Producing Alum
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  • NYFA BFA Producing Alum Thandiwe Mlauli Founds South Africa’s First Woman-Led Animation Studio

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    BFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli has announced an upcoming project called SOLA. It will be South Africa’s first independently produced and women-led afro-animation, with Mlauli acting as producer, director and showrunner through her animation company Studio Yezi.

    The South African native, who had been told before that there was no audience for afro-anime, decided to take matters into her own hands. “I knew that [not having an audience] was not true. I had friends both Black and Brown, who were interested in seeing representation in animation,” she shared. “I decided to arm myself with the knowledge I would need to make this dream happen and Studio Yezi is the fruit of this decision.”

    Founded in 2019 in Johannesburg, Studio Yezi (short for/inspired by “inkanyezi,” which means “star” in Zulu) aims to create economic opportunities for Black and Brown people in the animation industry, as well as creating accurate representation on screen.

    Studio Yezi, founded by NYFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    Studio Yezi has recently launched the campaign #MakeSolaHappen, a crowdfunding initiative to develop SOLA, a story about a magical young girl who awakens in a world where magic is considered dangerous. Set in 22nd century South Africa, the film would also reimagine a world where the country would have been colonized by the Spanish instead of the British. The short film is based on the TV series that Studio Yezi is also developing.

    Founder and CEO of Yezi Studios & NYFA producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    “We’re crowdfunding to help us get to the finish line,” explained Mlauli. “We’ve gathered a team of really dope creatives who can definitely bring a product worth talking about. If anybody is interested in supporting us, or becoming a producer, please visit our crowdfunding campaign.

    The film, still in development, is a project that Mlauli hopes will “inspire other young artists to invest in their dreams and pursue them, despite whatever resistance they experience.” The studio CEO also noted how this is a project where more people can recognize Africa for its talents and the people. “We want to create a hub where people refer to us as much as they refer to other places in the world.”

    For other creatives, Mlauli shares that it’s imperative to keep focus. “Remind yourself, as often as you can, why you chose the career path that you chose. When you focus on what you love, and give yourself a chance to dedicate yourself to your dreams, the world will open up for you. I’m an example of that.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli for sharing more about her upcoming film SOLA and the vision of her newly formed company, Yezi Studios. To learn more about Yezi Studios and the campaign to develop SOLAclick here.

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    September 24, 2020 • International Diversity, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 755

  • New York Film Academy Producing Alum Alex Lebovici Produces ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’

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    One of the long-anticipated films of the summer, Bill & Ted Face The Music, starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick) and Alex Winter (The Lost Boys) was released everywhere on VOD and in select cinemas on August 28, 2020, with NYFA alum Alex Lebovici as a producer.

    The free-spirited and beloved characters Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) from the original films Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), make their epic comeback in the Bill & Ted series’ biggest film yet, which has been hailed by critics and is being called a “Surprise Summer Hit.”

    Film poster for ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ (Produced by Alex Lebovici)

    The long-awaited film was originally shot in 2019 and was slated for a full theatrical release. Like many indie films and blockbusters alike, the film opted for VOD and limited theatrical release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On the weekend of its release, it was the top-rented film on FandangoNow, Apple TV, the iTunes Store, and Google Play. Fandango also announced that despite being released for only four days, the film held the most popular spot on their most rented list for the month of August.

    NYFA producing alum Alex Lebovici at a NYFA Q&A event

    Lebovici, who produced the film, posted photos from the production on his Instagram and recalled how the film was such “a blast” to make. “I can’t believe it,” he shared. “This was by far the most challenging experience of my life but I’m blessed to have an amazing family who supported me through it all.”

    Lebovici was also an executive producer on The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019), Academy Award-nominated Denzel Washington drama, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), Mom and Dad (2017), Who We Are Now (2017), and The Clapper (2017). Lebovici will be an executive-producer for King Fury 2 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender, which is currently in post-production.

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate the Producing alum on his latest success with the release of Bill & Ted Face The Music, and looks forward to hearing more about the upcoming release of King Fury 2.

    “Be excellent to each other.” 

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    September 22, 2020 • Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 583

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on Faith in Storytelling & the Importance of Mentorship and Representation

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Paula Bryant-Ellis’ story is proof that you do not have to grow up in the entertainment industry or start in showbiz at an early age to find your voice or succeed in the business. With the foundation of her faith and the skills from her career and educational experiences, Bryant-Ellis has managed to switch vocations and elevate her voice and the experiences of others along the way. 

    After graduating from Concordia University in Texas, where she majored in Accounting, Bryant-Ellis furthered her education with an MBA from UOP and an executive MBA from MIT. After years in corporate America as an executive and COO in banking and finance, Bryant-Ellis decided it was time for a change. “I was unfulfilled and really felt God pulling me in a different direction. So, my husband and I took a leap of faith and we sold our house, packed up our belongings, and moved to Los Angeles.”

    That leap of faith led Bryant-Ellis to attend NYFA’s Los Angeles campus to study producing. “I enrolled at NYFA because I needed a way to learn the industry and get up to speed quickly,” she says. “I came out of the producing program convinced that I could produce my first project, and I did!” Bryant-Ellis also learned filmmaking at NYFA’s New York City campus. “I was able to develop relationships with students from LA, New York, Russia, Nigeria and South Africa and keep in touch with them even now,” she shares. 

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Bryant-Ellis has gone on to produce TV series Hard Medicine and the short film Twelve Steps. She also recently made a small cameo appearance for an episode in season four of HBO’s Insecure, directed by her son Jay Ellis, who also stars on the show opposite NYFA filmmaking alum Issa Rae

    Bryant-Ellis’ most recent project to date has been her docuseries Behind Her Faith, which focuses on women in entertainment and their personal journey and the role of their faith in their career. The series features Essence Atkins (A Haunted House, Are We There Yet?), Niecy Nash (Claws, When They See Us), Angelica Nwandu (The Shade Room), and Aisha Hinds (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, 9-1-1).

    Mentoring and encouraging women has always been extremely important to me, especially because there were no role models for me in my field as I was working my way up through corporate America,” reveals Bryant-Ellis. “There were very few females in the upper ranks and there were absolutely no men or women of color in senior or executive level positions.”

    ‘Behind Her Faith’ created by an produced by Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Behind Her Faith is currently streaming on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku and UMC.tv (an AMC network), and Bryant-Ellis hopes to have more seasons in the future. “I want the audience to know that God loves them and that He’s waiting to have an encounter with them that’s more powerful than they could ever think or imagine.”

    With faith being a cornerstone of Bryant-Ellis’ storytelling foundation, she also shares that this time in show business is crucial for people to understand that all stories should properly represented and calls for change in the industry. “Stop believing you can tell my story better than I can. No one’s story is more important than the other but BOTH must be told.”

    Paula Bryant-Ellis behind the scenes during a film shoot

    With the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to bring a reckoning in Hollywood, Bryant-Ellis also adds “it’s not enough to say that you are aligned with a cause when you don’t provide resources to support the cause,” and this is not just an issue that appears in the entertainment industry. “It does not matter what industry you’re in; your Boards and your decision-making team must be diverse and reflective of the people that support and purchase your products.”

    Bryant-Ellis also reveals she has a couple of additional projects in the works including a docuseries and a drama, but is unable to officially share more information just yet. For now, she has this to say:

    “Believe in you. This industry requires tough skin and staying power. Find a niche that works for you and create content that keeps you true to who you are. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. No one can do you better than you, you just have to believe it and trust it. Trust your voice and your vision!”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on her docuseries, Behind Her Faith, and looks forward to what exciting and inspiring projects come next from the NYFA alum!

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    To learn more about Paula Bryant-Ellis and to keep an eye out for her upcoming projects, check out the links below:

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    July 6, 2020 • Diversity, Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1229