On Wednesday, November 30, David Madden, President of Entertainment at Fox Broadcasting, held a Q & A for students perusing degrees in Acting, Directing, and Filmmaking. Madden has helped bring shows like “The Americans,” “The Killing,” “Burn Notice,” “The Shield,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Pitch,” and the forthcoming “Star” from Lee Daniels to televisions in living rooms around the country.
Hollywood Producer, NYFA Director of Industry Lecture Series, Tova Laiter hosted the evening alongside NYFA Screenwriting Instructor, David O’Leary, whose script, “Blue Book,” was just purchased by the History Channel and will be produced by Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers.
Madden’s role at Fox is multifaceted. Scripted programming, alternative entertainment and casting all fall under his jurisdiction. In the past, he worked for Paramount Pictures based Madden Company where he produced more than twenty films.
“We have 15 hours of primetime programming every week, 52 weeks a year. Pretty much everything is original whether it’s scripted or reality,” Madden explained. “Every single program that goes on the air in prime time, I oversee. I read every script of the scripted programs. I watch every episode of the reality shows. I watch every cut of every show. I’m responsible for the development and I’m responsible for the casting. My job is simply to make the shows.”
When asked about the current state of network television in the age of streaming and premium cable, Madden didn’t feel that broadcast was facing any trouble. While, yes, they compete with these new service providers, economically, broadcast has to reach a wide audience in the millions. Madden doesn’t feel that means sacrificing quality. “Being populist and being good are not mutually exclusive,” he said. Also, historically, Fox has always been more subversive and positioned in between traditional networks and cable.
One student asked, “With the number of TV shows being produced now do you believe the quality of actor being hired is less, in order to fill roles?”
“I sure hope not,” Madden said. With most shows green-lit during pilot season in January, landing the right actor for the right role during this time can be very challenging. The upside is that new actors are afforded more opportunities than ever (as well as writers). “We are always looking for material and new talent, but they have to, legally, come to us via the right channels.”
Twice yearly the Television Critics Association gathers to cover the upcoming Fall and Winter programming from major television networks. This year, the New York Film Academy attended the Fox 2016 TCA tour. Fox is putting a more diverse network in its sights this Monday at the Beverly Hilton. The new line-up goes way beyond racial diversity. Fox is expanding the idea of animation on television, the roles women might play in major league sports, and who can play traditional roles.
With Fox’s new show, Pitch, starring Kylie Bunbury as Ginny Baker the first female pitcher to play on a major league baseball team. Creator and Executive Producer, Dan Fogelman, believes it’ll only be a matter of time before we see a woman in one of the four major sports currently played in America. Fox also brought us the first Black President in the early two thousands with their show 24. Tony Bill, Executive Producer, said the show was pitched ten years ago and predicted the future we live in now, where it’s just a matter of time before a woman plays in the majors.
The show isn’t just about baseball. What drew many of the creators to the project is the character of Bill Baker, played beautifully by Michael Beach, who is the show’s “sports dad.” Think about Serena and Venus Williams’ father or Tiger Woods’ father. Who are the men behind the child? What do they sacrifice and what drives them? For Bill Baker, it’s the fact that his father wasn’t there to help him get to the majors. He topped at the minors. Baker swore that he would be there for his son. He has a daughter.
This is where the story begins, a father making sure his daughter has everything she needs to be the very best. So, the show wouldn’t be too bogged down in men, Ginny is given a publicist, Amelia Slater, played by Ali Larter. Both women have to navigate male dominated industries as women at the top of their game.
Son of Zorn
Son of Zorn will join The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, and Family Guy on Fox’s Sunday night lineup. The show is a family sitcom about a divorced dad trying to reconnect with his estranged son after ten years. One caveat: Zorn, played by a subdued Jason Sudeikis, is an animated barbarian. Yes, you read that right. In the live action world, he is the only animated being. Instead of slaying dragons, he’s trying to land a steady job. His son, a shy kid, and his ex-wife, re-married to Tim Meadows, aren’t too interested in having him back around. Zany antics are sure to ensue in this very weird and bizarrely brave new show.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
Fox is also pushing the envelope with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Televised musicals have been prime time gold for network television companies trying to find their way in a streaming dominant world. Rocky Horror is taking a very definite step away from the original by embracing the camp cult culture that has surrounded the film since its original release in 1975.
Costumes are adorned with bright sparkles and lots of feathers; the album is brighter with a stronger emphasis on rock music. One reporter asked point-blank why have a transgendered woman play a transsexual? Lou Adler, Executive Producer, said that Dr. Frankenfurter is an alien. Both Cox and Curry played the role as a person from another world. That’s what they wanted to focus on.
Victoria Justice said of the opportunity to play Janet Weiss, “Another generation will be singing Time Warp…I get to sing Touch Me. This is so exciting.” Executives clearly have the Rocky Horror fans, and the soon to be fans, in mind when crafting this film. They employed the fan club president to make sure the film stayed authentic.
They also added a crowd to the film. This is a weird kind of experimental twist on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It allows fans that love to participate in the action a chance to do so in their home. It also introduces new fans to crazy traditions of the fandom.
Live social media interaction and the buzz around theater trained Lavern Cox, who has a five-octave range and will be playing the lead, nearly guarantee a high viewer turn out. Whether it’ll be a hit or not is something for which we’ll have to wait to see.
Next on Fox’s plate is the television remake of The Exorcist. Creator and Executive Producer, Jeremy Slater, said he knew right off the bat he couldn’t write each season about a newly possessed family. No one tunes in for jumps and gore. The story has to come first. Evil has larger ambitions. They’re not just after one girl.
There will be Easter Eggs for fans of the original series, and Slater insists that this is a continuation, not a remake. In his version, there are two priests, Father Tomas Ortega, Alfonso Herrera, and Father Marcus Keane, Ben Daniels, who are fighting to save the daughter of the Rance family. The matriarch of that family is Angela, played by Geena Davis. Davis said The Exorcist (1973) is the best horror film ever made.
Gotham and Lucifer
The Gotham and Lucifer panels went up at the same time. Immediately there was some concern about why Clara Foley had been replaced with Maggie Geha as the shows’ Ivy Pepper. Producers, Ken Woodruff and John Stephens, said the show is about growth and it was time for Ivy to grow from a timid fifteen-year-old to a sixteen-year-old who might be more willing to hurt people. (I could write about reactions here, but they’re mixed and I don’t know if we want to upset any potential future guests.)
Lucifer will continue its exploration of adult children trying to work through familial issues, this time by introducing Lucifer’s mom into the mix. Some in the crowd voiced skepticism when they learned the actress playing the role, Tricia Helfer, was only a few years older than Lucifer actor, Tom Ellis. Show Producers insisted that Helfer was the best actress for the job, not to mention the supernatural aspects of the show allow for the suspension of disbelief.
Finally, the time came to showcase the number one show on basic cable, Empire. Taraji P. Henson was there, along with Executive Producers Ilene Chaiken and Sanna Hamri. Season three’s focal point will remain on the Lyons, however, this time Cookie is determined to leave Luscious.
Taye Diggs will enter the series as a potential love interest for Cookie. To which Henson responded, “…he wished.” Mariah Carey, who has already finished filming her role, will play Kitty a, “mega-superstar who comes to Empire to collaborate with Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) on an explosive new song.” Carey also has a story with lead character Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett, where she helps him acknowledge some personal difficulties.
With its Fall 2016 line-up Fox continues its push for more diverse content. A mix of strong new content, listening to fan reaction, and a dedication to reinvigorating long-standing projects, Fox has set itself apart from other networks who’ve decided to stand close to their traditional programming; a gamble that’s already netted Fox big viewership rewards.
An often overlooked but crucial element in pre-production is storyboarding. Recently, the New York Film Academy South Beach invited director Alexis Sweet to the college to speak on the importance of this very topic. Sweet provided several storyboard examples from his own films and music videos, which he has been working on since 1981.
Director Alexis Sweet at NYFA South Beach
Sweet has worked on feature films and TV commercials as 1st Assistant Director with filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Hugh Hudson, Joe Pytka, John Boorman, Ridley Scott, Nick Roeg, Richard Loncraine, Spike Lee, Mike Figgis, Tsui Hark and others over the years.
From 1995 to 2003, he made a number of wildlife documentaries in Africa for national parks and projects funded by the EU.
By 2002 he had shot over 100 TV commercials for Italy, Romania, Germany, US, England, Kenya and the Middle East.
In 2003, upon meeting Pietro Valsecchi, he was offered to direct two seasons of “RIS Delitti imperfetti,” an Italian television series that is currently number one in Italy and France.
Given the fact that Sweet has such a vast background in the industry, students were able to openly ask questions and get a greater insight into the job of a director.
The New York Film Academy South Beach would like to thank director Alexis Sweet for taking time out from his duties at the Miami Independent Film Festival to come and speak with our students.
One of our former students from Brazil, Luisa Parnes, who currently teaches screenwriting at New York Film Academy in New York, was hand picked to be highlighted on Brazil’s largest television network, TV Globo International. The satellite channel is the largest television network in Brazil and 3rd in the world, reaching over 2 million viewers across the world in 115 countries. The show, Planeta Brazil, features successful Brazilians living abroad.
“When GloboTV reached with the hopes of doing a story on me, I was terrified,” recalled Parnes. “I hate being on camera! It was all very last minute, they called me one day and we shot the next, which was better since I didn’t have too much time to fret over what could go wrong. In the end, I worried for nothing. The reporter and camera were real professional, and NYFA provided a lovely studio in which we could tape the interview. The whole experience was easy and relaxed!”
In addition to her teaching at the New York Film Academy, Parnes recently published an e-book in Portuguese called Pensando Alto, which roughly translates to “thinking out loud.”
We look forward to seeing Luisa on GloboTV this summer!
After the overwhelming response from the New York Film Academy’s infographic on gender inequality in film, we decided to touch on another film related topic that deserves a similar debate. Do movies and television influence drug use? Through a narrated videographic, the New York Film Academy brings viewers on a journey through the years, analyzing how film and television has shaped our perception of drugs, as well as its possible effects on the viewing audience.
Enjoy our video below and let us know what you think in the comments below!
There is little doubt that the television landscape drastically changed this past season due to a vast increase in non-Caucasian actor-led shows such as How To Get Away With Murder, Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, Jane The Virgin, and Empire, all of which have done well to phenomenal, especially in the case of Empire, which has increased its audience every week it’s been on the air since debuting in January.
Casting agents are now seeing a sea change in the demand for non-white actors, which is a complete 180 degree turn from past seasons when talent agents would call up casting directors to ask them to consider using a non-white actor for a role, only to be rejected.
However, rather than letting the diversification of television play out in an organic, color-blind fashion, many shows have been specifically designating roles as non-white, leading one talent agent to speculate that nearly 50% of the roles in pilots now need to be racially diverse. This has led some to decry the new measures as catering more to quotas than casting the actors that deserve the part the most.
This change has been most evident in the broadcast drama pilot department as more pilots than ever before have leads that have been written for African-American actors. Meanwhile in the sitcom world, following last year’s breakout success of Black-ish, ABC has two black family pilots in the worlds, including Delores & Jermaine and Uncle Buck, a television adaptation of the 80s comedy feature hit that starred John Candy, with Mike Epps taking over the titular role.
While this certainly a reversal of fortunes for many young actors fresh out of acting school and part of a trend students at NYFA have certainly been witness to—NBC recently visited the Academy’s Union Square to promote its efforts to hire more diverse talent—some are worried that if many of these shows fail to perform next season, the pendulum of diversity on screen might swing back to a landscape where non-white actors once again will face enormous difficulty in landing television roles.
Sam Simon, legendary TV writer and producer, has died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 59. His contributions to the television landscape cannot be overstated.
Simon first started out in TV as a writer and storyboard artist at Filmation Studios before moving to primetime. There he worked as a writer and producer for such groundbreaking shows as Cheers, Taxi, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. He also executive produced the infant Fox network’s The Tracey Ullman Show, a sketch show that involved intermittent animated shorts starring a yellow-skinned family named the Simpsons.
The Simpsons proved popular enough for its own primetime half-hour spot, and so in 1989 the landmark sitcom was created by Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and Sam Simon. The show went on to become a ginormous part of television and pop culture and still runs today, spouting its own streaming service, fan groups, podcasts, and megatons of merchandise, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for its creators.
Sam Simon was the showrunner for the show’s important first two seasons and was given writing credit for nine episodes, though his contributions far exceeded that. He is considered by many to have defined many of The Simpsons’ trademark tone, wit and humor. Despite leaving the show in 1993, he has been credited ever since as executive producer and the groundwork he laid for the show remains in its DNA to this day.
Simon worked in television on a few other shows after The Simpsons, but soon devoted much of his life to charity. He supported PETA, Save The Children, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and his own Sam Simon Foundation, which provided free meals to the hungry and sponsored a traveling animal surgery clinic. Before his death, he announced he would donate his entire fortune to charity.
Sam Simon won nine Emmys and was part of several legendary TV series. He is mourned by millions—those he touched in a personal way, whether through his charity work or his incomparable contributions to television and pop culture. He will be greatly missed.
Not content to let the Oscars get all the press, the Academy of Television has announced new rule changes and categories to their award ceremony, shaking up the game for some of the most buzzed about TV shows. The rule changes are a response to a diversifying mediascape as well as rumblings of discontent with perceived loopholes and miscategorization in previous years’ ceremonies.
Six major rule changes were announced:
The number of series allowed in Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series has been increased from six to seven. This is a response to the greater number of content coming from more and more sources, though seven still may be not enough for some.
The definition of “comedy” and “drama” are no longer based on content, but on running time. Any show over the length of thirty minutes is classified as a drama while any show less than thirty minutes is considered a comedy. This is seen as a blow to hour-long comedies like Orange is the New Black as well as dramas in general, as it expands the competition. Petitions can be submitted to move a show into another category, but it must be approved by an appointed Industry Panel.
The Variety Series category is now split into two—between Outstanding Variety Sketch and Outstanding Variety Talk—to differentiate shows like The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. In effect, this doubles the nominees, and could be a boon to smaller shows in both categories like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Portlandia.
The field of voters in each category’s final round has been expanded and requires voters to watch the content online before submitting their votes.
The definition of a “Guest Actor” has been specified to be actors who appear in less than 50% of a season’s episodes, excluding many shows’ tendencies to have a recurring guest star all season long. Roles such as these would now be considered in Lead or Supporting Actor categories.
“Mini-Series” has been redefined as “Limited Series” and excludes shows whose characters or storylines carry over into subsequent mini-series or seasons. This will affect shows like Sherlock, which are currently considered mini-series, as well as anthology seasoned shows like True Detective and American Horror Story, which fit the new Limited Series parameters.
Being brought up in New York City with a passion for acting, New York Film Academy Acting for Film Instructor Robert Lipton was fortunate enough to have studied with both Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. Like so many other successful actors in the business, Lee and Stella shaped Lipton as an actor and teacher of the craft. With an extensive list of film, television and theatre credits like Bullit, Die Hard 2, The X-Files, Melrose Place and many more, Lipton’s experience has been a valuable tool for blossoming actors in the classroom.
“I love working with young people at the Academy — the changes are dramatic and it all happens very quickly,” says Lipton. “I believe great actors don’t happen by accident. They have a method, a technique, a way of working.”
One of the most important pieces of advice Lipton stresses is not to go out into the “real world” of acting until you are truly ready. Rather, be sure you’ve mastered your craft through student films, small theater performanes, or other independent projects that provide you with real behind the camera experience. The reason being, when you go on auditions without having quite found your comfort zone, casting directors will notice and remember you. This makes it much more difficult when you keep coming across a casting director who has already dismissed you as a talented actor.
“I’ve known actors over the years who were talented but didn’t audition well. Most of them have moved on to other careers. It’s unfortunate, but a fact of life,” admits Lipton. “Don’t audition well — don’t get the part.”
Having been on countless auditions throughout his career, Lipton has gathered this: to have a successful audition an actor must have a technique in place. It will give them confidence in their choices and allow them to become more relaxed and focused.
While acting is in his blood for life, Lipton’s recent focus has been more toward screenwriting. He’s recently optioned a television series, which is semi-autobiographical, and has another project that he feels can be a success in today’s market. Knowing the material is crucial toward the overall success of the film, and plays hand-in-hand with the actors’ performances.
“For me, it’s about understanding the material and the character’s relation to it. Most problems come from an actor not getting the logic of a scene and the character’s objective in it. Understanding a character’s overall objective in a script or play helps an actor to find meaningful choices that support the logic of the material.” Another valuable piece of advice that actors and filmmakers alike should understand before going into production.
It has been a privilege to have Mr. Lipton as a member of our esteemed staff of instructors. It’s artists like Robert Lipton that continue to make the New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film Program one of the most sought after institutions for aspiring young actors.