The Los Angeles Campus of the New York Film Academy welcomed back actress Candy Clark following a screening of the classic film American Graffiti. Previously, Clark had joined us for a Q&A following the classic David Bowie Film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Prolific Film Critic Peter Rainer moderated the event.
Candy Clark has worked in the film industry for nearly four and a half decades, with roles in classic films including George Lucas’ American Graffiti, The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Fincher’s Zodiac, Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Clark has also worked on TV series including Magnum P.I.,Criminal Minds, anda few episodes of the 2017 version of Twin Peaks.
Peter Rainer has been in the industry for over 30 years, and currently writes for NPR, The Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. He’s also the author of Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era.
George Lucas’ American Graffiti is a coming-of-age comedy based heavily on Lucas’ own teenage years in Modesto, CA. It was a huge success, and is one of the films that led to the start of the “summer blockbuster.” The film’s success also gave Lucas the funding for a film he’d wanted to do for a long time — a space opera that eventually became Star Wars.
Rainer and Clark opened the discussion by talking about the doubts studio executives had about American Graffiti, specifically: “they hated the title … nobody knows what graffiti means.”
Producer Francis Ford Coppola asked everyone on set — actors included — to come up with a new title. Coppola’s suggestion was “Rock Around the Block,” but Clark said they held firm. “American Graffiti has a good rhythm … it just sounds great.”
One audience member asked if Clark always knew the film would be a success. With a big smile on her face, Clark said that she always thought it would be a hit. Earlier in the Q&A, Clark even talked about how she had a first audition before she’d seen the script, and after reading it, she insisted her agent get her another audition so she could do the writing justice. She really identified with the characters, as she had spent her youth cruising between drive-ins in Fort Worth, Texas.
Clark talked about her experiences on set, including the fact that “there would not be many takes at all, they had to move on.” Regardless, Clark said she always had confidence in her portrayal of Debbie, who she felt was an easygoing and kind character.
Clark also reminisced fondly about her castmates and told stories from their time together, including one about Richard Dreyfuss: He was late meeting her for dinner because Harrison Ford and Paul Le Mat threw him in the hotel swimming pool.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Candy Clark for coming back and speaking to our students about this classic film, and Peter Rainer for his insightful moderation.
On Monday, April 2, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) was honored to host Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Culture (GCA) at our Los Angeles campus as a part of the Authority’s “Saudi Cultural Days.”
Traditional Arabic coffee and caramelized sesame-covered dates were served, as Saudi students mixed and mingled before a screening of student work in the New York Film Academy’s theatre, followed by a Q&A.
“Today is about embracing our culture, and inspiring kids from all over Saudi,” Rakan Anneghaimshi said with enthusiasm. He and Maan Bin Abdulrahman hosted the Q&A with legendary Hollywood producer Ted Field, best known for both Jumanji movies, The Chronicles of Riddick franchise, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and much more.
During the event, NYFA had the honor of hosting distinguished guests including Khaled Al Saqer, Meshal AlSaleh, Abdulaziz AlMutairi, Faisal Al Houli, and Abdulla Alsaboosi. News channels from Saudi Arabia, including Saudi Channel 1 and Rotana, were also in attendance.
From left to right: Aziz AlMutairi, Faisal AlHouli, Khaled AlSaqer, Dan Mackler, and Meshal AlSaleh.
Preceding the Ted Fields Q&A, NYFA screened seven short filmsfor these impressive guests, each directed and/or produced by a Saudi student or alumni. Each filmmaker had the incredible opportunity to show these guests their passion for cinema, and display skills they had gained by dedicating themselves to the craft of storytelling at NYFA.
Following the screening of the short films by NYFA students, Guest Speaker Ted Field said of the work, “I was truly touched … The editing was masterful; the pacing was perfect … whatever mentoring was involved was first class.” Field said he could tell the instructors have a considerable amount of passion for what they do. Convinced that the students’ work could be accepted into Sundance and Cannes film festivals, he also encouraged the students to submit their films to the Academy Awards.
New York Film Academy Dean of Enrollment Services Tami Alexander said of the event, “The Academy is very proud of our Saudi students and alumni, and we are honored to be able to host the GCA at NYFA Los Angeles. What a wonderful way to celebrate Saudi Culture, our students and the important work the GCA is doing. We look forward to future collaborations.”
The mission of the GCA involves creating change, delivering to the world something unique from Saudi Arabia, and increasing cultural acceptance through art such as film, music, and theatre. After a 35-year ban on theatres in Saudi Arabia, as of December 2017, The Kingdom is embracing the cinematic arts by opening theaters across the country. According to the GCA’s VP of Foreign Affairs, it is a massive step forward for Saudis, who can now contribute more directly to this global and unified language.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Saudi’s General Authority for Culture, our honored guests, and all those involved in the creation of this event for their contribution to this important mission.
Did you know that April is World Autism Month? This week kicked off with World Autism Day, an event where, as Autism Speaks explained, “hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world, light blue in recognition of people living with autism.”
With the world coming together in blue light for World Autism Day, New York Film Academy BFA Filmmaking grad Shivalik Shankar went a step further to promote awareness and advocacy for autism yesterday, with his film Let Me Be.
Shankar directed and co-wrote the short film, which follows an autistic teenager who asserts his independence and expresses his needs by escaping from a day care program to visit the beach. It’s a touching story that depicts many perspectives, including the struggles of the teenager’s parents to manage his care as well as the teen’s struggle for autonomy and acceptance
The themes of acceptance and awareness run deep in Shivalik Shankar’s filmography, with numerous mental health and disability topics depicted in his work.
The rising filmmaker told Chandigarh’s Daily Pioneer, “I like a strong storyline, a message to spread across, and autism is one issue which needs to be understood better and across all societies.”
Bravo! It’s always inspiring to see our alums putting their storytelling skills to work for a purpose. If you’d like to become involved in World Autism Month, visit Autism Speaks.
New York Film Academy Chair of Cinematography Tony Richmond recently hosted a special screening of his film Men of Honor for New York Film Academy students at the Los Angeles campus. Rather than a formal Q&A following the film, Richmond encouraged his students to join him in an intimate conversation.
Richmond is well known for his cinematography on beloved classics including The Sandlot, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don’t Look Now, Legally Blond, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, yet Men of Honor has a special place in his heart because both of his sons worked on the crew with him.
Based on a true story, Men of Honor follows Navy diver Carl Brasher, the first Black man to become a U.S. Navy Master Diving Instructor. Extraordinarily, Brasher was able to passe the qualification test to become a master diving instructor with an amputated left leg. It’s an inspiring film that earned numerous award nominations.
About the film’s star, Cuba Gooding Jr., Richmond said, “He’s a wonderful actor and an even better man.”
Filming underwater presented a lot of fun cinematography challenges for Richmond. Some of the behind-the-scenes stories he shared with NYFA students included the creation of an eight-foot-deep pool to accommodate Richmond’s photography, and rigging Cuba Gooding Jr.’s diving helmet with lights.
Students were curious to hear how Richmond was able film underwater with such clarity. Richmond explained that finding a good lighting balance was the most important element.
“There’s a very fine line when filming underwater,” he said. “There were times during the filming process that I felt there just wasn’t enough silt in the water.”
In order to give the tank a realistic feeling of the ocean, silt, the fine sand found in ocean water, had to be added.
“You have to be careful when adding that stuff,” Richmond warned. “If you put too much silt in the tank it takes four days to filter it out.”
One student asked about the most challenging aspect of making the movie. Richmond didn’t hesitate to answer: the film’s final courtroom scene
The location was on the seventh floor of a beautiful old building, but because of its age Richmond couldn’t set up a lighting rig inside. Instead, everything had to be lit through the windows.
After an enlightening evening, Richmond’s final advice to his Cinematography students was about working with directors:”You have to remember that this is the director’s film. Before you’re called in for an interview, he or she has already been working for months if not years on it.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Tony Richmond for taking the time to host Man of Honor and speak with our students.
To learn more about the Cinematography programs offered at the New York Film Academy, click here.
It’s not easy forging your own path in independent film, but New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking grad Jesse Kove has blazed a trail straight into the hearts of video game and ‘80s film fans with the upcoming adventure flick Max Reload and the Nether Blasters.
The film recently wrapped in Arizona, and Kove took the time out of his busy schedule to tell the NYFA Blog more about his work, his exciting projects, and what’s next. Check out what he has to say:
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?
JK: My journey started as a young boy growing up in the film business around my father, (Martin Kove). I was six months old and on movies sets, and I still remember vividly today all the different film sets I’ve been on around the country, and the world that my father brought me along with — traveling with him or visiting him when he was on location was always my favorite thing. It was like going to Disneyland for me, the make-believe. It was always something different, whether [a film was set] in the future or going back in time to the West, I always loved it.
One of my favorite trips was to India. We had an unforgettable time together. They filmed in Hyderabad, where they literally have a city just for filmmaking. I would travel on my own and walk around and look at all the backdrops and different film sets and feel right at home. I would watch the filmmaking process as well, and ask lots of questions. This was the best education a young filmmaker could get and I was very fortunate to have these opportunities.
Back home I would make my own little movies with action figures and G.I. Joes. That’s how it all started. I would also copy what I saw in classic movies that my father and I would watch together, The Seventh Samurai, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and Casablanca, all the classics! Making movies is in my blood and its been my passion since early childhood.
NYFA: Growing up in a show-business family, was there anything that you learned in your time at NYFA that surprised you?
JK: What I loved so much about NYFA that I didn’t get enough of on film sets was actually learning the basics and history of film cameras, and actually shooting on real film. This was very special, and I was so grateful for NYFA to allow us to do that.
Also just truly understanding how a digital camera works — the inner workings and technical aspects of all cameras. This is so important, these tools create great filmmakers! It is the knowledge and technology of filmmaking, and they’ve got it down!
NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?
JK: There are so many memories of when I was at NYFA. The fondest memories were the relationships and time I had with fellow students — who I am still friends with today. In the industry, relationships are everything!
NYFA: Can you tell us about Max Reload and the Nether Blasters? What drew you to this project?
JK: Max Reload and the Nether Blasters:
A small town video game store clerk must go from zero to hero after accidentally unleashing the forces of evil from a cursed Colecovision game… Max Jenkins’ gaming fantasies collide with reality when a legendary “lost” installment of the Nether Game series appears on the store counter of his workplace, Fallout Games. Unbeknownst to Max, the game bears a “Curse of The Ages”, and in playing it, he has just unlocked the Nether, an ancient malevolent force of evil from the cartridge, upon his small hometown. Along with a mysterious masked man and his two best friends, Liz and Reggie, Max must figure out how to beat the Nether at its own game before its Game Over for humanity.
This is a great project that I’m very excited about. The inception actually started two years before this film was written. Scott Conditt and Jeremy Tremp, the writers, directors, and producers, (CineForge Media) had written a short film called Show No Mercy, starring my father and me.
The idea behind the short was all ‘80s galore and nostalgia: The story follows an arcade store owner (my father) who secretly is John Kreese, his character from The Karate Kid (although never mentioned, that’s a nice Easter egg for everyone), and his young store clerk (me), who both end up getting sucked into an arcade game. They have to fight each other to escape.
It’s an extremely well done short and I highly recommend everyone go and watch it. The film premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada as well as the Phoenix Comic Fest in Arizona. Making that film was such a fun and creative experience, we all wanted to work together again as soon as possible. Thus, Max Reload came to fruition.
I got a call from Scott asking if I’d read his new script. I instantly fell in love with it and knew it had huge potential. They had written a character (Steve) basically based on me, but I won’t say too much because you will have to go watch it!
There are some stellar actors attached to this film, both new and veteran — Greg Grunberg, who is a riot; Hassie Harrison; Lin Shay from the Insidious films; Kevin Smith, who graciously tagged along as he loves indie films, this one caught his eye and we were very lucky to get him; Joseph Reitman; Tom Plumley; Joey Morgan; and of course my father.
The film will be released around September.
NYFA: Were you a big fan of video games growing up? Do you have a favorite?
JK: Absolutely a huge fan of games! Some of my great memories were getting together with my childhood friends and playing games like Halo, 007, NFL Blitz — anything Nintedo 64 was our go-to!
NYFA: Why acting? What inspires you as a performer?
JK: Acting is such an interesting art. It’s a wonderful journey that’s always changing. I love playing characters that inspire myself and others, I love to make the audience laugh, and I love to tell stories.
Jesse Kove in Max Reload and the Nether Blasters
Making movies changes you. You aren’t the same person at the beginning as you are at the end. You’ve learned so much and walked a road that your character has walked in some way, and that connects you forever. It’s living life with these characters: I’ve cried, loved, been through war, kicked ass, been killed and hated, admired, frightened, and have saved lives, plus so much more. It is the hardest but most beautiful, fulfilling work I can ask for and I can’t get enough of it!
NYFA: What was your experience like serving as both a producer and an actor on As Night Comes?
JK: As Night Comes was a great experience. I learned a lot from making this film and I owe a lot to my producing partner, Richard Z., who directed and wrote the script for this film. Without him pushing this film up the mountain, it would not have been made. In saying that, I think it’s so important to surround yourself with others who are willing to climb that mountain with you, no matter the odds. I was willing to do that with him.
We started that movie with literally $200-300 and Subway sandwiches, and finished off by getting a limited theatrical release with our distributor, Gravitas Ventures. We were put on 20 of the 25 major VOD platforms that we have today. That film showed me that anything is possible with enough effort, drive, and belief in what you are doing. Most importantly, you have to have a great script — and we did. That brought a great team behind us.
Lastly, I love being in front of the camera and behind the camera. Either way, you are still shaping a story. Wearing both hats can be challenging, but I urge everyone to try both. It actually makes you a better actor and or a better director to have been on both sides!
NYFA: Any advice for our acting students who are looking to produce their own work?
JK: Persistence and believing. Believe in what you are doing!
Through all my experiences, believing in the project, the story, and the character will always carry you through. Making movies is incredibly difficult, and one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. But it is also the most fun you will ever have, from the idea to a year or two later watching it on a screen after post and etc. It’s a journey, and a spiritual journey as well. You are forever connected to that project, and immortalizing something you’ve created … its forever!
There’s a lot of naysayers in our business, whether it’s about money or what’s popular. Do not take no for an answer. Think outside the box, and get it done!
When As Night Comes was being made, everyone told us we couldn’t do this or we couldn’t do that. It ended up fueling our passion for getting it made. Yes, you can do that, and yes, you can make your movie, and get it released, and have the world enjoy it!
Jesse Kove in Max Reload and the Nether Blasters
Also, this art is a craft. It must be practiced and changed and molded constantly. Keep at it! I still do, and I’m not perfect!
Also be relentless and fearless. I have been on the phone with some of the biggest studios and top agents and or managers in Hollywood because I wasn’t afraid to pick up the phone and call them. You have nothing to lose.
NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
JK: I have several projects coming out this year, one of which is Max Reload and the Nether Blasters.
Bring Me a Dream, which was shot in Atlanta, is a thriller directed by Chase Smith. I play a cop who stumbles upon a mansion in the woods and gets sucked into a supernatural wave of psychological mystery. It’s a fun take on the Sandman, played by Tyler Mane (X-Men, Rob Zombie’s HalloweenI & II), as a supernatural spirit who injects himself into your dreams and brings out your biggest fears. Very fun!
In Bare Knuckle Brawler, directed by Joe Gawalis andfilmed in New Jersey, I play a detective who goes undercover as a streetfighter to infiltrate an underground organization in which fighters are turning up dead.
Next I co-star with my father in a TV pilot called Bloodlands, whichfollows Arizona detectives who may or may not be on both sides of the law, dealing with drug and human trafficking.
Also, check out On Wings of Eagles, a World War II drama that I shot in China, starring Joseph Fiennes. It’s the unofficial sequel to Chariots of Fire and now you can watch on Amazon.
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) celebrated the third year of its partnership with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), with a special event offering scouts the chance to earn merit badges in the visual and performing arts.
Through NYFA, boys and girls from local scouting dens were given the opportunity for special merit badges in Game Design, Filmmaking, Photography, or 3D Animation, through one day of hands-on intensive training at the New York Film Academy. In the morning, scouts attended classes with NYFA instructors, where they learned the basic rules of their selected craft and began to formulate the stories they wanted to tell. By the end of the day, each scout had completed a project and earned a new badge.
The partnership between BSA and NYFA began with NYFA Service Learning Manager Paul McKenna. A native of Burbank, CA, McKenna got the idea for the partnership after reading about a similar program at Harvard. As a father and a scout leader, McKenna explained that many titans of the entertainment industry got their start in programs like the Boy Scouts.
“Both David Lynch and Michael Moore began making films when they were in the scouts,” McKenna said. “Giving these kids an opportunity today could lead to a life-long passion.”
Throughout the day, local scout leaders worked with NYFA instructors to help guide the scouts through the process. Assistant Scout Leader Paul Chiaravalle remarked, “The scouts are really enjoying this. … In scouting, we try to balance both outdoor and technical skills. It’s really nice of NYFA to provide this opportunity.”
Scouts who chose the Filmmaking or Photography tracks at NYFA were taken to the Universal Backlot, where they shot a short film or learned to take portraits against a world-famous backdrop: the European set, which included storefronts, old houses, and even a train station.
The student filmmakers were ultimately responsible for making a three-minute silent film. In teams of four or five, scouts took turns acting, directing, and filming their movies. Photography students learned how to work with light and shadow and were encouraged to explore the dynamic range of natural light. Framing was also heavily emphasized.
At the end of the day, parents were invited to attend an award ceremony. Each scout received a certificate with his or her name on it in addition to their badges, which would be received at a later date. The scouts cheered for one another as they received their awards and celebrated their full day of storytelling through the visual and performing arts.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Universal Studios, The Boy Scouts of America, and our instructors, who helped make this event possible. Congratulations, scouts!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) is proud to congratulate cinematographer & recent graduate Manuel Velasquez (Spring ’16 MFA Cinematography) on signing with Pipeline Entertainment, a New York-based agency representing both above- and below-the-line talent.
Velasquez joins a roster that includes many notable producers, writers, directors, and cinematographers who are working at the highest levels of the industry. Pipeline has staffed their clients on shows including Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, Kick-Ass 2, and Dexter, among others.
Velasquez was pleased to sign with a prestigious agency so quickly after graduating. He believes the company signed him both on the strength of his reel, built largely from the NYFA projects that he shot as a student, and due to his positive attitude. Additionally, he built a diverse resume with many short film credits during his time in the MFA Cinematography program, giving him the experience to prepare him for professional sets. Velasquez’s cinematography credits include fellow NYFA alum Christian Bulich’s 64 Koufax, among many others:
Asked about his advice for current students who are looking forward to starting their careers, Velasquez noted that “finding an agent leads you to a lot of new possibilities, but finding a balance between art and business is key.”
For Velasquez, those new possibilities include being offered his first feature film as a director of photography. He has signed on to photograph An Essential Gift, directed by fellow NYFA alum Jose Mario Salas (Fall ’16 MA Film & Media). The film will star noted Costa Rican actors Viviana Calderon and Pablo Rodriguez, as well as Mauricio Hoffman and Norval Calvo in supporting roles. The project is currently scheduled for a four-week shoot in San Jose, Costa Rica.
NYFA MFA Cinematography grad Manuel Velasquez
Asked about the film, Manuel had this to say:
“Prepping to shoot my first feature film in a country that I have never visited is more than exciting. I am very moved by the story and fascinated about the attention that our production is getting in Costa Rica. There are very high expectations for us, and I love the challenge.”
We are proud to congratulate Manuel Velasquez on signing with the Pipeline agency, and locking his first feature film. We look forward to seeing this film, and more of his excellent work in the future.
To view some of Manuel’s reel and some of his recent work, please visit his website.
The Arabian Warrior is not only the very first American-Saudi film production, but has also celebrated its premiere in Saudi Arabia at a historic moment, just as the Kingdom celebrates the opening of its movie theaters for the fist time in 35 years. The film followsAnmar, a young Saudi man who dreams of becoming a professional football player. It’s a deeply human story about navigating the tension between following one’s dreams, honoring one’s family and traditions, and finding one’s own way in a complicated world.
After an incredibly successful red carpet premiere covered by major news networks in Dubai, the film is screening across the Middle East with Grand Entertainment — and soon the world, with a distribution deal with MultiVisionnaire Pictures, and an upcoming digital release on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.
In the midst of his busy opening month, director and New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Aymen Khoja found the time to sit down with the NYFA Blog via email to talk about the film, the Dubai screening, and what’s next.
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?
AK: Passion and ambition. My active soul pulled my body from all the challenges I faced to the city of angels to study what I’ve dreamed of: becoming a filmmaker!
NYFA: Why filmmaking? What inspires you most?
AK: Filmmaking is the best way to get into people hearts! People would listen when they see things through films more than if you talk to them face to face. Plus, I love inspiring people with what I believe is right. Also, I love putting a smile on people’s faces!
NYFA: Can you tell us what brought The Arabian Warrior project to life? How did the film come about for you?
AK: Young people always fight to achieve their goals against their parents, society, or any challenges could stand in front of them. I wanted to explain the pressure young people face when it comes to making their choices about what they want to be in the future.
NYFA: The Arabian Warrior tells a story that highlights some tensions between a young man with a dream to pursue a non-traditional career, and his parents’ concerns for his future. What resonated with you about this story?
AK: I’ve seen this situation around me with friends, family. To me the most important question is, how can the son reach his goals but at the same time respect his parents?
The Arabian Warrior poster via IMDB
NYFA: Congratulations on screening The Arabian Warrior in Dubai! How did this event come about? Can you tell us a bit about the process of organizing the screening and how it feels leading up to the screening?
AK: Thank you! It feels wonderful.
I’d love to thank Dubai for welcoming my first of all time film premier! It was a super exciting process from very the beginning, when we signed Grand Entertainment to distribute our film in the Arab region.
Big thanks to Isaac, who really worked everything out! It just can’t get better!
Our film played in 48 theaters all over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Fantastic success. I thank God, and everyone who helped me with this achievement.
NYFA: Did anything surprise you during filming, or where there any hurdles you overcame? Any words of wisdom for our students from your production experience?
AK: A lot of surprises and many challenges, from losing locations, working with actors, staying within the budget, getting creative shots to save the day, etc.
Advice I can give: be collaborative. Listen. Build a fantastic positive team. Move on. Don’t get stuck with one challenge; fix it and move on.
Director Aymen Khoja via IMDB
NYFA: What’s next for The Arabian Warrior?
AK: It will be released on digital platforms in the U.S. and Canada: Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. We’ve signed with an international distributor worldwide, MultiVisionnaire. The film already has been released on TV, in some part of Asia and Africa.
NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
AK: I’m developing three projects at the same time. I prefer not to speak about them now, but all what I can say is, they will see light soon inshallah!
NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful for the work you are doing now?
AK: NYFA is one of the main reasons for me to be at this place. I can’t thank NYFA enough. Instructors, environment, departments, classmates, everyone were super helpful. They gave me all the knowledge I needed for this wonderful journey in creating my first feature film! I’m still in touch with all my instructors, we became like a family! Thank you, family of NYFA, from my heart.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Aymen for his interview, and congratulate him and Mohammad on the great success of The Arabian Warrior!
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles African and Black American Club (ABA) held a special screening of Detroit on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Special guest speaker and actor Algee Smith was in attendance to give a Q&A after the screening. ABA Club President Furaha Bayibsa and Chair of Industry Lab Kim Ogletree moderated the event.
Bayibsa opened the evening by asking Smith how he got the job on Detroit.
The actor explained, “I was in rehearsals for the New Edition Story when I got the call from my agent to audition for a Kathryn Bigelow project.” At that point, the title of the film had not been released. Smith had no idea what he was agreeing to, but his agent was insistent he needed to go.
Detroit depicts events that took place at the Algiers Hotel two nights after the Detroit Riots during the summer of 1967. With the news media’s lens turned to police violence in 2017, the timely historical drama created a national conversation.
The audition process for the film was a unique experience for Smith. After a first audition with Casting Director Victoria Thomas, Smith was invited to come back and audition for Bigelow. At a mansion in the hills, Bigelow held a second, more unique, audition.
Bigelow directed behind a camera that Smith described as “old.” She asked the actors to sit in a circle and sing a song. Then, she told them, a police officer would burst in and throw them against a wall. She asked the actors to respond naturally at that moment. “She was trying to capture authenticity,” Smith said.
Though the character Smith plays (Larry Reed) is a living human being, Smith didn’t meet the man and inspiration for the film until after production had wrapped. When asked what his preparation for the role was Smith joked, “worrying and being nervous. I couldn’t call Larry or talk to his family. I had to rely on understanding the energy of the time period by researching the reactions of citizens to the event at the time it took place.”
During production, Bigelow relied on the element of surprise to get the most authentic reactions from her actors. Several of the actors playing police officers were given a script, but those portraying the hotel patrons did not receive a script. This gave the police officers in the scene total control. Everyone else could only react.
Smith explained, “She just threw us in there. … We didn’t know what would happen after that.”
Because of the surprises on set, the actors connected much more deeply to their characters’ lives.
“Even after leaving the set, I took a lot of that tension with me,” shared Smith. “The hotel we were staying in looked like a prison. There were bars on the windows and heavy locks on the doors.” Smith said it was challenging to leave the experience behind. “It was tough for me every day.”
When it was time for the Q&A, one student asked for Smith’s insights as a person of color in Hollywood today, asking, “How do you stay motivated when you’re profiled or rejected for a role because of your race? I think a lot of the Black actors at this school think about the discrimination they might face in the casting room once they graduate.”
Smith was candid with his response. “I don’t know if there were parts that had been kept from me because of my race. There very well may have been. Sometimes you hear casting directors say, ‘Oh, you were amazing in the audition, but we’re going with someone else,’ or, ‘we’re going in a different direction. ’ But you’ll never really know the reason why they made that choice.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Algee Smith for taking the time to speak with our students. See Smith next in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams on Amazon and The Hate U Give, coming to theaters soon.
As part of Women’s Week at NYFA, which was created to celebrate and highlight women in the Entertainment Industry, the Acting for Film department sponsored a night of eight amazing stand-up comedians in a show called Stand Up for Women! Each comedian did a very funny 10-minute set to a packed house of over 100 NYFA students.
It was a hilarious night — the level of talent was amazing! Students were impressed with the different personal styles of each comedian and how each was able to use their own creative voice in a unique way. Our guest artists covered topics from politics to parents, from women’s rights issues to the struggles of being an artist in this industry.
Comedy is a great way to teach and each of our artists brought a unique lesson to our students.
The evening was also a benefit for Women Helping Women (WHW),a non-profit organization with the mission of providing unemployed and underemployed women the skills and resources they need to get and keep a good job. WHW job seekers depend on the generosity of clothing donors in the community to support their job search. Attendees were asked to bring an item of clothing for donation to the organization.
Stand Up for Women! featured an all-star lineup of comedian guest artists, including:
Lisa deLarios – (host) – Lisa has toured the country, featuring for Zach Galifianakis, Paul F. Tompkins, Anthony Jeselnik, and Maria Bamford, among others. She was showcased on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham and has been a frequent guest on Doug Loves Movies.
Laura House – Laura is a headlining comedian who has performed on HBO, Comedy Central, and NBC, and starred in MTV’s Austin Stories. She has written on the Emmy-winning shows Mom and Samantha Who and the BAFTA-winning Secret Lives of Boys, as well as Nicole Byer’s Loosely, Exactly, Nicole, The George Lopez Show, Mad Love, Blue Collar TV, and more.
Jackie Kashian – Jackie is a comic whose new album, I Am Not The Hero Of This Story, was the #1 comedy album on iTunes and Amazon. She is in the 12th year of her podcast, The Dark Forest, and has a new podcast on the Nerdist Network called The Jackie and Laurie Show.
Jena Friedman – Jena is a comedian, writer, filmmaker and political satirist who recently appeared on Conan. Her Adult Swim special Soft Focus with Jena Friedman aired in February. She has been a field producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and has written for Late Show with David Letterman.
Kate Willett – Kate tours nationally and internationally, has been featured on Viceland’s Flophouse and Comedy Central’s This is Not Happening, and recently taped a Netflix special.
Vanessa Gonzalez – Vanessa was recently voted “Best Stand-up Comic” in the Austin Chronicle readers’ poll and created and stars in the Mas Mejor web series Ms. Vanessa.
Jessica Sele – Jessica is a stand-up comedian who tours across the country and has performed at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and SF Sketchfest. She was written about in Huffington Post.
Ellington Wells – Ellington is a filmmaker and comedian who hosts the monthly stand-up show Blackberry Jam and has worked on television shows such as Insecure, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Baskets.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank each and every one of these incredibly talented and funny women who came to our Los Angeles campus. We truly appreciate your giving our students the chance to Stand Up for Women!