Graduating MFA, AFA and BFA New York Film Academy Screenwriting students recently attended their culminating Industry Pitch Fest Event, held at the penthouse ballroom of the Andaz Hotel up on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.
A catered event and mingling opportunity for the students, executives, and faculty alike, this capstone evening celebrated the New York Film Academy’s graduating screenwriting students, offering them a professional outlet to jumpstart their careers by pitching their film and TV thesis projects to industry executives.
These writing students spent their final semester in their Business of Screenwriting classes working with Business of Screenwriting Instructors David O’Leary, Jerry Shandy, and Dirk Blackman, in conjunction with Faculty Chair Nunzio DeFilippis and Associate Chair Adam Finer, preparing and fine-tuning their pitches.
They shined on this pinnacle evening, leaving with new professional contacts and a wave of interest in the scripts they’d worked so hard on all year.Considered by the school to be their first night as professional screenwriters, this group of bright students brought their A-game, as they pitched agents, managers and production company representatives in a relaxed, round-table environment. Organized and hosted by David O’Leary, the event featured representatives from various Hollywood companies, including literary agencies, management companies, and TV and Film production companies.
Attendees included: Blumhouse, Closed on Mondays, Elevate Entertainment, Good Fear Film + Management, ICM, Imagine Entertainment, International Film Trust, Mad Chance, Madhouse Entertainment, Magnet Management, Management 360, Marc Platt Productions, Moresco Productions, Nightshade Entertainment, Original Film, Quadrant Pictures, RatPac Entertainment, Triple Threat Pictures, and Walden Media.
NYFA wishes to thank all of its participants, particularly our industry guests, without whom this evening could not have been possible. Also, we’d like to extend a big congratulations to all of our MFA, BFA and AFA graduates!
Twice yearly the Television Critics Association gathers to cover the upcoming Fall and Winter programming from major television networks. This year, the New York Film Academy attended the Fox 2016 TCA tour. Fox is putting a more diverse network in its sights this Monday at the Beverly Hilton. The new line-up goes way beyond racial diversity. Fox is expanding the idea of animation on television, the roles women might play in major league sports, and who can play traditional roles.
With Fox’s new show, Pitch, starring Kylie Bunbury as Ginny Baker the first female pitcher to play on a major league baseball team. Creator and Executive Producer, Dan Fogelman, believes it’ll only be a matter of time before we see a woman in one of the four major sports currently played in America. Fox also brought us the first Black President in the early two thousands with their show 24. Tony Bill, Executive Producer, said the show was pitched ten years ago and predicted the future we live in now, where it’s just a matter of time before a woman plays in the majors.
The show isn’t just about baseball. What drew many of the creators to the project is the character of Bill Baker, played beautifully by Michael Beach, who is the show’s “sports dad.” Think about Serena and Venus Williams’ father or Tiger Woods’ father. Who are the men behind the child? What do they sacrifice and what drives them? For Bill Baker, it’s the fact that his father wasn’t there to help him get to the majors. He topped at the minors. Baker swore that he would be there for his son. He has a daughter.
This is where the story begins, a father making sure his daughter has everything she needs to be the very best. So, the show wouldn’t be too bogged down in men, Ginny is given a publicist, Amelia Slater, played by Ali Larter. Both women have to navigate male dominated industries as women at the top of their game.
Son of Zorn
Son of Zorn will join The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, and Family Guy on Fox’s Sunday night lineup. The show is a family sitcom about a divorced dad trying to reconnect with his estranged son after ten years. One caveat: Zorn, played by a subdued Jason Sudeikis, is an animated barbarian. Yes, you read that right. In the live action world, he is the only animated being. Instead of slaying dragons, he’s trying to land a steady job. His son, a shy kid, and his ex-wife, re-married to Tim Meadows, aren’t too interested in having him back around. Zany antics are sure to ensue in this very weird and bizarrely brave new show.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
Fox is also pushing the envelope with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Televised musicals have been prime time gold for network television companies trying to find their way in a streaming dominant world. Rocky Horror is taking a very definite step away from the original by embracing the camp cult culture that has surrounded the film since its original release in 1975.
Costumes are adorned with bright sparkles and lots of feathers; the album is brighter with a stronger emphasis on rock music. One reporter asked point-blank why have a transgendered woman play a transsexual? Lou Adler, Executive Producer, said that Dr. Frankenfurter is an alien. Both Cox and Curry played the role as a person from another world. That’s what they wanted to focus on.
Victoria Justice said of the opportunity to play Janet Weiss, “Another generation will be singing Time Warp…I get to sing Touch Me. This is so exciting.” Executives clearly have the Rocky Horror fans, and the soon to be fans, in mind when crafting this film. They employed the fan club president to make sure the film stayed authentic.
They also added a crowd to the film. This is a weird kind of experimental twist on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It allows fans that love to participate in the action a chance to do so in their home. It also introduces new fans to crazy traditions of the fandom.
Live social media interaction and the buzz around theater trained Lavern Cox, who has a five-octave range and will be playing the lead, nearly guarantee a high viewer turn out. Whether it’ll be a hit or not is something for which we’ll have to wait to see.
Next on Fox’s plate is the television remake of The Exorcist. Creator and Executive Producer, Jeremy Slater, said he knew right off the bat he couldn’t write each season about a newly possessed family. No one tunes in for jumps and gore. The story has to come first. Evil has larger ambitions. They’re not just after one girl.
There will be Easter Eggs for fans of the original series, and Slater insists that this is a continuation, not a remake. In his version, there are two priests, Father Tomas Ortega, Alfonso Herrera, and Father Marcus Keane, Ben Daniels, who are fighting to save the daughter of the Rance family. The matriarch of that family is Angela, played by Geena Davis. Davis said The Exorcist (1973) is the best horror film ever made.
Gotham and Lucifer
The Gotham and Lucifer panels went up at the same time. Immediately there was some concern about why Clara Foley had been replaced with Maggie Geha as the shows’ Ivy Pepper. Producers, Ken Woodruff and John Stephens, said the show is about growth and it was time for Ivy to grow from a timid fifteen-year-old to a sixteen-year-old who might be more willing to hurt people. (I could write about reactions here, but they’re mixed and I don’t know if we want to upset any potential future guests.)
Lucifer will continue its exploration of adult children trying to work through familial issues, this time by introducing Lucifer’s mom into the mix. Some in the crowd voiced skepticism when they learned the actress playing the role, Tricia Helfer, was only a few years older than Lucifer actor, Tom Ellis. Show Producers insisted that Helfer was the best actress for the job, not to mention the supernatural aspects of the show allow for the suspension of disbelief.
Finally, the time came to showcase the number one show on basic cable, Empire. Taraji P. Henson was there, along with Executive Producers Ilene Chaiken and Sanna Hamri. Season three’s focal point will remain on the Lyons, however, this time Cookie is determined to leave Luscious.
Taye Diggs will enter the series as a potential love interest for Cookie. To which Henson responded, “…he wished.” Mariah Carey, who has already finished filming her role, will play Kitty a, “mega-superstar who comes to Empire to collaborate with Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) on an explosive new song.” Carey also has a story with lead character Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett, where she helps him acknowledge some personal difficulties.
With its Fall 2016 line-up Fox continues its push for more diverse content. A mix of strong new content, listening to fan reaction, and a dedication to reinvigorating long-standing projects, Fox has set itself apart from other networks who’ve decided to stand close to their traditional programming; a gamble that’s already netted Fox big viewership rewards.
MFA Producing student, Zororo Makamba, recently gave a TEDx Talk on the state of television in Zimbabwe.
Hailing from Zimbabwe, Makamba is a radio personality, television host, and aspiring filmmaker at the New York Film Academy. As a filmmaker he has produced two short films and one documentary. After graduation he plans to continue hosting his talk-show “Tonight with Zororo” along with doing more production work, focusing on TV dramas, as well as documentaries and reality TV.
“The University of Zimbabwe has been running TEDx talks for a few years now, and this was my first time invited,” said Makamba. “The theme was re-imagining Africa, and I was invited to talk about the success of my TV show [Tonight with Zororo].”
In addition to discussing his award-winning talk show and the state of television in Zimbabwe, Zororo enlightened his audience on some of the challenges that Zimbabwe faces. Those challenges are: 36 years after independence they only have one channel, they’ve yet to transition to digital, and the media coverage is very partisan towards the ruling party.
New York Film Academy students received a special treat when Emmy award-winning TV director Mary Lou Belli taught her acclaimed sitcom directing and acting workshop at the school. Mary Lou has been directing television for over 20 years and the shows she’s worked on include NCIS New Orleans, Monk, Hart of Dixie, Wizards of Waverly Place, Sister Sister, Charles in Charge, Girlfriends, and The Game, to name a few. She has co-authored three books, “The NEW Sitcom Career Book,” “Acting for Young Actors,” and “Directors Tell the Story,” with fellow DGA member Bethany Rooney.
The theater was packed with filmmaking and acting students thrilled to learn more about the art of sitcom. Mary Lou first lectured, sharing crucial sitcom concepts and vocabulary, and then brought groups of volunteering students to the stage where she paired them off to run classic sitcom scenes. Mary Lou critiqued the students’ performances using the concepts and vocabulary she taught them, and had them run the scenes again and again until they perfectly popped like any comic gem you’d see on television. She also cycled in and out filmmaking students to shadow her as director and jump in with their own scene critique and reworking when called upon. The energy in the room was high and students raced to the stage to be the next to participate. The audience cheered and burst out in laughter at every scene iteration.
NYFA students were also happy to discover that the curriculum and experience that they received is very close to what they saw from a world-class sitcom director.
We sincerely thank Mary Lou Belli for imparting her wisdom on to us and look forward to the next wonderful TV show she directs!
At just 22 years old, New York Film Academy BFA Filmmaking student Medet Shayakhmetov has taken giant steps toward achieving his professional goals. His numerous filmmaking credits include directing music videos for the top Russian rap artist duo Basta/Guf and a commercial for a Swiss social network — Swiss Social, which he wrote, directed and shot. Last spring he directed a comedy TV-show “Q-eлi,” about life in different parts of Kazakhstan, for the Kazakhstan TV’s “Channel Seven.” But his journey into the film industry wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“It is very important to follow your heart, believe in yourself and believe that everything is possible,” says Medet. From a very young age he loved arts and wanted to pursue a career in design. But in high school his friend asked him to help make a video for a friend’s 16th birthday. Once Medet held a camera in his hands, he knew right away that filmmaking was going to be one of his life’s passions. He made a serious effort to choose the right film school while building a strong video-portfolio. His dream was to study filmmaking, particularly in the United States. And when—thanks to his talent, hard work and perseverance—Medet won a scholarship from the non-commercial organization “Saby Charitable Foundation,” he immediately chose the New York Film Academy.
“Before I started my education at New York Film Academy I had already shot many music videos and commercials, but I never made a real movie. At NYFA I learned how to make films and work in a team, which is very important. On the first week of the program we were given film equipment and immediately began shooting our first project.”
“Q-eлi” is Medet Shayakhmetov’s first big professional project for television. The practical on-set experience gained at New York Film Academy helped him to accept the offer to direct this project without any doubts. He already knew what the responsibilities of each crew position were and felt confident to plan and manage a full size cast and crew with more than 50 extras.
“The knowledge I received from the Acting for Filmmakers course was very useful,” recalls Medet. “NYFA instructor Salvatore Interlandi taught us how to hold casting sessions and how to get the best performance from an actor on set.
Medet is currently working on his thesis film and two new music videos. One is for the indie-pop band POMPEYA (post-production) and the second one is for the Chicago-based DJs FLOSSTRADAMUS (pre-production). After graduating from the New York Film Academy, Medet Shayakhmetov is planning to go back to his home country. He believes the film industry in Kazakhstan has a bright future and he hopes his contribution of the knowledge he gained at NYFA will help the industry to gain recognition on a global level.
NYFA LA Instructor Kenneth Johnson on “The Mike Douglas Show”
The New York Film Academy believes that a crucial element toward maintaining its intensive hands-on programs is having instructors with industry access and real life experience in the field he or she teaches. Los Angeles Filmmaking instructor Kenneth Johnson knocks those requirements out of the park. Johnson has been a successful writer-producer-director of film and television for over 40 years. Creator of the landmark original miniseries V,he also produced The Six Million Dollar Man and created such iconic, Emmy-winning series as The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk and Alien Nation.
Referred to as Kenny by those who know him well, Johnson trained in classic theater at Carnegie Mellon University, and had early success as a producer-director of live TV in New York. At only age 25, he became Executive Producer and Showrunner for the legendary, talk-variety program The Mike Douglas Show, which won an Emmy under his leadership.
Kenneth Johnson with Bill Bixby
Moving to California, Kenneth produced and directed several TV specials including Vincent Price in an Evening of Edgar Allan Poe and two top-rated documentaries for ABC: Alan King in Las Vegas. He became the youngest writer-producer-director at Universal Studios when he joined The Six Million Dollar Man where he created the Emmy-winning Bionic Woman. He was Showrunner of both Top Ten bionic series simultaneously. He then created The Incredible Hulk, yet another iconic, long-running Emmy-winner for which he penned Bill Bixby’s now-famous line, “Don’t make me angry…you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
In the 1980s, Kenneth continued to cement his place in television by unveiling his epic alien invasion miniseries V. It was critically acclaimed and he received a Writers Guild Nomination. His original miniseries V stands as the highest-rated work of science fiction in television history.
In the 90’s Kenneth created the Alien Nation TV movie-pilot which became an Emmy-winning series and five subsequent Emmy-nominated TV movies. Throughout his career, Kenneth has directed notable television movies for all the major networks including the top-rated Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century and Don’t Look Under The Bed for Disney.
Johnson on the set of “V”
Other TV movies include Sherlock Holmes Returns for CBS, which brought him a nomination for the Edgar Allen Poe Award from The Mystery Writers of America.
Kenneth also directed the feature films Steel and Short Circuit 2. Beyond his film and television work, he has written the novels An Affair of State, V The Original Miniseries and V The Second Generation, published in four editions.
“Having had the opportunity to present my seminar at numerous other film schools and universities, I have continually been most impressed by the students at NYFA” says Johnson. “The majority of them have a strong desire and determination to succeed in this very tough business. Their attentiveness is always good and their questions probing and thoughtful. Plus we have fun together.”
Johnson initially contacted NYFA Los Angeles Director Dan Mackler about being a resource for NYFA LA because he believed he could provide students with something that is often missing in academic settings: what it’s like to actually be in “The Trenches” of filmmaking. As Johnson puts it, he can provide, “What it’s like to be boots-on-the-ground doing the work. Including the prep necessary, a wealth of smart insights from my career producing and directing TV and features, plus useful tools I’ve created over the years that can benefit them. And I do it with gusto, laughs (often at myself) and a gazillion visuals: miles of behind the scenes footage, storyboards, etc., to show exactly how we accomplished the finished work.”
Johnson’s advice begins as soon as you walk into his first class. The very first thing he asks his students is if they love this business. Of course, every student will nod affirmatively, but then he makes it clearer: “Do you REALLY LOVE IT?! —because if you don’t love it like breathing, you can’t succeed and you’d be wise to step away.” At the end of the final session, Johnson gives his students a multi-page handout called “Getting a Gig,” which contains every bit of advice he’s amassed on that important subject over the span of his career.
When asked about today’s landscape, Johnson says, “I think there are more opportunities in TV simply because there is far more product necessary to feed the TV (read cable, web, streaming, etc.) audience’s infinite appetite. Far more TV and video projects get made every year than features. They also happen faster. TV is also a great place to learn your craft. When I started producing, writing and directing on the Bionic shows at Universal it was like grad school…with pay. TV is the greatest training in the world for making movies — or for waging war. If you can survive through the making of under-scheduled, under-budgeted, restrictive TV schedules, making a theatrical movie becomes a piece of cake. Just ask Joss Whedon or Steven Spielberg.”
Johnson admits that the biggest challenge in our business is the constant rejection. “All of us in the arts get told no far more often than yes. Or even worse, we get told yes and then no — when the studio or network management changes while you’re in the midst of writing, prepping or even sometimes shooting. Francois Truffaut said he always tried to have at least three to five projects in development simultaneously —because he knew the odds were against more than one ever happening— and that one only if he was lucky.
A filmmaker has to develop a thick skin and a determination (as Fred Astaire sang) “to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”
Those who are true survivors will indeed survive to try another day. Where there’s life there’s always hope.
Johnson has three upcoming guest sessions for the MFA Producers group on July 9, 16, and 23 of 2015.
Not content to let the Oscars get all the press, the Academy of Television has announced new rule changes and categories to their award ceremony, shaking up the game for some of the most buzzed about TV shows. The rule changes are a response to a diversifying mediascape as well as rumblings of discontent with perceived loopholes and miscategorization in previous years’ ceremonies.
Six major rule changes were announced:
The number of series allowed in Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series has been increased from six to seven. This is a response to the greater number of content coming from more and more sources, though seven still may be not enough for some.
The definition of “comedy” and “drama” are no longer based on content, but on running time. Any show over the length of thirty minutes is classified as a drama while any show less than thirty minutes is considered a comedy. This is seen as a blow to hour-long comedies like Orange is the New Black as well as dramas in general, as it expands the competition. Petitions can be submitted to move a show into another category, but it must be approved by an appointed Industry Panel.
The Variety Series category is now split into two—between Outstanding Variety Sketch and Outstanding Variety Talk—to differentiate shows like The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. In effect, this doubles the nominees, and could be a boon to smaller shows in both categories like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Portlandia.
The field of voters in each category’s final round has been expanded and requires voters to watch the content online before submitting their votes.
The definition of a “Guest Actor” has been specified to be actors who appear in less than 50% of a season’s episodes, excluding many shows’ tendencies to have a recurring guest star all season long. Roles such as these would now be considered in Lead or Supporting Actor categories.
“Mini-Series” has been redefined as “Limited Series” and excludes shows whose characters or storylines carry over into subsequent mini-series or seasons. This will affect shows like Sherlock, which are currently considered mini-series, as well as anthology seasoned shows like True Detective and American Horror Story, which fit the new Limited Series parameters.
Expanding its slate of original programming, PBS has announced an upcoming Civil War historic drama that will be executive produced by Ridley Scott. This will be the network’s first scripted show in well over a decade.
As is always the case with PBS, the goal will be to educate as much as entertain.
The series is based on three years of extensive historical research. After rummaging through memoirs and letter of doctors and nurses from the time, and consulting with historians and medical experts, the production team now feels that they can provide a historically accurate account of the Civil War era through the story.
The storyline itself is focused on two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the conflict, as one’s family’s luxury hotel is taken over and transformed into a hospital for the other side.
Through all of the family and medical drama that is sure to ensue, viewers should also get a realistic glimpse into the issues facing those individuals involved in the war that weren’t on the frontlines.
Joining Scott in executive production roles are David Zucker (The Good Wife) and Lisa Wolfinger (Desperate Crossing). The series is written by David Zabel (ER).
The drama is yet to be named. The initial 6 episodes are set to premiere in 2016 and will air on Sundays.
One of the finest and most accomplished feelings for a teacher is when his or her pupils succeed in the real world. Such is the case with New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film Instructor Ken Lerner, who is not only recognized for his long-standing career as an actor but also for his help in getting thousands of actors cast in movies, television shows, pilots and plays.
Ken’s audition technique and scene study classes are exciting places to grow as an actor. His technique combines the wisdom of the great acting teachers with whom he has studied—London, Stella Adler and Peggy Feury—with his own extensive hands-on experiences in movies, TV shows, plays and commercials.
“I love teaching at NYFA because of all the countries that the students come from,” said Lerner. “It is a melting pot of experiences — the enthusiasm of these actors is energizing.”
Similar to many of NYFA’s staff of talented instructors, Ken has continued to work in TV, movies, and commercials for the last 36 years, making his a recognizable face everywhere he goes. He has appeared in more than 100 top television shows, including The Mentalist, NCIS, In Plain Sight, Two and a Half Men, Desperate Housewives, Castle, Weeds, CSI, Without a Trace and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. He has had over 40 film roles, including Unlawful Entry, The Doctor, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Running Man, The Story of Us, Immediate Family, Irreconcilable Differences and Project X. In addition to film and television, Ken has starred in productions at The Pasadena Playhouse and Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theater and off-Broadway.
“My experience in the industry seems to be the biggest factor in my ability to be trusted that I know what I am teaching them, especially about auditions. I constantly use my acting jobs as reference for my students’ learning.”
Ken’s experience on sets and on stage give him the ability to share inside information with his students. Ken’s positive approach to the work and outstanding ability to break down scripts help him to nurture and bring out the best qualities in his students. Ken works and auditions all the time and imparts his experiences in his own funny, gentle but firm way. His technique gets results, as evidenced by the success of his students, who star on shows such as House, CSI, Cougar Town, Burn Notice, Scrubs, CSI: Miami and many others.
Ken uses his extensive contacts in the industry with directors, producers, casting directors and agents to offer special events for his students and monthly industry nights as a public service to the acting community.
His advice to all of his acting students and those pursuing the craft is to work hard and bring their special qualities to their auditions. “They are unique, and they must bring that into the audition rooms.”
On August 5th, film and TV producer John Zaozirny sat down with New York Film Academy’s Business of Screenwriting class to discuss advice he could offer writers, tips on breaking into the business, and his own perspective on what it takes to succeed.
Zaozirny spoke first of his early days interning at Miramax, while still a student in Manhattan, and then later at Village Roadshow Pictures in Los Angeles. “I’m Canadian, so I knew the challenges facing foreigners looking to break into Hollywood”, Zaozirny shared. “My goal was to beef up my resume as much as I could early on, so I’d have a real shot. Internships also gave me a network, which helped put me on a path towards eventually getting a job…”
That first opportunity came when Zaozirny landed a development desk working for the President of Production at Appian Way, Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company. “One of the most important things I learnt working at a star-driven company is that so many movies get made simply because movie stars want to be in them,” Zaozirny explained. “That’s the difference between a movie in theaters and a script sitting on the shelf. So, write a script that a star actually wants to star in. Make your protagonist, love interest, and antagonist’s roles as dynamic and interesting as you can.”
After Appian Way, John went on to work for screenwriter Andrew Marlowe (AIR FORCE ONE, HOLLOW MAN), and illuminated students on the responsibilities of being a screenwriter’s assistant — including doing copious research, proofreading, and also being a fly on the wall to the creative process. “It was a rare, invaluable experience, which I’ll always be grateful for.” From there, Zaozirny landed as a writer’s assistant on ABC’s Castle and explained to students the different ways one can break into TV, as he sees it. He also shared what a writer’s assistant does day-in and day-out and the fast-paced reality of working on a network TV procedural.
In 2010, Zaozirny launched his own production company, Bellevue Productions, after realizing he was growing more interested in producing than writing. “As a writer, you should be churning out three new pieces of material a year. I realized I wasn’t doing that, but I also had far more ideas than three that I wanted to be a part of and build from the ground up.” It was a smart bet. Since then, Bellevue has set up numerous projects at the studios, including Cristo at Warner Bros., Capsule at Fox, and Warden and New Line Cinema, as well as numerous other projects with financiers. Bellevue also got its first movie made last year, a found-footage horror movie entitled The Operator, which is currently in post-production.
These days, Zaozirny continues to develop projects from the ground-up, working collaboratively with established and up-and-coming writers helping crack their stories in the room. After discussing this creative process, Zaozirny closed by emphasizing the most important element he looks for when beginning the journey with a new piece of material — “Concept”, Zaozirny proclaimed, “is honestly most of the battle. Having a great concept with a fascinating protagonist that offers maximum conflict — given the idea. You have to remember no one gets in trouble for saying no, for passing, so you need to have a piece of material that’s conceptually undeniable.”