New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with producer Hilary Shor to discuss her work as an executive producer on the Oscar-nominated film The United States vs. Billie Holiday with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Hilary Shor is a producer who has worked on multiple critically acclaimed films including Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Shor has had a longstanding relationship with Oscar & Emmy nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious, Empire), and has worked with him as producer/executive producer on The United States vs. Billie Holiday, The Butler with Oprah Winfrey, Forrest Whitaker, Lenny Kravitz, and The Paperboy starring Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron. She has also served as an executive producer on Eye of The Beholder, starring Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd.
Hilary Shor (Left) and Tova Laiter (Right) for NYFA’s Q&A-List Series
One of Shor’s first big productions, Children of Men, came to be after Shor optioned the book and held on for nine years. It was a testament to her ability to see a story worthy of being made and betting on the talent. It paid off when the-now-Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón directed the film and went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards.
Hilary Shor (Right) on set of Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy”
Shor has also had a longstanding relationship with her frequent collaborator and friend of 30 years Lee Daniels. “Back when we were both agents, [Daniels] would always try to sign my clients behind my back,” joked Shor. Eventually, Shor and Daniels began working together on his films, noting their shared love of humor on set, for Daniels’ films The Butler, The Paperboy, and now The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
“It’s the first music-driven film I have worked on and it was really wonderful to see the period come alive,” Shor shared about working on The United States vs. Billie Holiday. “There’s such a richness. It was really wonderful to gather this extraordinary cast including the incredible Andry Day, who is nominated for Best Actress at this year’s Oscars.”
“Emily in Paris” star Lily Collins (Left) and Hilary Shor (Right)
Laiter also commented on Shor’s ability to focus on people, remained a trusted friend among Hollywood’s top talent including Nicole Kidman, Lily Collins, Charlie Hunnam, and more. “My role as a producer is to protect the environment [on set]. Talent instinctively knows who is a safe resource. I love them [the actors] and I really see them. When I work on a film, I want the actors to know I am really there for them and I’m in their corner.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Hilary Shor for sharing her time and invaluable knowledge of the producing world with NYFA students and alumni and showing students that, no matter how high you climb in the business, taking your ego out of the equation will always get you farther.
NYFA had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with the President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group, Pam Abdy, to discuss the film production process with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Abdy is the current President of MGM’s Motion Picture Group and oversees the development, production, and post-production for all MGM and Orion films. Abdy is currently developing a multitude of films such as Fiddler on The Roof, Project Hail Mary, and Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, amongst others.
At her previous position, Makeready Films/eOne, the company financed and produced Queen & Slim from director Melina Matsoukas and writer Lena Waithe and A Million Little Pieces from director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Previously, Abdy served as President of Production at New Regency, where they released the acclaimed Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Academy Award-winning Birdman, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Adam McKay’s Academy Award-winning The Big Short, and Iñárritu’s The Revenant in 2016, which received twelve Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Pam Abdy (Right)
Laiter began the conversation by asking Abdy what a day in the life of the President of MGM Motion Picture Group looks like. Abdy explained that most days consist of hours of Zoom meetings from pitching and financial planning to meetings with production staff and discussing forward slate planning. “It’s an all-encompassing job especially being at home with my daughter in the next room,” shared Abdy. “It’s a little chaotic, but that was just today. Every day is different.”
Abdy, whose original plan to be a dancer got derailed by injury, got her first big break as Danny DeVito’s assistant, after working at the front desk at DeVito’s Jersey Films. “It was a life-changing opportunity for me,” she remembered. “He is a mentor to me and a second father. I learned how to make movies at that company and was given space to grow and they [the whole team] really taught me how to make films and be on set.”
Sometimes the best education is watching and observing something Abdy does to this day, even as President at MGM Motion Picture Group. She urged NYFA students to remember that no job is too small to do no matter how many years of experience you have. “It doesn’t matter what I have to do. Every job is meaningful and nothing is beneath me,” said Abdy. “I will do whatever it takes to navigate a problem. I feel like some people think things are not their job, but to be a great producer, you have to manage so many different personalities and money. It’s an incredible responsibility that doesn’t get enough credit.”
Part of being a great producer means being able to collaborate with the director, something Abdy mentioned as being one of the most important parts of putting a movie together and in production. “It’s everything to find the right director for your film,” she emphasized. “If it’s not the right director the film won’t have the right point of view. The best day of a producer’s life is getting the director on the movie, but it’s also the worst day because it becomes the director’s and you may not agree with everything they do. Your vision may not be their vision. But when that person comes on and they elevate that, there’s nothing better.”
Pam Abdy (Left) with the cast and crew of “Queen & Slim”
One of the career highlights for Abdy has been the vision of Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe, with whom she worked with on Queen & Slim. While on the film, Abdy learned a very important lesson that has stayed with her to this day. “I usually have to be part of everything and find solutions. That movie wasn’t about that. It was about creating a safe space and giving Melina and Lena the floor while I stand in the background to help navigate things as they needed them,” she began. “What was so joyful about that film is both of those women are such visionaries. Allow artists and visionaries to have the space to tell their stories. Don’t impose your own on their process. I learned about creating space for artists’ voices and it was the greatest joy of my career.”
Abdy, like many others in the film industry, is continuing to adapt to the film industry facing restrictions due to the COVID pandemic. “Before, you hustled, made major movies, dealt with your budget, and put the movie together which – sometimes things took longer. Now, you don’t have the luxury of time anymore. You are locked down. If you are not working in a pod, then you leave the set. It’s not as fun,” she laughed. “Sometimes magic happens when you are making a film and I worry that the new rigidness may impact that work. There’s no answer right now as to when this part is going to stop, and it’s so expensive. What it’s doing is putting a burden on film budgets for COVID costs. There is a danger that good movies won’t get made because the cost is too burdensome.”
Pam Abdy during promotion for Zach Braff’s “Garden State”
One student asked Abdy how to become a better producer. Abdy urged them to get their hands on as many scripts as possible, even the one that got made already. “Study filmmakers. Filmmakers love to know their producers understand other filmmakers’ work. Take time and watch how filmmakers grow. See what changes. Watch the language and understand the common thread of their films throughout. Then, define your taste and identify what actually is your taste.”
As Laiter closed the discussion and thanked Abdy for her generous wisdom, Laiter asked Abdy what has made her so successful in her career. Abdy replied it’s all the positives and the negatives about herself combined. “As I get older I recognize my flaws and I’m trying to do better with delegating. Be kind and be generous to everyone. This whole business is based on relationships and the experience of those relationships.”
Abdy’s upcoming slate includes Joe Wright’s Cyrano, Ridley Scott’s Gucci, Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin’s Dog, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled upcoming film. New York Film Academy would like to thank Pam Abdy for sharing her time and invaluable knowledge of the film business with NYFA students and looks forward to welcoming her back again in the near future.
To watch the full conversation, click here or view the video below:
NYFA had the privilege of hosting a live video Q&A with the co-founder of We Are the Mighty, David Gale, Medal of Honor recipient & Chair of NYFA’s Veteran Advancement Program Col. Jack Jacobs, and We Are The Mighty (WATM) Chief Content Officer and director Chase Millsap. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
David Gale is an executive and award-winning producer who is currently serving as the Exe.VP of Development and Production at Gunpowder & Sky. Before joining G&S, Gale co-founded and was CEO of WATM, a media brand focused on hiring and telling the stories of our military veterans. Gale oversaw the release of 28 films when he was at MTV Films, including Varsity Blues, Save The Last Dance, The Longest Yard, Election, Hustle and Flow, and the cultural phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite.
(Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Chase Millsap, David Gale, and Col. Jack Jacobs
Chase Millsap produced the short film, The Captain’s Story, in collaboration with National Geographic to highlight the struggles faced by America’s wartime allies. His work has been featured in National Geographic, The Huffington Post and he has appeared on Buzzfeed and CNN International. Millsap is the Chief Content Officer at WATM and has helmed digital, social, film, and television projects for Warner Brothers Studios, CBS Studios, Netflix, and Blumhouse Productions.
Col. Jack Jacobs served in Vietnam twice; both times as an advisor to Vietnamese infantry battalions, earning three Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars, and the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat decoration. After Jacobs’ retirement, he was a Managing Director of Bankers Trust and now serves as the Chair of the Veterans Advancement Program at the New York Film Academy. Jacobs also serves as an on-air analyst for NBC News and he is also the co-author of the memoir, If Not Now, When?, which won the Colby Award.
Rhett Cutrell filming Army trainee Stormy Gideons on the set of “Ten Weeks” (Photo courtesy of We are the Mighty / Quibi)
Millsap, Gale, and Col. Jacobs discussed the making of their series from Blumhouse TV/We Are The Mighty docuseries Ten Weeks. The series, inspired by Col. Jacobs’ book Basic: Surviving Boot Camp and Basic Training, is a docuseries that follows a cohort of recruits in their journey from untested, young adults to soldiers during basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Though the docuseries Ten Weeks was originally supposed to be released on Quibi, the series will be available to stream on Roku devices in 2021.
Ten Weeks (named for the length of basic training) would not have been possible without the support of the U.S. Army, which colonel Jack Jacobs brought in to collaborate throughout the process. Millsap explained that it was a documentary, but it had to have a plan in place: it meant knowing the limits of production each day while on set as it was an active training ground with real challenges, safety concerns, and a rigorous approval process for certain shots. But it was all worth it.
Army Trainees Trinity Carpenter and Stormy Gideons about to receive their banner during “The Anvil” (Photo courtesy of Blumhouse TV / Quibi)
“Going through boot camp is an experience most people don’t experience or get to see,” shared Jacobs. “It’s the backstory of national defense.” Gale agreed and added the project “is by veterans for veterans so you can’t understate the importance of the series and also give credit to the Army for giving us the opportunity to use this space.”
While Ten Weeks is by veterans like Millsap and Col. Jacobs, David Gale, who has been in the film business for many years co-founded WATM because he didn’t see many veterans in higher positions throughout the filmmaking industry. “There is so much talent in the military community and when they leave there are few outlets for them to go into in entertainment,” he shared. Col. Jacobs, who spearheads NYFA’s Veterans Advancement Program, added that many across the industry don’t realize how talented are those who serve and what they can accomplish. “[At NYFA], it’s an opportunity to hone what they know and learned in uniform to the arts.”
Army trainee Stormy Gideons and Drill Sergeant Stewart being filmed by Rhett Cutrell on set for “Ten Weeks” (Photo courtesy of We are the Mighty / Quibi)
Millsap knows all too well the challenges that one can face when transitioning from the military to the film industry. “I spent over a decade in uniform and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I leaned into what I was passionate about,” shared Millsap. “In the military, it’s very easy to see what someone’s job is or what they do. As you think about your next step, your creative work is going to be your calling card. You’ve got to spend your time learning the skill set and reading and watching. Study what’s on the screen to figure out how it was made.”
Millsap and Col. Jacobs, like so many veterans in the entertainment and film industry, are aiming to make military stories exude authenticity and provide more opportunities to veterans looking to break in. Col. Jacobs advised, “No matter what you’re doing, you have to be prepared for some measure of rejection, but you have to keep working at it and it (the project) has to speak to you.”
(L-R) Army trainee/soldiers Leo Eades, Joshua Oller, Stormy Gideons, Trinity Carpenter, and Riley Barnard on graduation day (Photo courtesy of We are the Mighty / Quibi)
Laiter thanked the distinguished producers for the series that will open up another world in an authentic and compelling way.
New York Film Academy would like to thank David Gale, Col. Jack Jacobs, and Chase Millsap for sharing their time and expertise with students and the NYFA community. For more information on veteran opportunities at New York Film Academy, click here.
To hear the full conversation, click the video below our watch on our YouTube channel here.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the opportunity to host a live video Q&A with the Head of the Motion Picture Literary Department of ICM Agency, DOUG MACLAREN. The discussion with NYFA students and alumni was centered on the agency world and how agents work with their clients in the entertainment industry, especially now in the middle of a pandemic. TOVA LAITER, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Doug MacLaren is Partner and Co-Head of ICM’s Director’s Group. He is a talent and literary agent at ICM Partners, where he represents directors, writers, and actors across both movies and television. His current clients include Tom Hooper (Best Picture and Best Director Oscar winner for The King’s Speech; Les Miserables; The Danish Girl), Vince Gilligan (Emmy award-winner for Breaking Bad and Better Caul Saul; El Camino), Gurinder Chadha (Blinded By The Light; Bend It Like Beckham), Neill Blomkamp (District 9; Elysium), Peter Weir (multiple Oscar nominee for Dead Poets Society; Witness; The Truman Show) Joseph Cedar (Foreign Oscar nominee for Footnote and Beaufort; Our Boys), and Michelle MacLaren (Emmy award-winner for Breaking Bad; Game of Thrones; Westworld; The Walking Dead).
Tova Laiter (Left) and Doug MacLaren for NYFA’s Q&A-List
Laiter began the discussion by asking MacLaren how he ended up in the entertainment agency business, to which he replied that right out of college he was involved in the banking industry. After working in Hong Kong at a French bank, MacLaren realized he needed to reevaluate what it was he actually wanted to do with his life. After coming back stateside, MacLaren decided to finally let his love of cinema lead a path to Los Angeles where he started meeting with companies who made movies he liked and eventually landed a job in the industry.
Laiter questioned how is the agency able to keep up with the multiple companies around, from studios, streamers and so many independents (when she started in the business there were 5 studios and two independents). MacLaren explained how the agency world is keeping up with the changes. “We have staff covering it all and we meet several times a week where we cover all kinds of possibilities for our clients” he explained. “We need to be specialists in all areas from animation to the independent filmmaking market, and I have a division of people who I can work with for all kinds of projects [studio and streaming alike].”
Doug MacLaren (Right) with “Breaking Bad” creator and client Vince Gilligan (Zimbio)
“There’s a lot of ways we can keep things COVID-safe with what we do,” shared MacLaren. “We are finding that scheduling Zooms with studios and big production companies is actually easier to get everyone together. In fact, it’s a plus not having to drive to studios or companies across heavily trafficked Los Angeles. It’s now easier to work with people’s schedules including managing clients in multiple time zones and helping in work/life balance to take moments to relax.
While the pandemic has changed the way agents are working, studios and streaming services have already been changing the way they pick and choose their projects, MacLaren noted. “Studios like Sony and Warner Bros. are mostly looking for the pre-branded IP (Intellectual property). That shift has been going on for a long time as there is international value in it.”
“For those of us who grew up loving dramas, comedies, and thrillers, that can be frustrating because of the narrowing of movies that are being made,” he said. “The hope is that the streamers don’t have to worry about the Box Office and streamers like Netflix are making everything from documentaries to sit-coms to replace your cable box.”
On the other hand, MacLaren warned that the data streaming platforms collect can also be threatening. “My fear is, because I represent a diverse group of artists, is that they [streaming platforms] start to develop an echo chamber and say ‘oh well if people are watching action comedies, let’s make more action comedies and IP-driven blockbuster movies’.”
Still from Doug MacLaren’s Tedx Talk “Primal Processing Power of Our Brains”
Laiter also asked MacLaren whether creatives and agents need to have more of a package, even if its middle names of talent, put together before showing it to studio or streamers for a project, to cut through the noise or send a screenplay unattached. “In general, yeah, we are taking things a bit further down the road before exposing them to studios,” he revealed, noting that that the production can be easily imagined by studios if the project has the thoughtfulness and care already put into it. However, if the script is exactly what the studio or streamers are looking for- then yes, just send the screenplay.”
Laiter then closed the conversation by thanking MacLaren for pulling back the curtain as to what is happening in the film industry right now and what his job entails. MacLaren replied that he was grateful to join the conversation and wished NYFA students and alumni the best of luck. “Keep making stuff. Keep writing stuff. This is an exciting time for the industry!”
New York Film Academy would like to thank ICM Partners’ Doug MacLaren for sharing his time and film industry experience with NYFA students and alumni. To hear the full conversation with MacLaren’s insight into the industry and what he thinks will become of movie theaters as a result of the pandemic.
On December 9, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with actress & NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza, actor Christopher Abbott, actress Sarah Gadon, and former NYFA instructor and director of the film, Lawrence Michael Levine, to discuss their highly-anticipated new film Black Bear. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
The movie Black Bear is a meta thriller about movie-making, creativity, and ego from writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine. The film debuted earlier this year at Sundance and is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Black Bear boasts an incredible cast, featuring NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza(Ingrid Goes West, Parks & Recreation), Christopher Abbott (Catch-22, First Man), and Sarah Gadon (True Detective, Alias Grace).
Laiter opened up the conversation by asking Levine how the film itself came to be made. The director cited his wife and frequent collaborator, Sophia Takal (Black Christmas; Hulu’s New Year, New You) as his inspiration. “I can remember the origins of part two was the working relationship with Sofia [Takal], but I wouldn’t say it would resemble the one in the film.”
The film, Levine explained, is also a result of what many artists tend to do when they are stuck; try something new. “I think I just wanted to do something different and I was writing all this stuff that was very boring and conventional. I was going through a rough time and was bored professionally. It [Black Bear] was, in some ways, kind of about what I was going through.”
(Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine
Then Plaza got involved in the project and, in addition to landing the starring role, became a producer on the film. In one of her best performances to date, the NYFA alum revealed that the toughest scene for her was the infamous “breakdown” scene in the second part of the film. “The movie within the movie just because that scene was very complex (a lot of people and a lot of chaos). That was the day, I was always scared and terrified to shoot it and it was a lot to keep all of those things in play and, in a technical sense, it was very trippy.”
The meta concept of a movie within a movie, for some, seemed to reveal a more mysterious plot than Levine originally intended. “It’s interesting because the response has been ‘the film is mysterious.’ I guess I will say the simplest thing about it is it’s one artist [played by Plaza] doing two interpretations of a scene. The audience is left wondering: Which is real? Are they both real? When does she start writing this? Is it prior to or after meeting the couple? It’s two different ways of exploring the theme of heartbreak and betrayal.”
Allison (Aubrey Plaza) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)
In each part of the film, Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon give knockout and emotionally-driven performances, playing dual versions of their role. “I was very intrigued to get two parts in one movie. It’s like you’re getting paid for one but doing two parts,” joked Abbott. “Larry [Levine] wrote something so genius, especially with something with Aubrey [Plaza] and Sarah [Gadon] attached to it.”
When asked by a student whether it seemed “daunting” to play different characters, Gadon, who plays Blair, shared that it actually wasn’t daunting at all for her. “When I read the script, I was really excited. It was such an original script and I had never read anything like it, and I knew it would make for a really intense movie.”
Caption: Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)
After discussing Black Bear, the guests turned the conversation towards more technical questions from NYFA students and alumni, who asked the artists about both the directorial and acting process. For directing, Levine provided that sometimes directing means “stepping away, trusting, and letting them [the actors] take the reins and be comfortable. The intention is to make the actors feel safe and supported by having their back if they are lost. I had faith in these three [Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon] and I was dying to work with them for Black Bear.” Abbott reminded actors that in most characters, there’s “always a little bit of you in there,” but it’s about determining “how different the character is from you” versus how you are alike that will help you be able to fully dive in. Gadon added that it’s about making a character feel as fleshed out as possible, a nod to screenwriters everywhere to remember to help the actors let that character leap off the page.
Plaza shared that it’s important for those about to enter the film industry to continue to explore their craft, make mistakes, and network. “It’s important to focus on those kinds of communities and collaborations rather than figuring out how to ‘get in’ to the industry. If there is anything concrete, you want to get in front of casting directors more than anyone. So focusing your strategy and surrounding yourself around a community of like-minded people is important, because you don’t know what could lead to the next opportunity.”
Aubrey Plaza, Lawrence Michael Levine, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon at Sundance Film Festival (Zimbio)
Plaza also remarked during the discussion about her NYFA days and shared with students that “New York Film Academy was so important.” She reminisced that prior to getting into the Teen Filmmaking program that she would stay up late at night and look at the pictures, “dreaming about being in that program.”
Laiter thanked Plaza, Levine, Abbott, and Gadon for taking the time to join the conversation and for discussing their process and experience filming their critically acclaimed film Black Bear, as well as sharing their expertise with students.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine for sharing their time and acting experience with NYFA students and alumni.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) was excited to host a virtual Q&A with actor and director Mark Webber to discuss directing his latest film The Place of No Words with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of NYFA’s Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Webber has been nominated for multiple awards for directing and acting. He is known for roles in films such as Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, A24’s Green Room, Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, and more. He has also come into his own as a fully-fledged director with his fifth film as director, The Place of No Words, receiving ‘Best Film’ at the Giffoni Film Festival and nominations at Tribeca Film Festival, Munich Film Festival, and the Philadelphia Film Festival.
Webber’s unique, realistic approach to authentic storytelling began with his first feature, Explicit Ills, where he used elements from his real life and included family members in his cast. He has since cast all his movies that way.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Mark Webber (Right) for NYFA’s Q&A List
Webber, who shared he was happy to be talking online with NYFA’s students, recalled his upbringing with his teenage single mother and growing up homeless, citing that as a filmmaker he benefited from how he was raised as it allowed him to connect with different groups of people in the community. “These are the things I care about most in my life and I know how grateful I am to be in this position [an actor/director] because I know how vapid the industry can be.”
The NYFA students and Laiter praised Webber for his recent film and asked him multiple questions about directing, his original filmmaking style, and honing his craft. “I started this process called ‘reality cinema.’ After screening my previous film, The End of Love at Sundance, I felt like I really found my voice. I am particularly fascinated by realism and acting in my own films. I paralleled a moment in the film where I cast my real father, who I hadn’t seen in years, in a scene where we meet face-to-face in real-time. It is deeply fulfilling to get to work on things with people you love.”
Still from ‘The Place of No Words’ – Mark Webber (Left) and Bodhi Palmer (Right)
The Place of No Words, in which a three-year-old (played by his son Bodhi Palmer) take a fantastical journey into the wood, to grapples with his father’s (Webber) terminal illness – something he cannot make sense of in real-world terms. his wife, Australian actress Teresa Palmer plays the mother- a real family affair.
Laiter, who remarked how incredible Bodhi was in the film, asked Webber about directing and being a dad at the same time while on set and working alongside his family. “I can never stop being a dad. I have my dad hat on at all times and Bodhi’s emotional well-being and safety is the top priority for me,” he shared. “Some of the scenes, we would shoot as improv. There are moments of takes with that spontaneity anchored in the framework of the context of the story, so it allows for these moments that feel so authentic and so real take place in this film.”
The film, part real and part fantasy, creates a colorful world for a child to begin to understand the biggest question of all, “Where do we go when we die?” Webber explained that he wanted the fantasy elements to still feel like reality. “I wanted it to honor the way I see my child’s mind working. So many of the fantasy elements there are from stories that Bodhi and I would tell each other and from stories I tell my own children.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank actor and director Mark Webber for sharing his directing experience with NYFA students and alumni and encourages everyone to check out his beautiful and emotionally rich film, The Place of No Words, now available to watch on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and other streaming service providers.
On October 15, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with acclaimed actress Nathalie Emmanuel to discuss the acting craft and her latest project Die Hart (now streaming on Quibi) with NYFA students. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Nathalie Emmanuel is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after English actresses and well-known to many as ‘Missandei’ in the critically acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones. Emmanuel can now be seen in Quibi’s comedic series Die Hart, starring alongside Kevin Hart and John Travolta. The actress was recently seen in Hulu’s romantic comedy series Four Weddings and a Funeral and made her US feature film debut with the wildly popular Fast & Furious and is expected to appear in the ninth installment, F9.
Emmanuel has also been heard as the voice of Deet in Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and starred in 20th Century Fox’s Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Emmanuel is also set to star in Josh Friedlander’s directorial debut Holly Slept Over, alongside Ron Livingston, Josh Lawson and Britt Lower.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Nathalie Emmanuel (Right) for NYFA’s The Q&A-List
Laiter began the conversation with the Die Hart actress by asking about how she started in the business. Stating she was a shy kid growing up, Emmanuel remarked how she got into the arts as a fun hobby until she finally got her big break on British TV show Hollyoaks.
Now Emmanuel is known all over the globe and her most recent project, Die Hart, is the latest comedy from bite-size content streaming provider Quibi. Laiter, who also has experience with Quibi for the reboot of Varsity Blues, asked Emmanuel about her experience shooting the show and the unique breakdown of each episode. “It was a four week shoot and we shot based on where we were and what we could get and it can be quite challenging shooting out of sequence, but the script was so great I remember leaving it and laughing so much and my character was such a fun challenge for me.”
Nathalie Emmanuel and Kevin Hart in ‘Die Hart’ (Quibi)
The discussion then opened to questions with one student asking Emmanuel about what she looks for in a script when deciding on a role. “I look for the challenges and aspects of the character that I can relate to,” she began. “As a woman and as a woman of color, I want to ask myself ‘what else can I bring to this?’ It’s also interesting to play people who are complex and when there is variety in the character’s journey.”
Speaking of characters, Emmanuel shared with the audience some advice on how to further connect with their characters if they are feeling stuck. “Sometimes my character can be inspired by music or it’s as simple as putting on your character’s clothing, but it depends on the part and sometimes the day. Once I am sure I really understand the scene and what I am about to do, the character’s world and the people around them, then it helps me connect to my character quicker.”
Nathalie Emmanuel in ‘The Fate of The Furious’ (Universal Pictures)
When building out her characters, Emmanuel shared that the process is different each time depending on the story and motivation of her character. “It really depends on the story. My character is a badass in Game of Thrones, but in a different way from my character in Fast & Furious is,” she recalled. “I would just try to prepare the character and identify all their qualities and flaws. I try to treat each character as an individual person and focus on their actions and what they do.”
Emmanuel also encouraged students who are making the move in the industry to have a solid support system nearby. “I’ve had to work hard at positive affirmation. I have control over the things that I can control in my career and there is a confidence that comes with that,” she shared. “You have to give yourself time though. Things won’t happen at the speed like someone else.”
Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei in ‘Game of Thrones’ (HBO)
Students were also able to ask Emmanuel about getting the part of her most iconic role, Missandei on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Emmanuel joked that she kept harassing her agent about to find a role to audition for on the show.
After landing the role and winning over audiences everywhere, Emmanuel remarked that her favorite director on the series, Mark Mylod, was outstanding at making everything comfortable on set for an intimate scene with fellow actor Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm). “Mark took the best care of us and gave us his ideas and would allow us to provide feedback. He was so respectful and so wonderful and just helped us bring out the beauty of that scene to where we felt like we just earned this moment.”
When working with directors, Emmanuel shared that she likes it when she can get direct feedback, even if it’s criticism. “As long as people are respectful to me when giving a note, I am fine with it,” she elaborated. “When it is laid out in a clear way, even if it’s negative, they [the director] are allowed to do that. Sometimes, you just have to work stuff out, get frustrated, and work through it.”
Nathalie Emmanuel in ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ (20th Century Fox)
At the end of the discussion, Laiter thanked Emmanuel for taking the time to speak with NYFA students and giving them insight into getting into character and working on set. “It was my pleasure honestly,” replied Emmanuel. “When I had seen the amazing talent of the people who have been on this series [Q&A-List], I was flattered to be here. I also get so excited about the talent that’s coming into the industry; you guys [NYFA students] are going to take hold of that whole shift that is happening.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank actress Nathalie Emmanuel for taking the time to speak with the NYFA community and invite the actress to come back in the future as many times as she wants!
Nathalie Emmanuel can be seen in Quibi’s Die Hart, now available to stream by downloading the Quibi app in the app store or through Quibi.com.
On September 29, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with writer/director and NYFA Filmmaking alum Antonio Campos to discuss his latest hit movie on Netflix’s The Devil All The Time with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Antonio Campos’ other notable feature directing credits include the Sundance sensations Christine, starring Rebecca Hall, and Simon Killer, starring Brady Corbet. His debut feature Afterschool premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Caméra d’Or and Un Certain Regard awards. In television, he directed the pilot of the USA Emmy-nominated series The Sinner and served as an Executive Producer for the first season of the anthology series. He has other credits both in Film and TV as producer.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Antonio Campos (Right) for the NYFA Q&A-List Series
Laiter opened the discussion with the NYFA alum by asking him about how he first got into filmmaking “I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker for a long time and it really started at New York Film Academy,” remembered Campos. He shared a humorous account of how he was too young (13!) to take classes so he posed as a 16 year old so he could take a 6-Week Filmmaking course at NYFA.
“For six weeks I was living this other reality and my parents were comfortable with me staying up late to edit,” he joked. “My first short film I did at NYFA called Puberty and I remember this moment where I was so nervous to watch the film with an audience that I stayed in the projection room, and I didn’t know how people were reacting. Afterwards, I saw my father crying because he was so proud and it was validation and support that I could feel, so it’s one of the most important moments for me as a filmmaker.”
Antonio Campos (Left) and Rebecca Hall at ‘Christine’ screening (Photo Credit: Variety)
Campos then rooted himself in the indie film world, solidifying himself with hits like Martha Marcy May Marlene, which he produced, along with Afterschool and Christine, which he directed. “I made Christine and, in a lot of ways, it led me to getting The Sinner. That became a success and changed the perception of me as someone who can make things work beyond the art house. That’s just patience and letting things organically happen.” To the question of what contributed the most to the success of the movie, he attributed it to the fact that he always takes his time with the script, even if everyone else is impatient. That’s why it takes him four years between movies but ultimately, they get the response he intended them to have.
Laiter then asked Campos to share more on the making of his hit film The Devil All The Time, which Campos adapted from the original novel and co-wrote with his brother. “The characters felt familiar, but also specific in how he [the author] was rendering the characters and getting into their heads to go to these places with awful people,” revealed Campos.
Antonio Campos shooting ‘The Devil All The Time’ (Photo Credit: Netflix)
“It’s an interesting movie to have gotten the wide reception it has. It’s a very disruptive film emotionally. When I talk about the movie, it should feel like you are breathless for two and a half hours until you get in the car with Arvin and then you can catch your breath,” explained Campos.
With The Devil All The Time boasting a star-studded cast with the likes of Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, and more, one audience member asked Campos how he selects actors for his projects. “I like actors that take big swings and make strong choices, along with actors with distinct faces,” he replied. “I ask myself, ‘how do I feel when I meet them,’ because I will be spending a lot of time with them.”
Antonio Campos (Left) with Robert Pattinson (Right) on set for ‘The Devil All The Time’ (Photo Credit: Netflix)
Campos also reminded the directors in the audience to “always make your actors feel seen and heard” and reminded the actors in the audience to communicate with other actors on what they need and that a good actor “likes to be around other actors and feed off that energy.”
With a stacked cast of celebrity actors in his own film, Campos shared that, regardless of star power, his film is, ultimately, character-driven and was “calibrated between people who were more well-known with other character actors or people you may have never seen before.” When it came to casting his film, he shared that he “knew that this film was very different for how we were approaching characters,” and it required the balance of both known and unknown performers, all of whom shine in this ensemble film.
In one of the last questions of the night, one student asked for tips on how NYFA students can make the jump from student to a seasoned professional in the industry. Campos had this to share with the audience:
“Everyone’s career is different and times out differently. Always expect that things may take longer than you expect, but keep your network of friends and collaborators close. In my case, it was about being open to getting involved with other filmmakers and their processes to make their movies. Keep making short films before you make your feature. Always try and be working. Short films are such a safe place to make mistakes and learn. Put yourself out there and submit to every film festival and embrace the networking aspect of being a filmmaker. You can be the most talented filmmaker in the world, but if you cannot convey your film into concrete terms, people will not be able to understand your vision.”
Antonio Campos (Left) with the cast of his film ‘Afterschool’ at NYFF (Photo Credit: Godlis)
As for what’s next for Campos, the writer-director reveals that he is adapting a comedy piece, as well as a new drama series starring Hollywood heavyweight Harrison Ford. “It’s called The Staircase, based on the documentary on novelist Michael Peterson,” he shared. “I’ve been working on it in some capacity for ten years and it never quite worked as a feature, so now it is going to be a series and it’s set up with HBO Max.”
Campos closed the conversation by thanking Laiter for the enjoyable discussion and wished NYFA’s next generation of filmmakers the best of luck for their future projects.
New York Film Academy would like to thank director and NYFA alum Antonio Campos for sharing his time and filmmaking experience with NYFA students and alumni, and looks forward to his upcoming projects including The Staircase.
To watch Campos’ recent film, The Devil All The Time, the film is available to stream here on Netflix.
To hear the full conversation, click the video below our watch on our YouTube channel here.
On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with manager and producer Risa Shapiro, where Shapiro shared her career expertise with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Risa Shapiro began her career in the entertainment business at The William Morris Agency in New York in 1981. She helped discover and cultivate the careers of such stars as Julia Roberts, Jennifer Connelly, Rosie O’Donnell, David Duchovny, Andie MacDowell and many more. In 1991, Shapiro left William Morris to join the ICM agency, where she continued to thrive as one of the most powerful female agents in the industry. In 2008, she decided to pursue management and production.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Risa Shapiro (Right) for NYFA’s Q&A-List
As a manager, Shapiro continues to represent Cher, Jennifer Connelly, Heather Graham, Steven McQueen, Christian Madsen, and many others. She co-financed Saw (2004), was an executive producer on Burlesque (2011), and produced the television movies Dear Mom, Love Cher (2013) for Lifetime and Love At First Glance (2017) for the Hallmark Channel.
Laiter opened up the discussion by recalling how, when Laiter was working as Co-President at Imagine Entertainment, Shapiro was just introducing the world her new upcoming client, Julia Roberts, who because her brother was already famous, “knew her way around the set and knew what actors were like and I knew she will go places and signed her,” remembered Shapiro.
Laiter then commented how Shapiro has such a keen eye for talent and asked whether she was born with it, or if it was something learned. Shapiro explained that it’s something you develop over time and it’s about loving actors and the movies. From there, she explained, it’s about “finding those roles [for your actor] that you can then show to the next director, and the next director, and the next one to get them (the clients) to that next big role.”
Film poster for ‘Burlesque’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)
As for the role of a Manager vs Agent, (and she was both) Shapiro explained that, in her role as a Manager, she is charged with being the point person to help guide her client’s career but an agent has most of the information from staff meetings so the ideal is to have both. She then shared a time when she received a producer credit on Burlesque without even pursuing one because, ultimately, the director knew that Shapiro was the reason that Cher [her client] remained there shooting the film and was a huge comfort for the actress.
Shapiro explained that one of the biggest challenges actors are facing now in the business is competition. She shared that, due to the high volume of talent and availability, actors have to “be really great these days,” and reminded NYFA students: “You’re not going to do a great job on your own. You have to stay in class and you have to get a coach.”
(Left to Right) Producer Donald De Line, restaurateur Victor Drai and executive producer Risa Shapiro
A student then asked about how someone would go about finding an agent if they are new in the business and Shapiro had this advice to share:
“Put together a reel you are proud of and just remember: People in the entertainment business have a short attention span, so don’t make it too long. Then, go online and find the names of managers and agents and make sure they are relatively young and send material on yourself to them (your picture, resume, reel, where you went to school, etc).”
Laiter then added “make friends with the assistants of those people,” to which Shapiro agreed, noting that you should always get to know the people around the point person you are trying to reach when finding an agent. Laiter and Shapiro also suggested that actors and others should invest in IMDBPro so they can keep up with who represents who in the industry.
Another student looking for advice from Shapiro asked, if they have other talents other than acting, whether they should begin looking for representation as an actor first, rather than for all the other disciplines.. “Don’t be spread too thin,” Shapiro replied. “Try and get an agent as an actor and then branch out. When you work on a set as an actor, you’re going to meet people that will help you in other areas later on.”
Shapiro closed the conversation by encouraging students to create using the resources they have today. “People in the industry today can make a movie by themselves on their computer. You could write and star in your own movie, but always have something to show people that will make others impressed.” Laiter agreed and added, “use this time in school to do the best short, broadcast segment or project that you can be proud of.”
Actors Amy Smart and Adrian Grenier in ‘Love at First Glance’ (Produced by Risa Shapiro)
Laiter closed the conversation by thanking Shapiro for sharing her time and vast knowledge of the business side of the movie industry.Shapiro expressed her enjoyment of the conversation and wished NYFA’s students the best of luck in their future endeavours.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Manager and Producer Risa Shapiro for sharing her time and expertise with students and alumni looking to explore the business side of the film industry as actors, filmmakers, producers, and more.
On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with award-winning and celebrated actor Alec Baldwin to discuss the acting craft with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.
Alec Baldwin has received a Tony nomination for his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, a supporting actor nomination at the Oscars for The Cooler (2004), and he has won three Emmy awards, three Golden Globes and seven consecutive Screen Actors Guild Awards for ‘Best Actor in a Comedy Series’ for his role as Jack Donaghy on NBC-TV’s 30 Rock.
Tina Fey (Left) and Alec Baldwin (Right) pose with their SAG Awards for ‘30 Rock’
Baldwin’s filmography also includes the critically acclaimed film The Hunt for Red October, for which NYFA’s Founder, Jerry Sherlock, was Executive Producer, as well as Glengarry Glen Ross, It’s Complicated, The Departed, Pearl Harbor, Blue Jasmine, Still Alice, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and many more.
More recently, Baldwin has gained critical acclaim and popularity surrounding his portrayal of President Donald Trump for Saturday Night Live, joining the cast regularly for ongoing appearances as the 45th President.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Alec Baldwin (Right) for The NYFA Q&A Series
Laiter began the Q&A by asking Baldwin about his successful career and finding his place in Hollywood. “In the beginning, you have a boyish gratitude [on set], similar to being a guest in someone’s house,” he began, “everyone on the set knows more than you, but that changes later on when you are on a film and someone says something to you and you go ‘no, I think it’s this,’ as you begin to understand what will make a scene work.”
The conversation then switched to Baldwin’s successful career as not only a dramatic actor, but a comedic performer, where Laiter brought up Baldwin’s hilarious and well-timed character Jack Donaghy on NBC’s critically acclaimed TV series 30 Rock. “The show, to me, is one of the ultimate examples of me being the beneficiary of very good writing,” he shares. “The writing was the best I had ever seen in terms of comedy and it was natural to me.”
Baldwin on set for Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’
One student asked Baldwin about how he chooses the right script as an actor. Baldwin responded: “I try to decide ‘is this movie a movie I want to make or I want to see?’ Then, I look at my character. I’ve played parts where my character wasn’t the biggest role or well-served in terms of page count, but there was an opportunity to me where I could see that character having an impact on that film.” When it comes to looking at a script, Baldwin explains that it’s about the quality of storytelling and the impact of your character that matters.
Another student asked Baldwin about what it can be like for an actor when giving a performance in a film versus acting in television series.
Baldwin as President Donald Trump for ‘Saturday Night Live’
“Moviemaking is intense because you have to narrow everything down to what is worthwhile and what works,” he shares. “Television allows for more time to spread your character arc or story along. There is more complexity involved because there is more time. If not in this episode then in the next…”
To the question of whether one should try everything or stick to the one that already works, Baldwin recommended that when you are just starting out and you are young, to try everything to become the actor you can be and want to be, Baldwin reminded students that it isn’t just about finding an agent, “making it,” or getting everything “right” after studying acting: “Join a rep company. Do as many shows as you can. Do as many roles as you can off the beaten path so you can make your mistakes under the radar before you get typecast.”
Steve Martin (Left) and Alec Baldwin (Right) host the 82nd Academy Awards
Baldwin also provided profound advice to students when auditioning for a role. “Remember they asked you there.” He explains that it can be easy to go into an audition with a “people pleasing attitude,” but “they want what you have; they invited you to come to audition and they need you. You are a professional and they are looking for someone to play a part, and you give everything you’ve got in the audition. Once you walk into the room and realize no one is doing anybody any favors, it’s business, and you’re a part of that business, then everything is going to change for you.”
Baldwin closed the conversation by thanking Laiter for the conversation and the students for their time, and expressed that he hoped his words were helpful to those looking at a career in acting.
New York Film Academy would like to thank the talented Alec Baldwin for sharing his time and acting experience with NYFA students and alumni.
To listen to the full conversation, click the video below or check it out on our YouTube channel here.