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  • Mad Men’s Harry Hamlin Teaches NYFA Students the Power of ‘No’

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    Harry Hamlin

    Harry Hamlin at NYFA LA

    One of the shows that put AMC on the map was Mad Men. The 1960’s period piece captures the life of a prestigious ad agency and its mysteriously talented leading man, Don Draper. Coming aboard the popular drama this past season as ‘Jim Cutler,’ was venerable actor, Harry Hamlin. Last week, Harry was a special guest to an audience of New York Film Academy students. Many acting students were thrilled to greet Hamlin after a screening of an extremely entertaining episode of Mad Men, starring the actor. Hamlin was originally up for a bit part as a swinger who attempts to seduce Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) and his wife. He didn’t get the role, but Harry didn’t exactly want to play a swinger anyway. Three months later, they offered him a part that was supposed to be only one day of work, but ended up being a reoccurring character on the show this past season.

    Harry originally took up acting through a series of rather bizarre circumstances. Originally, he set out to study architecture, but he was late for registration and enrolled in acting school (imagining that he would enroll in classes at the architecture school next quarter). One of the requirements for the acting school was that he audition for a play. He ended up landing his first role, and was cast afterwards in every play that performed at Berkley. Needless to say, architecture school was no longer on the forefront of his mind.

    Harry went on to finish his bachelor’s degree at Yale. At the time, Yale did not allow an exclusive degree in acting, so he had to double major in psychology.

    hamlin2After Yale, he was offered a scholarship to ACT (the American Conservatory Theater) in San Francisco. His parents were so against him attending the program that Harry’s father had removed the timing mechanism from his car so that it wouldn’t run. That didn’t stop him. Harry intentionally bounced a check to fly to ACT and register.

    He received an MFA at ACT. He applied for a Fulbright scholarship and got it. A casting director at Warner Bros., who saw him preform in a play in San Francisco called Equus, asked him to come into the studio for a meeting. Harry had no desire to do film; he considered himself a theater actor. He reluctantly agreed to see her and she immediately offered him a part in a television mini-series. Harry turned down the role, because he wanted to continue studying with his Fulbright scholarship. The studio was amazed that Harry turned down his first job offer, much less the starring role in a big television series! That stirred everyone up and only increased interest in him. The studio kept offering him bigger parts and more money, and he kept saying NO. “The power of ‘no’ caused Warner Bros. to stand up and say, ‘who is this guy?’” said Hamlin. “They ended up offering me a huge three picture deal – the same deal that Clint Eastwood had been given – it was called the ‘Clint Deal.’”

    On the day Hamlin was supposed to sign the contract, he told Robert Shapiro, the president of Warner Bros. at the time, that he wanted it to be written into his contract that he would have some say in the movies that he does. They wouldn’t give him that degree of freedom, so he didn’t sign the contract. Warner Bros. was stunned. Harry knew it was the right decision for him at the time, because he knew the movies that they had in mind for him and he didn’t like them.

    At the very same time Warner Bros. was talking to Harry about signing this contract, MGM wanted him to do Clash of the Titans, which he ended up doing. Obviously he wouldn’t have been able to star in it if he had taken the Warner Bros. deal.

    Afterwards, 20th Century Fox approached him to star in Making Love, which was the very first studio picture involving a gay love story. Harry took the role because he loved the script and felt it would have a great social impact. While it was a great artistic decision, it was a terrible career move. After playing a gay character, nobody wanted to cast him. Harry didn’t work for the next two years.

    Finally, 20th Century Fox came to Harry with the pilot script for L.A. Law. The script sat on Harry’s coffee table for a month, because he didn’t think he was interested in TV. His friend convinced him to read it, because it was the “hottest script in town.” Harry read the pilot, and to this day it is the best thing he has read. He worked on the show for the next five years.

    On the whole, it was refreshing to hear how an actor can stay true to his artistic integrity and still find a path to success in an extremely cutthroat business. The New York Film Academy truly enjoyed Hamlin’s story and advice, and wish to thank him for joining us!

    Hamlin and Tova

    Producer Tova Laiter with Harry Hamlin

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    October 22, 2013 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 6551

  • NYFA Screens James Dean with Director Mark Rydell

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    Mark Rydell with NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo

    Mark Rydell with NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo

    Academy-Award Nominated director & actor, Mark Rydell, was a recent New York Film Academy guest speaker at Warner Bros, following a screening of 2001´s television movie, James Dean. As a Veteran of the US Military, Mark studied with Sandy Meisner on the GI Bill for his first full year, until Meisner gave him a scholarship to continue into the second year. From that point on, Mark has had an incredible career spanning decades, which include directing the films The Cowboys with John Wayne, On Golden Pond with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, and The Rose with Bette Midler. The NYFA Q&A event was moderated by Filmmaking Chair Mike Civille and NYFA Acting Instructor Cathy Gianonne Russo, who happens to be a friend of Mark’s.

    Mark was especially qualified to direct the James Dean television movie, as he was close to him on a personal level. “I knew Jimmy very well, and working with him as an actor was very exciting. Jimmy was very alive…his motor was always running.”

    At 84 years of age, Rydell had some thoughts about the business today. “Today it´s disappointing how much misplaced focus there is on monetary success. It´s like the ugly pursuit of the dollar as opposed to the art.” He finds that collaborating and being open-minded is key. Cinematography, for example, is a critical element. And just like acting, it´s important to be, “friendly, constructive, inspiring and to create an atmosphere of creative freedom.” Finally, he stated that, “You have to be open! Whoever it is on the set – even the catering guy – you never know where the next great idea will come from!”

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    September 24, 2013 • Guest Speakers • Views: 5800

  • Screenwriting Brothers Screen ‘The Conjuring’

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    conjuring

    The number one movie at the box-office, The Conjuring, screened to a full house of New York Film Academy students with guest speakers, twin brothers and writing team, Chad and Carey Hayes. The horror, thriller is based on actual events and focuses on a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.

    Chad and Carey began their career as actors and eventually transitioned into television writers. After writing a modern version of House of Wax, the duo found themselves in the midst of “huge buzz” and their screenwriting careers began to take off. They followed the script with the horror films, The Reaping, Whiteout, and now, The Conjuring. “We treat writing like taking the audience to an amusement park,” said Chad. “It needs to be safe, scary and a great ride.”

    The writing brothers were thrilled about the box office success of The Conjuring this past weekend and noted that this was the first feature they wrote in which they had total control of the writing process from beginning to end. After a bidding war among the studios, New Line picked up the film. Chad and Carey couldn’t have been more thrilled with them.

    When asked about the discipline of writing, Chad responded, “We write everyday. We do it because we like it. If you don´t love it, and you don´t feel that passion, then it´s going to be a long, difficult journey. You must love writing.” Carey added, “We try to build on an initial thought, some of it is technical and about building a rhythm, but character is always at the center. You have to care about the characters.”

    Finally, a New York Film Academy student simply asked the question on everybody’s mind: HOW TO GET STARTED. Here was their advice:

    1. RESEARCH! Take a trip to India if you have to (they actually did that for a project). Immerse yourself in research! 

    2. Watch a lot of movies. 

    3. The Internet! There is so much out there! 

    4. People share their stories. Find them and listen!

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    July 25, 2013 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 4395

  • Joel Silver on the State of Hollywood

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    “Joel has never been afraid of color,” said producer/moderator Tova Laiter.

    Mega-producer Joel Silver recently visited New York Film Academy for a Q&A and special screening of his 1988 classic, Die Hard. “We were kind of crafting a new genre,” said Silver. “Summers weren’t full of action films then.” He said he had originally wanted Richard Gere to play the lead, who turned down the role. They took a risk with Bruce Willis, an actor best known at the time for his starring role on TV’s Moonlighting. It paid off, becoming an international hit that would go on to spawn 3 hit sequels. The fourth sequel, A Good Day to Die Hard, is slated for release in February 2013.

    Silver has produced more than 60 films, earning more than $13 billion worldwide. His credits include the Academy Award-winning The Matrix trilogy, the blockbuster Lethal Weapon franchise, and the sci-fi thriller, Predator. More recently, he launched the Sherlock Holmes franchise for Warner Bros. He is co-founder of Dark Castle Entertainment and owner of Silver Pictures. His newly-launched division, Silver Pictures Entertainment, announced a five-year distribution deal with Universal Pictures. Silver said the new division plans to make movies in various genres with mid-sized budgets of $40-60 million. He joked, “There’s always going to be artistic films out there, but I want to make the movies people actually see.”

    Answering questions from New York Film Academy students, Silver commented on the state of the industry, saying, “The Hollywood system is better than it has ever been. People are going to the movies more than ever, and all over the world. It’s a great time.” He continued, “People are making movies for 20 bucks … We’re living in a golden age of Hollywood.”

    Speaking to the young filmmakers and actors, he said, “You have to be passionate about movies. I’m excited every day. I love the process. I know the process. I live crisis. Crisis is a part of my life … If you bang your head against enough walls, eventually you’re going to break through.”

    He also put to rest rumors about revisiting the Lethal Weapon franchise, saying, “I’d rather be dead,” eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd.

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    July 5, 2012 • Guest Speakers • Views: 5742