advocacy for autism yesterday, with his film Let Me Be.
Shankar directed and co-wrote the short film, which follows an autistic teenager who asserts his independence and expresses his needs by escaping from a day care program to visit the beach. It’s a touching story that depicts many perspectives, including the struggles of the teenager’s parents to manage his care as well as the teen’s struggle for autonomy and acceptance
The themes of acceptance and awareness run deep in Shivalik Shankar’s filmography, with numerous mental health and disability topics depicted in his work.
The rising filmmaker told Chandigarh’s Daily Pioneer, “I like a strong storyline, a message to spread across, and autism is one issue which needs to be understood better and across all societies.”
Bravo! It’s always inspiring to see our alums putting their storytelling skills to work for a purpose. If you’d like to become involved in World Autism Month, visit Autism Speaks.
New York Film Academy Chair of Cinematography Tony Richmond recently hosted a special screening of his film Men of Honor for New York Film Academy students at the Los Angeles campus. Rather than a formal Q&A following the film, Richmond encouraged his students to join him in an intimate conversation.
Richmond is well known for his cinematography on beloved classics including The Sandlot, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don’t Look Now, Legally Blond, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, yet Men of Honor has a special place in his heart because both of his sons worked on the crew with him.
Based on a true story, Men of Honor follows Navy diver Carl Brasher, the first Black man to become a U.S. Navy Master Diving Instructor. Extraordinarily, Brasher was able to passe the qualification test to become a master diving instructor with an amputated left leg. It’s an inspiring film that earned numerous award nominations.
About the film’s star, Cuba Gooding Jr., Richmond said, “He’s a wonderful actor and an even better man.”
Filming underwater presented a lot of fun cinematography challenges for Richmond. Some of the behind-the-scenes stories he shared with NYFA students included the creation of an eight-foot-deep pool to accommodate Richmond’s photography, and rigging Cuba Gooding Jr.’s diving helmet with lights.
Students were curious to hear how Richmond was able film underwater with such clarity. Richmond explained that finding a good lighting balance was the most important element.
“There’s a very fine line when filming underwater,” he said. “There were times during the filming process that I felt there just wasn’t enough silt in the water.”
In order to give the tank a realistic feeling of the ocean, silt, the fine sand found in ocean water, had to be added.
“You have to be careful when adding that stuff,” Richmond warned. “If you put too much silt in the tank it takes four days to filter it out.”
One student asked about the most challenging aspect of making the movie. Richmond didn’t hesitate to answer: the film’s final courtroom scene
The location was on the seventh floor of a beautiful old building, but because of its age Richmond couldn’t set up a lighting rig inside. Instead, everything had to be lit through the windows.
After an enlightening evening, Richmond’s final advice to his Cinematography students was about working with directors:”You have to remember that this is the director’s film. Before you’re called in for an interview, he or she has already been working for months if not years on it.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Tony Richmond for taking the time to host Man of Honor and speak with our students.
To learn more about the Cinematography programs offered at the New York Film Academy, click here.
It’s not easy forging your own path in independent film, but New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking grad Jesse Kove has blazed a trail straight into the hearts of video game and ‘80s film fans with the upcoming adventure flick Max Reload and the Nether Blasters.
The film recently wrapped in Arizona, and Kove took the time out of his busy schedule to tell the NYFA Blog more about his work, his exciting projects, and what’s next. Check out what he has to say:
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?
JK: My journey started as a young boy growing up in the film business around my father, (Martin Kove). I was six months old and on movies sets, and I still remember vividly today all the different film sets I’ve been on around the country, and the world that my father brought me along with — traveling with him or visiting him when he was on location was always my favorite thing. It was like going to Disneyland for me, the make-believe. It was always something different, whether [a film was set] in the future or going back in time to the West, I always loved it.
One of my favorite trips was to India. We had an unforgettable time together. They filmed in Hyderabad, where they literally have a city just for filmmaking. I would travel on my own and walk around and look at all the backdrops and different film sets and feel right at home. I would watch the filmmaking process as well, and ask lots of questions. This was the best education a young filmmaker could get and I was very fortunate to have these opportunities.
Back home I would make my own little movies with action figures and G.I. Joes. That’s how it all started. I would also copy what I saw in classic movies that my father and I would watch together, The Seventh Samurai, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and Casablanca, all the classics! Making movies is in my blood and its been my passion since early childhood.
NYFA: Growing up in a show-business family, was there anything that you learned in your time at NYFA that surprised you?
JK: What I loved so much about NYFA that I didn’t get enough of on film sets was actually learning the basics and history of film cameras, and actually shooting on real film. This was very special, and I was so grateful for NYFA to allow us to do that.
Also just truly understanding how a digital camera works — the inner workings and technical aspects of all cameras. This is so important, these tools create great filmmakers! It is the knowledge and technology of filmmaking, and they’ve got it down!
NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?
JK: There are so many memories of when I was at NYFA. The fondest memories were the relationships and time I had with fellow students — who I am still friends with today. In the industry, relationships are everything!
NYFA: Can you tell us about Max Reload and the Nether Blasters? What drew you to this project?
JK: Max Reload and the Nether Blasters:
A small town video game store clerk must go from zero to hero after accidentally unleashing the forces of evil from a cursed Colecovision game… Max Jenkins’ gaming fantasies collide with reality when a legendary “lost” installment of the Nether Game series appears on the store counter of his workplace, Fallout Games. Unbeknownst to Max, the game bears a “Curse of The Ages”, and in playing it, he has just unlocked the Nether, an ancient malevolent force of evil from the cartridge, upon his small hometown. Along with a mysterious masked man and his two best friends, Liz and Reggie, Max must figure out how to beat the Nether at its own game before its Game Over for humanity.
This is a great project that I’m very excited about. The inception actually started two years before this film was written. Scott Conditt and Jeremy Tremp, the writers, directors, and producers, (CineForge Media) had written a short film called Show No Mercy, starring my father and me.
The idea behind the short was all ‘80s galore and nostalgia: The story follows an arcade store owner (my father) who secretly is John Kreese, his character from The Karate Kid (although never mentioned, that’s a nice Easter egg for everyone), and his young store clerk (me), who both end up getting sucked into an arcade game. They have to fight each other to escape.
It’s an extremely well done short and I highly recommend everyone go and watch it. The film premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada as well as the Phoenix Comic Fest in Arizona. Making that film was such a fun and creative experience, we all wanted to work together again as soon as possible. Thus, Max Reload came to fruition.
I got a call from Scott asking if I’d read his new script. I instantly fell in love with it and knew it had huge potential. They had written a character (Steve) basically based on me, but I won’t say too much because you will have to go watch it!
There are some stellar actors attached to this film, both new and veteran — Greg Grunberg, who is a riot; Hassie Harrison; Lin Shay from the Insidious films; Kevin Smith, who graciously tagged along as he loves indie films, this one caught his eye and we were very lucky to get him; Joseph Reitman; Tom Plumley; Joey Morgan; and of course my father.
The film will be released around September.
NYFA: Were you a big fan of video games growing up? Do you have a favorite?
JK: Absolutely a huge fan of games! Some of my great memories were getting together with my childhood friends and playing games like Halo, 007, NFL Blitz — anything Nintedo 64 was our go-to!
NYFA: Why acting? What inspires you as a performer?
JK: Acting is such an interesting art. It’s a wonderful journey that’s always changing. I love playing characters that inspire myself and others, I love to make the audience laugh, and I love to tell stories.
Jesse Kove in Max Reload and the Nether Blasters
Making movies changes you. You aren’t the same person at the beginning as you are at the end. You’ve learned so much and walked a road that your character has walked in some way, and that connects you forever. It’s living life with these characters: I’ve cried, loved, been through war, kicked ass, been killed and hated, admired, frightened, and have saved lives, plus so much more. It is the hardest but most beautiful, fulfilling work I can ask for and I can’t get enough of it!
NYFA: What was your experience like serving as both a producer and an actor on As Night Comes?
JK: As Night Comes was a great experience. I learned a lot from making this film and I owe a lot to my producing partner, Richard Z., who directed and wrote the script for this film. Without him pushing this film up the mountain, it would not have been made. In saying that, I think it’s so important to surround yourself with others who are willing to climb that mountain with you, no matter the odds. I was willing to do that with him.
We started that movie with literally $200-300 and Subway sandwiches, and finished off by getting a limited theatrical release with our distributor, Gravitas Ventures. We were put on 20 of the 25 major VOD platforms that we have today. That film showed me that anything is possible with enough effort, drive, and belief in what you are doing. Most importantly, you have to have a great script — and we did. That brought a great team behind us.
Lastly, I love being in front of the camera and behind the camera. Either way, you are still shaping a story. Wearing both hats can be challenging, but I urge everyone to try both. It actually makes you a better actor and or a better director to have been on both sides!
NYFA: Any advice for our acting students who are looking to produce their own work?
JK: Persistence and believing. Believe in what you are doing!
Through all my experiences, believing in the project, the story, and the character will always carry you through. Making movies is incredibly difficult, and one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. But it is also the most fun you will ever have, from the idea to a year or two later watching it on a screen after post and etc. It’s a journey, and a spiritual journey as well. You are forever connected to that project, and immortalizing something you’ve created … its forever!
There’s a lot of naysayers in our business, whether it’s about money or what’s popular. Do not take no for an answer. Think outside the box, and get it done!
When As Night Comes was being made, everyone told us we couldn’t do this or we couldn’t do that. It ended up fueling our passion for getting it made. Yes, you can do that, and yes, you can make your movie, and get it released, and have the world enjoy it!
Jesse Kove in Max Reload and the Nether Blasters
Also, this art is a craft. It must be practiced and changed and molded constantly. Keep at it! I still do, and I’m not perfect!
Also be relentless and fearless. I have been on the phone with some of the biggest studios and top agents and or managers in Hollywood because I wasn’t afraid to pick up the phone and call them. You have nothing to lose.
NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
JK: I have several projects coming out this year, one of which is Max Reload and the Nether Blasters.
Bring Me a Dream, which was shot in Atlanta, is a thriller directed by Chase Smith. I play a cop who stumbles upon a mansion in the woods and gets sucked into a supernatural wave of psychological mystery. It’s a fun take on the Sandman, played by Tyler Mane (X-Men, Rob Zombie’s HalloweenI & II), as a supernatural spirit who injects himself into your dreams and brings out your biggest fears. Very fun!
In Bare Knuckle Brawler, directed by Joe Gawalis andfilmed in New Jersey, I play a detective who goes undercover as a streetfighter to infiltrate an underground organization in which fighters are turning up dead.
Next I co-star with my father in a TV pilot called Bloodlands, whichfollows Arizona detectives who may or may not be on both sides of the law, dealing with drug and human trafficking.
Also, check out On Wings of Eagles, a World War II drama that I shot in China, starring Joseph Fiennes. It’s the unofficial sequel to Chariots of Fire and now you can watch on Amazon.
As part of Women’s Week at NYFA, which was created to celebrate and highlight women in the Entertainment Industry, the Acting for Film department sponsored a night of eight amazing stand-up comedians in a show called Stand Up for Women! Each comedian did a very funny 10-minute set to a packed house of over 100 NYFA students.
It was a hilarious night — the level of talent was amazing! Students were impressed with the different personal styles of each comedian and how each was able to use their own creative voice in a unique way. Our guest artists covered topics from politics to parents, from women’s rights issues to the struggles of being an artist in this industry.
Comedy is a great way to teach and each of our artists brought a unique lesson to our students.
The evening was also a benefit for Women Helping Women (WHW),a non-profit organization with the mission of providing unemployed and underemployed women the skills and resources they need to get and keep a good job. WHW job seekers depend on the generosity of clothing donors in the community to support their job search. Attendees were asked to bring an item of clothing for donation to the organization.
Stand Up for Women! featured an all-star lineup of comedian guest artists, including:
Lisa deLarios – (host) – Lisa has toured the country, featuring for Zach Galifianakis, Paul F. Tompkins, Anthony Jeselnik, and Maria Bamford, among others. She was showcased on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham and has been a frequent guest on Doug Loves Movies.
Laura House – Laura is a headlining comedian who has performed on HBO, Comedy Central, and NBC, and starred in MTV’s Austin Stories. She has written on the Emmy-winning shows Mom and Samantha Who and the BAFTA-winning Secret Lives of Boys, as well as Nicole Byer’s Loosely, Exactly, Nicole, The George Lopez Show, Mad Love, Blue Collar TV, and more.
Jackie Kashian – Jackie is a comic whose new album, I Am Not The Hero Of This Story, was the #1 comedy album on iTunes and Amazon. She is in the 12th year of her podcast, The Dark Forest, and has a new podcast on the Nerdist Network called The Jackie and Laurie Show.
Jena Friedman – Jena is a comedian, writer, filmmaker and political satirist who recently appeared on Conan. Her Adult Swim special Soft Focus with Jena Friedman aired in February. She has been a field producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and has written for Late Show with David Letterman.
Kate Willett – Kate tours nationally and internationally, has been featured on Viceland’s Flophouse and Comedy Central’s This is Not Happening, and recently taped a Netflix special.
Vanessa Gonzalez – Vanessa was recently voted “Best Stand-up Comic” in the Austin Chronicle readers’ poll and created and stars in the Mas Mejor web series Ms. Vanessa.
Jessica Sele – Jessica is a stand-up comedian who tours across the country and has performed at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and SF Sketchfest. She was written about in Huffington Post.
Ellington Wells – Ellington is a filmmaker and comedian who hosts the monthly stand-up show Blackberry Jam and has worked on television shows such as Insecure, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Baskets.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank each and every one of these incredibly talented and funny women who came to our Los Angeles campus. We truly appreciate your giving our students the chance to Stand Up for Women!
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, Deadline film critic and reporter, Pete Hammond, joined New York Film Academy (NYFA) students for a Q & A at the Los Angeles campus. NYFA Director of the Q & A Series Tova Laiter hosted the evening.
Hammond has worked as a contributor for Variety, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.
Laiter began the evening by asking Hammond how he got his start in the industry.
It turns out Hammond didn’t set out to be a journalist. He just knew he wanted to be in the film industry. As an NBC Page, Hammond began working his way up the ladder. From page, he was promoted to a children’s television writer. Soon after, he became a researcher at Entertainment Tonight. From there he moved to the The Arsenio Hall Show, worked on Access Hollywood, and finally, Hammond created the entertainment news program Extra.
With the Oscars just around the corner, students were curious to know more about the inside politics of the Academy. One student wanted to know about the possibility of a shake-up at this year’s Oscars. “Looking at the statistics,” he began, “No film has won Best Film without first being nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay.” Three Billboards hasn’t been nominated for Best Director, but it has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The student wanted to know if Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri could take home the grand prize.
Hammond was impressed and jokingly asked the student if he was looking for work. “Your predictions are spot on. This is what I’ve been writing about for the past couple of years.”
Hammond said that only three times in Oscar’s history has a film won Best Picture that had not been nominated for Best Director. Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Argo, though he did win the Director’s Guild Award later that year. Driving Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford and Grand Hotel director Edmund Goulding were not nominated, either. “The odds are statistically against Three Billboards but I think it has a shot because of the preferential ballot.”
Hammond explained that when voting for the Oscars, Academy members number all of the nominees from their favorite to their least favorite. That numbering system can have a huge impact on the final turnout. If enough members place Three Billboards as a three or higher, it could mean a win.
Hammond also noted a new trend over the past five years: Four out of the five Best Picture winners didn’t see their director rewarded, but all of their scripts did win Best Picture. In looking at the history of the Oscars, this trend is very rare.
Of course, students also wanted to pick Hammond’s brain about his personal opinion on the 2017 lineup of films. Hammond was particularly impressed with the stamina of Get Out. A film released in February usually isn’t in contention for the Oscars a year after it’s release. In fact, the last Best Picture nominee to have a February release was another thriller film, Silence of the Lambs, in 1991.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Pete Hammond for taking the time to speak with our students. The Oscars air on Sunday, March 4, 2018, on NBC. You can read Hammond’s film reviews here.