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.”
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.
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.”
Documentary 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.”
As 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.
Acting 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.”