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  • Documentarian Amy Rice Presents “By The People” to New York Film Academy Students

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    This July, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Producing and Documentary Filmmaking departments presented a screening of By the People: The Election of Barack Obama followed by a Q&A with director Amy Rice. The discussion was moderated by Producing Chair Neal Weisman and Documentary Chair Andrea Swift.

    Producing Chair Neal Weisman, Director Amy Rice, and Documentary Chair Andrea Swift

    Producing Chair Neal Weisman, Director Amy Rice, and Documentary Chair Andrea Swift.

    The nearly two-hour film documents the years leading up to the election of Barack Obama. Rice gives viewers an inside look into Obama’s evolution from little-known Illinois Senator to symbol of change for a generation.

    Calling it one of her favorite documentaries, Rice was greatly influenced by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s The War Room, about Bill Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992. By the People premiered in August of 2009 on HBO, and last week’s screening gave younger students a look at how the 2008 election differed from recent elections.

    Rice began her career as a cinematographer, working with her eventual co-director on By the People, Alicia Sams. The documentarian talked about the appeal of this type filmmaking, saying, “There was something very organic about documentary. Just pick up your camera and go shoot and follow the story as it’s unfolding in front of you.” 

    "By the People" director Amy Rice

    By the People director Amy Rice.

    After her other brother told her about Obama before he was well-known, Rice watched his speeches and read his book, Dreams from My Father. “I was just naturally obsessed with his story,” she says.

    Her and her team used a trip to Africa during a congressional delegation trip as a testing ground. From there, the film follows the lead-up to the 2008 election and Obama’s transition from presidential long shot to favorite. Rice discussed the difficulties that began to arise as the presidential candidate’s popularity increased. For instance, at one point the film crew was unable to use a boom mic due to secret service safety concerns. Rice pointed out another instance deep into the campaign where security tried to stop her from filming: “I looked so horrified that he was trying to stop me from getting my final shot.” 

    The filmmaker also dropped some words of wisdom on the students throughout the course of the discussion. One thing she stressed was to “always say ‘yes’ to all film opportunities.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Amy Rice for her time and the illuminating discussion with the Producing and Documentary Filmmaking departments.

    Watch the trailer below and/or purchase the film here.

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  • Christina Beck Brings Perfection to New York Film Academy Los Angeles Guest Speaker Series

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    In February, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles welcomed writer, director, and actor Christina Beck as a Guest Speaker to the Q&A stage, following a screening of her award-winning film Perfection.

    The film, which tells the story of a young woman who struggles with self-harm, and her relationship with her mother, was screened in honor of Self-Injury Awareness Day, a global event dedicated to removing the stigma surrounding self-harm, and spreading awareness so that those who suffer do not have to suffer in silence.

    Beck began by discussing the script’s origins, which, unsurprisingly, initially sprang from her own experiences. “I wasn’t a cutter, but in my 20s I used to pick at my skin a lot, and I had a lot of self hatred,” she shared. “I grew up in LA, I had a very beautiful mother, and there was a lot of emphasis on exterior beauty and trying to be perfect. And trying to fit in and finding my way as a young woman, I felt like I wasn’t enough … so I started writing that character, and then later it morphed into a bigger story.”

    NYFA Los Angeles Producing Department Co-Chair Roberta Colangelo, who moderated the event, followed up with a question about what the medium of film can do, or what kind of opportunities it can bring to the subject of self harm.

    “I think even if you’re not someone who cuts yourself you can relate, hopefully, to the feelings,” said Beck. “For me, I always think that filmmaking is such a powerful medium, that we can observe behavior, follow a story, hopefully, and connect with a protagonist, and go on that journey.”

    Beck went on to talk about the process of making the film, which took two and a half years — and in true micro-budget fashion, the journey was full of ups and downs. They started out with no financing, cast the film out of Beck’s living room, and on one occasion, had only a half-hour at a location to film an entire scene.

    “So that’s a little stressful, for sure,” Beck admitted. “And there were quite a few moments like that, honestly … but you just kind of have to make it work, because the bigger picture is more important than the stress of the moment.”

    The bigger picture, in the case of Perfection, is an opportunity to positively impact the people sitting in the audience.

    “It leaves you with a strange sense of empowerment,” Colangelo noted. “Not by showing a very powerful female figure that has heroically overcome everything, but someone that is working her way [through it]. It’s a very powerful message.”

    Perfection is by no means a comprehensive guide to healing, but it was never intended to be. As Beck stated, the intention behind the film was, if nothing else, to be truthful.

    “In 85 minutes, it’s really hard to wrap up someone’s whole recovery,” said Beck. “It just wouldn’t be truthful. And so we kind of modified that journey to leave with a sense of hope.”

    Perfection is now available to watch on Amazon Prime.

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  • Talent Agent Jennifer Boyce Visits New York Film Academy Los Angeles

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    Talent agent Jennifer Boyce recently dropped by the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles for a Q&A with our students and to speak about her many years in Hollywood as an agent, working at both the Savage Agency and KMR Talent. Senior Enrollment Advisor Chris Devane and Associate Chair of Acting for Film Anne Moore hosted the evening.

    Students heard Boyce’s perspective on head shots and tips on what to do when meeting with an agent. Most students had never met an agent before, so one of the most common questions of the night was: How, exactly, they should go about working with one in their careers? What information should actors have on hand?

    From left to right: NYFA’s Senior Enrollment Advisor Chris Devane, Guest Speaker Jennifer Boyce, and Associate Chair of Acting for Film Anne Moore.

    Boyce suggested that students create opportunities to succeed. “If you are an actor, you do not get to sit at home waiting for your agent to call,” Boyce said. “Don’t ask ‘What is my agent doing for me?’ Instead ask, ‘What am I doing for my own career?’”

    Boyce reminded students that an agent only makes 10 percent commission from what actors make, and cautioned them not to expect agents to do more than 10 percent of the work. She echoed the great advice that actors’ minds and bodies are an instrument, and they need to keep their instrument in tune. She hammered home an old truth: actors have to act. Talking about acting is not acting. Thinking about acting is not acting.

    “It takes a lifetime of commitment to have any success in this business,” Boyce warned. “If you’re not willing to put in the work, then you may not be suited for this business.”

    During the Q&A, one NYFA student asked, “For an agent, what is the most important part of an actor’s resume?”

    Boyce’s explained that, first, acting students should focus on the special skills portion of their resumes. This section is often overlooked, but it is often the difference between a callback and never hearing about a particular job again. Special skills include horseback riding, swimming, sewing, or driving a car. It is in this section where casting directors might think of additional roles for which actors may be the right fit. Secondly, while special skills are important, the best thing an actor can do to improve their chances of securing an agent is to train in their field. This is why even professional actors still take acting classes well into an established career.

    Boyce shared that, from an agent’s point of view, actors who continue to take classes and train demonstrate a work ethic and dedication to their craft. Additionally, many casting directors have established relationships with acting coaches. When they spot a familiar name, casting directors can reach out and learn more about an actor, their abilities, and personality.  

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jennifer Boyce for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with our students.

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    April 26, 2018 • Academic Programs, Acting, Community Highlights, Guest Speakers • Views: 1150

  • Dare to Be Remarkable: New York Film Academy Alumna Adriana Ledesma on Film, Family and Future

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    Adriana Ledesma, via IMDB.

    Latina filmmaker and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Masters of Screen and Media graduate Adriana Ledesma is hard at work, applying her remarkable skill set as a writer, director, editor, cinematographer, producer, production manager — and more — to tell distinctive stories. In an industry focused on better promoting diversity and women in film while also creating opportunity for individuals with unique voices, this rising filmmaker is intent on creating engaging stories and touching audience’s hearts, and we are excited to watch her blaze a unique path.

    In the past few years NYFA alumnus Adriana Ledesma has premiered her work at numerous film festivals, including her films “Departure,” “Karma,” “A Choice,” and “Empathize.” In 2016, “Departure” won the Bronze Award for Short Film at the Fameus International Film Festival, and was also nominated for the Best Short Drama Jury Award at the Hollywood Screenings Film Festival and the Best Short Film Hollywood Cinefest award at the Hollywood Cinfast. Adriana’s passion, experience, and unending love of mankind lend a unique perspective to her films, helping to create an experience audiences won’t soon forget.

    Recently, the busy filmmaker took the time to catch up with the NYFA Blog and share some of her thoughts with our international community.

    NYFA: Some of your films have been honored with multiple awards. How did that feel? 

    Adriana Ledesma, via IMDB.

    AL: Of course it’s always a great satisfaction that someone external, in this case some real experts, value the work you do and that you put so much effort into accomplishing. I don’t do things to receive something in return, but I am very passionate and I believe you should put more than 100 percent on everything you do — or else, what’s the point in doing it at all? So it has been an honor for me.

    NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the film industry since graduating from the New York Film Academy?

    AL: Well, it certainty hasn’t been an easy road. There have been many obstacles and many sacrifices involved, but when you set your mind towards what you truly want, there’s nothing that can stop you.

    What you need to do is take the risk, forget about all the complications you might find on the way, and step out of your comfort zone. Don’t limit yourself, and dare to be remarkable.  

    I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I love, to wake up and go to set every day. I feel blessed.

    Adriana Ledesma on set, via IMDB.

    NYFA: You are from Mexico originally and left home to pursue your dream, which is something that many members of our international NYFA community can relate to. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, and how your home and family have inspired your work?

    AL: I am a person who values family immensely and thank God I come from a family where love, affection and support are key. Even though I know they miss me as much as I miss them, the fact that they are always there for me, giving me advice and encouragement, pushes me to continue. …

    Adriana Ledesma, via IMDB.

    … I have countless memories of my childhood, climbing trees, riding bikes with my neighbors, playing soccer, going to the park with my siblings and my parents, etc., but there is one that stands out from when I was around nine years old. I was with some cousins and friends at my cousin’s house, and all of our parents no longer knew what to do to entertain us anymore, so they came up with the idea of all of us creating a whole episode of a TV program. We were very young at that time but I remember, knowing nothing, we pulled together a very decent project with nothing but one camera. Some of us took care of crew-type activities, some of them were acting in it, we had production design involved and even visual effects with some blood. That moment, at that age, felt magical for me.

    Adriana Ledesma on set, via IMDB.

    NYFA: Who are your influences? And how would you define your style as a filmmaker?

    AL: I am mostly inspired by Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg. The way they portray their stories, the approach they have when it comes to every single element involved, the importance they give to movement, acting, and framing while doing a film, is also how I love doing mine.

    For me, making a film is like putting a duet dance piece together: it’s all choreography. First you do the research — you gather all the elements you might use, then you explore styles and steps and you make your creativity shine.

    Once you have planned all the moves, you have to spend time rehearsing so it goes as well as possible. But when you’re actually shooting, you have to deal with unpredictability and uncertainty, because even when you’ve been working on it for a long time, the music might take you to different places.

    Then it becomes about timing. Each of the puzzle pieces have a detailed purpose, a precise time where they are needed, a specific meaning — so at the end, if everything flows as it was supposed to, the unified project gives you goose bumps.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Adriana for taking the time to share a part of her story with our community. Keep an eye out for many of her exciting new projects in development, including “Growing Up,” “Once in a Life time,” “Los Elegidos,” and “Until the End,” among others.

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  • New Studies Shine Spotlight on Gender Inequality in Hollywood

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    Gine Prince-Bythewood on the set of Beyond the Lights

    Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw on the set of last year’s Beyond the Lights. (Photo: 2013 Blackbird Productions, Suzanne Tenner)

    In the wake of last Thursday’s Oscar nominations—and the public protest they incited over the predominantly white and male nominees—a number of studies were released both right before and after the nominations that offer a significant insight into how the lack of gender and racial diversity is perpetuated both on and behind the screen in Hollywood.

    While the fact that the Academy’s voting members are 93% white and 77% male has been repeated incessantly since the Oscar announcements, a trio of recent studies highlight the fact that an equally pressing issue lies in who is working behind the camera. With this year’s Oscars representing the whitest group of candidates since 1998, little advancement has also been made in the number of minorities and women employed in key behind-the-scenes roles, with women making up 17% of the directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 films of 2014. As the Center for the Study in Television and Film at San Diego State University highlights, this is exactly the same percentage as those employed in 1998.

    This goes a ways to explaining why only 37, or 15% of the top-earning films of 2014 featured a lead female protagonist, which is the same percentage as 2013 and a statistic that has remained steady since 2002. And while many of the top-grossing films—including The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part I, Maleficent, and Gone Girl—of 2014 all featured female protagonists in the lead role, showing that there is a significant appetite amongst filmgoers for female-led movies, there exists a clear resistance amongst those making the choices of which films get made and who is working behind the camera.

    The lack of diversity behind the camera also stretches to the small screen, as a five-year study ranging from 2009 to 2014 by the Directors Guild of America found that only 18% of first-time directors of episodic TV shows were women, with minorities only making up %13 of first-time television directors.

    These statistics showcasing the lack of women behind the camera are especially pertinent when considering that research shows that there is a 10.6% increase in female characters on screen when a woman is directing and an 8.7% increase when a woman is the screenwriter. With women making up only 7% of directors—down from 9% in 1998—and 13% of screenwriters on the top 250 films of 2014, it is clear that an increase in the presence of women behind the scenes would likely lead to a growth on screen.

    And while these recent findings paint a bleak picture for women looking to entering the film and television industries, there are many advocates and organizations out there aiming to reverse this trend and provide avenues to help jumpstart careers. One particularly promising addition to the film festival landscape of 2015 is the inauguration of the Bentonville Film Festival, led by actress and renowned gender activist Geena Davis, which not only showcases only female and minority films, but also awards the inners with theatrical, TV digital, and retail home distribution, making it the only film festival to do so.

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    January 20, 2015 • Entertainment News • Views: 4198