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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles Holds Q&A with “Affairs of State” Director and Cast

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    On Monday, December 3rd, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of Affairs of State followed by a Q&A with director and NYFA instructor, Eric Bross, producer, Stephen Israel, and actors, David Corenswet and Nate Walker, moderated by NYFA Producing Chair, Roberta Colangelo. Affairs of State explores the extent to which one man is willing to take risks to progress his career in Washington D.C.

    Director and NYFA instructor, Eric Bross, is known for directing A Country Christmas Story (2013), Traffic (2004) and Stranger Than Fiction (2000). Producer, Stephen Israel, is a former VP of New Business Development at TBS, worked in strategic planning at Warner Brothers and spent four years as a management consultant with Booz, Allen & Hamilton. He is known for producing Blood, Sand and Gold (2017), G.B.F. (2013) and I Do (2012). Actor, David Corenswet, is a Julliard graduate known for his roles in House of Cards, The Tap and Elementary. Actor, Nate Walker, is known for his roles in Homeland, Bottom of the Barrel and The Maladjusted.

    Colangelo opened up the Q&A by inquiring about Bross’ inspiration for the film. Bross shared that he and Todd Cudworth, the film’s writer, were inspired by the ruthlessness of the “game” of politics; the original script, written in the early 2000s, was based on the tactics used by the Republican party to discredit President Bill Clinton– and the Democratic party as a whole– in the public eye in the late 90s. Bross said that Cudworth asked himself, “What if the Democrats got really ruthless, just matched the tactics of the Republicans who seemed to be pretty much willing to do whatever it [took]?” However, as America moved closer to the Trump presidency, the script evolved.

    Ultimately, Bross and Cudworth wanted to bring attention to the world of politics rather than make an argument about a specific political party as contemporary politics is so consumed by polarity. Producer Stephen Israel assisted with the blurring of the political binary in through the characterization of the protagonist’s boss, a political candidate named John Baines, “We took a lot of trouble to play…Baines’ politics down the middle,” said Israel, “We tried to make him a conservative who could appeal to liberals.”

    Colangelo noted that sex is used by the main character of the film, Michael Lawson, to gain power in the political sphere and asked how Bross navigated the sex scenes from a storytelling perspective. “I never like to shoot anything gratuitous,” said Bross, “Every scene in every movie should have a purpose…and this movie, ultimately to me, is about the exchange of power, sex for power.” Bross discussed how the sex scenes in which Michael is with Mrs. Baines, his boss’ wife, and the sex scenes in which Michael is with Darcy Baines, his boss’ daughter, were shot and edited differently to give different effects; Michael’s scenes with Mrs. Baines are focused on the exchange of sex for power whereas Michael’s scenes with Darcy are more romantic and idealized.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Eric Bross, Stephen Israel, David Corenswet and Nate Walker for sharing their perspectives on storytelling and working in the entertainment industry with our students.

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    December 7, 2018 • Acting, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 368

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Hosts Q&A with “The Goalkeeper” Director Rodrigo Patiño

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    On Thursday, November 29th the New York Film Academy hosted a screening of The Goalkeeper followed by a Q&A with director, co-writer and former NYFA instructor, Rodrigo “Gory” Patiño, moderated by Marlene Dermer, co-founder and former director of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

    Patiño is a Bolivian actor, writer and director. He earned an MFA in Film and Television at Chapman University in California and later returned to Bolivia where he co-wrote and directed La Entrega, a 10-episode TV series about human trafficking. This series inspired the film, The Goalkeeper, which has now been chosen to represent Bolivia at the 2019 Academy Awards. Patiño’s most recent film is Pseudo, a political thriller about a taxi driver who steals the identity of a passenger who turns out to be a mercenary.

    Dermer opened up the Q&A by inquiring about the writing process for The Goalkeeper. Patiño shared that one of his co-writers, Camila Urioste, is a novelist who had done extensive research on human trafficking in Bolivia; she helped him create and write the series, La Entrega, which ultimately led to the production of The Goalkeeper. “Eight girls disappear every day…and that’s what’s reported.” said Patiño. Patiño added that he and his team interviewed a high-profile activist in Bolivia, a mother whose daughter went missing, and she shared a multitude of stories with them that helped to shape the film.

    Patiño and his team added a layer of complexity to the issue of human trafficking by forcing the main character of the The Goalkeeper, a father, to make extreme and tragic choices in the hope of paying for his sick son’s surgery; the father ultimately decides to sell a young girl into sex slavery in order to pay for his son’s surgery and he must deal with the consequences of his decision. “We [ask] the audience, ‘How far would you go to save your son or daughter?’” said Patiño, “We wanted to provoke a dialogue.”

    Dermer went on to ask the audience if they had any questions for Patiño; one audience member wanted to know how Patiño and his writing team navigated having the main character of the film, the father, make the disturbing decision to sell the girl to human traffickers as that could quickly turn the audience against his character. “We were conscious that this [was] an anti-hero story…but, believe it or not, we had some people that said, ‘Yeah, but he had to save his son!’…We wanted that dilemma.” said Patiño.

    Another audience member asked Patiño what his advice would be for aspiring filmmakers. “Write, write and write,” said Patiño, “because people are hungry for content.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Patiño for sharing his knowledge about the epidemic of human trafficking in Bolivia and his advice for young storytellers.

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    December 5, 2018 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 368

  • Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking Alum Lujein Ashi

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    Lujein Ashi is a filmmaker, graphic designer, and storyteller who works for Saudi Arabia’s leading oil company, Saudi Aramco. In August, Lujein completed the 4-week Filmmaking workshop at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus after winning a scholarship with a 1-minute video. 

    New York Film Academy (NYFA) met up with Lujein to find out what her experience was like with the program, and what her plans for the future include.Lujein Ashi

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): So, how did your interest in coming here start? 

    Lujein Ashi (LA): I’ve always loved filmmaking stories since I was a child. I told stories to my sisters before we’d go to sleep, stuff I’d make up. I remember there was one moment that really stood out to me in my life. I went to watch Lord of the Rings in the cinema. I was with my friends. When we left everybody was so happy, but I felt sad. I didn’t understand it then. I understand it now. I felt like I was on the wrong side of the screen, like I was the one who was supposed to be giving people that feeling, not people giving that feeling to me. So, stories have always been a part of my life. 

    When it came time to choose what I wanted to study in college, I had to choose something that was practical. In the Gulf, we don’t have many opportunities for film, but then the New York Film Academy came to Bahrain to do a promo. I went and I just sat there and listened to [Dean of Enrollment Services] Tami Alexander do the presentation. She was really sweet. 

    I told her one day I’m going to come — hopefully, if it’s meant for me — and I signed up to their newsletter. I think it was like a month or two later, I get an email saying there was an opportunity for two scholarships for Saudi students. They want to encourage Saudi filmmakers because they’re opening cinemas in Saudi. 

    I saw the email late. I had two days to come up with my 1-minute video. I’ve never done a film before, but I knew I could write. So I wrote a script really fast and I did a very little video. I must have done something right, because she contacted me and told me I was one of the two students that got the scholarship. I was really, really happy. I cried hysterically.

    So I came here. It’s been a crazy four weeks. It’s just so amazing, the collaboration that you have with people… people that were strangers to me on Day One are like really close friends. There’s nothing like it, really. It’s everything I thought it would be, and even more.

    NYFA: Why did you choose the city of Los Angeles?

    LA: I think there’s no place better to learn filmmaking than in Los Angeles because it’s the hub of worldwide, excellent movies. It’s where the Hollywood industry is. Universal, Warner Brothers… all of these places, they’re all here. So there’s no place better to learn filmmaking.Lujein Ashi

    NYFA: What did you learn about filmmaking?

    LA: It’s all about story, that’s for sure. If your story is weak, then it doesn’t matter what you’re going to do. It’s not going to be something that touches people. Also technically the camera is your eye. You need to be one with the camera. You have to look through it, and if you don’t like what you see then you’re not going to like your movie. 

    I mean, it’s not like people can imagine what you meant, you know? So you have to be aware of the technical stuff. Which [at first] was very hard for me, because I’ve never touched a camera before, but Charlie did a really good job teaching us.

    NYFA: Is this something you want to continue doing? What’s your plan after this?

    LA: I found my heart here. I really did. It’s an amazing thing to find. People live their whole lives trying to find that thing they love. I think that’s the key to a happy life. I really feel like I found it here. I’m really going to try and do my master’s in this. Hopefully, then I could just do this for as long as I can. 

    NYFA: Do you see opportunities opening up in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain? 

    LA: Yes, for sure! Especially with the opening of cinemas, the government has been opening different entertainment entities trying to open things up to the people. I think there’s definitely going to be a demand for that. It’s going to be an exciting time for Saudi.

    NYFA: As Saudi opens up, is there a place there for you? Do you see yourself working there?

    Lujein AshiLA: I don’t know. I mean, sure, if there’s a place for me in Saudi to make great movies. I would love to. I mean, it’s my country. But to me, my geographic location was never something that was important. I’m very multicultural. My father is from Saudi, my mom’s from Lebanon, I lived in Baghdad, and I’m married to a Palestinian. I come from very different places, so I never felt like I belonged somewhere. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage, but sometimes it’s an advantage. Wherever you are, you feel like you can just connect with people because you’re from everywhere, basically. 

    So yeah, I mean, I could be — for example— in LA or in New York or anywhere with like-minded people, trying to do the same thing, just doing what we love; ultimately making somebody feel something. That’s why we go to the movies, right? Because we want to feel something! I could make somebody feel like Lord Of The Rings made me feel or Game of Thrones or any of these shows that have changed me so profoundly. It just amazes me how somebody could get that feeling out of you. It’s so satisfying. 

    NYFA: You mentioned two high-fantasy titles — is that kind of your thing?

    LA: I love fantasy, yeah. I mean, I love getting out of the real boring world and leaping into somebody’s imagination. That’s something out of this world! 

    NYFA: Why do you think stories are important?Lujein Ashi

    LA: I think they make people feel empathy for one another and understand each other on a level that maybe we don’t. In real life, there are a lot of issues that, when a film sheds light on them, could actually bring people closer together. You know, I think arts and filmmaking have the capacity to change people’s lives, to change societies and to open people up.

    Truthfully, it’s fundamental for our growth. It’s fundamental for us to connect and to see the point-of-view of other people. If I saw it from your perspective, which is what film lets you do, maybe I’ll be able to connect with you and understand you.

    The New York Film Academy wishes Lujein Ashi the best of success with her future endeavors, and hopes to see more of her amazing and beautiful stories in the near future!

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    December 5, 2018 • Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 278

  • The Power of Music: Being Part of the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Glee Club

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    The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Glee Club is an extracurricular club that not only affords NYFA students another way to express themselves artistically, but brings them together and bonds them through a joint love of music and song.Glee Club Summer 2018

    Sunny Amara, a member of the Glee Club for six semesters and its current choreographer, calls being in the club “a new, exciting, thrilling experience every time. There’s nothing I love more than taking the stage and performing my heart out. The Glee Club has been a perfect place for that. It’s just so much fun.”

    Amara also echoes the sentiment shared by many in the Glee Club, that “the basis of Glee Club is a love of music, a love of singing and a love of performing that we get to share with audiences. And to me, that’s tops.”

    Amara adds, “Watching my choreography come to life with these beautiful, singing souls is an experience unparalleled by any. We work hard in rehearsals getting the music and dances to their best, then we get to pour our hearts out on that stage. There’s nothing better than that to me.”

    These sentiments aren’t just felt by Amara, but by many of the members of the NYFA Glee Club. Lara Heine is studying for her BFA in Acting at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus and is also a member of the club. After a performance at the end of last summer, Heine put her thoughts into words, writing the following piece, entitled “The Power of Music”:

    Music and Dance is like therapy for many people. It eases your soul and spreads happiness.

    At least that is how I always felt. As acting students, we are constantly on the go and expected to give our all. On very rare occasions we get something rewarded.

    That is why I chose to sign up for the Glee Club. To give and receive in return. 

    This semester was filled with a lot of talented and driven people and putting on a performance with them was an honor for me. Melissa Sullivan, our teacher, created an amazing lineup of thoughtful chosen group and solo pieces.

    Glee Club Summer 2018Most of us didn’t know each other when we met for our first rehearsal. Over the span of a few short weeks, we rehearsed some of the most challenging musical theatre pieces. We ended up growing, as a group and as people.

    Musical theatre is not always easy. The pressure to be a triple threat is high. When we were doubting ourselves, Melissa would listen and help us to see the positive and move past it.

    On the night of the performance our nerves were blank. During the final rehearsal, everyone was anxious and worried about different pieces and organizational things. The decorations kept falling of the walls and some of the choreography looked funky. Funnily enough, I was never worried if we were going to be able to pull it off. I just knew I was surrounded by so much talent and creativity that whatever happened, we would be fine. 

    And that was the case. Despite some doubts and worries, we went on stage and performed the hell out of it. As they say: “The show must go on.”

    The audience was blown away. They loved every single one of us. I could tell. The choreography was suddenly remembered by everyone, and the harmonies of all the group pieces were completely pitch-free. We all loved every second of it. We gave our heart and received so much love by the audience. All the hard work paid off. It was an awesome result after one semester of a lot of rehearsing. 

    Thank you to everyone who made this performance so amazing. And a special shoutout to Melissa, who has been our sunshine throughout the whole time.

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    November 12, 2018 • Community Highlights, Student & Alumni Spotlights, Student Life • Views: 527

  • Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Alum Mira Hamour

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    The award-winning documentary short Syria’s Tent Cities first found life as an MFA graduation project for New York Film Academy MFA Documentary alum Mira Hamour. It quickly took a life on its own, and thanks to the passion and incredibly demanding—both physically and emotionally—work put in by Hamour, the film has gone on to win eleven awards (and counting)  since its completion in July 2018.

    These honors include:Mira Hamour

    -London Independent Film Awards (Best Documentary Short)
    -South Film And Arts Academy Festival (Best Documentary Short Film)
    -Best Shorts Competition (Award of Merit)
    -Cinema World Fest Awards (Best in Show, Best Documentary Short)
    -International Independent Film Awards (Platinum Award)
    -Los Angeles Film Awards (Best Documentary Short)
    -Independent Shorts Awards (Gold Award for Best Documentary Short)
    -Top Shorts (Best Documentary Award)
    -Docs Without Borders Film Festival (WINNER: Revolution and Reform- Exceptional Merit)
    -Global Shorts (WINNER: Special Mention)

    Additionally, Syria’s Tent Cities has been selected to screen at the Studio City International Film Festival in Los Angeles, an official selection at Short to the Point festival, selected at the Short Long World Festival, been selected as a Semi-Finalist at the Directors Cut Int’l Film Festival, and chosen in the Top Shorts Semi-Finalist Top 40 films. Hamour will be attending the screening on November 14.

     

    The documentary short isn’t just a film—it’s a call to action by Hamour, telling vitally important stories from one of this century’s greatest humanitarian crises and educating its viewers on how they can help in their own small way. Not just a powerful work of filmmaking, Syria’s Tent Cities is an extrapolation of Mira Hamour herself—a passionate plea for empathy and understanding from an artist whose heart matches her mastery of the documentary craft. 

    Amid a festival circuit for Syria’s Tent Cities as well as pre-production and production of several other projects, Hamour found time to chat with New York Film Academy about her film, what drives her work, and her time at NYFA:

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

    Mira Hamour (MH): I identify as Syrian-Canadian. Growing up, I’ve lived in the Middle East and Canada and most recently spent three years in the United States (New York, Los Angeles, and New Jersey).

    When I was in high school, I love watching documentaries. I loved hearing real stories, about real people and learning about all of these world problems that not many people really seemed to know about. I felt like a lot of the social issues that interested me stemmed from the misinterpretation and incorrect practice of religions, and I explored lots of world religions throughout my bachelor’s degree to see if I could find the root cause of these problems and misinterpretations. I wanted to prove that when interpreted and practiced correctly, every major belief system preached love, acceptance, and unity at its core. I focused on taboo and challenging issues and throughout my Undergraduate schooling; I extensively researched a variety of controversial topics, including feminism and homosexuality in Islam, Jewish masculinities and gender identity and, exploring ISIS and radicalization’s global impact.

    Realizing the incredible power of film to bring people together, inform audiences, and encourage them to make a change for the better, I knew that I wanted to study Documentary Filmmaking to learn how to effectively shed light on social issues and present my audiences with viable solutions for positive social change. 

    In July of 2014, I enrolled in a 4-week filmmaking summer course at NYFA while still working on my undergrad, to sort of test the waters and see if this was really for me. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did I get to meet incredible people who are still very close friends to this day, it kickstarted my career in filmmaking and confirmed my love for it. As soon as I was done with my undergraduate degree, I enrolled full time at NYFA for my MFA in Documentary Filmmaking.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about your film Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: My debut film, Syria’s Tent Cities, was shot in Jordan, Lebanon, and Canada. It started out as an MFA graduation project, but I worked on it long after graduation and have now developed it into the 30-minute award-winning documentary short that it is today.

    Identifying as both Syrian and Canadian, watching the refugee crisis continually worsen has been especially difficult for me. I felt helpless, and knew that many others also wanted to help but didn’t know where to start. Almost eight years into the crisis, I noticed that the Syrian refugees were now being viewed as one, singular mass statistic. I spent many summers in Syria growing up and have amazing memories there; I wanted to remind the world that these refugees are individuals: they’re parents, they’re children, they’re teachers, they’re families, they’re friends. In many ways, they’re not very different from us, they’ve just been forced into a very unfortunate situation and had their world turned upside down.

    My film is unique in that it explores the Syrian Refugee Crisis from both a local and global perspective by examining the lives of Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern refugee camps while also answering the question of what happens next, once they’re resettled in North America. While planning the film and working on months of pre-production from Los Angeles, one prominent issue kept coming up: there are hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian children around the world growing up without any access to education. In the long run, this could have very dire consequences and prevent them from becoming self-sufficient, contributing members of their society. The lack of education takes away from what’s left of their childhood and doesn’t give them a sense of importance or purpose. I knew that I not only had to focus on education while making the film, but also present the audience with feasible solutions to help fix this problem. 

    Throughout the film, the refugees work to improve their situation through the efforts of the two individuals I chose to tell this story through: Nowell Sukkar, founder of Nowell’s Mission working in Jordan and Lebanon, and Mazen El-Baba, founder of H.appi Camp working from Ontario, Canada. Both of them have dedicated their lives to making education and inclusiveness a right for all Syrian children. 

    I also worked with Human Rights Watch in Jordan and Lebanon to better explain the situation to the audience; instead of blaming the refugees’ parents automatically, the HRW researchers break down the many reasons why all these barriers exist and how we can combat them.

    Mira Hamour - Syria's Tent CitiesNYFA: What inspired you to make Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: The Syria we see on the news today is painfully different from the one I knew growing up; it’s hard to come to terms with just how bad things have gotten in a relatively short amount of time. As with many other global crises, after a while people begin to grow tired of it because, even if they want to help, they don’t know how to. It seems too complicated, too difficult, and they feel helpless. And that’s why I wanted my film to focus on the specific issue of education and how the lack of it is killing refugees’ childhood, their ability to dream, aspire, and achieve.

    During a visit to my home city of Toronto in August of 2016, I spoke with newly resettled Syrians who noticed a world of difference in their children who had just attended the first ever H.appi camp, a free summer camp experience exclusively for newcomer refugee children. H.appi aimed to help these children integrate into Canadian society, improve their linguistic skills and aid them in overcoming the trauma that they had experienced before arriving to Canada. When I actually made the film a year later, I realized that whether they’re living illegally in neighbouring countries or permanently resettled in Canada, many of the refugees were united in one thing: their goal to achieve a better life through a good education and the mental health resources many of them needed to overcome the trauma of war.

    NYFA: What was your experience filming Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: Personally, working on Syria’s Tent Cities was especially challenging. For starters, I had under two months to travel to two continents, three countries, and four cities to shoot all of my footage. One of the things about being a low-budget student and having to operate as what was often a one- or two-person crew is that you learn to wear many, many hats on the job. As with most of my other projects, I was in charge of directing, producing, shooting, recording sound, and editing Syria’s Tent Cities. 

    As someone who’s doing the job of five people on location at refugee camps in the Middle East, I needed to be able to handle my emotions, even when faced with a seven-year-old girl whose leg has been amputated during the war staring longingly from her wheelchair as her twin sister and other siblings run around their one-bedroom apartment. Even when a two-year-old little boy being raised by a single father is so deprived of the love of a mother he lost while the family were fleeing the country that he curls up in your lap while you’re shooting an interview with his father and clings to you, refusing to let go when you have to leave later. Mira Hamour - Syria's Tent Cities

    I had to keep my composure on location; if I was an emotional wreck, the film wouldn’t get made and no one would hear their story. There were many, many tears when I got home. But I’d have to get up the next day and do it all again, pretending that my heart wasn’t breaking every time I met another child who just didn’t understand why they had to lose family members and run from what was once a safe and happy home. What kept me going was that I knew I was helping, I was telling their stories and encouraging the world to change their lives. In making this film, I truly feel like I grew so much as a person and a filmmaker.

    NYFA: What are your plans for Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: My main goal was that I didn’t want my audience to leave the theatre feeling sad and helpless. I wanted to give them tools and solutions to make a difference. In the film we see Nowell and Mazen; they’re not millionaires, they’re not people who have absolutely nothing else going on in their personal lives. Mazen is a full-time medical student and Nowell is a mother of two who has to tend to her own family’s wellbeing. 

    Yet they still make the time to help, they’re dedicated. And although I don’t expect every person who watches the film to start a non-profit like theirs, they show us the small ways in which we can all help truly make a difference in these children’s lives. Simple things and contributions that actually end up having a noticeable and positive impact in the long run. 

    It was incredibly inspiring to work with them and I really hope that, when they watch the film, the audience is inspired in the same way I was. I set up a page on my website where people who watch the film can learn more about Mazen’s and Nowell’s work and make a simple contribution that will truly end up making a world of difference. 

    Additionally, after working with Human Rights Watch through making this film and seeing all of the incredibly valuable research they do on the ground, I partnered with them and created a page specifically dedicated to this cause! All donations that come through the page from the link on my website will be designated to Human Rights Watch’s Refugees Division, specifically for their work on Syrian Refugees.

    I’m especially proud of Syria’s Tent Cities. As someone who identifies as both Syrian and Canadian, this story really hit close to home. It’s something I wanted to do for so long that every (increasingly difficult) challenge that I was faced with while making this film was a blessing I was grateful for, because it meant that I was finally actually making the film and telling the story of Syrian refugees. Mira Hamour - Syria's Tent Cities

    As proud as I am of how well the film’s been doing and as honoured as I am to be able to tell this incredible story, the awards are especially meaningful because they confirm that people recognize the importance of the film’s message and that they’re moved to give it an audience and help. This is just the start, but I know that I’ve succeeded in beginning to raise more awareness, which is what I set out to do when I first made the film.

    I plan to continue showing the film to as many audiences as I possibly can; this is a crucial problem and small contributions can make a very large difference in the life of a refugee child.

    NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

    MH: While working in the field of Documentary Filmmaking, I’ve created films that focused on issues that I felt needed to be heard and further explored. I wanted my films to not only educate the audience on the issue at hand, but to also show them clear ways in which they can help and make a difference or learn about an issue that was once foreign to them and become more accepting, compassionate individuals.

    One of the films I’m working on now, PCOS, is about the often neglected and discredited Poly Cystic Ovarian Disorder in women and how the many side effects it causes impact those affected by it, including facial hair in women. Some of the women in the film resort to elective weight loss surgery to reverse the symptoms of their PCOS, while others accept and try to change society’s harsh criticism of them. I actually have the condition myself and am one of the characters in the film (truly challenging as a simultaneous director!)

     

    I’m also about to release a short documentary film about two Syrian senior citizens who relocated to stay with their family abroad. And while they’re technically safe and living in a comfortable home, their whole lives have been uprooted extremely unexpectedly. At their age after retirement, they expected to live out the rest of their days in familiar Syria, and so they now spend much of their time reminiscing and missing those they lost to the war and during the move. Living in a state of constant uncertainty, major change, and having to adapt to a completely foreign country at their advanced age has made them question whether leaving Syria was worth it, and so the film is named Safe or Sorry.

    Apart from my own projects, I also currently freelance, primarily in Documentary Filmmaking. Most of my jobs are in pre-production and/or production. I love researching a great topic extensively, reaching out to people, booking and conducting interviews, being on location shooting vérité and seeing my subject’s world through the camera’s lens. 

    When people let you into their lives in that way, it’s a really great, fulfilling feeling — there’s a certain mutual trust and understanding there. The amazing people that documentary filmmaking brings into your life and the relationships you develop with the people you film are truly incredible and constantly remind me of why I got into this field and how fortunate I am to call this my job. For instance, making Syria’s Tent Cities was such a humbling and eye-opening experience; I saw firsthand the difference that dedication and love, even coming from a single individual, can make in the lives of those facing a global crisis.

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Syria’s Tent Cities, or your work in general?

    MH: The biggest thing I learned is that loving something doesn’t make it easy — it just makes it worth fighting for and working towards. When I first started this journey, I had absolutely no idea how hard making documentaries would be! But because I love it, it has definitely been worth every challenge I’ve faced.

    As an emerging artist, you’re definitely going to have times where you doubt yourself and your abilities, sometimes even whether you were meant to be in this field at all. You’re going to have friends in ‘safe’ jobs, with a steady paycheque and very little risk involved. And sometimes it’s going to scare you. Being a documentary filmmaker is hard, it’s challenging, there’s a lot of discipline, work, and time management that goes into it. You have to be able to believe wholeheartedly in yourself and your project and the message that you’re trying to put out there. 

    I’ve been so fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents, family, friends, and teachers in my life who have definitely played a big role in getting me to this point today. But to make it in this field, you have to truly believe in your work and keep pushing to make the story you’re working on heard; working past every festival rejection you receive, every professional failure that comes up along the way, every person who discredits you and doesn’t believe in you, and every one of the many challenges you’re going to face. 

    I want to specifically thank Sanora Bartels, who was actually the Consulting Producer on Syria’s Tent Cities for being an amazing mentor, friend, support system, and just an overall wonderful human being. She’s gone above and beyond her role as Chair of the Documentary MFA Program to make sure that her students succeed and reach their full potential. Most importantly, she believed in us and our abilities even when we didn’t believe in ourselves. Having teachers like that when you’re only just starting out in the field is truly invaluable. Sanora is just one of the many incredible teachers I’ve been lucky to work with at NYFA.

    NYFA: What lies ahead for you now?

    MH: In addition to filmmaking, I’m very passionate about travel and hope to be able to see the world through my work. I’ve been to 25 countries so far and it never ceases to amaze me how many similarities we all have on a basic human level, regardless of differing social and cultural norms. I will continue to travel and make films while I learn more about the world; Syria’s Tent Cities is just the beginning, I have so many other projects planned and some are already in pre- and post-production!

    The New York Film Academy thanks Mira Hamour for the time she took to speak with us, and congratulates her on the well-deserved success of her documentary short Syria’s Tent Cities.

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  • Ayelet Zurer Speaks With Tova Laiter at New York Film Academy

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    On October 30, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a Q&A with actress Ayelet Zurer following a screening of a third season episode from Netflix’s acclaimed series Daredevil. The Q&A was moderated by Tova Laiter, NYFA Director of the Q&A Series.Ayelet Zurer

    Zurer is an award-winning Israeli actress whose career began in Israeli television and crossed over to mainstream American movies and TV, most notably Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005); Vantage Point with Dennis Quaid (2008); Ron Howard’s Angels and Demons, with Tom Hanks (2009); Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013); Rodrigo Garcia’s Last Days in the Desert, alongside Ewan McGregor; Timur Bekmambetov’s adaptation of Ben Hur, and many more.

    Laiter opened up the Q&A by asking about Zurer’s early career; Zurer shared that she was artistic as a young girl and did not “fall in love with acting as a profession” until she studied acting in her hometown,Tel Aviv. She then relocated to New York City to study further and acted in numerous theatrical productions before being offered a large role on a television series in Israel, moving back home where she would work in the Israeli entertainment industry to great success and winning many awards.

    Ayelet ZurerWhile Zurer was working on a television show, In Treatment, that would later be adapted for HBO, she got a mysterious call to audition from an English casting agent who caught one of her random films. Zurer was apprehensive but then she was informed this audition was for Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Zurer landed the role and this launched her career as an actress in American media. “Say yes to things!” Zurer advised the students in the audience.

    A couple years later, Zurer has the opportunity to act in the film, Angels and Demons; she was anxious about the magnitude of the film but when she sat down with Tom Hanks to run lines, “I don’t know what happened; it was really magical; I was not nervous…” 

    Laiter inquired about the lessons Zurer learned from working with Hanks. Zurer replied, “The tone is set on a film by its leader. Tom was relaxed, intelligent, and generous. When he had an idea, he didn’t pester the director with it but suggested it in the right time… you have to have patience… he really set the tone.”

    Laiter asked Zurer about the lessons she has learned as an actress. “One of the things I’ve learned is to be very present because… that’s the most important thing for an actor and for a person in life, period.” Between “action” and “cut,” “…in that moment I [am] able to eliminate everything out there; the sound of fear, the self-doubt…” continued Zurer, while illustrating to the students a technique she uses just before she goes on stage or set.Ayelet Zurer

    To a student’s question of how she prepares for a role, Zurer talked about first learning the lines until they are embedded, doing research, and focusing on the storytelling; she asks herself: “What’s the beginning? Where [am I] coming [from]? What do I wanna say? What [does the] story [want] to say? What’s my job in that story? What is my role; what kind of a device am I?”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ayelet Zurer for sharing her entertainment industry wisdom and acting expertise with our students!

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    November 2, 2018 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 357

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Teaches Science and the Movies

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    This semester, the Liberal Arts and Sciences department of the New York Film Academy (NYFA) has opened three new Science elective courses for our BFA students: Principles of the Physical Sciences, General Biology, and (everyone’s favorite) Science and the Movies.

    These new courses add to existing science electives Anatomy and Physiology, Geology, and Geography. Furthermore, this semester NYFA is introducing more amazing tools and resources to aid in the student’s learning process, including microscopes and other lab materials.NYFA Liberal Arts & Sciences

    This new additional hands-on-equipment stays true to NYFA’s “learn by doing” pedagogical approach that is applied to its degree and conservatory programs, including filmmaking, acting for film, cinematography, screenwriting, documentary, photography, animation, and musical theatre.

    For BFA students at the New York Film Academy, the liberal arts and sciences is an invaluable part of their curriculum, crucial to the the development of a creative artist. The department, chaired by NYFA’s Dean of General Education, Dr. Mary Samuelson, offers a broad array of classes in the Arts & Humanities, Social & Behavioral Sciences, Natural Sciences, and History of Art, Theatre & Media.

    In science instructor Camille Boag’s General Biology class, students recently explored common backyard critters under the microscope, squealing at the intricate hairs on a spider’s leg and marveling at the delicate pattern of a butterfly’s wing. These students will never look at a flower the same way again after dissecting them in class, identifying their reproductive organs and reflecting on exactly why these small creatures look they way they do.

    Science instructor Fred Siegel had his students explore the laws of physics in his Physical Sciences course, investigating the principles of reflection and refraction, the relationships between lens shape, focal length and aperture, and measuring the variables which influence the motion of a pendulum. Students clearly had a blast, and were in agreement that learning via hands-on laboratory exercises is an invaluable experience.

    What better way to learn Science?!

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    October 24, 2018 • Liberal Arts and Sciences • Views: 106

  • “Acts of Desperation” Provides New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alumni Credit & Experience Opportunity

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    Acts of DesperationThe Industry Lab of New York Film Academy-Los Angeles (NYFA-LA) has announced the completion of the feature film, Acts of Desperation, starring veteran actors Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas, The Rocketeer) and Jason Gedrick (Backdraft, Dexter.) 

    The quirky thriller was sponsored by the Academy, but involved members of NYFA community as well. Faculty members Richard Friedman (director), Leslie Bates (producer), Neil Casey (director of photography), and Toi Juan Shannon (editor) were the forces behind the film, which afforded opportunities to NYFA alumni.

    Acts of Desperation starts with a woman on a bridge, desperate and considering jumping. But the real action begins when we meet Alan Grillo, a cop on the edge, obsessed over the fact that his wife is having an affair. At the same time, he is tracking a shrewd bank robber who is falling in love with the desperate and obsessed woman whose life he saved on the bridge. As if that’s not enough, the bank robber is also being blackmailed by two unhinged street criminals who will stop at nothing to get their money. Time is running out for all of them as their worlds collide in this unpredictable and compelling thriller centering on six individuals and their treacherous “acts of desperation.”Acts of Desperation

    Shot exclusively in Los Angeles, Acts of Desperation is the first feature credit for over 20 NYFA Filmmaking alumni through Industry Lab, a program designed to facilitate such opportunities. The production companies Scars of the Mind Picture Company and UnicVisions plan to produce many more films through the NYFA Industry Lab, offering even more occasions for our alumni to receive both experience and feature credits to add to their resumes. 

    A special screening will be announced later this month.

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    October 19, 2018 • Filmmaking, Industry Lab • Views: 125

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Hosts Fulbright Foreign Student Welcome Dinner

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    The tradition of hosting a welcome dinner for the incoming cohort of New York Film Academy Foreign Fulbright Grantees continued at the New York Film Academy College of Visual & Performing Arts in Los Angeles (NYFA-LA) last week.

    Fulbright Grantees with Dan Mackler, NYFA’s LA Campus Director, Amy Ellenberger, Miguel Cruz, NYFA´s Director of Fulbright Initiatives and Marcus Louis Fien

    Fulbright Grantees with Dan Mackler, NYFA’s LA Campus Director, Amy Ellenberger, Miguel Cruz, NYFA´s Director of Fulbright Initiatives and Marcus Louis Fien

    NYFA-LA Campus Director Dan Mackler, and NYFA Director of Fulbright Initiatives Miguel Cruz hosted the six Fulbright students who are on campus for the 2018/2019 Academic Year.  They include four grantees in the MFA Filmmaking Program, one grantee in MFA Documentary Filmmaking, and one grantee in the 1-Year Acting for Film Program. Represented countries are Spain (3), Paraguay, Peru, and Bahrain. NYFA is pleased to recognize a Fulbright finalist from Estonia as part of the group as well. 

    In recent years, NYFA has welcomed nearly 60 Fulbrighters to our campuses in Los Angeles and New York City. NYFA Fulbrighters have hailed from more than 30 countries. 

    Dr. José Siles, President of the Fulbright Alumni Association of Los Angeles, joined the celebration, as did Amy Ellenberger, NYFA Director of Recruitment, and NYFA Admissions Specialist Marcus Fien. Dr. Siles invited the Fulbrighters for a tour of NASA Space facilities where he is engaged in research.

    Fulbright grantee Maya Riquelme, with Amy Ellenberger, NYFA Director of Recruitment

    Fulbright grantee Maya Riquelme, with Amy Ellenberger, NYFA Director of Recruitment

    NYFA-LA Campus Director Dan Mackler enthusiastically stated, “For me, meeting the extraordinarily talented Fulbright students that come to study at NYFA-LA is one of the highlights of the start of every academic year.”

    Mackler continued, “In these global creators of visual and performing storytelling, I am provided hope for a future that will be both exciting and impactful. They connect us with a greater humanity.”

    The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government through the U.S. Department of State.  The Program operates in more than 140 countries and offers opportunities for students and young professionals, as well as for post-doctoral teachers and researchers to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching.  

    The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,900 are to U.S. students, 4,000 to foreign students, 1,200 to U.S. scholars, and 900 to visiting scholars. In addition, several hundred teachers and professionals receive awards.

    NYFA is proud to be the school of choice for so many inspired and creative minds and to participate in numerous Fulbright initiatives, including producing two TEDxFULBRIGHT events and conducting documentary filmmaking workshops at the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program Conferences. 

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  • Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Sabrina Percario

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    Sabrina Percario has been very busy since graduating from New York Film Academy’s MFA program in Acting for Film. She has worked in multiple positions in film productions and has produced and acted in numerous multi-award-winning films, with several more on the horizon.

    Sabrina Percario

    Sabrina Percario

    Her journey to becoming a prolific and decorated actress and producer had an unconventional start. Born in Brazil, Percario originally worked for nearly a decade in medicine before gradually becoming immersed more and more in the world of drama. Her deep passion for the art and craft of filmmaking matches both her talent and her incredible work ethic.

    The New York Film Academy recently spoke with Sabrina Percario about the many hats she wears in the film industry, as well as what keeps her motivated and moving forward:

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

    Sabrina Percario (SP): I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and I have dual Brazilian and Italian citizenship. In college, I majored in biomedicine and for almost 10 years I worked in the field of Chinese traditional medicine. 

    I used to lead a lot of workshops in this field in front of large audiences of around 200 people — yet I was very shy. I decided I needed to do something to improve my effectiveness as a speaker. So in 2009 I went to an acting school called the Celia Helena Acting School. I immediately fell in love with acting. Acting is very fulfilling to me because I was always fascinated with human behavior. When you study a character, you put yourself in the place of that person. When you step into another person’s shoes, you suddenly understand why someone would act in a particular way. You stop judging people and, in the process, you learn more about yourself.

    I.C.E. CREAM at LAIFFA wins Best Producer - Sabrina Percario

    I.C.E. CREAM at LAIFFA wins Best Producer

    From 2011 until 2014 I worked as a drama teacher for children ranging in age from six to sixteen. Working with kids was one of my most satisfying life experiences. I learned to be more flexible and open to changes, more willing to let others lead the narrative, and more honest with myself about my feelings. During that period in my life I worked two jobs: I was an acupuncturist as well as a drama teacher.

    In November of 2013, I decided to enroll in NYFA so I could study my craft and improve my knowledge about acting for film.

    From 2014 to 2016 I worked on NYFA’s MFA program in Acting for Film. My thesis film Julia won several awards, including Best Leading Actress at the United International Film Festival (UIFF). Julia is a tribute to my mother, who died four years ago. I used the film to talk about grief and express my gratitude to my mom. She taught me to pursue my dreams — and that’s exactly what I am doing.

    NYFA: Your IMDB page is filled with all sorts of roles — actress, producer, writer, composer, to name just a few — do you feel it is important to learn as many trades in the film industry as possible?

    SP: Yes, it is very important. Everyone should learn as much as they can about the business, especially in the beginning of your career, so you have a holistic view of how a film is made. 

    It was important for me to wear many different hats on set. Having done these jobs, I have so much respect for all the departments. I know how physical and challenging the grips and electrical (G&E) department can be, and how essential they are in contributing to the director of photography’s view. 

    As an actress, I’m much more consistent and self-aware about continuity. That happened only after I was a script supervisor and had to take note of how full the wine glass was or its exact position on the table for every take. I learned similar things as a production designer and when I worked in the wardrobe department. All of this knowledge is tremendously helpful to my performance when I’m in front of the camera.

    For a year I explored all the different jobs on film sets and I realized I had to choose which department I liked the most and wanted to work with. I decided to be an actress and producer.

    As a producer I’m able to produce my own projects and cast myself in them. This gives me a certain amount of control over my career as an actress. I can also create my own voice with stories I think will inspire people. Being a producer has enabled me to meet a lot of people in different departments in the industry. The breadth of my extended network has helped me enormously as a producer when I’m casting my crew.

    As an actress, I want to be in a feature film. To that end I’m writing a feature film (In Search Of) inspired by my life. I want to say to all my international friends that it doesn’t matter where you are located as long as you keep doing what you love. I’m writing in collaboration with other screenwriters, both here in Los Angeles and internationally.

    Sabrina Percario in "Tell"

    Sabrina Percario in “Tell”

    I recommend trying out different departments if you still don’t know what you want to be. Become familiar with the universe behind the camera and then choose a route. Once you decide where you fit in, people will begin to associate your name with that specific department.

    NYFA: Is there something you haven’t done on a film yet that you’d like to try?

    SP: I would love to direct a film one day, but right now I want to have more experience producing one.

    NYFA: You’ve won a litany of awards for your work already. Your projects Tell, I.C.E. CREAM and Breaking are the latest to gain recognition. Can you talk a little about these projects and your roles in them?

    SP: My recent projects that I produced are still in the film festival circuit. My latest films are Breaking and I.C.E. CREAM. Breaking is a fable — it’s the inspiring story of a porcelain doll who overcomes her fears and breaks out of her snow globe. Our purpose was to bring awareness about those who have suffered from sexual harassment. So far, we have won three festivals, two finalists, seven semi-finalists, and seven official selections.

    I.C.E. CREAM is another project I had the honor of producing. This film portrays the life of an immigrant family in this new Trump era. Our purpose was to bring awareness about the collateral lives affected by the immigration policies in place. So far, we have won nine awards. 

    My overall purpose in my films is to touch people’s hearts, inspire them, and spread a good, positive message through the characters I play and the films I produce.

    Tell is a film in which I played the lead actress. Its logline reads: Expecting a visit from his ex, a once-famous alcoholic writer decides to play a game of shoot the apple, until the truth of tragedy unveils the outcome of his intentions. For that film I won three awards as best leading actress.

    "Breaking" produced by Sabrina Percario. Actress/ writer/Executive Producer: Alessandra Hajaj - Sabrina Percario

    “Breaking” produced by Sabrina Percario. Actress/ writer/Executive Producer: Alessandra Hajaj

    NYFA: Which of your many projects was the easiest for you to work on and why? Which was the most difficult?

    SP: Breaking was an easy project to produce because it was shot entirely in one location and the crew and cast had an amazing professionalism and respect for each other. Everything went smoothly. Julia was very challenging for me because I was doing the film as a tribute to my Mom, who died four years ago. When I made the film I was still grieving, and it was very hard for me at that time to accept the loss. I was playing myself in the film, so I channeled all my pain and feelings through the character. It was therapeutic to write, produce, and act in that film, and it helped me to accept loss. It gave me the opportunity to express my love in a poetic way.

    NYFA: What other projects are you working on?

    SP: I’m currently working on Mojave Shadows, in which I play the lead. Its logline reads: A woman named Susan hikes in the middle of the Mojave Desert while coming to terms with guilt about the death of her son. One night she is attacked by a rattlesnake, and in the harrowing process, finds herself. 

    I’m also producing another project called El Fred. Its logline reads: A not-so-imaginary childhood friend returns as an unusual vigilante to protect a struggling single mother and her bullied son. And in December I’ll produce my first documentary, about self-healing and self-knowledge.

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that has applied directly to your career?

    SP: I’m very grateful to NYFA. Thanks to a very hands-on program, I was able to learn how a film works from script to final editing. I also learned that producing a film is a group effort, and each department is essential in creating a coherent film. There are no small roles. I learned that it’s very important to respect your co-workers.

    NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

    SP: Be professional. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a class assignment or a student project, you will graduate with your friends and they will be in the film industry with you. Instead of just making a connection, work on building relationships. Be responsible and reliable. Most importantly, ask yourself every day why you’re doing what you are doing. Remember what it’s all about: this is your passion. It’s important to have a goal, a purpose. Pursue your dreams. Don’t let anyone say no to you. Believe in yourself and trust your instinct.

    I just want to say that I’m very grateful for NYFA. In less than a year I was already working in the film industry. That would not have been possible without the kindness and expertise of the wonderful and talented people at NYFA.

    The New York Film Academy thanks Sabrina Percario for her generous time and looks forward to following her continuing success! 

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    October 16, 2018 • #WomenOfNYFA, Acting, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1695