Richard Gere
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  • Producer Mohammed Al Turki Visits NYFA and Brings Special Surprise Guest Michelle Rodriguez

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    arbitrage

    (from left to right) actress Michelle Rodriguez, producer Mohammed Al Turki, director Nicholas Jarecki and co-star Nate Parker

    Last night, Thursday, January 29th, students gathered in the New York Film Academy Los Angeles Theater to view a screening of the financial thriller Arbitrage (Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth), for which its star Richard Gere was nominated for a Golden Globe, and participate in a Q&A with film’s executive producer Mohammed Al Turki. Making impressive moves in the very competitive Hollywood scene, Mohammed Al Turki is quickly cementing himself as an ambitious producer, actor and philanthropist in the industry. Born in Saudi Arabia and educated in London, Al Turki’s call to film caused him to move to Hollywood and launch his career from there. His executive producing credits also include What Maisie Knew (Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Steve Coogan), Adult World (Emma Roberts, Evan Peters, John Cusack), and At Any Price (Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens). His newest film, Desert Dancer, that follows an Iranian dancer who risks everything to start a dance company amidst his home country’s politically volatile climate and the nation’s ban on dancing, is set to release on April 10th. The Q&A was moderated by producer and NYFA instructor Saga Elmotaseb.

    The event was advertised as a Q&A with Mr. Al Turki alone, however, to the audience’s surprise Mohammed brought a couple of friends with him. Added first to the Q&A panel was Arbitrage‘s director Nicholas Jarecki and co-star Nate Parker. Nicholas Jarecki, a prodigy who graduated college at age 19, is a director, producer, and writer best known for directing the film The Informers and documentaries The Outsider and Tyson, in addition to Arbitrage. Nate Parker is an actor and musical performer who has appeared in Beyond the LightsRed TailsThe Secret Life of BeesThe Great Debaters, and Pride. Mr. Jarecki announced that he is a New York Film Academy alumnus himself, having attended a filmmaking workshop as a young man at the Princeton campus. Nicholas raised his fist in the air and yelled “Go NYFA!” as the students applauded and cheered.

    But the surprises didn’t stop there. Shortly before the Q&A Mohammed Al Turki notified NYFA that he was bringing yet another special guest with him but wanted to keep their identity a surprise for everyone. Moments before stepping on stage NYFA was notified and the announcement was made during the Q&A panel’s introduction that the secret guest was, in fact, actress Michelle Rodriguez! Known mostly for playing tough-girl roles in Hollywood blockbusters, Michelle Rodriguez, has starred in Resident EvilS.W.A.T., and the Fast & Furious series, of which the latest installment, Furious 7, will be release on April 3rd. A trailer for Furious 7 is set to air during the Super Bowl.

    What followed was an all-star panel of artists who engaged in exciting discussion on filmmaking from every angle. After all there was a Hollywood mogul, genius director, and two A-list actors on stage. Mohammed Al Turki proved to be a man of many resources, much generosity, and alot of surprises! Like his films he seeks to satisfy, and then some. There’s no doubt that Mohammed Al Turki is the man to watch as he continues his mission of producing meaningful and relevant stories in Hollywood.

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    February 2, 2015 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 11426

  • How David Marshall Grant’s Persistence Led to His Success

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    This Monday, the New York Film Academy hosted a screening of ABC’s Brothers and Sisters with executive producer/show-runner David Marshall Grant. The event was moderated by Producer, Tova Laiter.

    In addition to Grant’s success in television as Executive Producer/show-runner of NBC’s Smash and ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, he is an accomplished actor and playwright. His first play, Snakebit, was nominated for both a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. His second play, Current Events, was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000. His most recent play, Pen, opened in 2006 at Playwrights Horizons. As an actor, Grant is best known for playing opposite Richard Gere in Broadway’s Bent and for his Tony-nominated performance in Angels in America. His acting credits include film and television work in such projects as The Devil Wears Prada, The Stepford Wives, The Rock, Air America, And the Band Played On, Citizen Cohn, thirtysomething, Eli Stone, and Party Down.

    david grantAfter attending the Yale School of Drama, David went to the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference in Connecticut where he did a workshop of Bent. He was very lucky to experience immediate success right out of school when the production, which was bound for Broadway, asked him to star opposite Richard Gere. “So much of life is what fate brings you, and so much of life is what you bring when fate shows up,” said Grant.

    It was during his time at the playwright’s conference that David became fascinated with story and by the idea that the way an actor’s mind thought could actually help you as a writer. This kept gnawing at him until one summer he began to write a play. He wrote 23 pages the first day, assuming he could have the production up and running in no time. However, he ended up working on the play for five years and it was never produced despite his efforts.

    When his acting career stalled after Bent, David started taking writing more seriously. His second play was entitled, Snakebit. It was twelve years before this film was produced on a very small scale at Grove Street Theater in New York. There was an audience of 53 people. One of these people was Peter Marks of The New York Times. Marks wrote a great review of the play, and the next day everyone was calling David. It seemed there was a renewed interest in him.

    At the time, David was auditioning for episodic television and not getting the parts, so he decided to “open the door that wasn’t locked” and become a writer. Although, even that became an immense struggle for David. Five or six years later, John Robin Bates called David and asked him if he wanted to be a story editor on Brothers and Sisters, and he hasn’t stopped working since then.

    David always tries to impress on his students that, “Failure is the norm,” and this industry is a long game. “You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize, and if it doesn’t happen today, it might not happen for the next five years. But that doesn’t mean you give up.”

    David was also one of the first brave actors to play gay characters, like he did in Bent, when other actors (straight or gay) wouldn’t. This was also at a point when David hadn’t been out with the public. In thirtysomething, David took the opportunity to play a gay character, even though he was convinced it would ruin his career. He brought up the point that there hasn’t been a major movie actor that has come out yet. You can’t be Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise and be known as gay.

    QUESTION: Can you give advice to actors who want to transition into producing?

    DAVID: An actor’s job should always be to figure out how he or she can support the STORY—understand what your place in the story is. You are a part of the larger thing—and that thing is everything—STORY.

    QUESTION: What are some of the roles of a show-runner?

    DAVID: Your first job is to come up with a story every week. You follow the story. Also, it’s about navigating personalities—the demands of the studio and the actors on the script. That’s what the show-runner does. In the process of pushing that story up the hill, he deals with every human being that touches that story.

    David’s story was inspirational in regards to the success one can achieve in this industry through endurance and never giving up. He made the point to say that you must consciously inspire yourself. “It really works by failing every single day, until the world sees,” he concluded.

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    October 11, 2013 • Acting, Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Musical Theatre, Screenwriting • Views: 11172

  • ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ Screening with Taylor Hackford

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    Taylor Hackford

    Taylor Hackford at NYFA LA

    Last Wednesday, at the Warner Bros theater in LA, New York Film Academy students were treated to a screening of the classic Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves film, The Devil’s Advocate. Following the screening, director Taylor Hackford dropped by to talk about the film and his career on a whole. Taylor, who directed such films as An Officer and a Gentleman and Dolores Claiborne, says he developed an interest in film during his time in the peace corps in Bolivia. He saw many films there and shot his own on super 8 film. After coming back from the peace corps, he went to law school for two weeks, but then quit because he decided he really wanted to work in the film industry.

    His first job was in the mailroom at the Los Angeles TV station KCET. He began writing copy, editing, shooting and reporting for their news program. Working as a journalist really helped Taylor develop as a director–learning how to tell people’s stories and make them feel comfortable enough to open up. He also learned how to “deliver on a deadline” with the high turnover rate in news. He eventually started making documentaries for the news station and became passionate about the stories he was telling.

    taylorTaylor also has a love for music and it’s no surprise that his films are known for their great soundtracks. In An Officer and a Gentleman, Taylor knew that music was important to the working class people the movie was about. Taylor went to great lengths to find the right music and especially in convincing the producers to spend the money on the soundtrack. His persistence didn’t stop there. In order to convince the studio to shoot the opening of An Officer and a Gentleman in the Philippines (which sets up Richard Gere’s backstory), he agreed that any expenditures that went over budget for the additional shooting would be taken out of his own salary. Paramount never realized what an amazing movie they had, until it sold so well and became such a success. “Nothing is ever predictable,” Taylor told the students. “All you can do is keep your vision. That is all you have.”

    While shooting The Idol Maker, Taylor was not as experienced as a director. He came onto set with a very detailed plan as to how he wanted to shoot everything. However, his cinematographer and 1st AD had different opinions, and since they were much more experienced than him, Taylor ended up using their ideas. When he saw the dailies two days later, Taylor realized he had made a big mistake–the drama wasn’t there and the shots didn’t mean anything. After that, Taylor remained firm in following his own vision. There was a reason he was hired to direct the movie. “You have to make decisions. If you must, ‘get on with it’ and you can’t ‘take your time.’ Time is money with filmmaking. Preparation is key–you can work through most of your potential mistakes if you think it out ahead of time.”

    Taylor now directs a scene without providing blocking instructions to his actors and tells them to “do the scene.” The actors typically find a few great moments that Taylor will incorporate into the scene. This way the actor feels like he is using their ideas and he’s able to include some spontaneous moments that he hadn’t thought of. Directors have to learn how to work with an actor until they can catch them in an authentic moment. Taylor used the example of working with Keanu Reeves who is not, at first, as spontaneous as Al Pacino. He would have to do eight takes with Keanu before he would break out of his preconceived notions of how to perform. This is a tactic that he had to employ as a director, which worked for this particular scenario.

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    September 23, 2013 • Film School, Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 8532

  • Joel Silver on the State of Hollywood

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    “Joel has never been afraid of color,” said producer/moderator Tova Laiter.

    Mega-producer Joel Silver recently visited New York Film Academy for a Q&A and special screening of his 1988 classic, Die Hard. “We were kind of crafting a new genre,” said Silver. “Summers weren’t full of action films then.” He said he had originally wanted Richard Gere to play the lead, who turned down the role. They took a risk with Bruce Willis, an actor best known at the time for his starring role on TV’s Moonlighting. It paid off, becoming an international hit that would go on to spawn 3 hit sequels. The fourth sequel, A Good Day to Die Hard, is slated for release in February 2013.

    Silver has produced more than 60 films, earning more than $13 billion worldwide. His credits include the Academy Award-winning The Matrix trilogy, the blockbuster Lethal Weapon franchise, and the sci-fi thriller, Predator. More recently, he launched the Sherlock Holmes franchise for Warner Bros. He is co-founder of Dark Castle Entertainment and owner of Silver Pictures. His newly-launched division, Silver Pictures Entertainment, announced a five-year distribution deal with Universal Pictures. Silver said the new division plans to make movies in various genres with mid-sized budgets of $40-60 million. He joked, “There’s always going to be artistic films out there, but I want to make the movies people actually see.”

    Answering questions from New York Film Academy students, Silver commented on the state of the industry, saying, “The Hollywood system is better than it has ever been. People are going to the movies more than ever, and all over the world. It’s a great time.” He continued, “People are making movies for 20 bucks … We’re living in a golden age of Hollywood.”

    Speaking to the young filmmakers and actors, he said, “You have to be passionate about movies. I’m excited every day. I love the process. I know the process. I live crisis. Crisis is a part of my life … If you bang your head against enough walls, eventually you’re going to break through.”

    He also put to rest rumors about revisiting the Lethal Weapon franchise, saying, “I’d rather be dead,” eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd.

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    July 5, 2012 • Guest Speakers • Views: 6066