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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes ‘The Black Godfather’ Producer Nicole Avant

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    On Tuesday, February 18, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to host Nicole Avant, former US ambassador and producer of the award-winning Netflix documentary The Black Godfather. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event. 

    Tova Laiter & Nicole Avant

    Nicole Avant produced The Black Godfather after collecting stories about her father, Clarence Avant, who has held significant influence on dozens of the world’s most high profile entertainers, athletes, and politicians. The film charts the exceptional and unlikely rise of Clarence, who became a powerhouse negotiator amid extreme racism in America, a music executive whose trailblazing behind-the-scenes accomplishments impacted the legacies of icons such as Bill Withers, Quincy Jones, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

    Nicole Avant was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to be the 13th Ambassador to The Bahamas. On September 9, 2009, she was sworn in by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, becoming the youngest as well as the first African American woman to hold the position. Avant’s successes in The Bahamas earned her a nomination for the Sue M. Cobb Award for Exemplary Diplomatic Service. 

    Following a screening of The Black Godfather, Laiter opened up the Q&A by asking Avant how she started in the business. Avant shared, “My parents made me do every kind of job all my life and one time my father said he had gotten me an internship at Warner Bros. television. He told me I should learn all the different types of business because all of entertainment is one business, so it is important to learn the different facets.” She continued, “So I went and did the internship and I have to say, I loved it and I learned everything. I went to work for all the different departments and met so many people that helped me understand the business.”  

    Producer Nicole Avant

    Laiter then asked Avant how the documentary came to fruition. Avant revealed, “This documentary happened because I was trying to figure out a way to tell my dad’s story. I said something to my husband [Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos] one day about how I wished there was a way to tie in sports and movies and television and activism and civil rights and all these elements into a character and film. He then pointed out that the character I had just described was, in fact, my father.” 

    Speaking about her director and collaborator Reggie Hudlin, Avant expressed, “I knew Reggie for a very long time and we would talk about African American history and get frustrated that no one really understood our history and no one had seen documentaries on us or knew enough. It was always simplified to ‘all Black people in America live this way, eat this food, and do these specific things’ and it would drive Reggie and me nuts. Therefore, I figured he would be a great person to direct this documentary.”  

    The Q&A was then opened up to students. One student asked Avant, “What do you think are the most important changes for the African American community in the entertainment industry since the beginning of your father’s career.” 

    Avant imparted, “The biggest changes and the most important changes were putting people in a position of power where they could therefore make decisions and control their destiny and in turn, open the door for other people to come in.” She added, “When I was younger, Billboard used to have the Top 100 charts and the Black charts. They used to separate them all. It was really important for my dad to say ‘Why can’t Black people and women be in charge of certain departments that are run by only one type of person? It should be everybody.’ So I think the most important thing is that you started to see more people of color, in general, really having high-level positions that they otherwise would have never had.” 

    Laiter concluded the Q&A by thanking Avant for coming amidst a very busy Oscar season. Avant remarked, “I was really looking forward to this night more than anything else, because humans have to tell stories to each other and connect with each other and I think these events are very important.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to thank producer and former US Ambassador Nicole Avant for joining sharing her time and expertise with our students!

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    February 21, 2020 • Diversity, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 217

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes Top CAA Agent Chris Andrews

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    On Tuesday, December 3, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to host Chris Andrews, top talent agent at the industry-leading Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.

    Chris Andrews

    Andrews is based in Los Angeles and represents many of the Hollywood’s leading actors, including Daniel Craig, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Saoirse Ronan, Nicole Kidman, Jon Hamm, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Blunt, and Edgar Ramirez, among others. He has been instrumental in the development and advancement of his clients’ careers around the globe.

    Laiter opened the Q&A by asking Andrews how he became an agent and started with CAA. Andrews discussed his history in the industry, from working in the mailroom (“you meet everybody—agents and clients”) to his current work as one of the company’s top agents. Through his story and the entire session, Andrews emphasized the importance of hard work and ambition. 

    One student asked Andrews for advice on how to get an agent when first starting out in their craft. Andrews replied,  “Work brings work … if you can get one job it’ll lead to something else. Anybody you meet – write their name down, get their phone number, get their email address, remember that … keep it handy so that you have it. Don’t be like ‘Oh, I think I met her’… You should know who you’ve met along the way … you never know who you’re going to meet.”

    Chris Andrews

    Andrews left the students with some inspirational words. “Time is precious. It goes by really, really fast … Take it in … If you love film, if you love acting, if you love producing, if you love writing—read great writers, watch great directors, watch great actors. You will learn something, because it’ll teach you where the bar is higher … You have to live in that hope, still, of dreaming of ‘I can be better’ … that’s what propels me.”

    New York Film Academy thanks CAA agent Chris Andrews for taking the time to share his experience and expertise with our students.

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    December 6, 2019 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 676

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige

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    On Wednesday, October 23, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to host Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios and Chief Creative Officer of Marvel. He is also the producer of Marvel’s hit movies and #5 in last week’s Hollywood Reporter’s top 100 most important people in the movie business. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.

    Feige has been the driving creative force behind several billion-dollar franchises and an unprecedented number of blockbuster feature films, all connected to create the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In his current role as producer and president of Marvel Studios, Feige is a hands-on producer and oversees Marvel Studios’ feature film productions, whose 23 films released have all opened #1 at the box office and collectively grossed over $21 billion worldwide. Eight of the MCU films have crossed the $1 billion threshold at the global box office. Avengers: Endgame broke records on its way to becoming the highest-grossing worldwide release of all time after just 89 days in theaters. Most recently, Feige was just announced as producer for a new Star Wars franchise. 

    Kevin Feige

    Following a compilation reel of all the Marvel films, Laiter opened up the Q&A by inquiring what it takes to create those successful Marvel movies, asking “Is there a formula, or some concept, that you would like to share with us?” 

    Feige answered, “I wish there was a formula I could divvy out to everybody, but the truth is, we came about as a studio in an interesting way. We were tasked with making two movies in 2008, and I had been with Marvel for five to six years at that point. I learned just by being around filmmakers. By the time we got to Iron Man, I got to use everything I learned—the good and the bad—and focus our vision on what we wanted.” 

    Feige shared his more of his wisdom, telling NYFA students, “You need a couple things to make a great film. You need an amazing team and you need to trust that team around you. We’ve been very lucky with the filmmakers we’ve worked with, in that they’ve all wanted to work with us and make a fun crowd-pleasing movie. It’s easy to stop when it’s hard and it’s easy to settle, but we don’t. Once we announce a movie and it’s release date, we are committed. We reshoot and edit sometimes up to the premiere and once we added a shot to Avengers the day after… Obviously we earned the trust of the studio to do that.”

    Kevin Feige

    Laiter then opened up the Q&A to students. When asked by a student what he believes was the key to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Feige expressed, “I think the key to success was Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and dozens of writers and artists that created an amazing world in the span of 40+ years. It’s amazing. And not just them, but we also have these new artists putting their own spin on these characters. There’s too many people responsible for it.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Marvel Studios President and Marvel Chief Creative Officer Kevin Feige for his time and for sharing his film expertise with our students!

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    October 25, 2019 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 1004

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes ‘John Wick’ Creator Derek Kolstad

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    Derek Kolstad, creator and writer of the iconic action franchise starring Keanu Reeves, John Wick, spoke with students at New York Film Academy (NYFA) at a special event on Tuesday, October 15, moderated by Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series.

    Derek Kolstad penned the original screenplay for John Wick, which has become Lionsgate’s most profitable franchise with two sequels, a VR game, a mobile game, and a probable third sequel, as well as executive producing a planned scripted TV adaptation that Kolstad is executive producing and a comic book series that he is consulting on.

    Derek Kolstad

    Additionally, Kolstad most recently wrapped as a co-executive producer on the highly-anticipated Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier for Marvel Studios.

    Following a screening of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Laiter opened up the Q&A by asking Kolstad how he got his start in the business and how that led to his success as a screenwriter. “I started to write screenplays since I was 13,” Kolstad began, continuing, “when I didn’t even know the format. I wrote and filed it. I became a salesman and then one day, it was 2000, I drove out to LA and I got noticed right away.”

    He added, “I wrote a script called Acolyte and I got a manager and did two direct-to-DVD movies that were an ungodly challenge. I was going to walk away and one producer on that project introduced me to managers Mike Goldberg and Josh Adler, who are still my reps, and they saved me.”

    Speaking of his inspiration for creating the series, Kolstad shared, “When I wrote John Wick, I was writing a love letter to the movies I loved. I wrote that initial screenplay in three days, the second draft in two weeks, sold it in February, and we went into production that November. So when you think of overnight success, I know I’m blessed, but I worked hard and long to get to that point.” 

    Derek Kolstad

    Laiter also asked Kolstad about the moment when John Wick clicked for him. Kolstad answered, “John Wick was just me suddenly going, ‘I’m going to stop trying to be who I’m not and just embrace what I love.’” 

    The Q&A was then opened up to student filmmakers, where Kolstad was asked how the John Wick franchise stood out from other action movies in the market. Kolstad credited the success to the importance of character relationships, saying, “A good movie, regardless of genre, is a good movie. It comes down to the character and their relationships, and the audience wanting to be a part of that character’s life.”       

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Derek Kolstad for joining us and sharing his expertise with our students!

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    October 17, 2019 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 767

  • Q&A with ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Producer Matt Kaplan

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    On Tuesday, August 6, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a special Q&A with esteemed producer Matt Kaplan for our high school campers, following a screening of the Netflix all-time most-viewed original film, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, curated and moderated the event.

    Matt Kaplan is the founder and CEO of Ace Entertainment, focused on making feature films, television series, and digital content for youth audiences. Kaplan has produced incredibly buzzy YA films including the runaway success recent rom-com hit The Perfect Date, Spontaneous, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, starring NYFA alum Lana Condor. He is also behind the upcoming Are You Afraid of the Dark TV reboot based on the 1990s Nickelodeon television series. Kaplan’s past credits include features such as Before I Fall, The Lazarus Effect, and Viral. He is currently working on and next year’s sequel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before 2.

    Matt Kaplan

    Laiter started by asking Kaplan how he started in the industry. Kaplan talked about how he started making short form content after graduating film school. “YouTube was just getting popular, and so I started making short videos with my friends,” he told the audience. From there, he started as an assistant at Lionsgate, a job his YouTube videos earned him, and worked his way up to an executive position in charge of YA content. During his time at Lionsgate, he was a part of the team that made The Hunger Games. “But I knew as a younger executive,” said Kaplan, “that I wanted to be the one making the final decisions.”

    One student asked about where to start when producing a movie. Kaplan replied, “First, try to figure out what kind of movies you’re passionate about telling … typically we will option a book or buy an article or whatever it is, and then hire a writer—or sometimes you’ll ask a friend to write the script on spec. And then once we have the script, that’s kind of the jumping off point. Once you have a good script, amazing things can happen.”

    Another student asked how Kaplan had figured out that he wanted to be a producer. “I like putting things together. I just looked at what I was good at. When I was your age, I took writing classes, and directing classes … but I knew I was good at assessing material, and I knew I had an instinct for what I could sell, and market. And so I spent a lot of my time making relationships with great writers and great directors.”

    Matt Kaplan

    One student asked about how to make connections in the film industry. Kaplan said, “Someone gave me this advice: it’s follow-up … As long as you are passionate about seeking that out, people in this business want to help. Start off by trying to get experience under mentors, don’t just watch—try to make friends with these people, and be helpful. And I think once you start to do that, good things can happen.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to thank To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before producer Matt Kaplan for sharing his producing insights with our high school campers.

     

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    August 8, 2019 • Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 2175

  • Q&A with CreativeFuture’s Ruth Vitale, Cesar Fishman, and Brett Williams

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    On Tuesday, April 23, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a panel and Q&A with Ruth Vitale, CEO of CreativeFuture; Cesar Fishman, Senior Vice President, Communications; and Brett Williams, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.

    Vitale served as president of Paramount Classics and Fine Line Features and, collectively, her films have won three Academy Awards and two Golden Globes. As CEO of CreativeFuture, Vitale—with the assistance of her colleagues, Cesar Fishman and Brett Williams—works to ensure the protection of the intellectual property of filmmakers and workers in the entertainment industry as a whole.

    CreativeFuture

    Laiter opened up the Q&A by asking Vitale about her start in the industry. “I ended up in the entertainment business by accident,” said Vitale, adding, “I became director of acquisitions at The Movie Channel and I knew nothing about movies.” Vitale shared that, though her initial role in the entertainment industry focused on sales, she ultimately got the chance to distribute independent films, a job she loved. “You could bring a new voice into the world … I get to share an amazing film with you, the audience.”

    Vitale was introduced to CreativeFuture in 2013; “The job was about advocating on behalf of artists’ rights and saying ‘Copyright is important; we need strong copyright protections and it matters,’” said Vitale. She shared the statistic that, “in 2018, there were 126 billion visits to pirate sites.”

    CreativeFuture

    Vitale also shared a way in which CreativeFuture combats piracy. “Around the world there’s something called site-blocking where, if a site is proven in a court of law … to have more pirated content on it than legitimate content, [then] the judge has the right to send a notice to the internet service providers that they have to block it in that country.”

    CreativeFuture teams up with schools across America to educate students of all ages about protecting creative property and they have found that the younger students are, the more likely they are to adopt lessons about fighting piracy in their everyday lives.

    CreativeFuture

    CreativeFuture also combats piracy with videos in which cast and crew members thank the audiences that are about to watch their films in theaters. This may seem like a small gesture but Vitale shared research by Disney that shows these videos caused a 20% decrease in piracy and a 20% increase in sales.

    Many of the student filmmakers in the audience were interested to know how they could safely share their films online; Vitale said that the best thing to do is to purchase secure links with unique passwords that will expire within a few days of being received.

    CreativeFuture

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank CreativeFuture’s Ruth Vitale, Cesar Fishman, and Brett Williams for advocating for artists and sharing their insights and advice about copyright protections in the entertainment industry.

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    April 25, 2019 • Guest Speakers • Views: 1158

  • Artist Isabelle Adriani Donates Cinematic-Themed Artwork to New York Film Academy (NYFA)

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    Isabelle Adriani, an Italian artist, author, and actress, recently generously donated her cinematic-themed artworks to the New York Film Academy and to the Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, Tova Laiter. On Friday, February 22, Adriani came to visit NYFA’s Los Angeles campus.

    Adriani donated a total of four pieces to the New York Film Academy; The two pieces donated to the Los Angeles campus are La Dolce Vita, which features images from the 1961 Frederico Fellini film of the same name, and Charlie, which features photos of the English silent movie era actor and director giant, Charlie Chaplin.

    Isabelle Adriani

    The two pieces donated to the New York campus are Once Upon a Time in America, which features images from the 1984 Sergio Leone masterpiece film of the same name, as well as one of star actress, Marlene Dietrich. 

    The four works are collages of photographs, posters, reviews, books and original accessories that Adriani has collected throughout her life from antique shops, fairs, and auctions all over the world. The way in which the media is arranged resembles modernists like Hannah Hoch and Mimmo Rotella and the use of color, subject matter, and desire to honor Hollywood’s history and pop culture are evocative of Andy Warhol’s quadtych-panels portraits. One of the things that distinguishes Adriani’s style from her predecessors is the “glassing” technique that she uses to make her works shine like glass and to protect the media material in the collages; Adriani keeps this technique a secret.

    Isabelle Adriani

    As an actress, Adriani has acted in over 30 Italian and American productions including The American (2010) with Academy Award winner George Clooney, Twice Born (2012) with Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz, and The Young Messiah (2016) directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Stoning of Soraya M.) who also directed her in The Trial (tentative title) with with Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ). 

    She also produced the documentary Open Quantum Relativity (2014), which explored the concept of time travel with scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). 

    Isabelle Adriani

    Adriani has published 14 books and writes columns about the history of movies called Once Upon a Time in the Cinema. She also recorded two music albums of her unique Whistling to accompany her recent art collection called Tribute and To Movies with Love.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Adriani for her generous donation to the arts and the art of cinema for our students to enjoy for years to come.

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    March 19, 2019 • Community Highlights • Views: 1758

  • Ayelet Zurer Speaks With Tova Laiter at New York Film Academy

    FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailOn October 30, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a Q&A with actress Ayelet Zurer following a screening of a third season episode from Netflix’s acclaimed series Daredevil. The Q&A was moderated by Tova Laiter, NYFA Director of the Q&A Series.Ayelet Zurer

    Zurer is an award-winning Israeli actress whose career began in Israeli television and crossed over to mainstream American movies and TV, most notably Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005); Vantage Point with Dennis Quaid (2008); Ron Howard’s Angels and Demons, with Tom Hanks (2009); Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013); Rodrigo Garcia’s Last Days in the Desert, alongside Ewan McGregor; Timur Bekmambetov’s adaptation of Ben Hur, and many more.

    Laiter opened up the Q&A by asking about Zurer’s early career; Zurer shared that she was artistic as a young girl and did not “fall in love with acting as a profession” until she studied acting in her hometown,Tel Aviv. She then relocated to New York City to study further and acted in numerous theatrical productions before being offered a large role on a television series in Israel, moving back home where she would work in the Israeli entertainment industry to great success and winning many awards.

    Ayelet ZurerWhile Zurer was working on a television show, In Treatment, that would later be adapted for HBO, she got a mysterious call to audition from an English casting agent who caught one of her random films. Zurer was apprehensive but then she was informed this audition was for Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Zurer landed the role and this launched her career as an actress in American media. “Say yes to things!” Zurer advised the students in the audience.

    A couple years later, Zurer has the opportunity to act in the film, Angels and Demons; she was anxious about the magnitude of the film but when she sat down with Tom Hanks to run lines, “I don’t know what happened; it was really magical; I was not nervous…” 

    Laiter inquired about the lessons Zurer learned from working with Hanks. Zurer replied, “The tone is set on a film by its leader. Tom was relaxed, intelligent, and generous. When he had an idea, he didn’t pester the director with it but suggested it in the right time… you have to have patience… he really set the tone.”

    Laiter asked Zurer about the lessons she has learned as an actress. “One of the things I’ve learned is to be very present because… that’s the most important thing for an actor and for a person in life, period.” Between “action” and “cut,” “…in that moment I [am] able to eliminate everything out there; the sound of fear, the self-doubt…” continued Zurer, while illustrating to the students a technique she uses just before she goes on stage or set.Ayelet Zurer

    To a student’s question of how she prepares for a role, Zurer talked about first learning the lines until they are embedded, doing research, and focusing on the storytelling; she asks herself: “What’s the beginning? Where [am I] coming [from]? What do I wanna say? What [does the] story [want] to say? What’s my job in that story? What is my role; what kind of a device am I?”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ayelet Zurer for sharing her entertainment industry wisdom and acting expertise with our students!

     

     

     

     

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    November 2, 2018 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 2061

  • Silicon Valley’s John Altschuler Speaks With New York Film Academy (NYFA)

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    On August 15, 2018, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of HBO’s Silicon Valley followed by a Q&A with creator and showrunner John Altschuler. NYFA Director of the Q&A Series, Tova Laiter, moderated the event.

    As a student at University of North Carolina, Altschuler created the first comedy sketch show on the university student TV. He and his co-writer, looking to capitalize on their venture, sent written material in three boxes to three owners/editors of the National Lampoon magazine, adding a dollar to each to get their attention. It worked! He became a writer for the most iconic humor magazine of its time, until he moved to Hollywood.John Altschuler

    After moving to Los Angeles however, he realized that his previous work was not going to magically open doors in the industry, so he worked odd jobs until he started getting gigs as a production assistant. He was careful not to pitch himself, instead concentrating on the job at hand. He told students, “Whatever job you get, just do that well… make their lives easier and they will look out for you; they will want to help you because you made their day that much easier.”

    His first writing job, on HBO’s The High Life, led to his becoming an executive producer and showrunner on FOX’s King of the Hill for 12 years and the relaunch of Beavis and Butt-head for MTV. He then co-created Silicon Valley for HBO, and Lopez for TV Land, starring George Lopez. He’s also produced Mike Judge’s film, Extract (2009) starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis and Ben Affleck, and co-wrote Blades of Glory (2007) starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder.

    A student asked Altschuler about his inspiration for Silicon Valley. He replied, “I was reading a biography of Steve Jobs and there was a quote in there where Bill Gates was ridiculing Steve Jobs: ‘The guy can’t even write code!’ Altschuler thought: “The guy created the biggest brand in the world and there’s somebody up in Silicon Valley sniping at him; I was like, “This is hilarious!'”

    To the question of whether the creators knew Silicon Valley culture or only did research when they wrote the pilot, the answer was, “Both.” Altschuler had family members who were engineers, but they also did further research:

    “We went up to Silicon Valley… and it was so funny, because… everybody kept talking about how they were making the world a better place… The sanctimony was so thick that I thought, ‘well this is something to make fun of.’ It’s… fun to take on the big guys and try to deflate them.”

    John AltschulerLaiter noted that sometimes it’s easier to make fun of something when you’re outside of it, and Altschuler concurred.

    One student asked about Altschuler’s tips for pitching a show or movie to a producer. Altschuler advised, “[When] you go in, have your story and try to start off with a topic sentence or a personal story… try to make it a conversation, not a laundry list of ‘first this happened and then that happened.'”

    Altschuler imparted to the students that no matter what, they have to like what they’re making or no one will want to consume it. And when they write, and a scene doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to let it go. “If it’s really great, it will get its way in back later.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank John Altschuler for sharing his industry expertise and advice for our film school students!

     

     

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    August 17, 2018 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 2908

  • Q&A With High School 9-1-1’s Tim Warren and Kelli Joan Bennett


    FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus welcomed director Tim Warren and producer Kelli Joan Bennett for a Q&A following a screening of their award-winning, impactful documentary, High School 9-1-1 for summer high school students. NYFA Director of the Q&A Series Tova Laiter moderated the event.

    The doc follows a year in the life of the members of EMS-Post 53, a volunteer student-run ambulance service in the small town of Darien, Connecticut, where Warren himself had volunteered as a senior in high school. 

    Tim Warren is an American film and television producer whose credits include popular reality programs such as Bar Rescue, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and more. Kelli Joan Bennett is an actor and writer, who recently produced and starred in the feature crime-thriller Collusions, alongside Tom Everett Scott. Together, Warren and Bennett formed Boomerang Production Media in 1996, and it was under this banner that High School 9-1-1 was ultimately produced. 

    Laiter started the night off by inquiring after Warren’s motivation for pursuing the film, so many years after he had experienced life at Post 53. “I was sort of thinking,” he explained, “if I die tomorrow, what would I regret not doing? And ultimately, I always thought about doing a documentary on this organization that was so positively impactful on my life. And even though I didn’t go into the medical field, the things that I learned on the ambulance thirty plus years ago, I still use today as a producer and director.”Tim Warren and Kelli Joan Bennett

    Many of these lessons, Warren noted, came in the form of mantras from the organization’s beloved founder, Bud Doble. “One of them was, ‘Be prepared for what you find, but be prepared to change your mind.’ And that applies to not only when you’re on the ambulance, but when you’re in television and film.” Warren went on to paraphrase, “You need to have a plan. You need to have an idea of what you want to do. But you can’t be so married to that plan that you either miss a greater opportunity, or don’t see a problem that’s coming at you.”

    Over the course of several years following their almost year-long stage of principal photography, that lesson would come into play in more ways than one. The first cut of High School 9-1-1 was upwards of six hours, followed soon thereafter by a two-hour cut. After screening the film for an audience, and being told it was still too long, the two of them cut it down by another fifteen minutes. “We submitted the one hundred and four minute cut to the top ten film festivals,” Warren began. “We were [resoundingly] rejected. So we’re now seven, eight years into this process, a mountain of debt, and nobody loves us.” 

    Warren and Bennett returned to their professional lives for a time, until their collective spark was reignited after Bennett ran into the program director for the LA Film Festival. “The program director says, ‘Oh, I remember that film — great film. Too long. But don’t give up on that film.’ And she said that the film needed to be under 90 minutes. So, that reinvigorated us.”

    The pair then cut the film down to 86 minutes and launched a successful festival tour, screening at Heartland, Kansas City, New Haven, and more, as a part of the American Film Showcase program. After nearly ten years put into the project, its success was well-deserved. But documentary film, as Warren later attests, isn’t necessarily about success.

    “The thing with documentary that I always say is… you have to be really passionate about the subject matter.  And you have to go in pretty much knowing that it’s not your ticket to riches… If you’re thinking about doing a documentary, you have this feeling that, ‘I have to tell this story, and I’m going to tell this story — really — at any cost.’” 

    High School 9-1-1 is currently on a world-wide tour, screening at high schools and within communities, with the ultimate intention of “empowering young people through responsibility.” For behind the scenes, screening information, and more, visit here.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    August 9, 2018 • Documentary Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 2496