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  • NYFA’s Q&A-List Welcomes President of MGM Motion Picture Group Pam Abdy

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    NYFA had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with the President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group, Pam Abdy, to discuss the film production process with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Abdy is the current President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group and oversees the development, production, and post-production for all MGM and Orion films. Abdy is currently developing a multitude of films such as Fiddler on The Roof, Project Hail Mary, and Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, amongst others.

    At her previous position, Makeready Films/eOne, the company financed and produced Queen & Slim from director Melina Matsoukas and writer Lena Waithe and A Million Little Pieces from director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Previously, Abdy served as President of Production at New Regency, where they released the acclaimed Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Academy Award-winning Birdman, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Adam McKay’s Academy Award-winning The Big Short, and Iñárritu’s The Revenant in 2016, which received twelve Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Pam Abdy (Right)

    Laiter began the conversation by asking Abdy what a day in the life of the President of MGM Motion Picture Group looks like. Abdy explained that most days consist of hours of Zoom meetings from pitching and financial planning to meetings with production staff and discussing forward slate planning. “It’s an all-encompassing job especially being at home with my daughter in the next room,” shared Abdy. “It’s a little chaotic, but that was just today. Every day is different.”

    Abdy, whose original plan to be a dancer got derailed by injury, got her first big break as Danny DeVito’s assistant, after working at the front desk at DeVito’s Jersey Films. “It was a life-changing opportunity for me,” she remembered. “He is a mentor to me and a second father. I learned how to make movies at that company and was given space to grow and they [the whole team] really taught me how to make films and be on set.”

    Sometimes the best education is watching and observing something Abdy does to this day, even as President at MGM Motion Picture Group. She urged NYFA students to remember that no job is too small to do no matter how many years of experience you have. “It doesn’t matter what I have to do. Every job is meaningful and nothing is beneath me,” said Abdy. “I will do whatever it takes to navigate a problem. I feel like some people think things are not their job, but to be a great producer, you have to manage so many different personalities and money. It’s an incredible responsibility that doesn’t get enough credit.”

    Part of being a great producer means being able to collaborate with the director, something Abdy mentioned as being one of the most important parts of putting a movie together and in production. “It’s everything to find the right director for your film,” she emphasized. “If it’s not the right director the film won’t have the right point of view. The best day of a producer’s life is getting the director on the movie, but it’s also the worst day because it becomes the director’s and you may not agree with everything they do. Your vision may not be their vision. But when that person comes on and they elevate that, there’s nothing better.”

    Pam Abdy (Left) with the cast and crew of “Queen & Slim”

    One of the career highlights for Abdy has been the vision of Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe, with whom she worked with on Queen & Slim. While on the film, Abdy learned a very important lesson that has stayed with her to this day. “I usually have to be part of everything and find solutions. That movie wasn’t about that. It was about creating a safe space and giving Melina and Lena the floor while I stand in the background to help navigate things as they needed them,” she began. “What was so joyful about that film is both of those women are such visionaries. Allow artists and visionaries to have the space to tell their stories. Don’t impose your own on their process. I learned about creating space for artists’ voices and it was the greatest joy of my career.”

    Abdy, like many others in the film industry, is continuing to adapt to the film industry facing restrictions due to the COVID pandemic. “Before, you hustled, made major movies, dealt with your budget, and put the movie together which – sometimes things took longer. Now, you don’t have the luxury of time anymore. You are locked down. If you are not working in a pod, then you leave the set. It’s not as fun,” she laughed. “Sometimes magic happens when you are making a film and I worry that the new rigidness may impact that work. There’s no answer right now as to when this part is going to stop, and it’s so expensive. What it’s doing is putting a burden on film budgets for COVID costs. There is a danger that good movies won’t get made because the cost is too burdensome.”

    Pam Abdy during promotion for Zach Braff’s “Garden State”

    One student asked Abdy how to become a better producer. Abdy urged them to get their hands on as many scripts as possible, even the one that got made already. “Study filmmakers. Filmmakers love to know their producers understand other filmmakers’ work. Take time and watch how filmmakers grow. See what changes. Watch the language and understand the common thread of their films throughout. Then, define your taste and identify what actually is your taste.”

    As Laiter closed the discussion and thanked Abdy for her generous wisdom, Laiter asked Abdy what has made her so successful in her career. Abdy replied it’s all the positives and the negatives about herself combined. “As I get older I recognize my flaws and I’m trying to do better with delegating. Be kind and be generous to everyone. This whole business is based on relationships and the experience of those relationships.”

    Abdy’s upcoming slate includes Joe Wright’s Cyrano, Ridley Scott’s Gucci, Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin’s Dog, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled upcoming film. New York Film Academy would like to thank Pam Abdy for sharing her time and invaluable knowledge of the film business with NYFA students and looks forward to welcoming her back again in the near future.

    To watch the full conversation, click here or view the video below:

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    February 18, 2021 • Acting • Views: 904

  • NYFA Welcomes Producers of Military Docuseries “Ten Weeks” to NYFA’s Q&A-List

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    NYFA had the privilege of hosting a live video Q&A with the co-founder of We Are the Mighty, David Gale, Medal of Honor recipient & Chair of NYFA’s Veteran Advancement Program Col. Jack Jacobs, and We Are The Mighty (WATM) Chief Content Officer and director Chase Millsap. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.

    David Gale is an executive and award-winning producer who is currently serving as the Exe.VP of Development and Production at Gunpowder & Sky. Before joining G&S, Gale co-founded and was CEO of WATM, a media brand focused on hiring and telling the stories of our military veterans. Gale oversaw the release of 28 films when he was at MTV Films, including Varsity Blues, Save The Last Dance, The Longest Yard, Election, Hustle and Flow, and the cultural phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite.

    (Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Chase Millsap, David Gale, and Col. Jack Jacobs

    Chase Millsap produced the short film, The Captain’s Story, in collaboration with National Geographic to highlight the struggles faced by America’s wartime allies. His work has been featured in National Geographic, The Huffington Post and he has appeared on Buzzfeed and CNN International. Millsap is the Chief Content Officer at WATM and has helmed digital, social, film, and television projects for Warner Brothers Studios, CBS Studios, Netflix, and Blumhouse Productions.

    Col. Jack Jacobs served in Vietnam twice; both times as an advisor to Vietnamese infantry battalions, earning three Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars, and the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat decoration. After Jacobs’ retirement, he was a Managing Director of Bankers Trust and now serves as the Chair of the Veterans Advancement Program at the New York Film Academy. Jacobs also serves as an on-air analyst for NBC News and he is also the co-author of the memoir, If Not Now, When?, which won the Colby Award.

    Rhett Cutrell filming Army trainee Stormy Gideons on the set of “Ten Weeks” (Photo courtesy of We are the Mighty / Quibi)

    Millsap, Gale, and Col. Jacobs discussed the making of their series from Blumhouse TV/We Are The Mighty docuseries Ten Weeks. The series, inspired by Col. Jacobs’ book Basic: Surviving Boot Camp and Basic Training, is a docuseries that follows a cohort of recruits in their journey from untested, young adults to soldiers during basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Though the docuseries Ten Weeks was originally supposed to be released on Quibi, the series will be available to stream on Roku devices in 2021.

    Ten Weeks (named for the length of basic training) would not have been possible without the support of the U.S. Army, which colonel Jack Jacobs brought in to collaborate throughout the process. Millsap explained that it was a documentary, but it had to have a plan in place: it meant knowing the limits of production each day while on set as it was an active training ground with real challenges, safety concerns, and a rigorous approval process for certain shots. But it was all worth it.

    Army Trainees Trinity Carpenter and Stormy Gideons about to receive their banner during “The Anvil” (Photo courtesy of Blumhouse TV / Quibi)

    “Going through boot camp is an experience most people don’t experience or get to see,” shared Jacobs. “It’s the backstory of national defense.” Gale agreed and added the project “is by veterans for veterans so you can’t understate the importance of the series and also give credit to the Army for giving us the opportunity to use this space.”

    While Ten Weeks is by veterans like Millsap and Col. Jacobs, David Gale, who has been in the film business for many years co-founded WATM because he didn’t see many veterans in higher positions throughout the filmmaking industry. “There is so much talent in the military community and when they leave there are few outlets for them to go into in entertainment,” he shared. Col. Jacobs, who spearheads NYFA’s Veterans Advancement Program, added that many across the industry don’t realize how talented are those who serve and what they can accomplish. “[At NYFA], it’s an opportunity to hone what they know and learned in uniform to the arts.”

    Army trainee Stormy Gideons and Drill Sergeant Stewart being filmed by Rhett Cutrell on set for “Ten Weeks” (Photo courtesy of We are the Mighty / Quibi)

    Millsap knows all too well the challenges that one can face when transitioning from the military to the film industry. “I spent over a decade in uniform and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I leaned into what I was passionate about,” shared Millsap. “In the military, it’s very easy to see what someone’s job is or what they do. As you think about your next step, your creative work is going to be your calling card. You’ve got to spend your time learning the skill set and reading and watching. Study what’s on the screen to figure out how it was made.”

    Millsap and Col. Jacobs, like so many veterans in the entertainment and film industry, are aiming to make military stories exude authenticity and provide more opportunities to veterans looking to break in. Col. Jacobs advised, “No matter what you’re doing, you have to be prepared for some measure of rejection, but you have to keep working at it and it (the project) has to speak to you.”

    (L-R) Army trainee/soldiers Leo Eades, Joshua Oller, Stormy Gideons, Trinity Carpenter, and Riley Barnard on graduation day (Photo courtesy of We are the Mighty / Quibi)

    Laiter thanked the distinguished producers for the series that will open up another world in an authentic and compelling way.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank David Gale, Col. Jack Jacobs, and Chase Millsap for sharing their time and expertise with students and the NYFA community. For more information on veteran opportunities at New York Film Academy, click here.

    To hear the full conversation, click the video below our watch on our YouTube channel here.

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    February 2, 2021 • Acting • Views: 1818