It was that time of year once more as graduating BFA New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screenwriting students recently attended their culminating Industry Pitch Fest Event, held at the penthouse ballroom of the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, surrounded by the astounding views of Los Angeles.
A catered event and mingling opportunity for students, executives, and faculty alike, this capstone evening celebrated the New York Film Academy’s graduating Screenwriting school students by offering them a unique opportunity to jumpstart their professional development and pitching their film and TV thesis projects to entertainment industry professionals.
These exceptional writing students spent their final semester in their Business of Screenwriting classes working with instructor Jerry Shandy in conjunction with Faculty Chair Nunzio DeFilippis and other members of the Screenwriting Department, preparing and fine-tuning their pitches. They were also joined by a stellar Screenwriting alum that night. The Pitch Fest shared the venue with an equally impressive event by NYFA’s Producing school.
The students’ dedication and passion for their work was on display as they pitched their thesis projects, which they had developed for nearly a year. Students left with new contacts, excitement about the scripts they’d worked so hard on, and a sense of what it’s like to meet with industry professionals.
Considered by the school to be their first night as professional screenwriters, their hard work paid off as the talented and creative students pitched agents, managers, studios, and digital, VR, TV, and film production company executives in a relaxed, roundtable environment.
Organized and hosted by Jenni Powell, Ashley Bank, and Adam Finer, the Pitch Fest featured representatives from Hollywood companies including: Jim Henson Company, MGM, Practical Magic, Verve, Rain Management, Little Studio Films, Tremendum Pictures, and Gulfstream Pictures.
The New York Film Academy wishes to thank all of its participants, particularly our industry guests, without whom this evening could not have been possible. NYFA also extends a big congratulations to all of our BFA graduates and wishes them the best of luck as they move forward in their professional journeys!
On August 20, 2018, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) partnered with Final Draft to host a live taping of Final Draft’s podcast, Write On, focused on women in comics. The panelists were Shannon Watters, Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, and NYFA screenwriting school instructor Christina Weir. The event was moderated by Pete D’Alessandro.
Shannon Watters is the senior editor at BOOM! Studios and co-creator and co-writer of the award-winning comic book series, Lumberjanes. Kirsten Smith is a writer and producer (Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man, Ella Enchanted, The House Bunny and The Ugly Truth) and Christina Weir is a writer (New X-Men, Skinwalker, Three Strikes, Maria’s Wedding, Bad Medicine, Play Ball, Dragon Age: Deception).
The panelists were first asked what makes comics unique as an artistic medium. Smith said that, in her opinion, comics are special and intimate because they are “a work of art.” Weir added that, in the comic medium, it is essential to keep things moving; even if the scene is just a conversation, it’s important to keep it visually interesting to the reader. Watters shared that she likes using “the page turn” as a tool to surprise and entertain readers of comics in book form.
The production of a comic is similar to the production of a play or TV show or film because, to be successful, the comic has to tell a story and, in order to tell a story well, there must be trust and communication between all parties involved. Watters described the relationship between a comic writer and artist as symbiotic and “like a marriage.”
Weir added that comics are “great learning tools for screenwriting” because they “force [the writer] to get to what’s important… You only have so much space to get your point across.”
The panelists were asked what they believe the future of the comic industry looks like. Watters said that she believes that in the next couple decades, there will be more and more women, people of color, and LGBTQ comic writers and artists. Weir added, “We are in an age now where kids are encouraged to read comics… Comics are cool!”
Lastly, Watters’ advice for aspiring comic writers and artists is to “Get your stuff out there!” She encouraged students to share their work on the web and to meet other creative people to network, collaborate, and grow.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Shannon Watters, Kirsten Smith, and Christina Weir for sharing their experiences and advice for young writers.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Elizabeth Soto-Lara can now add a feature film to her list of screenwriting credits after finishing production on the film Un Regalo Esencial (An Essential Gift). Not only is she the film’s screenwriter, but Soto-Lara also served on set as the First Assistant Director.
Un Regalo Esencial was filmed in more than 30 locations in Costa Rica over the course of about ninety days. It was co-written and directed by Jose Mario Salas Boza. Both Boza and Soto-Lara graduated from the New York Film Academy’s Fall ’16 MA Film & Media program.
The film tells the story of a grandfather who relives the memories of his first romantic relationship to share life lessons with his grandchild about the consequences of jealousy and insecurity. It merges genres of romance, drama, comedy, and musical, and looks to make its audience ride a rollercoaster of emotions. Its setting ranges from the 1980s to the near future, all in a running time of about 90 minutes.
Un Regalo Esencial stars notable Costa Rican actors Viviana Calderon and Pablo Rodriguez, as well as featuring Mauricio Hoffman and Norval Calvo in supporting roles. It is currently in post-production and will be released in October 2018.
Soto-Lara is a Mexican filmmaker who has been writing for television and film for more than four years. She has written and directed more than 10 short films within both Mexico and the US. Soto-Lara won the award for Best Short Film at the Mexico International Film Festival for her film Restored, which was originally her NYFA thesis film. Restored is also an Official Selection at the 2019 Los Angeles CineFest.
Of her work on Un Regalo Esencial, Soto-Lara remarked, “It was an unforgettable experience to be able to be on set and see how the words I put on paper came to life. I feel very lucky and thankful to have had this opportunity to share a beautiful story, make friends from around the globe, and learn in the process.”
She continued, “This experience will remain as an indelible mark in me for the rest of my life.”
New York Film Academy congratulates Elizabeth Soto-Lara’s on her well-earned success and encourages her and the rest of our students to continue writing and keep sharing their stories.
New York Film Academy’s Katherin Hussein and Robert (Bobby) Gutierrez are the most recent recipients of Entertainment Partners’ Movie Magic Scholarship Producer Award. The scholarship is sponsored by Movie Magic, a software program for production professionals. Both students come from the Spring ’16 MFA Filmmaking Feature Track.
Katherin Hussein is a Spring ’16 MFA Filmmaking graduate at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. Originally hailing from Venezuela, Katherin is currently in development on her first feature film, The Unfinished. The film is about a recently orphaned twelve-year-old who girl who must stop a monster before it destroys her mother’s legacy. The monster is from an unfinished painting.
With this award, Katherin is recognized for her outstanding development effort on The Unfinished, including the creation of a beautifully crafted and visually powerful proof of concept to support her fundraising efforts.
Robert (Bobby) Gutierrez is a Spring ’16 MFA Filmmaking graduate at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. A native of Wyoming, Bobby has an extensive background as both an actor and director on stage and in films. He is in development on his film directorial debut, Safe, about a death row inmate who relives his time spent with a wild young couple on a deadly crime spree across the badlands of Montana.
Bobby is recognized for his outstanding development of the film’s script, adapted from a play by Ron Fitzgerald. A consistently excellent and ambitious student, he is a very worthy recipient of this recognition.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Katherin and Bobby on their well-deserved awards and looks forward to the completion of their feature films and to all their future successes!
Interested in studying filmmaking? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s programs here.
Kazy Tauginas is an artist who wears many hats. He’s an actor, having appeared in television shows such as Sneaky Pete, Blindspot, Person of Interest, Turn, Blue Bloods, and Law & Order: SVU, and blockbuster films including John Wick and The Equalizer 2. He’s also a producer and writer, having worked on an award-winning and very personal short film, Standing Eight.
Tauginas grew up outside of Chicago, and was a restauranteur and Golden Gloves boxer. In 2009, he decided to follow his lifelong passion in writing and acting, and attended the 1-Year Acting for Film Conservatory at the New York Film Academy’s New York City campus. He has been performing steadily since graduating, which isn’t just a testament to his talents. Taguinas is also extremely committed to his art, putting everything he has into every role. “No matter what the project,” he says, “I want to always be the best me I can be.”
Tauginas can currently be seen in theaters with Denzel Washington in the follow-up to The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua. He recently spoke with the New York Film Academy about his time on set, his award-winning film Standing Eight, and the continuing experiences that make him the storyteller he is today:
Photo Credit: http://kazytauginas.com
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Kazy Tauginas (KT): I grew up just outside of Chicago. Attended the University of Delaware for undergrad. After college, I ended up running a 24-hour diner for 4+ years. When my lease was up, and of no fault of my own, I was forced to walk away from the restaurant business. This event brought me to a fork in the road career-wise. I decided to follow my heart and go after my true dream, which was acting and writing. That life-changing decision led me to NYFA, where I graduated from the Acting for Film Conservatory program in August 2009.
NYFA: Why acting? What inspires you most about this craft, and what stories are you most passionate about telling?
KT: I’ve always had an affinity for film since I was a child. I can probably trace back most of my notable childhood events to the films that coincided with them that particular year. I was also an only child, so I had to keep myself entertained. I would create epic adventures for my G.I. Joes. I would run around the backyard pretending I was Indiana Jones. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized I actually enjoyed performing.
Photo Credit: http://kazytauginas.com
What appeals most to me about acting is the ability to step into the shoes of others. Being able to experience different human emotions and walk away (mostly unscathed). I love creating characters. I love being able to surprise people. When I was younger, I always enjoyed a good action movie. But I feel now, as I’ve matured, I prefer films with strong performances — the genre doesn’t matter. If the performances in the films are rooted in truth, I’m entertained. At the end of the day, I just want to be truthful on screen and take people on an emotional ride.
NYFA: You’verecently produced a short film called Standing Eight. Can you talk about this project, and what it took for you to make this film?
KT:Standing Eight is an award-winning dramatic short film about a professional boxer who is forced to retire and contend with his life outside of the ring after being diagnosed with systemic lupus. It’s a story about a man who is trying to face the fact that he’s been beaten by a disease. The conflict only escalates when his former would-be opponent begins trolling him.
This project was a labor of love. Through and through. My inspiration came from my mother, who has been fighting Systemic Lupus Nephritis since before I was born. Lupus affects millions of people around the globe, yet so few people even know what the disease actually does to the body. (It’s an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s own immune system attacks healthy organs and tissues.) Louis Peduto, Brian Kazmarck, and I made a hard commitment to work with each other in a Producer, Director, Writer/Actor capacity. I wrote the first draft of the film at the end of 2014. From that point, we went through multiple drafts of the screenplay, two successful Kickstarter campaigns (one for actual production, one for post-production). Principal, post, festival submissions, and finally an incredibly successful indie festival run. The film was an Official Selection at 28 festivals worldwide. We were nominated for 22 various awards. In the end, we took home 11 different festival awards and 4 Honorable Mentions. I think the film is accomplishing what I originally set out to do, which was raise lupus awareness. Just recently I was contacted by the Lupus Foundation of America, and we’re going to be working together to promote the release of Standing Eight on Amazon.
NYFA: That’s incredible, congratulations. You’re currently co-starring in the Denzel Washington film The Equalizer 2. What was the casting process like for that?
KT: My manager put together a push. Betty Mae Casting agreed to give me an opportunity, which I was and am eternally grateful for. We sent over a self-tape that same night. A week later I was on a plane to Boston. No callback. Straight off tape. I was told they did visit my website. (So, actors: have a website with all your materials readily available. You never know who’s looking.)
NYFA: Any fun stories or lessons learned while on set for The Equalizer 2?
KT: To be honest, the entire shoot was a blast. I was in Boston for almost three months. Shooting the climax was physically challenging, but WORTH EVERY SECOND. I worked incredibly hard with the stunt team to make sure I looked the part. I put in hours of training with the rifle. Huge shoutout to Jeff Dashnaw and Mick Gould. Jeff was the stunt coordinator and put together an incredible team. I’m sure Mick got sick of all my questions at some point, but I’m a perfectionist. I was hellbent on not being the weakest link.
My favorite moment was definitely when I ad-libbed a bunch of lines and Antoine Fuqua absolutely loved it. He jumped out of the van, grabbed my shirt, and said “That’s what I’m talking about!!!” Having a director of that caliber — especially one who I’ve been a fan of for so many years — to give such positive feedback was overwhelming. It was one of those moments in life that just reaffirms that I’m on the right path.
Photo Credit: http://kazytauginas.com
NYFA: How were your experiences different between Standing Eight and The Equalizer 2?
KT: On Equalizer, my only function was to act. So it was relatively simple. Everything was laid out for me and all I had to do was bring my A-game. When you’re an actor, I tend to think of myself as one color on the canvas. When you’re a filmmaker, you’re a painter. On Equalizer I was paint. On Standing Eight, I was more of a painter. Standing Eight was a challenge because I had to wear so many different hats. Luckily, by the time we went to principal photography we had ironed out most of the producing and writing kinks, and I was able to concentrate on my performance. So my experience on Standing Eight was more complex. But to be honest, they were both incredibly rewarding, just on different levels.
NYFA: Was there anything your experiences on Standing Eight and The Equalizer 2 had in common?
KT: Absolutely. My commitment. Whenever I put my name on anything, I put my heart and soul into it. As an actor, Equalizer was the opportunity of a lifetime and I treated it as such. I felt exactly the same on Standing Eight. I wanted my painting to be perfect. No matter what the project, I want to always be the best me I can be.
Photo Credit: Sony
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on either Standing Eight or The Equalizer 2?
KT: What didn’t I use? Everything you learn in acting school becomes applicable at different points in your career.
NYFA: You’re currently working on the film Invisible Love, produced by NYFA Chair of Broadcast Journalism and Emmy Award-winning Bill Einreinhofer. What was the casting process for Invisible Love?
KT: [Former NYFA Chair of Acting for Film] Peter Allen Stone and I are connected on social media and he’s been following my journey since I left school. My understanding is that Bill mentioned something to him about the project he was producing and needing talent. Peter threw my name out there. It just worked out splendidly. I auditioned for them. Apparently, I did well, so the offer came in. I love the character they want me to play. I’m really looking forward to working on it.
NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
KT:I’m currently working on a huge film for a streaming service with an incredibly talented cast. Unfortunately, that’s all I’m allowed to say. Invisible Love is supposed to go into production in the winter. As far as producing, I’m working on putting together a feature film with very similar elements as Standing Eight. It’s my dream to put lupus into mainstream dialogue so we can actually make finding a cure a reality.
Photo Credit: http://kazytauginas.com
NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?
KT: I have very fond memories of my experiences at NYFA. So I took full advantage of the program while I was there. I think I ended up doing about 50 student films by the time I graduated. I went to every Q&A — got to meet Melissa Leo and Christopher Plummer. I made lifelong friends with some of my classmates and teachers. I really did have wonderful teachers. Lea Brandenburg engrained in my brain that when you’re on camera, you keep it simple. I remember by breakthrough in learning how to cry in Peter Allen Stone’s voice and movement class. Dressing in drag as my activity in Meisner class. I did that because James Price said that “manly men” like me would never do something like drag. Challenge accepted, sir. Bela Grushka was always so encouraging of my work.
Our thesis film, which was directed by Victor Verhaeghe, was something my entire class was so proud of. We worked incredibly hard and made phone calls during our lunch break and sent out postcards to every single agent and manager in NYC to invite them to our screening. I really learned so much from that program. I feel like by the time I graduated, I was a different person.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
KT: Take advantage of everything NYFA has to offer. Go to workshops. Screenings. Talks with industry people. Meet filmmaking students. Meet writing students. Go to class prepared. Study. Shoot. Act. Apply everything you learn while you’re still in school. Find the other people who are as hungry as you are. Let your inhibitions go. LEARN. Be humble. You have to be a sponge to learn. Focus on the task at hand. Become the best you that you can be.
In 2009, I fully committed to being a creative. If I can do it, you can do it.
The New York Film Academy thanks Kazy Tauginas for his generous time and thoughtful responses, and congratulates him on his current success. We look forward to seeing what the future brings for Kazy!
If you are interested in learning Acting for Film at the New York Film Academy, you can find more information on our programs here.
It was that time of year once more as graduating MFA and BFA New York Film Academy Screenwriting students recently attended their culminating Industry Pitch Fest Event, held at the penthouse ballroom of the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood surrounded by astounding views of Los Angeles.
A catered event and mingling opportunities for the students, executives, and faculty alike, this capstone evening celebrates the New York Film Academy’s graduating Screenwriting students, offering them a unique opportunity to jumpstart their professional development by pitching their Film and TV thesis projects to entertainment industry professionals.
These exceptional writing students spent their final semester in their Business of Screenwriting classes working with Business of Screenwriting Instructors Ashley Bank and Jerry Shandy in conjunction with Faculty Chair Nunzio DeFilippis and other members of the Screenwriting Department, preparing and fine-tuning their pitches.
The students’ dedication and passionate love for their work shined as they pitched their thesis projects, which they had developed for nearly a year. Students left with new contacts, excitement about the scripts they’d worked so hard on and a sense of what it’s like to meet with industry professionals.
Considered by the school to be their first night as professional screenwriters, this group of talented and creative student’s hard work paid off, as they pitched agents, managers, studios, and Digital, VR, TV and Film production company execs in a relaxed, round-table environment.
Organized and hosted by Jenni Powell, Ashley Bank, and Adam Finer, the event featured representatives from Hollywood companies, including —
Jim Henson Company, Warner Brothers Animation, Covert Media, Madhouse Entertainment, Orion Pictures, MGM, Practical Magic, We Are the Mighty, Tremendum Pictures, and The Wolper Organization.
NYFA wishes to thank all of its participants, particularly our industry guests, without whom this evening could not have been possible. Also, we’d like to extend a big congratulations to all of our MFA and BFA graduates and wish them the best as they move forward in their professional journeys!
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles recently welcomed Final Draft to the NYFA Theater for Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast. The live Q&A event featured Final Draft’s Pete D’Alessandro and writer Nevin Densham, executive story editor for Netflix’s original series, Altered Carbon.
NYFA and Final Draft, the entertainment industry’s standard screenwriting software, have a relationship that goes back many years. NYFA provides a 12-Week Fellowship for the winners of the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest, yet this was the first time that Final Draft held Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast at the NYFA Los Angeles campus.
“We’re excited to extend our relationship with Final Draft and build upon the great work we’ve done with the Final Draft Big Break Fellowship,” said Dean of Faculty and Chair of Screenwriting Nunzio DeFilippis. “Having the Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast take place at the NYFA Theater provides our students with additional networking opportunities and even more chances to gain insights from podcast guests.”
Final Draft’s Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast provides listeners with insights into writing from industry experts and professionals, and in this case the audience of NYFA students and guests from Final Draft who were able to learn more about Densham’s journey as a writer.
Before delving into writing for Altered Cabon, Densham admitted that his path into writing for television was not traditional. He grew up in Los Angeles in a household where he had the unique experience to learn from his writer, producer, director father Pen Densham.
“I was mentored from a very early age on story and a love for storytelling,” said Densham. “At the time, in the late ‘80s, a version of a hero was a man who killed other men, and he did not want me to be raised seeing that as what a hero was. A hero was a man who fought for other people even though you didn’t necessarily get what you wanted. Selfishness versus, you know, being selfless. And from a really early age, those kind of things were made really clear to me because it was just what he believed.”
Densham shared that he learned early on that it was about “thoughtful storytelling. It wasn’t just ‘hey let’s make a buck.’ It was how do you tell a story that matters? How do you do something that hopefully leaves a little good left in the world? And I was encouraged to write.”
Although the lessons from his father shaped his story sensibility, Nevin decided to leave Los Angeles to study sociology. When he returned to L.A. he had the opportunity to jump into the deep end of the pool, but he wanted to understand the business of film and television and first.
“I came back to L.A. and I wanted to roll phones,” he explained. “I didn’t know how to do that and I wanted to take notes, ‘cause I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know anything, frankly. I knew how to go have a meeting with a top level executive and talk and not be intimidated, but I could not answer a phone, and I knew that was a fatal flaw.”
During his time working “on a desk,” he took courses in television writing to learn the things he didn’t know. He wrote spec features and television pilots. His work got him some freelance writing jobs and an offer for a staff position, but his family friend, (and future Altered Carbon showrunner) Laeta Kalogridis told him not to take the job — but she couldn’t tell him why.
What Densham soon learned was that Laeta wanted him to join her as the story editor of Altered Carbon. Densham took a leap of faith and passed on an offer in hopes that Kalogridis’ project would come through … and it did.
Densham knew the Altered Carbon book series well, and over several months worked with Laeta to breaking down the show, learning a lot from Kalogridis during pre-production and production. He praised Kalogridis as the hardest working person, driven out of pure passion. Through her, Densham learned to not settle for something that could be better.
Densham spoke about how he approached some of his favorite spec scripts and pilots, saying that he kept giving himself permission to write it the way he wanted. This comment sparked a NYFA student to ask how far out there stories should be.
Densham responded, “My advice is to be out there to the degree you’re comfortable with, that you want to be. You have to be able to sell you. You have to be you to the most you can be, and as interestingly and effervescently or at least marketably as you can be. If I’m going to hire a writer or someone is going to hire a writer, they’re looking at not just, can they write?They’re looking at, can I bear to be with them — for hours and hours? Can I have conflict with them? You have to be you, because any kind of inauthentic you will ‘out,’ because you’re going to be working hard with a lot of people. Best to be yourself and to make that what is marketable about you.”
The final question to Densham was, what advice would you have given to yourself 10 years ago? After a moment, Densham said he would have told himself, “have a little be more faith. Have a little bit more confidence.”
His final piece of advice to himself would be to write more, be more industrious, and to know that “you don’t have to be the natural talent, you have to do it, keep doing it.”
This was the first Final Draft podcast recorded at NYFA but we look forward to hosting more in the future. Listen to the full episode of Final Draft’s Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast with Nevin Densham here.
On the morning of November 26, 2017, Paul Brown, a notable Hollywood writer, director, producer, as well as a screenwriting instructor at the New York Film Academy, arrived in Guangzhou, China. Just a few hours later, Brown hosted a Master Class at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (GAFA), where students and faculty from the GAFA animation department and others packed the house.
Brown has taught several screenwriting workshops at the New York Film Academy, and has a distinguished career in the film & television industry. Starting over twenty-five years ago, Brown has produced more than one hundred television dramas and movies, working on illustrious series as “The X-Files,” “Quantum Leap,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Brown has won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best TV Drama, and has been nominated for three Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes.
In the Master Class “The Secrets of Great Stories,” Brown used “Wall-E” as an example of a film that truly brings its characters come to life in an emotionally powerful way. Brown elaborated on how mystery is at the heart of all great stories, following up with a discussion about the hidden ways that makes the audience can care about and connect with memorable characters whose desires, flaws, and need for change awaken secret wishes for a transformation in our own lives.
After the class, Brown engaged with many students in a Q&A session and gave notes on students’ scripts until the end of the session. Overall, the afternoon was very well received and the audience from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts had many words of appreciation and gratitude for Paul Brown and the Master Class.
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) was excited to welcome one of the hottest writers on the animation scene, Mike McMahan. McMahan is currently one of the lead writers for “Rick and Morty” on Adult Swim. A funny kid from Chicago, he originally made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles to become a feature film comedy writer. Luckily, he fell into the world of animation, and television may never be the same. He spoke with NYFA Instructor, Eric Conner, about how to become a Writer’s Assistant, the secrets of the Rick and Morty writer’s room, and his journey from Chicago to Hollywood.
Like the vast majority of comic writers and performers from Chicago, McMahan began his career at the Second City. While still in college studying drama, he would do basic things for the Second City Theater like help set up the stage before a show. From that experience, he was able to get a P.A. job at Scott Rubin Productions, which led to him being hired on Comedy Central’s “Drawn Together.” When the plug was pulled on the show one of his superiors was able to recommend him for “South Park.” From there he went to Fox Animation where he met Justin Roiland.
Roiland is now known as the voice of both Rick and Morty, but back then he was pitching pilots. “They were just as good as Rick and Morty,” McMahan said. He knew right away he wanted to work with Roiland in a professional capacity. “I know you’re going to have a hit show one day, like, you’re brilliant. ” he told Roiland, “Can I, please, just work on it in some capacity when you do?” A couple of years later, when Adult Swim picked up two scripts to prove it should be a series, Roiland asked him to come on as a writer’s assistant. The rest, as they say, is history.
McMahan gave the students the skinny on working as an assistant in a writer’s room. “It’s kind of different depending on what room you’re in. It’s an insanely amazing job to get, particularly if you want to be a comedy writer.” A day breaks down like this: the assistant arrives about thirty minutes early. All day they sit on their laptop and take notes as the writers pitch ideas. The assistant is the keeper of all knowledge.
In the “Rick and Morty” writer’s room, they use a program called Pear Notes, which records all the dialogue in the room. The recording is then sent to the writer assigned to that particular episode. This recording is vital because it doesn’t just serve as a reference for the writer. In a show that uses improvisation heavily, it captures those magic moments, like Dan rapping a song off the top of his head. The writer can add those lyrics verbatim to the script, but it might not capture the cadence or expression of a word. Luckily, the audio can also be played in the recording booth when an actor is doing their voiceover, too.
At the end of the day, the assistant throws out all of the trash in the room and gets it ready for the next day. “You’re kind of like their babysitter. You’re going to spend the entire next day in that room.” The assistant then organizes all the notes and pulls clips from films and television that were referenced during the meeting. Traditionally, writer’s assistants work for a year and then they’re given an episode to write. “On an Adult Swim show, this is a chance to prove your voice as a writer.”
McMahan got his first chance to write for Rick and Morty with season one episode nine, “Something Ricked This Way Comes.” This now iconic episode featured an ending where Summer and Rick get buff and beat up cruel people like a man who strangles his dog, and a Nazi. It earned him a new title in the show’s second season, Story Editor. By the third season, he had earned the position of Story Producer and written a total of four episodes for the show: “Rickshank Redemption,” “The ABC’s of Beth,” and “Total Rickall.”
McMahan warned students that as incredible as these jobs are they are also difficult to come by. “They usually go to the assistants of the lit agents because they know the job exists in the first place. If the creator doesn’t have someone they’re already interested in usually the answer is yes because the agent’s assistant tends to be responsible. They set up meetings and manage the calendar so they should be able to handle the responsibility.” Another way to get in is to be the writer’s PA.
Connor asked McMahan, “What do you think you learned as a Writer’s Assistant that you couldn’t have learned in a classroom?” McMahan responded, “I think you learn that every room is going to be different. There’s no manual you can read that is going to teach you how to be chill and do a good job.”
He goes on to explain that nobody remembers the job that was done; they remember the person who did the job. “A lot of advice I give to first time writers who are moving out here is, it doesn’t matter what job you get, it matters that you’re the best at doing the job.” A writer’s room is like a family. Integrating one’s self into that family is how people stick around.
One student, Nigel Robinson, asked, “What are some of the techniques you use to reverse audience expectations to make the show re-watchable.” McMahan contributed a large part of the show’s success in this area to Reddit. “If somebody guesses something we were planning to do on Reddit, we all get together and say ‘We’re not doing that anymore.’” If somebody tweets ideas at McMahan, he lets them know that they won’t use it.
“If a thousand people guess an ending then that means a thousand people will watch and think that’s’ just an okay episode.” So they stretch themselves to come up with something completely different. “When I tell other writers how many weeks we spend on these shows they’re in awe.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Mike McMahan for taking time to speak with our students. There’s no word yet on whether the show has been picked up for a fourth season, but keep watching Adult Swim for more information.
“Newton,” a feature-length film by NYFA alumnus Amit V Masurkar, is now in the running for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film — just one in a long line of successes the Indian dark comedy-drama and its writer & director have already seen.
Co-written and directed by Amit, “Newton” stars Rajkummar Rao as Newton Kumar, a rookie government clerk who seeks to uphold democracy and conduct fair elections in Chhattisgarh’s conflict-ridden jungles. The film has received positive reviews, including from India’s Huffington Post, which called it “a touching, personal and very human film.”
Amit first premiered “Newton” at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the CICAE Art Cinema Award. Since then, Amit has presented his film at nearly 50 festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival in April, where it screened in the International Narrative Competition, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival, where it won the coveted Jury Prize.
An Academy Award would be the crowning achievement to go with these accolades, and the journey to attaining one is a long and tough road. Films that are produced outside of the United States and are delivered in a predominantly non-English language are eligible for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Unlike other Oscars, the Foreign Language Film Award is unique in that the golden statue is presented not to the filmmakers, but to the nation that produced it—adding an air of patriotic pride to the category.
Each country must then select just one film per year to represent it at the Academy Awards, creating a lot of competition between movies of all genres, especially in a nation as populated and cinema-oriented as India. “Newton” was selected from a shortlist of 26 films to represent India at this year’s Oscars, and the final nominations from five different countries will be announced along with the other Academy Award noms early next year. The 90th Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 4, 2018.
Amit V Masurkar honed his screenwriting skills at New York Film Academy’s New York campus, taking the 8-Week Screenwriting workshop in 2009. After writing for numerous sketch and comedy shows, Amit’s directorial feature-length debut “Sulemani Keeda” became a surprise indie hit. “Newton” is only his second feature film, and Amit has proven to be one of India’s most exciting voices in filmmaking.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Amit V Masurkar on such a fantastic achievement, and looks forward to seeing what further accomplishments he and “Newton” will achieve!