On Saturday, April 6, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Photography Instructor Joan Pamboukes gave a lecture at the Artexpo New York. The Artexpo was held from April 4 – 7 at Pier 90 on Manhattan’s West Side. Each year thousands of art industry insiders flock to Artexpo New York in search of art and artists that can influence trends in galleries worldwide.
Pamboukes is an award-winning artist based in Astoria, Queens. Her artwork has been exhibited at venues including The Montclair Art Museum, Chashama UpTown, The Dumbo Arts Festival, and The Arts Council of Princeton. Honors for her work include the 2014 Sky Award, the 1999 Art and Literacy Award, and the 1999 Albert Munsell Media & Performing Arts Award.
Pamboukes’s lecture was entitled Media Transections & Contemporary Photography Influences, and discussed her work, which explores projects that transect human interactivity with screens—including smartphones, television, and video games—as well as how the human experience is currently shaped by the dominance of advanced technology in modern society.
On display was Pamboukes’s portfolios, featuring “images that flash before us, mingling with personal memories and emotions, and influencing our state of mind.” Visual artists, collectors, gallery owners, art dealers, and anyone else interested in statement art and fine art photography were invited to attend the presentation, held at the Education Pavilion. Pamboukes was introduced by New York Film Academy Chair of Photography David Mager.
“Joan is not only an incredible professor, but an amazing artist as well,” Mager recently told NYFA. “Her work looking at today’s technology is sometimes sardonic, but always interesting and beautiful.” He added, “She often brings her artistic vision and approach into the classroom.”
Later this year, Pamboukes will have work on display at the Open World: Video Games and Contemporary art exhibition, curated by Theresa Bembnister at the Akron Art Museum, exhibiting from October 2019 – February 2020. The show is expected to travel as well.
Melissa Sullivan was so shy growing up, she would stare at the ceiling to avoid looking at people. Eventually, realizing “ceilings weren’t going to get me anywhere in life,” she decided to make a change—and committed to talking to one stranger a day. That, plus an affinity for the stage, got Sullivan out of her shell and into a variety of performing arts: theatre, television, film, and music.
Sullivan, who teaches acting and is the musical director of the NYFA Glee Club, took some time to discuss her career as a multi-hyphenate and her upcoming album.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): How/when did you know you wanted to pursue the performing arts?
Melissa Sullivan (MS): In Naha, Okinawa, my mother put me in a ballet class. I remember a performance being back stage. I loved it. The smell of the stage, the curtains, the anticipation of the performance. I wasn’t the best dancer but the experience was informative and I knew I was at home in the theatre.
NYFA: You’ve performed in a variety of fields—theater, television, film, and music—and have also directed. As an artist, how do you see yourself and why?
MS: When I first moved to Los Angeles things were very different than they are now. I heard “Are you an actor, or a singer? You need to pick one.” Now it is much more fluid. Performers have more freedom to explore, perhaps because of technology and the access to it. The connection of artists globally through technology is amazing. I studied at California Institute of the Arts where all disciplines lived side by side. You would hear music in the hallway, walk by a piece of art, see dancers in the distance, artists in the gallery discussing someone’s work, and watch filmmakers editing in the graffitied sub-level. It was such a great environment. After I graduated, I never gave that spirit up.
NYFA: Speaking of, you have a long list of credits in various mediums. Of all the work you’ve done, what are you most proud of and why?
MS: Recording my album of original music and playing Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Actors Studio, directed by Barbara Bain.
NYFA: Additionally, are there any others that stick out in your mind of being particularly memorable and why?
MS: Filming an episode of Shameless. I had been called into the casting office for Shameless for a few years and was happy to finally land a part. I’m really happy with the work that I did on that show. The experience was fast paced and yet enjoyable. It is a great production from the actors, directors, AD’s, scripts, grips and on.
NYFA: As a multi-hyphenate, what is the most challenging aspect about wearing different hats, project to project? How do you take on the challenge?
MS: Working on a few things at once suits my mind. I am very busy, so I write music while I walk my dogs or drive to work. I wrote some of my favorite songs in my car. I guess to be a multi-hyphenate you have to organize your time well and I have gotten better at this. Teaching has inspired me to take more risks. When you talk with students about their growth and how to facilitate it, you in turn have to follow suit with your own work.
NYFA: You’re the musical director of the NYFA Glee Club and have said that “music can transform people.” Can you elaborate on that?
MS: I have seen students petrified to sing in front of one person, but at the end of the semester they are performing in front of an audience of 90 people. Singing brings people confidence. It is a raw emotional expression. With the Glee Club I try to foster leadership and collaboration. We have student conductors and section leaders. I am blown away by their talent.
NYFA: Speaking of music, you have an album coming out in December. How would you describe your music?
MS: I am a trained jazz singer so my songs come from a jazz foundation, but it is an amalgam of genres: jazz, blues, and pop. I am almost finished! It’s been quite a journey.
NYFA: What’s your favorite thing about teaching at NYFA?
MS: I admire my colleagues. I appreciate the support that the acting and filmmaking teachers give to one another. I also love the fact that the students are from all over the world. I have so much respect for foreign students who open their hearts and act in a second language. I also really like working with the veterans. I appreciate the time they served for our country and I find most of them are highly disciplined at NYFA. They are brave and want to dive into the craft.
Justin LaReau had a pretty cool job. He was the head basketball coach at Southeastern Illinois College. But he was temporarily living in a hotel, reevaluating his life, and reconnecting with his love for movies. So while he was working on his playbook, he was simultaneously reading screenwriting books and began sketching out the idea of what would become his first feature.
Eventually, he made the difficult decision to leave coaching behind. Justin came out to Los Angeles and got an internship at Underground Film and Management—which led to his career writing, directing and producing films. New York Film Academy (NYFA) spoke with LaReau about his movies, experiences, and his next projects.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): Recently you produced and directed A Demon Within, a horror film. How did that come about? What was it like directing a feature film for the first time? What were the biggest challenges– and what was the learning curve like?
Justin LaReau (JL): I started writing it when I was coaching basketball, but it really initiated as a kid when my friends and I would ride by a haunted house that was widely talked about in our community. The house had been abandoned. We stopped our bikes and I saw some movement in the upstairs window. It could have been wind moving the curtains but as a 12 year old, we assumed it was a ghost. My hometown has a documented case of possession that dates back to the 1800s. Knowing that story, I wanted to tap into the personal connections I had as a kid. I felt like it would be a fun experience, plus I believed as a first feature I could get a horror film at a 100K budget fully distributed.
And in terms of the learning curve, it was tremendous. Whether you are directing or producing, there is nothing like making a full feature. I heard Jon Favreau speak and he said whatever you do or however you have to get it done, make a full feature. Short films are great for trying to find your voice, style and developing the skills, but telling a narrative for 90 minutes or more is like no other. I tell people that I spent summers in 100 degree heat building bridges and overpasses while I was in undergrad. That’s hard work. But making a full-length movie is much harder. And unless you have, you can’t comprehend it nor can you learn as much as doing.
NYFA: How did your experiences as a producer inform the decisions you made as a director?
JL: Because we were operating on a microbudget and I was constantly tracking the spending as a line producer would. It made me eliminate waste and only spend on items that would be seen on screen. We secured free locations, free lodging, free cars/trucks for transportation, discounted food as well as many other resources. Because of that, it allowed an extra shooting day which is so vital. Time as we know is so precious in general and in filming, an extra hour goes a long way in allowing actors the opportunity to act, take direction, and deliver the performance that works for the film.
Additionally, the script had to evolve. The team and I were rewriting throughout prep to pull off a full feature. Many elements that would have created more value had to be removed because there just wasn’t enough money. And that is a tough pill to swallow.
NYFA: Can you talk about your upcoming projects? What are you working on right now?
JL: My producing partner Lydia Cedrone and I recently launched a production company called Tidal Wave Entertainment, LLC. As producers we currently have a slate of eight movies in development. They range from comedies to dramas to thrillers. I’m the writer and attached to direct two of the films: Fallen Lands, a post-apocalyptic drama and The Riddle Maker, a thriller.
NYFA: You earned your MFA from NYFA in Producing. What’s it like to be a former student on the other side of the classroom—and how does that inform your teaching?
JL: I had been teaching for 10 years and had already completed a graduate program. I went from standing in front of the room to sitting in the seat again. What I enjoyed about NYFA besides the hands-on experience and the location was the wealth of experiences instructors brought to the classroom. And that is what I try to draw on now. I have been where the students are and I have been through the same program. This allows me to truly connect with them.
NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach and why?
JL: My favorite class to teach is Pitching. It is a skill/craft that all producers, writers, or directors need to develop. My mom would probably say that I like pitching because I am full of it, but selling an idea starts with the way you present it. We may have the next Oscar-winning idea, but if you can’t excite someone about it, it probably will never get made.
NYFA: Speaking of, what advice do you have for students who might be looking to produce and direct?
JL: I am a believer that if you want to do something, then go do it. But students should know that your drive and commitment has to be greater than you can imagine. You have to be able to grind through the times when things get tough. This is not an easy industry. But you need to be like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. So get your hands dirty and get to work!
Amanda Rowan grew up around rock stars. Rowan, a New York Film Academy (NYFA) photography instructor, is the daughter of Grammy-winning bluegrass musician Peter Rowan. But unlike many of her contemporaries—offspring of famous musicians—she discovered her instrument was a camera, not a guitar or piano. She began shooting rock concerts in high school and went on to shoot portraits for corporate clients, international artists, and pop celebrities. Rowan recently took some time to discuss her career, her upcoming projects, and playing Paris Hilton’s best friend in a National Lampoon movie.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): As someone who grew up around music and musicians, why were you drawn to photography?
Amanda Rowan (AR): At first I was drawn to photography as a way to document the music and performances that I was inspired by. But I realize now that when I was shooting bands and live music the camera was my “instrument.” I felt like I was part of the band and adding to the music.
NYFA: How would you characterize your work?
AR: I am drawn to elements of life that are visually theatrical. I seek to create images that feel like a movie or a dream. I like the heightened art direction with dramatic color and juxtaposition.
NYFA: Speaking of musicians, you did a project—Born Backstage—shooting musician and performer offspring of artists like The Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa. How did this project come about?
AR: In my 20s I was living in New York City and had a lot of musician friends. I was shooting a lot of bands and actors. I was looking for a project to focus my portraiture towards a single subject and build a photographic series. One night I was at a party and I was sitting with Chris Stills (his father Steven Stills was in Crosby, Stills & Nash) and we were talking to Jenni Muldaur (her mother Maria Muldaur was on the cover of Rolling Stone for her 1970s hit song “Midnight at the Oasis”) and Harper Simon (his father is Paul Simon). We were talking about art, music, and our shared sense of gratitude and angst about having musicians as parents. I thought that there was a unique bond between us and that it could be a compelling photo series.
NYFA: You were an actor in your 20s. What were some of your highlights?
AR: One of the highlights was playing Paris Hilton’s BFF in National Lampoon’s Pledge This! We lived in Miami for six weeks at the Shore Club. We would stay out all night and then film all day—I don’t remember sleeping much! But even then I always had my camera on set and was known by the cast and crew as the actress who was always taking everyone’s portrait. Paris was very sweet and liked to pose for me. Our on-screen friendship developed into a real friendship. When I moved to LA to pursue photography, she gave me my first job taking photos of her.
I also played opposite Dave Chappelle on a Chappelle’s Show sketch. He was The Wolfman and I was his girlfriend. It was shot in black and white like an old 50s horror movie. I was cracking up the whole time.
AR: My new project, Arrangement, is a series of still-life images as well as self-portraits, taken in the studio. The images are of flowers and fruits and other organic matter pared with personal objects like jewelry and feathers. The objects and items in the images are all symbolic to me and represent the “performative” quality of acts of domestic curation, like setting a table for dinner. The images tell a story of seduction, vulnerability, and power. The series will debut at the Carrie Able Gallery in Brooklyn this August. The show is produced in conjunction with the leading photography and art publication, Float Magazine.
NYFA: What is your favorite thing about teaching at NYFA?
AR: Teaching is the best plot twist of my career/life! I truly love it! I feel like I have a chance to teach all the little secret things I wish someone had told me when I was coming up! Mostly I just want to support young artists and give them the tools and the confidence to be creative and bring forth the amazing ideas inside their brains! It makes me happy when they are able to express themselves.
NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach at NYFA?
AR: I love teaching the business classes. I think the business side of art can be challenging for artists. But I have found with the right tools and education you actually gain confidence in your art by feeling equipped with the business side of things!
NYFA: Is there a piece of advice you give your students before graduation?
AR: Do everything you can to stay confident and nurture your creativity and self-confidence. A creative career is not linear so enjoy the wild ride and be open to the twists, turns, ups, and downs!
You’d be hard pressed to find a New Yorker who doesn’t experience their fair share of frustration with the MTA, the corporation that runs the city’s sprawling and crowded transit system of trains and buses. Especially these days, as commuters deal with train construction, delays, and an impending apocalypse, while fares continue to increase (the MTA announced just this week their plan for yet another fare hike of 4%).
And every New Yorker deals with it in their own way. Some of us mutter under our breaths, while others aren’t afraid to scream and yell at the top of their lungs. Some of us weep silently when we finally get home, while others pray to themselves that they’ll actually get home.
But what most of us haven’t done, is sing a song about it. With Kristy’s Lament: Another Awful Day with the MTA, a new musical number performed by Broadway actress Kristy Cates, that’s no longer the case. And now that it has an accompanying music video produced by the Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre at the New York Film Academy (PCMT at NYFA), the song is easily available for everyone to share, relate with, and sing along to.
Kristy’s Lament is very much based on a true story. “I have the worst train luck,” Cates tells NYFA, continuing, “I’m always stuck underground with no explanation, waiting for a train that never shows up, or on the car with the person about to puke. And I often share these wild stories on social media.”
After one particularly nasty commute for Cates, where one bizarre thing followed another as she tried to make her way home from her Broadway show, she recounted the entire nightmare on Facebook. Her story quickly gained traction and gained a lot of attention on social media. Typically, the story would end there, but not for Cates.
After seeing her commute from hell, lyricist Chris Giordano was inspired to adapt the tale into song, writing lyrics for a number that step-by-step portrayed Cates’s disastrous trip. Soon, it was put to music by composer Ryan Edward Wise, and Kristy’s Lament was born. It wasn’t long after that that a music video was produced to accompany the track.
The video features Cates playing multiple roles — not just the tragic commuter narrating the song, but also a rude passenger carrying numerous bags, a stoner, and a homeless man, among others. It is mostly a stage production, filmed at NYFA’s 1st Floor Theatre, with gorgeous lighting direction and a minimal subway set. The video was also partially shot in an actual subway station, where the video opens and closes.
The video was produced by the PCMT at NYFA, where Kristy Cates also serves as Creative Director. The renowned musical theatre school prides itself on giving its students real world training that prepares them to achieve success in a competitive, empowering industry, creating an educational experience few other musical theatre schools can offer.
Aspiring performers develop their skills as triple threat performers by studying with faculty — like Kristy Cates — who have appeared in numerous Broadway and touring productions, top-rate regional theatre, opera, hit movie musicals, and television shows. NYFA’s musical theater alumni include llda Mason (On Your Feet), Pierre Marais (Aladdin), Christopher Viljoen (Les Misérables), Kylan Ross (Straight Outta Oz), and Tony Award-winner Yael Silver (Once on this Island).
Additionally, the PCMT at NYFA is able to use all of the resources shared by NYFA’s film school, cinematography school, and other departments. Using the Academy’s resources and state-of-the-art filmmaking equipment, its stage and its location in the heart of the New York City, and some of the Academy’s highly-talented staff — including director Jonathan Whittaker, editor Sean Robinson, Broadway veteran and choreographer Deidre Goodwin, and costume designer David Withrow — Kristy’s Lament was able to take advantage of high production values to really sell the humorous lyrics and support Cates’s powerful yet hysterical performance.
“One thing I love about working for NYFA,” Cates says, “is their willingness to explore new projects. As a result, our ability as a program to collaborate with up-and-coming composers and lyricists.” She adds, “It was wonderful to combine the expertise of our faculty, the passion of our alumni, the ingenuity of the composer and writer, and the generosity and support of the Film Academy.”
Cates is no stranger to high production values and show-stopping numbers. She is a member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA and has starred in Wicked (Broadway, First National Tour, Chicago) as Elphaba, as well as playing Miss Bassett in Finding Neverland (Broadway), Grandma Josephine in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Broadway), and has had roles in a handful of off-Broadway shows and many regional productions. Additionally, she performs as a professional voiceover artist.
The Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre at the New York Film Academy is proud to have Kristy Cates as an original and current member of its faculty, and was equally as proud to produce Kristy’s Lament: Another Awful Day with the MTA with her. Next time you’re stressed and stuck on the subway, check it out and let yourself laugh a little — if the wifi is working down there, of course.
On Friday, October 26, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of Lifetime’s Killer Under the Bed (2018), followed by a Q&A with director and NYFA instructor, Jeff Hare; producer, Ken Sanders; director of photography, Brad Rushing; and stars, Brec Bassinger and Madison Lawlor. The event was moderated by NYFA instructor, David Newman.
Hare is a writer, director, and filmmaking instructor at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus, and has been working as a director of thrillers for the Lifetime channel for the last few years (A Lover Betrayed, Psycho In-Law, Nanny Killer).
Sanders is a prolific producer for the Lifetime channel who has accumulated over 60 movie credits in the last 30 years (Accused at 17, Double Daddy, Stalked by My Doctor).
Rushing’s career as a director of photography began with some small features in the 1990s then expanded into the music industry with music videos for Eminem, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Blink-182 and more. Rushing then moved back to film and television, and ultimately made his way to the Lifetime channel where he now works as a DP on many of its thrillers.
Bassinger is an actress known for her roles in ABC’s The Goldbergs and Nickelodeon’s Bella and the Bulldogs and School of Rock. Lawlor is an actress known for her roles on TNT’s Franklin and Bash, Netlfix’s Dear White People, and the film, Daddy Issues (2018). The film also stars Kristy Swanson, eponymous star of the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Moderator David Newman opened up the Q&A by asking about the inspiration for the film. Producer Ken Sanders explained that he was approached by the film’s writer about producing a movie about a voodoo doll; Sanders knew that there would have to be more meat to the story to get executive producers interested, so he began thinking about the topic.
Sanders then remembered a TV movie from his childhood that “terrified a generation” called Trilogy of Terror; in this film, the protagonist struggles to escape from an evil doll she purchases at an antique shop. Sanders decided to combine the voodoo concept and the evil doll concept into one, and, in a sense, remake Trilogy of Terror for a modern audience. It was important to him, though, that this film appeal to “multiple markets” and not just a “hardcore horror audience.”
Newman went on to ask the panel about how they handled their tight shooting schedule — the Killer Under the Bed production team only had 14 days to shoot a feature-length film, which is less than half the time that most features take to shoot. DP Brad Rushing advised, “Be prepared… Meticulously know what you’re doing… [Have] contingency plans… and good communication with the producer and the director.”
Rushing added that he and director Jeff Hare had worked together before, and were largely on the same page aesthetically when it came to the look of the film.
Newman inquired about how the team made the voodoo doll come to life onscreen. “Most of the doll’s motion was actual[ly] mechanical,” said director Jeff Hare, “it’s trying to keep that aesthetic of that 70s stuff [that] scared us… we tried to keep as many effects as we could practical and we also stole the whole Jaws thing of trying to keep it hidden for as long as we possibly could.”
“I think oftentimes what you don’t see is a lot more frightening,” added Brad Rushing, “because the audience fills it in with their own imagination and personalizes it as their own boogeyman.”
The New York Film Academy thanks Jeff Hare, Ken Sanders, Brad Rushing, Brec Bassinger, and Madison Lawlor for sharing their insights about making an independent thriller on a tight budget and in a short timeframe!
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) encourages everyone to check out the new psychological thriller Look Away, which releases this October 12, 2018 on VOD and in theaters nationwide. In a Hollywood culture currently dominated by epic franchise films and sequels, Look Away is an independent film crafted by passionate filmmakers and actors looking to tell an exciting, new story without the luxury of a $200 million budget. The film was directed by Assaf Bernstein — known for the hit Netflix series Fauda — and produced by prolific filmmaker and celebrated New York Film Academy (NYFA) lecturer Dana Lustig.
Look Away is a thriller-horror about an alienated teenager who switches places with her evil mirror image. It stars Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, Star Trek: Discovery, The Death of Stalin), and India Eisley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Eisley is starring next in the television miniseries I Am the Night with Chris Pine (StarTrek, Wonder Woman), produced and directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster, Wonder Woman).
Lustig was born in Israel and has directed five feature films and produced over twenty independent features, working with many high-profile actors, actresses, and filmmakers. Embodying the modern female filmmaker archetype that is finally getting the recognition it deserves in Hollywood, Lustig balances her career in the industry with her occasional lectures at New York Film Academy and other institutions, as well as with being a full-time mother.
“Filmmaking is a 24-hours-a-day job, it never stops,” Lustig tells NYFA, continuing, “You might find your next story at the dinner table or dreaming at night. It is a lifestyle.”
As for the types of narratives she pursues, Lustig says that she looks for stories that are “diverse, creative, and moving. Even if it’s a period film, it needs to be current and relevant to today.”
The true survival story Jungle, starring Harry Potter lead Daniel Radcliffe, was produced by Lustig and released earlier this year. The film shot both in Colombia and Australia’s Gold Coast, where NYFA has another location with access to the Village Roadshow backlot.
Lustig directed the dark love story A Thousand Kisses Deep starring Dougary Scott (Mission: Impossible 2) and Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block, Broadchurch). Whittaker herself has been making headlines this week as she debuted as the Thirteenth Doctor — and first female Doctor — in the long-running smash British series Doctor Who. A Thousand Kisses Deep was nominated for a British Independent Film Award.
In addition to A Thousand Kisses Deep, Lustig also directed the comedy Wild Cherry starring Rob Schneider, Kill Me Later starring Selma Blair, Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Wedding Bell Blues starring John Corbett. Additionally, Lustig was a partner at Berman Lustig Productions for ten years, along with producer Ram Bergman (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.) BLP produced the hit Rian Johnson indie Brick as well as Dancing at the Blue Iguana, directed by Oscar nominee Michael Radford. Lustig tells NYFA that she feels the urge to always keep moving and looking forward to the next project, saying “We can never really be satisfied as storytellers.” She is currently executive producing Spider in the Web with Ben Kingsley and Monica Bellucci and has just wrapped filming the second season of Israeli hit series Very Important Man. She is scheduled next to direct the remake of the Israeli film The Man in the Wall.
And still Lustig finds time in between projects to speak with film school students at NYFA. One piece of advice she gives to aspiring filmmakers that comes from her roles both as a director and as a producer is to “Find the next great story to tell — one that is financially viable in the current market, both commercially and artistically.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates producer, filmmaker, and lecturer Dana Lustig on her long list of successes and looks forward to the many still to come! Look Away releases nationwide this October 12.
Maxine Trump is a filmmaker, producer, editor, and author. She is based in Brooklyn and teaches Documentary at the New York Film Academy. Her films Musicwood and To Kid or Not To Kid cover such varied topics as the state of the acoustic guitar industry and the decision to not have children, respectively. NYFA sat down with her and talked about her career as a documentarian and freelance filmmaker, as well as her new book:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): How does the process for writing a book differ from writing a screenplay or documentary? Do you prefer one to the other?
Maxine Trump (MT): That’s an interesting question. It’s very different, it’s a different way of talking to an audience. Although you still want to be accessible, it is more academic — no surprises there — writing an academic book.
I never go for an academic voice in my films, everything should be entertaining, never educational. I tell all my students never to describe your documentary films as educational. Even the BBC has taken that word out of their mission statement. It just sounds boring, and your film will be boring generally, if it’s educational. You’re not making instructional YouTube videos, that’s a very different form of entertainment. Although I love hybrids, and being inventive with formats. So maybe there will be an amazing instructional documentary that someone will make and I’ll eat my words, but I’ve yet to see it. Werner Herzog comes close.
Anyone want to experiment?
NYFA: I watched your “Trumps Against Trump” short and Donald Trump was elected President shortly thereafter. How have you dealt with sharing his last name since?
MT: That’s funny to be asked that question here, people ask me ALL the time. You know we often make documentaries to deal with something personal that we have wrestled with, even if it’s not obvious in the film we’re making. I know one famous documentarian that realized they kept making films that somehow always wrestled with a father figure. So this was my purging, I had to do something. And with all the crazy, shocking political decision-making right now, this film brings a little bit of light. Some humor, and helps me cope with my name. After all, as I’m told in the film by one great character on the street, the [guy] ruined my name.
NYFA: You’ve covered disparate topics from the decision to children not having access to toilets to the acoustic guitar industry’s interaction with the environment. How do you decide to focus and hone in on topics that you think will make for good and worthwhile documentaries?
MT: This is a lovely question, and one that I talk about a lot with the students. You will sit with your film for a very long time, so what are you passionate about? I’ve made documentaries with an underlying message, from the overloaded New York sewage system, to people deciding not to have children. But my films are entertaining. I don’t even like the phrase “social issue filmmaking” anymore, and I make them all the time. But, first and foremost, I think often about who might be coming home from a hard day at work and would want to turn on my film. I don’t want them to necessarily feel bad about life, I want them to feel like there is hope and be surprised and sometimes shocked and sitting on the edge of their seats and laughing, and crying, and want to see more.
Maxine Trump’s “Musicwood”
NYFA: What projects do you have coming up that people should keep an eye out for?
MT: The beauty (and the bane) of freelance is that you’re always working, juggling about five projects any one time. But I love this life. Yesterday I was commissioned to write TV treatments for micro-docs for a TV network, today I’m talking to distributors about my latest feature documentary To Kid Or Not To Kid, about people deciding whether or not to have children. And this afternoon I’ll be pulling together casting ideas for a web series for public television that I’ve just been comissioned to make. And then, of course, I teach at NYFA. This lifestyle allows me to teach (and write) about real world examples.
I love my flexible life, and it’s so great that NYFA supports faculty to work in this way. I think we have a really strong documentary department helmed by Andrea Swift and supported by Amanda Brzezowski, and it’s a joy to teach.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Maxine Trump for her time answering our questions and for all the hard work she does to educate NYFA’s Documentary school students. You can purchase her new book, The Documentary Filmmaker’s Roadmap: A Practical Guide to Planning, Production and Distributionhere.
Renowned for her pioneering work in morphing technologies, legendary visual artist and New York Film Academy (NYFA) faculty member Nancy Burson has just shown how powerfully the arts can intersect with world affairs with her image on the cover of Time magazine: an arresting portrait that combines the faces of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Burson’s work was also recently singled out by Time magazine in its list of 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time. Together with MIT scientists, she patented the morphing technology that the FBI drew upon in the ‘80s to track missing children. She has been featured on Oprah, Good Morning America, CNN, National Public Radio, PBS, and Fuji TV News, as well as countless local TV segments in the USA, Canada, and Europe; and discussed in The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Houston Chronicle, and Scientific American Magazine, to name a few. There are four monographs of her work and reproductions of it appear in hundreds of art catalogs and textbooks on the history of photography, published in all languages. Burson’s fine art photography is available through ClampArt Gallery in NYC. Her website can be viewed here.
Ms. Burson took time out of her busy schedule to sit down with the NYFA Blog and share her thoughts on the meaning of visual art, why she’s still learning, and what it’s like to see her TIME magazine cover image joining a vital international conversation about democracy, freedom, and the future.
NYFA: Tell us, what does photography and visual art mean to you?
NB: The best way of answering is just to say that I think art is destiny-driven, and then there’s the added element of determination that seems to be behind it. That’s what visual art means to me. There’s no choice; you just do it. You do it because it’s your destiny to do it, and you’re driven to do it through determination.
NYFA: What inspired your morphing technology projects, and your recurring theme of composite images?
NB: When I first came to New York, I had this idea to create a machine that would age you by computer. That was driven by a show that I saw at MOMA. It was the first time I had walked into MOMA, and there was a show called The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age. I went there not knowing what to expect, but what I found was a very participatory show in which people that I began to know later on had pieces that were not only three-dimensional, but moving images, video images, and things that were more or less participatory in nature. I thought it was a lot of fun to participate in the art, and it was after that, shortly after that, that I conceived this idea of the aging machine where viewers could see themselves older.
I took the idea to EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology), Robert Rauschenberg’s organization that was pairing artists and scientists together. So I went to them and said, “I have this idea to age people with a computer.”
Androgyny (6 Men + 6 Women) 1982
They paired me with someone who did very early computer graphics — it was pen and styles and a pad — and I was like, this is just drawing! And he said, yes, you have to wait for the technology to catch up.
I kept in touch with him and eventually he told me to call Nicholas Negroponte, the head of MIT’s now Media Lab, and he thought it was a great idea. They had something called a digitizer (now called a scanner), and it was one of the first times that a computer could interact with a live version of a face.
So I was kind of in the right place at the right time. I had the idea in ’68, and I went to work with MIT in ’76. I’m not that patient, but I was doing other things and kept connecting back to this person, and along the way got to know a lot of other people developing programs that were similar. One friend of mine became the Oscar winner for the morphing technology to make images move. Originally I had the patent on the still images, and he had the technical Oscar.
NYFA: What inspired your latest project, the image of Trump and Putin on the cover of Time magazine?
NB: I’ve been politically active over the years, and I felt I needed to say something.
This last couple of years has not been an exception, and since Trump was elected I have done what I could on Instagram. That’s pretty much what I think an artist can do, unless it was about showing work that had to do with Trump. A few years ago before he was even elected or running, I did a piece called What if He Were showing Trump as 5 different races. I showed it as art in LA. It was a commission by a very prominent magazine that never ran it — they decided at the last minute it was too controversial, so I went elsewhere and finally placed it with Huffington Post.
Then the last couple of years, I did a very early version of Trump and Putin, because the Russia thing has been going on for awhile. Time magazine photography director Paul Moakley is familiar with my work, it was three years ago they put me into their 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time. Since then I’ve been sending him creepy images of Trump, one with Kim Jong-un, and one with the three together, and there’s been this dialogue back and forth, and he mentioned last year he was considering them for the cover. I was like, oh, I didn’t know that! I didn’t find out until the last minute this was going to the cover, and I didn’t know if they would run it because it’s so controversial.
So in the end I had a couple hours to finish it and send it in. It was really fast. I had to run down to do the video interview. It was really truly a wacky day, one of the wackiest ever.
What was really meaningful was to be able to have this input in this dialogue that’s ongoing about this investigation, and I think that week was a turning point.
NYFA: What is it like to see your image having such an impact, especially with the wildfire spread of the internet?
NB: Yeah, I mean, amazing. I’m very grateful.
NYFA: What did it feel like to see your artistic techniques used to help the public through searches for missing children?
NB: What happened with missing kids was really amazing. The first case we did was the Etan Patz case for the FBI, and at that point we had done some other images of kids that had been not parental abductions but stranger abductions, and usually those kids don’t turn up. We had done a number of those, and it’s so hard to do. Then Cosgrove/Meurer Productions in LA — these are the people who became the producers/directors of Unsolved Mysteries — did a couple of hour-long TV specials about missing children.
They pulled some of the parents of parental abductions in here and we did updates of the kids. The parents were pulled in to see the update on the screen, and then these images were aired on TV, kids were found literally within a half an hour of the show’s airing.
So we began to find kids — this was around the mid ’80s — and we found at least several in that one year.
I remember this one kid getting on the phone with me because the father had gotten him back from the mother after that show was aired. This was a kid who had just been an image, and then I was talking to him — and his picture looked really very similar to the update we had done. It was a Frankenstein moment. I really was. Just wow.
At that point in the mid-80s the FBI purchased a copy of our software and then they started finding missing adults as well, which is a kind of a different process.
Etan Patz Update (Age 6 to Age 13), 1984
NYFA: What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching photography? What would be your one piece of advice for students interested in the visual arts?
NB: Probably the most rewarding thing about teaching is that it gives back, in a way, to the photography community. I think that when you teach you also get something back from the fact that you’re always learning. There’s always something to learn from students. I think teachers understand that it’s a give-and-take.
I find student are always wanting to find out what’s out there, what’s new, wants happening. I keep up with the community, not only for my sake, but for their sake. Sometimes there are important things to learn and it’s important to know the state of the art of the tech.
What I say to my students is that if you really want to be a visual artist, or in the case of NYFA, if you really want to be filmmaker, if you really feel this is what your role should be and it feels like destiny to you, then it will become what you do in a certain way that overrides a lot of other stuff. So if your priority is your art, you’re not going spend a lot of time messing around with doing things that you shouldn’t be doing — you have to stay focused.
I think the people that really understand that their destiny is artmaking in a certain way are more solidly based and determined. The kids who I know are going to make it are the kids who are hanging out at NYFA and shooting their projects at night and shooting on the weekends, and they’re just making it — every day they’re making it.
That’s the basis of a career that’s going to be ongoing. That’s going to be a sure thing; you have to have the determination and you have to be unwilling to give up. You have to see that as you goal.
NYFA: Which of your projects have surprised or shaped you the most?
NB: Certainly missing kids was one.
The human race machine, when that came out in 2000, came out as a collaboration with Zaha Hadid at the Millennium Dome in London. I thought it was very cool that people were standing in line for a couple of hours to see what they would look like as a different race. Now it’s not something that I would want to bring out in the world. Now I see that as more about separation than togetherness. But at the time it was an interesting way for people to raise awareness that elicited an empathetic response. My whole concept for right now is called TogetherAllOne, which addresses what astronauts see in space; they see the bigger picture, they see the blue marble. They understand that we are TogetherAllOne.
So there’s the missing kids, the human race machine, and the craniofacial kids. I spent seven years photographing deformity and I got to know kids with progeria, the aging disease as well as adults
Recently it’s really nice, as I’ve heard from some people form those years who saw the new Time cover. One of them in Europe reached out. I had photographed her son, and now she’s developed an organization since them to keep the progeria kids’ families together. I think it’s really great. And I remember her son. It’s been powerful hearing from people whose kids I photographed when they were young. There was even one incident that I heard about where one of the craniofacial kids used the machine with his family to see what he would look like with more of a “normal” face, so that was also a really powerful moment.
During those years I also spent time with adults with prosthetics on their faces from cancer. These are people who had survived cancer and had pretty big holes in their heads if you took their prosthetic device out. I knew the head surgeon at Kettering, and he introduced me to his clients and I photographed them. It was great. It was a real educational experience for people to see these people, and I would have shows of these images and the subjects would come. It was in its own way very experiential.
NYFA: How gratifying is it to see a process you created and revolutionized decades ago still have such an impact on photography, media, and culture?
NB: It’s interesting, I was thinking that the technology was too rudimentary and not specific enough to address politics in a way that would have an impact. But here it is. That was great.
I’m very thankful to Time magazine, who allowed this cover to be. It was a chance and they knew it, and they took it. They had just done something controversial a few weeks before, with Trump looking down at the little kid who is crying, and that had two million hits. The Trump/Putin cover is there, and has I think a two million hits at this point. That was a big cover for them and it was controversial, and they chose to do it again.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Nancy Burson for so generously giving her time and her story to our student community. Ms. Burson has a show currently in Brescia, Italy, with a solo show upcoming at Art Basel Miami in December. Read our headline piece on Nancy here. Watch Nancy’s interview with TIME below:
New York City-based startup Datavized Technologies, Inc. is a media studio focused on Virtual Reality production and consultancy. The company, founded by New York Film Academy Virtual Reality Instructor Hugh McGrory, combines the immersive power of virtual reality with the seamless delivery of the mobile web. Datavized strives to build smart but accessible ways to experience cities. “At Datavized we build proprietary software tools using WebVR — virtual reality experiences that run on the web,” McGrory summarizes.
McGrory and his company were recently featured in UploadVR, a leading digital virtual reality publication that was founded in 2014 in San Francisco. The article discusses Datavized opening beta access for their product after three years of development as well as the company’s presence at Data for Development Festival.
Datavized NYC Yellow Taxi Example
Datavized’s web-based drag and drop tools allow users to effortlessly turn spreadsheets into interactive 3D maps. The map above allows users to pare through country-by-country life expectancy between the years 1800 and 2015. Below is a map using NYC Yellow Taxi trip data that allows users to fully immerse themselves in New York City. In March 2018, the company announced plans to release a virtual reality air pollution visualization at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Festival in Bristol, United Kingdom. In December, Datavized appeared at the United Nations Environment Assembly.
McGrory explains the appeal of his company’s tools: “The technical baseline is already there with WebVR being part of web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and on both Android and iOS for phones.” He continues, “But people don’t see it yet because they’re still viewing the web on 2D screens. The next step is tools and content for the immersive web.” McGrory excitedly describes the future of the medium, “This intersection of 3D, VR and the Web is exciting. He cautions against making rash comparisons to other recent technological advances saying, “This is not like moving from film to tape or VHS to DVD. It’s a big leap that’s more comparable to the transition from radio to TV.”
As for any concerns about Datavized working better on certain devices compared to others, McGrory explained to UploadVR, “Datavized has been coded from the ground up for optimal performance across devices.”
McGrory is currently a faculty member for the New York Film Academy’s New York campus. He is an award-winning director/producer and his past projects include serving as executive producer for Northern Ireland Screen/UK Film Council’s Deviate project and as filmmaker in residence at CINEMA Microscopy Lab, Yale University School of Medicine.
See a video of Hugh McGrory discussing data science, VR, and more below:
To learn more about NYFA’s VR programs, visit the virtual reality program page.