Author: Katie Skelly

Q&A With Acting For Film Alum Z Tozum on What Motivates Her as an Actress & Staying Positive

From switching careers and hopping into the world of acting Zeynep (“Z”) Tozum, found a new world where she realized she fit in and belonged. After years in a different profession, the Acting for Film alum decided it was time for a change and to pursue her love of cinema and explore the performing arts.

New York Film Academy caught of the Acting Conservatory alum to discuss her plans post-graduation, staying creative during a worldwide pandemic, and her latest project Zoomin’. 

New York Film Academy (NYFA):  For so many people, switching careers is such a tough decision. What made you knew you could do it/want to leave and pursue acting?

Z Tozum (ZT): Honestly, I didn’t know if I could actually do it at first. I knew I was a curious/restless learner and was finding myself in a season of feeling stagnant,  a familiar place similar to the one I was in 12 years ago when I embarked on a different professional transition; I felt the urge to move into another area. This time though, it was more of a conscious decision to leave my all too comfortable profession and learn a completely new set of skills.

To start off, I knew I wanted to do something around Cinema. Watching movies has been like breathing to me since the age of 10 when my dad instilled in me the love of the movies. While considering studying, I realized that unless I understood what acting was all about; studying filmmaking or screenwriting wouldn’t really make sense to me. And yet, I hadn’t even worn a tutu as a child, nor ever walked on stage with the exception of my earlier career as an executive. So I decided to give it a chance and took some classes in Portland, Oregon, where I fell in love with acting. 

The following year, I set my eyes on NYFA, put my business on hold and took the 8-Week Acting For Film program to explore whether or not I could do it. After graduation, the fabulous Blanche Baker took me by the hand and set me up for an audition to apply for the 1-Year Conservatory Program. The rest is history! 

Why I love acting is a question I continually ponder and the answer changes every other week: these days, I believe acting makes me feel more alive. The moment I say that I realize in how many different ways, it actually has bewitched me. 

Photo courtesy of Zeynep “Z” Tozum

NYFA: What made you want to come to NYFA?

ZT: I was impressed that faculty was chosen from working artists and experts. I come from a corporate background, so I care a lot about practicing and learning from those experiments and failures. I sensed that the coursework would go beyond foundational theory and intellect around the matter and really teach through practice, and that grabbed me. Understanding that I am joining the game much later than my classmates, I needed to be as ready as I possibly could in order to launch myself into the work straight out of school.

NYFA: Do you have any advice for incoming students?

ZT: I’d recommend putting aside what they already know, lean into their incompetence, and trust their teachers when they get challenging assignments no matter how uncomfortable they may feel. As students at NYFA, we had the luxury of having this huge safety net: our teachers. I often felt like a baby bird, unaware that I had wings and when asked to fly off the branch and couldn’t breathe, there was always an instructor to catch me if I fell (and I’ve learned how to fall too). How rare it must be to have a support system like this in the alleys of this profession!

Stay curious about themselves; praise will be plenty but stay hungry for stretching feedback too. Lastly, stop whining about the non-stop anxiety: when I stopped, accepting that it’s part of the work, life got better

NYFA: What projects have you worked on?

ZT: As soon as I graduated from NYFA and got my OPT/work permit, I started auditioning. Barely four weeks into that process, COVID-19 hit us all. I had a year ahead of me to work as an actor, to get some commercial credits for a longer-term artist visa, and boom! That movie had ended so abruptly.  

Then I took a deep breath in and created my own project: a mini web series with a group of very talented people, called Zooming In,  which went live on YouTube in November 2020.

Screenshot from Zooming In Episode 4- “If You Can Even Call It That”

NYFA: Can you tell us more about your new series Zooming In that you created? Where did you get the idea and how did it come to be?

ZT: After a few weeks of mental and emotional stress, I decided that I needed to create my own project in order to keep my sanity intact and to keep working on my craft despite the industry’s complete shut-down. I had been thinking a lot about how social lives had been reduced to the size of a phone or computer screen and how that must be affecting people in many facets given their psychological make-up, experiences, habits, and will to survive. One evening, I found myself imagining the life of a working woman, living by herself and struggling on all fronts of life. I wrote a synopsis and the first episode for a mini web-series idea. 

I  sent it to Jenna Mate, my teacher from NYFA and a theatre director. She liked the idea and very generously offered to direct it (all on Zoom of course). Honestly though, I don’t know that I could ever do this project if it wasn’t for Jenna’s encouragement and ability to refine the idea,  get writers to write the remaining episodes, and enroll other actors.  Her work with us on this project was crucial.  I realize now that if there is hope and will, there is always a way. Then there is the element of luck too, but luck is not enough on its own either; it’s really choosing NYFA as my drama school, the way they set us up for challenges, and Jenna Mate’s big heart and professional expertise that made it all come together.  

Zeynep “Z” Tozum

NYFA: It’s been a tough time for the film and entertainment industry, how have you stayed positive?

ZT: Accepting the circumstances (no jobs; threatened health; isolation), staying sharp with what I wanted (to act), creating options to practice (continuing training in specific areas of the craft), and ferociously reading and watching performances…all these helped me preserve my mental and emotional sanity. While writing these words, I am realizing how similar it is to the process of acting: know your circumstances, know your objective, go and get it in any way you can.  I am thinking that acting is all about living, and the reverse is equally true too. 

Lastly, the power of hope. That is why we called it “Project Hope.” All cast and crew members donated their time to bring this project to life. We hope this will create a wave of “hope” among performing artists who are facing trials/ hardship during these disturbing and challenging times. 

NYFA:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ZT: Four months have passed since Zooming In went live and my mind is already set for doing a new/better/different project. That keeps me energized and growing and while the chaos of our days can be disturbing, I do believe we risk perishing in an excess of stability as well. Hence the beauty of welcoming change and acting on it!

I’d like to end with a moving quote from W. Saroyan (from the introduction to his play called Time of your Life):

“In the time of your life, live so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

New York Film Academy would like to thank Z Tozum for taking the time to share more about how she got her start in acting and her motivations for the craft.

How NYFA Alum Camilo Navas Created His Animation Project “George is Hungry”

What does it take to actually make a creative animation sequence? Hard work, a bit of training, and the drive to manage multiple skillsets at once. From Game Design to Animation, NYFA students are taught the tools they need from some of the most skilled instructors in the business to create some of your favorite pieces you see every day in the digital world.

Colombia native Camilo Navas came to New York to visit a friend, who introduced him to an instructor that taught at NYFA. The instructor then told Navas about scholarships and ways to make studying at the school possible for what he wanted to study.

NYFA alum Camilo Navas

“I liked the city and the school was film and media-focused, so I loved it. The next semester after that, I started my admissions process, although I started studying Game Design and then I found out that what I really wanted to learn was Animation, so I was able to swap my program.” 

During their course, Animation students are trained to use multiple tools to create their assignments. For one project, Navas created a sequence called “George is Hungry,” and explained that he used Zbrush for modeling, Motion Builder for the animation and motion capture, and Maya as the 3D software, among others. 

Still from “George is Hungry” (Photo courtesy of Camilo Navas)

For this same assignment, the NYFA alum decided not to storyboard it as some other creators may choose. “I actually didn’t storyboard the film because I’m not a great drawer,” he shared. “I had the plan of implementing motion capture, which would allow me to make an animatic. It was a great idea because it adds the timing of the acting and lets me place the camera wherever I want. It was like shooting a movie that I could rewind and fast forward, and I didn’t have the pressure of being on a budget or limited time for shooting.

For the whole process, Navas revealed that there was a workflow he followed to create his project that made the work more seamless, due to the complicated nature of animation. His process included the following order of operations:

  1. Scripting the story
  2. Modeling the characters
  3. Rigging
  4. Motion capture
  5. Animation editing
  6. Blocking the camera
  7. Animatic
  8. Dynamics
  9. Rendering
  10. Compositing
  11. Editing
  12. Sound design
  13. Exporting the final result

“I chose the tools that needed the smallest investment of time and effort in order to get results faster and make corrections multiple times. It could be considered an iterative process. The project itself needed 5 months to be completed including the sound.”

Still from “George is Hungry” (Photo courtesy of Camilo Navas)

For this project, Navas needed sound to make the sequence complete, so when that was ready, the 1-Year 3D Animation alum had his finished project ready. “What happens on the screen is what creates the need for sound and music.”

With this project now finished and Navas graduated from NYFA, he is looking to produce a second episode and eventually make George’s universe from “George is Hungry” into a series. Navas also encourages those who are interested in animation to seek it out and pursue their passion. 

Still from “George is Hungry” (Photo courtesy of Camilo Navas)

“There are probably a lot of people like me, who think that you need to be super smart and a talented illustrator in order to achieve some success in this field. I previously said that before NYFA I didn’t know anything about animation or I even didn’t have skills like drawing. Sincerely, I still don’t know how to draw the human body with its proportions, but it really doesn’t matter because creating an animation piece is a colossal amount of work that it’s very likely for anyone to find a job to do where they are good at it.”

New York Film Academy would like to thank the NYFA alum, Camilo Navas, for sharing more about his experience studying in the Animation Conservatory at NYFA and for giving readers insight into what goes into creating a full animation sequence.

Q&A With Alum Alfredo Tavares About What It’s Like to Work as an Actor in The Film Industry

Two years ago, Alfredo Tavares graduated from the 1-Year Acting for Film Conservatory program at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. Since he graduated, chances are, you have likely seen the Acting alum appear in one of your favorite shows or films, with Tavares having over 90 credits as a professional actor. 

From Netflix’s Bridgerton and Hulu’s The Great to Academy Award-winning film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the forthcoming Matt Reeves film, The Batman, Tavares is racking up incredible credits and remains booked and busy through 2021. 

During some downtime between filming, New York Film Academy had the opportunity to speak to Tavares about some of his upcoming projects, being a professional actor in Hollywood, what it was like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

Photo courtesy of Alfredo Tavares

New York Film Academy (NYFA): What made you decide to come to New York Film Academy?

Alfredo Tavares (AT): I wanted the best school in the world for acting because my dream since my childhood was to go to Hollywood after watching icons like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme and having been trained in karate/ kickboxing as a black belt.

NYFA: Do you have any advice for incoming students? What about international students coming to study at NYFA?

AT: Students should not hesitate to come and study at NYFA because it’s the best school with the most hands-on intensive programs in the world. The teachers are professionals and they take care of students when they don’t believe in their dreams and help them to get the energy and motivation necessary to achieve their goals. The class sizes are purposefully made to be smaller so teachers give you more attention and you have more time to express yourself. NYFA also helps you when you struggle to find a place to stay or need help with documentation or your payments. They work with you, listen, and are more than teachers – they feel like family! I was alone in the USA because I came from France, but when you study at NYFA you never feel alone. Some of my instructors and fellow classmates have become my best friends!

Tavares on screen for Hulu’s “The Great”

NYFA: You have some exciting titles across film and television. Can you share more about the projects you have worked on and which ones are your favorite?

AT: I’ve only been working as a professional actor and model in Hollywood for two years. After I graduated from NYFA, things went so fast and the next week I signed a contract for the TV series The Coroner, my first job as a professional actor in Hollywood. From there, I began working every day in different movies and TV series. After three weeks I joined SAGA-AFTRA. 

Tavares on “100 Humans”

Two years later, I have been working in big movies and Tv series as a lead actor (For The People, 100 Humans, Allo Portugal), as a featured actor (Venom, The Statistical Probability of Love at The First Sight, Temple), as a stunt-double-stand in (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Fast & Furious 9, Stellar Vortex, 355, The Nevers). A full list can be found here

My favorite project that I ever worked on and I will remember for my whole life was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, produced and directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Margot Robbie, and Dakota Fanning. Wow, it was just so exciting to work alongside these famous actors in the same movie. Tarantino donned no gold or watch, just sneakers, a t-shirt, and jeans, and was always smiling. He would sit and eat with the extras and talk with us, which is very rare for one of the most famous producers/directors in the world. 

Tarantino picked me out at the Central Casting Agency to replace Kurt Russell as a Double/Stand-In for Russell to rest and when we couldn’t see his face. Before I started shooting, Tarantino once said to me: ‘Alfredo, today I want you to be in a good mood. Tell me, what would you like to eat to give you energy?’ I exaggerated and told him ‘pizza, a Big Mac, and ice cream.’ He called his assistant and every day when I was filming she was going to buy that. 

Some of my other favorite projects include the TV series For The People with Vondie Curtis-Hall and Regé Jean-Page. He was my lawyer and I was a bad guy named “Carl French”; the Netflix TV series 100 Humans with 30 experiences, one of which was called the sperm dance; and Bridgerton with Regé-Jean Page (again) and Phoebe Dynevor. I was in some erotic scenes and scenes where I danced at the balls. I had lots of fun!

Tavares behind the scenes of “Shiddat” Photo courtesy of Alfredo Tavares)

NYFA: You’re currently working on Matt Reeves’ The Batman, one of the most anticipated films of 2022, can you share anything about your experience on set or the safety precautions in place? 

AT: We started filming in February 2020 some scenes in Central London and some at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, but one month later everything stopped because of the pandemic. Now, if everything goes well, the film should be released in March 2022. In The Batman, I’m a forensic going to investigate a murder of a man who was murdered in a living room. My character investigates everything inside the living room and finds some blood on the floor, which is very important…this scene was one of the most important that I filmed in the movie. In the next scenes, I still don’t know how those will pan out because of the current pandemic situation.

NYFA: What, as an actor, is the most important thing you have learned while on set?  

AT: Being at school versus being on set there is a huge difference. One teaches you and the other doesn’t have time to teach you. After you graduate and they book you to be in a movie or TV series, they consider you a professional actor. They don’t care if you just came from school. 

I remember when I went to audition for For The People, they gave me one page to memorize in 15 minutes. Then, with my lines in my mind, I went to see the casting director and I tried to use my imagination where I was in the scene with my character’s voice and body. Then I was on set with the other lead actors that I never met including the famous Vondie Curtis-Hall and Regé Jean-Page and I tried to imagine what was my character’s objective with the other actors just with my dialogues in mind. 

Sometimes they said ‘cut’ just to add one sentence to my dialogue and straight away…action. Crazy! It was one camera at an angle and just one rehearsal with two shoots. They [the production team] don’t have time to do ten takes in each angle. Time is money. They rented the location just for one day and the overtime is expensive especially for the main actors.

(Photo courtesy of Alfredo Tavares)

NYFA: You’ve got a lot going on. Do you have any upcoming projects coming up that you can share?

This year is the most important for projects. I’m going to be the lead actor in Subwater and Our Last Prayer that I have signed an NDA for. 

New York Film Academy would like to thank Alfredo Tavares for taking the time to speak on his experience as a professional actor and looks forward to the exciting catalog of upcoming films and television shows that Tavares will be featured in. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Q&A With BFA Filmmaking Alum Raquel Bordin on Her Career in Film Marketing and Showing Her Film at Cannes Film Festival

Learning how to be a filmmaker isn’t just applicable to being a film director, writer, or working on a film set, it’s also about how you can tell a story and communicate with others. For NYFA Filmmaking alum Raquel Bordin, her skills she has developed over the years, coupled with her knowledge of the film industry, have equipped her with a successful career in film marketing and even starting her own company, Archetype Films.

From big-budget films like Avengers: Infinity War and It, to smaller films that have made a big splash like Ready or Not, Bordin has had a hand in creating how audiences are presented with a proof of concept or a teaser of what a film will bring prior to its release and when it’s ready for home viewing. 

NYFA caught up with the Filmmaking alum to ask her more about her career in branded content, her past film screening at Cannes, and more about her experience at NYFA coming from Brazil.

Raquel Bordin

New York Film Academy (NYFA): What first got you interested in filmmaking?

Raquel Bordin (RB): I have always been a person with a voice and I always thought that the most efficient way to communicate and show people a different point of view, was through the art of storytelling. Make people think and question things that they have never before.

NYFA: What made you want to come to NYFA?

RB: NYFA was always a dream school for me. I have lots of art formation, and I have built a Very artistic way of looking at life, but I didn’t know how to use the filmmaking tools to do it. The school gave me the hands-on experience that I needed in my repertoire.

 

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A post shared by Raquel Bordin (@raquelbordin)

NYFA: Do you have any advice for any incoming students?

RB: I think the biggest advice I can give is: nobody is gonna make your dreams come true other than yourself. It’s all about dedication and hard work. If you don’t go knocking on doors, even if they are closed, nobody will open them for you. Focus is very important in a such competitive industry, and you need to be confident in your own skin. No idea is a bad idea; remember that one day someone said in a meeting “what about a tornado of sharks?,” and here we are with the Sharknado franchise. 

NYFA: Your thesis film Tip Toe was a critical success. What did it feel like to have your film recognized and even having it shown at Cannes Film Festival?

RB: It was an honor to have my first little short receive so much recognition. Even though I wasn’t totally happy with the movie due to some problems, I felt that I was able to accomplish what I came here for and to be able to become someone in this industry. It worked as an incentive to keep on going. 

NYFA: You’ve worked on branded content for some big-name films from It to Avengers: Infinity War. For those unfamiliar, what is branded content and what was it like to get to work on projects like that where you have to work closely with top film studios?

RB: So branded content is the content we make to promote the movie. It’s like marketing packages that I have been designing along with some producers on how we are going to sell the film. I have done that for A LOT of films, and it’s amazing because we are able to watch the films even before they come out in the theaters.

I always apply for this type of job and sometimes I get the honor to make these packages. Prior to this, I worked for Google for two years which helped me a lot in understanding how we are able to capture an audience’s attention and seek our product.

NYFA: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

RB: For now I’m focused on working with these big studios, and I have lots of new things going on in that department but, for now, I can’t speak about it due to NDA contracts.

New York Film Academy wishes Filmmaking alum Raquel Bordin all the best on her upcoming studio projects and looks forward to seeing branded content created by the Bordin for some of the entertainment industry’s top films in the future. 

A Q&A With Acting Alum Chandrika Ravi on Her Favorite Projects and Admiration For Indian Cinema

Chandrika Ravi took the Indian film industry by storm after debuting in the 2018 Tamil comedy blockbuster Irattu Arayil Murattu Kuthu, immediately followed by the Tamil thriller, Sei.

Among other things, Chandrika is a UNICEF India Ambassador and was the first Indian to place in the state finals of Miss World Australia. She also has an active modeling career, appearing in international magazines and international campaigns for brands like Schwarzkopf and Beauty Blender.

NYFA spoke with the Acting for Film alum on her budding career, her admiration for Indian cinema, and the actress’ future projects.

Photo by Combina

New York Film Academy (NYFA): You grew up in Australia, but you are well known in the Indian film industry. How did you make the jump to begin a career in India?

Chandrika Ravi (CR): I had been getting a few movie offers in India already after I had competed in Miss World Australia and Miss Maxim India; but made my first work trip in April 2016 to try and scope out my options to see if it would be something that I would really want to do, especially as I had just settled down in Los Angeles. By July of that year, I was back in South India shooting my first Tamil film titled Sei, and have been shuttling back and forth between India and Los Angeles almost monthly ever since having already completed four South Indian films. 

NYFA: But you also decided to study acting. What brought you to New York Film Academy?

CR: Moving to Los Angeles had always been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl as I started learning acting and dancing from the age of three. I came to Los Angeles to research the various schools that were out here and my father and I actually found NYFA, and I immediately knew that was where I wanted to continue my studies in acting. 

NYFA: The Indian film industry is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, with so many different languages present and representation across multiple regions. What do you love most about working in the Indian film industry? For those who have yet to discover the Indian film industry, what films would you recommend they watch to introduce them to Indian cinema?

CR: Having been brought up learning classical and folk Indian and western dance styles my whole life alongside undertaking my studies in acting; that is honestly what I love the most about being in the Indian film industry. Of course, not every film is in the musical genre, but for someone who loves both; it is a dream come true to be able to perform both my passions in front of the camera. Two films that I would recommend that have always been the absolute favourite that I think captures the beauty of our culture, country, dance, colours, and sounds are Devdas and Ram Leela. The cinematography, choreography, costuming, dialogues, and sets are beyond beautiful! 

Photo by Derec Ethan

NYFA: What would be your dream project to work on?

CR: My dream project to work on both in India and in Hollywood would be a biopic film. I would love to be a part of a cross-cultural period piece like Troy that can give the western world an insight into our Indian history and mythological stories. 

NYFA: From modeling to acting, you’ve done a lot across the industry. Do you have a favorite of the two? 

CR: I would definitely say that acting is my favourite. Modeling has always been a hobby of mine, but acting has always been my first love. I definitely do think they both compliment each other as they both require you to know your angles, how to carry yourself, body language, and how to caress the camera. 

NYFA: You recently shot Un Kadhal Irundhal; did you shoot any scenes during the pandemic? As the world waits for the film’s release, can you tell us more about it and what you hope audiences will enjoy about the film?

CR: Luckily we were able to finish production on Un Kadhal Irundhal before the pandemic hit, but unfortunately our release date has been delayed due to the closure of theatres around the world. This film is something I am very excited for the world to see as I play a role that’s very different from what audiences have seen me play. It is a thriller film, with a great storyline and follows the story of the main character Neha, played by myself, as she maneuvers her husband’s secret plot to exploit her to create the storyline for his next film. 

Poster for Un Kadhal Irunthal

NYFA: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

CR: I am currently working on an original scripted show, in which we were able to fine-tune the script with the time spent at home during the pandemic; alongside getting ready for pilot season starting back up over here. I am really looking forward to being able to get back to Indian cinema as soon as it is safe to travel back. Apart from that, I am still continuing my advocacy work with UNICEF India and the other charities and causes I work with; and spending more time this year alongside other South Asian artists in bridging the gap and creating stronger ties between the east and west, especially in the entertainment industry. 

NYFA: What advice do you have for incoming NYFA students after your experience?

CR: My advice for incoming students would be to soak every little thing in. Every moment in class, the people around you, the professors; especially those who are going to continue their careers in their own countries. The experience, knowledge, and memories will stay with you forever. The classes were so interactive and learning from professionals who are also still working in the industry was incredible. It was such a pleasant experience and I look back on my time at NYFA very fondly.

New York Film Academy would like to thank Chandrika Ravi for taking the time to share more on her career and looks forward to the upcoming release of Ravi’s latest film Un Kadhal Irundhal.

Star Wars, Marvel, and More: Your Ultimate Guide to Disney Investor Day Announcements

It’s been quite an eventful year for Disney. Like many, they were left trying to figure out a whole new theatrical release model for big-budget films like Mulan in the midst of the pandemic and pushing their new streaming service platform, Disney+, to the forefront to compete with the likes of Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, and others. 

They stole our hearts with Baby Yoda (sorry, we still won’t be calling him Grogu) in Star Wars spinoff, The Mandalorian, as part of their slate of first original programming, nabbed Broadway darling Hamilton for a streaming event so epic that it made even your typical non-musical fans sing “The Schuyler Sisters,” and they dropped two massive music events for the most prolific artists of the last decade, Taylor Swift (Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions) and Beyoncé (Black is King).

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Enter Disney Investor Day; boy did Disney deliver. The Mouse paraded a whole lineup of new shows, movies, and company announcements that would send any fan of pop culture into media overload and make any company executive jump up and down from all the intellectual property that is about to be put on display. Don’t worry, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Let’s break down some of the highlights. 

1) It’s all about numbers, and Disney has them: 137 million global paid subscriptions, to be exact, which includes:

  • 11.5 million ESPN+ subscribers
  • 38.8 million Hulu subscribers
  • 86.8 million Disney+ subscribers

Disney plans to see these numbers rise tremendously by the 2024 fiscal year, with projections of 300–350 million total subscriptions, driven primarily by a significant increase in content output.

(Photo Credit: Disney)

2) “Content is King,” and Disney is coming for the crown: Disney announced that they would be targeting 100+ new titles per year on Disney+. Yep, you read that right. For Disney+ alone, Disney revealed an impressive slate of content spanning across the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic catalogs. They also announced that they would be releasing some feature films in theaters and Disney+ simultaneously.

Some of the top content announcements included:

  • Star Wars getting the Marvel treatment: Easily one of the biggest surprises of the day was Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy, announcing a slate of 10 Star Wars series stretching into 2023 for Disney+, the most aggressive creative expansion of the franchise since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. The theatrical film, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, was also announced with director Patty Jenkins attached as director. Taika Waititi has also been attached to an unnamed Star Wars feature film. Probably the biggest Star Wars news of the day, however, was the return of Hayden Christensen to play Darth Vader alongside Ewan McGregor in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, sending fans into a frenzy

  • Avengers may be over, but Marvel is just getting started: Starting off Marvel’s Phase 4 is WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and Loki. Joining the previously announced lineup, Disney announced three new series for Disney+ including the Samuel L. Jackson-led Secret Invasion, Ironheart with Dominique Thorne as a genius inventor, and Armor Wars, starring Don Cheadle as James Rhodes. She-Hulk is here; starring Tatiana Maslany as lawyer Jennifer Walters. “Guardians” fans will be happy to hear that James Gunn will return to write and direct The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special for Disney+, and everyone’s favorite baby tree will get his own series in I Am Groot. Marvel Studios also revealed that Black Widow will be released in theaters, Christian Bale joins the cast of Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Panther 2 will retire the character of T’Challa in memory of Chadwick Boseman, and Nia DaCosta (Candyman) will direct Captain Marvel 2.

  • Pixar is still focusing on quality over quantity: While Pixar’s latest film, Soul, will launch on December 25 on Disney+, Pixar revealed three new films: Lightyear, an origin story starring Chris Evans; Luca, set in a seaside town of Italy, arriving in theaters June 2021; and Turning Red, which follows a 13-year-old girl with the ability to transform into a giant red panda.

  • Disney Animation is Bringing Your Favorites Back: Zootopia Plus, a series based on the little-seen creatures of Zootopia, will arrive on Disney+ in spring 2022; Baymax!, featuring the robot of Big Hero 6, will be released in 2022; Moana will be receiving a long-form musical comedy series spinoff; and Tiana, based on The Princess and the Frog, is also getting a spinoff. Raya and the Last Dragon will receive a day-and-date release in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on March 5, 2021, and Lin-Manuel Miranda will be writing music for Pixar’s new Columbia-set musical comedy Encanto.

  • More titles announced: The Sanderson Sisters will return in Hocus Pocus 2; Noah Hawley is developing an Alien series for FX; Andy Samberg and John Mulaney will voice our favorite chipmunks in a reboot of Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers; and Will Smith and Chris Hemsworth are each getting their own National Geographic shows. Lucasfilm is also rebooting Willow with Warwick Davis returning as the beloved character, with Jon M. Chu announced to direct the pilot. 

This only scratches the surface. Check out all of Disney’s upcoming content here.

3) Star power: The media giant also announced that it will be launching another general streaming service called Star for the international market as a fully-integrated part of Disney+ that will launch in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore as early as February 23, 2021. Star will feature more adult-orientated content from the company’s ABC, FX, Freeform, Searchlight, and 20th Century Studios brands.

In short, Star will act like a service similar to Hulu, which Disney CEO Bob Chapek mentioned has “no brand awareness” outside of the U.S. Star will also include aggregated third-party content (likely from Hulu) and will instead focus on shows that Disney owns, as well as content that does not fall into other licensing arrangements on a global scale.

4) Latin America is getting its own version of Star: In the offshoot of Star, a standalone streaming service, Star+, will launch in June 2021 and will feature Disney’s umbrella of general entertainment content and live sports. The decision for Star and Star+ is said to be a result that followed the launch of Disney+ Hotstar in India in April 2020 and Indonesia in September 2020. 

For years now, Disney has sold its ABC shows to linear broadcasters and local streaming services around the world. So, essentially, Disney has a massive web of content to untangle when it comes to acquiring certain rights for content again, which is why Star is the answer to that solution…for the time being. 

In conclusion, the ambitious business moves from Disney prove that it is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to expand and compete with other streamers. With more than 137 million subscriptions worldwide, in a world where shows and films are now being launched at any moment on a streaming platform, Disney has shown they are committed to developing their intellectual properties (IP) to keep their viewership intrigued and gain more subscribers.

Q&A With The Academy Director of MultiChoice Talent Factory East Africa Academy and NYFA Filmmaking Alum Njoki Muhoho

Njoki Muhoho is a lover of growing organizations to support people and takes pleasure in scripting and producing films, so don’t ask her to choose one career over the other. The Kenyan native is a member of the International Emmys, the Academy Director of MultiChoice Talent Factory East Africa, runs her own production company, was profiled by Business Daily Africa this year, and was named by the Women in Film Awards as the ‘Most Influential Women Personality’ in the Kenyan film industry. 

Earlier this year, NYFA had the opportunity to ask the MultiChoice East Africa Academy Director about her career behind the camera, studying at NYFA, and advice for aspiring filmmakers and creatives. 

Njoki Muhoho during MultiChoice Networking Portal

New York Film Academy (NYFA): Can you tell us more about yourself and what brought you to study at New York Film Academy back in the early 2000s?

Njoki Muhoho (NM): I am from Nairobi Kenya and I am the Academy Director for Multichoice Talent Factory EA. (MTF).  MTF is the film academy for Multichoice Africa Group.  We have 4 hubs. South Africa- Johannesburg, Southern Africa – Lusaka, East Africa – Nairobi, and West Africa – Lagos.  

In East Africa, our Hub caters to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.  I’m also the founder of – Zebra Productions Kenya Ltd where I am the Executive Producer. I have been in the film industry for about 18 years and I have a dual career in Management Consultancy, including a Pricewaterhouse background with 30 years of experience in Organisation Development. 

From my school days, I always enjoyed, creative writing. In 1996, while busy with my consulting career, Multichoice/Mnet launched a scriptwriting competition and I had never seen a film script let alone know a filmmaker. But I was confident in my ability to tell a story, so I entered the competition and ended up becoming the national winner. I remember thinking, ’This is a fluke or I might have innate talent.’ I then promised myself that one day, I would take at least a six-month sabbatical and go away to learn filmmaking. I also promised myself that I would have to learn with the experts, no matter how much it cost. 

For over two years, I quietly researched. I wrote to institutions and finally decided on NYFA. I choose Los Angeles based on the weather. I did not want to experience a cold winter in New York!

NYFA: After finishing your studies, what was that transition like coming back to Kenya?

NM: There was fear that I may not get opportunities to apply the highest level of sophisticated skills that I had learned and I worried about how I would fund my productions. In the middle of planning for upcoming productions, I also needed to go back to consultancy just to make ends meet. 

NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about your current positions (MultiChoice, Zebra Productions, Emmy’s) and what it’s like juggling all of them? What keeps you inspired?

NM: Multichoice Talent Factory – Academy Director: This was an advertised and competitive job, but I got it. I run the academy of 20 students. The academy is a practical film immersion for adult students who already have a maximum of 2 years of experience in filmmaking.

Zebra Productions Kenya Ltd: I am the founder of this company. I was commissioned to produce the first high-end drama series in E.A by Mnet (Multichoice), I was also Co-Executive Producer for 75 made-for-tv, feature films for Multichoice channels. My first fully owned drama series, Mama Duka, won the prestigious Best Indigenous Film/TV Series East Africa 2014. It later went on to win four more awards. 

International Emmys:  I am a Member of the International Emmys. The only East and Central African.; a situation I am working hard to change. I have just endorsed 12 of my colleagues in the industry to join the International Emmys. I have also done Jury work for the International Emmys for the last four years. I find the experience very enriching and it provides a benchmark of the quality of content. I attended the International Emmys Festival and Gala last year. It was very educational with fantastic networking opportunities. 

NYFA: What are your goals and what’s next for you?

NM: To ensure I streamline MTF and find a successor. Then, I will put full-time work in my production company. I want to produce proudly and authenticate African content for International and local audiences. I need to produce more. 

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you are applying or plan to apply directly to your work?

NM: Plenty. Set standards in your work and stick to them. Let it be your brand. Tell your stories. Understand why others tell their stories in their own way (e.g. the Hollywood template), but not to copycat but, instead, benchmark and tailor. At the time, I was the only non-American student in my class. I constantly insisted on translating skills learned into Africa content. Not always easy, but I feel I stayed true to who I am, and learning from practicing filmmakers was an amazing experience. 

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

NM: Be truthful to yourself and your background. Learn everything and then learn more. There is more to learn at NYFA than just what is in your super busy schedule. Have curiosity. Talk to other students in other departments. Be open-minded. Accept criticism of your work as a means to grow. Don’t waste time defending yourself.  Even when you do not agree, still learn how to do it differently.  Criticism of work comes hard-hitting at NYFA. Have a thick skin and a light attitude. Keep the contacts; they will come in handy later in your career.

New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA alum Njoki Muhoho for taking the time to share about her life, experiences in the industry, and the importance of staying truthful when creating.

Q&A With NYFA Cinematography Graduate Naeem Seirafi on Joining The International Cinematographers Guild and His Advice for Incoming Students

Iranian-born Naeem Seirafi got his first taste of being on set when he was 19 years old and quickly began to realize that the world of cinema was where he belonged. His most recent work as director of photography includes In This Gray Place and 1st Born starring Val Kilmer and Denise Richards. Seirafi attended the NYFA’s inaugural MFA Cinematography class in 2011 and has since joined the International Cinematographers Guild (IASTE Local 600).

NYFA had the opportunity to catch up with the cinematography alum to joining the International Cinematographers Guild, his advice to incoming students, and what work is really like behind the camera.

Prime DNA Lens Test with Naeem Seirafi

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?

Naeem Seirafi (NS): I was born in Iran, and I’m currently a US Citizen. I went to engineering school in Iran while I was establishing a name as a set photographer in the Iranian cinema. My first professional set experience was in 2003 when I did my first feature film as a set photographer at the age of 19. In 2010 when I came to the US, I knew it was time for a bigger challenge. I started looking up film schools in LA immediately after my arrival. I was looking for a program that was focused on cinematography and had the most hands-on experience. New York Film Academy became my top choice, and I’m really happy about the decision I made.

NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on cinematography?

NS: My dad is a photographer, and as a kid, I always had the privilege of playing with his cameras, lenses, and unlimited rolls of 35mm film. There was always something unique about taking a picture, making sure to get all the technical aspects right, and at the same time try to tell a story in one frame. When I was 18, I started my professional career as a set photographer. A couple of years later, the director I was working with on his feature film, asked me to start thinking about making a career switch to cinematography. He mentioned that he liked my compositions, choices of lenses, color grading, and framings better than what his cinematographer was doing at the time. I knew it wasn’t an easy task but I also knew that it’s not impossible. My goal was to finish engineering school and make this switch after I arrive in the United States.

NYFA: How did your career change after joining the IATSE Local 600 guild?

NS: From the moment I started my career as a cinematographer, I realized that I need to belong to a bigger family of filmmakers who have been doing this for decades. By joining ICG (International Cinematographers Guild), I’m now assured that I can have a future in the film industry. The rights, wages, health plans, overtime rules, and any other musts that can go missing in film productions, are always there. I also knew that in order to be able to accept offers from an IATSE affiliated project, I need to be an active member. In general, it’s always good to have a union behind you. 

Val Kilmer (Left) and Naeem Seirafi (Right) on the set of “1st Born”

NYFA: Can you tell us about the features you’ve DP’d on?

NS: In 2019, two of my feature films got released on major VOD networks. One is called In This Gray Place, a drama suspense genre that was shot in one location. Aleksander Ristic, Rudi Womack (my fellow NYFA alumni), and I decided to make a feature film in a garage which we used to build our main set, a bathroom. We’ve worked on multiple projects together, and I’m glad our latest collaboration worked out really well.

My other feature film is called 1st Born, starring the iconic actor Val Kilmer, with Robert Knepper, Tom Berenger, Denise Richards, and Taylor Cole. It’s a fun comedy project we shot here in LA. This movie also was shot mostly in sound stages with limited shooting days. 


NYFA: How is your process different when shooting a feature vs shooting a short film?

NS: No one would think this but sometimes shooting a short film is more challenging than shooting a feature film. When shooting a short film, you’re supposed to tell a story in a way shorter timeline compared to a feature film. Other than that, you might have limited equipment, crew, number of days, and even access to the locations you’re using. I’ve shot 24 short films so far, and I really enjoyed working on every single one of them. At the end of the day, it’s all about who you are collaborating with.

On the other side, when shooting a feature film, you have more time to visualize what’s written in the screenplay. By the time I finish reading the script for the first time, I’ve already shot it once in my head by visualizing it scene by scene. That’s also when I know if I would want to work on the project or not. As a cinematographer, I’m looking for projects that are challenging, and I can bring more dynamics, visuals, and creativity to the table. A bigger and more professional crew would certainly ease the process of making a feature film. Unfortunately, I had to turn down two projects last year.

Phil LaMarr and Naeem Seirafi on set for “Diamond Dayze”

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

NS: At the moment I’m in the late development stages of 2 feature films. One is called My Favorite Season and it was my first ever large-format movie. It was shot on Alexa 65 and Prime DNA lenses, and the same package will be used for the feature version.

My second project is called The Bishop’s Man. It’s a drama based on the best-selling novel, and that is as much information as I can give at the moment. 

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you apply directly to your work?

NS: Almost everything I needed to start my career as a cinematographer, I learned at NYFA. Thanks to Michael Pessah who was running the cinematography program at the time, we were able to practice and learn a lot of basics, and techniques, especially on 35mm film. There is a lot that you can learn in film school, that you may not be able to learn on a film set. There is no margin for mistakes and errors on a real film set, especially if you’re the head of your department. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the students, to decide how much and what they want to get out of the film school. Learning is a never-ending process in our careers.

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

NS: As I said, it all depends on the student to make the most out of the program they’re attending. You can learn from every single moment and person while at school, even your classmates. NYFA is a big nationwide and worldwide family. They should take advantage of this opportunity. While you’re a student, there are a lot of open doors, resources, equipment, and people who are willing to help you. Even a lot of rental houses, studios, and post-production companies would help you as a student to make your movie. I’m sure you’re going to miss all that once you are out of school.

New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA alum Naeem Seirafi for taking the time to share more about his career, what life is like behind the camera, and for sharing advice to incoming students and creatives alike.

NYFA Alum Francesco Panzieri on What It’s Like Being The Compositing Supervisor on a Netflix Film

Netflix’s upcoming release of the holiday musical feature film Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (“Jingle Jangle”) will see NYFA alum Francesco Panzieri among the film’s credits as the film’s compositing supervisor. The film was released by the streaming giant on November 13, 2020, release, and audiences are already loving the whimsical film from director David E. Talbert. 

Panzieri has had an extensive career since attending NYFA’s 3D-Animation & VFX conservatory program and has contributed to over 20 feature films and 50 television series. Some of his credits include Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Fate of The Furious, Avengers: Infinity War, Westworld, and Spiderman: Homecoming to name a few.

Francesco Panzieri

The NYFA alum’s latest work will be featured in Jingle Jangle, a holiday musical by Talbert, starring Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, and Hugh Bonneville; with songs by EGOT winner and celebrated recording artist John Legend. The film follows a former joyful toymaker (Whitaker) who is rejuvenated in his love of creativity for his craft when his curious granddaughter appears on his doorstep one day.  

Panzieri worked as an in-house compositing supervisor for Jingle Jangle, leading a team of artists who completed over 230+ shots of post-visualization since they began their work on the film in October 2019. Once the post-visualization was finalized, Panzieri, along with his in-house visual effects team (INH), moved onto production shots, working from beginning to end on shots that are meant to be in the final cut. Panzieri and his team then completed over 70 shots, spanning from clean-ups to set extensions to color correction to split screens to retime. “The team went above and beyond and everyone on the VFX production side was very pleased with our work,” shared Panzieri. 

Still from a scene in “Jingle Jangle” (Netflix)

Panzieri had the opportunity to share more about his experience working on the film with New York Film Academy and the process of leading a team as the Compositing Supervisor on the Netflix Film:

We (INH) spent the first 5-6 months on post-visualization, focusing on the 2nd & 3rd act of the movie, namely the Magic Man G sequence and the Tunnel Escape sequence,” he revealed. “In light of the multiple audience screening tests that were scheduled on our way forward, we did several interactions each time on both sequences depending on the feedback received from Netflix and the audience.

Keegan-Michael Key in Netflix’ “Jingle Jangle” (Netflix)

For the Magic Man G (MMG) sequence, we were presented with the cut of the sequence that editors Michael Tronick and Joe Galdo put together. We paid attention to what David E. Talbert was asking us, and animated & composited accordingly the Whirly Twirly to bring flow and life to the sequence, and to connect the choreography of the audience with the flying toy that Gustofson is introducing to them, including the malfunctioning and crash at the end. Once we had a lock on the sequence in terms of animation, timing, positioning, look, we sent our work to Framestore Montreal (one of the several VFX vendors on the show), who dived head-in into the sequence, and started working on it from scratch, using our post-visualization renders as basically blueprints to masterfully build the final visual effects for each shot. The MMG sequence is my favorite part of the movie, with some incredible music, lyrics, and acting/dancing by everyone, especially by Keegan-Michael Key.

For the Factory Escape (FAC), we had to design the entire sequence from scratch.

It was gracefully shot entirely on blue-screen, and it had nothing but the two characters (Journey and Edison) rigged and secured to the wooden chest. INH built the 3D assets for the tunnel, matching roughly the parts that were built on set, and then did all the animation and composites for each shot. On my side of things, I also managed to keep the entire edit of the sequence open separately and literally laying on top of each blue screenshot of our composites, slowly managing continuity and look. That’s where the sequence started coming to life. 

Still from “Jingle Jangle” (Netflix)

We delivered each draft of the sequence to the editors, they re-arranged things on their side in terms of swapping shots around, adding repos, camera animations, and then sent out the movie each time for the audience screening. Our work was always welcomed warmly during every screening. John Legend and his daughter came twice to the office to watch the movie, and Luna seemed to really enjoy and dig the sequence, so we knew we were on the right path. From there on, Framestore Montreal took our work and once again brought it to final quality with fantastic finesse. 

Once we finalized post-visualization (230+ shots), INH moved onto production shots, which means working from beginning to end on shots that are meant to be in the final cut, so the real deal. We completed over 70 shots, spanning from clean-ups to set extensions to color correction to split screens to retime. The team went above and beyond and everyone on the VFX production side was very pleased with our work.

Still from “Jingle Jangle” (Netflix)

Sadly, Covid-19 hit right as we started working on those final shots, so we had to relocate and work remotely from home for the rest of the project, which meant having so many production meeting prior to leaving the office, in order to make sure everything was planned and taken care of. It was a challenging but stimulating situation to be in, figuring out for example the length of network cables that each artist needed, or testing the internet connection speed for everyone in order to make sure that we could do downloads/uploads and Cinesync reviews in a timely fashion. I was also requested to assist/consult VFX production for the purchase of a workstation for our director David E. Talbert, in order for him to review all the work from home. Production purchased for him exactly what I had advised to them, shipped it to me in order to configure it and set it up with all the necessary software for reviews, and I eventually ended up going to his residence to install it, do a first dry run test with my remote team, and explain David every bit and piece on how to run things properly.

JJ was: photographed with spherical Signature Prime lenses on Alexa Large-Format at full-aperture resolution (4448×3096), worked on at 4k-flat resolution (3996×2160), finished in DI at 4k-UHD resolution (3840×2160). Real 4k movie. Additionally, graded in Dolby Vision and mixed in Dolby Atmos for the most immersive viewing experience.”

Forest Whitaker in “Jingle Jangle” (Netflix)

With COVID-19 hitting right as Panzieri and his team started working on the final shots, like many companies, they had to relocate and work remotely from home for the rest of the Jingle Jangle project. With the new change of scenery, Panzieri was requested to assist/consult VFX production for the purchase of a workstation for the film’s director, David E. Talbert, in order for Talbert to review all the work from home, to which Panzieri himself implemented in the director’s home successfully with the help of his remote team. 

Working on this film was an amazing experience that allowed me to learn so much,” shared Panzieri. “The strenuous teamwork and love that everyone involved in this feature poured into it couldn’t make us prouder. I feel that the final result looks really dazzling, just like a true Christmas movie should look, and I hope that Jingle Jangle will turn into a holiday classic to enjoy with family and friends for years to come for audiences of all ages.”

New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Francesco Panzieri on his involvement in Netflix’s Jingle Jangle and encourages everyone to check out the holiday film when it gets released on Friday, November 13, 2020, and to see why the Magic Man G sequence in Jingle Jangle is Panzieri’s favorite part of the film. 

Q&A With NYFA Filmmaking Alum Somasekhar “Som” Kovvuri on Becoming a Filmmaker, Working With His Wife, and Producing “Freddie’s Piano”

In 2018, Somasekhar “Som” Kovvuri decided to leave his job and pursue his dream of finally becoming a filmmaker. With a younger son in Berklee College of Music in Boston, Kovvuri, encouraged by his family, was also back in school at NYFA’s New York campus to study the filmmaking craft. 

NYFA caught up with one of its own just as Kovvuri is in the middle of screening his latest film Freddie’s Piano at the Scottsdale International Film Festival to discuss his film and what the director has been up to since attending NYFA. 

NYFA filmmaking alum Somasekhar “Som” Kovvuri

New York Film Academy (NYFA): Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Som! For those who may not know, can you share more about your film Freddie’s Piano?

Somasekhar Kovvuri (SK): Freddie’s Piano is about two recently orphaned brothers trying to make sacrifices to fulfill each other’s perceived needs but finally realizing all they need is each other. As time progresses the film depicts how they balance their grief, their responsibilities, and life’s normal activities in their unique ways.

NYFA: How did you get involved as a producer? What was it like working alongside your wife for this project?

SK: Being our first film, it was a great learning experience being involved as a producer.  My work experience in the corporate world fortified my belief that if you get a good team together, give them independence, and remove obstacles it results in success.  Lisa and I followed the same principle with this film. I also stepped into the role of casting director. I was truly fortunate in connecting with KM Music Conservatory in Chennai and finding Pranav to play the role of Freddie.

Film poster for “Freddie’s Piano” (Poster art by Lisa Kovvuri)

On the set, Lisa (my wife) and I were mostly behind the monitor. Being a portrait painter, she could appreciate the intent of our art director and cinematographer and helped me understand them better. It was great working alongside her and I am happy with the painting she did of Freddie and Aden in their piano ties for our poster. 

NYFA: How do you feel now that your first feature film has been accepted into the Scottsdale International Film Festival?

SK: I was happy with how the film turned out but was not sure how objective I could be, so I feel extremely glad that the film got accepted into the Scottsdale International Film Festival. It validates my initial thought that we made a good film. Oscar-winning composer, Mr. A.R Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire), even tweeted our trailer with congratulations.

NYFA: After initially completing your course at NYFA and before completing Freddie’s Piano, what did you work on?

SK: Just one project. During the course, a fellow student, Aakash Prabhakar (also director of Freddie’s Piano), pitched his idea for a film about two brothers. I liked it and agreed that I and my wife Lisa would produce the film. After the course, we started working on the script for Freddie’s Piano, then location hunting, casting, acting workshops, and producing. This year we began submitting to film festivals and now looking for a buyer.  While he was finishing the post his film, Aakash juggled a few plays including Visiting Mr. Green by Jeff Baron in different cities in India. Incidentally, M.K. Raina who plays the lead role in this play was also the lead in the film 27 Down, a film by Awtar Krishna Kaul that initially revealed to me the powerful nature of film when I was a teenager. 

Behind the scenes shooting “Freddie’s Piano”

NYFA: What kinds of projects do you want to get involved with in the future?  

SK: I would like to get involved with feature films with a good story to tell.  Hailing from a village in India and living in many cities around the world puts me in the fortunate position of having understanding and access to a wide range of locales, stories, talent,  and languages that I can choose from.   

NYFA: Do you have any upcoming projects? 

SK: I am currently focused on the distribution of Freddie’s Piano, Aakash is working on writing his next film, and my two sons are excellent musicians from the Berklee College of Music. The thought of a film with creative use of music has crossed my mind but nothing concrete yet.

Lisa Kuvvari on set of “Freddie’s Piano” (Courtesy of Somasekhar “Som” Kovvuri)

NYFA: Is there anything else you would like us to know? 

SK: I must say that the NYFA filmmaking course gave me a lot of confidence. The projects simulated real movie-making conditions (as I found out during the filming of Freddie’s Piano) and it was immensely helpful. The instructors are experts in their crafts too. While I benefited from many, I would like to thank the following teachers in particular: Andi Deliano, Ben Cohen, Austin Smoak, Till Neumann, Moebius Simmons, Shiek Bey, Kris Kato, Heng-Tatt Lim, and Davide Berardi.

New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA alum Somasekhar “Som” Kovvuri on Freddie’s Piano being selected to be part of the Scottsdale International Film Festival and looks forward to news on distribution and what’s next from the Filmmaking alum.

Q&A with Actor, Producer, Writer, and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Gina Parris

NYFA MFA Acting for Film alum and Trinidad and Tobago native, Gina Parris, has had more than a decade of experience in the entertainment industry as an actress, writer, and producer. Her interest in the entertainment world began by writing poems, which then evolved into writing her own monologues that she would then perform on stage. 

During her early days as an actress in Trinidad, Parris would perform in the World Laugh Festival (2011, 2012, 2013), Yangatang Tent, Caribbean Woman (Dir. by Trinidad native Hollywood actor Sullivan Walker), Treasure Island: The Musical, and T.V series Starvey’s Angels, where she played Gaga the Witch. 

Her talents springboarded her into other creative avenues like writing screenplays and going from stage acting to acting in film and television. Since her early days in the performing arts, she has lived by the motto, “take your career into your own hands,” and it was that drive that led her to create her own production company, Gina Parris Entertainment Ltd, which will celebrate its 10th Year Anniversary this August.

New York Film Academy had the opportunity to speak with Parris about everything from her award-winning career to the many upcoming projects Parris is involved with:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): You’ve had many opportunities and had some previous training before coming to New York Film Academy. Tell us more about what brought you to study at NYFA?

Gina Parris (GP): I came to the New York Film Academy to pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) in Acting for Film (I graduated with Honors). The school was highly recommended by one of my friends from Trinidad, who had studied at the New York campus. I ended up deciding to attend NYFA at the Los Angeles campus because I would have eventually transferred there during my last year of study, and there felt like more opportunities for film acting in LA.

Before NYFA, I received formal training in acting with Trinbago icons such as Freddie Kissoon, Raymond Choo Kong, multiple Cacique award-winner Penelope Spencer (the Cacique award is the most prestigious acting award in Trinidad and Tobago), and Talent Factory Film, founded by talent manager and CEO of Question Mark Entertainment Ltd. Simon Baptiste. I still, however, wanted a professional degree in the field, especially since I have an entertainment company named Gina Parris Entertainment Ltd. I am also a member of the group Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT). PLOTT is a prestigious group of business women that support each other.

I am currently being mentored by celebrity Lisa Wickham, a media producer-director-TV personality in Trinidad and Tobago, and also creator of The Now Morning Show, which can be found on Facebook, Instagram and TTT (Broadcast channel in Trinidad and Tobago). 

While in the U.S, I became a member of Women in Film, where I was fortunate to be mentored by Sara Scott VP, of Production and Development at Universal Studios, and Randi Richmond SVP Production at NBCUniversal.

NYFA Alum Gina Parris

NYFA: Can you tell us about your short film A Twist of Life

GP: A Twist of Life is my thesis film, as well as the first short film that I ever wrote a script for and produced. I also acted as the lead. A Twist of Life is  also part of the official 2020 selection for the Palm Bay Caribe Film Festival. 

The film is about poliomyelitis victim Avyanna Wolf, who is unable to use her hands because they became deformed as a consequence of the disease. She has the ability to draw with her feet, but further complications arise when she is taken in from being being homeless by someone who takes advantage of her.

Acting in the lead role of Avyanna was a unique experience for me. As part of my role, I wore prosthetics created by Alonso aka Al Domino. I was on an extremely low budget, therefore instead of removing the prosthetics in between takes, I kept the prosthetics on from morning, until we wrapped at night, so I literally could not use my hands. My production assistant and classmate even volunteered to pull my pants down and back up (along with my underwear of course) when I had to use the bathroom. 

I also struggled to feed myself, so one of my cast members fed me, and when I was sniffling from a cold, my friend, Joy Ellison, put a tissue by my nose and said “blow.” Joy was also kind enough to let me use her house to film and, since she is a dialect coach, helped me with my American accent. 

I had an amazing crew and the director, Shashank Varma, was excellent at executing my vision. I also had the pleasure of working alongside my amazing cast, including Trinidad actor and writer Gerry Bednob, known for films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Encino Man, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, amongst others. My cast also included talented NYFA alumni, including Natalie Whittle, known for films such as Much Ado About Nothing, Orbital Redux, and Speak Now. NYFA alum Chloe Paige Flowers, known for MVB Films’ Halloween Horror Stories Vol II and Public Relations. 

The film premiered at the Indie Night Film Festival in Hollywood and also screened at the Equality International Film Festival. A Twist of Life won the 2018 Excellence award from Metro Film and TV Film Festival, making me an award-winning filmmaker and my first trophy I have ever received for a film. 

In the future, I plan to develop A Twist of Life into my first feature film.

Poster for ‘A Twist of Life’

NYFA: Can you tell us about your short film Gangsters?

GP: Gangsters was the first short film I ever co-produced in the U.S. The co-creators of Gangsters are Freddie Basnight and Tiffany Lewis, who are also NYFA alum. 

I am proud of how the film project turned out, and it went on to win 12 awards across the following festivals: Mindfield Film Festival, Albuquerque, Queen Palm International Film Festival, Hollywood Guild Awards, Hollywood West Wing Film Competition, Pinnacle Film Awards, Indie Best Films Festival, LA Edge Film Awards, Hollywood Sun Awards, Hollywood Forever Film Festival, Alpha Film festival, and Dreamachine International film festival.

Poster for ‘Like a Dog With a Bone’

NYFA: Can you tell us about your latest series Like a Dog With a Bone?

GP: Like A Dog With A Bone: A Visual Guide to Surviving in the Entertainment Industry was influenced by my own homeless experience. When I moved into my car because of financial difficulties, I began filming my experience. It is an unfortunate reality that a lot of individuals become homeless while pursuing their dreams in entertainment. The series shows individuals that hit rock bottom, have experienced homelessness in the past, and those currently trying to make it in the entertainment field. 

I felt the need to create a series like this, so that other people can look at it and learn from the lives of others. Hopefully, in that way, they would not have to suffer like I did and they can use the survival skills that we implemented. 

Like A Dog With A Bone also features the following talented individuals: 

  • Ravyne Demyra Payne (actress, director, NYFA Alum): Known for her work on films such as: Moonlight Magnolia, Cover Girl, Honor Empty, and Casanova
  • Taromi Lourdes (actress and director from Trinidad and Tobago): An award-winning actress [World Wide Women’s Film Festival, Palm Bay Caribe Film Festival] and filmmaker, she has acted in films screened at Cannes, Los Angeles and London. She has also acted alongside NAACP nominee and Trinbagonian–American actor Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us).
  • Ayanna Cezann (producer, TV host, actress from Trinidad and Tobago): Ayanna is known for A Story About Wendy 1&2, ‘Til Death, and The Honest Honestest Truth.
  • Byron Knight (host, dancer, actor): Byron was also a cinematographer for The Honest Honestest Truth.
  • Louis Brown (producer, director, writer, NYFA alum): Louis is known for his work on The Lady in the Red Dress and Charleston Harbor. He has also done work on the show Black Lightning, and recently finished directing his series Forbidden Fruit.
  • Charles Parris (actor, cinematographer, director, radio host, editor from Trinidad and Tobago): Charles is another editor for Like A Dog With A Bone and is also known for his projects such as J Prince: Blood, J Prince: Turnaround and Trinity Isle, The Honest Honestest Truth, and A Twist of Life.
  • Freddie Basnight (actor, producer, director, writer, NYFA alumni): Freddie has appeared in Monster’s Club, Aftermath, Karl and Riley Parras. Freddie also enjoys creating his own content and is the co creator of the award winning short film Gangsters.
  • Errol Fabien (television/radio personality from Trinidad and Tobago): He has over 40yrs in the entertainment industry and has showed his talent in the acting and comedic arena. Errol, along with Banyan Ltd, started the first community television station named Gayelle The Channel; where he is currently the CEO, Chairman and Co- Founder.

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

GP: Like A Dog With A Bone is currently in production and I am still looking for more funding.

The pilot for my TV series,The Honest Honestest Truth, aired on national television in Trinidad and Tobago in 2016 and 2017, and it is considered by The Guardian Newspapers as the first crime drama in T&T. As the creator, producer and writer for The Honest Honestest Truth and my first major project under my company, Gina Parris Entertainment Ltd., I plan on continuing the series. 

I was fortunate to have an amazing cast, including: Rebecca Foster (@bexfoster), who also did the posters for The Honest Honestest Truth and Like A Dog With A Bone, Kearn Samuel, Allan Ferreira, Allan Alvarez, Ayanna Cezanne, the late Brett Bengochea, Dillon Jimenez, Lester Torres, Eirnil Harry, Alister Edwards, Charles Parris and Roxanne Omalo. 

The cast also included celebrities from Trinidad and Tobago such as Errol Fabien, Allan Emmanuel aka Cyclops, and Jason Williams aka J.W. I was also honored that the first black Miss Universe, Trinidad and Tobago’s Janelle Penny Commissiong, showed her support for The Honest Honestest Truth

I will be collaborating with Jamaican born actress, producer, director and NYFA alum, Sherando Cupid, to bring Caribbean stories through film for the world to enjoy. Currently, Sherando and I are working on the film Caribbean Jew, which will be directed by Mikhail Marks and will be filmed in the U.S and Trinidad and Tobago. In addition to being one of the producers for the film, I will also be acting in it as well.

I am currently in discussions with Ms. Lesley- Ann Nelson, president of the Non-Profit Organization, Save Our Children Foundation, in Trinidad and Tobago about doing projects together to benefit children around the world. Ms. Nelson is also a member of Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT).

I will also be producing and acting in projects with Gold Piece films Inc. a production company founded by director, producer, writer and actor Andrew Lloyd Preston. I will be working with Gold Piece Films as a producer and actress for upcoming projects Brand and digital series Choices.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work since graduating?

GP: I was fortunate that while pursuing my MFA in Acting for Film, I was taught various aspects of the film process. I applied the acting techniques editing skills and filmmaking fundamentals that I learned to my work after I graduated. These teachings also helped me while I was judging/screening films for Diversity in the Cannes Short Film and Web Series Showcase, which is supported by Oscar, Tony and Emmy award-winner Viola Davis and her husband.

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

GP: Come with an open mind. Do not only learn about what you are majoring in but also learn other areas of the filmmaking process and focus on creating your own content. In the entertainment industry, you will notice that a lot of celebrities that excel do not only focus on one entertainment discipline. People take up various roles in the entertainment industry in order for their talent to be showcased. 

Do not depend on someone else to make your dreams become a reality; take your career into your own hands.

New York Film Academy thanks actress, producer, writer, and NYFA alum Gina Parris for taking the time to speak with us and wishes her success in the near future as her career continues!

To keep up with NYFA alum Gina Parris, take a look at her social/contact links below:
Instagram: @gina_parris
Instagram (Like A Dog With A Bone): @likeadogwitha
Website (The Honest Honestest Truth): http://thehonesthonestesttruth.com/

Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking Alum Mollie Moore

While traveling all over the world working on multiple film sets, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking alum Mollie Moore knew she wanted to continue to tell stories through non-fictional storytelling.

She then moved to New York from her home base of London, England, and attended the 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking conservatory at NYFA, where she graduated in 2018. With her background in cinematography and love for documentary filmmaking, Moore continues to push to tell stories that are waiting to be told and to give viewers a glimpse at the life and experience of another.

New York Film Academy spoke with Documentary Filmmaking alum Mollie Moore about her experience at NYFA, her work as a global filmmaker, and her upcoming project with artist Marc Quinn.

Moore shooting on set for the film ‘Mama’

New York Film Academy (NYFA): What made you want to pursue this career in documentary filmmaking?

Mollie Moore (MM): I grew up in South London and was always involved with the theatre world there from a young age. After leaving education, I made the decision to not attend university straight away and, instead, moved to Australia. I ended up traveling around South East Asia, India, South America and further. During this time, I worked on different fictional film sets as part of the crew. This continued for four years, and in this time, I realized the vast possibilities of storytelling and the importance of capturing the beauty of the world we live in and the stories within it. Documentary felt like a natural marriage with my background in theatre, story telling and my passion for exploration and the people I met along the way. This idea eventually led me to New York City.

NYFA: What made you decide to study Documentary Filmmaking at NYFA?

MM: I decided to study at NYFA because it appeared to be a program that I could give all of my attention to, whilst also getting maximum in-person time to learn in a creative and hands-on way.

NYFA: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers/documentaries/media that you think readers should check out?

MM: There are so many incredible filmmakers that are breaking the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. A piece of work I saw and was very moved by was Ja’Tovia Gary’s  The Giverny Document, which has been screened in cinemas and art exhibitions. It Is an experimental piece of documentary filmmaking that “meditates on the safety and bodily autonomy of Black women.” 

Another piece of filmmaking I have seen this year that has stuck with me is a love song for Latasha, another experimental documentary film about Latasha Harlins, who was killed in LA. It is told through memory and archive of her cousin and best friend, and her death is considered to have contributed to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

NYFA: What are some challenges you may have faced as a filmmaker in the industry?

MM: For me the biggest lesson has been finding my own voice in a male-dominated industry and learning how to best hold yourself in difficult situations. It is a constant learning curve and strengthening experience. I think, as documentary filmmakers, we should constantly be self-reflecting and asking ourselves hard questions about what drives our work.

 

‘A Word Away’ Film Poster (Dir. Mollie Moore)

NYFA: Can you tell us more about your thesis film A Word Away?

MM: My film A Word Away is about a young man named Cosmo from South Sudan now residing in the USA. Cosmo attempts to articulate his journey of migration through the medium of poetry. It was important for me to find a new way of telling a story of migration, through a more intimate and personal lens. The film looks closely at the effects these themes have on mental health, through a young mans eyes and his family. The film premiered at Camden International Film Festival in Maine, where we shot the film. Cosmo and his family were all there to watch the premiere of the film. This was very important for me.

NYFA: Can you tell us more about the other films you have worked on with NYFA alum Lucia Florez? What about other projects (other than A Word Away) you have worked on?

MM: Lucia and I have made three films together so far, with the hopes of eventually making a feature film together. As well as A Word Away, we made the documentary Paper Thin about a young transgender womxn starting a new life in New York City after having to flee the persecution of LGBTQ+ persons in Russia. The film has been really successful amongst festivals. Our most recent film we made together is called Mama. It’s a personal story between a mother and daughter (Lucia), who look into their past to try and reconcile their relationship after difficult years born through the conversation and opinions of Lucia’s sexuality, in the setting of Latin America.

NYFA: You have filmed in many locations all over the world. What are some key learnings that as a filmmaker you have learned from filming all across the globe? Why has it been important to you?

MM: Being lucky enough to have travelled with work has been something I am extremely grateful for. I have been incredibly humbled by the people I have met and worked with in these settings. It is so important to remember how much trust you are being given by people who are generous enough to allow you into a small part of their world. I think that trust and responsibility is not to be taken lightly. This is even greater importance when you are walking into a situation and setting you are not so familiar with. It is important to listen intently before making your own assumptions and narratives. I think documentary filmmaking should always be seen a collaborative process between the filmmaker and the people sharing their stories.

NYFA: A lot of your work focuses on the LGBTQ community, as well as themes of forced migration. Can you explain how this is incorporated or highlighted this in your work? Why is it important for the film industry to see more stories like this told?

MM: I hold both these topics very close to my heart and with a lot of passion, and I identify with some of these themes on a very personal level. I think shedding light on topics and communities that have often been misconstrued massively and discriminated against through violent acts of oppression and injustice is of huge importance. If we have the tools to give platform to things in a honest way, we must share It and give voice to those whose realities have often been silenced throughout history.

NYFA: Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?

MM: I am currently working on the artist Marc Quinn’s Our Blood project as one of the filmmakers on it. Our Blood is a multi media art project that focuses on the refugee crisis all over the world. We have been filming in London and New York City. The art piece will premiere outside of the New York Public Library sometime in 2021.

New York Film Academy thanks Documentary alum Mollie Moore for taking the time to share her experiences and thoughts on the responsibilities of storytelling for documentary filmmakers. We look forward to seeing more projects from her in the future!

 

7 Films To Watch During SAAM

Each April, we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. 

There are many ways to inform yourself and observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Here are seven documentaries and narrative films you may want to check out this April that help spread awareness about sexual assault, have a preventative slant, or tell a story about survival.

1) I Am Evidence
Available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HULU, Amazon Prime
Not Rated – 1hr 29min – Trigger Warning: sexual assault

This documentary follows the stories of survivors seeking justice through police departments and the courts. It identifies the failures of the US criminal justice system and the extreme backlog of unexamined rape kits, and won Best Documentary at the 2019 News & Documentary Emmy Awards.

2) Spotlight
Available on HULU, Amazon Prime
R – 2hr 8min – Trigger Warning: child abuse

This true newsroom drama starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, follows a team of journalists who investigate allegations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and unravel the complex cover-up. The film earned a surprise victory when it won Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards.

3) The Hunting Ground
Available on Amazon Prime
PG-13 – 1h 34min – Trigger Warning: campus sexual assault

 The Hunting Ground explores the trauma and turmoil victims of sexual assault face on college campuses. The film earned many nominations and wins across the festival circuit, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song–Lady Gaga recorded the original song, “Til It Happens to You,” for the film’s soundtrack.

4) Anita: Speaking Truth to Power
Available on Amazon Prime, Kanopy
Not Rated – 1hr 17 min – Trigger Warning: sexual harassment and racism

For many Americans, one of the key moments in sexual assault awareness was Anita Hill testifying at the congressional confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, who was nominated to become a US Supreme Court Justice in 1991. Anita: Speaking Truth to Power is a documentary that explores the many societal factors at play that blocked Anita Hill from receiving justice after her public accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas.

5) Audrie and Daisy
Available on Netflix
Not Rated – 1hr 35min – Trigger Warning: assault and bullying

Audrie and Daisy is a documentary that looks into harassment and public shame that victims of sexual assault experience in high schools across the US, exploring two specific young teenagers who faced cyberbullying and abuse following their sexual assault. The husband and wife filmmakers describe the film as a “a modern-day Scarlet Letter story.”



6) Precious
Available on Hulu, Amazon Prime
R – 1hr 50min – Trigger Warning: sexual assault and incest

This heartbreaking but hopeful film shows the journey of a young woman growing up in an abusive household, struggling to speak out and escape domestic and sexual abuse. At the  2010 Academy Awards, Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for Best Actress for emotional portrayal of Precious, while Mo’Nique won Best Supporting Actress for playing her terrifying and abusive mother.

7) The Shawshank Redemption
Available on Netflix
R – 2hr 22min – Trigger Warning: sexual assault

This film follows the experiences of an imprisoned banker and the friendship he develops with an older inmate. Although the film contains problematic representations of prison sexual violence, identifying what the film gets wrong about sexual violence can serve as the basis for an interesting discussion.