Justin LaReau had a pretty cool job. He was the head basketball coach at Southeastern Illinois College. But he was temporarily living in a hotel, reevaluating his life. And reconnecting with his love for movies. So while he was working on his playbook, he was simultaneously reading screenwriting books and began sketching out the idea of what would become his first feature.
Eventually, he made the difficult decision to leave coaching behind. Justin came out to Los Angeles and got an internship at Underground Film and Management—which led to his career writing, directing and producing films. New York Film Academy (NYFA) spoke with LaReau about his movies, experiences, and his next projects.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): Recently you produced and directed A Demon Within, a horror film. How did that come about? What was it like directing a feature film for the first time? What were the biggest challenges– and what was the learning curve like?
Justin LaReau (JL): I started writing it when I was coaching basketball, but it really initiated as a kid when my friends and I would ride by a haunted house that was widely talked about in our community. The house had been abandoned. We stopped our bikes and I saw some movement in the upstairs window. It could have been wind moving the curtains but as a 12 year old, we assumed it was a ghost. My hometown has a documented case of possession that dates back to the 1800s. Knowing that story, I wanted to tap into the personal connections I had as a kid. I felt like it would be a fun experience, plus I believed as a first feature I could get a horror film at a 100K budget fully distributed.
And in terms of the learning curve, it was tremendous. Whether you are directing or producing, there is nothing like making a full feature. I heard Jon Favreau speak and he said whatever you do or however you have to get it done, make a full feature. Short films are great for trying to find your voice, style and developing the skills, but telling a narrative for 90 minutes or more is like no other. I tell people that I spent summers in 100 degree heat building bridges and overpasses while I was in undergrad. That’s hard work. But making a full-length movie is much harder. And unless you have, you can’t comprehend it nor can you learn as much as doing.
NYFA: How did your experiences as a producer inform the decisions you made as a director?
JL: Because we were operating on a microbudget and I was constantly tracking the spending as a line producer would. It made me eliminate waste and only spend on items that would be seen on screen. We secured free locations, free lodging, free cars/trucks for transportation, discounted food as well as many other resources. Because of that, it allowed an extra shooting day which is so vital. Time as we know is so precious in general and in filming, an extra hour goes a long way in allowing actors the opportunity to act, take direction, and deliver the performance that works for the film.
Additionally, the script had to evolve. The team and I were rewriting throughout prep to pull off a full feature. Many elements that would have created more value had to be removed because there just wasn’t enough money. And that is a tough pill to swallow.
NYFA: Can you talk about your upcoming projects? What are you working on right now?
JL: My producing partner Lydia Cedrone and I recently launched a production company called Tidal Wave Entertainment, LLC. As producers we currently have a slate of eight movies in development. They range from comedies to dramas to thrillers. I’m the writer and attached to direct two of the films: Fallen Lands, a post-apocalyptic drama and The Riddle Maker, a thriller.
NYFA: You earned your MFA from NYFA in Producing. What’s it like to be a former student on the other side of the classroom—and how does that inform your teaching?
JL: I had been teaching for 10 years and had already completed a graduate program. I went from standing in front of the room to sitting in the seat again. What I enjoyed about NYFA besides the hands-on experience and the location was the wealth of experiences instructors brought to the classroom. And that is what I try to draw on now. I have been where the students are and I have been through the same program. This allows me to truly connect with them.
NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach and why?
JL: My favorite class to teach is Pitching. It is a skill/craft that all producers, writers, or directors need to develop. My mom would probably say that I like pitching because I am full of it, but selling an idea starts with the way you present it. We may have the next Oscar-winning idea, but if you can’t excite someone about it, it probably will never get made.
NYFA: Speaking of, what advice do you have for students who might be looking to produce and direct?
JL: I am a believer that if you want to do something, then go do it. But students should know that your drive and commitment has to be greater than you can imagine. You have to be able to grind through the times when things get tough. This is not an easy industry. But you need to be like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. So get your hands dirty and get to work!
Legendary producer, director, and editor Sam Pollard led a spirited “Conversation with…” and Q&A session after a rousing screening of his latest documentary Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me at New York Film Academy (NYFA). A capacity crowd at NYFA’s Theatre in New York City was captivated by the film, which traces the iconic entertainer’s life from his youth in Harlem to international stardom— from Hollywood to Broadway to Las Vegas and beyond.
NYFA students were inspired by Sam Pollard’s recollection of his early career, when he gravitated towards an editing career after a Public Broadcasting internship program. He went on to cut narrative features as well as documentaries, most notably working with Spike Lee on films including Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Clockers, and Bamboozled. In 1998, Pollard and Lee were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 4 Little Girls.
Pollard moved into producing and directing while working on Eyes on the Prize, still considered the seminal work on the American Civil Rights Movement. Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me capped NYFA’s celebration of Black History Month. Made for American Master/PBS, other Sam Pollard projects made for the series include works about August Wilson and Zora Neale Hurston.
“Filmmaking is hard work but it’s like magic when it works. Now it feels seamless, and that to me is that magic of filmmaking,” Pollard explained to the audience.
The evening was a co-production of NYFA’s Producing, Screenwriting, and Documentary departments. Pollard told the students in attendance, “If you’re here because you love to create, be compassionate, committed, and willing. Learn the craft and be proud of what you’ve done.”
He added, “As aspiring filmmakers, you should be committed to making the best possible film you can make, and if you hang in there, you will be rewarded.”
The New York Film Academy thanks Oscar-nominated producer, director, and editor Sam Pollard for sharing his experience and wisdom with our students and encourages everyone to check out Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me.
On Monday, February 18, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) partnered with the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) and the African Black American (ABA) Film Society to present a special discussion exploring the past, present and future of Black creative excellence in Hollywood through an inaugural learning lab, Celebrating Black Excellence in Cinema at its Los Angeles campus. The event featured Outlier Society’s Alana Mayo, and was moderated by AAFCA Founder and President Gil Robertson.
Gil Robertson said, “AAFCA is thrilled with our partnership with NYFA as we celebrated Black excellence in the industry during BHM. Our panel with Alana was excellent. She was very generous in sharing her experiences with the students as a Creative Executive, as well as providing them with inspiration on how they can follow in her path.”
Alana Mayo was Vice President of Production at Paramount and Vice President and Head of Originals at Vimeo before becoming Head of Production and Development for Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society Productions. At Paramount, Mayo helped develop the cinematic adaptation of Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
Mayo discussed her background, how her parents influenced her career, and navigating her trajectory as a Creative Executive for three of the top studios in the industry.
Three students who attended the event gave NYFA their thoughts on the experience. Folake Kehinde, recent NYFA MFA grad and ABA’s Events Chair and Interim Communications Chair, had this to say:
My favorite things about this event were the access. Alana was welcomed by one of the ABA members who is also queer. I had no idea of this connection when I was scheduling volunteers and was so happy to be able to give Jamie the opportunity to meet and welcome Alana. Alana has greatly inspired Jamie and she was thrilled for the opportunity to meet and welcome her.
Alana attended the pre-reception briefly. She took pictures with the ABA and was so polite and happy to be with us. Her humbleness was so sweet and unexpected. Then during the event I appreciated her learnedness. It was so wonderful to hear from a production executive with a degree in film studies. So often production executives studied English or something slightly unrelated to filmmaking—it was nice to hear from someone with an extensive study of cinema as well as years of employment with various studios and production companies.
It was interesting to watch her talk so passionately about her favorite films, Polish Cinema, and the discussions she has while watching TV with [her fiancee] Lena Waithe. They’re very different in how they communicate but both have obtained vast success.
I also loved hearing how nice Michael B. Jordan is. I was so moved by her saying that Michael will give out her email at various places around town to people who have an idea and that they’re even going to make one of the ideas a person he met on the street wrote. I love that Michael is so kind, contemporary, and cutting-edge. The fact that he cares about people and is interested in talking with them and helping them to make their work blows me away. I also love that he is starring in several projects his company is making as well as other projects outside of his company. It’s inspiring to watch his career as an actor and now producer unfold. As an actress and producer myself this helped to confirm for me that I can achieve my dreams!
My final favorite moment was when Jamie told Alana that she is also a queer woman and that she has been so inspired by Alana’s career and bravery to be heard and make a path in the entertainment industry.
After the Q&A, legendary casting director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd (who cast Michael B. Jordan and others in the film Fruitvale Station and so many other projects) stayed and did an impromptu Q&A with actors and filmmakers. It was fantastic! She had a very frank conversation with us where she challenged us to tell our stories! She talked about being on a panel that read scripts for a Festival and how so many of the ideas were so similar. She knows that all black people didn’t grow up in ‘the hood’ and she wants creators to be unafraid to share their middle-class or wealthy upbringing. She advised actors to look their best at all times—even at the gym. She also told actors to put our pictures on our business cards, and avoid putting too much of another actor on their reels.
It was an extraordinary evening. I’m very grateful to New York Film Academy, Professor Kim Ogletree, and the founder of AAFCA for putting the event together.
Toyin Adewumi, 8-week Producing student, learned a few lessons from the event as well. The first was to take risks! A former HR professional, Adewumi loved that Mayo talked about leaving her comfortable job at a studio she had been at for years: “Having that clarity of there’s more out there. Yes I’m here… but… not being connected with the culture there.” Adewumi was impressed that Alana was brave enough to leave and find her ideal job.
She also loved that Alana isn’t ashamed of her personality. “Her acknowledgement that she needed to change some things. Her boldness to be humble… being willing to drop some things I (she) learned when I’ve (she) grown up. Her being humble helped lead to her breakthrough….Taking risks, knowing when to work on herself, being humble” are lessons Adewumi will treasure for a long time to come.
Brianna Dickens (AFA Acting For Film ’18) was moved by the ABA events held during Black History Month. Dickens had a wonderful chat with Twinkie Byrd and at the ABA Careers in Television event, she was invited to visit a set for a day with some friends. She tells NYFA:
I’m so thankful I found the ABA. I didn’t even know they existed. Luckily my class was invited to a screening event of theirs (the Q&A with Chuck Hayward). The second I arrived, the leaders of the group welcomed me and introduced themselves to me. In less than a month of being an ABA member, I’ve attended three events that have truly inspired me, opened my eyes, taught me things no one else has, and even opened the doors for me to have real on-set experience!
Everyone in this group is focused, supportive, kind, and encouraging. They uplift each other. I think we will do great things for one another and together. I’m thankful to have them.
The New York Film Academy and ABA Film Society thank Alana Mayo and Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd for sharing their experience and advice with our students!
On Monday, February 11, the Producing Department Industry Speaker Series welcomed producer Mollye Asher to the New York Film Academy (NYFA) for a “Conversation with” and Q&A session following a screening of Chloé Zhou’s The Rider. Also participating in the session was sound recordist on the film, Mike Wolf Snyder.
This is the second Chloé Zhou film produced by Mollye Asher. The Rider was shot over five weeks, with non-actors playing roles very much based on themselves. Writer-director Zhou spent close to two years researching the story and developing the film before the shoot. The story follows a young rodeo star recovering from a serious head injury suffered when thrown by a horse in the midst of the rodeo.
A good amount of the time Zhou spent researching the story was an investment in gaining the trust of the non-actor cast. The film was made mostly by a six-to-eight person crew, who also needed to gain the trust of the cast. Snyder, the sound recordist, does not like to use wireless, lavaliere microphones that can be hidden underneath an actor’s shirt. He uses a boom microphone for every shot. However, he says, he was very sensitive to not wanting to come off as intrusive towards the actors.
The Rider premiered at the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was acquired for North American distribution by Sony Classics. At Cannes, Zhou also won the C.I.C.A.E. Award.
The film has won numerous other awards, including Best Feature from the National Society of Film Critics Award, Best Picture at the Athens International Film Festival, and Best Feature at the Gotham Awards. It was also named one of the National Board of Review’s Top Ten Independent Films of 2018, and received multiple nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Feature and Best Director.
The team recently wrapped production on a 50-day shoot on a “below the radar” project to be announced very soon.
The New York Film Academy thanks producer Mollye Asher and sound recordist Mike Wolf Snyder for sitting down with students as part of the Producing Department Industry Speaker Series!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Furaha Bayibsa has kept herself very busy since graduating the Fall 2015 1-year Filmmaking program—not just as a writer and director, but as a producer as well.
Bayibsa is very passionate about her craft after growing up with a love of film and television. She seeks out artists who share that passion, and strives to work with those who truly care about what they’re putting on the screen.
With that in mind, Bayibsa produced a feature film called Landfill, directed by MFA Filmmaking student Yesser Laham, as well as produced a few short films together with other NYFA alumni. In between producing projects, Bayibsa continues to write screenplays that she plans to either sell or direct herself.
New York Film Academy recently spoke with Furaha Bayibsa about some of her work, what drives her as a filmmaker, and her love for all things Shonda Rhimes:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Furaha Bayibsa (FB): I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, but originally from Congo. I’ve always been kind of obsessed with TV and movies. It’s kind of cliche because every filmmaker says that (haha) but really… It was cringe. Movies and TV was the only thing I was talking about. At work people told me to shut up. My friends got upset because every Friday night were occupied for “Shonda Rhimes TGIT.”
It wasn’t until my mom was like “Okay Furaha, it’s time to choose school because you can’t be home watching movies all the time,” and I was like “Okay, I’m going to film school in LA then.” It was an awkward silence at first, but then she said “okay” and four months later I got my acceptance letter.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your film 1989 and what inspired you to make it?
FB: My older sister is a politician in Sweden for the Social Democratic party, a party running Sweden as we speak. The party basically stands for equality and giving back to the less fortunate. She’s my biggest role model, and I’ve always wanted to be like her. Do something meaningful, so my entire life hasn’t just been movies. It’s been movies, demonstrations, manifestations, voting parties, lectures, and a lot of political engagement.
Discovering Shonda Rhimes, I realized I could use a film as a tool to speak about really intense stuff, and not make it too much of a lecture. So I decided to make a film about rape, and make it as a ten-minute real-time moment in a couple’s life where they are discussing the topic casually, like couples do all the time (or in Sweden at least).
I remembered a guy telling me this story of how he was sexually harassed by another man one night, and he never told anyone because he was embarrassed, but it really affected him. It pissed me off, because—hello—this happens all the time, so why should he feel embarrassed? So in the film I have the couple watching a news broadcast about a rape victim who killed their attacker, and then got convicted. After the broadcast we’ll find out that the man is enraged, and his fiancee doesn’t understand why. So they go back and forth until… you need to watch the movie, haha.
FB: One of my closest friends, Luis Quijano—we met in film school. He pitched the idea to me 18 months ago. He’s obsessed with horror movies, and he’s from Mexico, so he wanted to make it in Spanish. When he was younger, he worked as a missionary in Mexico, and he grew up hearing a lot of folk tales about monsters in the woods.
The “Huay Chivo” is a Mayan beast—half-human and half beast with really creepy eyes. He can turn himself into a goat, a disguise he uses to eat livestock (at least that’s what I understood from it). Luis really wanted it to be as authentic as possible, so together with our friend and cinematographer Andrii Lantukh, we literally went in with our hearts and souls and we made the legend come to life.
I produced it together with Luis and it was the realest experience I’ve ever had as a filmmaker. I knew it would be. Luis is amazing at what he does, Andrii too. We’re turning it into a feature film as well. So much fun.
NYFA: How do you decide which films to produce? What draws you to them?
FB: In the beginning, I’d get a text saying “Hey Furaha, I have a friend who needs help… are you free?” And that’s literally how it’s been. Just me being nice, saying “yes” to almost everyone. Then I guess the word got out that “Hello everyone, Furaha produces movies and she can raise money too!” And I realized that okay maybe I should find a strategy because I’m only one woman.
I’ve tried to produce several short films at the same time, and line produce them too with directors I didn’t connect with. So I had to step back one day and think, “Okay Furaha, why are you here? Because you love storytelling right, not producing.” So now I ask for three things before even agreeing to a meeting. “Script, crew list so far, and budget.” Script to see if I need to help them develop it a little more, budget meaning what they want for the film, and how much money they have on their own so far.
Then I read the script, break it down in my head, check the budget, google search the crew. I take my notes, then I meet with them. Even if the material is flat I meet with them because sometimes they have no idea what they’re talking about but they’re just so adorable in person and I kinda love them instantly.
So I decide to work with them anyways and help them with literally everything – hold their hand through every step until they don’t need me anymore. Because what draws me in is the director’s passion. The story is more important to me than the script, so I always ask them “tell me about the story” and if I can sense that they love filmmaking as much as me in that meeting, and I can laugh with them (super important), then let’s go. The process sounds strict, but the ones I’ve worked with have appreciated my straightforwardness and work ethic, so there must be something I’m doing right (right?)
NYFA: You have produced, written, and directed—do you have a particular preference for one of these roles?
FB: Writing and directing goes hand-in-hand for me, and they are my favorites. But producing is so much fun when I work with directors who know the craft, as well as respect the craft. So I don’t know really.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
FB: Right now? Like, right this second? Right this second I’m only working on one project. I’ve written two feature films that I’ll direct, or sell, or do something with in the future. But now I’m writing a Swedish feature film called Silver Wedding; I want it to be the first feature I direct. The goal is to shoot it in Sweden together with my two favorite filmmaking friends from LA when the time has come.
Then there’s another feature film I’m line producing for a friend of mine. A romantic comedy, but it’s standing still right now because our investor is still waiting on the final draft. So that’s gonna be fun too. But it’s the filmmaking industry, so you never know, maybe Shonda Rhimes will call me tomorrow wanting to add me to HTGAWM writer’s room, who knows really?
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your filmmaking?
FB: Nothing… Just kidding! Too much to tell you about right now. But there were some things that I remember from my education that I will always keep with me. The class Film Art and the class Critical Film mainly. We had to read all the history from the beginning of cinema until the present.
I was one of those students who actually read all the chapters, took notes, watched all films, prepared study questions, etc. No I’m not embarrassed, yes my classmates thought I was extra. But now I know so much of the little things people don’t talk about anymore. Those books tell us how past filmmakers thought and experimented with cinema, struggles they faced and how they overcame it. How much they hustled and thought outside the box to achieve their goals.
I was also one of the fortunate ones to have Gil McDonald as my screenwriting teacher, and he taught me everything I know about writing. The most important part was that we should show and not tell, and most importantly not to write what the character is thinking or feeling, but instead only write their actions. That’s been my life savior really.
My directing instructors (Joe Burke, Nick Sivakumaran, and David Armstrong) all taught me everything else I know about filmmaking. All of these classes have really taught me that we’re all artists painting on a blank canvas, so we should just let our imagination run free. They taught me that cinema is the place where the impossible is done, where there’s no limitations, we just have to put in the work. Maybe that’s why I am the way I am today, because I never let anything stop my creativity. My instructors taught me that. Now I’m teaching you that. You’re welcome!
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
FB: First things first, read the answer to my previous question and if you’re at the LA Campus, find these instructors and befriend them. They’ll change your life I promise. Secondly, and please take this to heart: we’re all different, so don’t compare yourself to another artist. It’s easier said than done I know, but I promise you everyone is going through their own struggles and just because someone might seem to be better than you or have it better than you, please don’t put yourself down because you really have no idea what they had to go through to get there.
So what if there’s someone in your class you think is a better writer than you? Go and read more scripts of films you like to learn more about the craft of screenwriting and become as good as them. So someone in class directed a great film and you’re jealous? Go and talk to that person. Ask them about the stuff you admired in the film, how they thought of it, the process. Go online and read trivia from directors from movies you like. Break down movies you like to understand them better.
Anyone can watch three movies a day, but you need to put in the behind-the-scenes work to actually grow. And don’t rush please, because we all grow at our own speed, okay? Also, be nice. Not just to your classmates, instructors too. They’re people just like you with feelings. Just trust me on this one—always be nice.
NYFA: Anything else you’d like to speak on?
FB: First day of class, ask for the club brochures and join a club! If there’s no club you like at NYFA, create one yourself. No, it’s not as time consuming as you think, or as lame. NYFA has the resources to make your stay at school more than amazing with their student led clubs, and as a founder and former president to one of NYFA’s coolest and I want to say all-time best (?) clubs, I know what I’m talking about. Join a club! I’d recommend the African Black American (ABA) Film Society at the LA Campus if you’re there. I’ve heard some great things about them.
The New York Film Academy thanks Filmmaking alum Furaha Bayibsa for taking the time to answer our questions and wishes her the best of luck as her career moves forward!
Producer and director Irene Méndez has been incredibly busy since graduating from New York Film Academy’s producing school, working on multiple films that have made several festivals and garnered a great deal of press and attention from the industry.
Méndez originally hails from Madrid, Spain. In 2016, she enrolled in the 1-year Producing conservatory at New York Film Academy (NYFA). While studying at NYFA’s New York city campus, acquiring strong project management skills as well as a hands-on filmmaking education from experienced industry professionals, Méndez completed production on several films in multiple roles.
This included her own film Tinnitus, which she wrote, directed, and produced, as well as several NYFA thesis films—From Me to Me, directed by Moe Myat May Zarchi; Lighter and Cigarettes, directed by Rafael Cintra; and Almost, directed by Mahair Kahn. These projects, as well as other films Méndez produced, have accrued numerous awards and Official Selections from film festivals around the world.
Almost (2017), which Méndez worked on as 2nd Assistant Director and Script Supervisor, was an Official Selection in the New York Indian Film Festival. From Me to Me (2018), which she co-produced, won Best Woman Filmmaker at the Barcelona Planet Film Festival and was an Official Selection in Myanmar’s Wathann Film Festival.
Lighter and Cigarettes (2017) was produced by Méndez and was a Semiinalist at Los Angeles CineFest and an Official Selection for both the Los Angeles SR Film Festival and Hope Film Awards. Additionally, it was part of the Short Film Corner at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival.
Tinnitus (2017) was a Finalist or Semifinalist at multiple fests, as well as an Official Selection of New York Film Screenings, Women’s Only Entertainment Film Festival, Bridgwater and Taunton College Film Festival, Hope Film Awards, Barcelona Planet Film Festival, and the Los Angeles SR Film Festival.
After graduating, Méndez also produced Obini Bata (2018) which was directed by Damian Calvo. The short documentary profiles the first women to perform with Batá drums in Cuba, drums traditionally forbidden for women. The film has won the Audience Award for Best Short Film Documentary at the Edmonton International Film Festival and has been an Official Selection at Lady Filmmakers, Women in Film and Television Atlanta, The Pan African Film Festival, and The Chicago Feminist Film Festival.
Méndez is also in postproduction for Agua Desgasta Roca, a documentary short about a rock climber diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The film has already won the Premios Solidarios from Fundacion Merk.
Currently, she is working on two additional documentaries, Los García, and Costus. Los García, a feature film, was featured as part of the Focus CoPro pitching event at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also one of five winners at the La Incubadora competition, and was featured at Abycine.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Producing alum Irene Méndez on the multiple successes of her films to date, and looks forward to following her career as it develops!
On Monday, January 7, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a guest lecture by NYFA Producing alum, Alex Lebovici. Lebovici was executive producer on the Academy Award-nominated Denzel Washington drama, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), Mom and Dad (2017), Who We Are Now (2017), The Clapper (2017) as well as an unofficial short fan film based on hit video game Uncharted, starring Nathan Fillion and which garnered rave reviews and Internet buzz.
Lebovici began the lecture by discussing his beginnings: “I started making short films [when] I was 13 with my closest friends … and I always wanted to be part of the movie business.” Lebovici moved from Canada to the United States and studied directing at New York Film Academy, where he made 12 short films during his academic career. After he graduated, Lebovici was an intern at Original Film, the company that produced the Fast and the Furious film franchise, but, unfortunately was laid off.
After moving back to Canada, Lebovici became a door-to-door salesman, working six days a week, 12 hours a day, for six years. “I prepared myself [by] doing something very challenging … of the people that opened the door, 95% of them said no but the 5% that said yes [were] more than enough to earn a living.” Despite his success, he still ached to return to the entertainment industry.
Lebovici was inspired one night after being denied entry to a fancy nightclub in his native Toronto. The next day, he purchased an American pay-as-you-go mobile phone, registered it to a Beverly Hills zip code and called the nightclub as his own fake assistant; he told the nightclub that he was an assistant to a producer from Los Angeles that wanted to produce a television show about “bodyguards who protect A-list celebrities when they come to Toronto.”
That phone call got Lebovici introduced to all of the nightclub owners, bodyguards, and doormen in Toronto. Word got to movie star Steven Seagal that Lebovici owned a bodyguard company; he didn’t, but he made sure Seagal and his guests were taken care of during their visit to Toronto free of charge. Seagal knew that nothing comes for free and asked Lebovici what he wanted in return; Lebovici asked if he would star in a pilot for a show about bodyguards. Seagal agreed.
In a matter of months, Lebovici went from being a guy who couldn’t get into a nightclub to a guy that was known and welcomed by all of the nightclub owners in Toronto, with a potential television show pilot starring Steven Seagal. Lebovici called all of the production companies in Toronto, pitched his pilot to them and started a bidding war between two companies for the rights to produce the show. Lebovici was then contacted by various Hollywood actors’ representatives and the show’s cast started to grow.
Lebovici learned from this experience how to be a producer and went on to produce a number of projects in the United States; he continued to make valuable contacts through networking with nightclub promoters and owners and he carefully gauged when it was appropriate to ask his contacts for favors, “You’ve got to build them up to it by playing a slow game,” said Lebovici, “…you don’t want to be too thirsty in this business.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Producing alum Alex Lebovici for sharing his experiences and honest advice with our students!
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.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Alana Blaylock has had a productive career since finishing the 8-week Broadcast Journalism workshop at NYFA’s New York City campus in the summer of 2011. It’s no surprise then that many in the industry have taken notice of the Emmy Award winner, including Forbes Magazine, which recently published a profile on and interview with the up-and-coming producer.
Blaylock has amassed an inspiring roster of credits since finishing her workshop at NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism school, which teaches aspiring reporters a well-rounded understanding of all aspects of the production process, including researching, writing, shooting, producing, and editing. This is important in the modern digital landscape as contemporary broadcast journalists are expected to be multimedia journalists, marrying their technical skills with their creative ones.
This is exactly what Blaylock has excelled at, and why she has already won an Emmy and why her career is taking off even as her path winds between both traditional roads and outside-the-box ones. Her credits include work on CNN, HBO, NBC News, National Geographic, and the ID Channel, including popular programs Deadline and United Shades of America. However, her work on newer streaming models like Amazon and YouTube is what has been generating a lot of buzz.
One of her latest projects is producing for Best Shot, a YouTube Originals docuseries executive produced by Lebron James and Maverick Carter for the NBA. The show follows the student basketball players of Newark Central High School as well as chronicling the life and career of their mentor, former NBA player and sports television personality Jay Williams.
In addition to working in both traditional and digital media, Blaylock curates a strong online presence on social media, further highlighting her smart instincts in an ever-changing media landscape.
“I love the visual storytelling that happens on Instagram,” Blaylock tells Forbes. “That’s the platform I probably use the most [in my personal life]. And I am inspired by movies, set design, museums, exhibits and artists.”
She continues, “I try to take in as much new culture as possible and then decide what I want to do with it or how it fits into my process as a creative.”
What lies ahead for Blaylock remains to be seen, but it’s clear whatever she does next will be insightful and successful due to the work she puts in and the philosophy that keeps her driven. When asked about keeping her own personal voice while working on other parties’ projects, Blaylock tells Forbes, “My brand evolves as I attain more world experience. I have to remain authentically Alana, and the projects that I take on are continuations of my career journey.
“I can adapt to the demands of a project and still be the best version of myself. I remain steadfast in my goals while producing every show, documentary or collaboration. As a result of working on many projects, there’s always new information and experiences. It keeps me well-rounded.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates Alana Blaylock on her career and looks forward to her future successes sure to come!
On Tuesday, October 16th the New York Film Academy hosted a screening of Look Away with director, Assaf Bernstein, and producer and NYFA instructor, Dana Lustig, moderated by Director of the Los Angeles NYFA campus, Dan Mackler.
Bernstein is the critically-acclaimed director of Netflix’s massive hit series, Fauda (2015). He recently directed the pilot episode of Warrior, the Bruce Lee-inspired series created for Cinemax. Prior to that, Focus Features released an English-language remake of Bernstein’s film, The Debt (2007), which he co-wrote and directed. Look Away is Bernstein’s first U.S. feature.
Lustig was the executive producer on Spider in the Web (2019), starring Ben Kingsley and Monica Bellucci, and the Israeli hit series, Very Important Man (2018). Prior to that, Lustig produced Jungle (2017), starring Daniel Radcliffe; The Frontier (2015); Rian Johnson’s Brick (2005), nominated for the Independent Spirit Award; and Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000), directed by Academy Award nominee, Michael Radford.
Lustig also directed A Thousand Kisses Deep (2011), which was nominated for the British Independent Film Award; Wild Cherry (2009) with Rob Schneider; Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber (2005), starring Jennifer Love Hewitt; and Kill Me Later (2001), starring Selma Blair. Lustig is set to direct the remake of Israeli film, The Man in the Wall.
After the screening, Dan Mackler opened up the conversation by asking Bernstein about the inspiration behind Look Away. Bernstein replied, “It started when I was 10 years old and… this film is kind of the sum of all my fears… I had this idea of my own reflection not quite reflecting me, and I think there’s something there — if you really look at yourself in the mirror, you always make a face, or, you know, you never actually just look at yourself, you always look away from what you see. I think the idea that your reflection is a stranger to you is something that has some truth in it… so that sort of fear that made me not look in my mirror in the bathroom… I remember as a kid I always thought would be the first film I would make.”
Mackler inquired as to why — since the idea seemed to stem from an autobiographical perspective — Bernstein chose to make the protagonist a girl instead of a boy. “I think women are more repressed, traditionally, than men,” said Bernstein, “there’s more pressure on them to behave a certain way, to look a certain way… when a woman… becomes sexual, there’s something dramatic about it.”
Bernstein added that making the protagonist female also played into primordial parental fears about their teenage daughters being sexually active, fears of both their daughters’ agency and potential victimhood.
Later, the Q&A opened up to questions from students in the audience; one student asked Bernstein and Lustig what they wish they knew when they first started out. “Don’t make [this] mistake,” said Lustig, “You make your movie, you put everything into it, you go to a film festival; everybody’s asking you, ‘So what’s your next project?’ and you’re like, ‘Um…’ and you don’t have it and you kind of miss the opportunity, miss the timing…The other thing that I encourage my students [to do]…is to keep doing.”
Lustig then encouraged all students in the audience to make their films with whatever resources are available to them and to never stop learning.
The New York Film Academy thanks Assaf Bernstein and Dana Lustig for sharing their creative processes and entertainment industry advice with students!