At New York Film Academy, the faculty is an incredibly talented group of artists that teach the next generation of filmmakers and creators all while being active members in their industry. For NYFA Cinematography instructor Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC, this is no exception.
Maddox-Upshaw has lensed fan-favorite shows like Empire, Snowfall, Tales, and On My Block, to name a few, and teaches 35MM, Advanced Lighting, and Stage to Screen for Actors in NYFA’s Cinematography department.
Maddox-Upshaw first got interested in the world of lensing and cinematography when his sister Kyla got him on set as a Production Assistant for a Hype Williams music video when he was 19 years old. “I saw how the Cinematographer worked with everyone and created such beautiful images and I already liked photography,” he shared. “I was like, ‘I want to do what he does’ and I set out to learn what I could even though my college didn’t have a film program and really no film studies.”
From there, Maddox-Upshaw notes that the documentary film Visions of Light inspired him even further to pursue a career in cinematography, and the NYFA instructor began picking up work between his Boston hometown and New York City while continuing to further his education in cinematography. His work for commercial clients like Ford, Allstate, and HBO, to name a few, helped develop working relationships which led Maddox-Upshaw to eventually work alongside visionaries like Spike Lee and Matthew Libatique, ASC.
He provided VFX additional photography on A Star Is Born, and worked on the second unit for Straight Outta Compton, both shot by Libatique, and shot additional photography on feature films Grown Ups 2, Beyond the Lights, and The Circle. Maddox-Upshaw also served as the director of photography (DP) for Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, Hello Beautiful: Interludes with John Legend, Fixed, and more.
Recently, Maddox-Upshaw was recognized by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and was welcomed as a member of the ASC. The distinguished honor is one that names Maddox-Upshaw among the legacy of celebrated directors of photography over the last 100 years.
“Becoming part of the ASC has been a goal of mine since the time I really started to study and read American Cinematographer Magazine and watch Visions of Light when I was about 20 years old,” revealed Maddox-Upshaw.
For his students and aspiring cinematographers, Maddox-Upshaw encourages them to study more than what’s on the other side of the lens to become a good DP.
“Study the art of understanding good screenplays. understand the Black and White of the page so then you can make the correct emotional decision from what is written. Try and watch a movie a day; it makes a difference after a couple of years of doing it. You can recall so much and understand why certain things in cinema work,” Maddox-Upshaw explained.
“No one can dream bigger for you. You have to enjoy the process of your own journey you should want to be on set and learn from other people. You can learn this on your own and don’t be afraid to make mistakes especially in a learning environment.”
In addition to teaching at NYFA, Maddox-Upshaw recently photographed Season 6 of the Fox drama Empire. Additional credits from Maddox-Upshaw include season three of the FX drama Snowfall, season two of Netflix’s On My Block, and season one of the Netflix comedy Huge in France.
New York Film Academy congratulates Maddox-Upshaw on his recent induction into the ASC and is excited to have the opportunity for Maddox-Upshaw to continue to teach NYFA students about what it means to be a director of photography.
To learn more about NYFA’s Cinematography programs, click here.