5 Important Questions to Ask about Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Marvel is back at it once again, with an extensive slew of projects set to release in theaters and their streaming platform Disney+. Among Marvel’s upcoming projects is an interesting film called Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. For those not familiar with the titular character, there is quite a bit to unpack. Here’s what you need to know before the film comes out this fall. 

1. Who is Shang-Chi?

To answer your potential question, Shang-Chi is actually an established character in the Marvel comics. The character first debuted around the time Enter the Dragon came out, which featured Bruce Lee. Since the 70s, the western world has become more intrigued in kung fu which prompted Marvel to incorporate the art into their stories. They would acquire the rights to a villain by the name of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the brainchild of novelist Sax Rohmer. Shang-Chi’s story would center around turning away from his villainous father, who they wrote as being Dr. Fu-Manchu. But what is Shang-Chi’s power? Well, put simply he is Marvel’s master of the martial arts. Like he’s really, really good at what he does. So much so that he’s being pitted against a particularly powerful and equally crafty villain in the Marvel comics. Which leads us to the Ten Rings part of the title.

Shang-Chi and Ten Rings

2. What are the Ten Rings?

As far as the comics are concerned, the ten rings are a set of powerful rings that grant their user otherworldly powers. Each one has a name and grants the user a specific power. We’re going to breeze through them here:.

  1. Zero Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to freeze things close to absolute zero.
  2. Liar Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to mind control targets and influence their thoughts.
  3. Lightning Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to generate and control electrical energy.
  4. Incandescence Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to use heat-based attacks.
  5. Daimonic Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to manipulate different kinds of energy.
  6. Nightbringer Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to summon a veil of darkness that absorbs nearby light. 
  7. Spectral Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to shoot a beam of energy that can destroy the bonds between atoms, even bonds at the subatomic level as well.
  8. Spin Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to generate a vortex as powerful as a tornado or a hurricane.
  9. Influence Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to generate concussive blasts and powerful sonic booms. 
  10. Remaker Ring: A ring that allows the wielder to manipulate matter to their liking. 

Now, it is important to note that the rings as they are described here may not work the same way as they will in the film. The creators at the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have a penchant for rearranging details and retelling certain aspects of already existing stories. However, one thing has remained constant, and that is the wielder of these rings of power. Bringing us to the next part of our discussion, the long-awaited arrival of a villain known as The Mandarin.

3. Who is The Mandarin?

The Mandarin is a character that technically isn’t new to the MCU. The first time we get a glimpse of this character is in Iron Man 3. Viewers learn however that not only is The Mandarin initially presented as a fake, the “true” Mandarin in that film was a character named Aldrich Killian. Killian was someone who was wronged by Tony Stark, and to take revenge, he gave himself abilities by undergoing a gene manipulation technique called Extremis. Even Comicbook says it in their article, this version of the character wasn’t very satisfying to fans who knew what the real Mandarin is like. The real Mandarin isn’t an actor playing a role or even a genetically enhanced one percenter. The true Mandarin uses the aforementioned ten rings of power to bring his enemies to heel. He is also one of Iron Man’s more notable foes, as in the comics, his rings err more on the side of being technological in origin (even though there are some versions which hold their origin to be mystical). As far as the trailers for Shang-Chi are concerned, it looks like there’s a possibility the rings could be following a mystical track, but there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. On another note, the real Mandarin was also stated as being behind Tony Stark’s kidnapping in the first Iron Man film, as the organization behind it was called The Ten Rings. An organization which is not only a nod to the Mandarin, but one that will be reappearing in Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings with the Mandarin as its leader. As cool as it is to see a classic iteration of this villain getting the screen time it deserves, the Mandarin isn’t the only Marvel character that is getting a revamp.

4. Who else will we be seeing?

Teased in the trailer is a most peculiar fight. In one corner we see one of the sorcerers that are known for working alongside the Sorcerer Supreme (thought to be Wong from Doctor Strange). In the opposing corner, the movie looks to be making an MCU deepcut in terms of revisiting a character from the franchise’s beginnings by including The Abomination. The two characters fighting are indeed Wong and the Abomination, with none other than Marvel’s chief executive, Kevin Feige, to verify this. The last time we saw the Abomination was in Hulk’s one and only standalone movie in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk. When we last saw the Abomination, he was taken in by General Ross and kept under his supervision. At least as of 2017, the only other time there is a reference to this character is in the comic book The Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week and a short film called The Consultant (according to CinemaBlend). In the comic book, Abomination was locked up in The Vault, which is a prison in the MCU. In the short film, there is a movement by the World Security Council to free Abomination, but this attempt to free him is thwarted by Tony Stark, Phil Coulson, and Jasper Sitwell. Since then, there has been no mention of Hulk’s nemesis within the larger MCU universe. Until now that is. In addition to the villain’s return, he also sports an appearance that is much more reminiscent of his original comic book look. For those that have waited for the payoff, it is finally here and it’s not stopping here either. Tim Roth, the actor that portrays the Abomination, is set to reprise his role in the upcoming Marvel series She-Hulk which will be released on Disney+.

5. Why is Shang-Chi so important as a film?

While all the items previously touched upon are important in their own way, the true highlight of the Shang-Chi film runs deeper than anticipated cameos and revamped villains. Shang-Chi will be the first Marvel movie to feature a lead Asian American actor, as well as a predominantly Asian cast. Marvel has been taking strides to up their representation game, which first started with Black Panther. We’ve talked a lot about representation in the film industry in the past (see our articles on Cruella and Scarlett Johansson), and the same rings true with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (pardon the pun). Everyone deserves to see a hero in their own image, and thankfully, Shang-Chi will be more than ready to provide that role model energy as the MCU continues to unfold.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings official release date is September 3, 2021.

The Suicide Squad: What You Need To Know And Insights Into The Movie Industry

Warner Bros. has not had the best track record when it comes to expanding its live-action DC cinematic universe (DCEU). One can make the case that the race to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) took its toll, as well as other controversies related to the Justice League film. That’s not to say they haven’t had successes. Wonder Woman, Shazam and Aquaman were pretty fun and well received movies. However, if Warner Bros. were to begin charting the course going forward, its success might rely on changing things up to keep these movies fresh and interesting to new and returning viewers. Which is why a movie like The Suicide Squad might be just what both the fans and Warner Bros. need in order to break the cycle once and for all.

What Does The Suicide Squad Bring To The Table?

The Suicide Squad can be a plethora things. It can be gruesome. It can be comedic. It can be a great deal more than anyone expects. That’s the great thing about this particular property. In concept, the Suicide Squad (also known as Task Force X) is a band of incarcerated villains that are forced to carry out nigh impossible missions for the government for a chance at reducing their sentences. The concept alone leaves the property very much open to all kinds of visions a director may have for it. Especially since there are many different team members that have been phased in and out of the Suicide Squad throughout its comic book history. In short, a director could theoretically craft a team to fit any genre they desire. This versatile quality of the Suicide Squad’s is what could ultimately be its saving grace in terms of success.

An article by the Daily News attests to the film’s versatility, which delves into the relationship between Idris Elba’s Bloodsport and John Cena’s Peacemaker. From Cena’s description, the two characters appear to be set to clash with each other as teammates, resulting in an “‘alpha-male struggle’” between the two (Daily News, 2021). In addition to that, he goes on to point out that both characters are pretty identical to one another in terms of skill set, save for the personalities each character exhibits (Daily News, 2021). One can look at this relationship as a mere microcosm of the Suicide Squad as a whole, especially when one considers the sheer size of the cast. There is an interesting dynamic between the Peacemaker and Bloodsport from what we’re hearing, without a shadow of a doubt. But now imagine similar dynamics between the host of other actors portraying the other members of the Suicide Squad. There is a lot of potential for an enriching degree of character building in this film, which will hopefully lend itself towards the film’s success. If that wasn’t enough, Idris Elba’s comment on what we can expect from the film also attests to the multifaceted approach James Gunn appears to be taking. Elba says that The Suicide Squad will feature “lots of drama and action moments, but also heart and humor” along with “a new cast [being brought into the] franchise” to further freshen things up (Daily News, 2021). 

A Tale In Movie Magic

Depending on the kind of movie you’re making, there are different requirements that need to be met as each project is its own unique creature, so to speak. For The Suicide Squad, one of these requirements was that the actors needed to be kept both sweaty and dirty as one of the sets was a hot jungle climate. Cinemablend writes that one actor in particular, John Cena, needed makeup treatment to simulate sweat interestingly enough. Granted, the actor is in good shape and has an extensive history of physically rigorous roles, it makes sense that he would be in need of the immersive touch up. The application of fake sweat as a practice probably isn’t very much noticeable, but important through and through. Simply for the reason that when you’re in a humid jungle, you sweat. It’s one of those things filmmakers do to make sure the viewer is fully immersed in what they’re seeing, which only adds to the experience. In summation, with all the work that’s going into the movie behind the scenes and without, The Suicde Squad looks like it’ll be a fun summer ride. The Suicide Squad releases in theaters and on HBO Max on August 6th, 2021.

Scarlett Johansson v. Disney: Why Scarjo is Suing Disney Over Black Widow

Over the course of these past few days, Scarlett Johansson has locked horns with Disney in a legal dispute. Johansson claims that Disney breached her contract upon the release of Black Widow in both theaters and on their platform Disney +. The actress’ pursuit has prompted other Disney actresses (Cruella’s Emma Stone and Jungle Cruise’s Emily Blunt) to begin assessing their options as well. Why is this such big news though, and why should we care? Join us as we break down this legal dispute and delve into the greater discussion at hand.

Why is Scarlett Johansson suing Disney?

Covid-19 is responsible for a lot of setbacks in the film industry these days, as well as why movies are being released the way they are. Since the need to social distance made theatrical releases difficult, some companies (like Disney) have decided to release their movies on the streaming services they own. The issue between Scarlett Johansson and Disney lies here, with the way the film is initially distributed to viewers. Per Variety’s coverage of the matter, Johansson’s contract read that Black Widow would be guaranteed “a ‘wide theatrical release’…meaning [that] the film would be shown on at least 1,500 screens” (Variety, July 30th, 2021A). Now that snippet there implies that the movie was supposed to be shown on at least 1,500 movie theater screens, which does not technically include the vast multitude of screens that streaming platforms have access to. Additionally, Johansson’s legal team argues that the understanding was that Black Widow’s theatrical release was supposed to be exclusive, which would have implied that the movie would not hit other platforms until after 90 to 120 days have elapsed (Variety 2021A). Variety also cites that the actress’ team has on hand an email from Marvel Chief Counsel Dave Galluzzi, which appears to support the idea surrounding the theatrical exclusivity the film was supposed to receive. Galluzzi’s email also reads that any deviation from the original agreement would reopen the floor to discussion as Johansson’s deal is “‘based on a series of (very large) box office bonuses.’” (Variety, 2021A). 


Black Widow Movie Scene on Motorcycle

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in a scene from “Black Widow”

To wrap it up in a bow, Disney was supposed to renegotiate Scarlett Johansson’s contract with her so that she could be properly compensated for having her movie released on Disney +, which was not originally part of the deal to begin with. Paired with the notion that the Covid-19 crisis is still ongoing with the advent of the Delta Variant, theaters still aren’t hosting audiences at their fullest capacity, despite being open. This in short means that Scarlett Johansson’s payout would not be as generous as it ought to be, as the Galluzzi email mentions her deal is predominantly focused on box office bonuses. Johansson’s team estimates that Disney’s move “cost the actress $50 million in backend compensation” (Variety, 2021A). Granted, Scarlett Johansson did make $20 million from her part in Black Widow, but the problem is more intricate than that. The problem is how Disney has responded to the actress’ dissatisfaction. For a more detailed breakdown of Scarlett Johansson’s side of things, Variety’s article has much more information to offer.

What is Disney doing?

In response to Scarlett Johansson filing the lawsuit against them, the Walt Disney Company issued a statement that read, “‘There is no merit whatsoever to this filing…The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.’” (Variety, July 29th, 2021B) Disney is also credited with providing how much they have already paid out to Johansson (which was the aforementioned $20 million). It is also worth noting that, at the time the article was written, Disney had not yet provided any information regarding a renegotiation of any kind regarding their deal with the Black Widow star (Variety, 2021B). For a more detailed and in-depth description, here’s Variety’s coverage of Disney’s response.

The main takeaway from Disney’s response is that they aren’t having it. According to the first article cited from Variety, the corporation appears to believe that it has done Johansson no wrong. In fact, Disney claims that they have upheld their end of the contract in terms of Black Widow getting a wide theatrical release. They seem to be making the semantic argument, saying that the fine print doesn’t necessitate an exclusive release in theaters alone (Variety, 2021A). 

The case that’s building between Scarlett Johansson and Disney is looking like it could be greatly influential in more ways than one. Not just because everything isn’t as picture perfect as we thought in the realm of Disney, no. The outcome of this legal affair could determine how women negotiate wages in the film industry going forward. Even though she is a pretty wealthy actress, Johansson still deserves to be paid in full for the work she put into Black Widow. One can argue that her situation is symptomatic of a larger, more widespread issue. Even an actress of Johansson’s caliber appears to be finding herself a victim of the wage gap between actors and actresses in the film industry.

The Track Record for Equal Women’s Compensation

For some time, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) has taken the opportunity to track gender inequality within the film industry. Here are some metrics that are relevant to Scarlett Johansson’s case. To put things in perspective, $20 million may seem like a lot to those of us who make substantially less. However, we would like to implore you to consider this upcoming metric for a moment.

NYFA Pay Inequality Infographic

(Source: NYFA Gender Inequality Infographic page.)

As you can see in the chart above, there are male actors who have been paid a great deal more than $20 million. The wage difference between male and female actors in the film industry is quite stark. This is just from the year 2017 too. Notice that only 3 actresses barely came close to the $30 million mark in that year alone. It isn’t like Jennifer Lawrence and Jennifer Anniston aren’t A-List movie stars, they are in fact A-List movie stars. Seeing such dramatic differences begs the question, why does it exist in the first place? The quality of their acting is on par with the other actors listed in this graphic, and yet they are paid less for that self same quality their peers exhibit. Purposeful or not, it is an observable trend in the movie industry, one that needs to be rectified. In the year 2018 during the 90th Academy Awards, of the 19 categories that were not acting-related, 131 men were nominated whereas 40 women nominated. To top it all off, in all the history of the Academy Awards, out of the women nominated only two have won the award they were nominated for (Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 and Chloé Zhao in 2021 won Best Director). Based on the legwork the NYFA has done to track these developments, it’s fair to say that there is a notable degree of both gender bias and gender inequality in the film industry, and the scales are not tipped in women’s favor. For more detailed information on Gender Inequality in the Film Industry, please visit our website.

With these thoughts in mind, perhaps now we can better appreciate Scarlett Johansson’s struggle to attain what she is owed from Disney. As of this moment, she fits the terribly unbalanced metric displayed above. As the star of her own movie, Johansson should receive much more for the work she has done for them, plain and simple. Which is why her dispute with Disney is so momentous. Her success or failure in this matter will undoubtedly set a standard for actresses going forward. It already has for a couple of other actresses who’ve done work for Disney recently, but in the long term, the results of this dispute could affect how actresses who aren’t as soundly secure in their reputation negotiate what they earn in the future. 

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, Taking Reboots in Stride 

The G.I. Joe movies do not have the best track record, with movies G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra and G.I. Joe Retaliation not being very well received. The next movie in the G.I. Joe franchise, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, appears to promise a different approach. From what we can see in the trailers and other promotional material, the movie looks like it is not only going to be an origin story for the titular character, it is also going to be a reboot for the franchise. Here’s the trailer for reference.

What Exactly Does The Snake Eyes Movie Change?

To answer this question, there are a couple of key details that need to be taken into account. For one, since it is an origin story, Snake Eyes will not be a part of the Joes’ ranks quite yet. Per an article by Collider, the movie will instead focus on his time with a clan dubbed the Arashikage. It will also feature Cobra, a shadow organization that has long been the archnemesis of the Joes. According to the trailer, Arashikage will be taking an active role in taking the fight to Cobra Command. It’s an interesting choice, entwining Snake Eyes’ origin with Cobra, but it makes sense given what other characters are seen in the movie. Portraying Snake Eyes himself will be Henry Golding, known widely for starring in Crazy Rich Asians. Andrew Koji, who recently starred in Warrior, will play Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes’ eventual nemesis. Other stars in the movie include Uko Kwais as Hard Master (Snake Eyes’ Master & leader of the Arashikage), Samara Weaving as Scarlett (a member of the Joes), and Úrsula Corberó as Baroness (a prominent member of Cobra Command). 

Speaking of casting and choice of character, Paramount in collaboration with Stoopid Buddy Studios took the time to create a funny little YouTube video, outlining who will and will not be featured in the new Snake Eyes film. 

The promotional video, which uses stop motion and G.I. Joe figurines, pokes fun at the state of the G.I. Joe franchise in terms of organizing its canon. For one, characters seen here who are not being included in the Snake Eyes movie include Duke, Roadblock, and Gung Ho. This is important because these are characters we have seen in the movies previously. Duke was played by Channing Tatum in G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra, and Roadblock was played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in G.I. Joe Retaliation. What does this suggest? Even though the video claims it’s more of an origin story than a reboot, choosing not to include or make reference to the past two movies more so suggests that it trends along being a reboot. This is not to suggest we may never see these characters, as an article by Gizmodo posits that depending on how well the Snake Eyes does, “[their] inclusion makes it fairly obvious those are characters could appear in sequels” (Gizmodo, 2021). It’s worth noting that Snake Eyes is one of the most popular G.I. Joe characters out there, so there is a possibility that the movie can do well enough to sire sequels. Making Snake Eyes’ movie the start to a brand new cinematic canon for the G.I. Joe franchise is a smart choice, but only time will tell in terms of the movie’s success.

Space Jam: A New Legacy, What You Need to Know and Why You Should Be Excited

It is not farfetched to say that, for many, the year 2020 was riddled with one turbulent event after another. Thankfully, an announcement made in 2019 gave people a small ray of sunshine to look forward to in 2021 (Radio Times, 2021). That ray of sunshine was the announcement of Space Jam: A New Legacy (also called Space Jam 2). Its predecessor, Space Jam (1996), was very well received, making $90.5 million domestically and $159.7 million overseas. To say that it was successful as a movie is an understatement, which is why when the sequel was announced, it was sure to make a splash with Space Jam fans.

The Second Trailer

From what we can see in the trailer, Space Jam: A New Legacy looks like it has a lot to offer, promising a fun and adventurous movie. Many of the classic characters from the 1996 movie are set to return, including Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, and many more. The plot centers around pro basketball player LeBron James traversing Tune World to create an Allstar team to win his family back in a game of basketball from a malicious computer program holding them hostage. Wacky as it sounds, it promises to be a deeper and more involved story than the first Space Jam, which even then, didn’t need to have the most complex story to become a cultural icon. 

(For more on how the first Space Jam came to be, check out this article by Entertainment Weekly for more). 

The stakes are also just as high, since they range from Lebron James playing to win his family back, to “how all the Looney Tunes will be deleted if they lose the game” (Gizmodo, 2021). 

Further Insights

Speaking of interesting, among the cast of Looney Tunes characters being reintroduced, Lola Bunny is going to have “a make-over for the film” (Radio Times, 2021). To better fit the times, Lola’s look is going to be updated so that it isn’t as overtly sexualized as past incarnations of the character. Since Space Jam 2 is supposed to be a kids’ movie, the director, Malcolm D. Lee, felt there was no good reason for Lola Bunny to be in a crop top, stating that it “just [would have] felt unnecessary” (Radio Times, 2021). It’s good that the director made this call, because it ties back into our conversation regarding Cruella and representation. Keeping with what the director noted as “a long history of [sexualization] in cartoons” would have only continued reinforcing the male gaze. Making this choice steers female representation in cartoons to a more acceptable place, one that does not allow the male gaze to loom over it. Had Lola Bunny’s look not been changed, that detail, subtle as it may be, would have only served to further indoctrinate children into this mindset. 

Lola Bunny Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) vs Space Jam (1996)

Another change the movie will be making is that it will no longer be including Pepe Le Pew (a character notorious for his pursuit of another Looney Tunes character, Penelope Pussycat). According to Radio Times, there was a scene planned where Pepe Le Pew would be informed about consent by Greice Santo, a star from Jane the Virgin (Radio Times, 2021). Why the scene was cut from the film is still conjecture however, since Warner Bros. has not commented on the decision. Though to be frank, polarizing as it may have been, it would have been a good way to at least work towards airing out the controversy surrounding the character while speaking to why the character had become so polarizing in the first place. For more on this subject, this article by Deadline sheds more light on the intended scene and the conversation surrounding Pepe Le Pew. 

Final Thoughts

Space Jam: A New Legacy looks like it is going to be a blast overall. The plot, which is just as insane and ballistic as its predecessor, looks like it will be offering what the original did and more. Although, something you might be wondering as a reader at this point might be, “the title says ‘why you should be excited’… but isn’t controversy the opposite of that?” To answer that question honestly, yes and no. Space Jam 2 is meant to be what it promises, a nostalgic, comforting movie for viewers of all ages to have fun seeing. That is where the excitement is. On the other hand, controversy can be just the opposite of that, as you can often find yourself on opposing sides of a debate which can go from zero to a hundred pretty quickly. This however, is why it is important that we do not shy away from these conversations. Recognizing the breadth and importance of the conversations that go on behind the scenes (pardon the pun) is important. The kinds of decisions movie makers choose or do not choose to make is an important subject. With this in mind, to see Malcolm D. Lee making the decisions he did in service to the audience is worth the mention. Space Jam: A New Legacy releases in both theaters and on HBO Max on July 16th, 2021.

Black Widow: Milestones in Representation

Before Captain Marvel (2019) was released and the upcoming release of Marvel’s Black Widow (2021), it is pretty fair to say that Marvel wasn’t doing the best when it came to female representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is also fair to say that sentiments like those expressed by this article from Vanity Fair aptly echoed the dissatisfaction of critics and viewers alike (if not a portion of both groups). Granted, strides have been made in recent years to beat back on this issue, but female representation in film is still something of a pervasive issue. A lot of why it remains this way has its roots in not only outmoded thinking, but the kinds of stories women are featured in and what roles they assume. Let’s take a look at what’s going on here, with Black Widow’s story as our introductory guide.

Black Widow’s Arc and the Issue at Hand

Black Widow is among the oldest of all the characters introduced in the MCU (with Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Tony Stark/Iron Man coming before her, chronologically, as main characters). Despite this, she has not had a very fulfilling arc, only appearing as a side character in the Avengers movies or other characters’ stand alone movies (Iron Man 2 (2010), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), and Captain America: Civil War (2016)). In Iron Man 2, Black Widow debuted as an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who worked her way up to being Tony Stark’s personal assistant (which was done so she could keep a closer eye on Tony Stark). Her introduction is a bit rocky as FilmSchoolRejects points out.

Black Widow’s first appearance starts off with an “uncomfortably sexualized scenario” between her and Stark (her employer) and, as the film progresses, she gets to show off her talents as a spy and as a hand-to-hand combatant (FilmSchoolRejects, 2019). While the film does well to demonstrate Black Widow’s prowess, the character is very notably “subjected to a leery male gaze”, as there are other scenes in the movie aside from her introduction that aren’t very appropriate (FilmSchoolRejects, 2019). Luckily for viewers trying to focus on Black Widow’s character, this trend doesn’t last forever and as she appears in more MCU titles. In Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Black Widow starts to come into her own more as a character. While appearance still played a pretty big part in how she was portrayed, she was given room to come into her own, albeit she was mostly playing off other characters like Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers. This aspect of Black Widow’s development arguably had a hand in how well she was received by both viewers and critics. Even though she was given that room to grow, it didn’t feel like room enough. Even though Bruce Banner/The Hulk also suffered from this issue, as the only woman on the team, she definitely deserved having more of her story fleshed out and realized. Having her simply play off the other characters was never truly going to be enough to provide viewers with a satisfying story.

As a main character, Black Widow deserves to have her background delved into, especially since she goes on to become a pretty integral part of the MCU. Black Widow continues more or less playing off of other characters in the MCU, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and finally, Avengers: Endgame (2019). With Avengers: Endgame, Black Widow made a bittersweet exit in service to the story, sacrificing herself so that the Avengers can overcome the devastation left behind by Thanos in the movie before. On the one hand, her sacrifice did show how much she had grown (or what little you saw of it) over the course of the MCU movies she debuted in. On the other… it fell flat in some sense because, as a character, she had so much more to offer. Vanity Fair provides an excellent breakdown concerning Black Widow’s treatment in Endgame, should you choose to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. The moral of the story however is that Black Widow was killed off too soon, or rather, her arc wasn’t fulfilling enough for it to be considered finished. Thankfully, that is hopefully what Black Widow’s (very) long awaited standalone movie will do once it releases later this July. 

Black Widow Movie Scene on Motorcycle

The Issue at Hand

Black Widow has had an interesting journey within the MCU, sadly, it played out this way for a reason. An article from BBC covers the issue pretty well, especially when it comes to how Black Widow’s arc has been part of a larger, long-standing problem in the MCU. To quote that BBC article, the issue is namely this, “in 10 years and 20 MCU movies so far, not a single film has been led or directed by a woman” (BBC, 2018). Granted, that was back in 2018 when Captain Marvel (2019) hadn’t come out yet. Even then, Marvel went a considerably long time without including some serious representation for women. It begs the question, why wait that long to come out with a woman-led movie? Well, part of the reason is that, at least a couple of years ago, there was a pretty prominent stigma in Hollywood concerning actress-led movies. 

In retrospect, it is true, the movies did not do very well. But it is doubtful that this was a result of the movie being female-led. The BBC article makes it a point to mention that, in the case of Catwoman (2004), the movie wasn’t good because it had “an awful script, they didn’t put enough money into the budget, and there wasn’t CGI at the time to really do [the movie] right” (BBC, 2018). The same can likely be said of Supergirl too, not to mention that superhero movies weren’t as popular then as they are now. So in reality, they weren’t given the best budget because they were superhero films too! Paired with the stigmas surrounding actress-led movies, there was no way Catwoman was succeeding as a film in 2004. Luckily for us, that stigma was called into a considerable amount of question when Wonder Woman released in 2017, a success that shattered expectations. It proved that a female character could certainly lead a film, as well as not detract or take away from its ability to succeed. It’s a shame as well, since Black Widow is an equally compelling character. Not to mention a character that also received some build up in movies that were not her own, so a stand-alone Black Widow film would have worked. Theoretically, after Age of Ultron at the very latest, you could have had a Black Widow stand-alone film as part of the MCU’s Phase 2, even though all main characters were supposed to be introduced to audiences in Phase 1 (for more on the Phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how they are constructed, visit this article by Daily Dot). Case in point, Black Widow should have had her own film a long time ago. 

Final Thoughts

It is great to see that Marvel is starting to ramp up female representation within their universe, but there is still a lot of work to be done in that arena. Representation is key, especially in film, because whether it is intentional or not, the way a film represents people informs its viewers’ attitudes towards the people that are represented. It is a responsibility that filmmakers should always keep in mind so as not to reinforce outmoded ways of thinking and other potentially harmful dispositions viewers may or may not already possess. Additionally, while it is likely knowledge that is commonplace, it’s important for the next generation of viewers to see themselves in the heroes they look up to. That’s why representation in film is so important, especially in this day and age. Black Widow releases in both theaters and on Disney+ with premier access July 9th, 2021.

Forever Purge: A Series In Review

The Purge series asked an essential question, which gave life to four movies, and now, a fifth come July 2nd. The question these films ask is this: If people could act without fear of consequence, what would they be capable of? To preface the premise of the movies, The Purge is a dystopian take on American culture, where one night a year, any and all crime is allowed to take place. One would imagine that part of the series’ success comes from how enamored we are with the question it poses to its viewers. Interestingly enough, one can also make the case that the movies also serve as a mirror, which tries to show its viewers some of the darker, more malevolent aspects of American society.

The Purge in Sequence

In order to fully capture the depth of The Purge films, a quick movie by movie synopsis might be in order. The first movie, simply titled The Purge (2013), kicks the series off with quite the headline so to speak. In the year 2022, unemployment is at an all time low (below 1%) and crime is pretty much non-existent. Why, you ask? Well, because eight years before, a political party called the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) instituted a “holiday” of sorts. Essentially, as a means of “concentrating crime and mayhem into one single night” the NFFA set up The Purge, a day where “all crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended for 12 hours, beginning annually at 7 p.m. on March 21” (Vulture, 2018). It is also worth noting that, in the movie, some radio talk show radio callers are seen deliberating what the true purpose of the Purge is. They argue that it exists as a “mechanism for population control”, a way to get rid of disadvantaged people in the interests of the “wealthy and the powerful so [that] the government no longer has to shell out as much for assistance programs like welfare or health insurance” (Vulture, 2018). The film then follows the Sandin family as they are subjected to the horrors of the Purge.

The second movie, The Purge: Anarchy (2014), follows a different cast of characters, the only exception being Edwin Hodge who reprises his role as The Stranger. The film is also different in terms of setting too. Where the first Purge movie took place in suburbia, this one takes place on the streets of Los Angeles. Set two years after the events of the first Purge movie, it now focuses on Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul), Shane (Zach Gilford) and his estranged spouse Liz (Kiele Sanchez). Through each character’s perspective, the film further delves into everything wrong with The Purge, building on what the first movie established (Vulture, 2018). The NFFA returns as well, but we’ll cover why that’s important later on.

By the time the third movie, The Purge: Election Year (2016), rolls around, Frank Grillo reprises his role as Leo Barnes who is now a security agent for a senator running in opposition to the NFFA. This senator, Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), runs with a big change in mind. Roan is dead set on doing away with the Purge, having been a victim of it herself. In a bid to run unopposed and stay in power, the NFFA tries to orchestrate her death (and fails, resulting in their very timely demise). Finally, the next movie in release order is the First Purge (2018), which shows viewers the origin of the fictional holiday. As a prequel to all the movies before it, the First Purge shows “how grotesque the idea of the Purge is” at its core. 

Collage of Forever Purge Character Posters

A Commentary on Our Society

One thing all of the past iterations of the Purge movies have in common is that they speak to some of the issues the United States often has trouble with. For one, there’s the issue with getting unemployment down to a consistently low level. Not to mention the contentious debate surrounding just how much disenfranchised people should be supported in government policy. That’s where the wicked idea of the Purge comes in. According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, the directors had a very specific concept in mind when constructing the in-movie atmosphere which leads to the normalization of the Purge. They set the movie in a “near-future dystopia in which a dominant ultraconservative party…has legalized for one night each year” (Los Angeles Times, 2018). In our current political climate, there is still much debate that goes on regarding how much support people ought to be…well, supported. Just look at the conversation surrounding stimulus checks from a couple of months back. In the first movie, the Purge is hinted as being specifically designed to eradicate disenfranchised people or the people who need support. People that are homeless, poor, sick, they’re the ones who are being targeted since they can’t do much in the way of aptly defending themselves, which make them easy targets for various Purgers trying to rack up a kill streak. The Vulture article previously mentioned also notes that the debate for welfare pretty much becomes moot, since having this weeding system is beneficial to both the top 1% and lawmakers as they no longer need to “shell out as much [money] for assistance programs like welfare or health insurance” (Vulture 2018). That notion right there is arguably the heart of the matter. Deciding what is worth spending on and what isn’t. The movie attempts to address quite an interesting question, it asks: “At what point does blatantly neglecting the less fortunate members of our society become that much more appealing?” It leaves one to conclude that, in a way, it’s already occurring. Discussions like these are not solved overnight, as they are complex problems by nature. Sadly, people don’t just stop struggling because we haven’t found the be-all end-all answer yet. The only difference between waking life and The Purge is that said neglect is not as straightforward as a holiday like the Purge. That’s just the first movie. 

The Purge: Anarchy then shifts itself away from the perspective of some of the wealthier individuals in society and delves into what the Purge looks like for people that are disenfranchised. To quote the director, James DeMonaco, he says that he wanted to show how the Purge as a system is “unhealthy” and goes on to further note that it is meant to be a “metaphor  for the predatory economics that we’ve seen over the years where we’re feeding the rich and taking from the poor” (Los Angeles Times, 2018). It’s meant to show that even the system we have now isn’t perfect, that while this is a dystopian universe, it is not at all that far removed from our own reality. When The Purge: Election Year released, that’s when the conversation really began to ramp up. There was some allusion to this theme in the movie before, but in this one, it was heavily leaned into. The Purge: Election Year dove headfirst into the politics of the former President, where DeMonaco perceived a pretty distinct “parallel between the New Founding Fathers” and the previous Administration, doing well to outline their penchant for “the[ir] use of fear tactics” for the sake of motivating people (Los Angeles Times, 2018). It’s also important to mention that, according to the directors, they weren’t explicitly trying to emulate reality for Election Year. That in a bizarre nightmarish way, “the mirrors to ‘The Purge’ [were coming] true” (Los Angeles Times, 2018). Outlandish as it sounds, the situation only speaks to the direction America was indeed headed towards. 

Final Thoughts

Whether one agrees with the creators’ outlook or not, the Purge movies do well to stimulate a much needed conversation people do need to be having with one another. Ignoring or pushing our collective issues off to the side doesn’t solve them, arguably, it only exacerbates them. Which is why they’re conversations that need to be had. The Purge’s commentary on American society does well to get these conversations going, and only serves to underscore the importance of the film franchise. That being said, the newest installment, The Forever Purge, will likely also do well to stimulate similar conversations if the film franchise’s track record holds. The Forever Purge is set to release on July 2nd, 2021.

‘Fast and Furious 9’: What You Need To Know & What’s Changed Over The Course Of The Film Series

Fast and Furious 9 (or F9) is part of a series of films that spans nine movies as well as one spin off film. Suffice it to say, there is a lot that goes on in the Fast and Furious universe, and it can’t simply be boiled down to racing and cool stunts. Here’s what you need to know for the upcoming film F9

The Timeline

The Fast and Furious movies can get complicated in places. There are a ton of ancillary characters to keep track of, but the story mainly revolves around Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor, and Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz. Eventually, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Luke Hobbs becomes a character the movies focus on. Other notable stars that have found their way to the franchise include Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Gina Carano, Rhonda Rousey, and in the upcoming F9, John Cena, to name a few. In addition to the fates of some of these characters, this opens up the conversation to the trickiest aspect of the Fast and the Furious universe. The in-movie timeline gets pretty windy, despite the release dates of the films. As a quick and easy reference, here is a list of the Fast and Furious movies in order of release.

  1. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
  2. 2Fast 2Furious (2003)
  3. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
  4. Fast and Furious (2009)
  5. Fast Five (2011)
  6. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
  7. Furious 7 (2015)
  8. Fate of the Furious (2017)
  9. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
  10. F9 (2021)

The first two films, The Fast and the Furious (2001) and 2Fast 2Furious (2003) are where they should be as the start of the film series’ canon. All is well and good until you debate which movie you should watch after viewing those two. An article by CinemaBlend notes that “2003’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” should be next in line “if you’re watching in the franchise’s order of release” (CinemaBlend 2020). However, the story these films lay out for their audience actually suggests that next in line is Fast and Furious (2009). This is because of the appearance of a character named Han Lue who dies in Tokyo Drift. Han is also seen in Fast Five (2011) and Fast & Furious 6 (2013). This particular storytelling choice then makes Fast and Furious (2009) as well as the two films after it, prequels to Tokyo Drift. The movie series’ prequel streak ends in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) when the film revisits and retcons the circumstances surrounding Han’s death. After seeing Fast & Furious 6 you can safely begin to entertain watching Tokyo Drift (even though it was retconned). As the movie where Han’s death actually occurs, it would make sense that it would come next. From here on, viewers can immerse themselves without any timeline oddities. To make simple what was explained above, here is the revised watchlist when considering the in-movie canon.

  1. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
  2. 2Fast 2Furious (2003)
  3. Fast & Furious (2009)
  4. Fast Five (2011)
  5. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
  6. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
  7. Furious 7 (2015)
  8. Fate of the Furious (2017)
  9. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
  10. F9 (2021)

For more insights as to the reasoning behind this viewing order, CinemaBlend’s The Fast And Furious Movies’ Timeline Explained (from which a majority of this information was sourced) covers some of the finer details of the Fast and Furious in-movie canon.

Fast and Furious movie posters

The Fast Saga’s Inception

Now that we have the complexities out of the way, we can move on to how the series began. According to an article by the Chicago Tribune, the movie was inspired by a combination of two things. The first being a film that came out before The Fast and the Furious called Point Break (1991), which was a movie about an FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate a community of surfers (some of whom are bank robbers). The Fast and the Furious 2001 film isn’t that much different, as Paul Walker’s character (also an undercover cop) infiltrates a gang of notorious car thieves to learn their identities. Both main characters also develop complex relationships with the people they are sent to investigate.The other key source of inspiration for The Fast and the Furious was an article published by Vibe called “Racer X”. The article, written in 1998, covered “real-life illegal street-racing gangs in California” (Chicago Tribune, 2019). This aspect lends itself nicely to Dominic Toretto’s own gang, since they not only steal cars, they use them in street races as well. From this starting point however, the long road that represents the Fast saga twists and turns from a narrative perspective as often as the characters themselves.

The Series’ Evolution

Ever since the first movie in 2001, the Fast & Furious movies have always been about family. But at a certain point, it stops being about other things, such as the racing aspect the first film introduces its viewers to. Revisiting the Chicago Tribune’s article, 2Fast 2Furious is where the series’ first divergence is hinted at. In this movie, the action becomes “more cartoonish” and is otherwise referred to as a “bizarre follow-up” (Chicago Tribune, 2019). It introduces what the series will later become widely known for, which is its insane car related stunts. The next movie, Tokyo Drift, sees a change in both directors and writers as Justin Lin and Chris Morgan respectively are brought on. From there on, they direct and write pretty much every movie that comes out following Tokyo Drift. With each movie that comes out after Fast and Furious (2006), the stunts get progressively bigger and badder, as does the action. It isn’t until Fast Five however, that the series completely does away with any semblance of realism and “fully embrace[s] the ludicrousness” of the Fast and Furious universe (Chicago Tribune, 2019). In short, the Fast and Furious movies become off-the-wall crazy, not bearing much resemblance to the movie that started it all back in 2001. 

Reception and Final Thoughts

Believe it or not, despite how far removed the Fast saga might be from reality, it actually made the franchise that much better. A quick glance at the reviews for each movie on Rotten Tomatoes shows that, since Fast Five, the franchise trends upwards in terms of reception. All in all, Fast Five set the tone going forward quite successfully. The Chicago Tribune also affirms this notion and notes that this new formula would prove worthwhile, as Fast Five “grossed $626 million worldwide, a number [which] would only increase with future installments” (Chicago Tribune, 2019). 

By now you might be asking yourself, “okay, what do I do with all this info?” Well, to quote the Notorious B.I.G., “if you don’t know, now you know”. All jokes aside though, if you were on the fence about watching the upcoming F9 before, hopefully this article piques your interest in the franchise. F9 is set to release on June 25th, 2021.

The Snyder Cut of “Justice League” – How Fans Got a Different Film

It’s here. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is finally here. 

After three years and four months campaigning against the theatrical release that was put out by Joss Whedon and Warner Bros., the fandom finally prevailed and the fabled Snyder Cut of the Justice League film was released on HBO Max on March 19, 2021. 

Before diving into the four-plus hour epic, let’s rewind it back for some context as to why a new cut was necessary and shouted into existence by the fandom and Snyder himself.

After the tragic death of Snyder’s daughter Autumn, he departed Justice League to be with family. At this time, the film was pretty much completely shot and all that was left was digital effects, some reshoots, and editing. Enter Joss Whedon who was brought in to do the rest of the reshoots and rewrites, however, he was given more creative control. Thus, a film very different from Zack Snyder’s vision was put out into the world. This film was released on Nov 17, 2017. Then on Nov 19th, just two days later, the online campaign for the Snyder cut began. 

The original release of Justice League was so poorly received that the campaign to release the Snyder caught traction from the cast and Snyder himself, who began to jump on the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. Warner Bros. had no choice but to give the fans what they wanted. 

(Left) Whedon’s opening cut with Superman and (Right) Snyder’s opening cut with Superman

Snyder was then given free rein (mostly) to put together his vision of Justice League as he intended it to be, and in 2020 it was announced that it would be released on HBO Max. That vision included a film presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, divided into multiple parts, and given an R rating. Not to mention, the film is over four hours long, so prepare to schedule plenty of bathroom breaks and an intermission stretch. 

Let’s talk about the film. 

It’s good. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. This version of the film could truly have been great had there been just a little less of it. A little less of…everything. 

First off, while the story in parts was a great idea in place of the film that was already released and seen by the entire fandom, there could easily have been 30 seconds shaved off of nearly every scene. Did we really need the entire Norwegian song at the end of the first Bruce Wayne and Arthur Curry scene? Do we need THAT much slo-mo? And while it was a cool sound effect the first few times, did we really need the wailing Amazon sound effect on every single Wonder Woman scene? Probably not.

Snyder is well known for being an overindulgent filmmaker as evidenced by his directorial style (300, Watchmen, Suckerpunch), with a penchant for highly extended versions of past films and an excess of every detail in some of the most mundane scenes. So it’s not entirely a surprise

Still from Snyder’s “Justice League” ending (HBO Max)

Next is the ending. This film would have had the most perfect ending had the film ended with the final scene of the entire justice league officially assembled for the first time post-victory. Instead, we get an epilogue that’s an additional 20 minutes in length which includes a dream sequence that is completely disconnected from the story told in this film. While the final scene, which was shot for the first time for this release, does indeed pertain to some events that have taken place within the Snyderverse, it would have been better served as a mid or post-credit scene. Placed where was, only serves to confuse the audience. 

Important additions that needed to be made.

The most apparent change to the story comes with the inclusion of the storylines for people of color in the film. In the theatrical cut, the people of color who play a strong pivotal role in the story of the film, their scenes of character development, and the overall arcs of some of these characters were completely cut out by Whedon. 

Joe Morton, who played Victor Stone a.k.a Cyborg’s father, played an immensely pivotal role in the entire film. Without understanding his relationship with his son, his desire to right his wrongs as a father, and his direct involvement with the Mother Box (an item of interest to the antagonist of the film), you do not have a compelling foundation for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg at all. 

Whedon’s cut had Victor’s screentime cut down dramatically, along with the complete removal of scenes with Kiersey Clemmons, Harry Lennix, and Zheng Kai. Most notably, Snyder’s cut gave us more Cyborg, while in Whedon’s cut, the lack of Cyborg was an absolutely disrespectful and full-on disservice to Cyborg’s involvement in the storyline and his own character arc. 

Fisher’s anger towards Warner Bros. and Whedon seems to be in full merit based on the performance showcased in the Snyder Cut. In fact, Cyborg is the heart of the film and is the reason this film’s narrative is so good. Cyborg’s story, coupled with Fisher’s performance, is the only reason you need to sit through this four-hour epic.

Cyborg, The Flash, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman (HBO Max)

Other improved elements include Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash, who all receive more fleshed-out storylines in Snyder’s cut. Steppenwolf also gets more on-screen time to cement him as a phenomenal villain with emotional range and purpose. In addition, Synder’s cut treated true DC fans to the reveal of Darkseid and a revived Superman donning a black suit and cape. 

What’s next?

This is a new era; one in which the fans can strongarm major companies and bend them to their will with a simple keyboard stroke. With the success of Snyder’s Justice League, Warner Bros. would be hard-pressed to not turn their back on the fans and continue his vision for the rest of the DC Snyderverse. Do they turn back the hands of time and pick up where they left off or is this it? 

Only time and fans will tell.

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How To Direct a Short For Adult Swim With NYFA Alum Dylan Mars Greenberg & The Crew of “The Puppeteer’s Assistant”

Whether it’s long-form or short-form content, there are so many different ways to storyboard, direct, write, shoot, and experiment with film. But how does one exactly bring a concept to life from start to finish? 

NYFA alum Dylan Mars Greenberg, who has been hailed as a cult filmmaker, explains that it’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people. Greenberg, known for feature films Dark Prism, ReAgitator, and the upcoming film Spirit Riser, recently directed a short for Adult Swim’s Smalls compilation called The Puppeteer’s Assistant, which required a skilled team to pull it off.

The short film, which was comprised of live-action and CGI elements, was an ambitious project that required a group effort to get the concept off the ground from paper to screen and shoot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Greenberg, along with collaborators Hannah Schilsky and Glitter Macabre, spoke with NYFA about how they were able to bring their short to life and create the magic and majesty of the live-action/CGI puppets.

New York Film Academy (NYFA): How did The Puppeteer’s Assistant come to be? How did it get picked up by Adult Swim?

Dylan Mars Greenberg (DG): At the encouragement of my friend Avi Ezor, I originally brought some of my ideas and past work to Development Meeting, an excellent streaming show which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. The format was that anyone can call in and pitch things to the hosts and, if they like it, they send you a few hundred dollars. They liked what I showed them and sent me some money, so that was a really wonderful way to get a foot in the door. Then, Avi encouraged me to reach out to Dave Hughes, who is in charge of the Adult Swim Smalls and creator of the show Off The Air, on Twitter. Dave was very friendly and cool and invited me to email him! So I pitched him a few ideas, which just didn’t exactly fit the bill of what they were looking for until I remembered a puppet story, which I had actually come up with a while ago. I sometimes would just tell people about how puppets can’t drink saltwater as a joke because my natural sense of humor is to make up facts about things that just obviously don’t make any sense. So I pitched that and it clicked!

New York Film Academy (NYFA): How did you get involved in The Puppeteer’s Assistant?

Hannah Schilsky (HS): Dylan called me up very excited one day saying she had a project she wanted me to work on. While she explained the premise of the story they had written, in my mind, I had already decided I was on board. All of the creepy but beautiful wooden puppets I would get to sculpt appealed to my aesthetic, and the story is so absurd, it’s hilarious!

Glitter Macabre (GM): A year or two ago Dylan told me and Matilda Sabal (who created the miniature set seen in the short) a bit about puppets who drank salt water and turned evil. The idea was very silly and ominous, so I loved it. Dylan and I collaborate often, and when the idea was picked up by Adult Swim we started talking makeup and styling. Dylan asked me to create concept sketches for the puppets.

Photos courtesy of Glitter Macabre

NYFA: When making this kind of short, what comes first: the concept or budget? How did you begin to envision the production as a whole?

DG: The concept definitely came first! I had actually thought about making it into a short earlier, just on my own, but making it for Adult Swim was a million times cooler! Once that came into place, I knew immediately for the live-action actors I wanted Jac Bernhard, who I met on the set of the movie Adam, and my friend and long-time collaborator Josafat Concepcion. I wanted to have a wide array of people with very distinctive voices do the puppets, so I got one of my closest collaborators, actor Amanda Flowers, to voice the princess puppet. Then, I reached out to my friend since elementary school Nicolai Gorden, who is now working as a voice actor professionally. I got Avi [Ezor], my friend Bonnie Bloomgarden from the band Death Valley Girls, who has a distinctive high voice, and I decided to voice the clown puppet myself. The next step was to figure out how to make the puppets actually come to life, which is where Hannah Schilsky and Glitter Macabre come in.

HS: My roles as both a producer and the 3D artist making all of the CGI put me in a position where I felt incredibly invested in this project and wanted to push it as far as I could. When Dylan sent me the script I knew right away how time-consuming of an endeavor this would be to pull off. I didn’t want to limit the story based on how much it would take to realistically hire a 3D artist. Having a producer title and seeing my time as an investment made a huge difference in the way I interacted with every aspect of the project. It motivated me to throw myself wholeheartedly into working on it every night after working a full-time day job. Ultimately, we ended up with a short film that included every frame of the original storyboards and that’s something I am really proud of. 

GM: For me, the concept comes first-but both Dylan and I tend to start thinking about how to do something right away. Almost as soon as the idea was pitched she had created a storyboard. Those drawings inspired my designs for the characters. For example, she wanted The Boy to have a little ruffle around his neck and a curl painted on his forehead. We talked about the budget and supplies I would need early on while I was collecting pictures of suitably cute-and-creepy marionettes and rocking horses. Since the film was created in quarantine, we discussed filming the whole thing by ourselves. 

At one point she [Greenberg] asked if I would put her in a big white beard and I would play the Boy. I am delighted he was instead played by Jac and that so many fabulous elements could be incorporated.

Photos courtesy of Hannah Schilsky

NYFA: With multiple elements involved (live-action/puppetry/animation), how did you and the crew juggle it all to combine seamlessly?

DG: I know this is such a cliché statement, but it was definitely a learning process. I had done a short film with Khloaris productions called The Bathtub, where we shot the actors on green screen and then composited them into miniatures. So, I had some experience with that concept and felt the best way to do it would be to once again shoot everyone on green screen. Believe it or not, I usually don’t do this, but in this instance, I did in fact storyboard each shot. I think that was essential for all the elements to blend together because that immediately puts us all on the same page in terms of what is happening where. I wanted the live actors and the animated characters to feel consistent which is where Glitter’s styling came in. Aside from the clown, which was fully designed by Hannah, Glitter drew each puppet character in detail, and then Hannah rendered them in three dimensions. 

Then Glitter drew sketches of what we’d make the live actors look like, and actually made them look just as cartoonish with the power of makeup. That created a real consistency. Matilda Sabal also designed the set, which is a real miniature, and then I actually was tasked with photographing it from hundreds of different angles, sending it to Hannah, and then Hannah scanned those images and rebuilt the set on the computer. She’s a genius, I still can’t wrap my head around that. Then, there was basically the filming with the live actors, which took about four hours, and once the models were rendered, several sessions of essentially directing the animation like it was live-action. So, in real life, Adam Ninyo was the DP and in the animated world, Hannah is the DP, because she’s in control of the virtual camera, and in a way, she’s like a God. I say that because I’m asking her to make these creatures move in a certain way but she’s the one actually making them do that. It really felt close to directing living actors, I’d never experienced that before. 

HS: The true ring leader behind that operation was Dylan. While I was in a work bubble only worrying about what I had to do they were herding the cats, myself included. She was personally involved with every aspect of the production, on top of tracking progress and dependencies, and that is how things ran so smoothly. 

GM: Dylan was the center of communication between the production team. Once the script/storyboard was created, things were in motion. Hannah designed the clown puppet. It was perfect and told me how the marionettes should be proportioned, how they would move. I illustrated the other four puppets and sent ideas for textures, colors, fabrics. I looked at photos of the voice actors as references. The Fairy Princess puppet was directly inspired by Amanda Flowers. I believe the first time we met on one of Dylan’s music video shoots, she was wearing a giant fluffy pink dress! I also talked to Matilda about the set colors to make sure no one would be blending into the walls. It felt like a very smooth and positive process to me. I love the details that Hannah brought to life – like one of the King puppet’s eyes being a moving spiral. Everyone’s work came together really well, which speaks to the strength of Dylan’s vision and passion for this project.

Dylan Mars Greenberg (Left) shooting “The Puppeteer’s Assistant”

NYFA: What were some challenges you faced along the way? Is there anything you wish you would’ve known prior to working on the short?

DG: I think I was really lucky in that I had such a great team working with me, there were very few problems. We did however shoot this in a pandemic so we had to keep everything as COVID safe as possible. We had all the crew and myself wearing masks at all times. Glitter wore a mask while doing the actor’s makeup in the first location. However, they had to redo some makeup once we were on set because we had to transport the actors to the set in a car and we all wore masks in the car, so the masks smudged the makeup a bit. I also made sure the actors themselves were distanced from each other, and I shot one scene where Josafat leans in to tell Jac something in two separate shots because I didn’t want to risk Josafat possibly getting even a small amount of saliva on Jac’s face while speaking. So, we filmed Jac reacting, and then Josa leaning in, and combined both shots together in post. Also, I wanted to make sure we had everything perfect with the green screen because so often there are problems with keying and you get artifacts of green around the actors. So, I made sure there was enough in the budget for a really good green screen studio with proper lighting, which BC Studios provided. I had the editor on set to check each shot we did and during a break actually do some test shots, to make sure the green was keying out properly. 

HS: This project was my first time attempting to render an entire short film using the cinematic tools inside of Unreal Engine. There was never an out-of-control moment where I felt like it wasn’t going to work, but I was definitely battling with a bunch of features before I took a step back and revisited the documentation. There will always be information that would have been very useful to know before starting a project, but it’s the sink or swim situations where I really level up. 

GM: My only wish is that I had asked for some extra time on makeup! It was a crazy hot day, one of the hottest of the year, and we only had a few hours to shoot on green screen. Jac and Josa were sweating in full makeup and face masks on the way to the location, and I was quietly panicking. But I am very happy with how things came out.

Jac Bernhard behind the scenes in makeup as The Boy

NYFA: What are some other parts about making this project that you would like to share?/Is there anything else you would like to add?

GM: This is the first animated film I have worked on. I have been inspired by animation since childhood, particularly stop motion films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride-I was very much thinking of those character designs while working on this project. Seeing my illustrations come to life in this way was very special.

HS:  For anyone who has watched this I hope it brought you some joy in these crazy times.

DG: I’d like to thank everyone who helped me on this project. It truly was a collaborative effort and I couldn’t have done it without the incredible team of young brilliant artists who all made this a truly hilarious and beautiful short. I’d also like to encourage all filmmakers reading this to embrace weirdness, and if you have an idea floating around in your head that keeps making you laugh, or cry, or feel something, to write it down. Even if you don’t make it immediately, that idea could come in handy years from now. 

New York Film Academy would like to thank director and alum Dylan Mars Greenberg, producer and animator Hannah Schilsky, and puppet artist and stylist Glitter Macabre for taking the time to share their experience making The Puppeteer’s Assistant for Adult Swim.

To watch the short, click the video below.

The Puppeteer’s Assistant

Created and directed by: Dylan Mars Greenberg
Starring: Jac Bernhard, Josafat Concepcion, Amanda Flowers, Nicolai Gorden, Bonnie Bloomgarden, Avi Ezor, and Dylan Mars Greenberg
Music by: Matt Ellin
Produced and animated by: Hannah Schilsky

Director of photography: Adam Ninyo
Edited by: Phill Skokos
Model built by: Matilda Sabal
Humans and puppets styled by: Glitter Macabre
Associate producer Avi Ezor
Makeup assistant: Leor Freedman
Sound: James Boylan
Additional animation: Ezra Pailer
Color: Gene Rosati Jr.
Shot at BC Studios
Special thanks to Dave Hughes and Danya Levine

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“For Your Consideration” – How to Qualify a Short Film for an Oscar

Winter is awards season in Hollywood, the time of year when actors, directors, screenwriters, and other creatives are honored for their work by critics, trade guilds, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and most famously, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. With Oscar nominations slated to be announced on March 15, 2021, the New York Film Academy is proud to announce that films by three alumni are currently qualified in the Best Live Action Short category. 

According to the Academy’s official rules, there are three ways for a short film to qualify for an Oscar nomination. Continue reading to learn more about each one: 


1) By winning a qualifying award at one of more than ninety film festivals officially recognized by the Academy. 

Each year top festivals honor short live-action, documentary, and animated films which can then be submitted to the corresponding Oscars category. These festivals range the globe, from Hollyshorts in Los Angeles to the New York International Children’s Film Festival, from Cartagena to Bengaluru to Busan. 

Film poster for “Arabian Alien”

The Atlanta Film Festival is where Arabian Alien, a film by BFA Screenwriting alum Meshal Aljaser, qualified by winning the best narrative short award. The festival’s jury called it, a layered, suspenseful and powerfully strange tale of societal taboos and marital tension, told with emotional precision, silent-film-evoking visuals, cultural authenticity, and startling humor.”

NYFA alum Meshal Aljaser

2) By screening the film in a public movie theater for seven days in a row in one of these major US cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, or Miami. 

This year two short films qualified by showing in cinemas.

Film poster for “2ḦOOM”

2ḦOOM [Zoom] by Acting for Film Workshop alum Dr. Ariel Orama López is an experimental live-action and animation hybrid short film about two brothers from the Caribbean who discover what unifies them. Using the backdrop of the current pandemic and the all-too-familiar COVID communication platform of choice, Zoom, the film includes voices and talents from the Caribbean, Latin America, Spain, and Italy.

NYFA alum Dr. Ariel Orama López

This is Dr. Orama López’s second consecutive nod for Academy Award consideration with his previous short film, One, qualifying for an Oscar nomination in 2020. “I feel blessed by the opportunity to qualify for the Oscars two years in a row,” Dr. Orama López shared. “I believe that films more than entertain. They can heal us and represent who we are as humans.”

“Saving Chintu” Film Poster

Saving Chintu by Tushar Tyagi, an alum of NYFA’s 1-Year Filmmaking program, qualified by showing in theaters as well. After a prolific festival run with official selections at over twenty film festivals — including the Oscar-qualifying Outfest and Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival — Tyagi’s Oscars campaign manager suggested they go for a theatrical run. They set one up at the Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles, only to see it canceled due to pandemic restrictions. Still, the Academy accepted a letter of intent to exhibit from the theater as a qualification, so the short is now officially in the running. 

Tushar Tyagi

When your film, which talks about basic human and LGBTQ rights, HIV and adoption, is being watched and celebrated at the top film festivals and praised by so many, it is a very blissful feeling,” said Tyagi. “Now that we are a part of the 2021 Oscars race, it’s almost unbelievable.” 

3) By winning a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal in the Student Academy Awards. 

Winning the Gold Medal at the Student Academy Awards is what qualified NYFA Guest Speaker Asher Jelinsky’s film (Miller and Son). Starring Jesse James Keitel of the new David E. Kelley / ABC drama Big Sky, the film was shortlisted for the 2019 Oscars.  

NYFA students in degree-bearing programs (AFA, BFA, MA, and MFA) are qualified to submit to the Student Academy Awards. Just this past year MFA Filmmaking alum Phyllis Tam’s stunning Fragile Moon was a finalist. 

Once filmmakers qualified for the 93rd Oscars, they had to submit applications to the Academy by December 1, 2020. Now, they’re waiting as members of the Academy review the films before going through three rounds of voting. After the first round, a shortlist of ten finalists in each of the shorts categories — Live Action, Documentary, and Animated — will be announced on February 9, 2021. The second round of voting will trim the list down to the five finalists in each category, which will be announced on March 15, 2021. Finally,  Academy members will vote for their favorites for the last time, with winners being announced live at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021.  

NYFA congratulates Meshal Aljaser, Dr. Ariel Orama Lopez, and Tushar Tyagi on their Oscar qualifications and wishes them great luck. Watch this space to find out if they make the shortlist — we’ll know on February 9th.

Want to learn how to make award-winning short films yourself? Explore our filmmaking degrees, programs, and workshops to find one that’s right for you.

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

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

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

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

Raquel Bordin

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

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

NYFA: What made you want to come to NYFA?

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


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Raquel Bordin (@raquelbordin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the Military to New York Film Academy: A Q&A with the US Navy’s Eric Brown and Michael Kunselman on NYFA’s Division of Veterans Services

New York Film Academy (NYFA) recently enjoyed virtually sitting down with two of its esteemed colleagues, Eric Brown and Michael Kunselman, to learn more about their military experience, how they were attracted to the film industry, and the visual and performing arts education that NYFA provides. Both Brown and Kunselman also discussed their roles as members of the NYFA Division of Veteran Services (DVS).

New York Film Academy (NYFA): What branch did you serve in, and what were your primary responsibilities?

Eric Brown (EB): I served in the United States Navy and my primary responsibilities consisted of but not limited fulfillment of the roles of a Gas Turbine Technician mechanical, craftsman/maintenance man, and shipboard firefighter. However, in the Navy as an engineer, there are multiple collateral duties that are assigned and must be treated with the same initiative as your primary function.

Michael Kunselman (MK): I was an Air Traffic Controller in the U.S. Navy for seven years. 

NYFA: What was your transition like when separating from the military and entering into civilian life? When did you plan to pursue higher education and why?

EB: I think each veterans’ transition is unique, as each journey is unique to the person on it. So, I would classify it as such. It was a hard road filled with a lot of mistakes and misplaced trust but holding tight to Navy core values and the training helped me land on my feet. It took me about a year before pursuing an education and I’m truly glad I did. 

MK: I knew that I wanted to segway right into school after the military but was unsure of what I wanted to study. I attended a local community college after the military for a couple of years and knocked out my general ed classes before learning about NYFA.  

Eric Brown onboard USS Stethem DDG-63

NYFA: How did you initially learn about New York Film Academy? What were the major reasons that led you to choose NYFA for your education?

EB: I learned about the New York Film Academy through my brother, in which we were supposed to embark on this journey together in filmmaking & screenwriting. However, he decided to continue to serve instead. What led me to choose the New York Film Academy was the hands-on instruction I heard about and I had recently started doing some acting, so I wanted to see if I could really harness such a skillset. 

MK: A fellow Navy Veteran that I had met on a film set let me know about the New York Film Academy. I found the admissions process and getting into the classroom rather seamless when I first attended NYFA. The pre-set curriculums were great in that I didn’t have to worry about selecting the appropriate classes in my degree program and worry about being at full time.

NYFA: What programs did you attend at NYFA? What were your favorite elements in the discipline of your study? What was your biggest challenge? 

EB: My primary focus was learning as much as I could through taking the Associates of Fine Arts in Acting for Film and then applying what I learned to the industry. So, for me, my favorite discipline was and will always be acting. However, nothing comes easy and there were some challenges. In Acting you have to be open to vulnerability, to emotions, to chaos almost; so, it would seem. These are none of my favorite things and I never really knew much about emotions growing up. I’m from Miami Florida, it’s really not in our DNA but it was a challenge, so I accepted it and went there. 

MK: I graduated from the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting for Film program. I really enjoyed that the core classes were throughout the duration of the program and that I didn’t have to take a number of semesters of only General Ed and Liberal Arts and Sciences classes before taking acting classes.

One of the challenges, in general, is that you have people that are trying to get into the industry and in school for the wrong reasons. People who just want the stardom and to walk the red carpet and that don’t have a true love for the craft that goes into being a successful visual and performing artist.

Michael Kunselman onboard the USS Kitty-Hawk CV-63

NYFA: Tell us how your military experience and your NYFA education have impacted your goals in the industry as actors? 

EB: The level of training and discipline I received from the military created the spear sharp enough to break through any barrier (i.e. the entertainment industry) and I would say, NYFA (through Acting) helped create a powerful thrust for proper execution. So, my advice to vets who may be interested in NYFA. Take a look at what it has to offer, the community of veterans that whole-heartedly love what they are doing, sharpening their skillsets, and telling the stories we’ve waited so long to tell. 

MK: The discipline I learned while in the military and the education from NYFA sets you up with the tools to succeed in an industry as brutal and competitive as the film industry. It’s an industry where you have to be on the grind and constantly be working at your craft and getting yourself out there.

NYFA:  How has your experience in the military helped you in your current position within the DVS?  

EB: My mindset from the military was and still is that I can do anything that I set my mind to accomplishing. That’s what they prepare you for if you’re paying attention. It’s hardening your mind for a less than gentle reality that there may come a time where you have to do this job or that job and have all of these responsibilities, atop of your full course meal. The military helped prepare me for whatever may come my way, which is now assisting my fellow veterans who are interested in studying at NYFA — as well as those who enroll –with their transition into education 

MK: My experience having served in the military; it really helps with connecting with veteran students at NYFA and understanding their needs. Being able to be as transparent as possible with the information on the school helps in that development of trust and chemistry building. Do your research on the film industry and the different schools first and foremost. The New York Film Academy has a hands-on approach to teaching visual and performing arts. You will be on your feet and have your hands on a camera in no time and will get that on set experience in your production workshops. Being able to shoot on the Universal Studios Backlot at the Los Angeles Campus is a unique experience that is exclusive to the New York Film Academy. 

Eric Brown & Michael Kunselman with NYFA Veteran-students at the screening of the Documentary Film, “The Unknowns”

NYFA: Please tell us about the services that the NYFA Division of Veterans Services provides to veterans and how it supports them? 

EB: The DVS provides an abundance of resources to all veterans, dependents, and their spouses. NYFA’s DVS has a full-service mission to help the veteran community with transitioning out of the military, support through the admissions process, connecting veterans with counseling services resources within the community, special events including Master Classes and VA benefits briefings, and industry resources. While students focus on the classroom, we create an environment of supportive resources such as internships, networking events, scheduled outings, or guest speakers, through the NYFA Veterans Advancement Program, which is Chaired by the honorable Colonel Jack Jacobs, an American hero and recipient of the Medal of Honor.  

MK: The NYFA DVS has a number of resources and contacts available to help veterans in many different ways, including post-graduation employment. The DVS is constantly looking to grow its resource and contacts network. The DVS has worked with the local Vet Centers, VA, and a number of veteran non-profit organizations to provide a number of workshops and benefit information sessions. Lionsgate, Paramount, Disney, Casting Society of America (CSA), Warner Brothers, Hire Heroes USA, and many others have visited our campus to help our veteran students on ways to enhance their careers and take them to the next level. We have been proud to have helped NYFA veteran-students find employment and internships at top companies in the industry including Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, and CBS. 

The entire New York Film Academy community expresses appreciation to Mr. Eric Brown and Mr. Michael Kunselman for their service to our nation, and for their support of veteran-students at NYFA. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about NYFA’s Division of Veteran Services (DVS), click here

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

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

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

Njoki Muhoho during MultiChoice Networking Portal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYFA filmmaking alum Somasekhar “Som” Kovvuri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the scenes shooting “Freddie’s Piano”

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

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

NYFA: Do you have any upcoming projects? 

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

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

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

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

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

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Q&A With NYFA South Beach Alum Ester Nunes on Life After Graduation and The Importance of Having Fun as a Filmmaker

Ester Nunes has always been a creative person. Growing up, Nunes would always draft short stories and as a teenager would create homemade videos and stage photoshoots with her friends. “It was not something I ever considered for pursuing as a career,” she shared. 

After turning 16 and deliberating about what she wanted to do in the future, it was her dad that encouraged her to look into filmmaking as a career, which led her to New York Film Academy’s South Beach campus as a Filmmaking student in the fall of 2016. Now, Nunes is mentoring others in filmmaking, working on other sets, and has even teased a short comedy that she is looking to direct next year.

New York Film Academy caught up with Nunes about what it was like coming to New York Film Academy, what life after graduation has looked like, and what her personal filmmaking experience has looked like.

New York Film Academy (NYFA): What made you decide to come to NYFA? Why the South Beach location?

Ester Nunes (EN): After I graduated high school, while looking for universities to apply to, I came across Variety’s list of best film schools, which mentioned the New York Film Academy. Curious, I researched the curriculum for NYFA and loved the hands-on approach and teaching methodology. 

Applying to NYFA Los Angeles was my first choice, since it is so close to the industry, but after learning it had a South Beach campus, I decided to come to Miami; it was closer to home, so my parents can visit me more, and I have family that lives in Florida, which provides a support system. I also liked that the classes were smaller and I could have more one-on-one time with my teachers. 

BFA filmmaking alum Ester Nunes (Left)

NYFA: What is something you have learned that you have carried with you after graduation?

EN: Make movies and create art for yourself, not for others. I’ve learned that the more personal something is (whether a song, a movie or a piece of art), the more it resonates with other people because it is just so honest and real. You will also never please everyone, so you might as well create art that will make you happy. 

NYFA: Tell us more about your work after graduating? What has been your favorite project so far?

EN: After graduating, I started working with a Miami non-profit called After School Film Institute, which teaches middle and high school students filmmaking in a program after school. I’m a mentoring artist, and last year in our program I taught production design. I also post content for their social media page. 

Recently, I started working with an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker in a documentary about Liberty City, called Razing Liberty Square.

Last November, some of my filmmaker friends got together and did a short film called La tarde, which I worked on as a Second AD. I think that was the set I’ve had the most fun in. The atmosphere was just so light and cool, with a crew that works together a lot and that makes our sets awesome. 

Photo courtesy of Ester Nunes

NYFA: As a filmmaker, how would you describe yourself? What stories do you want to tell?

EN: I think I’m a more experimental filmmaker. I like trying different structures and non-linear stories, things you don’t always see. These kinds of movies reflect my personality well. And I want to tell stories for myself. Films are a way I can express how I’m feeling and let my creativity flow. Emotions are universal, and if at least one other person can relate to it, that’s enough for me. 

Ester Nunes reviewing her notes on set

NYFA: Do you have any incoming advice for students?

EN: Network! Make connections! Talent is important, but so is knowing people. Don’t hesitate to put yourself out there. 

Also, have fun making movies, don’t stress too much. 

New York Film Academy would like to thank Ester Nunes for taking the time to speak on her experience as a NYFA student and industry professional. NYFA looks forward to seeing what’s next from the filmmaking alum as she expands her own creative work and teaches others to create.

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Q&A With NYFA Filmmaking Alum Ismael Gomez III on His Latest Film ‘Death of a Fool’ and Starting a Production Company in Miami

New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking alum Ismael Gomez III recently released his latest film Death of a Fool on Amazon Prime Video. The film is the latest project from the Cuban-American filmmaker who, after graduating from NYFA, worked as a lead editor on several motion pictures and commercials that have been screened at Cannes, Tribeca, Miami, and Starz Denver international film festivals. 

Gomez’s Death of a Fool was recently covered in The Miami Herald and also mentions Gomez’s Miami-based production house Rabbit Hole Pictures, which Gomez co-founded and continues to serve as the CEO.

NYFA caught up with the Filmmaking alum to discuss his latest film and ask “Why Miami?” for the home of his production company Rabbit Hole Pictures.

NYFA Filmmaking Alum and Rabbit Hole Pictures CEO/Co-Founder Ismael Gomez III

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

Ismael Gomez III (IG): I was born in Havana, Cuba in a small town called Parraga. At the age of six, my parents took me for the first time to an old movie theater in Havana to watch ‘The Lion King’ and I immediately felI in love with cinema. From that moment on, I was attracted and deeply curious about how movies were made. This passion was increasingly cultivated as I started being exposed to great directors like Coppola, Kurosawa and Kubrick. At the age of 19, I emigrated to the United States and read about NYFA’s filmmaking program and decided to apply. NYFA awarded me a grant that covered half of my tuition, so I was able to start on my filmmaking path in the original building at Union Square.  

NYFA: Is there anything you learned that you have taken with you into your projects or running your own company?

IG: I’ve witnessed many people getting into film school and quitting after the first semester. This is because many of them love movies; they love to consume stories. The problem is that there is a substantial difference between “watching movies” and “making movies.” They are two completely different processes. Making films is a creative venture that takes immense amounts of effort, perseverance and commitment. It nurtures delayed gratification rather than instant reward, and there lies the conflicting realization many students encounter when they start film school. Hence, NYFA is a marvelous place to explore your compatibility with filmmaking. Having such hands-on programs where students are shooting their projects Monday through Sunday, promptly helps them discover if filmmaking is really a passion they wish to pursue. In my case, I truly enjoyed discovering all the intricacies of moviemaking at NYFA. I became so passionate about the creative process that now I spend most of my time producing films, and barely get to watch any theater releases. 

NYFA: How would you describe yourself as a creative? What do you look for in a project?

IG: Our mission at Rabbit Hole Pictures is to tell mystical stories that spark curiosity and wonder. For us the word mystical embodies a sense of mystery, awe, and fascination for the unknown. Therefore, our films’ narratives always attempt to explore thought-provoking themes through the fantasy genre. Fantasy always creates a striking contrast that helps us reframe and examine reality. Stories that carry people far-far-away to look at themselves up close. 

I had always contemplated the idea of making films in Miami but the thrill of filming in NYC always pulled me back. Yet, in 2016 when I was visiting my family in Florida, I went to the theaters and watched Moonlight by Barry Jenkins. Here was a guy who had made this astonishing film completely in Miami, and now was even receiving Best Picture at the Academy Awards. So a fuse had been lit up inside me; how many movies have we seen entirely produced in Miami? How many of those belong to the fantasy genre? These two questions inspired me to create Rabbit Hole Pictures and show a part of Miami that is rarely depicted on the big screen. Many clever producers have built sets that look like Miami, but the magic of the real thing cannot be duplicated.

NYFA: What is your film Death of a Fool about? Was it a personal film for you?

IG: Death of a Fool is a coming-of-age motion picture that combines elements of fantasy and mystery. It tells the story of a teenager and his dying grandfather conducting afterlife investigations in Miami when a mysterious man hires them to find the secret to immortality. I remember being five years old, looking out my backyard one morning and seeing my dog, Charlie, lying motionless. He was sick for weeks and had now passed away. It was my first encounter with death and I did not know what to make of it. I had so many questions and every adult would give me a different answer. Thus, I grew up with an inquisitive mind about the human condition and metaphysics.

As technology keeps advancing and making promises to reverse the damage of aging at the cellular level, I often wonder the consequences that attaining immortality could bring. Physical immortality is quite different from the biblical concept of eternity. If eternal life is achieved in our world, it could create universal conflicts between various belief systems. Hence, Death of a Fool is built on the simple idea that if we could live forever, would we necessarily want to? What would we live for? Creation, whether by God or the universe, built in death, so we would know when to stop. As Stewart Alsop wrote, “A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.”

NYFA: Having not experienced the theatre release it deserved due to the pandemic, what are your thoughts on it being released on Amazon?

IG: We’ve been having great success with our digital release. We did have our first public screening at the enchanting Coral Gables Art Cinema, but that was around the time the pandemic started, so we had to make the quick decision of moving online. In a way, it has certainly been a lot easier sending everyone to Amazon to watch the film rather than going around the country booking screenings. Although I really wanted to expand theatrically, if there’s something filmmaking has taught me, it is to adapt quickly to rising obstacles, make a new plan and keep moving forward.

NYFA: Do you have any upcoming projects coming up for Rabbit Hole Pictures?

IG: We recently launched a Movie Pitch Contest to help other creators. We wanted to give them a platform where they could have their movie ideas exposed to other producers, and at the same time offer them a financial reward to help fund their projects. You can read more about it here. We’re also developing our second feature film. A fantasy thriller about an indigenous tribe in the Amazon. We hope to start production next year.

New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Ismael Gomez III on the recent success of Death of a Fool and encourages everyone to check it out now on Amazon Prime Video.

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DC’s FanDome Event of Blockbuster Reveals – The Batman, Wonder Woman 1984, and More


Ben Afflecks’ Batman in the trailer for Justice League: The Snyder Cut uttered this word and it could not ring truer for the feeling fans have come away with DC’s FanDome event this past weekend. 

2020 has upended every single industry in the world and the film industry is no exception. Theaters shuttered, productions postponed and film releases delayed; some until next year. Most large scale live events have been canceled for the year as the whole world takes a mulligan and push plans for the following year hoping 2021 returns a bit more normalcy to live events however some have found innovative ways to bring large scale events to screens across the world such as DC’s FanDome streamed convention. 

This past weekend, DC put on a digital showcase of all the most exciting news and trailers of upcoming films and projects that is normally reserved for the largest comic book conventions of the year, usually the San Diego and New York Comic Con events. Accessible to all who registered online for free to the event, the streams began at 1pm ET showcasing panel after panel with a live performance by Daughtry and going off without a hitch. Each panel was different, big names and big reveals were had and the excitement for DC is at an all time high. 

Here were the biggest announcements of the day.

The Batman
Directed by Matt Reeves

We’re going to start with the hottest thing to come out of FanDome, Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Set to Nirvana’s “Something in The Way,” the trailer gives us our first real glimpse into the director’s vision for the world’s greatest detective’s new world. 

Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Matt Reeves’ ‘The Batman’

The new iteration of the Caped Crusader will not be an origin story per se but, as Reeves puts it. follow his “second year” of fighting crime. A gritty fusion of Zack Snyder’s hues with David Fincher’s melodramatic tones, we get our introduction to all that is expected from a new entry into the Batman franchise. Robert Pattinson in the suit, his portrayal as a young Bruce Wayne, quick shots of Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Colin Farrell as The Penguin, NYFA Filmmaking alum Paul Dano as The Riddler, and…the Batmobile. 

Fans are always craving to see the latest iteration of the iconic car and, whether you’re a fan of the new look or not, one thing is for sure, visceral fast paced action will be on display. And if you were wondering how the former Twilight star might fare in a fight, the clip of “Battinson” brutally taking down a thug should put the whole world on notice that he is up to the challenge of filling into the cowl of his predecessors. 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Directed by Zack Snyder

After years of social media fervor, hashtags, emails, petitions and practical groveling from fans around the world, Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder have finally answered those prayers. 

Zack Snyder, who after the tragic death of his daughter, had to leave the project during principle photography on Justice League has finally come back to finish his director’s cut. An ask that fans have been begging for after the debacle that-was the official release helmed by Joss Whedon. 

Film poster for Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’

It is only fitting that Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was the track chosen for the most anticipated trailer for a movie that was released three years ago as fans all over the world awaited for the second coming of the film they so desperately wanted. During the panel, Snyder took fan questions from around the world that were asked by most of the Justice League cast members through pre recorded videos before releasing the trailer to the world that gave a glimpse into what his vision for the film was supposed to be. 

At one point, when asked about Ray Fisher’s character Cyborg, he noted that his role will be one of the most expanded parts of the film as he is “the heart of the movie.” The film will be released as a 4 part series broken up into hour long episodes on HBO’s Max service, however no release date was given. 

Wonder Woman 1984
Directed by Patty Jenkins

Another exciting release was a more in depth trailer for the follow up to Patty Jenkins 2017 blockbuster Wonder Woman. The cast and crew spent time talking about the making of the film, the fans, and the relationships between the cast’s characters before revealing the trailer. 

Gal Gadot in ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (Directed by Patty Jenkins)

In the trailer we got to see Kristen Wiig’s Barbara who seems to be the film antagonist, “The Cheetah,” after undertaking a transformation. In the bits we’ve seen from Wiig, it will be exciting to see what she brings to arguably the biggest role of her life which is at the same time a departure from her usual comedic roles. Chris Pine will reprise his role as Steve Trevor while Pedro Pascal plays Max Lord. The film was slated for release on June 5, 2020, however due to the Coronavirus pandemic it was then delayed to August 15, 2020, which has now been pushed back to October 2, 2020.

It is clear that DC is capable of adapting to an ever changing landscape in film while battling their direct competitors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well the COVID-109 global pandemic. While they have had some great products in Aquaman, Wonder Woman and the many Batman Franchises, they have sorely lacked in many other areas on all fronts whether it’d be the big screen or the little screen, and even in their source medium, the comic book industry. This event, however, the first of its kind, really has given us a recalibration, or a “righting the ship,” of the many issues facing the DC house and all of its properties over the last few years. It has shown us that when DC can take the time to be “united” that they can become an unstoppable force in cinema once again. 

Other panels appearing during the FanDome event:

  • Warner Bros. Games Montreal Announcement Gotham Knights
  • The Sandman Universe: Enter The Dreaming
  • Multiverse 101 panel
  • Introducing the Flash
  • Beyond Batman
  • The Suicide Squad
  • BAWSE Females of Color Within the DC Universe
  • Legacy of the Bat
  • Chris Daughtry Performance
  • The Joker: Put on a Happy Face
  • Jim Lee Portfolio Review
  • I’m Batman: The Voices Behind the Cowl
  • The Flash TV 
  • Black Adam
  • CNN Heroes: Real-Life Heroes in the Age of Coronavirus
  • Titans TV
  • Aquaman
  • “Ask Harley Quinn”
  • Wonder Woman 80th Celebration
  • Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League Game 
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Q&A With NYFA Filmmaking Alum Donald A. Eferere (A.K.A EAD, the Creator) on Filmmaking and Award-Winning Short Film “Dari Ji Mi”

New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking Conservatory alum Donald A. Eferere (a.k.a Ead, the Creator) has directed music videos and has collaborated with popular recording artists such as Falz the bad guy, Teni the Entertainer, Mark Bautista, Dj Neptune, Sean Tizzle, CDQ, Reekado Banks, Peruzzi, Mayorkun, Yonda, Highonfi, Jkinggz, Trepdee. As a Film Director, EAD has also experience success.

His more recent film, Dari Ji Mi, won the Best Short Film USA category at the Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival in Canada and was also an official selection for several festivals in the United States including the Capital City Black Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Queen City Black Film Festival and many others. He is also currently in post-production for his upcoming Short Film Smith’s Way Out, which features Tony-nominated Actress Starletta Du Pois, along with a remake of the three little pigs and the big, bad wolf in a film called Reality.

New York Film Academy was able to catch up with EAD to discuss more about his award-winning short film, as well as his upcoming projects.

NYFA alum Donald A. Eferere (a.k.a Ead, the Creator)

New York Film Academy (NYFA): For those who may not know your background as a creative, can you share a bit more on how you became the creator you are today?

Donald A. Eferere (EAD): My name is Donald A. Eferere, popularly known as EAD for the music videos and content that I create.  I was born in Nigeria, but I am currently based in America;  I relocated to the United States shortly after completing my Bachelor’s degree to study filmmaking in 2016 at the New York Film Academy for eight weeks. That move completely change my mindset on how I viewed my art and the next steps that i needed to take. So I went back to my country to make music videos my main focus and because of my five year background in photography, it totally worked out. By 2019, I was 150 music videos deep and I  lost inspiration, so I decided to go back to the New York Film Academy for a year. That’s where my journey really began.

NYFA: Can you tell us about your film Dari Ji Mi?

EAD: Dari Ji Mi is a film where the lead character, Mr. Bankole, has taken the worst advice ever from his late wife’s sister, who advised himself to put a curse on his daughter in order to protect her from the alarming high rate of rape going on in the town. He succeeds in putting a curse on her and made his daughter, Ife, promise him that she’ll keep herself till marriage. This takes a terrible turn when her boyfriend Peter dies suddenly after having intimate relations with Ife for the first time.

Film poster for ‘Dari Ji Mi’

NYFA: What inspired you to make Dari Ji Mi?

EAD:  In Africa, kids have been brainwashed and put in certain situations that have damaged their lives one way or the other. Either it’s the profession that they have to choose or abstaining from sex till marriage. I really wanted to raise awareness to the parents who force their children to make certain decisions. The truth is that decisions really scar children and restricts their exposure level. I also intended for my film to send a message to the children, so they believe in themselves and discuss these things with their parents because they are the authors of their lives and their parents should just be guides. Dari Ji Mi has had great success on the festival circuit.

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

EAD: I also have two short films currently in post-production; Smith’s Way Out, which features Tony-nominated actress Starletta DuPois and my remake of the three little pigs story called Reality.  I believe that the steps I’m taking can really aspire young creators out there. So I recently started my company “RDCYF BRAND” which means Respect D Creators Young Future, and I am slowly building the company way up to achieve the goals of creating a better life for our young creatives and brands back in Africa and abroad.

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

EAD: NYFA really helped with making me a better producer and gaining skills in team building and planning to make my projects better.

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

EAD: Take every class project seriously. Make use of the resources and get your reel up because you’ll need it when you leave NYFA. It’s a jungle in the outside world. Best of luck!

New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA Filmmaking alum EAD, the creator for taking the time to share his inspiration and advice to incoming filmmakers and looks forward to seeing EAD make his way in more film festivals with his upcoming projects.

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Q&A With MFA Filmmaking Alum and International Production Manager Valéria Costa

New York Film Academy Los Angeles alum Valéria Costa was born to be in the film industry. After graduating from NYFA’s MFA Filmmaking program, Costa went on to produce work for Netflix, Uber, TLC, NatGeo, Twitter and Spotify. She also began to divide her time between the U.S and her native country of Brazil as a Production Manager for Brazil Production Services

Costa has worked on multiple projects both in Brazil and in the United States including Netflix’s Hyperdrive and 90 Day Fiance: The Other Way. She also worked on the NYC unit for the Brazilian feature film Minha Vida em Marte and on the set of the shoot for the Get to Know Me music video for Brazil’s biggest popstar, Anitta.

Costa recently worked on the Brazil Unit for Netflix productions of Sergio and Street Food: Latin America. New York Film Academy recently spoke with the NYFA alum to discuss some behind the scenes insight on these recent projects, as well as Costa’s role as a Production Manager, who specializes in working with foreign productions. 

NYFA MFA Filmmaking alum Valéria Costa

New York Film Academy (NYFA): Can you tell us more about your background and how you got interested in filmmaking?

Valéria Costa (VC): I’m from São Paulo, Brazil and I’m 29 years old. While I was doing my Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, I took acting classes and, once I finished my acting course, I took an internship in a theatre company. During my time there, I had the opportunity to learn about all the other components of a play that wasn’t the acting itself. As we went through rehearsals, I learned from the director of the company how to design and operate the stage lighting of the show and also followed her process in choosing and building the play’s score, costumes and make-up. All those processes ended up interesting me a lot more than what I originally intended to do there, which was to act. But, I knew that I didn’t want to be in the theatre world only, so I decided to start exploring and studying the universe behind the film and television cameras.

NYFA: That’s a really neat story of how sometimes you find what you enjoy when studying something else; it’s all about discovery! So how did you end up coming to NYFA? 

VC: After I finished a post graduation course for Cinema in Brazil, I felt the need to learn the practical side of filmmaking. And I’ve always wanted to study abroad and improve my English, so I decided to apply to the Masters in Filmmaking at NYFA and kill two birds with one stone. 

NYFA: Can you tell us more about your role as Production Manager with Brazil Production Services?

VC: At Brazil Production Services, we act in a very specific niche part of the film industry. I’m specialized in assisting American and other foreign companies that wish to shoot productions in Brazil, as well as Brazilian companies that wish to film productions in the U.S. Due to my experience in both markets, I’m able to understand my client’s expectations when they arrive in Brazil or when they plan to have a city in the US as a filming location. So, besides having the usual responsibilities of a Film Production Manager, such as building and managing the production budget, sourcing qualified local crew, overall costs negotiation, overseeing risk assessment and production insurance matters, managing the production’s legal paperwork, monitoring deadlines and the production schedule…I also advise my clients on the local filming requirements of the country that they are looking to film at and align their expectations based on the limitations that their chosen location imposes. 

Film poster for ‘Sergio’

NYFA: Can you go into more detail about your work in the Brazil unit for Netflix film Sergio?

VC: It was a great experience. We had several weeks of pre-production and the challenge to build a 100+ local Rio de Janeiro crew, being the main members bilingual so they could communicate with the American crew that flew to Brazil for this shoot.

We also had to build a temporary production office to accommodate the project needs and, after analyzing the production plan, we felt that the best place to have it was in the Ipanema neighbourhood, in the same hotel where the foreign crew was staying, so we ended up almost closing the entire hotel for the production.

Another big challenge in this production were the underwater scenes that we shot at the Reserva beach in Rio de Janeiro. For those scenes, we decided to bring in from São Paulo the best underwater camera operator in Brazil so we could make sure we were getting the best footage for those moments.

There were also some challenges with both art and wardrobe departments. The scenes filmed in Rio de Janeiro were written as Sergio’s flashbacks, so they were set during the 70’s and we had to make sure all scene components were true to that time, such as street signs, cars, beach wear, people’s wardrobe, accessories, etc. 

Valéria Costa (Second from left) with the production crew behind the scenes of a shoot

NYFA: What has been your favorite project you’ve ever worked on?

VC: I have special care for two Brazilian movies that I’ve produced scenes for in the U.S, which starred a big Brazilian comedian, Paulo Gustavo: Minha Vida em Marte (translates to: My Life in Mars) and Minha Mãe é uma Peça 3 (translates to: My Mother is a Character 3). 

Respectively, I produced the NYC Unit for the first film and the Los Angeles Unit for the second film. It was a great experience and really fulfilling to produce for an actor that is so well known in my home country. 

Valéria Costa (Second from Left) prepping for a production

NYFA: You’ve shot predominately in both Brazilian and U.S markets; What are some of the differences or similarities between working on those two sets culturally or professionally?

VC: I think that, besides the language, the biggest differences between shooting in Brazil versus shooting in the U.S are the processes, especially the bureaucratic ones. For example, the Brazilian customs are very tricky and complicated to deal with, so every time a client wants to ship an equipment or any other goods to Brazil, I have to make sure everything is done the right way, or else we can have packages stuck at customs. 

On the other hand, film permitting processes are different in the US, it has more requirements, especially in LA, and the jurisdictions are more divided between each film commission. 

NYFA: In addition to production, you’ve also written and directed some of your own short films – how has that helped you as a Production Manager?

VC: The short films that I wrote and directed were all very small productions, which means I had to wear a producer hat also at times – even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I believe that helped me to learn how to produce with little resources and how to manage what I had the best way possible and I definitely use those skills today as a Production Manager.

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

VC: There’s a Brazilian saying that I believe summarizes working in the film industry for me. It says: “A rapadura é doce, mas não é mole não” which translates to something like “The candy is sweet, but it’s not easy to bite.”  What we do is definitely not easy. You work long hours, deal with extremely tight deadlines and budget limitations, but I really love making movies and dealing with all the moving parts of a set and once you can see the final product I can guarantee that it’s worth it.

New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA Filmmaking alum Valéria Costa for sharing more about her experience being a Production Manager and congratulates her on the latest successes of her projects; we look forward to what is next from the NYFA alum. 

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