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: www.ginaparrisactor.com
Website (The Honest Honestest Truth): http://thehonesthonestesttruth.com/

Q&A with Actor and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Alum Anthony R. Mottola

Manila-born Anthony R. Mottola got quite the wake up call when he realized he wanted to go from musical theatre into becoming a screen actor. Mottola realized his dream of pursuing acting in 2014, when he enrolled in New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) MFA Acting for Film program to get hands-on experience working on set and honing his skills to make it in the business.

Since then, Mottola has booked television roles on shows like Netflix’s Friends from College, the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Netflix special and is set to appear in the upcoming theatrical film Silent Retreat, starring opposite Sarah Goldberg (HBO’s Barry). New York Film Academy spoke with alum Anthony R. Mottola about his switch from musical theatre to screen acting, and how coming to NYFA was the first step in this new career: 

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?

Anthony R. Mottola (AM): First off, this is my first interview/Q&A ever so thank you for reaching out. Also, if this constitutes that I’ve made it, welp, high-five to myself! 

I was adopted from Manila, the Philippines when I was a baby, and am the youngest of three boys. My middle brother was also adopted from a different part of the Philippines, Legazpi City. We were three very distinct children growing up in Central Pennsylvania. Oddly enough, I’d compare us to Alvin & The Chipmunks – me being Theodore literally because I was (and ALWAYS will be) the cutest.  I also have a little bit of Tigger from Winnie The Pooh in me. A couple months ago my brother found a home video of us in grade school. I was maybe around six or seven, and I was bouncing all over the place, quite literally.

At the age of five, my mother enrolled me in dance class, and I believe she was smart enough to know that there was a reason I had all this energy, and it WASN’T because I was a problem child. I was a creative mind, but I just hadn’t realized it yet. I started out as a tap dancer in first grade and, by second grade, I was on a competitive tap dancing team that won awards at NYC Dance Explosion. I was the only boy and I was the youngest team member. I also remember being OBSESSED with River Dance, which was a big thing at the time. 

As I got older, I didn’t exactly want to introduce myself to other teenagers as “Tony the tap-jazz-ballet dancer.” Then my freshman year of High School, my dance teacher choreographed the musical 42nd Street. I was so scared of getting made fun of by other students, and I remember being at the audition and shaking. Right before it was my turn to audition, I walked out. I walked right out of the auditorium and went home. When I got home, the phone rang and my dance teacher gave me the part of Andy Lee (the guy who tap dances) even though I walked out of the audition. I believe there are moments in one’s life that almost scream: THIS IS DESTINY. After that, I got my first professional musical theatre job (and my first paycheck) from a regional theater called Gretna Playhouse during my sophomore year of college in the musical The King & I

Here’s the thing though: I knew I was good and I did enjoy performing but, at the end of the day, I wasn’t ever quite fulfilled. That’s when NYFA came into the picture; when I really started to question what I really wanted to do, and why exactly I needed to perform.

NYFA: What was your experience like with the audition process for film and TV?

AM: I gotta say, auditioning for TV and film is a completely different world compared to auditioning for stage plays/musicals. Truthfully, post-graduation was a bit of an adjustment for me. I had moved back from LA around April of 2017 and decided to take a year off from the business altogether. Honestly, I was going through a tough transition and feeling a bit lost. I graduated from NYFA in 2016 and didn’t exactly hit the ground running after that. I hit the ground flailing until I decided to move back home. I essentially walked away for a bit and wasn’t sure I would go back. What people say is true, it [the entertainment industry] chews you up, and spits you back out. 

I just couldn’t stop thinking about acting, though. I kept thinking, “well, what if,” because I was working a retail management job, which I was grateful for, but let’s be honest, it was a bit of a dead-end job for me. 

I decided to put myself out there again and got new headshots. I chose a photographer based in Philly [Philadelphia], Vikrant Tunious, who was so welcoming and helped me feel at ease. At the end of my photo session, he gave me a four page PDF file of agencies on the East Coast and I emailed each one of them in hopes of getting myself back in the game. Well, NONE of them emailed me back. I was literally about to call it quits when I noticed that I missed one.


An agent named Will Ball had just formed his own agency named VIE Model & Talent. I tried to submit via his website, but my materials were not going through. I emailed him with no expectations he’d reply when, low and behold, he shoots me an email back the next day. We met in Fish Town, and he signed me! That was around May 2018. By the end of May, I had my first professional audition for this Netflix show called Friends From College, which was shooting the second season at the time. I essentially had no idea what to expect, but I went in, read the lines and, the next night, I booked it! Will called me and told me that I actually booked a role that I didn’t even audition for, which, looking back on the episode, I was so grateful for, because they showcased me even more in my new role than if I had booked the role I initially auditioned for. So that was my first screen audition ever. Booked it. Taft Hartley’d. It was insane.

Mottola (right) poses with actress Cobie Smulders on the set of ‘Friends From College’

I got to spend the day with Keegan Michael Key, Fred Savage, and Cobie Smulders, as well as the rest of the main cast. The whole day was a bit surreal. Keegan and Cobie were the first actors to welcome me on set and the director went right up to me after everything was said and done, shook my hand, and said I was hilarious. Best believe I cried that night with a glass of Pinot Noir. 

After that, I got to really experience the ups and downs of a working screen actor. Following Friends From College, I booked a co-star role on Comedy Central’s Broad City, a co-star role on FOX’s pilot show for Almost Family, and AMC’s Dispatches From Elsewhere. All great, and varying on-set experiences, where I learned a lot. My scenes were actually cut out from all three….well, I never even had any lines in Dispatches From Elsewhere, but I was contracted as a co-star. Seeing yourself cut out on TV is the toughest feeling but, to this day, you gotta remind yourself that it’s never personal. “That’s showbiz, kid!” I was VERY lucky and fortunate to get a 1.5 minute scene on Friends From College, and I’ll always be grateful for it. 

Mottola shooting the ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ interactive Netflix special

NYFA: Congratulations on your role in the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive Netflix special. What was the auditioning process like for that?

AM: Now, Kimmy Schmidt, that was something special. I LOVED the show beforehand, so the pressure was on for me. Especially because the tone of the show matched my brand so well. My scene was with Titus Burgess, so….yeah, “no pressure at all.” What I can tell you is the auditions are so fast; they’re like a blur. Most of the time you get the material 24 hrs before the audition time and, if you’re lucky, you get them maybe 48 hours in advance. Still, it’s maddening really, and the deadlines are much stricter than you would find for musicals/plays. People work faster because they have to! Also, you’re not exactly supposed to pay much attention to other actors in the waiting room, but a lot of times I can’t help it. I’m an observer/voguer at heart. 

I went in and Cindy Tolan [the Casting Director] seemed to be working quickly because she knew exactly what Tina Fey wanted. A few days later I’m on set in upstate New York with Titus Burgess and Jane Krakowski being funny. Titus was arguably the most welcoming actor I have met so far. I was fortunate enough to have him share some wise words with me, and he made me feel at ease during our scene. 

A lot of times, the pressure is on once you start your scene, but if you are lucky enough to establish a rapport with one of the stars, the whole scene shines! That doesn’t always happen, so I was blessed. I am blessed. And I’m eager to see the finished project!! 

NYFA: Can you tell us more about your NYFA thesis film Unrequited?

AM: I was assigned to write, produce, cast, and act in my own personalized short film. Not gonna lie, it seemed near impossible to pull off. Especially because I am not at all rich. I spent maybe $3,000, and my parents helped me. I can’t even begin to express the infinite gratitude towards my parents and my family for their support. I filmed it in my apartment, and my roommate/best friend was my AD. She kept me sane during the whole process, and I’ll never forget it. I cast two other actors who I met my first year back in NYC, and whom I trusted as actors.

Still from Mottola’s thesis film at NYFA, ‘Unrequited’

NYFA: What was the inspiration behind Unrequited?

AM: I had to think long and hard on what exactly I wanted to say. What exactly I wanted to put out there, you know? I wanted to say something I knew I would hold dear to me decades later. This short film was the result of at least six rough drafts. It won an award for Best LGBT Short that year and I still have the certificate and the statuette in my room right behind me! Growing up gay, adopted, and Asian in Central Pennsylvania in the 90s into the 00s was, well, it was something. 

I had a diary growing up and writing helped me express emotions I wouldn’t express outwardly. I wanted to write my script about a culmination of events and feelings I had endured from my adolescent years well into my young adult life. Unrequited love. Being taking advantage of and not caring about oneself. There was something beautifully cathartic to be said about the situations I put myself in and with the guys I choose to involve myself with. I remember just sitting in my bed, laptop in front of me, and just writing and quietly just crying. I had been so angry for years and I never told anyone. This was my heartache I had been putting into words and I believed, and still believe to this day, that when someone shares their trauma with the world, they have the ability to heal. Heal themselves. Heal others. Heal the world. I do plan on revisiting the topic later on in my life. I can see myself directing later on in my life, for sure. 

Mottola acting in his thesis film ‘Unrequited’

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

AM: That is such a loaded question! I feel like this will sound cliché and corny but you have to really look into your soul. Acting is more of a spiritual journey than anything. Ask yourself questions. If you’re doing this because you think it’s cool, you’re only skimming the surface. If you stick to the surface, I promise you that you won’t last. If it resonates within your soul, you’ll find your way. Take it from me. I’m about to be 31, and my life is just getting started.

New York Film Academy thanks actor and NYFA alum Anthony R Mottola for taking the time to speak with us and wishes him the best of success as his career continues to grow. Since this conversation, Mottola has landed a role in the upcoming theatrical film Silent Retreat, starring opposite Sarah Goldberg (HBO’s Barry). Mottola is repped by Will Ball (Vie Agency) and Matt Ilczuk (Entertainment Lab).

Editor’s Note: The Q&A with Actor and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Anthony R. Mottola by New York Film Academy has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Q&A with Actress, Composer, and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Xiren Wang

Canadian-born Xiren Wang is quite comfortable wearing many hats in the entertainment business–she is an actress as well as a composer, and has found success doing both. Wang first attended the 4-Week Musical Theatre workshop at New York Film Academy (NYFA) before pivoting to the 1-Year Acting for Film conservatory at our New York campus.

Since then, she has found work both in front and behind the camera, especially when it comes to scoring films and as well performing live. Her biggest project to date is scoring The Eyes, which aired on Showtime. New York Film Academy spoke with alum Xiren Wang about her eclectic work and how she first ended up at NYFA:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): The Eyes was released nationwide and had a run on Showtime. You scored and appeared in the film. Tell us more about this project and your experience working on it.

Xiren Wang (XW): After graduating from NYFA, I started taking classes at One on One, where I met Robbie Bryan, who directed the film. It was the first class that was back and running, because it was immediately after Hurricane Sandy, so I was one of the two people who actually showed up – and sometimes, showing up is that important. I met him as an actor, and invited him to the shows and concerts I performed in, and later on, when he needed a composer for the feature film, he thought the tone of The Eyes was a good match. The Eyes is a psychological thriller. Cerebral themes and dark emotions are definitely my genre of music. I write mostly for romance, drama, and yoga, all very different tones, but knowing your forte helps you define your sound, and film needs that specificity. Even though every trained composer, in theory, should be able to write for anything, doing something well is another level. Knowing your own sound helps carve out your sound world, and just like how there’s no actor who really can take every role, there’s no composer that is good for every general story. 

Xiren Wang

Because The Eyes was mostly filmed in one room, the sound world needed to be rich and multidimensional to keep the story moving forward. I blended classical sounds and electronic soundscapes to give each character another layer of identity, to speak to their backstories, and to expose a bit of what’s going on in their heads. I like to study the script and characters, and really get deep into the subtext and the headspace of what each character is holding back from the audience. 

Working on the film also afforded me the opportunity to learn about foley, and I was fortunate to have worked with the team at Skywalker Ranch for this. Because we had such a small team, I learned on the job what foley editing was about, and I’m glad to say that after the post-production process, I can handle any work that’s under the sound and music departments – usually consisting of a dozen or even hundreds of people, depending on the scale of the production. I’ve definitely started paying extra attention to the credits, just to see how the soundworld is sculpted for each film. I want to take what I’ve heard and then break it down into how it’s made, sort of like reverse-engineering, and then find ways to recreate something that sounds like the expensive output, but with a more resourceful approach, because most movies don’t allocate much budget or team to the music and sound departments. 

The reality of Hollywood orchestras recording for Hollywood films is not the reality we live in today, and a lot of production teams want skeleton crews and one-(wo)man powerhouses to take care of “everything”. Unless the director is keen on music, they often don’t know what creating a score really entails – composing is just one step of the journey, which then goes to recording, editing, mixing, matching to picture, etc. It’s a full suite of work, for many people, and having gotten my sound design start at NYFA really helped me understand this world, so that when I was hired as a composer, I could double as the sound designer as well. Understanding foley and other audio elements of the film is also crucial, and important lessons I learned from working on The Eyes

I’m fortunate to have worked with director Robbie Bryan, who trusted me enough to have this be my first feature film score. The soundtrack is also available to stream and buy on most digital retailers, but definitely get the whole experience on Showtime.

Xiren Wang

NYFA: You also music directed and performed live concerts at venues ranging from Arlene’s Grocery to Carnegie Hall, in which you also performed original music. Is your approach to composing music for your concerts different from the one you have for composing original film scores? How?

XW: Definitely. Music for film and music for picture is driven by story and frame. Music for live concerts is standalone music, driven by the pulse of the music itself, removed from the frames that anchor what it should be about. When I’m scoring a film, everything has to serve the story, and I believe a good film score should carry you further along and deeper into the story. A good film score makes you sink into more of your feelings and more of the story, it shouldn’t distract you with sounds that take you out of the story. It’s like a piece of fabric, tailored to the script and to each frame of what’s going on visually. 

Film music isn’t standalone music, it has to serve the story, and whatever doesn’t, is cut, like so much visual footage, as well. Composing for live concerts is where the musicians are the rockstars, and the performance itself is the story, so it’s a completely different mindset and landscape. Using the fabric analogy again, this time without a “body” of work to adhere to, the fabric can form its own shape and dynamics. 

I’m fortunate to be able to switch back and forth, because an actor-composer brings an extra set of eyes to the film, I feel. And being and actor-musician, I’m able to play with style, lighting, and the overall design of the music in a way that is storytelling, so this hybrid definitely heightens the production value, as it creates a multi-layered and multi-sensory experience. After all, whether we are actors or musicians, we are delivering an experience, and we want to make our work memorable.

Xiren Wang

NYFA: What brought you to NYFA?

XW: It was a talent scholarship to the Musical Theatre program, and then an extended talent scholarship for the Acting for Film Program. But there was definitely a distance between learning about NYFA and receiving the scholarships. 

I first came to New York when I was still in high school (2005!) at the time–I competed as a junior actress at IMTA (boosted as the talent convention where Katie Holmes and Ashton Kutcher got their start), and one of the girls in our group received a scholarship to NYFA, which for her was a huge deal, and for me, that meant more than the callbacks I got from the various modeling agencies in both LA and NYC. It was more valuable because it offered a journey, a journey of becoming something more, and of self-actualization. 

In 2010, I went to IMTA with one goal in mind, and that’s to get a scholarship from NYFA. As fortune would have it, one of the callbacks I received was from NYFA, and Steven Chinni, whose offer really changed my life, helped me make the transition to move to New York. One of the lines he said during the callback, I’ll never forget, was  “as an actor, you can be whoever you want.” And the possibilities of living a full and rich life, that line offered, meant the world to me. 

By August, that dream became a reality, and I did a record amount of student films while in the program. Working with the cinematography class also afforded me friends who not only gave me reel material, but helped me cut my first reels, some clips which remain in my material today! When I was in the Acting program, I was also taking composition classes at Juilliard, and I saw a NYFA filmmaker’s poster on the bulletin board asking for original music scores. So, I made a lot of posters saying that I could score your film, and put them all over NYFA, and I ended up scoring a lot of student films, and my first sound design job also came from that, and it was something NYFA instructor Paul Warner had produced. 

Xiren Wang

NYFA: What was the most valuable takeaway from your time at NYFA both artistically and personally?

XW: The education I received at NYFA made me a better human being. It introduced me to the entire spectrum of human emotions and taught me what empathy is. I learned about human behaviour, and about darker emotions, and confronting them in a safe place was something so rare – it doesn’t happen outside of school. It gave me access to emotions I never knew existed or knew what to call them. It taught me how to speak clearly, so that my voice lands. It taught me what subtext is, and what pathology is, and life is richer when you understand these layers.

NYFA: What advice do you have for aspiring actors and composers?

XW: First of all, this is not an easy life! If you’re going after fame and celebrity, then it won’t take long to realize that the craft of both acting and composition is really hard work, on so many levels. I’m fortunate to still count myself in the business, but I’ve done a lot of work to get here, juggling multiple careers as an actor, musician, fitness model, composer, sound designer, VO artist, and radio host/producer. You’re constantly competing with people better looking than you, and surviving in the industry requires a lot of inner work, work that we have to do every day, long after we’ve graduated. Because keeping our tools sharp is just one part of the puzzle, having a strong mental game is so necessary. 

Lastly, this is a piece of advice that was given to me, and I finally started to apply it: to create your own content. Find your voice, know what you’re about, and start creating your own work, because most people are waiting for work, and waiting is not a way to live. It’s most disempowering. So figure out what fuels you, and be proactive about life and career, because this really is a marathon, not a sprint. Art comes from life, and in every stage of life, there is story. It’s easier now than ever to create content, but not everyone who has a Canon5D is a great photographer! Continue training, always be learning, and learn about business and look at this as an entrepreneur.

New York Film Academy thanks actress, composer, and NYFA alum Xiren Wang for taking the time to speak with us and wishes her success as her career continues to grow!

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!

A Q&A With NYFA Acting for Film Student Dustin Ardine

New York Film Academy acting for film student Dustin Ardine has seen a lot of success in his short career. Ardin won the best actor award at the Mediterranean Film Festival, a huge festival that takes place in Italy. Ardine’s film “The Red Oak” won top prize. The horror film screened at the Villa Dunardi, a haunted landmark in Italy. Recently, NYFA correspondent Joelle Smith sat down with Ardine to discuss his recent success and what projects he’ll be tackling next.

Dustin profile

Joelle Smith: Hi Dustin, congratulations on your recent award wins! Tell me a little about your film.

Dustin Ardine: Our film is called “The Red Oak.” It is a psychological thriller that touches on a subject that we all felt wasn’t something explored a lot in films. It was written and directed by Danyal Zafar. It stars myself in the lead role of Dr. Rahal. It also stars Abe Cohen and Brooklyn Sarver.

When I met with Danyal for the first time he gave me the script and we talked about the story we wanted to tell. We then worked together to perfect everything so that we told the story the exact way we wanted. At its heart, “The Red Oak” is about all those many people in the world who dedicate their lives to helping others … but we all rarely see the toll that their choice takes upon them.

Doctors, nurses, firefighters, cops, teachers, and many others choose to dedicate their lives to helping others regardless of the toll it takes on them and the scars they live with every day of their lives. My character Dr. Rahal is a lifelong psychiatrist who has dedicated himself to helping his patients. But what kind of toll does that take on him? What kind of weight does he carry around with him every day of his life? This is the story we wanted to tell. 

JS: How did you get involved in the project?

DA: The director Danyal Zafar had seen my past work and called me in to discuss the project. He told me that he knew I had the talent to bring the character of Dr. Rahal to life but wanted to know more about me and how I see the character and story. He had me read, and once he knew I was 100 percent who he wanted to cast as the lead we met again and talked about everything — from the script to the characters to the subtext we wanted the film to have and the overall message we wanted the film to say. We worked hard to make sure that the story was told in the right way so that exactly what we wanted to say came across on screen. 

JS: What do you hope people get out of the film? 

DA: I hope that when people watch “The Red Oak” they do see and appreciate all hard work that myself, the director, and the rest of the cast and crew put into it. The other actors and I had to go to very dark places to bring these characters to life. As a method actor, I fully engulfed myself in this role and lived as Dr. Rahal during the entire shoot on and off the set.

But also I hope that when people watch “The Red Oak,” they are also taken on a journey that will not only entertain them but will also make them think — about the people they have in their own lives who have dedicated themselves to helping others even at a great personal cost to themselves, so those people stop being taken for granted. 

JS: What did you learn at NYFA that helped you with this project? 

DA: I have been acting since I was six and went to school for theater. So I came to NYFA with a great background in the arts. However, I can say that the connections I made at NYFA were 100 percent key to not only bring the cast in this film, but also on so many other projects. The great thing about NYFA is that so many talented people come together to go after their dreams. As long as you prove yourself to be a hardworking professional, which I pride myself to be, that will make other hardworking professionals want to work with you. 

JS: What’s up next for you?

DA: I just wrapped a short film called “A Scream That’s Trapped Inside,” directed by Savvas Christou (who is still at NYFA), and a full-length indie feature film called “Ariadne,” originally titled Minotaur, in which I play the lead. “Ariadne” is directed by Adrian Rodriguez. That film should be out within a few months. Also, I just got the lead role in two other indie full-length feature films. One is called “Religion,” directed by Salifu Zakari, and the other is called “Apathy Equals Death,” directed by Aijia Li. Both films will be shooting later this year. 

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Dustin Ardine for taking the time to speak with us about his work. You can watch “The Red Oak” in its entirety by clicking here.

Interested in learning more about acting for film? Check out NYFA’s acting for film programs.


A Q&A With NYFA Acting for Film Alumna and Teacher’s Assistant Alice Dessuant

An actor plays many roles in the course of a career, but Alice Dessuant is also interested in roles behind the scenes. After completing her New York Film Academy training in acting for film, Alice decided to stay on and work as a TA, and most recently she booked a role in “La Recompense” in Paris.

NYFA had an opportunity to sit down with Miss Dessuant to hear some of her insights on what it’s like to shape shift and work in so many different types of roles within the entertainment industry. Here’s what she had to share with our community.


NYFA: Congratulations on your upcoming performances in France! Can you tell us a bit about your role and the production?

AD: Thanks! So I will be performing in a play called “La Recompense” (The Reward) at the Edouard VII theater, one of the biggest private theaters in Paris. We will be on stage every day (twice on Saturday) from March 14 to July 16 after six weeks of rehearsing.

“La Recompense” is the story of Martin, a brilliant historian who is rewarded with the International History Prize. His girlfriend and his brother seem to think it is THE prize of a lifetime, the accomplishment of his entire career. Martin however would do anything to give it back: indeed, all the laureates from the past years died a year after they got rewarded.

My character is introduced by Martin’s brother, who speaks about me during the play. I then quite literally appear to Martin at the end of the play to seal his fate.

NYFA: You’ve worked both in front of the camera as an actor and behind the scenes as a cinematographer and wardrobe assistant, and you’ve also worked in several countries. What would you say is your number one takeaway from shifting position, working internationally, and seeing the industry from so many sides?

AD: I feel like shifting position on set made me a better actress. And I would recommend it 100 percent. Knowing exactly who’s doing what and how they do it on set makes you more comfortable in your own position, and makes work more fluid. As for working in different countries, I definitely learned new acting tools for me to use back home. It’s a great way to approach new methods and expand your working skills.

NYFA: Why NYFA? Tell us a little bit more about your journey in choosing the acting for film program at New York Film Academy.

AD: To be perfectly honest, it was completely random! I was spending some time in New York in the summer and I saw an add for the school at a bus stop. I’d always wanted to leave Paris and study acting for film in New York, I thought it was a good place to start. Probably the best decision I ever made!

NYFA: What was it like studying acting for film in a country other than your own?

AD: Whether you are studying, working or just spending time abroad, you always get through phases where you feel homesick, where you miss your family and friends. That was probably the most challenging for me (that and the three months of snow every winter, God I hate the cold!). But more seriously, it really is nothing compared to how rewarding it is to accomplish something outside of your country, out of your comfort zone. It was an amazing feeling to have people who barely knew me, willing to give me a chance. It definitely boosted my confidence! And the fact is, as soon as I got back to France I booked three big jobs in a couple of weeks. I don’t think it would have happened if I had never left Paris for a while.

NYFA: What has surprised you the most about your classes at NYFA? Were there any subjects that became a new passion for you?

AD:  I was really surprised to have audition technique classes. In France, being an actor is still considered an art, not a business. So you learn to do the job but not to get the job. That was the most useful class for me. And I definitely fell in love with TV classes! Especially when working on sitcoms. It really feels like recorded live theater!

NYFA: How did staying on with NYFA and working as a TA change the way you understood your craft as an actor? Did your perspective on your courses change?

AD: Working as a TA made me realise how easy [in some ways] it is to be an actor! Knowing how much equipment is involved, and how much work it takes to produce anything really put my own work into perspective. Sometimes as an actor you show up on set, having worked on your character, emotionally charged, sort of in your own bubble really, and you forget the humongous amount of work it took to build the set, prep the lights, get the camera ready. Working on the other side reminded me of that.

NYFA: What was it like to be a part of the NYFA community both as a student and as a TA?

AD: I had a great experience as a student at NYFA. I felt really privileged. I absolutely adored my classmates and it felt like working with a solid acting troupe all year long. I also had a blast working as a TA. The experience was especially interesting and different for me because I went from a student perspective to working side to side with the teachers I had the year before. I found that same feeling of a troupe with the other TAs, which made the job very enjoyable.

NYFA: Favorite NYFA moment?

AD: Favorite NYFA moment as a student was probably being part of the NYFA ensemble, and getting to perform “Gruesome Playground Injuries” with my classmates.

NYFA: What’s inspiring you right now

AD: The people I am working with at the moment. Actors I have admired all my life and whom I get to be on stage with now.

NYFA: Do you have a favorite film, or favorite actor?

AD: Hardest question ever. I absolutely can’t name one movie. It’s just impossible. As for actors, Johnny Depp in “Edward Scissorhands” is the reason i decided to be an actor (after I realised Jedi and Indiana Jones were not actual jobs). At the moment I am particularly obsessed with both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Watching them act is purely the best acting class you can get. And watching them act together … I literally pause to take notes.

NYFA: What advice would you give to aspiring acting for film students?

AD: My advice is, get as many different acting classes possible. Work on different methods, with different teachers. And if you are ever offered to do another job on set besides acting, say yes.

And stay away from the craft service, it’s a trap!

Alice, thank you for taking the time to share a part of your story with the NYFA community. Break legs in your upcoming shows!


Creating A Successful Self-Produced Show; Interview With NYFA Graduate Corey Scott Rutledge

Corey Scott Rutledge

Photo provided by Corey Scott Rutledge.

NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and what first got you interested in acting (and graphic design)?

Corey Scott Rutledge: I grew up in Southeast Michigan. About fifteen minutes west of Detroit. My dad worked for Ford Motor Company, my mom worked in graphic design. I have a couple sisters and have had a parade of dogs growing up. Although most of my time was spent playing sports through school, my free time was spent creating through a variety of mediums. I made really bad, cheap short videos using my family’s digital camera. I once made a full recreation/production of Mortal Kombat with one friend of mine. Literally all the best fights were planned around my house. Ending with a climactic finale next to a pool. We edited in camera and at the time we thought it was the best thing ever made… It was not but the amount of creativity that went into the costumes, blocking and acting was pretty hilarious. I wonder if my neighbors ever wondered what we were doing.

Growing up at the time when cameras were becoming easier to use and the internet was becoming something you start to share your creations, it definitely impacted me to keep my creative juices flowing. Originally in high school I had a few different plans for life. Part of me wanted to try and pursue an athletic field while another part of me felt drawn to the military. It was a very confusing time in my life. The end of senior year I took a graphic design course and completely fell in love with the technology.

Although I was still unsure of what I wanted to do, I knew I had some talent or at least passion to do something with this new appreciation I found on a computer. I bought myself some time and enrolled in a small college to see where this would take me. I was pretty surprised to see how boring it could get. Although I loved constantly creating new projects and imagery, the business and technical side of it got to me. I wasn’t having fun, it was constantly dealing with people who didn’t feel passionate or stimulated about what they were doing. The week of graduating, I literally sat in the computer lab once again thinking about what I wanted to do. Did I really see myself sitting behind a computer for the rest of my life? What made me happy? The answer was actually always under my nose and in front of my eyes EVERY night.

I used to bartend near my college. After my shifts, most of the time I’d stop at this cheap DVD rental store and buy their “4 DVDs for $20” deal. I bought a ton of movies and every night I watched a different one.

So back to the computer lab. I sat there and just started questioning if that was even possible. I knew nothing about making movies other than how to block a Mortal Kombat finishing move next to the shallow end of a pool. I found NYFA online. Started researching it. It looked like a good fit for what I was looking for since I was inexperienced, coming from a completely different field.

In the beginning I originally was signed up for the filmmaking program but with my list of student loans and expenditures, I settled for the next best field to just get me to NYC, acting. I had no experience with any legit productions or shoots. I never auditioned, rehearsed or even memorized lines for anything BUT I felt like I just needed to get to the city and then see what was possible. It was the scariest and best decision I’ve ever made.

NYFA:  Was there anything particularly memorable – that stood out to you – about your time at NYFA?

CSR: There were a lot of moments that stood out. I think the most important and effective thing that happened to me there was meeting so many different people and networking with them. The majority of those I work with now, I met through the academy.

NYFA: You started a pretty successful sketch comedy group that has generated a lot of online views and buzz. After 6 seasons of The Shorts Show, is there any one video that was your favorite? 

CSR: The Shorts Show was a direct result of leaving NYFA and wanting to continue keeping busy and creating. I think the one that stood out for me was our Game of Thrones “Dragun Control” video. This was at a time that the show was entering the “third season” and morale was low considering the views weren’t there. There wasn’t a lot of hype.  A lot of people we used to work with dropped out or stopped participating all together.

Anyways, the idea called for a BIG set, BIG costume design, and a bunch of other ideas that I was way over my head with. I knew the concept was good (juxtaposing gun control debate with pop culture / game of thrones = draGUN control)

So I start sticking the feelers out there with everyone. Who could help make it happen? I asked some people who had interest in set design/creation about what it could cost me to make it cheap. They quoted me some crazy number so I didn’t bother them. At this point it became a personal test of will. If I gave up on the idea, I felt like I may as well give up altogether on the show. I chose instead to do most of it myself.

I got the green light from my boss, Daniel Dacian of bigapplefilms, to construct my own set in his studio. I was able to collect a bunch of V-Flats from another friend, Roberto, to make the set construction. I contacted Brusan Molding Cloth and proposed making a co-production/trade of services. I made them a promo video to show the behind the scenes of using their cloth, which was used to make the ice walls and rock flooring. I went to a fabric store and made all of my own costumes. I constructed and painted an entire set with zero experience other than being stubborn as hell to prove to myself I could do it. (thankfully a couple people showed up the 2nd day of construction and helped me finish the painting which was a pain in the ass)

In the end though, it was clear that I was capable of taking matters into my own hands and without a doubt the final was far better and rewarding knowing I made it myself. (side note: I’ll never do that again 🙂 )

NYFA: You’ve had a good bit of media exposure for your skits – be it for your Westboro Baptist Church dating site skit or your more recent Matthew McConaughey parody. For people looking to get a bit of their own exposure, how much of your exposure is organic and just a matter of good work, and how much is a concerted PR effort on your (or your team’s) part?

CSR: The Westboro Mingle video was the first video to actually have an organic “Viral” reaction. Ironically it was also one of the most inexpensive sketches we’ve ever done. Through that organic reach, I was able to obtain some great contacts to send our later work out to, which has resulted in some very amazing press.

Thankfully, when people Google us, they do find a lot of results so it’s made introducing and networking a little easier for me when I bother new writers/editors in hopes of them sharing our work. If you know any good people, send ‘em my way. We’re looking to expand.

NYFA: The internet and new media have obviously had a big impact on your success. Do you approach online projects differently than you would a typical film?

CSR: I definitely approach The Shorts Show online projects differently. Most of these shorts are written, shot, edited and released within a week or so of their initial concept. This is to keep things as topical as possible. It’s a very hectic timeline and you’re able to be a littler wilder and outside the box in your preparation and execution to make sure it gets done.

For film, I absolutely do not rush anything I do. I’ve been working on a collaborative anthology feature film called PRISM with many of Shorts Show directors. For the last six months I’ve rewritten my script close to twenty times. I’ve cast, recast, dropped cast, re-recast, relocated and rethought my story so often that I may go mad.

At the end of the day I feel like the stakes are higher for film and nothing can be rushed. I’m becoming obsessed with making it as good as can be and I can only hope it comes out that way.

NYFA: You also have a “gig” as managing director of bigapplefilms. How does this role help you in your creative pursuits?

CSR: Bigapplefilms has been a great foundation for me here. I started working for Daniel Dacian in the city just after NYFA. I had collaborated with him numerous times before we worked on the NYC 48 Hour film project, which ended up winning “Best Picture” that year. Since then, bigapplefilms has been directly responsible for The Shorts Show‘s existence through gear rentals, editing, and allowing me to continue pursuing its future. It’s been a wonderful collaborative environment.

NYFA: You’ve gotten back into graphic design pretty heavily with your poster art. Is design something you have been doing continuously, or is it a passion that you have recently re-kindled?

CSR: I’ve been working on posters since being in NYC. Most of these were under the radar since I worked on friends short films designs as favors. Since so many people are always looking for an idea for their films, I kind of wanted to return to my roots and explore other ways of contributing to projects.

NYFA: Is one art form (acting vs graphics) more rewarding for you than the other? How do the two interact?

CSR: I think acting is far more rewarding. The amount of prep work and cooperation on a film set to make one scene is something that can’t be beat for me. I think the design element is a great complement to film/acting because it also helps establish an identity for a performance or film’s entire feel.

NYFA:  What role did attending NYFA’s 2-year acting for film program have in where you are today with everything you are doing (be it your acting, job, graphics, or otherwise)?  

CSR: I think the role of networking is what really allowed me to continue this path. I don’t necessarily think ALL good actors get work, however, ALL good networkers do.

I’ve been lucky to be able to pursue acting with a different approach. Through making my own projects with the show, I’ve had the freedom to build a resume/portfolio that has landed me numerous new opportunities.

NYFA: With everything you are currently juggling, what is your ultimate career goal? 

CSR: Ultimate career goal….. Hmmmmmmm. That’s tough. I’d love to make ten feature films 🙂 But I break down most of my goals for one year for now.

For 2015, I’m planning on creating a new series under The Shorts Show that we are going to be pitching around the summer time. My goal is to finally get our tremendous cast and writing team discovered by a larger market and our show “picked up” so that we can focus more consistently on one single project.

NYFA: Any parting words of advice for aspiring actors, graphic designers, or artists in general?

CSR: I made a list. Hopefully something helps.

  2. Don’t believe 51% of the “bullshit.” Most of the people you meet are going to “talk” about opportunities. Find the people who are really doing them. Volunteer your time. Help them. You’ll never be let down when something doesn’t pan out. If 51%+ of everything I heard since moving here came true, I’d have three shows on HBO, two shows on Comedy Central, three million dollars and the cure for cancer.
  4. Don’t be a dick on set. These people will be the ones hiring you next time and just because… it’s better not to.
  5. GO TO SEE YOUR FRIENDS’ LIVE SHOWS! They’ll remember.
  6. Do FAVORS. Most projects are made from favors.
  7. PAY PEOPLE ON TIME. They’ll remember.
  8. Don’t buy pizza on set unless EVERYONE is okay with it.
  9. Refer your friends for jobs.
  10. DON’T BE LATE TO SET!!!! You will instantly be that asshole. Hard to shake that unless someone buys pizza.
  11. Save your money. Drink at happy hours. Remember bartender’s names. They’ll reward you eventually.
  12. Don’t get wasted and fall asleep on the subway. You may wake up in Coney Island covered in snow. (True story)
  13. Don’t forget a good idea. Use your notepad.
  14. Don’t be deterred by prices/money/quotes/inexperience.

Actors Michelle Monaghan And Gbenga Akinnagbe Discuss Their Roles In Fort Bliss

Below is the transcript from the Q&A with actors Michelle Monaghan and Gbenga Akinnagbe following a private screening of their new film Fort Bliss which was screened at NYFA’s Union Square campus and moderated by Acting for Film chair Glynis Rigsby.

Glynis Rigsby: So for those of you who don’t know, these are two extraordinarily accomplished actors whose body of work actually has a tremendous range. Both have done television and they’re in the Law and Order: SVU club. They’ve done television series and movies. They’ve both produced; Michelle is an executive producer of Trucker and Gbenga produced Dunes. Gbenga has actually done writing for The New York Times. And what do these ventures say about your careers in acting. I say that because many of the students here are actors. For an acting program, it’s a little embarrassing having you here because your careers actually began not from training programs. Michelle you majored in…

Michelle Monaghan: Journalism.

GR: Michelle majored in journalism at Columbia College and Gbenga actually majored in English and Poli Sci and Bucknell. It seems you both went out and auditioned. And one of the things that I think is very interesting about the way your careers evolved, and also your relationship to this film, is you went and did it. So a lot of your work, it seems to me, has a connection that has to do with those degrees in that it’s thoughtful work. It has a connection with something larger than what we think of the traditional lights and shininess of acting. Gbenga, you were very renowned for your work on The Wire, but also your work in 24. [To Michelle] You’ve done Mission: Impossible III, but you also did tremendous work on True Detective. So it’s a career where with a film like this seems very new, from what I can tell from your bios, that you’d be involved with a film like this. So I would like to hear you just talk about that aspect of your work where, the connection with this film and the connections with the characters, which are again not very shiny. You’re telling stories that might have personal and social connections and where does that come in with your work as an actor and what interests you?

MM: That’s actually something I’ve reflected on a lot in my life because I didn’t grow up wanting to act. I did, however, grow up in a really small town, a town of 700 people, very rural. And current events was something very common, something that we really witnessed, something we took very seriously in our home, we debated—I have older brothers, my mom and dad—we read the paper, we paid attention to the world. I think looking back on it now, journalism for me, investigative journalism, seeing other aspects of the world, was something that interested me, and I don’t know if it was because I kind of wanted to get out, and I was interested in that, and that was the only way I could think that’s the way I could get out and experience the world. I don’t think anybody really, I mean for me, thought—growing up in such a small town—that I would ever do something like this.

So I think in terms of what I relate to, it’s very real characters, very similar to this, that are grounded, that really feel like they could be the person next door, often times working class, which is my roots. And in terms of my prep for—you know, I haven’t studied acting as you said—but over the course of the years as I started acting I discovered I was actually using the five “W’s” and “H”—which is the who, what where, why, when, and how—you guys are all acting students, but it’s the approach to writing a news story essentially, and that’s what my approach is to characters. So thank God it wasn’t all for naught, I didn’t waste all that money, you know, because I didn’t get my degree. I left my senior year. So I used that.

But it’s interesting how your path presents itself and you just sort of go down one road and an opportunity presents itself and I feel very fortunate that I took the road less traveled to get to the ultimate place, but I think what I was aware of as a young child was probably, ultimately, this. I just didn’t know how to articulate it. I didn’t know how to articulate what my dream was at that particular time. That sort of answers your question.

GR: Gbenga, in interviews, at least from what I saw, you said you actually tried acting out not really knowing if it was something you wanted to do. It was just, “Maybe I’ll do this” and then you got cast in the Shakespeare Theatre and discovered it. But you got your degree in Poli Sci and English, clearly there was a possibility that something else would work out. I got to say as someone who actually got a degree in drama, I’m somewhat envious, I actually wish I had got a degree in history. That’s what’s so interesting to me about the fact that you’re both here on this film, in many ways a historical document of what’s happening right now. But that idea that there are other things out there, as it can get very isolated, very incestuous….

Gbenga Akinnagbe: I think it’s very important for someone who’s going to be an actor, an artist, to study and practice things outside of that art. I think actresses’ work I appreciate the most didn’t grow up acting. They did other things, they were engineers, and then they went into acting and studied elsewhere and they practiced it elsewhere. They had a core in something else. Yeah, like you said, I fell into it. I used to work with the federal government, the corporation for national service, registered assistant. It was an agency that Clinton started, it was the headquarters of Americorps and Vista and Teach For America and those programs. And so one of the superiors in my office came by my cubicle and mentioned that a friend of theirs was in town doing a show, a play, and that was the first time I conceived the thought that acting was a career you did. So I asked her about it, I was like, “Wow, that’s wild. Someone does that for a living?” She thought I was asking because I wanted to get into it. And she really just offhandedly dismissed me and said, “Oh you couldn’t do it because my friend is this…. (indecipherable).” And I was like, “Oh really?”

And so I didn’t even really want to do it, I just got this spark of interest. I bought some books, I went online, I went into chat rooms when they weren’t so creepy. Google had just started so I was Googling things so I just found out. Google had just started. So I got as much information as I could and I found out there were auditions near where I was working so I went out. I remember my first audition, I had the paper in my hand and it was like shaking like this as I was reading it. And I left completely embarrassed, but like thrilled and exhilarated. I used to regret not having studied acting, but then I realized it was one of the best things that could have happened to my career.

GR: I’m just thinking, when you come to a film like this, everyone gets involved in projects for a number of reasons, and that goes for any artist. Walking into a room with a certain project so this script is sent to you and people have interests. People have varied interests. You can have a rabid interest in fantasy football, as I think one of my colleagues does. But then they get the fantasy football movie and a connection is made. So, my next question would be about the connection that you had when you read the script and what drew you to it. I think sometimes it take someone to actually get to a place, Gbenga, you were talking about that, whether it’s in the audition process or whether it’s the writing and producing process. But there’s gotta be something about it that you love, something that speaks to you, that’s interesting to you. So just to hear both of you, or one of you, talk about what it was about the script that made you connect, that was interesting to you.

MM: Well, I think that when I first read it I just couldn’t believe what an amazing role it was. You know, they really are few and far between, female roles and male roles. You know someone as complicated as this. And when Claudia gave me the script, it was a tight script, it was near perfect. It wasn’t like it needed work. Someone just handed me this diamond in the rough, the woman was just so complex. She had substance and depth and conflict, what some people might call a woman who is flawed. So as an actor, that’s something you just want to sink your teeth into and at the same time, it was completely original. I had never kind of considered this aspect more seriously. This wasn’t something I was confronted with. I remember growing up in the lunch room, they would always have every branch of government sitting there, getting ready to recruit people. But I just sort of knew that’s what people did without an education. We weren’t at war at that very particular time so I never really considered the cost of war.

So I saw this dilemma, this conflict on page I thought “Wow, this would be really interesting to explore.” And so when I sat down with Claudia a few days later, I realized, it became apparent that she had been doing research, essentially she had been making documentaries for the military for five years. She had been writing this, and doing her homework for five years, which is why it was so good. But which is why it felt so real and poignant and important and timely and relevant. Because it was and it was really told from such an authentic place. And she was so confident in that and she had the Army support and all this stuff that it just became a no-brainer to go down this road, big or small, to do something of this quality.

GA: Same, you said it better. The characters were just well-rounded and they were real. The script was tight. And that’s so important to an actor, to a production. I remember meeting with Claudia after having read it and being really impressed, not just with the script and also to find out her background—all of the stuff she had been doing with the Army and so on and being a woman who has a different point of views than the people she’s working with. You can tell she can work with anyone and I thought the Butcher character added something very interesting to the story. And I was like “This is really cool, but can I play the Mexican?” She was like, “Well, we’ll think about that.” But all the characters really added to the story. They’re people themselves who are going through their own struggles, you see glimpses of their lives that you get. It’s not like you see glimpses of their lives that you don’t get and then you see how it all adds to her story. We can only take a small credit for it. The story was really well done.

MM: Yeah. I think to touch on that as well, all of the characters I still sort of marvel at it because it is such a little testament to her storytelling and her direction. But why it was so confidently acted by everyone is because all of the characters are making sacrifices. No one’s right, no one’s wrong. They all live in this grey world, which is where everybody fucking lives. That’s where conflict arises. So everybody’s just doing the best they can in a really imperfect world. And I think that’s why everyone does such a profound job because you really sympathize with all of these characters because one minute you’re aligning yourself with Maggie and her perspective, because she’s a strong woman and why shouldn’t she be able to go to war and leave her son behind. And then the next moment you’re aligning yourself with Richard, you know, who’s like, “Listen, you leave for fifteen months and I’m waiting for my door to be knocked on by somebody to tell me that you’re dying. That’s selfish, you know?” You understand these perspectives and I think it’s just so rare to be given material that’s kind of electric like that. So fair and honest.

Fort Bliss movie poster


Student: How’d you guys prepare for your roles, for your characters?

MM: Again, because Claudia had done all of that homework, there was so much on the page honestly. I felt like I was connected to the character when I read it. But we were able to go down to Fort Bliss. We actually ultimately shot down there, but prior to it we went down there for about a five-day research trip. I went through an intensive medic course just to really understand basic field surgery and to really just… Well, first of all to understand technically what I was going to be doing because I had to. But really understand the intensity that comes from that, just to get a glimpse from that, just a percentage of that. But really what was invaluable was spending, of course, the time with all of the female vets down there and earning their trust and then asking them questions. And I think initially they were skeptical of everyone. I think Claudia and our producer, Adam Silver, had warmed them up quite a bit months earlier and I came down and I just really expressed how sincere I was about telling their story and their struggles in a very authentic way, in a really honest and truthful way. And they were very candid and they really were open and honest and it was completely humbling.

And something I took from it as women is just really how grounded, truly how strong these women are and we’ve all been through serious things as you can see—it’s quite prevalent—and how matter-of-fact they are. And they’re not women who are asking for compassion or empathy or anything like that. They’re women that just want to be recognized and appreciated for what they’re doing and the sacrifices they’re making. And the way they shared their stories with me was with such grace, I really wanted to convey that. And they have such restraint, and whether that comes from a good place or not—you have to question that—but they have such restraint. And without having spent time with them I would not have been able to emotionally appreciate and engage that performance in the way that it does. So therefore, when she does open up and the ice starts to melt it becomes incredibly impactful, as it does for their loved ones as well.

Student: The little boy in the movie is amazing. Here we practice with all adults. What’s it like to interact with a child on set and how much preparation did you…obviously he has to trust you a lot. I was just curious what that was like.

MM: You know there’s a big stigma around that, and I think we’ve all experienced that, and I’ve worked with a lot of kids and that’s not been my experience at all. Maybe I’ve been really fortunate. But Claudia really went through a huge trouble, for lack of a better word, to find the right person. If she didn’t get the right boy there was going to be no movie. And she found Oakes and he’s sort of wise beyond his years.

GA: And that kid is special. I was having conversations with him in Hair and Makeup and I was like “Whooaaa.”

(Audience laughs)

MM: He looks tinier than what he is. He’s seven, but he’s a tiny seven. But he read the script, he understood the script, he knew what was happening with all of the characters. His folks were super cool, not stage parents at all. Fortunately I have children and have been around a lot of children and you just sort of connect with them on their level. It’s a no-brainer. And in between takes we would just try to keep it light, and just sort of play and stuff. But if anything, they’re not a burden. If anything they’re an inspiration working with children because they don’t think about it. They just act with very little thought and one minute they’re playing with a truck and the next minute they’re in a very emotional connected scene. I didn’t…with the exception of him, a couple of maybe afternoons of having a lot of sugar, you know, which there was. I mean, the little shit deserved it!

It was hard because we shot in twenty-one days. People would be like, “Ok we gotta get this, come on!” But that’s just him being a kid and you have to honor and respect that too. But I loved working with him. He’s so tremendous in the film, those little eyes, the physicality. He doesn’t even move his head, just the way he looks at you, with his eyes. It’s just such a lesson with acting because there’s so much subtlety of acting that’s so powerful to what we do as human beings. We’re really subtle, we really connect with people and communicate with people in really subtle ways. So it was just a reminder to watch a child do that and to embrace that yourself.

Student: Going off the preparation question, I noticed that both the characters are suffering from PTSD. So I was just wondering how much you guys looked into that or if it was just already there for you from the director.

GA: I got drunk and got into bar fights. No, I didn’t get drunk but I did do bar fights though. No, what was great about this film was the subtleties. Like what [Michelle] said, it was shot in a real way, it was written in a real way, and the themes were laid out in a real way, which was really smart storytelling because it’s very easy, particularly in a film like this where these are all elements we see in the news all the time and you know an audience will be like give it to them heavy. It’s very easy to do that: “Intensity, intensity” with shoulders shaking and sweating in a corner and shooting up things. Most cases like that aren’t like that, aren’t expressed like that. They’re expressed with difficulty with relations with loved ones. And Claudia, having the history she does with the military, working with soldiers and so on, she could tell the story in a real way. And she chose to. It’s a credit to her as a smart filmmaker. Often times we sensationalize for the sake of getting an audience or the possibility of getting a studio, but she wrote the script she wanted and shot it the way she wanted. She had full cooperation from the Army and they didn’t actually try to get her to do anything with the script, editing it or tone it down or nothing like that. They gave her full, full leeway to do what she wanted and to their credit they got out in front of it. So I think because of that, because this is a real depiction of soldiers—not just one, but soldiers in general that have PTSD—it’s more difficult to watch.

Has anyone ever seen 127 Hours? He’s cutting off his arm and it’s taking him all this time and so on. I went to go see it and when I left, someone had fainted, a couple people had fainted, and I was talking to some of the people that worked in the theatre and they were saying that this has been happening all across the country, people throwing up and so on, and fainting. And I think it was because it was a very real depiction of someone doing this. We’re all used to sensationalized violence, but this was a very real thing—the ligaments, the bone—what you really would have to do to accomplish this horrible task. And we’re not used to that and we reacted to it. So I think that’s another reason this film was strong, it was a very real depiction of what people, it was like very raw.

Student: In the movie, there was some sex. It was very real. My question is how do you manage to make it seem so real. I know it’s not real, but….

MM: It was not real, you know. They were intense scenes to shoot, you know. Manola Cardona is a wonderful actor and I know he’s got a huge following in Latin America and he’s done a lot of strong work there. And Claudia really wanted to work him. He’s a tremendous actor. And those are very vulnerable scenes to shoot. Fortunately I’ve had to shoot a lot of those in my career and that’s just sort of the way it goes. And everybody knows what you’re doing. It’s like a professional thing and everybody’s been in the room when that’s gone on. I think what made this tricky, it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be sexy, of course we’re meant to see that they have that initial attraction. The sex is an acting out for her because she doesn’t know how to communicate because she’s so emotionally suppressed as a result of all these things. And I love the aspect of this filmmaking because it’s actually really hard for me to watch it too. And I typically don’t have a difficult time watching myself on screen, but those scenes are confronting because they happen, they’re jarring, and they are so sort of explicit. And then as the story progresses you understand the context in which—I hope you do—in which why they are what they are. So they’re not supposed to be necessarily sexy or beautiful or passionate. They’re just supposed to be a reflection of who she is and what she’s going through and her state of mind and it’s her state of mind. So Claudia and I had a lot of talk about how we were going to shoot that because, you know, it makes me a little uneasy, but it’s truthful to how women sort of respond and how men respond to coming home from war.

Student: I was wondering if you could talk more about working with Claudia. I didn’t really know who the director was but as I was watching I got a sense of a sensitivity and I was wondering to myself if it was a woman director. Could you talk more, if you’ve worked with men and worked with women and how you felt working with Claudia and how she approached her whole storytelling and production.

GA: I don’t know if this is PC or not, but I think when I watch most films I could tell if a woman directed it or a man’s directed it. I think that Claudia’s film is very—and that’s not necessarily good or bad, sometimes it is. This film is very well done. She has a lot of experience working in a man’s world and she has the sensitivities of the person, of the woman she is and she was able to tell this film in a way that you watch it and you’re not quite sure if a woman or a man directed it. Just because I’m hypercritical of the business, I’ll say because how well she told this woman’s story, a woman directed this. But because of how well she told this person’s story, we can see that what she’s going through is relative. Both men and women go through this thing. We were at Virginia last night at another screening and Q&A and I thought about how much of what we see is male-dominated roles, written by men, produced by men, and so on. And we just kind of buy into it and this is the story and these are the stories. But with a strong female lead—to be honest, it’s not about her being a female—this is like a human being going through something. But because it is a female we are able to see it as a human being, and not necessarily the typical male-dominated stories we see. So it kind of opens our minds even more so. And to her credit [Michelle] didn’t play it—she’s a smart, beautiful actress—she didn’t play it easy. This was a woman’s struggle. This was a woman’s struggle. I could see a guy go through the same thing. We heard stories of fathers. Actually, one of the reasons Claudia had started this was a single father from the military who she met and who was going for his second deployment. And she asked him, “Well, what are you going to do with your son?” because the mother is not in the picture. And he’s like, “Well, I’m leaving my son with neighbors for fifteen months at a time or so on.” And Claudia had never thought about what happens to these families, what happens to these single parents and so on. And here’s a great depiction of that and because it’s a woman we’re able to see it as a personhood. Do you understand what I’m saying?

MM: I would completely agree with him.

Student: Would you say playing these roles changed in any type of way? You came from something that coming into it you didn’t really have now.

MM: For me, 100%. This role, this experience completely enlightened me to an aspect of the world I never considered and, you know, these women completely touched my life. And the whole experience, I’m just so grateful for it and it’s definitely something I want to continue to bring awareness to. And it’s not just the sacrifices our soldiers make, but truly the sacrifices that they’re families make. There’s one woman that shared with me; she’s an amazing medic, highly decorated, she’d been deployed a couple of times. She was really a huge asset to me in terms of my prep. And she was getting ready to redeploy on her third deployment. This was after a week, she was like “I found out my five year-old son has just been diagnosed with autism and I don’t know what I’m going to do.” And it hit me like a ton of bricks. This is a woman who’s been with the same platoon for three, four, five years. So she feels really, really torn between her country and her family. She’s completely dedicated to her platoon, they depend on her, she feels a real responsibility to them. And that’s a very honorable thing. She’s a medic. And at the same time she’s devoted to her son. And she made ultimately the decision to leave her son with his grandparents. Fortunately she had them to lean on. But for fifteen months, that’s a really, really long time. And I just honor her for doing that, and making the decision. And I respect her for that. I don’t judge her for that. I don’t know if a lot of people would have the same perspective if a father said, “Well, my son has been diagnosed, but I’m going off to war.” We would say that’s an honorable thing and you’re providing for your family. But if a woman does that, we judge them. We say “She’s a bad mother.” And I think, that’s just something I want to shed more light on. There’s over 200,000 women in active duty and over 40% of them are moms. And they are doing a really honorable thing and I just want them to be recognized for that.

Student: I just want to ask you two, having all the knowledge that you have acting and the journey that it takes. You do wonderful work like the one you guys are doing. If you could go ten years into the past or five years and you could see yourself, what advice would you give yourself that has to do with the journey you’re gonna go on.

GA: This feels so Actor’s Studio right now. But I feel ya, I hear you, I hear you. I have to think about that so go ahead.

MM: You know, I would give just real simple advice. And it’s just in terms of the audition process. I just think that’s a very daunting thing to do. I don’t know what stage you’re at, you know. We still go in and audition and part of me kind of likes it because I like the idea of knowing that I earned the job. There are times, with this job, I auditioned for it and it was offered to me and you know, there are fears to it. And all of a sudden I’m going to get there on the day and I’m going to make some choices and they’re gonna go, “Well, this isn’t exactly what we wanted to do.” I actually try to embrace it and acknowledge it and know that not every audition is going to be awesome, but you can just make an impression. There have been tons of auditions I’ve gone on that I’m like, “There’s no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to get this role.” But if I can at least make an impression with the material in some small way. Or even just with the casting director. Maybe a casting director will invite me back the next time around and maybe I’ll be able to connect with that material better. I just think, not to be so hard on yourself. Also in terms of the audition, they want you to get the job, remember that. They’ve invited you into the room so they want you to get the job so just try not to be as intimidated. I know I try to tell myself that too. And just always be off-book. It took me years to remember that. I think it took me at least probably three years. And I forget how much great work you do between lines. Again, it goes to what I was saying earlier you know. Your opportunity to connect with that camera, that casting director, that reader that’s right after you finish that line and if you look down, you’ve wasted half of the opportunity right there. Half of the audition is in the actual words and the other is between lines. And I would just say that’s really practical advice and once I really accepted that and embraced it. And you can really put a lot of work into the memorization aspect and then I could actually allow myself to have fun with it.

GA: It’s interesting because I don’t go into an audition off book….

MM: Wow. Everybody has their own process!

GA: Yeah, and it’s something that I always wanted to dabble with because there are so many little things you can do to practice and try on your journey. And that’s something I’ve wanted to practice and try. It’s a ballsy thing. But I’ll have [the script], even if I don’t need it, I’ll have it in my hand.

MM: I’ll still hold it. It’s a little crutch.

GA: But in terms of giving myself advice ten years ago, honestly I would tell myself to make sure you do evaluate things outside of this business. I’ve seen so many people who’ve been torn up by the business or torn themselves up. And you really have to be honest about why you get into this. And honestly, no one can judge you as far as why you get into this. I remember talking with one dude—I was just about to say his name but I won’t—but I was talking to this one dude, I was out in LA and just him and his journey just scared the hell out of me. I was like, I don’t want to be that. So one day I asked him, “why are you doing this?” And he said, “I want to be on billboards, I want teenage girls to scream my name, I want to be on t-shirts.” And it’s like, alright!

MM: Wow….

GA: And the thing is, I actually respected him more because I didn’t respect him all that much before because he knew exactly why has was in this thing. And I couldn’t judge him. And on top of that he knew why he was doing it, so it was like, good for you. So whatever your reason is, no one can judge you. Just make sure you know what it is, be true to yourself—I’m telling myself from ten years ago—and have value and practice things outside of this business.

Student: OK, so in the scene where Maggie and Butcher have their confrontation, I’m curious to know from both of you, what processes did you go through to capture the intensity of the scene. Because there’s kind of a moment there, it’s kind of like their climax. So I’m curious to know how you go about capturing that.

MM: You know, Gbenga and I had, I felt like a very strong chemistry from the very beginning. I feel like there’s that scene where they acknowledge each other, where the lockers are. I forget what that area is called. They shake hands. Did we shoot that first?

GB: We did.

MM: We shot that first. I feel like we might have been in a fortunate situation where we got to shoot some things chronologically. But that scene is a really intense scene. Gbenga’s performance is quite, there is a lot of depth there, there is a heaviness. There’s a lot riding on it for Maggie and I think that when I honestly opened up the door—I don’t know if we rehearsed it in a room or on set—but I remember him in the state of that place, but truly as a person, when I opened up that door, that informed me about a lot of things. Like I went, “Oh, wow, this shit’s for real.” I kept having that experience again and again, it was heavy. But I kept feeling like that’s really real. You know, it’s a beautiful scene to play with you. It’s beautifully written. And again, all of the writing is a real testament to Claudia because the direction and the tone are really specific and I think that’s a testament to Claudia casting the right people. She knew what kind of actors she wanted and what they would bring to that and she put us all together and allowed us to do what we wanted to do. But she directed us delicately as well to make sure there was nuanced beats there, if that answers your question.

GB: [Michelle’s] absolutely right. [Claudia] directed delicately and I was fortunate enough to work with people throughout the film who were just really open to trying something different, including the director. It was a really collaborative process and you don’t always get that. But it was that, I think the film shows that. The best things came from that. Was it late the night we shot that?

MM: Yeah, yeah.

GB: So that also helped. We were exhausted. Particularly Michelle, she’s in every scene, she’s carrying it. So bringing that in and being in a room with someone who’s also bringing that in. The stakes were at the highest points at that point. She’s coming into that room and I’m not sure if she’s going to get out of that room. I’m not sure if I’m going to get out of that room. It’s that weird. Like she said, the shit is real. And then you go from there.

Student: Michelle what kind of challenges did you face preparing for a lead role as an actress in such a female-oriented movie as opposed to the supporting actress work you’ve done?

MM: You know, it’s interesting. It’s really honestly the same approach, it’s just the size of the role. This one in particular, you know, it was just a lot more intense. There was just a lot more prep. And talking about the stakes, the stakes seemed higher for me because again I felt like I was portraying real women. And so, because we were shooting in twenty-one days, the prep really had to be done before production. There was no time for Claudia and I to really sit down and talk about anything. We were really clear that the real important aspect was this emotional journey that Maggie went on, the level of restraint that we needed to hold back on. That’s hard for me. I’m a pretty dramatic, I’m an emotional person. I wear my heart on my sleeve. So it was a real constant reminder to me and to constantly ask Claudia to make sure that I kept my emotions in check. Especially as I was getting more and more exhausted. So that was really the constant barometer I wanted to make so it was more passionate at the end.

Student: My question is for both of you individually. It’s a very serious movie. What would you say in each individual role is the most fun?

MM: For me, the action. I actually just like that in life. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I got to go through a medic training. I got to insert a lot of IV’s into arms, and do tourniquets and do all these things that I never would have the opportunity to get to do. I’m sure that sounds lame, but that’s one of the things I love about acting, and that’s probably why we’re all here. We like to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes. And you’ve heard this before, you get to learn a little about a lot. And so I love that, I love to learn something new and that was really fun. And then I just loved that real tight group of people, where we all collaborated with. Every single person we worked with, from the cast to the crew, everyone was the most optimistic person. They all came in with the best foot forward and we wanted to do the best we could. So there was an incredible synergy and that was really fun. We’d shoot all night and right before we left set, we’d just like have a beer at 6 AM. And that was fun. It was like we were making a film, a student film. It was nice to have that kind of camaraderie. That means a lot.

GA: I have to say, I too am an adrenaline junkie. I love action, I love to do big, cool things. Running and chasing people and being chased.

MM: Mostly being chased.

GA: I didn’t do any of the paramedic training, but a lot of the training, because we were doing the training scenes out in the field. That was really cool. Just running, running my troops over and all that stuff, I love doing things like that. And I had a good time with some of the actors. One of the actors, he lives between New Mexico and…Luis…and El Paso. And he took us out, showing us El Paso. And he’s a really smart, cool, funny, sensitive dude and he showed us…we just went and we’re looking around and went onto some cliffs and looked down at the city and hung out in front of some rich peoples’ houses. And looked away towards the city. And we just kind of explored, and we could see Mexico from over there and I lived in Mexico for a while so Mexico is a part of me. And it’s just right there, it was cool. That was one of my favorite parts of doing this thing—camaraderie-wise. One of my least favorites was that I wanted to be the Mexican!

Tom Machell Discusses the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Life After NYFA

Tom Machell

photo by Blake Babbitt

The New York Film Academy had the privilege of attending the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, conducting Acting for Film and Filmmaking workshops. While there, Roger Del Pozo, NYFA’s Director of Performing Arts Enrollment, ran into one of our esteemed alumni, Tom Machell, who was performing in his wildly popular and extraordinarily funny, surreal sketch comedy show, zazU. This was Tom’s third appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Roger thought it’d be a good idea to chat a little bit about his experience both at Fringe and elsewhere in his career.

NYFA: What are you doing here at Fringe?

Tom Machell: I’m doing my own show this year, zazU. We are a parallel universe sketch comedy group. We’ve created this comedy group from a show we did in London called “News Review,” which is a satirical, political comedy show and we loved working with each other so we carried on. With zazU we’ve created a whole world, so the audience is taken in. You follow a bee through a map and you enter this world of zazU, and we play 40 characters in the hour and then you get taken back out again at the end.

NYFA: Is this your first time at Fringe?

TM: No, this is my third Fringe. I came here before I went to NYFA, when I wrote a play that premiered at Fringe. Immediately after graduating from NYFA, I came with the second show, which was about the first woman to be accepted to the magic circle, and now this is my third. So I’m a veteran of the Fringe.

NYFA: What’s the best thing about coming to Fringe?

TM: It’s the showcase opportunity more than anything. We’ve had a lot of interest in our show — from production companies and a lot of big casting directors. If you get an opportunity to get in a show here, you definitely should because it is great exposure.

NYFA: So what have you been doing beyond Fringe?

TM: I did a German film called Die Agentin, which just premiered in Munich along side actress Angela Winkler. I just shot a music video for the American band The Lighthouse and the Whaler, and I’m writing a film with Gary Morecombe, the son of comedy legend Eric Morecombe, called The Buckets, which we are shooting in October in Malta.

NYFA: Wow! So you’ve been busy!

TM: (laughs) Yes, very, very, very busy.

NYFA: So, Tom, how was your experience at New York Film Academy?

TM: I had an amazing time at New York Film Academy. First off, I met my best friends in my entire life there. I now have friends from all around the world. It was a great place to not only learn the craft but also how to market yourself. I learned about the whole business side of this world, which the majority of drama schools seem to forget about. They just sort of cast you out and then you forget – I need to market myself, I need to update my headshots, I need to make short films with my friends. The Academy has a curriculum where I would go to class and then the next day I could be on set shooting a short film; and then go back to class on the following day. It was constantly working and studying, working and studying, which I feel was amazing preparation for the industry.

NYFA: So, will you be back at Fringe next year?

TM: Yes, we definitely are, with this show. We are currently in talks with BBC Radio for a radio show and that would be amazing! It has been just an incredible time.

NYFA: That’s great. Congratulations on your success, Tom.

TM: Thanks!

Aubrey Plaza Gets Real with NYFA About Being An Actress, Her Affection For Chris Bosh, and More

Aubrey PlazaNYFA: How has your training at institutions like NYFA helped you to develop as an actress? What advice would you give to students looking to enroll in acting school?

Aubrey Plaza: Experience, experience, experience! NYFA gave me the opportunity to work with other like-minded creative excited people.

NYFA: As you are primarily known for your comedic work as an actress, at what point did you know comedy was the path for you? Were you a funny kid?

AP: I don’t really know. When I was about 12 I started doing community theater and auditioned for Cinderella. Instead of getting cast as the lead (which I was hoping for) I was cast as the Ugly Stepsister

NYFA: You have worked with some of the funniest actors in the business, including Amy Poehler, Seth Rogan, Nick Offerman, Will Arnett, and Adam Scott, to name a few. If there was a comedy version of Survivor, who do you think would be the first one to be voted off the island?

AP: Adam Scott. What an asshole!

NYFA: If your parents didn’t name you after Bread’s song Aubrey, what other 70’s song would you have liked to be named after?

AP: Summer Breeze. Summer Breeze Plaza. In fact, I might change my name to that…

NYFA: If you could work with any actor, alive or dead, who would be your dream co-star? And on that note, are there any particular animals or monsters you would like to act with?

AP: Judy Garland. Nicolas Cage. And all the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park (the first one).

NYFA: As Parks and Recreation enters its final season, what would be your dream ending scenario for your character April Ludgate?

AP: I would like April to shadow Joan Callamezzo and then take over her show after she overdoses. Then April will turn it into a variety show and become famous. This way I can do different characters and begin world domination.

NYFA: What do you think the most general misconception the audience has about you as a person? Do people tend to confuse your personality with that of April’s on Parks and Recreation?

AP: People tend to think I will be mean or sarcastic like my characters…but I am nice! I am definitely sarcastic but that is not my most dominant characteristic…in real life I am much more jazzy.

NYFA: You’ve made it very public your affection for Chris Bosh on Twitter. If he was a dinosaur or magical creature, what kind do you think he would be? Has he yet to recognize your fandom and has his wife commented on your fraternizing?

AP: He has not. She has not. He IS a magical creature and someday we will go on a journey together through a magical forest of dreams.

NYFA: Having worked primarily in comedies and dramas, what genre would you like to try your hand at, if you could pick any? Could you see yourself fronting an action movie like Die Hard or going the fantasy YA route?

AP: I would absolutely kill to be in an action movie. I want to kick some ass real real bad.

NYFA: Do you have any rituals or superstitions that you perform before filming a scene? Or are superstitions for wusses?

AP: I stare at myself in the mirror and slap myself over and over again until I feel ready.

NYFA: What actor or comedian do you think the rest of the world is totally sleeping on right now? 

AP: Marcy Jarreau.

NYFA: You’ve stated in the past that you modeled the character of April on your own younger sister. Have you used any other friends or family as inspirations for roles?

AP: I cannot tell.

NYFA: What do you dislike most about being a publicly recognized actress?

AP: Expectations.

NYFA: In a perfect or parallel world, where do you see yourself in ten years?

AP: In the south of France, with a bunch of adopted children and blonde hair.

Aubrey Plaza portrays the title character in Matt Spicer’s dark comedy “Ingrid Goes West,” releasing August 2017.

From Grey’s Anatomy to Tomb Raider: 12 Essential Questions With Camilla Luddington That You Must Read

Camilla Luddington

NYFA: What is your personal background and what in your own history drew you to acting?

Camilla Luddington: I grew up in the UK and starting training with the Italia Conti School of Dramatic Arts when I was just 11 years old.  The movie The Wizard of Oz was what initially drew me to acting. At five years old I was able to understand that Judy Garland was an actress playing a character and that I wanted to do the very same thing.  Perhaps it was an even greater extension of “make believe” that I wanted to pursue.

NYFA: As a cast member of Grey’s Anatomy, you work with an eclectic and accomplished group of actors. How has being part of an ensemble cast helped you to develop as an actress? Are there any particular guest actors you would enjoy having as a patient on Grey’s Anatomy?

CL: Every member of the cast has such a good work ethic.  It’s been great to watch their process for breaking down material and bringing life to it week after week.  They are also so encouraging to new cast members which I think can be rare. They invite you to “play” in scenes and push you beyond your comfort zone. As for a guest star, I am a huge fan of Orange Is the New Black and Uzo Aduba. I would love to work with her.

NYFA: What lesson did you learn as a student at the New York Film Academy that you continue to apply to your professional career?

CL: Before the New York Film Academy I had only worked in theatre.  As a student I learnt the intimacy that the camera has with an actor. It’s most certainly an adjustment.  And I felt like I was really pushed by James Price who taught us Meisner. He really helped me understand the importance of being “raw” with your emotions as an actor. It feels vulnerable to be that exposed but he pushed us to do it.

NYFA: Having lived in America most of your adult life, what aspect of British culture do you miss most?

CL: I miss British humor. It’s just different than American humor. I get my fill by watching tv shows like The Office, Derek and The Inbetweeners.

NYFA: What acting skills does your work as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider video game series particularly draw upon? What advice would you give other aspiring actresses looking to break into video games?

CL: Motion capture feels “freeing” to me as an actor. It’s not like theatre where you have to play to an audience, or like TV where you have to be aware of a camera because it’s literally attached to you. It’s essentially just you in a giant room they call the “volume” and you are left with your imagination to create the world around you.  The process is fascinating.  To anyone aspiring to break into games I would say submit to a voice over agent. Oftentimes they deal with auditions for video games. Also it helps to have martial arts experience. Take some classes for fun. It’s definitely a bonus when you are up for a role as so much work is physical.

NYFA: What is your least favorite way to die in Tomb Raider? What’s the most fun thing you’ve gotten to do as Lara Croft?

CL: Drowning is my least favorite. I basically have to choke on bottles of water to get the right sounds recorded.  As for the most fun thing I get to do, I’m very attached to the bow and arrow she uses. Simply having to draw it in the face of enemies is fun.

NYFA: Were you interested in video games prior to acting in Tomb Raider? Do you consider yourself a gamer and if so, what’s your favorite game?

CL: I can’t consider myself a gamer because I’m terrible at games. But of course I have a go- whether it’s playing Call of Duty or Sonic. I had also never thought really about acting in video games before or the process of creating one. Now I’m obsessed.

NYFA: As part of Grey’s Anatomy, you’ve gotten to work with arguably one of the most successful players in television, Shonda Rhimes. What is the most important or influential thing you’ve learned from working with her?

CL: Shonda has a way of keeping her audience on edge time and time again. She produces the kind of shows that people are talking about at the water cooler the next day. She doesn’t give in to what the audience want… And always… ALWAYS it serves for a more captivating story line. That’s what I like about her. She’s just paving the way for females in the industry. She’s showing what a power house women can be…

NYFA: When you first started out in acting, what was your dream gig? Have you landed it yet and if so, what is another dream role of yours?

CL: I would love to do a period piece. Or a fantasy piece like Game of Thrones. The closest I’ve come to it is playing a fairy on True Blood. But I’m crossing my fingers for more opportunities.

NYFA: Having played Kate Middleton in William & Kate, are there any other iconic historical roles that you would love to be cast for?

CL: I would love to play Elizabeth Taylor. She was such a big presence on and off screen. Perhaps one of the last iconic old Hollywood movie stars- and of course a fellow Brit who also moved to the US early in her life.

NYFA: You star in the upcoming horror film The Pact II. Do you have a personal favorite horror film of all time?

CL: My favorite horror movie is the original Halloween. Perhaps because it was the first horror movie I had ever seen but also because it still stands today.  The score is perfectly suspenseful and the shots and cinematography have been emulated time and time again for a reason. It is iconic and to me a must watch.

NYFA: Do you have any parting words of advice for actresses realizing their goals in such a competitive industry? What do you feel helped you stand out as an actress?

CL: We are always told the same things over and over. Work hard, stay in class and study. All those things are so important, of course, but one thing I learnt that was so simple (but in the beginning I never felt) was to realize that time in an audition room is mine. I used to be scared to ask to do my audition scenes again- or to start over thinking that that was a sign of incompetence. But it’s so important to feel your voice in the few minutes you have in that room. Make those minutes count. Own it. If you feel like your first read wasn’t your best work, ask to read again. It’s so easy to just race through auditions and want to get out of the room but don’t.