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  • Tom Fontana Visits New York Film Academy as Special Guest Speaker

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    This week, New York Film Academy welcomed producer Tom Fontana to its New York City campus as a part of the ongoing Producing Department Industry Speaker Series. As a part of the event, the full house of NYFA community attendees were treated to screenings of clips of Fontana’s work from police procedural Homicide: Life On the Street, HBO prison drama Oz, and BBC America drama Copper, a period piece set in the notorious 1860s New York City neighborhood of Five Points.

    During the talk, Fontana sat down with Producing Department instructor and Marcia Mule Productions founder Marcia Mule, each sharing their bond over the fact that they’re both from Buffalo, New York, with students. The producer went on to discuss his early career as a writer for theatre, which led to an opportunity to write for the influential medical drama St. Elsewhere. He wrote dozens of episodes between 1982-1988.

    Following St. Elsewhere, Fontana had a meandering path to his next job. Baltimore newspaper man David Simon (who would go on to create The Wire, The Corner, Treme, and The Deuce) sent his book Homicide: Life on the Killing Streets to fellow Baltimore-born director Barry Levinson, hoping it would become a film. Levinson suggested it was too dense with too many important characters, and instead pitched it as a TV show. This would ultimately become Homicide: Life on the Street, for which Fontana would go on to contribute to 67 episodes.

    While writing for Homicide, Fontana began to ponder what happened to the characters the writers would send off to prison. Fleshing out the stories for these forgotten offscreen characters became the inspiration for Oz, a master class in character building set in a fictional, experimental prison unit called Emerald City.

    HBO had never aired an original drama series and the timing for Oz — a gritty, realistic, brutal prison drama — was right.  Fontana told an interesting story about a discussion with Dick Wolf, who wanted to use the popular character John Munch (played by Richard Belzer) on his new show Law & Order. Fontana and the Homicide creators let Munch use the character for free and don’t get royalties for his presence in over 300 Law & Order episodes. He has also since appeared in The Wire and Arrested Development, among other shows.

    Oz premiered in 1997 and went on for six seasons, and ended up inspiring later-renowned HBO dramas such as The Wire, The Sopranos, and Boardwalk Empire.

    Tom Fontana has written and produced many more groundbreaking television series, including The Philanthropist and Netflix’s Borgia. He has received, among other distinctions, three Emmy Awards, four Peabody Awards, three Writers’ Guild Awards, Four Television Critics Association Awards, the Cable Ace Award, the Humanitas Prize, a Special Edgar and the first prize at the Cinema Tout Ecran Festival in Geneva.

    Fontana co-founded the non-profit charity, Stockings with Care. He’s on the Boards of the WGAE Foundation, The NYPD Police Museum, The Creative Coalition, The Acting Company, The Williamstown Theatre Festival and The International Council of The Paley Media Center.

    The New York Film Academy thanks Tom Fontana for sharing his time and expertise with our student community.

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  • NYFA Los Angeles Welcomes Producer David Gale to Q&A Series

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    This October, David Gale came to the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy. Director of Q&A Series Tova Laiter hosted the evening alongside Veteran Coordinator Steven Padilla.

    Gale began his illustrious career in entertainment as a lawyer, but wanted to make movies. Without any experience, he had to settle for working at ICM as an Entertainment Lawyer.

    For 10 years he held this position until his firm began working with Ridley Scott’s production company. The two liked working together, and Scott offered Gale a job. It was not glamorous work, but Gale kept his nose to the grindstone and, just when he thought it wouldn’t work out, a friend phoned to tell him that Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of “The Terminator” and more recently “The Walking Dead,” was looking for someone to run her company.

    “I did that job for the next four years,” Mr. Gale said. “That’s where I really learned to produce movies. Gale is a tough one, but she’s fair and a wonderful person. If you did the work she really respected you.”

    Yet Gale still wasn’t doing the kind of work he truly wanted to be doing. Then, in 1995, MTV called. They were looking for someone to run their new feature film division. The first film on the docket was “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.”

    Gale remembered, “I loved it so I stayed there, running MTV Films, for 11 years.” His work included such cult classic hits as “Election,” “Varsity Blues” (with Tova Laiter), “Jackass: The Movie,” and “Pootie Tang.”

    Laiter wanted to know, what was the philosophy behind MTV Films’ and Gale’s success?

    Gale’s response: “When you have a great brand and you’re trying to make movies, or anything really, you can depend on that brand to help you understand and define what it is you want to make.”

    Gale did this by keeping the budget low and by hiring great independent voices. “Murderball,” Tupac documentaries, and indie voices helped define a youth-centered brand for the early 2000’s. When he had the idea to buy a manuscript called “Twilight and the studio passed, “Everyone thought I was crazy,” Gale said. He then decided it was time to move on.

    His boss gave him a new division as head of digital at MTV. In 2006, this move put Gale at the forefront of the next wave of media entertainment. Facebook and YouTube were brand new players on the scene. The rules for digital marketing, development, and content had not yet been created.

    While MTV ultimately elected not to go full blast into the digital world, they gave Gale the freedom to experiment and learn.

    After 18 years at MTV, Gale was looking for something new, only this time he wasn’t sure what the next step would be. So he quit. A few days later, someone sent him a video that led to the creation of We Are The Mighty, a digital media company focused on engaging the United States military community.

    “Somebody sent me a music video of a band I’d never heard of,” Gale recalled. “What was cool about it was it was all veterans in the band, and they had 150 million views on YouTube.”

    A couple of days later Gale received a documentary about five severely disabled veterans who were doing standup, called “Comedy Warriors.” He had a thought: “The military is a big giant audience and no one is serving it.”

    His second thought was, “Whatever I’m doing next I want to be positive in some way. Could I combine my skill set of 30 years and put that to work with a company that could make a difference?”

    Over the next year, Gale invested all of his time and energy into learning about the military and the lives of those who serve. What he learned is that one-third of Americans are directly or indirectly related to the military. Gale found that there were some entertainment companies with a military focus, “But without military personnel behind the camera it’s not going to be authentic. The entertainment industry says we have a lot of jobs for veterans — you can work in the mailroom or as an electrician. But we’re missing the creativity.”

    “There’s a lot of leadership skills not being put to use,” Gale commented. “The level of maturity, the ability to make decisions and adjust is so much higher than a 30-year-old who has been getting copy and delivering scripts for the past 10 years.”

    So Gale co-founded and is now CEO of We Are The Mighty. This organization hires veterans to create content and then helps pitch and launch the content on different platforms. There’s an internship program that turns young creators into professional filmmakers. He’s also partnered with Medal of Honor recipient and Chair of NYFA’s Veterans Advancement Program Colonel Jack Jacobs to shoot a documentary about the first 10 weeks of basic training.

    NYFA student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Drew Demboske asked, “What was the biggest obstacle you faced when starting your company, besides funding?” Gale suggested: just creating something. Once you’ve begun, you tweak, observe changes in viewer consumption, and keep up with those changes that happen every day.  

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. David Gale for taking the time to speak with our students. Check out We Are The Mighty online by clicking here.

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  • NYFA Producing Grad Kalpana Malviya’s Made in America Airs on Zee TV

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    New York Film Academy Producing graduate Kalpana Malviya’s original reality program Made in America launches this week on Zee TV, India’s largest television network.

    India.com reports that Made in America is the first-ever English-language Bollywood reality program to be produced entirely in Hollywood. Hosted by Nina Davuluri, the 2014 Miss America winner, the show  chronicles the journey of six young South East Asian women selected from a pool of 6,000 hopefuls in a talent competition in the vein of America’s Next Top Model. The competition includes participation in acting classes at the New York Film Academy.

    Last fall, Malviya told the New York Film Academy Blog that her NYFA training was a help in poising her to launch her professional life in television: “I’m from India. Hollywood films really pop in India. I took what I learned at NYFA and landed a job with Zee TV.”

    It was while working with Zee TV that Malviya came up with the idea for Made in America, which combines Hollywood glamour with Bollywood power for an entirely unique reality television experience. Malviya recalled, “I pitched them the idea. They loved it and now, here we are.”

    As Sameer Targe, CEO, ZEE TV America explained to India.com, Zee TV is “the flagship television network for the South Asian community in the United States,” meaning that the new reality program will provide an exciting collaboration and cultural bridge between Hollywood and Bollywood.

    We had a chance to catch up with Kalpana Malviya to hear her thoughts about bringing her original series to life.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    KM: As a child I was always fascinated by films and wanted to make movies and TV shows. I pursued modeling in India to try and further my dreams. I won (first runner up) a beauty pageant, Miss Gladrags, 2009, and from there received many opportunities. After my modeling contract was up, I started working at various production companies. I soon realized I had to learn. So, I decided to come to the New York Film Academy to expand my knowledge in production.

    NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment from your time studying with us?

    KM: My favorite NYFA moment was the realization of my true abilities. I saw a new world opening with tremendous opportunities all around me. I was soaking up as much as I could, but it wasn’t until a professor from NYFA sat me down and told me that I had a natural talent for producing, I realized what I wanted to do within the industry.

    NYFA: What inspired your passion for producing?

    KM: In addition to my fascination with films, I had a knack for business. I am certain the business woman in me was influenced by watching my father run his own company. I found myself naturally gravitating towards producing, without realizing what it was at the time. There I could utilize both my creativity and business abilities to produce quality film & TV shows, which allowed me to bring all my skills to the table. It wasn’t just enough to understand the story, I had to visualize and work towards bringing my vision to the right niche market.

    NYFA: Now that Made in America has aired on Zee TV (congrats, again!), can you tell us how your role as a producer has evolved? Are there any aspects of bringing the production to air that have surprised you, or opened new challenges?

    KM: I would have to say that learning to market the show to the right audience was certainly a challenging and evolving aspect for me. In addition, to bring the story forth I had to explore new ways of marketing with social media, targeted ad campaigns, and press coverage, all while keeping in mind the final goal of increasing our show’s revenue.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful for preparing you for the work you are doing today?

    KM: Of course! I took my first steps toward development, direction and distribution (“Triple D’s”) at NYFA. There, I gained all the necessary knowledge and technical skills to become a creative mega force. All of those technical skills and creative understanding are critical for my role at Zee TV.

    NYFA: You’ve said in other interviews that part of your inspiration for Made in America was a desire to see more high quality South East Asian content on TV. Can you share with our international student community your view, as a working producer, as to why this is so important?

    KM: I think it’s super important to celebrate diversity within media. America has been recognized as the melting pot of cultures from my recollection. Its even more pertinent to bring this to our communities given today’s heated political climate. We can use media as an outlet to reflect different ethnicities, viewpoints, and lifestyles. I would urge to all student to choose a media platform that represents diversity.

    I am thankful to be a part of one such media force with a threshold of 1 billion viewers  over 171 countries around the world. Zee TV brings cultures together and celebrates differences in cultures of our unique countries to amplify the beauty.

    NYFA: For our producing students, can you offer any advice on bringing an original concept like Made in America to live on a major network?

    KM: Its a combination of finding the right media platform that allows you to be innovative and creative and where the executives fully support their staff’s new ideas. Without people like Sameer Targe (Zee America’s CEO) and Kitty Koo (VP International Relations at NYFA), among others, to support and believe in me, making these shows would not be possible.

    At the end of the day you need to believe in your own vision and people to help you make that vision a reality. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world” (Harriet Tubman)

    NYFA: Can you share with us about any upcoming projects you are working on?

    KM: I’m working on an array of new programs produced in the U.S. by Zee, which will air on the channel throughout 2017 and 2018. There’s a huge variety in what we’re producing — a matchmaking show, a business show, and a new style family quiz game show, as well as a docu-drama on successful Indian-American entrepreneurs.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Kalpana Malviya for taking the time to share a part of her story with our community.

    Interested in learning more about the in’s and out’s of the production industry? Join us for our 8-Week Producing Workshop where our prospective producers create their own individual project and follow its production from beginning to end.

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