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  • Bollywood’s Sex and the City

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    Shailja Gupta frames a shot on set

    Photo from The Hindu

    Kalkata native, Shailja Gupta set her dreams early on in life with the goal of making her own films. After attending the New York Film Academy‘s film school in 2009, Shailja set out to do just that. Initially, she became involved in the international marketing of films such as Chokher Bali and Ra.One. As good as that sounds, Shailja still wasn’t creating her own films. That’s why she switched gears to work on her feature debut, Walkaway, a light-comedy drama that mocks the clutches of social obligations on young Indian professionals settled in New York City.

    Like many first time filmmakers, Shailja had trouble finding the right distributors to pick up her film. So, she took matters into her own hands. “I had hoped to release it theatrically but after chasing the distributors for a year, I got tired and gave up. I was hoping to show it on television but with such competition it’s difficult to get people to watch the film. I hope through word-of-mouth something good comes out of it.”

    “It’s exciting. Sure, I do feel overwhelmed when I take on more work sometimes and have to run against time to deliver. But once I complete the work the feeling of achievement is quite satisfactory.”

    Indeed, Shailja should feel excited and proud of her accomplishment. Her film, Walkaway, has received some rather kind words from the press:

    • “More earnest and insightful than Sex and the City.” – NY Magazine
    • “A little Bollywood, a lot American Indie.” – NY Times
    • “Filmmaker Shailja Gupta has a sure hand and eye.” – Newsweek
    Shailja is currently working on scripts for two more comedies, which she hopes will see their way to mainstream Bollywood.
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  • Sprinting Toward Hollywood: A Pro Athlete Turned Actress

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    As a child in Markham, Ontario, Charlotte Plummer was involved in countless extra-curricular activities: ballet, modern dance, piano, accordion, trombone, horseback riding, acting classes. She did well in all of them, but started aggressively pursuing sports in high school. By the end of her 9th grade year, she was already being offered scholarships for universities in the United States.

    After finishing high school, she accepted a scholarship to New Orleans’ prestigious Tulane University, receiving her BA in Psychology, with a minor in Exercise and Sports Science. She was a conference athlete for the school, an NCAA qualifier, and won at the Penn Relays. She started as a 400-meter hurdler, and ended up as a runner in the 800-meter dash, making it to the Olympic trials for Canada.

    Though she originally planned on going into sports psychology, Charlotte had worked with mentally disturbed adolescents during school, and decided to change her path. As she says, “I asked myself, ‘Do I want to work with pampered athletes, or people who really need help?’” She ended up working with individuals with brain injuries, mostly resulting from car accidents. She helped patients with rehabilitation, speech therapy, psychology, and fitness.

    A series of injuries took Charlotte away from the world of competitive sports, but through her experience in track, she became an athletic model and did a lot of commercial work for Tennis Canada, Nike, and Pfizer. A chance meeting with a New York Film Academy representative led to another scholarship, and soon Charlotte would be pursuing her MFA in Acting for Film. “Doors have opened up, and I have to step into every door that is open to me,” says Charlotte.

    She began her studies at the school’s New York City campus before finishing at the Universal Studios campus in Los Angeles. “I’m glad I did New York and L.A.,” says Charlotte. “New York is definitely more theater based. In L.A. you really get the business side. You learn a lot in production and writing.”

    Just a few weeks before graduation, Charlotte participated in the Acting for Film showcase, produced by Valorie Hubbard. Scores of agents and managers came to see the showcase, and every student received callbacks the following week. Charlotte took 3 meetings, and is currently deciding which agent to sign with. She is also in rehearsals for an upcoming short film, and going on auditions. Of her education, Charlotte says, “You don’t realize while you’re in it how much you’ve learned. Now when I go on auditions I’m surprised at how prepared I am. Because there‘s so many teachers of so many backgrounds, you get so many perspectives.”

    Charlotte looks forward to a career in film, but also hopes to continue with mentorship. “I feel like young people are so lost in this world and have no concept of dreams,” she says. “I’m pursuing my reality. I’ve lived so many dreams. I’m able to make them realities. I’m still striving.”

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  • It’s Never Too Late To Pursue Acting

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    They say it’s never too late to start your dreams. At the age of 35, Silje Aas Meyer finally got the courage to follow her childhood dream to become an actor. She quit her job in childcare, got a job as a retail manager, and began auditioning. Her first acting role came about in the film, Den Hengte Mannen, which premiered at the International Film Festival in Bergen (BIFF). The film screened in Norwegian cinemas, and is now on DVD in stores across the country.

    “It was a challenging character, with all the right ingredients. The fact that she was actually quite disturbed just made it more challenging. I loved how real and raw she was. At this stage, I had no experience beside my high school drama in 1993. I felt sick just standing in front of the camera, and my acting was terrible! Nevertheless, I told the director that if he took a chance with me I would deliver. He actually believed in me, and continued to do so for the next six months. Truthfully, he was in great doubt until I got back from NYFA.”

    Silje Aas Meyer set out for New York Film Academy to hone her skills in the 4 week acting for film workshop. From the second she set foot on American soil, Silje decided to let go of any inhibitions and seize the moment. “While I did learn a lot of skills in different areas of acting, for me the most important bit of knowledge comes from knowing what it is that you can bring to the table that is unique. In the movie, my character is abusing her own child. As a mother and having worked with abused children, this was extremely challenging. For me to be able to dive into this character, I had to respect the person I was playing. I had to giver her life. I discovered places inside of me where I had felt that bitterness, and magnified that feeling. It was actually therapeutic to be allowed to feel and act out without really hurting others.

    When Silje returned to Norway with her newly acquired knowledge and self confidence, her director claimed that a miracle happened to her at the New York Film Academy. “After NYFA he had no more doubts in my ability to deliver in the role. So you can imagine my gratitude towards the people helping me to discover what I always knew was inside of me. I do believe that everyone has to find their own way of learning to perform at his or her best. The way each of us learn is as unique as we are.”

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  • How to Succeed at the Game of Acting

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    Cassie Freeman and Chris Rock

    So many of New York Film Academy‘s instructors have secret lives outside of teaching, and we’re always proud to hear about their accomplishments. Such is the case with NYFA Acting Instructor, Cassie Freeman. In 2011, Cassie starred in the film Kinyarwanda, which won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Drama category at the Sundance Film Festival. The film also won the Audience Award in the World Cinema section at AFI Fest 2011, and the Grand Prize at the Skip City Film Festival in Japan. Cassie has compiled a list of credits in her early career, including roles in Spike Lee’s Inside Man and Chris Rock’s I Think I Love my Wife. She will soon debut her new character on the hit VH1 show, Single Ladies. In addition to her acting work, Cassie founded her own company, Motion Pictures LLC, where she has several projects in development, including a one-hour drama, a talk news show, and a documentary. Despite her incredibly hectic schedule, we somehow managed to catch up with Cassie to ask her a few questions about her life and career thus far.

    What do you think led you on the acting path?

    I fell into acting by accident. I initially wanted to be in politics, or become a leader in the church. I love the idea of helping others reach their full potential. It’s one of the reasons why I love to teach. As a kid I always felt left out and awkward. Acting helped me celebrate what makes me different from others, while still realizing we have a lot in common. When I meet a new person, they are a potential new best friend. I auditioned for acting and band at Douglas Anderson, which is the Arts High School in Jacksonville. My dad did not like the idea, but decided one year was fine. The first play I acted in was, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide. However, the first show where I really felt like an actress was A Piece of My Heart. The play was about the women who served during Vietnam. Working on that play and getting into that character changed my life. I had a spiritual moment where I felt like I left my own life and enveloped my self in another. I believe actors have an unbelievable opportunity to be a mirror to our collective consciousness. If you display life fully as it is, people can experience their own frailty and uniqueness.

    Can you tell us a little about NYFA and your experience teaching here?

    My last film Kinyarwanda won at Sundance last year and it gave me the opportunity to travel the world. New York Film Academy was one of the places on our tour. I really enjoyed how curious the students were about their craft, and a couple of the students said they would love for me to do a workshop. After I inquired, I was invited to teach at the school. Being a New York girl, I thought it would be fabulous to share what I’ve learned and to have a class for longer than a few days. Teaching here has also made me a better actress in so many ways. The most important thing I’ve learned is how necessary it is to relax and have patience with yourself. It is impossible to learn or act if those two things are not in tact. It is virtually impossible for a director, or in my case a teacher, to help an individual truly grow as an actor. Ultimately, it must come from within.

    What kind of feedback would you give to a prospective student who wants to come here?

    This school can teach you everything you want to learn. The tools and faculty are all sincerely here because they enjoy what they do. The classes are small enough that you can get the personal attention that many other programs can’t offer. The number of times you get to be on camera in front of faculty and your peers is priceless. The learning curve you get out of this school to go in the real world is awesome. However, you can only learn all of these things if you’re open to new ideas and concepts. My favorite students have been the ones who come in as a curious artist, striving to learn and unlock the code to their own possibilities. Those students grow the most, and help me grow to become a better artist as well. That is essentially, Hollywood. We are all constantly learning, collaborating, and sharing new concepts with each other. NYFA is a great way to develop one’s craft.

    What advice would you give to the aspiring actor?

    Go to every audition you can. Do every reading you can. Practice more than anyone. Make a game out of how many hours you can concentrate on a script and a character. I auditioned over a year for this show. I was never right for the character they were casting, but they thought I was talented and kept bringing me back. The character that ended up working out is a regular on the show. This is how I have booked many roles in life. I come in the door, knowing I may not be right for that character, but perform so well  that hopefully someone in the room is up at night thinking, “We need to figure out a way to put her in this show.” This opportunity would have never happened if I stopped doing the “work” of the actor: dreaming, creating, and crafting. As actors, we have to be our own biggest fans, even if there is no proof that we are even good at it. Confidence and perseverance is what wins in the game of acting.

    Any specific advice on booking roles in television?

    Learn how to take direction! Learn how to ask the right questions in the right manner. Both will give you so many opportunities to shine as a professional. Don’t put too much emphasis on if you book a role or not, worry that you gave it your all. We are actors not “auditioners.” I use each audition as a case to experiment in developing deeply interesting characters. If I book it, it’s icing on the cake. Whatever you have control over as an actor, do all you can, and leave the rest to the universe to sort out. Most importantly, surround yourself with lots of love. People should want to work with you as soon as you enter the room.

    So, tell us about your role in VH1’s Single Ladies.

    I auditioned three times over the course of a month. I felt a connection to the role from day one. I loved how silly, loving, and real she felt to me. I hadn’t seen a young black female character written so beautifully the way that Stacy Littlejohn, creator of the show, had made her. All I had to do was breathe life into her words. Every time I came back for the call back, I’d meet new producers who felt like family. On set, work doesn’t start until we hug and greet each other.

    To do a TV show is a marathon. It has been some of the hardest work in my life. It has also been some of the most fun I’ve ever had as actor. I love that everyday I get to act as my character evolves. The hours on set are long. To act for TV, you need stamina and a high level of discipline at all times.

    See Cassie’s new character debut Monday Jul 16th at 9pm on VH1’s Single Ladies.

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    July 12, 2012 • #WomenOfNYFA, Acting, Diversity, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 5555

  • Sarah Louise Wilson’s Feature to Air on PBS This Weekend!

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    Actor Steve Talley in ‘The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue’

    New York Film Academy MFA Film student Sarah Louise Wilson is riding a wave of success. Her films have played at 30 festivals worldwide. Her first short film, which premiered 3 years ago at Frameline, continues to make the rounds on the festival circuit, and is used as an educational tool in classrooms. She wrote, produced, and starred in her first feature film, Jelly, alongside Natasha Lyonne (Slums of Beverly Hills, But I’m a Cheerleader), and Ed McMahon in his last film role. Shot on 35mm, the film was sold to Sundance Independent and IFC. Her second feature length film, The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue, was bought by PBS, and will make its television premiere this weekend. Variety called it “Stylish and strange enough to mark Sarah Louise Wilson and [co-writer/producer] Neal Thibedeau as helmers to watch.”

    Continue Reading

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  • International Documentary Association Hires Rocio Mesa

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    Sabine Sighicelli is the Chair of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios campus. A documentary writer, producer, director, and associate producer, she has worked in the documentary field for 12 years for National Geographic Television, AMC, Foundation for World Arts, UCLA Intercultural Center, Women Make Movies, Museum of Jewish Heritage, and Home Planet Productions. Her award-winning documentary The Passionate Life of a Father Painter aired on PBS/KCET in 2001. Her film about composer Robert Een, Be Warned! is featured in the DVD collection of the Foundation for World Arts. She recently completed principal photography on her feature documentary “Breaking in Two, sponsored by Women Make Movies.

    Rocio Mesa determinedly pushes her cart packed with equipment down the New York Film Academy hallway. Dressed in her usual 50’s attire and cat eye glasses, she is heading to West Hollywood, where she will film Ondi Timoner (Sundance-winning director of Dig! and We Live in Public) and Marina Zenovich (Director of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, among many others) at the International Documentary Association Doc U event. Rocio graduated from the One Year Documentary Filmmaking program in December 2011. “My parents were afraid about my future in the US because I was doing really well in Spain. They didn’t want me to be working as a waitress just to reach the American dream,” she confesses. But waitressing doesn’t seem to be in store for Rocio in this lifetime.

    I introduced her to Amy at the International Documentary Association (IDA) – one of the most prestigious documentary organizations – and  soon after, Amy called me to tell me she and everyone at the IDA were so impressed with Rocio that they had decided to hire her as the producer, director, and editor of the Doc U series for the IDA’s Youtube Channel and archives. These events bring together some of the most highly sought-out people in the non-fiction industry. She also manages the department in charge of taping all IDA-related events. This is no surprise to me or to Rocio’s instructors, since she’s always taken the bull by the horns, and accomplished more in a year than most students are able to do in two!

    Rocio grew up in the Spanish town of Granada in Andalusia. She received a BA in Communication from the University of Seville in 2005, then went on to test her skills on several documentaries, commercials, and TV shows before landing a job on one of the most acclaimed TV shows in Andalusia, about traditional Spanish folk music. Her career was off to a good start, yet her real dream was documentary storytelling.

    She came to the New York Film Academy thanks to the Talentia Grant – a grant given exclusively to promising professionals by the Government of Andalusia. It was immediately clear in the One Year program, that Rocio was a high-performing student. From her character film, Almon Loos, the Rocking Barber, to her social issue documentary, Traffic in LA Sucks! (selected for the Burbank International Film Festival) to her One Year Final Documentary, Orensanz, the portrait of an illustrious Spanish artist who lives in a synagogue, Rocio has stamped every film with her unique vision.,Right after graduation, she was off and running: an internship at Interloper Films, Ondi Timoner’s production company; a job at the IDA; freelance editing gigs with various clients; directing gigs for Meltdown Comics and the web series Authentic Los Angeles… If the project stirs her interest, she will take it on.

    Last but not least, she’s currently our new favorite editor in the post production department, where, among other things, she has completed the editing of the documentary student reel, and a behind-the-scenes of the Young Storytellers Foundation’s collaboration with the New York Film Academy teen programs. Rocio will be with us until she returns to her native Spain. We cherish every moment we still have with her!

    To learn more about the Documentary Filmmaking program, click here.

     

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  • New York Film Academy’s Student Spotlight: Paris Bauldwin on Cannes and Eric Roberts

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    Paris Bauldwin and Eric Roberts

    MFA Film student Paris Bauldwin recently finished her thesis film, Chrysalis. The film centers on Abigail Hunter, a struggling waitress with little direction in her life, aside from drugs. Her aimless drift is disrupted when a young runaway shows up, claiming to be her daughter. The girl’s search for family and affection interrupts Abigail’s free fall, and the two decide to define family on their own terms. It features veteran actor Eric Roberts.

    “He’d had issues with addiction in the past and was really honest about it. I wrote a letter and sent it to his team. He and his wife made [the process] really easy. They invited me to their home. He is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.”

    On a recent visit to New York Film Academy at Universal Studios, Roberts spoke glowingly about working with Bauldwin, saying “Paris is a real director, guys. Really.” He joked, “She is also very… kind in her manipulation.”

    Paris recently published her first book, Fragments of Addiction, co-written with her father. “It’s always been something I’ve been passionate about — helping people with addiction” she says. “I grew up around addiction. I knew all the characters really well. They were my sisters and brothers.”

    Paris also recently completed a short film called Looking for Liana that was accepted to the Cannes Short Film Corner. She is excited to visit Europe first time, and participate in her first major festival. She credits New York Film Academy for giving her the education she needs for her film to succeed, saying, “To have support from people who have already done it was really amazing. Ultimately, I don’t think I would be able to complete this project anywhere else.”

    Paris has plans to take Chrysalis on the film festival circuit, as well as fundraising for the next feature film she is producing. Of her hectic schedule, Paris says, “Sleep is secondary. I’m on the right track.”

    Eric Roberts at NYFA

    Paris Bauldwin at NYFA

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    April 3, 2012 • #WomenOfNYFA, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 4796

  • Evelyne Binsack: Defeating Mt. Everest and Reaching New Heights

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    Evelyne Binsack Rock ClimbingDocumentary student Evelyne Binsack was already a celebrity before attending New York Film Academy. In 2001, she became the first Swiss woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. She also spent four months crossing Antarctica to reach the South Pole. She is the author of Expedition Antarctica and Steps on the Edge, and has been featured in a number of documentaries about her adventures. She speaks 3 languages and is also a helicopter pilot. Until our interview, she didn’t know that she had been named as Switzerland’s fourth most famous person – not bad, considering the poll included musicians, politicians, and movie stars!

    Evelyne said she discovered her love of the outdoors in her native Switzerland. “A friend of mine took me to the mountains near home. I fell in love and thought that’s what I want to do: [be] outdoors having adventures.” At the time, Evelyne was a runner competing in the 800 and 1500-meter dash. “That was something very different — fighting against each other. In mountaineering, you’re fighting together. You can’t fight against each other. That’s something that impressed me, the contrast.”

    Evelyne found New York Film Academy’s 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking program years later. “I was Googling in Europe,” she said. “Everything was three years for film programs, or… [very short] crash courses. What can you learn in one week? I decided to come here. I really enjoy the program… but as a country girl, it’s [hard] being in the city. Here, people live for the weekends, and Monday they feel like [crap]. Friends in my country don’t have this attitude. Most of my friends do what they love. They risked things to do what they love and they’re more happy. To see that people are just working for money, it hurts somehow. Take more risks and be passionate for what you do!”

    Despite the urban setting, Evelyne says she has already learned a lot in her first few months of school. “[Documentary instructors] Wendy Apple and Reuben Aaronson are great. They’re all fabulous. They have [a lot of] experience and it’s great to listen to them!” she said. She has already been putting her new knowledge to work as well. She explains, “I’ve been giving [lectures] for 10 years, and that’s how I make my income, but I didn’t know why some stories [wouldn’t] work. For my speeches it’s very helpful to know about structure and character arc. It helps me to understand why one story is good and why another story doesn’t work.”

    Evelyne admits to missing her adventures, saying, “I don’t like the word addiction, but somehow I’m addicted to the mountains and to climbing. I’m part of nature. If I’m not part of nature, I feel empty. It hurts.”

    After finishing the Documentary Filmmaking program at the end of the year, Evelyne will return to Switzerland, where she will plan for her next big adventure. “I want to traverse from Alps, cross the Caucuses, and find out stories about the sacred mountains of the Himalayas.”

    Check out a recent feature on Evelyne Binsack that aired on Swiss television, and get a behind-the-scenes look at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus!

    Evelyne Binsack Alps

    Evelyne Binsack Summit

    Evelyne Binsack Swiss Alps

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  • New York Film Academy’s Student Spotlight: Ana Paula Manzato

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    Ana Paula ManzatoAs we mentioned before, New York Film Academy is proud to be in lovely Rio de Janeiro. Throughout the week we’re showcasing our wonderful NYFA Brazilian students. Today we spoke with Ana Paula Manzato to catch up on her experience thus far at our Universal Studios, Los Angeles campus.

    How did you find out about NYFA?

    I first found out about NYFA on the internet and looked further to learn more about it at the STB (Student Travel Bureau) in Brazil. Then, I e-mailed NYFA with my inquiries and got the information that I needed.

    What attracted you to NYFA?
    The school structure, the location, the talks that the school offers the students, and I found Gabby Egito’s blog on the internet with plenty of information about the school. Some pictures that drew my attention to the school even more.

    What was your journey to NYFA from Brazil? What is your story?
    I studied Advertising and Marketing in Brazil and participated in so me activities and projects at the university. I took part in the production of a video clip that won three awards, including best picture. Since then I have been interested in film, photography, and production.

    What has been your NYFA experience?
    My journey has been intense and excellent! We learn all about the production of a film, from inserting a roll of film into the camera, up to its final edition. We produce our own films, screenplays, and cast our actors. The teachers are great, attentive and always willing to help us.

    To people in Brazil who want to come to NYFA, do you have any advice?
    If you want to learn more about filmmaking, NYFA is the right place. With outstanding structure and excellent teachers, we can really learn all there is to know about filmmaking. You learn something new every day and you are in close contact with different cultures and people.

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  • New York Film Academy’s Crystle Stewart On Her Way With Tyler Perry

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    Crystle StewartActing for Film graduate Crystle Stewart has kept a busy schedule since her recent graduation. She stars on the TBS show For Better or Worse, which was just picked up for another 35 episodes. Last year, it was named basic cable’s #1 sitcom, and was the most-watched show on any network for African-American adults.

    Crystle is a former pageant winner, claiming the title of Miss Texas USA before winning Miss USA 2008. She went on to represent the US in the Miss Universe competition. Soon after, she decided to pursue a career in acting by studying at New York Film Academy. In a phone interview, Crystle said, “I wanted to give it a try and decided to move to Los Angeles. I really enjoyed it. The teachers were fantastic! To me, you either have experience or you get an education. New York Film Academy totally prepared me for my role.”

    Crystle landed the role after a chance meeting with Tyler Perry. “I was eating at a restaurant in Beverly Hills and he came in. My boyfriend introduced me and Tyler said, ‘Have a seat. Are you an actress?’ The next day, I got a call from his casting director!”

    She soon booked the part of Leslie on For Better or Worse. She explains, “I love the character. She’s the peacemaker on the show. I’m more the mellow person that calms everyone down. I speak the truth to them, even if they don’t want to hear it. It’s more of a drama, but it’s not Tyler Perry if there’s not some comedy thrown in!”

    Crystle also had a small role in the film Good Deeds, which is currently in theaters. She spoke glowingly about working with the stellar cast that included Phylicia Rashad, Thandie Newton, Rebecca Romijn, and Gabrielle Union.

    After news that the show was renewed, Crystle says she is ready to get back to business. “I’ve never been so excited to go back to work!” she said. “We start shooting this month and new episodes should be airing in the fall.”

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    March 7, 2012 • #WomenOfNYFA, Acting, Diversity, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 5413