Spike Lee

  • ‘Inside Man’ Screenwriter Russell Gewirtz Talks Inside Hollywood


    This Tuesday, the New York Film Academy in Union Square New York City welcomed Hollywood screenwriter Russell Gewirtz. Gewirtz is best known as the screenwriter of the Universal Studios hit film Inside Man, starring Denzel Washington, Jodi Foster and Clive Owen, and directed by Spike Lee. He also wrote the Lionsgate film Righteous Kill, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.


    Producing co-chair Nick Yellen with screenwriter Russell Gewirtz

    Moderated by Producing co-chair Nick Yellen, Gewirtz discussed his life as a screenwriter and his unorthodox way of breaking into the business. Originally, Gewirtz was working for his father’s clothing business in New York, but had a movie idea gelling in his head for so long that he “couldn’t take it anymore.” After reading a few screenplays of his favorite films, Gewirtz spent a year fleshing out his idea into a properly formatted screenplay. Once he had the draft ready to go, he was able to get it to the top 5 agencies at the time. Three of the agencies passed. However, CAA saw promise in the story and decided to work on selling his screenplay. After flying out to Los Angeles for a few meetings, Gewirtz discovered that his screenplay had been passed on by all of the major studios — except Universal. They bought it and eventually turned it into the smash hit we know as Inside Man.

    His story is proof that talent and a great idea could lead to anything. However, he admits how fortunate he was at the time, which he hadn’t realized until later in his career. “Eighty percent of what I wrote made it to the screen,” said Gewirtz. “You have to be very lucky for that to happen. I was lucky.”

    russell gewirtz

    Gewirtz seemed to recognize and appreciate the success he’s garnished thus far in his career, but understands that the business never gets any easier. With tent-pole and comic book features hogging studios’ slates, it’s very difficult to get a film like Inside Man made again. In fact, he already wrote the sequel to the film, but it has yet to see a green light.

    In the end, Gewirtz left our students with a piece of advice that seems to have worked with so many screenwriters who have made it in the industry: “At the end of the day, you have to write what you love.”


    May 6, 2015 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 8291

  • NYFA Union Square Hosts PGA’s Meet the Networks Panel with ESPN

    ESPN Films

    Shirley Escott, John Dahl and Dan Silver

    This past Tuesday, the New York Film Academy proudly hosted the Producers Guild of America’s PGA East Documentary & Non-Fiction Committees “Meet the Networks” panel with ESPN Films. The panel, moderated by Chair of the PGA East Documentary & Non-Fiction Committee Shirley Escott, included Dan Silver, Senior Director of Development and John Dahl, Vice President and Executive Producer of ESPN Films.

    The two ESPN executives have been at the forefront of the award-winning 30 for 30 series on ESPN.

    pga east

    Silver is an Emmy Award-winning producer who manages the development of ESPN films and Exit 31’s short film series. He oversees the Peabody and Emmy winning series 30 for 30 Shorts, and the Nine for IX shorts series and is also now supervising the development and production of FiveThityEight.com’s two original short form documentary series, Signals and The Collectors, as well as the recently launched Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints, and announced Versus (executive Produced by Eva Longoria), and Marvel and ESPN Films 1 of 1 – Genesis” and “1 of 1 – Origins.

    Dahl has overseen production on all documentaries produced by ESPN Films since its launch in 2008, including the Peabody and Sports Emmy award-winning 30 for 30 series. He has produced and supervised documentaries for over 15 years going back to ESPN’s Peabody-winning “SportsCentury” initiative. Prior to the creation of ESPN Films, Dahl created the concept and oversaw production for the Baltimore Colts/New York Giants 50th anniversary documentary, The Greatest Game Ever Played, which was nominated for a Sports Emmy. He oversaw production for ESPN Films on the Peabody-winning two-part/four hour documentary Black Magic and the Spike Lee-directed film Kobe Doin’ Work. From 2002 to 2005, Dahl was Executive Producer for ESPN Classic and the company’s 32-hour programming initiative ESPN25, responsible for overseeing production and personnel for both entities. That work garnered a total of eight Sports Emmy nominations (two winners).

    nyfa pga

    Speaking to a full house of producers and filmmakers alike at New York Film Academy’s Union Square theater, the main focus of the evening boiled down to the all important pitch. What stood out as the most prominent piece of advice was for filmmakers to be able to pitch their idea in one sentence. Having your idea delivered in the most concise and compelling manner is the most effective way to bring your show to life.

    Considering the overall success of the evening, we look forward to hosting similar PGA events in the near future!


    March 4, 2015 • Documentary Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 5246

  • How to Succeed at the Game of Acting


    Cassie Freeman and Chris Rock

    So many of New York Film Academy‘s instructors have secret lives outside of teaching, and we’re always proud to hear about their accomplishments. Such is the case with NYFA Acting Instructor, Cassie Freeman. In 2011, Cassie starred in the film Kinyarwanda, which won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Drama category at the Sundance Film Festival. The film also won the Audience Award in the World Cinema section at AFI Fest 2011, and the Grand Prize at the Skip City Film Festival in Japan. Cassie has compiled a list of credits in her early career, including roles in Spike Lee’s Inside Man and Chris Rock’s I Think I Love my Wife. She will soon debut her new character on the hit VH1 show, Single Ladies. In addition to her acting work, Cassie founded her own company, Motion Pictures LLC, where she has several projects in development, including a one-hour drama, a talk news show, and a documentary. Despite her incredibly hectic schedule, we somehow managed to catch up with Cassie to ask her a few questions about her life and career thus far.

    What do you think led you on the acting path?

    I fell into acting by accident. I initially wanted to be in politics, or become a leader in the church. I love the idea of helping others reach their full potential. It’s one of the reasons why I love to teach. As a kid I always felt left out and awkward. Acting helped me celebrate what makes me different from others, while still realizing we have a lot in common. When I meet a new person, they are a potential new best friend. I auditioned for acting and band at Douglas Anderson, which is the Arts High School in Jacksonville. My dad did not like the idea, but decided one year was fine. The first play I acted in was, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide. However, the first show where I really felt like an actress was A Piece of My Heart. The play was about the women who served during Vietnam. Working on that play and getting into that character changed my life. I had a spiritual moment where I felt like I left my own life and enveloped my self in another. I believe actors have an unbelievable opportunity to be a mirror to our collective consciousness. If you display life fully as it is, people can experience their own frailty and uniqueness.

    Can you tell us a little about NYFA and your experience teaching here?

    My last film Kinyarwanda won at Sundance last year and it gave me the opportunity to travel the world. New York Film Academy was one of the places on our tour. I really enjoyed how curious the students were about their craft, and a couple of the students said they would love for me to do a workshop. After I inquired, I was invited to teach at the school. Being a New York girl, I thought it would be fabulous to share what I’ve learned and to have a class for longer than a few days. Teaching here has also made me a better actress in so many ways. The most important thing I’ve learned is how necessary it is to relax and have patience with yourself. It is impossible to learn or act if those two things are not in tact. It is virtually impossible for a director, or in my case a teacher, to help an individual truly grow as an actor. Ultimately, it must come from within.

    What kind of feedback would you give to a prospective student who wants to come here?

    This school can teach you everything you want to learn. The tools and faculty are all sincerely here because they enjoy what they do. The classes are small enough that you can get the personal attention that many other programs can’t offer. The number of times you get to be on camera in front of faculty and your peers is priceless. The learning curve you get out of this school to go in the real world is awesome. However, you can only learn all of these things if you’re open to new ideas and concepts. My favorite students have been the ones who come in as a curious artist, striving to learn and unlock the code to their own possibilities. Those students grow the most, and help me grow to become a better artist as well. That is essentially, Hollywood. We are all constantly learning, collaborating, and sharing new concepts with each other. NYFA is a great way to develop one’s craft.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring actor?

    Go to every audition you can. Do every reading you can. Practice more than anyone. Make a game out of how many hours you can concentrate on a script and a character. I auditioned over a year for this show. I was never right for the character they were casting, but they thought I was talented and kept bringing me back. The character that ended up working out is a regular on the show. This is how I have booked many roles in life. I come in the door, knowing I may not be right for that character, but perform so well  that hopefully someone in the room is up at night thinking, “We need to figure out a way to put her in this show.” This opportunity would have never happened if I stopped doing the “work” of the actor: dreaming, creating, and crafting. As actors, we have to be our own biggest fans, even if there is no proof that we are even good at it. Confidence and perseverance is what wins in the game of acting.

    Any specific advice on booking roles in television?

    Learn how to take direction! Learn how to ask the right questions in the right manner. Both will give you so many opportunities to shine as a professional. Don’t put too much emphasis on if you book a role or not, worry that you gave it your all. We are actors not “auditioners.” I use each audition as a case to experiment in developing deeply interesting characters. If I book it, it’s icing on the cake. Whatever you have control over as an actor, do all you can, and leave the rest to the universe to sort out. Most importantly, surround yourself with lots of love. People should want to work with you as soon as you enter the room.

    So, tell us about your role in VH1’s Single Ladies.

    I auditioned three times over the course of a month. I felt a connection to the role from day one. I loved how silly, loving, and real she felt to me. I hadn’t seen a young black female character written so beautifully the way that Stacy Littlejohn, creator of the show, had made her. All I had to do was breathe life into her words. Every time I came back for the call back, I’d meet new producers who felt like family. On set, work doesn’t start until we hug and greet each other.

    To do a TV show is a marathon. It has been some of the hardest work in my life. It has also been some of the most fun I’ve ever had as actor. I love that everyday I get to act as my character evolves. The hours on set are long. To act for TV, you need stamina and a high level of discipline at all times.

    See Cassie’s new character debut Monday Jul 16th at 9pm on VH1’s Single Ladies.


    July 12, 2012 • #WomenOfNYFA, Acting, Diversity, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 6655

  • Casting Advice From a Pro


    Casting director Nancy Nayor recently visited students at New York Film Academy following a screening of The Grudge. She began her casting career off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club before moving to Los Angeles to become President of Feature Film Casting for Universal Studios, and working on films for Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, Ron Howard, and John Hughes. “The first year was kind of a shock, to have that position at 24,” she laughed. She spent 14 years there before opening her own freelance casting company. Since then, she has cast movies including Road Trip, The Whole Nine Yards, Exorcism of Emily Rose, When a Stranger Calls, and Scream 4.

    Nayor spoke about the love of her job, saying, “It’s great because you’re around actors all the time, and you get to think like an actor, and you get to read with the actors, and you’re in the arena of filmmaking or theater, and it’s just fantastic.”

    Following a brief interview, Nayor answered questions from students, offering lots of helpful advice. “You need to have footage of yourself and you have to be able to email links,” she said. “It’s great to make your own reel. Tape your own scenes or monologues. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. I just want to see talent. If you’re constantly taping yourself, and the camera becomes your friend, then when you’re in the audition room you’re not automatically nervous. It helps you go into an audition room and be relaxed.”

    Do you have other helpful tips or advice for auditions? Share them with us on Facebook and Twitter!


    June 1, 2012 • Guest Speakers • Views: 5966