tony schwartz
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  • BFA Filmmaking Grad Finalist in CineGear 2015 Film Series at Paramount Studios

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    medley

    When our filmmaking students graduate from the New York Film Academy, they bring with them a thesis film that they can be proud of. Often the short film will be his or her calling card to the professional world. But before that happens, we encourage our graduates to enter his or her thesis film into as many film festivals as possible, giving him or her and the film the proper exposure needed.

    One of our recent BFA Filmmaking graduates, Diego Andres Londono, has followed this advice, and has already seen success at the festivals with his thesis film, Medley. He’s won awards at two film festivals, California International Shorts and LAArthouse Filmfest, both as Best Experimental Film. Medley has also been selected into the biggest University level Film Festival in Colombia and was a part of the Cannes Short Film Corner.

    “There is a sweet and twisted bliss in Diego’s talents as he sees things with a creative eye that understands both art and commerce,” said NYFA Instructor Saga Elmoraseb. “He is detailed without being demanding and is sensitive about the filmmaking process. These (and many more) are reasons why I feel Diego is a cut above the rest. His film Medley is proof.”

    Now, Diego’s film is a finalist in the CineGear 2015 Film Series, which will take place at the famous Paramount Studios. Diego is competing for $5,000 in equipment for his next project against two other student thesis films from AFI and USC.

    We had a chance to ask Diego a few questions about his film and his young career before his upcoming GineGear screening on June 4th.

    Congrats on the success of your thesis film! Can you tell us what the film is about?

    It wasn’t the first idea that I had and it was born kind of in the middle of turmoil, as I didn’t know if I was going to be able to shoot a thesis film at all. Nevertheless, one night of May 2014, Matías Piegari, a very good friend and composer, whom I met at NYFA, showed me an amazing piano recital experiment called: “4’33.”

    The experiment was conducted by John Cage, and in it, Cage brought a world-renowned piano player and made the audience believe that he was about to play a sonata. The curiosity would build up as the piano player sat down in front of the big audience, but when the time to perform came in, the player would start his metronome and remain motionless until the metronome hit an entire movement. It is what’s called a symphony composed of silence.

    To me, it challenged the very definition of art because it shows that art is not just this thing that is created by a human being for others to judge, it exists on its own. And in the context of Medley, it exists in nature. I went back home and began writing with extreme passion about a piano concert in which the piano didn’t produce the sounds that it was expected to produce, but sounds of nature. Nature for me is what drives my creativity — as I see it — it is in nature where art resides in its pure form and in its universal state.

    medley

    Can you tell us a little bit of how this film came together?

    I got an amazing support from Asaph Polonsky and Tony Schwartz, my directing and producing instructors. They knew of the effort I put on my first thesis idea and the reasons why it didn’t come through. At that time, they put a word in with Mike Civille, who was the head of the filmmaking department at that time. I was asking for an extra semester to be able to shoot my thesis, but Mike gave me an extra month; and he was right: an extra month was enough for me to conceive the idea and shoot it. I had to resource to my own creativity, the producing and directing tools that I had acquired with years and to my friends — the people who I spent three years of my life battling side by side in the sea of projects that is the BFA program.

    I will be eternally grateful to Melissa Inzunza, our Producer, and Yana Surits, our AD: they are not only just classmates, they are my true friends. After the initial struggle, we managed to get Jordan Black on board, an amazing Director of Photography and an equally talented Production Designer, Kalise Wallace (Star Trek: Renegades, Bound). And just like that, we rented a small studio in Glendale and began dressing up the atemporary world where the concert had to take place. A lot of friends came forward and helped in the dressing of the place. To help in the construction, Kalise brought a master threader who works with ‘Cirque du Soleil’ to build their tents and scenery in Vegas. (Only in LA do you get to meet people like that.) He congratulated us for the amazing production value that we were capable of generating with a minimal budget.

    A month after principal photography was completed, we shot the nature sequence. I wanted to contrast the arranged concert as an art form with the pure art that exists in nature. But I knew that I had to choose a place equally beautiful to what we had created artificially. This is why we chose Big Sur as our location for the nature shots. This magical place on Earth is one where Ansel Adams decided to inspire himself and represent his work. At Big Sur, the majestic sequoia trees die by the sea. I’ve never seen that spectacle elsewhere. We hiked for two days with a skeletal crew of five. We captured mesmerizing imagery that, in the words of many photographers, rival those of the National Geographic.

    What do you hope to achieve with this film?

    I wanted to try new approaches to filmmaking by conveying emotions through the creative use of sound and image. I learned heaps in the process; and most likely will affect my future films. As for our audience, I would like to generate questions about what is art, and where does the concept comes from. I would like for them to feel and experience an experimental journey that hopefully will trigger their creativity.

    on set medley

    Would you say your training and education at NYFA was useful in terms of directing this film?

    I am grateful for the education and hands-on training that I received at NYFA. I learned from working on all of my friend’s projects and also from great instructors who taught me to strive for greatness and to stand behind my vision and get my collaborators involved in it. Throughout the time that I spent at the school, we constantly changed and evolved and towards the end of my BFA program I was able to put together all of the directing lessons that I received and implement them in the natural way that I imprinted in Medley’s actors.

    NYFA is a young school but it has an international quality to it that gives you a sense of global perspective that other schools might not give you. This helped me in writing Medley out of a traditional way, and go for an avant-garde style. All for all, I had awesome experiences that allowed me to see the world through other scopes. Being surrounded by different cultures allowed me not only to receive an ‘American Education’ but also to share my cinematic experience with people from around the world. I am proud to say that my film is the first NYFA film to compete in the ‘2015 Cinegear Film Series’ at Paramount Studios, alongside of AFI and USC thesis films, because my school is at that level.

    Are you currently working on another project?

    Currently, I am working on developing a feature film about a murder case in Pleasanton, California, in which authorities work in a crooked way because of the victim being an African American and because of the sense of ‘small town’ that NorCal communities have. We can use all the help that we can get and of course we where planning on coming to NYFA, as we know of the good relationship that the school has with its alumni. I also have projects in development in Colombia and México, which I’m already in conversations with production companies back home to produce in the upcoming years. I say ‘years’ because it seems like feature filmmaking is a marathon and not just a sprinting race, but I’m enjoying the ride.

    Medley has been selected to compete in the Student Film Category for the ‘CineGear film series’ at Paramount Studios on June 4th of 2015. For more information visit: http://www.cinegearexpo.com/

    Have a look at Diego’s trailer for Medley below!

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    June 3, 2015 • Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4214

  • MFA Filmmaking Grad to Premiere ‘More Than Words’ at Cannes Short Film Corner

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    more than wordsThey say write what you know. That’s precisely what former New York Film Academy MFA Filmmaking student Gabe Chavez set out to do with his semi-autobiographical thesis film, More Than Words. Chavez suffers from a heart disorder called Aortic Stenosis, a genetic disorder that constricts his aortic valve. If left unchecked, the disorder could become life threatening. Initially, Chavez refused to take the heart disorder seriously — he wouldn’t even visit his doctor. Eventually, his girlfriend (now fiancée) Caitlin gave him an ultimatum: if you don’t want to take care of yourself, do it for me. A crucial moment not only in Chavez’s film, but in his own life. In addition to Caitlin, other characters in his film were inspired by his extended and immediate family.

    Chavez’s team consisted of a number of NYFA students, including Kyle Pavlin (co writer/AD), Tripp Townsend (producer), Regina Bang (EP), Javier Del Olmo (EP), Laura Elisa Perez (DP), Badr Farha (production design), Mich Castro (1st AC, b camera op), and Yiting Lyu (2nd AC).

    “This film simply could not have been made if it wasn’t for [producer] Tripp Townsend,” said Chavez. “He has been like my brother; he grew up with me in New Mexico, produced my film, and is about to graduate from the producing program this May.”

    Townsend and Chavez are business partners, having teamed up to form production company Frozen Frame Productions, LLC.

    “Also, my actors were fundamental in telling this story—especially my leads, Samm and Cody.”

    Chavez put Samm and Cody through 6 weeks of rehearsals before filming began. While working on set, the three of them formed a very close bond of collaboration and trust that still exists today.

    Praised by NYFA Los Angeles Producing Chair Tony Schwartz, Chavez’s thesis film will begin the festival circuit with its premiere at the Cannes Short Film Corner.

    more than words set

    Chavez originally decided to enroll in the MFA Filmmaking program because of its hands-on approach and access to industry-standard equipment. The program put Chavez in a position where he could concentrate solely on filmmaking and directing.

    “My directing teachers Nick Sivakumaran and Adam Nimoy along with my writing mentor Andy Guerdat really helped me with my thesis,” said Chavez. “While Nick didn’t advise me in my thesis year, it was really his teaching and constant inspiration of my films and efforts that led me to my thesis film with the tools necessary to get the most from the scenes. Adam’s advanced directing class encouraged me to experiment (especially in rehearsals), and gave me the vocabulary to talk these actors through such difficult and personal material. When it comes to Andy, he provided me with such great screenwriting advice and knowledge (coupled with my undergrad screenwriting teacher Matt McDuffie — writer of the recent Ed Harris/Annette Bening vehicle Face of Love), that lead me to the final script I wrote with my cowriter Kyle Pavlin. This story really couldn’t have come off the page without Kyle’s contribution. He really is the most excellent writer.”

    gabe chavez

    Chavez hopes his film will inspire people to examine their own relationships, realizing the blessings they have in life. Beyond that hope, he intends to use this short as a springboard toward the feature film version.

    In addition to showcasing More Than Words at festivals around around the country, Chavez has been working in New York City on several TV shows and movies, including Gotham, Madam Secretary, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Broad City, The Americans, Elementary, and the upcoming films Urge (with Pierce Brosnan) and Freeheld (with Academy Award Winner Julianne Moore and Inception/Juno star Ellen Page). He is also key gripping a low budget feature film that is being produced by NYFA graduates Regina Bang and Javier Del Olmo (the same team who executive produced his film).

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    March 2, 2015 • Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4845