Author: Jack Picone

Q&A with Documentary Filmmaking Alum Pedro Alvares Gales

While working in post production for two presidential campaigns in his home country of Venezuela, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Alvares Gales realized that his true calling was in documentaries, where he could tell stories rather than just absorb them.

He soon came to New York to attend the 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking conservatory at NYFA in 2013, where he learned the skills to shoot and edit documentaries. He quickly found work as a professional with major names in the industry, including Vice and Netflix.

Pedro Alvares Gales

NYFA alum Pedro Alvares Gales

New York Film Academy spoke with Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Alvares Gales about his time at NYFA, his work on Netflix hit film FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, and his advice for fellow NYFA students and alumni:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Pedro Alvarez Gales (PAG): I am from Caracas, Venezuela, originally a sound designer, but I have always been passionate about storytelling.

What brought me to NYFA was really a combination of things but mainly I was looking for a way out of my country’s political crisis. I felt stuck professionally and needed to try something new. My last job before leaving Caracas was as post production coordinator for two presidential campaigns—I believe that was what triggered my interest on making documentaries instead of just consuming them.

NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on documentary filmmaking?

PAG: The thing I like about documentary filmmaking is that you get to “write” during the editing process. You think you know what you are going to get when shooting a documentary but it’s really in the editing room where you start to realize there might be more to the story than you thought there was, or even a completely different one! It’s a magical thing and it can only be achieved by trying new things, failing and trying again, and again, until that “eureka” moment hits.

NYFA: How did you end up working on FYRE?

PAG: I got to FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened through a contact from a previous job. And there I met an incredible team of editors that made that film possible.

NYFA: What were your responsibilities as Assistant Editor on FYRE?

PAG: I was originally brought in as an editor to experiment with the film and try to see if we could build a series out of it. I did that for a little while but the Netflix deadline got tighter as we went, so the team decided to stick to the original film; from that moment on my mission was to support the team on anything they needed to get the film out as soon as we could. It was a very intense production to work on.

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

PAG: Right now I’m back with the FYRE team working on really great documentary series for Netflix. I wish I could tell you about it because I know it’s going to be amazing, but it’s an ongoing story and we can’t really talk much about it for the moment. I’m really happy to be back with this team and I feel I’ve been learning and growing as an editor on this project.

I also just finished cutting and producing a scripted mini webseries called Killing Tigers (which is a Venezuelan expression, nothing to do with killing an animal) that you can check out at www.killingtigerstv.com. This was my first experience with scripted media.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on FYRE, or your work in general?

PAG: Almost everything I do today I learned in NYFA. I had never touched any editing software until I went there. It was through NYFA I got my first job in New York too (Vice and Viceland) where I stayed for three years and went from being an assistant editor to junior editor.

I am really grateful to that school and especially to Andrea Swift, the program chair, who is always on top of her students, current and former. I don’t know how she does it but she tries to help everybody that crosses her path. She’s an amazing lady. Thank you Andrea!

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

PAG: I’d tell them that, like almost everything in life, you can only take out of the program whatever you put in it. The Documentary program can be a really intense one with long hours and days, but if you apply yourself and choose to absorb everything that’s coming your way you’ll leave that building a documentary filmmaker. Whatever you decide to do next—either camera, production, editing or writing you’ll have a solid set of tools from NYFA that will help you to keep learning and growing and will take you to amazing projects.

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on?

PAG: I think it’s important to find your own way of working but to always be flexible with other people’s ways. You’ll encounter many different characters in the industry and one big part of it for you to navigate in it is your own ability to adapt to new teams and new ways. There’s always something to be learn from a teammate, even if they are in a position under you. Also, be kind. People will hire you back if you are easy to work with—to me that’s even more valuable than the skills you bring to the mix.

New York Film Academy thanks Documentary alum Pedro Alvarez Gales on taking the time to share his experiences and advice with us, and we look forward to seeing more projects from him in the future!

Q&A with New York Film Academy Australia Alum Leroy Button

New York Film Academy Australia alum Leroy Button started his professional career even before graduating the Filmmaking program in 2018. He’s worked on several professional commercials and television shows as well as multiple blockbusters, including Aquaman, Fast & Furious 9, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

Button has found a niche in state-of-the-art drone cinematography, but has had a passion for all aspects of filmmaking since he was a child. His first (but not his last) success was his award-winning short film Sense, made while he was still in high school.

Leroy Button

NYFA Australia alum Leroy Button

New York Film Academy spoke with NYFA Australia Filmmaking alum Leroy Button about Sense, his work on multimillion dollar film sets, and the best advice he’s learned from both school and his fellow crewmembers:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy Australia?

Leroy Button (LB): I’m 21 years old and hail from Cairns, a small city in Far North Queensland, Australia. The origins of my interest in the industry really started as soon as I was brought into the world,—well, that’s at least what my dad claims as he recorded my birth on his brand new Hi8 camera. I’ve always had an interest in cameras, acting, and entertaining people—my dad was a frustrated filmmaker and he always had the latest digital camcorder, film camera, DSLR… you name it he had it, so naturally I was either in front of a camera or behind it as I grew up. We were always avid film goers, with Dad, my older brother, and myself always attending the latest blockbuster release—if it involved spies, sci-fi, superheroes, or a car chase we were there.

I really enjoyed all of my primary and secondary school years, I wasn’t really a math or science guy, I just loved working with my hands making things and was considered by my teachers to be very artistic. Throughout high school I fell absolutely in love with movie making and film class, which was part of my curriculum from Year 9 at Cairns State High. 

My film teachers, Mr. Clyde Williams and Ms. Greta Evangelista, said that I had an eye for filmmaking and perhaps I should pursue it as a career. My teachers encouraged me to enter my films into film festivals and that ultimately brought me to what jump-started my career—my first short film, Sense. I entered Sense into the Understory Film Festival, which is a local festival in Cairns that had a student film category. I entered that film not knowing the freight train of success I was going to receive from it. 

On the night of the film festival, Sense won three awards—Best Student Film, Runner Up, Best Film, and the Audience Choice Award. To cap off a lovely evening, I also won $1000 prize money (of course I spent that on film equipment right away) and was filled with a feeling of elation that propelled me into pursuing a career in the film industry… With Sense winning the Understory Audience Choice Award, this led to its inclusion in another festival—winning the KickArts Curator Award, Cell Art Space Energy Exhibition Award, Creative Generation Award, and later ‘Best Sense Film’ at the Stuffit Film Festival. Because of the Creative Generation Award, Sense was put on display at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane where it was shown on a screen loop for six months for the 2017 student exhibition.

These awards opened the doors at a number of universities and film academies and certainly helped secure my position at the New York Film Academy Australia, where I started my Diploma in Filmmaking. At NYFA Australia I continued to pursue my craft and the feeling of recognition and success that I craved. I shot both good films that won me more awards and some pretty questionable film—films I hope are never seen again, haha. I was loving every moment. I really started to hone my skills as a cinematographer and learned how to manage my own business by filming weddings, corporate videos, and promo events.

Leroy Button Sense

NYFA: What have you learned at NYFA Australia that you apply to your work today?

LB: I’d say the biggest thing that the New York Film Academy Australia taught me was that networking was everything.

For one of our cinematography lectures, we had the choice of going to Panavision Queensland at Village Roadshow Studios. I knew that this was an opportunity to mingle with the people who work with the biggest and best of what the Australian Film Industry has to offer. So I was there with bells on. It happened to be the one day I actually packed my lunch box and brought it with me—and that ultimately allowed me to stay behind whilst the rest of the class went out to get a feed during the break. So here I am, one-on-one with the manager of Panavision Queensland, Pat Auge. I had the opportunity to ask him anything I wanted to know. What do I need to do to get into the industry? This question, amongst many others, was asked in hopes of figuring out what I was going to do after I completed my diploma.

All I wanted to do was get on set and work on a major motion picture. Pat answered every single one of my questions, and told me “it’s all about who you know.” In addition to that, the biggest thing I learned from the New York Film Academy Australia was that networking is very important—this is an industry where who you know goes a very long way.

Pat contacted me the following week and said that he was impressed by my attitude, eagerness, and professionalism towards him and wanting to get into the industry. He asked if I would be interested in doing some work experience with them and initially got me in for three days—I was incredibly dedicated while there, as has always been my work ethic, drilled into me by family, and this lead to an offer of part-time work while studying at the Academy. 

During this time, Aquaman was filming at Village Roadshow Studios and the camera department contacted Panavision asking if they knew of anyone that could help out on set. They put my name forward and I jumped straight into the camera department on one of Australia’s biggest feature films. Frankly, I was scared and crazy nervous but also really excited.

Leroy Button

NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing and what your responsibilities have been on the sets of films like Aquaman, as well as Dora the Explorer, Fast & Furious, and others?

LB: I kept my cool with my head down and bum up. They had me camera assisting, splintering with second and third unit, slating scenes with Nicole Kidman and her stunties, on location at Hastings point for the lighthouse scenes—it was wild, some of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. I turned into a sponge metaphorically (and sometimes physically, thanks rain machines), absorbing as much information and technique as possible from the camera department. At the end of each day we wrapped and I felt like I could sleep for a week. Long hours, hard, stressful work—but I loved it. I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

I continued to juggle work for Panavision, Event Cinemas, and studying at NYFA Australia and I resigned from the Cinemas pretty soon after as I was asked to start working 5 days a week 9-5 at Panavision. Now that leads me to working for XM2—work after Aquaman slowly dried up, I was getting on commercial jobs and the odd TV show here and there as a 2nd AC, but things weren’t looking too good…

One weekend I was returning some film equipment I had borrowed from Panavision to shoot a music video when Panavision called asking how far away I was. They told me that there were two gentlemen at the office right now and they wanted to talk to me—Stephen Oh and Aidan Kelly, the CEO and COO of XM2. I rushed into the studios knowing exactly who these guys were and well, Panavision opened another door for me. XM2 were looking for a young gun to join the team and manage their new office on the Gold Coast. I was pretty shocked. They asked if I wanted to help out on Dora the Explorer and there was no hesitation in my mind. I had just landed one of the coolest job opportunities that the industry has to offer.

A little background for you—XM2 specialises in aerial cinematography, lidar scanning, and VFX—catering to the major motion picture industry. As the only drone operator in the world with complete design, manufacture, build, and operational capabilities, XM2 can adapt and incorporate custom payloads onto aerial and ground-based platforms, creating constant advancements in performance and capability.

XM2 CEO Stephen Oh

XM2 CEO, Stephen Oh

The team is comprised of pilots, camera operators, engineers, and creatives allowing for a unique service environment, taking care of all aspects of the operation. Constant technological developments combined with a deep understanding of on-set work-flow creates a highly-skilled, precise, and efficient unit that is able to produce any creative vision. We continue to demonstrate the ability to operate in the most technically, logistically, and environmentally demanding locations around the world. This is achieved while applying thorough risk mitigation and a safety-first culture that meets and exceeds international standards. I don’t want to toot my own horn but… yeah, a pretty cool job. 

I completed those days with them on Dora, worked my ass off, and must have impressed them because they now have me working full time managing our Gold Coast office here in Queensland. I get to travel extensively between our other bases around the globe helping on productions wherever they may be. Two of our teams and I have just returned home from Georgia in Europe, Thailand, and Scotland after finishing principal photography on Fast & Furious 9 and the next James Bond film, No Time to Die. I am literally living the dream and I couldn’t be happier with what I have achieved at my age.

On our latest project, Fast and Furious 9, I was a drone technician on second unit while also managing our custom VFX array head. We developed the “MANTA” stabilised remote head to hold three Alexa Minis in a toe-in position to achieve 220 degrees of stich-able horizontal angle. This rig ultimately became my pride and joy as I worked on Fast 9. Due to the shooting schedule I had to pull it apart and put it back together half a dozen times. The VFX department could use this rig to reframe shots, recreate reflections, and project the surrounding environments onto blue/green screens in studio sound stages. I was working one on one with the VFX supervisor, while camera operating this platform from an ATAV for the off-road portions of the film. 

I was also on splinter unit where I was camera operating our smaller drone. Those shots were my first shots on a feature film—a pretty awesome accomplishment. This was all thanks to my boss and mentor, Stephen Oh, for trusting my skills as a camera operator. Thanks to XM2 I get to travel the world doing what I love, working on major motion pictures.

These are the productions I have recently worked on (not in any particular order):

  • Aquaman (Feature Film) (2nd AC, Truck Loader)
  • Fast and Furious 9 (Feature Film) (Drone Technician, Drone Camera Op, VFX Array Op, and Technician)
  • Dora the Explorer (Feature Film) (2nd AC, Drone Technician)
  • Westworld Season 3 (HBO TV Series – Airing) (Drone Technician)
  • Kong vs Godzilla (Feature Film – Post-production) (2nd AC)
  • Monster Problems (Feature Film – Post-production) (2nd AC)
  • Bloody Hell (Feature Film – Post-production) (Drone Technician & Drone  Camera Op)
  • Reef Break (TV Series – Airing) (Drone Camera Op)
  • At Last (Chinese/ Australia Co-Production) (2nd AC)
  • The End (TV Mini-Series – Post-production) (2nd AC)
  • Leaving Neverland (HBO Documentary) (Drone Technician)
  • QANTAS 2020 International Commercial (Post Production) (Drone 
  • Camera Op)
  • Halifax Retribution (TV Series – Post Production) (Drone Camera Op)
  • Hyundai VENUE, USA TVC (Drone Technician, BTS)
  • KIA Telluride, USA TVC (Drone Technician, BTS)

leroy button jane

NYFA: What are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed working on a blockbuster film set as opposed to an indie or student film set? What are some of the similarities?

LB: The biggest differences I’ve found between blockbuster features and indie/student films is obviously the budget.

Being on big sets is an interesting experience. It’s fascinating and truly unbelievable how big some of the sets are and the lengths people go to get the shot how they want it—or how they compromise to achieve it another way. These crew members are truly professionals of their respected craft. Watching hundreds of people work for a common goal of completing the shot list for the day is like working in this complicated factory of cooperation, task mitigation, and frantic timed execution. 

Everyone has a role and that role is important in one way or another. There are literally hundreds of different jobs on set and they all matter and keep the production flowing. The PA that stays back to make the production coordinator a coffee might have just kept him/her awake an extra hour to recheck the SFX budget so they can afford to blow up an extra car the next day, which allows the director extra freedom with the cut and the rest of the crew get to see an extra explosion—thumbs up all round. 

Every role on set matters and they all affect the flow of production—no matter the size. The men and women on big sets usually have many, many years of on-set experience and this really shows when there’s half an hour left in the shooting day and there are still five shots to get—as you can imagine, someone like me stepping in with the “big boys” was very daunting and quite nerve-racking. I learned pretty quickly to present yourself professionally, act older than you seem and keep your head down, mouth shut, and ‘bum-up’ as is always a good idea when trying to fit in and impress the varying crew.

The cool thing with crew on major feature films is that oftentimes once the working week had finished, a lot of the crew would split into their respected friend groups and shoot passion projects, music videos, or short films—a lot of the time asking anyone and everyone if they would be free to help out. In an industry where a good word and who you know goes a long way, these opportunities are sometimes just as good as the production you may be on. Yes, you might only get paid in pizza, but you might just get a chance at focus pulling or helping with lighting or branch out from your usual role to try something different. These guerrilla style films are a great way to make new friends and test your abilities, learn new skills, and have a good laugh outside of the pressure that big productions put on you.

On the other hand, the biggest similarity between big and small budget productions is passion. The passion for filmmaking is always there whether it’s a low-budget indie or a multimillion-dollar action flick. One of the things I love about working in the film industry is the on-set etiquette. No matter the production, people are generally more than happy to lend a helping hand and impart some of their knowledge on to you. A lot of what I’ve learned about on-set lingo and practices has been through conversation between setups or while on lunch. The more time you spend in those environments with those varying levels of experience, the more you’ll learn.

Leroy Button

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on, personal or otherwise?

LB: Unfortunately, I can’t say what I’m working on with XM2 at the moment; however, I’m currently writing a sequel to one of my short films I shot while at NYFA Australia. It’s being filmed with a bunch of fellow NYFA Australia graduates and alumni.

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA Australia?

LB: The best advice I could give to students starting out at NYFA Australia would be to get your films into film festivals. No matter how good or bad that film is, get it into a festival circuit and put your name on it. The more people that see your film, the more contacts you’re connecting with—people talk and word spreads; if it’s positive, then you’ll become known and people will start calling you, it’s that simple. 

Absorb as much as you can. Do research online and ask questions (even the stupid ones) because at the end of the day you’ll either be none-the-wiser or know exactly what you’re talking about. Finally, keep creating, every single time your camera is rolling you’re learning something new—nine times out of ten it’s because you did something wrong—learn from that and you’ll become a better filmmaker.

Things to remember and be ready to answer:

  • Never “burn your bridges.” It’s a big industry, and everyone talks.
  • What is your attitude?
  • How are you different from the guy next to you?
  • And why should they get you on set?

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on? 

LB: The film industry is a brutal beast – it can be so incredibly hard on you one day, yet so very rewarding the next—it’s not for the faint-hearted. With short films and personal projects, I learned pretty quickly that you can’t impress everyone. I decided to stop trying to impress others and began simply trying to impress myself and this worked out pretty well for me. I am very humbled with the opportunities that I have been given and I thank everyone for the part they have played in my story. Never forget to thank those who got you to where you are.

New York Film Academy thanks NYFA Australia alum Leroy Button for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his burgeoning career on-set, and wishes him the best of luck moving forward!

Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking Alum Gino Santos

Philippines native Gino M. Santos only attended New York Film Academy (NYFA) for one week, at the Digital Filmmaking workshop in Kyoto, Japan in the summer of 2010, but his short time at the Academy has left a lasting impression.

Since graduating the 1-Week workshop, Santos has returned to the Philippines and built a successful career as a professional filmmaker, working on numerous commercials and feature films. New York Film Academy spoke with Gino M. Santos soon after he attended an alumni reunion in Manila.

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Gino M. Santos (GS): My name is Gino Santos and I’m a filmmaker here in the Philippines. I’ve been in the industry for almost eight years now, directing mainstream films and TV commercials. 

I first found out about NYFA through my college friends who were planning a trip to Kyoto to take the 2-Week workshop—we were all film majors in our sophomore year at that time. I told my folks about it and they asked me, “Aren’t you going?” I was surprised! So I packed my bags end embarked on a fun learning adventure with my friends in Kyoto, Japan.

NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on filmmaking?

GS: As a kid I’ve always been a moviegoer, and when I was growing up I used to play with my dad’s video camera and cameraphones, while making my brothers act for me. I didn’t know I was already directing. When I was 15, my mom introduced me to a local basic film workshop which sparked my interest and soon made it my college course and my NYFA adventure.

NYFA: What has been the most challenging film you’ve worked on so far, and why?

GS: I did a movie for Star Cinema, the biggest film studio in the Philippines, called Love Me Tomorrow. It was about a DJ in his 30s who fell in love with a woman turning 50. It was a coming-of-age love story filled with club scenes and music festivals. I had to recreate and make my own outdoor music festival, including hundreds of background talents. It wad pretty epic! Until now, I look back at it and wonder how I was able to get everyone grooving in the shot. We shot that scene for three days.

Gino M. Santos

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

GS: I’m doing an international project with Black Sheep and ABS-CBN this January. I cannot disclose the details yet, but it will be a period piece focused on the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on filmmaking, or your work in general?

GS: When I went to NYFA, it was a different kind of learning for me, which was the standard Hollywood knowledge elevating my prior knowledge from here. I got used to the particular film terms from foreign production houses and agencies. Also the learning process of working with your peers and friends. 

Until today, I still work on projects with the same people I went to NYFA with.

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

GS: Maybe more to the parents who are scared of sending their kids to another country for a workshop, I say just do it! My time at NYFA was one of the most memorable moments of my life—I got to meet people who are just like me, and passionate about film from all parts of the world. We all learned together and experienced new things in the classroom and in a foreign country. It was worth every penny.

New York Film Academy thanks Filmmaking alum Gino M. Santos for taking the time to speak with us and looks forward to following his continued success as a filmmaker!

Q&A with Jagged Little Pill and Christmas Carol Producer and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Musical Theatre Alum Chase Thomas

Chase Thomas was only ten minutes to places for a performance of Disneyland’s Fantasmic! when he received a call asking him to become a producer on Broadway’s upcoming A Christmas Carol. 

It was a phone call that would change the life of Thomas, who attended the 2-Year Musical Theatre program at New York Film Academy (NYFA) in Fall 2015, but it wasn’t out of the blue. Through years of hard work, networking, and dedication, Thomas had earned the job offer.

Chase Thomas

New York Film Academy recently spoke with Chase Thomas about his journey into musical theatre, the value of hard work, and the importance of always being genuine and nice to everyone you meet.

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Chase Thomas (CT): Hello! My name is Chase Thomas and I am originally from Laguna Beach, California. I will be making my Broadway producing debut with Jagged Little Pill and A Christmas Carol. I am also the founder of Carmine Theatrical Entertainment LLC, a group of Broadway investors located in Southern California.

I chose New York Film Academy because I was looking for a program that would not only polish my previous training but help me build connections within the entertainment industry. While at NYFA, most of my teachers were working professionals in the television, film, and/or Broadway with incredible resumes. As a student, I was taught many skills that would build me into a proactive business person and a better performer in the industry. 

After leaving New York Film Academy, not only was I a more polished performer, but I left inspired to create my own path in the entertainment  industry.This inspiration led me to become a performer at The Walt Disney Company and to produce two shows on Broadway, both at the same time.

NYFA: What attracted you to musical theatre?

CT: When I was younger I would run around the house singing, and making up songs about everything around me. My parents, noticing I had talent, enrolled me into a theatre school when I was six (The Center Stage Studio). From there on I was hooked! My young self was so intrigued with the idea of acting, singing, and dancing at the same time! 

At just twelve years old, I was given the chance to produce my own shows at The Center Stage Studio. The thrill of producing at my theatre school is what gave me the bug to want to be a producer. The experiences I had at The Center Stage Studio lit the fire of my passion for the entertainment industry, and I have been pursuing it ever since.

NYFA: How did you get involved with Jagged Little Pill?

CT: As I decided to take a different career path than my peers, I got a Bachelor of Science in Business as well as completed a two-year internship at Warner Brothers under the mentorship of Andrew Lazar (American Sniper, Get Smart, 10 Things I Hate About You). During the last months of my internship, Yael Silver (NYFA Alumni/producing partner), reached out to me asking if I would be interested in working with her on Jagged Little Pill. I will never forget that phone call as it was a day that my life changed forever.

NYFA: Can you tell us about A Christmas Carol?

CT: All I can say is that it is wickedly STUNNING! Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child) and Matthew Warchus’s (Matilda) adaptation of A Christmas Carol is unlike any holiday show I have seen. Get ready, it is going to be the new holiday staple in New York City for many years to come.

NYFA: How did you get involved with A Christmas Carol?

CT: When it was just ten minutes to “places” before I had to go on stage for Fantasmic! at Disneyland, I got an offer from one of the lead producers asking if I would like to be a producer on A Christmas Carol. I immediately said yes and ran on stage to my spot. After the show ended and my adrenaline stopped I questioned, “How is this real life?” But then I quickly reminded myself of all the hard work that I put in that has gotten me to where I am today. It has all made me understand the value of hard work, and has inspired me to continue to work hard for what I want. Putting goals to my dreams has helped me get to where I am.

NYFA: What challenges have you faced producing A Christmas Carol? What has been most rewarding?

CT: There are going to be many ups and downs while working in the entertainment industry. Instead of looking at the lows as a “negative,” I look at them as lessons that will make me a better producer moving forward. “By seeking and blundering we learn,” says Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Jagged Little Pill and A Christmas Carol, or your work in general?

CT: I have learned that it is so important to be nice to everyone, and to be genuine. The industry, in fact, is very small. You never know who is going to give you your big break. It could be the classmate you are sitting next to or the person you walked by on the subway. You never know!

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

CT: Enjoy the ride because it is a marathon, not a sprint. This means it’s important to train well and practice good habits early on. Remember to always work hard and never give up, no matter how challenging it may seem. The ones who succeed are the ones who do not fall back but push forward, even when it seems impossible.

New York Film Academy thanks Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre at NYFA alum Chase Thomas for taking the time to speak with us and share his experiences and advice with our students!

Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking Alum Ilya Rozhkov, Director of the Groundbreaking VR Film ‘Agent Emerson’

 Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

NYFA BFA Alum & Filmmaker Ilya Rozhkov

New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking alum Ilya Rozhkov moved to Los Angeles from Russia to follow his passion. He always knew he wanted to direct films, and he’s always been hungry to learn and expand his horizons, but it wasn’t until he experienced VR for the first time at a convention in Las Vegas that he realized the amazing potential virtual reality holds for the future of storytelling.

Rozhkov is putting that lesson to action, literally, with his new groundbreaking VR film, Agent Emerson. New York Film Academy spoke with Ilya Rozhkov about his film, the vast possibilities of virtual reality and VR filmmaking, and about how his studies at NYFA gave him the tools to evolve into a whole new kind of filmmaker:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy? 

Ilya Rozhkov (IR): I was born and raised in Moscow and all my life I wanted to direct films. In 2014 I was honored to be inducted into the Directors Guild of Russia as one of its youngest members. In 2013, after extensive research, I was excited to go and become a part of New York Film Academy in Los Angeles because of its intensive, practice-driven approach to studying film. LA has been my home since. 

While at NYFA I shot three short films (We Are Enemies, Dying to Live, and Sabre Dance, starring Greg Louganis as ‘Salvador Dalí’) which have been distributed worldwide, featured on NBC, and screened at over 50+ festivals winning numerous awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. 

I was also very fortunate to have met a lot of my collaborators at NYFA. I have been working with amazing alums—producers Radhika Womack and Jane Kapriss, and colorist Roy Sun—since my first short films. 

I have had the honor of being selected to participate in the coveted Oculus Launch Pad VR Bootcamp at Facebook headquarters and be a recurrent guest panelist at Digital Hollywood. 

In 2016, I set out to make on my first VR Film, Agent Emerson, and partnered with Academy Award-nominated veteran production studio CTB, along with The Rogue Initiative—a leading entertainment and technology studio driven by multi-award winning industry veterans.

Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

Lyndsy Fonseca & Ben Aycrigg filming ‘Agent Emerson’
Photo Credit: Billy Bennight

NYFA: Your background is in traditional filmmaking. Why have you decided to focus on virtual reality?

IR: VR is a creative challenge, a whole new way to experience cinematic storytelling. With my knowledge of film and passion for technology I was truly excited to take on this challenge. And this wonderful medium is just beginning to grow—the current state of VR content feels reminiscent of the early 1900s in the history of cinema: so many things yet to be discovered. 

The future is happening today and cinematic entertainment is evolving to be bigger than movies, both artistically and as a segment of the entertainment market. 

NYFA: Can you tell us more about Agent Emerson? 

IR: Agent Emerson is an immersive 360 degree first-person POV VR film. It utilizes breakthrough technology—the Identity Capture Camera®—and other proprietary innovations to drop the viewer into a visceral, action-packed 3D cinematic experience unlike anything the medium has yet offered. It is a cinematic experience we are used to seeing in movie theaters, only this time YOU are the action hero.

We follow CIA Operative David Emerson, who awakens to find himself a subject of an experimental program with his body under complete remote control of the imperious General. With the aid of a rogue operative named Alexandra, David has to retake charge of his own actions and fight his way through the top security facility inside the most complex live-action VR film ever made. 

Directed by me, Ilya Rozhkov, and starring Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick-Ass, How I Met Your Mother) and Tony Denison (Major Crimes, The Closer), Agent Emerson was shot in Los Angeles and in Louisiana.

 


NYFA:
What inspired you to make Agent Emerson? 

IR: Virtual Reality itself is quite an inspiration. When I studied at NYFA I visited NAB Convention in Las Vegas to explore the latest technology of cinema, and this was where I experienced VR for the first time. My mind was blown with its storytelling potential. The moment I received my first Oculus VR kit, I stepped inside the virtual reality and took off the headset only after exploring all the content available. 

I kept thinking, what makes VR different as a storytelling medium? A theatre performance shot on a film camera does not become a movie. And in exact same way a movie shot on VR camera doesn’t automatically become VR cinema. So what type of storytelling is possible only and exclusively in VR?

Agent Emerson was one of my answers to that question. And finding tools to direct the audience within VR Film was a challenge I was excited to take on. 

NYFA: What are some difficulties of shooting in VR as opposed to traditional filmmaking that you didn’t anticipate? 

IR: It’s hard to anticipate every challenge when talking about a territory as uncharted and unexplored as VR from both creative and technological point of view. Before shooting the film on set with our amazing cast and crew, the majority of the film was shot and tested in a lab. We prepared and primed everything and were ready when unexpected challenges presented themselves. 

The biggest challenges were definitely in post-production. Every aspect of post was affected: CGI, editing, sound, color, and even music. A lot of the techniques and the toolkit used in traditional film were not enough. My team had to think bigger and beyond, creating new solutions which would allow us to make a better film.

To achieve the artistic goals of the film and the highest possible level of quality, many tools and workflows had to be created by us from scratch. It was like creating a painting and inventing a paintbrush at the same time. 

Not only does VR make the complexities of film more challenging, but also it introduces entirely new challenges, some of them from the world of game design. It’s an adventure which makes me thrilled to be a modern filmmaker. 

Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

NYFA BFA Alum & Filmmaker Ilya Rozhkov

NYFA: Did anything surprise you when putting together Agent Emerson? 

IR: From the many discoveries and surprises there is a clear “top three” list:

1. VR can be considerably more intimate than film, especially when it comes to acting.

2. Understanding game engines and software optimization plays a big part, even though it is a film, not a game.

3. There is a saying that sound is 50% of the film. When it comes to VR and making a convincing Virtual World, sound might be even more than that. 

NYFA: What do you see for the future of VR in entertainment? 

IR: The potential of VR in entertainment is enormous and the medium will evolve in many ways we can’t even dream of today. It is the fastest growing segment of the entertainment market. 

We’re dealing with something completely unprecedented—humans as a species have been telling stories on a flat surface since cave paintings. But VR allows us for the first time to tell stories through worlds which are seemingly real. AND this is mass-accessible. 

Think about it—looking at a flat surface with moving images is amazing , it’s a great art form, a fun entertainment, and it is here to stay. But it’s not a natural way to perceive information. In VR we perceive information the same way we do in real life: it’s set in space around us, it is three dimensional, and we can navigate through it. Considering this, I believe VR will become a normal way to consume new forms of entertainment content, both interactive and non-interactive. 

Moreover, I believe that VR and AR are going to affect not only entertainment but a great many things. We might be looking at the new age of computing here. 

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on? Are you looking to stick to VR-only content? 

IR: Under my Serein banner we have several VR titles in the works. My focus in storytelling is modern cinema which incorporates traditional mediums like film and TV, and cutting-edge technology like VR and beyond. 

I believe that to become a market leader one must bring impactful storytelling together with innovative technology. And that is the key to the future of cinematic entertainment. 

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Agent Emerson or your work in general? 

IR: Shooting on 16mm and 35mm film at NYFA was a phenomenal experience and, ironically, working with this wonderful and more-then-a-century old technology affected my work with a less-then-a-decade old generation of VR. 

Not only does working with film introduce one to a proper filming discipline, it also taught me that live playback is not a necessity. It gave me the ability to see the shot by seeing the blocking, the camera positioning, the lighting in the scene and knowing the lens specifics. That came in extremely handy when working with virtual reality where we had no technology for a live VR playback. 

Ilya Rozhkov Agent Emerson

Ilya Rozhkov directs stuntman Ben Aycrigg for ‘Agent Emerson’
Photo Credit: Billy Bennight

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA? 

IR: BE CURIOUS. Enjoy learning, because learning doesn’t stop after graduation. Keep reading, follow the directors, producers, and content creators you admire. Always be expanding your knowledge on film industry, technology and beyond. You are as valuable to the industry as what you know and can accomplish. Grow your value all the time. 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO EXPLORE. Film school is the safest possible environment for that and NYFA will be there for you to lean on and learn from. Exploring is the only way to prepare and be ready for everything when it comes to the constantly-evolving landscape of cinematic storytelling. 

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on? 

IR: With all its challenging complexities and unprecedented potential, I find it mesmerizing that VR is just a certain number of still images creating an illusion of motion. 

New York Film Academy thanks BFA Filmmaking alum Ilya Rozhkov for taking the time to speak with us, and encourages everyone to check out Agent Emerson when it is released on Oculus Rift (Go and Quest), HTC Vive and Cosmos, and PSVR on November 22.

Q&A with Filmmaker and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Alum Dr. Ariel Orama López

Dr. Ariel Orama LópezNew York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film alum Dr. Ariel Orama López has been incredibly productive since graduating from NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, and has the accolades to prove it. His latest film, One, revolves around the incredible devastation his homeland of Puerto Rico suffered from during and after Hurricane Maria. 

López has been and written about by VoyageLA and other publications, distinguished for his achievements. Here are just a few quotes about him and his work:

Denis McCourt (Director of Conservatory & Outreach Programming in Coachella Valley Repertory & Former NYFA-LA Associate Chair for Performance Studies): AG Orloz (Dr. Ariel Orama López) brings a very important voice to story telling through film. Especially at this time in American history. He’s a brave and truthful artist.”

“AG Orloz (Dr. Ariel Orama López) aporta una voz muy importante a la narración de historias a través del cine. Especialmente en este momento en la historia de Estados Unidos. Es un artista valiente y de gran verosimilitud.”

William Lurh (Author and Professor – Film & Gender – NYU Seminar): “An impressive filmmaker.”

“Un cineasta impresionante.”

José R. Pagán (Journalist Primera Hora/GFR Media): “Artist in many ways, Orama is a graduate student of New York Film Academy and was awarded a scholarship by NYU in New York in an intensive summer workshop (about Film and Gender). He was able to share his published book on creativity, neuroscience and virtuality with Lin Manuel on his visit to the Island … He not only directs, but also stars in his stories … The plot of One interweaves poetry and other elements of art with aesthetic value to carry a message about the constant battles that Puerto Ricans fought almost two years ago. Their motto responds to the idea that not all stories/lives have been told.”

“Artista en muchos sentidos, Orama es egresado de New York Film Academy y fue becado por NYU en Nueva York en un intensivo de verano. Recientemente, pudo compartir su libro publicado sobre creatividad, neurociencia y virtualidad con Lin Manuel en su visita a la Isla. La peculiaridad de Orama es que no solo dirige, sino que también protagoniza sus historias … La trama de One entreteje poesía y otros elementos del arte con valor estético para llevar un mensaje sobre las batallas constantes que libraron los boricuas hace casi dos años. Su lema responde a la idea de que “no todas las vidas han sido contadas.”

Damaria Hernádez Mercado (Journalist El Nuevo Día/GFR Media): “The short film One, made in a surrealist tone, has received international praise and awards.”

“El cortometraje One, realizado en un tono surrealista, ha recibido elogios y galardones a nivel internacional.” 

América TV/Puerto Rico: “A tribute to the lost lives and the battles won after the passage of Hurricane Maria through Puerto Rico knocks on the doors of the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”

“Un tributo a las vidas perdidas y las batallas ganadas tras el paso del huracán María por puerto rico toca las puertas de la Academia de Artes y Ciencias cinematográficas de Hollywood.”

Nicole Chacón (Publicist/News Anchor/Social Media – WAPA TV/WAPA America): “Without a doubt, Orama is a talented young man who makes his way telling our stories in international cinema.”

“Sin duda, Orama es un talentoso joven que se abre camino contando nuestras historias en el cine internacional.”

 

Dr. Ariel Orama López

 

New York Film Academy spoke with Dr. Ariel Orama López about the film, as well his next project Ysla, his deep connection to Puerto Rico, and his advice for current and future NYFA students:

El alumno de Actuación para Cine de la New York Film Academy, Dr. Ariel Orama López, ha estado trabajando imparablemente desde su graduación en el campus de Los Ángeles, y sus premios así lo prueban. Su última película, One, trata sobre la increíble devastación que sufrió su tierra natal, Puerto Rico, durante y después del huracán María. 

La New York Film Academy habló con el Dr. Ariel Orama López sobre su película, y sobre su próximo proyecto, Ysla, su conexión más intensa con Puerto Rico, además de sus consejos para todos los alumnos de la NYFA:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Dr. Ariel Orama López (AL): I am Dr. Ariel Orama López and AG Orloz is my artistic name. I have combined my formal studies in clinical psychology with additional training in film, literary creation, anatomy, media, paralegal studies and contemporary culture. Currently, I am a professor of psychology and acting, added to an extensive career of personal and professional achievements in different media and educational contexts, particularly as a writer, actor for commercials, television series and voiceovers, principal actor of independent movies and certified coach for artists. I have been an actor since 2001, professionally licensed, and started my duties as an independent film director in 2009. Recently, I was named as one of the Top Young Persons of Puerto Rico.

La New York Film Academy (NYFA): Para empezar, cuéntanos un poco más sobre ti. ¿De dónde vienes, y qué te llevó a la New York Film Academy?

Dr. Ariel Orama López (AL): Soy el doctor Ariel Orama López y AG Orloz es mi nombre artístico: he combinado mis estudios formales en psicología clínica con formaciones adicionales en cine, creación literaria, medios, estudios paralegales y cultura contemporánea. Actualmente, soy profesor de psicología y actuación, sumado a una trayectoria de logros personales y profesionales en distintos medios del país y espacios educativos, en las facetas de escritor, actor para comerciales, series, “voice-overs”, protagonista de proyectos independientes y coach certificado para artistas. Ejerzo como actor desde el 2001, con licencia profesional y comencé mis funciones como director de cine independiente en el 2009. Recientemente, recibí uno de los Premios Juventud de Puerto Rico. 

NYFA: Can you tell us about your film One

AL: One is an experimental Puerto Rican short film with a surrealist tone that represents the strong voice of the thousands of lives lost and the battles won after the ravages of the historic Hurricane Category 5 Maria. Recently, the project celebrated its first year with a continental tour, and has already earned 36 international laurels, two special invitations (Los Angeles and Spain) and 10 international prizes. It is in the process of eligibility for the Oscars, after an invitation to participate in a collective of short films that will be exhibited in Los Angeles in a Premiére block: One is the only Puerto Rican film in the collective, a great reason for celebration for all the Island. One has been praised and awarded in distinguished contexts of the world. The news of its eligibility process at the Oscars has been reviewed in different news media of the country, two years after the arrival of the Hurricane and in full analysis of the weather changes that are projected, worldwide.

NYFA: ¿Nos puedes contar más sobre tu película, “One”?

AL: One es un cortometraje puertorriqueño experimental con un tono surrealista que representa la voz contundente de las miles de vidas perdidas y las batallas ganadas luego de los estragos del histórico huracán Categoría 5 María. Recientemente, el proyecto cumplió su primer año con un recorrido continental, ya, con 36 laureles internacionales, dos invitaciones especiales (Los Ángeles y España) y 10 premios del Mundo. Se encuentra en su proceso de elegibilidad para los Oscars, luego de una invitación a participar de un colectivo de cortometrajes que se expondrán en Los Ángeles en un bloque Premiére: One es el único proyecto de Puerto Rico en el colectivo, motivo de gran celebración para toda la Isla. Ha sido elogiado y galardonado en contextos distinguidos del Mundo. La noticia de su proceso de elegibilidad ha sido reseñada en distintos medios impresos y noticiosos del país, ya en la fecha de los dos años de la llegada del Huracán y en pleno análisis de los cambios climatológicos que se proyectan, a nivel Mundial. 

Dr. Ariel Orama López

NYFA: What inspired you to make One?

AL: I experienced the ravages of Hurricane Maria closely: I live in the Eastern zone of Puerto Rico, the most devastated, so I could closely experience the collective and individual needs of Puerto Ricans. As a media writer, I distinguished the efforts of artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda, whom I had the privilege of meeting recently: he received my published book on neuroscience and creativity and I have the opportunity of briefly telling him about my next project, my first complete film called Ysla. The biggest inspiration for One? The thousands of lives lost and, above all, the first person who died probably east, near the ocean and in a heartbreaking way: there was born the character of One.

NYFA: ¿Qué te inspiró a crear “One”?

AL: Viví los estragos del huracán María de cerca: resido en la zona Este de Puerto Rico, la más devastada, por lo cual, pude experimentar de cerca las necesidades colectivas e individuales de los puertorriqueños. Como escritor de medios, distinguí los esfuerzos de artistas como Lin-Manuel Miranda, a quien tuve el privilegio de conocer, regalarle mi libro sobre neurociencia y creatividad y platicarle brevemente de mi próximo proyecto, mi filme Ysla. ¿La mayor inspiración para One? Las miles de vidas que perdieron su vida y, sobre todo, la primera persona que murió que, en teoría, hipotetizo que fue en la zona este, cercano al océano y de una forma desgarradora: allí nació el personaje de One.

NYFA: What was it like filming One?

AL: One is a project with an intensity aura and bright in images. One year after Maria, in our Eastern coastal areas, the ravages still perpetuated, visible in ocean waters and vegetation. Within all this revitalization process, the sargassum emanated a golden color when exposed to the sun: it was there that I thought that, in so much darkness, our surroundings always shone, despite all that has happened. Just at that moment, the mass media began to present the reality of the thousands of lives lost on the Island; I did not hesitate a second to create the story, become a spokesperson for this overwhelming message worldwide and join forces with actors and singers from the Island recognized in the international scope, combined with new blood on acting and producing. 

It is important to point out that I direct and star in my stories: it is a double challenge. Thank God, all the independent films in which I have worked in both roles have been awarded and recognized worldwide. I find it very difficult to define my line of protagonist and director: my commitment is complete, in both roles. And so it has been evidenced by all the beautiful acknowledgment we have received.

NYFA: ¿Cómo fue para ti grabar “One”?

AL: One es un proyecto con un aura de intensidad. A un año de María, en nuestras zonas costeras del Este aún se perpetuaban los estragos, visible operacionalmente en las aguas del océano y en la vegetación. Me llamó la atención que, dentro de todo ese proceso de revitalización, el color del sargazo emanaba un color dorado al exponerse al sol: fue allí donde pensé que, dentro de tanta oscuridad, siempre brillaba nuestro entorno, pese a todo lo vivido. Justo en ese instante, los medios masivos comenzaron a presentar la realidad de las miles de vidas perdidas en la Isla: no dudé un segundo en crear la historia, convertirme en portavoz de este mensaje contundente a nivel mundial y aunar esfuerzos con actores y cantantes de la Isla reconocidos en el ámbito internacional, sumado con sangre nueva en actuación y producción. Es importante precisar que yo dirijo y protagonizo mis historias: es un doble reto. Gracias a Dios, todos los filmes en los que he fungido en ambos roles han sido galardonados y reconocidos a nivel mundial. Me resulta muy difícil definir mi línea de protagonista y director: mi compromiso es cabal, en ambos roles. Y así ha sido evidenciado.

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

AL: I am in the postproduction phase of a movie titled Ysla (Ysland) (2020). The film aims to present the stories of a current Puerto Rican in his look towards 2020. It is a collaboration of Puerto Rico, the United States, Colombia, and Spain that takes the Christmas season as its starting point. It is a project of great conceptual aesthetics, musicality, poetry and national sense, without ignoring our universality.

 

Dr. Ariel Orama López

 

NYFA: ¿Tienes otros proyectos en los que has estado trabajando o que estás preparando?

AL: En estos momentos, me encuentro en la fase de postproducción de la película completa titulada Isla (Ysland) (2020). El filme pretende presentar las historias del puertorriqueño actual en su mirada hacia el 2020. Es una colaboración de Puerto Rico, Estados Unidos, Colombia y España que toma como partida la temporada de la Navidad. Es un proyecto de gran estética conceptual, musicalidad, poesía y sentido patrio, sin ignorar nuestra universalidad.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on One, or your work in general?

AL: I remember my experiences in NYFA with great enthusiasm. The opportunity to create short films on the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles and the learning acquired to work the acting process for cinema, from the verisimilitude and the internal search, were fundamental to create, through the direction and starring roles. Thank God, I already have more than 60 laurels in my career—and have worked on more than 200 creative projects—adding to awards in acting, production, direction, composition, and script. Being Puerto Rican, in times of political transition to situations that had such a worldwide impact and after a such predominant devastation with a Category 5 hurricane, is a heroic event. 

Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón inspire me; the ability to love his homeland enough to develop a project as wonderful as Roma (Cuarón), with such aesthetics and love for its roots is admirable—Mexico has always been close to my heart. I had the opportunity to share physical space with immigrants friends and they were the first ones who supported me while I was traveling through the streets of Los Angeles, on my way to NYFA, inspired by faith and a precise dream: to be part of the history of cinema in Puerto Rico, from a nontraditional perspective and with a different prism. I feel that I have already done it and I thank God for it.

NYFA: De todo lo que aprendiste en NYFA ¿Que ha sido lo que más te ha ayudado creando One, o en tu trabajo en general?

AL: Recuerdo mis experiencias en NYFA con sumo entusiasmo. La oportunidad de crear cortometrajes en los estudios universales y el aprendizaje adquirido para trabajar el proceso actoral para cine, desde la verosimilitud y la búsqueda interior, fueron fundamentales para crear, a través de la dirección y la actuación principal. Gracias a Dios, ya poseo más de 50 laureles en mi trayectoria -con más de 200 proyectos creativos-, sumado a premios en actuación principal, producción, dirección, composición y guion: ser puertorriqueño, en tiempos de transición política ante situaciones que tuvieron tanta repercusión a nivel mundial y luego de una devastación tan predominante, luego de un huracán tan impresionante, es un hecho heroico. 

Guillermo del Toro y Alfonso Cuarón me inspiran: la capacidad de amar a su patria para gestar un proyecto tan maravilloso como Roma (Cuarón), con tanta estética y amor a sus raíces es admirable: México siempre ha estado cercano a mi corazón: tuve la oportunidad de compartir espacio físico con amigos inmigrantes y ellos fueron los primeros que me apoyaron mientras transitaba por las calles de Los Ángeles, de camino a NYFA, inspirado por la fe y un sueño preciso: ser parte de la historia del cine en Puerto Rico, desde la mirada no tradicional y con un prisma diferente. Siento que ya lo he logrado y le agradezco a Dios por ello.

 

Dr. Ariel Orama López

 

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

AL: For students who start at NYFA—enjoy the process, every moment. Be open to work with colleagues from different parts of the world. May they open themselves to the experience of converting their art into their mission of life and that they understand the immeasurable value of the seventh art as a vehicle for healing. As a powerful tool to create new paradigms. As an ingenious space to realize dreams and great purposes. As a great alternative to understand the environment and to create new horizons. As a free and eternal space to dream an immense universe and an optimal world.

NYFA: ¿Qué consejo le darías a los estudiantes que acaban de comenzar sus estudios en NYFA?

AL: A los estudiantes que inician en NYFA, disfruten del proceso, en cada instante. Que estén abiertos a trabajar con colegas de distintas partes del Mundo. Que se abran a la experiencia de convertir su arte en su misión de vida y que entiendan el valor inconmensurable del séptimo arte como vehículo para sanar. Como una herramienta poderosa para crear nuevos paradigmas. Como un espacio ingenioso para materializar sueños y grandes propósitos. Como una gran alternativa para entender el entorno y para crear nuevos horizontes. Como un espacio libre y eterno para soñar un Universo inmenso y un Mundo óptimo.  

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on?

AL: Thank you very much for always appreciating my experiences in fine arts: tons of blessings for my colleagues and friends from my alma Mater, NYFA. And let’s pray for the Oscars nomination for Puerto Rico!

NYFA: ¿Hay algo más que te gustaría comentar?

AL: Muchísimas gracias por siempre apreciar mis experiencias en las bellas artes. Muchísimas bendiciones para todos mis colegas y amigos de mi Alma Mater, NYFA. ¡Y recemos por la nominación para el Óscar para Puerto Rico! 

New York Film Academy thanks Acting for Film alum Dr. Ariel Orama López for taking the time to speak with us and encourages everyone to check out his socially and culturally important work!

La New York Film Academy agradece al alumno de ‘Actuación para Cine’ Dr. Ariel Orama López por su colaboración y por su tiempo contestando nuestra preguntas, y anima a todos nuestros lectores a revisar su trabajo, que es muy muy importante a nivel social y cultural. 

New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Alum Ludovic Coutaud is a ‘Lunatic Clown’


ludovic coutaud hdFrench actor Ludovic Coutaud knew within minutes of stepping into New York Film Academy (NYFA) that he was destined to study acting at the school. He did just that, and now the Acting for Film alum is back in Marseille, France, and writing, producing, and starring in the unique abstract series showcasing the art of clowning, Lunatic Clown in Colors.

The multi-talented actor is also a writer for New York Film Academy’s Student Resources page, and is currently at work on another season for his webseries. New York Film Academy spoke with Acting for Film alum Ludovic Coutaud about his time at NYFA, the art of clowning, and what advice he has for current and future acting students of New York Film Academy:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Ludovic Coutaud (LC): Hello there! I am from the land of cheeses, I mean France, the south in Marseille. I visited New York with my parents during the tough winter of 2010 and never had in mind to come live here. I remember we were walking past the former main campus in Union Square; we entered the building and right away the welcome was wonderful! We went upstairs and met with the Director of Admissions. After a few minutes, I already felt absolutely right at home. 

The same evening we returned to our rented apartment and I recalled having one of the most relaxed sleep of my life, already dreaming of applying to the school. When I landed back in Marseille, still in contact with the staff, I started the application to join the Acting for Film program in March 2011.

NYFA: Can you tell us about your webseries Lunatic Clown in Colors?

LC: Of course! It is an original abstract show, filmed in Marseille and showcasing all the unique colors the company represent. Indeed, I value expressions, eccentricity, and folly—all through vibrant colors. Each episode of Season One introduces a spontaneous and yet structured Lunatic Clown in a real location. It is for all, and a way to escape into other codes of communication and through physicality. The mission is to “transport the audience in an imaginary box”—hear their thoughts and minds.

NYFA: What inspired you to make Lunatic Clown in Colors?

LC: My crazy mind, like my friends say. I would say the audiences in general, and their feedback maybe, who felt particularly interested in knowing more about these likable clowns. When I returned to France, I wanted to keep creating in a new medium, involve the style and work with all that I learned at NYFA mixing other works—my own technique in this brand new show. When I did finish the first episode, I remember thinking of my very first Acting for Film class and the fun we had. Clowning is a very loud, active, misunderstood art but it is absolutely narrowed down like any other through film.

NYFA: What are your plans for Lunatic Clown?

LC: I am currently filming Season Two with the same crew and some new members. This time I intend to release nine episodes. I also have the Lunatic Clown Classes that I will teach in partnership with one company in Marseille starting September, and privately as well. The Lunatic Clown travels, always, and five new cities are set for release on social media, starting with Brussels, then Lisbon, a passage in Madrid, then Moscow and St. Petersburg for their own series. Each city has their own hashtags and can be seen daily on Instagram.

NYFA: You write, act, and produce this webseries. Do you have a preference for any particular discipline? If so, why?

LC: I honestly love the struggle—each discipline represents a great challenge. I say ‘struggle’ because I do all of it myself and it can be hard at times… or a lonely ride. Nonetheless, I never get bored and always can bounce back with a new hat.

Creating a new show on paper is a small percentage of it, then comes the producing game that I like to call ‘team hunting’, gathering the ideal team for a special project. The clowning part is actually the most relaxed or the one that happens the least, which is funny when I think of it. 

It is worth every moment when I put on the makeup—I know it is happening for real and with the people I love.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Lunatic Clown, or your work in general?

LC: My love went directly for the Voice and Movement classes naturally, yet all the classes have in time helped me improve in front of the camera, including text analysis or even going ‘simple’. Like I said above, the different techniques that the faculty taught me for TV and film mainly had a strong impact in the making of Lunatic Clown in Colors. 

After graduating, during my OPT and while on an artist visa, I had the chance to experiment, work, try, fail, and find my stamp onto the artistic world. NYFA embraced my energetic Frenchness and was very open to see where it was going throughout the program. I will never, ever forget the memorable human creative voyage NYFA was for me. Hooray Acting for Film March 2011 Section B!

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

LC: Make the most of it! Listen to everything everyone tells you, especially the teachers. They are there for a reason and have done it themselves. 

Go audition for every possible student film, even if they are very short or unpaid. The program is there for you to practice while your acting muscle grows. Your craft will never be perfect but it will be sharp if you keep learning. Go listen to the Q&As even if you don’t know the panel and the person—every department is very important in the making of a project and you need to be aware of it. 

Be on time and finally have fun in class. After all, it is acting!

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

LC: I also write in French for the Londres Mag, a magazine for the French community in London, and I am part of the creative team for the production company Vuelven en Vida, based in Merida (Mexico). By the way, they did experience the Lunatic Clown technique too! I also teach English and self-development classes as well. All my work and contact info can be found on this fresh and vibrant website: http://ludoviccoutaud.com/

I also keep in touch with all my New York City contacts, theatre companies for future theatre productions, and workshops involving clowning. I plan on developing the clown with Season Two and Season Three. There are endless beautiful simple stories to tell and I aim to produce as much for now. Three seasons seems enough content to broadcast the work abroad.

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on?

LC: I look forward to introduce Lunatic Clown to New York Film Academy one day, that would be such a delightful moment for me! Thank you NYFA and enjoy Lunatic Clown in Colors on YouTube! Find me on all other social medias and remember clowns aren’t just serial killers or freaky folks or work in a circus—they also have a heart full of love!

New York Film Academy thanks Acting for Film alum Ludovic Coutaud and encourages everyone to check out his YouTube webseries Lunatic Clown in Colors!

Phase 4: What’s Next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

[warning: SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home]


This summer saw the end of an epic run of films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), that began in 2008 with Iron Man, and finished with the epic crossover Avengers: Endgame and its follow-up, Spider-Man: Far From Home. The 22 MCU films ended with a goodbye to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, coming full circle.

But of course, like any good comic book storyline, the end is never really the end. While for the first time in a very long time Disney’s Marvel Studios currently doesn’t have another movie in the can and ready to go, it does have multiple projects in pre-production. It won’t be long before Phase 4 and Marvel dominate the box office once again, with both brand new characters as well as some familiar faces…

Black Widow

The long-rumored solo film for Scarlett Johansson’s original Avenger, Black Widow, is finally coming to pass. A key difference between Phase 4 and the first three MCU phases (besides a lack of Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans) will be the clear push to bring more diversity to a franchise that saw 20 out of 22 (that’s 91%) of its films helmed by and starring white men. Black Widow was one of the major casualties of the war against Thanos in Endgame, but it’s presumed this film, co-starring David Harbour (Stranger Things), Rachel Weisz (The Favourite), and Florence Pugh (Midsommar), will be a prequel about how Black Widow was originally trained as a Russian spy and first earned all that red in her ledger. The film will be one of the first for Phase 4, expected to release sometime next year and continue a streak the MCU hasn’t broken since 2009.

Eternals

Another of Phase 4’s earliest projects is Eternals, which is based on one of Marvel’s more obscure cosmic, space-based properties. The last time the MCU announced they were making a big budget adaptation of weird space creatures no one ever heard of, many assumed it would end in dismal failure—however Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be one of Disney’s greatest hits. This film may prove the same, and fills the star power vacuum left by Robert Downey, Jr. by putting Angelina Jolie front and center. Jolie will be joined in the cast by Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, and Kumail Nanjiani. The lineup isn’t just racially diverse and full of women—rumor has it the film will also feature the MCU’s first openly gay superhero.

Thor: Love and Thunder

One of the most beloved films of the first three phases was Thor: Ragnarok, written and directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi. Waititi will return for Thor 4, along with Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Natalie Portman, who hasn’t prominently featured in the MCU since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. Portman is rumored to be playing the Jane Foster female version of Thor, wielding Mjölnir in a plotline from the comics. And while, because of confusing rights issues with Universal, there’s still no second solo Hulk film in the works, here’s hoping Mark Ruffalo and Professor Hulk will return to the MCU to re-form The Revengers with his old pals Thor and Valkyrie.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

That’s one kooky title but we’ve come expect the unexpected from one of the MCU’s trippiest franchises, Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumerbatch’s Sorcerer Supreme had a great run in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame arguably saving the day by saving Tony and showing him how to beat Thanos, so it’s no surprise Doctor Strange 2 is a priority for Marvel. He won’t be alone either—Elizabeth Olsen will be joining him as the Scarlet Witch, another powerful superhero whose powers defy conventional science. As for the Multiverse in the title? That opens up a lot of possibilities—Mysterio’s claims of a multiverse turned out to be a ruse in Spider-Man: Far From Home, but if parallel universes do exist in the MCU, maybe we’ll even get to see an alternate Earth where Tony Stark still lives and breathes…

What If…?

Speaking of a multiverse… While the Netflix MCU-adjacent shows have all come to an end, you’ll still be able to find Marvel on the small screen when the release of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, comes out later this year. One of these shows will be anthology series What If…?, which will show one-off alternate versions of the MCU. It’s not yet known if the animated series will simply be “what if” fantasies or if they will be actual alternate dimensions that co-exist within the MCU—but with Jeffrey Wright (Westworld) voicing the all-seeing Watcher, the latter is certainly a possibility. So far the series has lined up many familiar names to reprise their roles in alternate versions; the pilot will feature Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter and ask, “What if Peggy had taken the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?”

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The first MCU series debuting on Disney+ will be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, who have become close buddies since the events of Captain America: Civil War. The question is if this show be taking place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, when—just like in the comics—Steve Rogers retired and gave Sam Wilson, the Falcon, the mantle of Captain America, along with his vibranium shield. One thing we do know is that supervillain Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) will be returning from Civil War in one form or another.

Loki

Another returning character getting his own Disney+ series will be Tom Hiddleston’s fan favorite Loki. The trickster god and brother of Thor has alternated from good to bad several times within his several appearances in the MCU, so it remains to be seen what exactly the series will be about, especially considering Thanos strangled Loki to death in the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War. But considering the time travel shenanigans in Endgame led to Loki escaping with the Tesseract Space Stone, there’s a good chance an alternate Loki is still alive, and, if set photos are to be believed, possibly living in the 1970s!

WandaVision

WandaVision is perhaps the most perplexing of the announced Phase 4 titles. We know Wanda, aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), will be appearing in Doctor Strange 2, but her artificial lifeform lover Vision was one of the major casualties of Avengers: Infinity War, and was never resurrected by the end of Avengers: Endgame. So what will this show about the pair be about? The title, a very weird pun with a 50s style logo, gives nothing away.

Blade

1998’s Blade, starring Wesley Snipes as the half-vampire, half-human swordsman, is considered the first modern superhero movie and which kicked off the Hollywood comic book fascination that is still burning strong today. So it was a big surprise at this year’s Comic Con when Marvel head Kevin Feige announced that a rebooted Blade will be joining the MCU, with Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as the title Daywalker. Ali is no stranger to the MCU—he played the villain Cottonmouth in the first season of Luke Cage. But when you have an actor as good as Ali, you can’t blame Marvel for using him as much as they can.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi is a lesser known Marvel superhero, but that’s about to change. The film will be the first from the MCU to be directed by an Asian American and star a mostly Asian and Asian American cast, including Simu Liu, Awkwafina, and Tony Leung. Leung will be playing the Mandarin, a supervillain teased since the very beginning of the MCU when a terrorist with ten rings first imprisoned Tony Stark and inspired him to become Iron Man, and who Ben Kingsley very famously turned out not to be in Iron Man 3.

Hawkeye

Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye came back from the brink as the murderous Ronin by the end of Avengers: Endgame, but he may not be the focus of this Disney+ series. Lila Barton, his daughter, became Hawkeye in the comics, and as the MCU pushes to bring in more diverse and female superheroes, she may end up taking the mantle of her father. The very first scene of Avengers: Endgame shows Lila’s amazing archery skills, no doubt inherited from her dad, before she was snapped out of existence for five years by Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.

And then what?

These have all been announced and are all in some form of pre-production or production, but there’s other projects we can safely assume Disney will produce as long as Marvel keeps making them billions and billions of dollars. These include sequels to smash hits Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain Marvel. And since Disney recently bought Fox and most of its properties, eventually we may see the Fantastic Four and even a new version of the X-Men join the Franchise That Tony Built.

MCU Phase 4

8 Things We’ll Never Forget From Alien Invasion Blockbuster ‘Independence Day’

independence day
Epic adventure film
Independence Day was a very big deal when it was released in the summer of 1996, with an emphasis on big. The alien invasion film, a modern take on a classic War of the Worlds scenario, featured city-sized spaceships laying waste to famous American landmarks. One of the last mega-sized films before CGI began to dominate Hollywood special effects, the destructive use of exploding miniatures—including the White House and the Empire State Building—were perhaps the epitome of the art form. 

 

 


“Welcome to Earth” Will Smith

Rapper and Fresh Prince of Bel Air star Will Smith had a few film credits under his belt, including a lead role in Michael Bay’s Bad Boys, but it was Independence Day that made Smith a household name, putting him at the top of an A-List he still dominates to this day. His charismatic personality was perfected in the quippy, frenetic role as fighter pilot Captain Steven Hiller. The precise moment Smith became a superstar might have been when he greeted one of the invading aliens with a punch to the face and the line, “Welcome to Earth.”

“We will not vanish without a fight!”

Bill Pullman’s young President Whitmore decides to fly along with the last of his fighter pilots in a last-ditch attempt to defeat the aliens before all hope is lost, but not before giving a rousing impromptu speech as dawn breaks. That speech, simple and corny, has since become legend, played frequently by numerous media outlets every Fourth of July. Pullman has even been requested to recite the speech in full on multiple occasions.

The arrival of the ships

The design of the invading spaceships are brilliant—a colossal, ominous, 90s modern stainless steel take on the classic flying saucer UFO. When they first show up over the coastlines of several major cities, they arrive in miles of flame and smoke, violently shaking the ground underneath and resulting in millions of strained necks as innocent bystanders can do nothing but look up in fearful awe. What an entrance.

“Is this glass bulletproof?”

Midway through the film, the surviving heroes visit Area 51, where an escaped alien takes out a group of scientists and reveals the secret plan of his species behind a wall of laboratory glass. President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) hears enough and asks his military guard if the glass is bulletproof. Major Mitchell, played by Adam Baldwin, promptly replies “No, sir!” and opens fire on the creature in a hailstorm of bullets and broken glass.

Judd Hirsch

Oscar-nominated Judd Hirsch stole the show as comic relief in a film where nearly every single character provides comic relief. Only a few years off a multi-decade run as a sitcom star, Hirsch was old enough now to play the cranky father to Jeff Goldblum’s neurotic genius David Levinson. Hirsch’s character wasn’t just funny—he was smart, discovering the government’s secret base Area 51. “You don’t actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?” 

The canyon chase

After the massive destructive set pieces that saw Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York City laid to waste, the United States strikes back with several fighter jets. The aliens surprisingly have smaller fighting ships themselves, defended by impenetrable shields. The pilots are quickly laid to waste, including Captain Hiller’s best friend played by Harry Connick, Jr. Hiller (Will Smith) is the last man flying, and leads one ship into the desert and a deep canyon where he’s able to out-maneuver and crash the alien ship in one of the most exciting chase sequences of the 1990s.


“Hello boys!”

In a film filled with memorable character actors, Oscar-nominated Randy Quaid (Vacation, Kingpin) makes his mark as a Vietnam vet traumatized by his previous abduction by aliens. In the end, he sacrifices his life to save his family and finally gets his revenge, but not before getting out not one but two quips before he goes. The first, and more crude of the two as he flies up the bottom of the ship to destroy it from the inside, is “Up yours!” (Remember this film came out right in the middle of the 90s.) The second, with a glorious grin on his face is: “Hello boys, I’m baaaaaaaaack.”

Jeff Goldblum

Oh yeah, and Jeff Goldblum stars in this movie right smack in the middle of transitioning from idiosyncratic and mysterious actor Jeff Goldblum to walking self-aware personality “Jeff Goldblum.” It’s glorious. He gives the aliens a cold. Need we say more?