Filmmaking

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Actors Influencing the World

team-386673_1920

National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and according to the official website is a time for “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we have outlined three Latino or Hispanic actors who have done positive work for their communities outside of Hollywood.

First, a brief history of National Hispanic Heritage Month. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson started the observation as Hispanic Heritage Week, and President Ronald Reagan expanded it in 1988 to cover a 30-day period.

Now, let’s join in the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month and get to know some incredible people making a positive impact on the entertainment industry:

Eva Longoria

You may remember Eva Longoria as Gabriel Solis, the sultry housewife on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” which aired from 2004-2012. The actress has won a Screen Actors Guild Award, an ALMA Award, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe.

However, Longoria is more than one of Hollywood’s hottest Latino actresses. Hollywood Reporter named her “Philanthropist of the Year,” and she was selected as an honoree for Variety’s “Power of Women Awards.”

When Longoria isn’t filming, she is working with one of her many charities. She founded “The Eva Longoria Foundation” in 2010, which helps Latinas build better futures for themselves through education and entrepreneurship. She is also a spokesperson for PADRES Contra El Cancer (Parents Against Cancer), a nonprofit committed to improving quality of life for Latino children with cancer and their families. She also co-founded “Eva’s Heroes,” a nonprofit dedicated to assisting those with developmental challenges.

Longoria is currently working with United Farm Workers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and the National Council of La Raza.

Dascha Polanco

In late 2016, Dascha Polanco, who you’ve seen as Dayanara on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” was honored at the K.I.D.S/Fashion Delivers annual gala and The DREAM Project (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring Project). Polanco helped The K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers annual gala raise more than $1 million to help those affected by poverty and natural disasters.

Polanco is developing a theater and arts program for youth in the Dominican Republic, in collaboration with DREAM. For her contributions, the DREAM Project recognized Polanco as its “DREAMer of the Year.”

In an interview with Latina, Polanco said she did philanthropy work because it made her feel good: “This work enriches my soul. Some people think money and status are everything. Not me.”  

Tony Gonzalez

Anthony David Gonzalez, who goes by Tony, is a former tight end for Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons. Since retiring from the NFL, Gonzalez has been a sports analyst on Fox’s NFL pre-game show. When Gonzalez wasn’t playing football, he appeared on television shows such as “One Tree Hill” and “NCIS.” In 2017, he appeared in Vin Diesel’s “XXX: Return of Xander Cage,” as Paul Donovan.

Gonzalez adopted Marty Postlethwait’s nonprofit Shadow Buddies, and made it a main program of the Tony Gonzalez Foundation after his rookie year with Kansas City Chiefs. The organization represents different conditions ranging from heart defects to cancer, and diabetes to burns.

According to the Shadow Buddies website, the foundation creates and distributes customized dolls to children struggling with serious health issues to send them a message of hope and support: “Crafted from muslin and carefully researched to represent a child’s medical or emotional condition, Shadow Buddies offer seriously ill or medically challenged children the companionship of a friend ‘just like me.’”

Recently, the Tony Gonzalez Foundation has expanded the Shadow Buddies program to include senior citizens, with dolls customized to reflect familiar issues related to heart, vision, and day surgery. These dolls are aimed to provide comfort and companionship to senior citizens. More than 5,000 dolls have been delivered to senior citizens since the start of the program.

Do you know a Latino or Hispanic actor or director that has made a positive difference or influence in their community? Let us know below!

 

69th Annual Emmy Awards Drama Nominees Worth Mentioning

“Veep” actress Anna Chlumsky, “S.W.A.T” actor Shemar Moore, and Television Academy CEO Hayma Washington announced the 2017 Emmy Awards nominees were announced at the Television Academy’s Wolf Theatre at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood in July. The 69th Annual Emmy Awards will take place Sept. 17 live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, starting at 5:30 p.m. PST.

Compared to previous years, the 2017 Emmy ballot is bigger due to the growing number of television series. Drama dominated the ballot this year. There were 180 submissions for drama series, 140 submissions for best actor in a drama series, and 113 submissions for best actress in a drama series.

We’ve highlighted some of the actors, actress, and drama series we feel are worth mentioning below.

Drama

“The Crown” (Netflix)

Netflix captivated its audience with the period piece, “The Crown,” which focused on the private life of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Actress Claire Foy portrays the queen, and the drama did so well that Netflix has renewed the show for a second season. “The Crown” received nominations for outstanding drama series, outstanding lead actress in a drama series (Claire Foy), and outstanding supporting actor in a drama series (John Lithgow).

“This Is Us” (NBC)

NBC’s “This Is Us” was the highest rated new series in fall 2016 among adults under 50 years old. The show focuses on a young couple that loses a triplet during childbirth, and adopts an African-American baby after he was abandoned at a fire station. It also focuses on the lives of the three children and their everyday struggles in present time.

“This Is Us” has received three Golden Globe nominations, the network has renewed the show for two additional seasons, and the show has received several Emmy Awards nominations. The success of “This Is Us” can be linked to non-linear storytelling, which allows viewers to feel emotionally connected to the characters and storyline.

Drama: Actresses

Voila Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”)

In 2015, Viola Davis made television history by becoming the first African-American woman to win an Emmy Award for outstanding actress in a drama series. During her speech, Davis said, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

She has been nominated yet again for outstanding actress in a drama series for ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” Will Davis be able to take home another Emmy for her role portraying criminal defense lawyer Annalise Keating?

Robin Wright (“House of Cards”)

Robin Wright has been nominated for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for Netflix’s “House of Cards” every year since 2013. Wright portrays Claire Underwood, the wife of House Majority Whip Francis Underwood. Wright has also been nominated as a producer on “House of Cards.” Will Wright be able to beat out newcomers like Claire Foy, Elisabeth Moss, and Evan Rachel Wood and finally secure an Emmy?

Drama: Actors

Sterling K. Brown (“This is Us”)

“This Is Us” actor Sterling K. Brown won an Emmy Award in 2016 for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series for his portrayal of Christopher Darden in FX’ “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Brown is hoping to take home the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for his role of Randall Pearson. If Brown wins, he will be the first African-American male to win an Emmy this millennium; the last African-American male to secure an Emmy Award was Andre Braugher in 1998.

Anthony Hopkins (“Westworld”)

Anthony Hopkins is no stranger to Emmy Awards nominations. Hopkins won his first Emmy in 1976 for outstanding lead actor in a drama or comedy special where he portrayed Bruno Richard Hauptmann in “The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case.” This year, Hopkins has been nominated for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for his portrayal of Dr. Robert Ford in HBO’s “Westworld.” The new series focuses on a futuristic park with robotic people and allow rich vacationers to live out their fantasies through artificial consciousness.

Due to the show’s success, HBO renewed for a second season, which will start this fall.

Television Movie

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

The television movie, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” is based on the nonfiction book written by Rebecca Skloot. The book and the movie focus on the life of Henrietta Lacks – a poor African-American female tobacco farmer – whose cells were taken from her without her consent in 1951. Her cells were used in medicine to help develop a vaccine for polio, cloning, gene mapping, and in-vitro fertilization.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” focuses on ethics, race, medicine, and a history of dark experimentation on African-Americans.

What are some of your favorite Emmy Awards nominees? Let us know below! For a full list of nominees, visit the 69th Annual Emmy Awards website.

 

A Q&A With NYFA Los Angeles Director of Admissions Ragga Thordarson

New York Film Academy Los Angeles MFA Producing Alumna and Director of Admissions Ragga Thordarson was recently spotlighted in leading Icelandic publication Morgunblaðið for her impressive roster of accomplishments as a filmmaker, artist, and educator. Originally hailing from Iceland, Ragga has mastered many transitions: between nations, between careers, and between student and professional life in the film industry. Check out her inspiring insights, below.

Screenshot 2017-08-25 14.49.06

NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

RT: I am Icelandic-American, born in Reykjavik (Iceland´s capital) and raised in a small fishing town in Iceland called Stykkisholmur with a population of 1,000 people until I was almost nine. I then moved to the States and have lived extensively in both places.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the Los Angeles area (moved a lot). When I finally came to NYFA, I had been working in TV and radio in Iceland for several years (hosting several shows) and I had been thinking about going to graduate school for some time. I kept coming back to the idea that I wanted to go back to school. Although I had a career which involved a few years of broadcasting and producing and had made and directed one film (a documentary called “From Oakland to Iceland”), I wanted to learn more.

I was essentially a self-taught filmmaker and producer, and felt there were some elements missing from my film education. School was the answer for me in that regard. I also happen to love school and being a student, so college and graduate school have been some of the most rewarding times of my life.

NYFA: What was it like moving to the U.S. from Iceland?

RT: The immigrant experience definitely marked my life. I didn’t speak a word of English until I was nine years old. I remember being in a Montessori School classroom all of the sudden and not really understanding anything, but within three months I was speaking English pretty well. I also went from walking to school in Iceland in the dark in a snow suit covered from head to toe all by myself to wearing shorts and T-shirts in Berkeley, and being driven everywhere. We were more on our own in Iceland, there is a lot of freedom there for kids. Here everything was bigger and there were more moving parts; bigger cities, skyscrapers and freeways, more rules and regulations, more people! These are different worlds. It is great to be able to experience different cultures and then the interesting part is that when you grow into a bicultural individual you take parts of each and then that becomes the evolved version of you. Certain sensibilities are very Icelandic and others very American for me. Also, I don’t  have an accent when I speak English, so often people assume I´m from here … but I grew up in a household speaking Icelandic and celebrating Icelandic customs. My brothers and I gravitated toward and had friends that were also from bicultural households, Iceland, Iran, Thailand, East Germany, Romania, Tanzania.

NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment from your time as a student? And now, a favorite NYFA moment as part of our staff?

RT: I had many such moments while studying at NYFA, most which involved me learning something new. Screenwriting classes are really where I found my producer voice as creative producing is my favorite kind.

My top favorite moment was likely when I finished my thesis, it was definitely thrilling, and when my $500-budget sketch “Carlos & Brandi,” that started as a class project, was featured on Funny or Die´s front page.

I also loved the pitch fests in the producing program. I met people there that I ended up working with later on, so the networking really started in school for me. Those were important moments that turned into relationships down the line.

As a staff member, I always enjoy the feedback from excited students that are coming into the programs. When I read pieces about countless former students that I remember running around campus that are out there doing well in the industry, that is always inspiring and makes me happy.

NYFA: What advice can you give to fellow NYFA students who are adjusting to life in the U.S.?

RT: I think being open-minded and a little bit outgoing, frankly, is important here. It is such a large, diverse market and environment (at least compared to Iceland). In order to create relationships and opportunities here I found just good-old taking initiative was the way to go. Also, seeking out like-minded people who are in the same adjustment phase or have similar goals. Building a little community around oneself is great, and school is the perfect place to start.

NYFA: What do you think is different about working in the arts in the U.S. in particular? What should international students do to prepare?

RT: There are differences both as far as content goes (some of the stuff in Iceland would probably be considered more “arthouse” vs. commercial, etc.) [and in the market size]. The U.S. market is so big and there are scores of people from all over the world trying for the same goals, so it´s hard work.

When possible, show up early, stay late, don´t complain, and be easy to work with. Always keep your word with or without what you consider having success, which rarely happens overnight. Focus on the craft, the art not just on the end goal. It´s easy to caught up in a game of comparisons, but I say focus on the work itself.

NYFA: You went back to study at NYFA after living a little life out in the workforce. What was your experience like going back to NYFA for continuing education to make a career shift? Why did you pick NYFA?

RT: The New York Film Academy had a philosophy that I connected with: the hands-on approach. The do-it-yourself Icelandic part of me definitely found that appealing. The thought of graduate school had been looming for a long time, as I felt I was missing some stuff being a self-taught filmmaker and I wanted more knowledge.

Also, I liked that the teachers are industry professionals, and they were truly the best part of my NYFA experience. I still see some of the producing, screenwriting and film instructors around that I connected with, and it really marked my time here. The instructors truly are phenomenal.

NYFA: What inspires you in your creative work? What kind of stories do you want to be a part of telling?

RT: I write and produce comedy when I am doing my own stuff and have done producing and consulting of various kinds of projects for others, or as a freelance producer. If I really look at the stuff I´ve made personally, most of it is a bit female-centric and in fact a lot of it is about my bi-cultural life experiences. The Scandinavian sarcasm and cynical humor is definitely visible in there too.

NFYA: What advice can you give to our students who, like you, are passionate about a profession in the filmmaking industry, while also juggling parenting?

RT: Before we have families, working up to 17-hour days at something is entirely possible and it is something I personally did for years. After kids, it’s all about balance. Having said that, some days are longer than others and obviously production by nature is time consuming. It´s about time management and truthfully perhaps some things you did before you simply won’t do unless you can make it work on multiple levels (appropriate assistance with childcare, etc.). I say write for your budget and according to time while in film school! I.e: Shooting minimal amounts of locations, etc. Anything to simplify production without compromising the material.

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ragga for taking the time to share a bit of her story with the NYFA community. Ready to learn more about filmmaking? Check out our many programs at NYFA.

 

NYFA Celebrates Women’s Equality Day

Screenshot 2017-08-04 08.50.03

Women’s Equality Day is a holiday to mark the day in 1920 in which the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed, granting women the right to vote. Today, while “feminism” is a word that many people have mixed opinions about, most can agree that equality for women and girls is an enormous, continuing human rights issue around the globe.

Globally, according to OXFAM’s New Zealand site:

Screenshot 2017-08-04 08.48.14

  • 60% of the world’s chronically hungry are women and girls.
  • Two-thirds of all children denied school are girls, and 75 per cent of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women
  • Women hold only 21 per cent of the world’s parliamentary seats, and only 8 percent of the world’s cabinet ministers are women.
  • Only 46 countries have met the UN target of 30 percent female decision-makers.
  • One in three women around the world are likely to be victims of gender-based violence in their lifetime.

While there has been a lot of progress towards gender equality worth celebrating since the U.S. passed the 19th amendment, there is still a very long way to go to achieve true gender equality — even in the United States. For example, as NYFA showed in our Gender Inequality Infographic, only 30.8% of speaking characters in film are women. And even outside of the entertainment industry, there is still a gender pay gap in the U.S., with women earning roughly 80% of men’s salaries.

Screenshot 2017-08-04 08.53.18

Even in the face of this reality, the way many people view the movement for gender equality today is challenged by social stigmas and misconceptions. For example, the word “feminism” is often perceived as divisive. This is largely because the movement of feminism itself has changed a lot over the last century. In the 1960s, second wave feminism focused on a range of issues including reproductive rights, sexuality, and domestic violence. Today, third wave feminism focuses on the intersectionality of issues surrounding women’s equality, including race, culture, and gender identity.

Gender equality is not just a western movement anymore, it’s now a global movement. The idea of feminism today is that it’s a movement for all people, everywhere. Gender equality is human equality.

Let’s take a closer look at how gender equality intersects with the entertainment industry.

Screenshot 2017-08-04 08.57.36

The Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC Annenberg completed a study that focused on 1,365 content creators. The study found that 7.5 percent were female directors, 11.8 percent were female writers, 22 percent were female producers and less than one percent were female composers. The report concludes, “There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of girls and women on screen between 2007 and 2015.”

That’s not good news.

According to Dr. Stacy Smith, who led the study for MDSC Initiative, five films with female leads in 2015 were over 45 years old. But there were 26 movies in 2015 featuring leads or co-leads with males at least 45 years old.     

Women of color are also at a great disadvantage in the entertainment industry. From 2007-2015, only three African-American women and one Asian woman directed films listed in the top 100 films. Overall, only 5.5 percent of 886 directors examined for the study were African-American, and only 2.8 percent were Asian or Asian American.

In the last few years UN Women has kicked off its gender equality campaign HeForShe. The campaign aims for a solidarity movement for gender equality. Men and boys can engage through a targeted platform to achieve gender equality. This new approach recognizes that men and boys can be partners for women’s rights, and how they will benefit from equality.

In addition, Harvard University has launched their own campaign, Side by Side, which aims to promote awareness and action against gender-based discrimination on campus.

The entertainment industry is slowly moving in the right direction. However, we all need to continue to fight for awareness and progress towards gender equality both within the entertainment industry, and the world.

Become a part of the change by learning to create your own films at the New York Film Academy.

10 Reasons Why Hitchcock Will Always Be One of the Great Directors

Alfred Hitchcock is arguably one of the most well-known directors in the last century. Born Aug. 13, 1899, the English film director created more than 50 movies before he passed away in 1980. There is no denying that he changed the way audiences watched films — for example, Hitchcock demanded specific start times for “Psycho,” and audiences were asked to not give away the end of the movie.

Hitchcock may have never won an Oscar for best director, but in honor of his birthday, we’ve outlined 10 reasons as to why Hitchcock will always be one of the best directors.

alfred-hitchcock-393745_1920

Visual Storytelling

Hitchcock started out as a silent film director, so he was always finding ways to add information to his films. The practice led to constant innovation of storytelling, which is something that Hitchcock maintained throughout his film career.

Mise-en-scène

A mise-en-scène is a term for a group of elements that composes a shot. While the audience may not pay attention to all the elements in a particular shot, the combination of elements helps the audience dive into the film’s story. Hitchcock used mise-en-scène to build suspense, climax, curiosity and the likeness of his characters.

Themes

Hitchcock liked to focus on themes that revolved around obsession and morale. Among other elements, sub-themes in Hitchcock’s movies included voyeurism, authority, death, sexuality, guilt, and family. He used these sub-themes to add depth to his storytelling and build strong relationships with the audience.

Scriptwriting

Through innovative scriptwriting, Hitchcock was able to exercise control over the audience. He would often put an emphasis on psychological characterization of his main and secondary characters. In his films “Rebecca” and “Shadow of a Doubt,” he uses voice over for the opening sequences to cast a gloomy and mysterious shadow over the entire film.

Use of Music

Hitchcock was very specific about how he used music in his movies, whether it was to create excitement, heighten tension, or build toward a climax. Even his characters are fascinated by music, and, as the New York Times’ Edward Rothstein points out, it can be argued that music itself functions at the level of a character in Hitchcock films.

Film Editing

Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn 1949

Hitchcock believed that film editing could only do so much for a film. But if you cut the scene correctly, used the right music, and the mood was set correctly through storytelling. Some of the best film editing done by Hitchcock can be seen in “Rope,” “Under Capricorn,” and “Sabotage.”

Actors’ Performances

Hitchcock held the actors’ performances in high regard, yet is known to have been a very controlling and visionary director on set, allowing little time or room for input from his actors. A very particular director, Hitchcock famously did not set much stock in method acting or improvisation and kept a tight reign on the action on set. He was also known to frequently collaborate with the same actors.

Keep the Story Simple

Simple, linear stories allow the audience to easily follow along. Removing excess material and keeping each scene crisp was essential for Hitchcock. He knew that a confusing or abstract story would bore the audience, and streamlined his films to maximize suspense.

Contrasting Situations

Hitchcock loved to build tension into a scene by using contrasting situations — two unrelated things happening at once. When an audience focuses on one event that is building momentum, another interrupts. The second event is usually a meaningless distraction, meant to throw the audience off. One example is in Hitchcock’s 1956 film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day are in the middle of a tense phone call when guests, who are laughing and joking, start to arrive. The arrival of the joyful guests serves as a foil and complication for the real momentum of the scene.

Camera Movement

Camera movement is one component that supports visual storytelling, but it’s important to note why Hitchcock valued it so much. He believed that the camera should take on human qualities: it should roam and playfully look around the room for anything important.

By panning a room and showing close-ups of objects, the camera allows the audience to see certain plot elements and feel like they’re involved in uncovering the story. The importance of camera movement stemmed from Hitchcock’s days of working in silent film. Without sound, directors relied heavily on ways of telling the story to the audience visually.

Happy birthday Alfred Hitchcock! Do you have a favorite movie directed by Hitchcock? What are some reasons for watching his films? Let us know below!

 

All You Need To Know About This Year’s Asian American Film Festival

The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF), held annually in New York, is the industry’s one-of-its-kind first and longest-running cine fiesta that is devoted to showcasing great work by both emerging and experienced Asian and Asian American filmmakers. This year, the 40th AAIFF was a week-long affair from July 26- August 6, spread over three venues. Along with screening both shorts and features films, the festival had several interesting panel discussions. In case you missed it, here’s a recap of all things AAIFF and films you should totally check out from this year’s festival.

Screenshot 2017-08-07 10.08.10

The AAIFF’s been around for quite some time.

Although we talk of the importance of diversity and multi-ethnic representation in Hollywood as a more or less recent phenomenon, the need to promote and preserve alternate styles of filmmaking has been around for much longer. In fact, the AAIFF was the brainchild of four media activists: Peter Chow, Danny Yung, Thomas Tam and Christine Choy. They founded the Asian CineVision (ACV) in 1975.

In an industry that had little representation of Asian Americans, the organization helped raise cultural awareness about the Asian American experience, and in 1978, it celebrated the Asian American Festival, which included 46 films and videos that focused on the rising trends in Asian and Asian American cinema. The festival has continued successfully ever since.

FilmGOOK” was screened at the opening night.

The festival kicked off with the screening of “GOOK” that details the Los Angeles race riots of 1992, wherein two brothers come into contact with a young African-American girl. As per the website, “Although relations between Korean-Americans and the African-American community were hostile and flammable in 1992 Los Angeles, ‘GOOK’ showcases a relationship between the two races that was overlooked by the mainstream media.’

Some of the most incredible video shorts were showcased.

The eclectic selection this year at AAIFF included films that explored LGBTQ experiences, unique narratives from Japan, the work of under-21 media makers, the Asian in New York, and the evolution of Chinatowns. Some of the notable shorts presented were Christine Choy’s “From Spikes To Spindles”(1976), Karan Aryaman Marwaha’s  “Punjab”(2016) and “Howie Lam’s Fade” (2013).

The feature films were culturally diverse as well.

For example, under “Class of 97” category, which screened films from the 1997 festival, there were gems such as the political drama “Strawberry Fields” and the thriller “Shopping For Fangs.” Other films that were well-received were Shikha Makan’s “Bachelor Girls”(2016)  and Li Yuhe’s “Absurd Accident” (2017). In short, there was something for everyone, irrespective of genre.

The AAIFF also provided an interactive platform for further collaboration and dialogue

In this age of globalization, where cultural appropriation often goes unacknowledged, the AAIFF arranged for relevant panel discussions, Q&A sessions with directors and designers as well as a high-profile competition for those whose voices are neglected by the mainstream media. The panel discussion on “Women Take Charge” probed what it’s like to be a female filmmaker working in the media industry. Another set of directors examined the “Asian American New Wave” trend, and the encounter of young Asian Americans with the western culture that both allures and marginalizes them. There was also a special screenplay reading of “Helen Ever After” that focused on a trans woman’s coming out story.

In an age where cinema is still largely dominated by Hollywood, the 40th AAIFF’s grand success points out that there are alternative ways of storytelling that are just as important and interesting as their mainstream counterparts and that culturally-diverse experiences must be acknowledged as well.

Ready to learn more about filmmaking in a diverse and nurturing environment? Check out our filmmaking programs at New York Film Academy.

The Minority Report: Is Minority Representation in Films Getting Better in 2017?

Minority representation in films and other entertainment mediums have been heavily discussed, with a focus on the industry’s lack of inclusion for women and minorities. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently admitted it’s largest-ever group of new members, reflecting a commitment to work toward the goal of doing a better job at including minority actors in film and television.

So the question today is, has Hollywood diversified? Are we moving forwards? Sure, movies like “Hidden Figures” and “Fences” were widely praised at the Oscars, but we still have to ask: is minority representation really getting better in films, or is there a lot more work to do?

pexels-photo-87308

According to a 2016 study titled “Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment,” only 33.5 percent of speaking roles were given to females and under 30 percent of non-white roles involved dialogue. Major film distributors like Disney, 21st Century Fox, Sony, and NBC Universal failed inclusivity evaluations. Those are not very encouraging numbers for an industry that is supposed to be embracing more diversity.  

Worse, stories continue to percolate that the input and feedback given by minorities on film projects is often ignored. During the filming of Adam Sandler’s “The Ridiculous Six,” Native American actors hired for the film walked off the set, finding some of the humor in the script greatly offensive. It was reported that their concerns were not taken seriously, and Netflix also defended the decisions of the filmmakers to include the content. Accurate and improved minority representation is hard to achieve without listening to concerns voiced by professionals who are, in fact, minorities.

Screenshot 2017-08-02 15.33.47

However, not everything is completely hopeless for diversity in film. In February, the premier of the highly anticipated social-thriller “Get Out” broke several milestones. Jordan Peele’s debut made him the first black writer-director to achieve a $100-million film opening. It surpassed “Paranormal Activity” as the highest-grossing film for Blumhouse Studio, and maintained an impressive theater turn-out throughout its run. Peele has several more social thrillers in the works, pointing towards more great and diverse movies to enjoy soon.

Audience plays a huge role in representation as well. Want to help push for inclusion in Hollywood? Actively support diversifying film by watching films written and produced by women and minority filmmakers. Challenge yourself to watch more films by women and non-binary writers and directors, or filmmakers who are not white. Hollywood will be closer to representing all kinds of people when you demand more inclusiveness.

The Evolution of Space Movies

Screenshot 2017-07-11 10.15.11

July 20 marks the 48th anniversary of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon — prompting the well known quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But that wasn’t the first or last time that space played a major role in motion pictures.

Today, we’ll look at some significant moments for space in film, beginning with the New York Film Academy itself.

In celebration of the 48th anniversary and the launch of JSWT, here’s a list of space movies in Hollywood and how they’ve evolved over the years.

“Apollo 13” (1995)

Ron Howard directed the 1995 docudrama space adventure, “Apollo 13,” featuring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. The film dramatizes the 1970 mission for American’s third Moon landing. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise aborted the mission, after an on-board explosion left the astronauts without most of their oxygen supply and electric power.

“Apollo 13” was considered a technically accurate movie—Howard sought NASA’s assistance in astronaut and flight controller training for the cast. Howard even had permission to film scenes aboard a reduced gravity aircraft to give a more realistic feel to the movie.

The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound.

“Mission to Mars” (2000)

“Mission to Mars,” directed by Brian De Palma, takes place in 2020 when a manned Mars exploration mission goes wrong. An American astronaut, played by Gary Sinise, coordinates a rescue mission to save those who were on the exploration missions.

The film employed special effects that involved the NASA spacecraft and Martian vortex, which were created by various digital effects companies. More than 400 technicians were involved in the production of special effects, which ranged from visuals to miniatures, and animation.

“Gravity” (2013)

 

What happens when a space shuttle is destroyed after mid-orbit destruction? Director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 movie, “Gravity.” Sandra Bullock and George Clooney portray two American astronauts who are stranded in space and can’t return home because of their damaged space shuttle.

The cinematography, musical score, Bullock’s performance, visual effects, and the use of 3D all contributed to the critics’ positive reviews. “Gravity” received 10 Academy Award nominations and won seven, and was awarded six BAFTA Awards.

“Interstellar” (2014)

“Interstellar” is a movie focusing on the survival of mankind—a team of astronauts travel through a wormhole to find a new planet that can sustain human life. The science fiction film was directed, co-written, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. The movie’s cast included Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, and Michael Caine.

The film was shot on 35 mm in anamorphic format and IMAX 70 mm in Alberta, Iceland, and Los Angeles. Extensive practical and miniature effects were used in the film, and Double Negative created additional effects.

“Interstellar” won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Production Design.  

“The Martian” (2015)

Matt Damon portrays a stranded astronaut in the 2015 film, “Martian,” directed by Ridley Scott and based on Andy Weir’s novel, “The Martian.” The film follows Damon, whose character is presumed dead and left behind on Mars, and struggles to survive while others attempt to rescue him.

Twenty sets were built on a soundstage in Budapest, Hungary, and Wadi Rum, Jordan was also used as a backdrop for filming. The movie won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and nominated for seven Academy Awards.

NYFA & NASA

Did you know the New York Film Academy has worked with NASA?

In 2014, the New York Film Academy collaborated with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help raise awareness for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

NYFA, NASA, and Northrop Grumman used visual storytelling to give the audience insight into the development of JWST. The telescope is scheduled for completion and launch in 2018 — and JWST will replace the famous Hubble Space Telescope. New technology will allow scientists to continue studying galaxies, the formation of stars and planets, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Do you have a favorite movie about space? Let us know below! Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

5 Unconventional Life Lessons That You Can Learn at Film School

Film school is unlike any other educational experience in its multidisciplinary demands to master technical skills, collaborate with others, critique your own and others’ work, balance ideas with practicalities, and so much more. If you work hard, you can leave film school with the skills to make great films. But not only that, you’ll also graduate film school having learned some brilliant life lessons that can help you both on and off set.

1. Point of view.

Seeing the world from the perspective of people unlike yourself is key to making great films — and being a good human.

Although the Internet is cluttered with DIY info on filmmaking, only film school will force you to learn your craft in a hands-on, supportive and critical environment, away from your cheerleading friends and family. 

2. Beyond desire there must be hard work and time.

Screenshot 2017-07-10 14.15.45

Film school requires a commitment of not only money, but also time. And time is exactly what’s needed to master a craft.

As this IndieWire article puts it, “Depending on who you ask, researchers currently contend that it takes anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Whether those numbers are perfectly accurate is moot; the takeaway is that filmmaking, like painting, athletics, playing the piano or being a rocket scientist, takes a massive amount of time and dedication to master.” Film school gives you the opportunity to study and practice your craft.

3. Success depends on collaboration…

And collaboration depends upon your ability to communicate your ideas in a clear and compelling way. There are many walks of life that benefit from great communication skills, but few other educational tracks demand excellent communication as film does.

As we stressed in this previous article, “Filmmaking is a communal craft.” It can’t generally be approached in solitude the way you might in writing novel or painting a canvas.

To ensure your crew and talent understand and feel motivated to help you capture your vision for the screen, you must be able to walk the line between communicating passionately and clearly, which is a fine line to walk!

4. Freedom within constraints.

There is tremendous freedom allowed in film school, but it is within the structure of classes and projects and under the supervision of teachers who are experts in their field. Negotiating the territory between complete freedom for experimentation and limitations placed on you by deadlines, budget, and project parameters might very well be the most important lesson you can learn as a creative person.

As this IndieWire article put it, “When you rebel against film school it’s therefore often a sign that film school is working; an indication that you’re defining your own values and your own unique view of cinema.”

5. Don’t fear failure.

We know this intuitively or we’ve heard it out of the mouths of those we admire: we learn more from our failures than our successes. Film school gives you a chance to learn this lesson before you get out into the real world where mistakes and failures can cost millions.

By giving you the opportunity to try things that you might not get a chance to try again — crazy things that no producers would ever back you on — and succeed or fail, you will be the better for running the risk.

What have been your greatest life lesson takeaways from your time in film school? Let us know in the comments below! And, if you’re just about ready to begin a new film school adventure, apply today for the New York Film Academy.

 

Celebrating People With Disabilities in Film & Television

by Dr. Leona Godin

On July 9, New York City hosted the 3rd Annual Disability Pride Parade. We at NYFA love diversity and wanted to take the opportunity to highlight people with disabilities in film and television, past and present. And to appreciate the industry’s growing interest in employing actors with disabilities to tell stories of people with disabilities.

Micah Fowler

Micah Fowler of the current hit TV show “Speechless” is the Grand Marshal of this year’s Disability Pride Parade. Born with cerebral palsy, Fowler started acting when he was five. In a Vulture interview Fowler said, “I think it is sad that less than two percent of actors on screen are themselves actually disabled. Growing up a huge television and movie fan, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of representation of both disabled actors and disabled characters being portrayed on television. So I am so very excited that ‘Speechless,’ a prime-time network-television show, conquers both of those missing links by having both an actor actually living with cerebral palsy as a main character and by having a ‘character’ in the storyline living with a disability.”

Deanne Bray

This deaf actor, discovered dancing with “Prism West,” is best known for starring in the title role in “Sue Thomas F.B.Eye,” based on the real life of a deaf agent who worked for the F.B.I. as a lip reader.

Lou Ferrigno

The bodybuilder turned “Incredible Hulk” in the iconic ’70s TV series lost most of his hearing when he was a child. According to DeafLinx he attributed much of his ambition and success to his disability: “It forced me to maximize my own potential.”

Kitty McGeever

McGeever was the first blind actor to star in a British soap. Having trained at RADA, she lost her sight at the age of 33, shortly before landing her role on “Emmerdale.” She described her character as “naughty” and “manipulative in the extreme” to the BBC, and added Lizzy “uses her disability to her advantage and then disregards it to her advantage whenever and whichever way she chooses.”

Daryl Mitchell

Mitchell was an established actor before a 2001 motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. With support from friends, including Denzel Washington and Chris Tucker, he has continued his career and now stars in “NCIS: New Orleans.” He is an advocate for employing actors with disabilities. In an Ability Magazine interview Mitchell says, “You meet with these Labor Department guys, and you can tell everybody is enthused and ready to go. That’s the main thing, really. Their willingness to fly out from Washington and see us in Los Angeles and speak with us says a lot about them. But it’s really a matter of what we need to do, what we’re willing to do as people with disabilities. We need to be more boisterous. We need to let the world know that we’re here.”

NYFA welcomes people with all kinds of abilities. Check out our acting, filmmaking and producing programs, and start changing the face of film and television today!

Get Started With Storyboarding Software

There’s an old saying that goes, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Well, there’s no such thing as totally free storyboarding software. However, there are several programs that offer free, limited versions that will give you a taste of how the program works before you commit to purchasing it.

Many of the programs offer similar features like drag and drop editing, drawing, feedback and other collaboration tools. Most also give you the option to save the project as a PDF that can be printed or shared digitally.

Storyboard Pro is used by studios worldwide and it is a robust program that allows you to do all of your work in one program — from thumbnails to camera angles. Toon Boom currently offers a 21-day trial of the program that allows you to explore the full program before committing to the hefty $38 monthly subscription price.

Plot was created by Adrian Thompson, who drew on his previous experience creating animated videos to design a quicker way to organize and revise storyboards. Plot is free for your first three projects and you can work with one collaborator. After that, it is $8.30 per month for unlimited projects and several features that don’t come with the basic, like unlimited projects and collaborators, print and PDF exports, and email support.

Screenshot 2017-07-11 10.30.39

Frustrated animators also gave rise to Boords. Tom Judd and James Chambers of Animade came up with the software to streamline the layout process. If you just want to do some basic storyboarding and sharing, Boords offers team collaboration, drawing and photo uploading, and sharing through PDFs and team links.

The ACMI Generator is a free, basic storyboard creator. You can build your own storyboard or look through the gallery of uploads from other creators to get inspiration. Hosted by The Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s website, the program requires you to register with the site first if you want to save your storyboards.

Storyboard That has templates for creating books, films, comics, etc. The basic version has built-in scenes, characters, shapes, and other items that allow you to put together full storyboards pretty quickly. There are several subscription plans that offer features like collaboration and sharing.

Well, maybe some things can be had for free. Storyboard Fountain and Video StoryBoard Pro are both free and are pretty solid options if your budget is tight.

Storyboard Fountain is open source software available for most operating systems. It offers in-line script editing, drawing tools, and the developers are working on export capability for FinalCut and Premiere. The drawing tools are designed to respond to Wacom sensors as well.

Atomic Learning’s Free Video StoryBoard Pro is freeware software that features the ability to create, save, and print storyboards. However, it does not come with much support.

Ready to go from storyboarding to shooting? Check out How to Plan an Effective Shooting Schedule. Thinking about exploring animation? Get started with The Best Free/Open Source Animation Software.

Learn more about filmmaking and animation at the New York Film Academy.

 

 

Stars Protecting the Earth: Celebrities Who are Environmental Activists

Screenshot 2017-07-11 11.00.56

Summer is a time for playing in Earth’s beautiful spaces, near oceans and lakes or in mountains and forests, so we thought we would pause to honor those celebrities who look beyond their own star-status to protect our environment.

By using their considerable wealth and influence to create public awareness, create organizations, make films to highlight dangers, or teach by example with glamorous green homes and environmentally friendly vehicles, celebrities who care make a big difference! Today, we celebrate the environmental contributions of some names and faces you’re sure to recognize.

Matthew Modine

NYFA Board Member and award-winning actor Matthew Modine is a passionate crusader for protecting the earth. The actor, who currently stars in Netflix’s Original Series “Stranger Things,” has actively promoted environmental causes in many ways, from serving as a guest editor for Metro’s Earth Day edition to founding the Bicycle For a Day movement. As Modine said in his Metro piece, “Environmental compassion, if it is to have any tangible significance, requires vigorous minute-by-minute action by each and every human we share the Earth with.”

Ted Danson

Beaches on oceans and lakes are prime spots for summer fun, and there is perhaps no one on this list who has dedicated himself so consistently to issues concerning Earth’s water than Ted Danson, the man who won our hearts as the lovable recovering alcoholic bartender on “Cheers.” Danson focuses his environmental attentions on all aspects of this life-sustaining natural resource. He even helped write an educational book on the subject called “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”

Daryl Hannah

She’s the iconic mermaid of “Splash” and an activist who’s not afraid to create waves! Hannah has been arrested several times for her activism, including during protests against the Keystone Pipeline. She lives off the grid, drives a biodiesel car, and blogs about environmental issues at DHLoveLife.com. She was also the executive producer of “Greedy Lying Bastards,” a 2012 documentary that hits hard at climate change denial.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Following the tremendous success of “The Titanic” (1997) and his leap to superstardom, DiCaprio established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, “dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants.” The non-profit organization focuses on global warming, preserving Earth’s biodiversity and supporting renewable energy. It also produces web documentaries to promote public awareness such as “Water Planet” and “Global Warning.”

Pearl Jam

It’s not only actors who’ve embraced environmental concerns, but also bands like Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam crisscrosses the globe on tours, doing their best to minimize their negative impact. According to One Green Planet, “Pearl Jam has also partnered with numerous organizations to help offset the carbon emissions of the estimated one million fans driving to and from the band’s concerts and provides information about other initiatives on their website. In 2011, Pearl Jam was named 2011 Planet Defenders by Rock The Earth for their environmental activism and their large-scale efforts to decrease their own carbon emissions.”

Cate Blanchett

In the land down under, the Elvin ruler of “Lord of the Rings” fame “lives off the grid in a ‘green’ house.” During her time as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Blanchett “spurred the installation of solar panels on The Warf Theater,” according to One Green Planet. “She is also responsible for the theater’s installation of one of the world’s largest rainwater collection systems.”

Brad Pitt

Besides being the quintessential A-list celebrity and tabloid focal point, Pitt has an ongoing interest in environmental concerns, especially having to do with sustainable architecture. He narrates “Design: e2,” a PBS television series focused on worldwide efforts to build environmentally friendly structures. In 2007, as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Pitt founded Make It Right to organize housing professionals to finance and construct sustainable, affordable houses in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, and has since expanded its mission to create and promote “healthy homes for communities in need.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many celebrities in the entertainment industry that have used the spotlight to promote environmental activism. Margaret Atwood, Robert Redford, Sting, and James Cameron are just a few of the other names that could have been on this list.

Tell us your favorite environmental celebrities in the comments, and we at NYFA wish you a green summer!

Ready to learn more about visual and performing arts? Check out the many program offerings available right now at NYFA.

6 Great Movies to Watch for the 4th of July

Screenshot 2017-06-30 13.45.19

After a long hot day of barbecuing and baking in the sun, you might want to step inside the cool dark indoors with a patriotic movie or two. To celebrate the 4th of July this year, we’ve compiled a list of Independence Day-themed films that are sure to satisfy every kind of craving: patriotism, thrills, alien invasions, disillusionment and more!

1. “Independence Day”

How can you resist coming together to fight alien invaders? This 1996 proto-summer blockbuster set the standard for well-hyped and fun movies exploding into theaters mid-summer. And, as ABC News put it, the film “sent Will Smith’s career into the stratosphere with a fist to an alien’s kisser and one simple line: ‘Welcome to Earth!'”

2. “Jaws”

This 1975 thriller based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel set out to be — and was — a tremendous hit. It also made Steven Spielberg a very rich young man, a household name, and powerful enough in the industry that he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. (That turned out to be “Close Encounters,” which he nursed with the help of “Jaws” star Richard Dryfus.)

Perhaps you’ve never seen this classic (gasp) or it’s been a while, and you’re like, “What’s the killer shark flick got to do with the 4th of July?” Well, just take a look at the opening scenes and you’ll realize that it’s the impending holiday that sets up the tragedy: A small town’s denial of the danger in the face of losing vacationers. Some might even say that the true force of evil here is greed, not a bloodthirsty shark.

3. “Born on the 4th of July”

Here’s a movie that might raise some patriotic eyebrows. A young Tom Cruise won his first Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of real-life disabled vet turned anti-war activist Ron Kovic. This 1989 film, set during the Vietnam War, offers a different take on patriotism: one that supports dissent.

4. “The Patriot”

For a more traditional take on patriotism, there’s this 2000 epic directed by Roland Emmerich, and starring Mel Gibson, Chris Cooper, and Heath Ledger.

Sure, the movie was blasted for taking liberties with history, but most critics agree that it represents America’s ideals, if not its reals. Not to mention the nods for gorgeous cinematography and a monster performance by Gibson. And considering the fact that it’s set during the Revolutionary War, we couldn’t very well leave this one off the list.

5. “National Treasure”

And, lest you feel we’ve gotten too serious on this list, we offer a touch of the absurd and over-the-top ridiculous. Nicolas Cage, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger, and Sean Bean star in this 2004 heist-with-a-twist: they must steal the Declaration of Independence as their first step on a high-stakes treasure hunt.

6. “John Adams”

This 2008 HBO miniseries about the first 50 years of the United States is for those who prefer to shun the sun this holiday weekend and binge-watch while learning a little American history.

Based on David McCullough’s best-selling biography and supported by a stellar ensemble cast that includes Paul Giamatti,  Laura Linney, and Stephen Dillane, “John Adams” has more Emmys under its belt than any other miniseries in television history.

What movies are you planning to watch this weekend? Let us know in the comments, and Happy 4th of July!

Ready to learn more about filmmaking? Apply to the New York Film Academy.

The Rise of Superhero Films

Screenshot 2017-06-27 13.59.14

“Wonder Woman.” “Iron Man.” “The Avengers.” “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The past decade or so has seen an influx of superhero films based on comic books — major big-studio movies starring the highest-paid actors in the world (think Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Downey, Jr.) and outperforming any other movies released. This week, the world will enjoy a new addition to the superhero film repertoire: “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” featuring the work of NYFA alumnus Francesco Panzieri on special effects!

While 1990s blockbusters like “Jurassic Park,” “Titanic,” and “Braveheart” were standalone epics based on books or historical events, today’s highest-grossing films are primarily superhero movies, based on a combination of factors such as escapism, cutting-edge special effects, and an older, wealthier population of comic-book fans.

The most significant, and grim, factor behind the rise of superhero movies has been the economic crash of 2008. There were popular superhero movies prior to this, such as “Spider-man” and Christopher Nolan’s excellent “Batman” series reboot, but following the economic downturn — in which many people lost their jobs and homes — superhero movies went into orbit.

People suddenly wanted escapism into a different world where the hero always triumphed and where distinctions between good and bad were easy to tell. Blockbuster epics with tragic endings like “Braveheart,” and “Gladiator” fell out of fashion, as no one wanted to compound the grim economic situation with an equally depressing movie. Comic-book superhero movies, in which the hero triumphs over evil, became more appealing to the general public. (While our economic downturn is not as severe as the Great Depression, it’s notable that the popularity of comic books in the 1930s mirrors the popularity of superhero movies today.)

With the rise of computers, special effects have become more realistic and believable — something that previously limited superhero movies. Compare the stiff, lumbering shark of “Jaws” — a movie that had exceptional special effects for its day — to the beautifully computer-generated creatures and atmospheres of today’s superhero movies.

Special effects designers have a wider range of options to work with, as well as better software and technologies, than they did 20 years ago. Need Captain America to soar to the heavens? Stand the actor in front of the green screen and virtually create the sky behind him. Need Ant-Man to fly through Iron Man’s suit and sabotage it? That can be achieved realistically as well.

Whereas “Titanic” required a replica ship, today’s computer generated imaging can produce entirely believable superhero action scenes through the digital manipulation of pixels.

The third factor in the popularity of comic-book superhero movies is the older age of the audience. Today’s superhero movies — even if they’re rated PG-13 — are primarily made for adults who grew up on comic books and now have a disposable income. These adults are mostly Generation X-ers and Millennials who read comic books as children during the 1970s-1990s and now have the money to see films and buy paraphernalia. While kids can beg Mom and Dad to buy movie tickets and Mom might possibly agree, adults can always purchase tickets and attend films — creating a great source of potential viewers who have fond childhood recollections of their comic book superheroes and villains.

What are your favorite superhero films? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re ready to learn more about creating incredible films, study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

Here’s What It’s Like to Work for Walt Disney Animation Studios

For many who grew up watching Disney movies the opportunity to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios would be an incredible experience. Many aspiring animators wonder what it’s like doing what you love at the most accomplished and iconic studio in the world. To prepare for what could one day be your dream come true, here’s an idea of what you can expect:

Working for Walt Disney Animation Studios is all about…

Taking Big Risks

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.01.06

No company has ever reached worldwide recognition by only playing it safe. People who want to make an impact know that success doesn’t come from only doing what’s expected. To truly stand out and raise the bar you have to be willing to take risks and hope it pays off.

No one knows this better than Darrin Butters, an animator who has worked on Walt Disney Animation Studio hits like “Tangled,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Frozen.” During a recent talk at the New York Film Academy 3D Animation School, Butters spoke about how the slow sloth scene from “Zootopia” required going against the top principles of good animation. Despite this, the scene ended up being one of the highlights of the film and well worth the risk.

Giving Your Best To Make Disney The Best

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.06.55

Most would agree that Disney wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the Disney Renaissance. During this era lasting between 1989 to 1999, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced hit after hit with no signs of stopping. Some of the most admired animated films were created during this time, including “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Hercules.”

The animators that worked for Disney at the time inspired today’s animators to do one thing: make Disney the best. Working at Walt Disney Animation Studios means remembering that the competition is fierce, so you must always do better than before. Of course, it also requires passion and love for animation to walk under Mickey’s wizard hat while on your way to work each day.

Remembering The Fundamentals

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.08.47

Whether you prefer working with 3D graphics or prefer 2D drawings, there’s a place for you in animation. This is because no matter how 3D-dominated the industry gets, animation will always need people who know the fundamentals. No one understands this better than Eric Goldberg, a man who has worked in the industry for 25 years.

With animated TV shows and movies like “Looney Tunes” and “The Simpsons” under his belt, Goldberg knows the importance of mock up, character design, and other animation tasks originally done by hand. During his exclusive preview of “Moana” at the New York Film Academy’s LA campus, Goldberg expressed that all animators who want a future at big studios like Disney should remember that many fundamentals of animation have held true for decades. It’s why a 2D animator like him can survive in a 3D animation world like today.

Doing Whatever It Takes & Loving It

 

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.09.32

There’s nothing like watching a finished animated film after countless hours of hard work have been poured into it. While a lot of people assume creating animated characters and worlds is all fun and games, animators know how much hard work is required to make something special. If you’re not willing to push yourself in order to come up with something unique and creative then perhaps working for the “Mouse” isn’t for you.

In a guest post on Chronicle Books, Maggie Malone of Walt Disney Animation Studios talked about how one of the artists went above and beyond while working on “Wreck-It-Ralph.” This artist was tasked with building the world for the Sugar Rush candy go-kart scenes. In order to make sure her candy world was authentic and reliable, she spent weeks creating actual models out of real candy. This resulted in a deliciously wonderful scene that might’ve never looked as good if she hadn’t put in the extra mile.

What are your goals as an animator? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about 3D animation and visual effects at the New York Film Academy.

Game Storytelling: 3 Rules of Thumb That Work

By NYFA Instructor Felipe Lara

Adding storytelling to your game can help you connect emotionally to your players, add meaning to the experience, and increase long-term engagement. But stories can become more of a nuisance if not implemented properly. Following a few rules of thumb will help you add storytelling that does not clash with the rest of the experience.

Screenshot 2017-06-21 13.05.04

Why Story

As I mentioned in a previous article, a combination of good art and fun game mechanics is a very effective way to attract players and create immediate engagement. But even good game mechanics can get repetitive and tedious over time unless they are accompanied by a larger meaning or drive, which is often provided by other elements like story and social connection.

Events are much more meaningful if they are tied to a larger story. When playing basketball, scoring a basket is fun, but the experience is much more meaningful and powerful if that basket is the winning basket at the end of a game against a long-time rival team, even more if winning will let us get a scholarship to a renowned college … and will make us the first in our family to get a college degree … which will eventually let us to help our family get out of poverty and … you get the idea.

What is so powerful about stories is that they can wrap up the combination of ideas and emotions that form our experiences in ways that we can easily understand and link to our values and other experiences in our lives. A story can turn an abstract goal into something that relates to our values and views of the world.

Here are three rules of thumb to help you determine if you have a story that works to make your game more compelling without annoying players:

Rule of Thumb 1: Start with a Clear Conflict

Screenshot 2017-06-21 13.06.40

There is one single element that fuels a good story: conflict, says Evan Skolnick in his excellent book “Video Game Storytelling, What Every Developer Needs to Know About Narrative Techniques.” He is right. Story is not a lot of blah blah blah, it is not fueled by details about characters, feelings, and places, it is fueled by conflict, by someone wanting something and not being able to achieve it because of something else. Make that conflict clear as soon as you can in your game.

The more your players can relate to the story’s conflict and to what is at stake, the more compelling your story will be for them. The faster you can introduce your players to that conflict and why it matters, the easier it will be for them to find meaning in the activities and goals they need to complete.

The conflict you show your players first doesn’t need to be the only one. It doesn’t even need to be the main one, but it should be the one that helps the player makes sense of what he/she needs to do in the game next.

Rule of Thumb 2: First Do, Then Show, Then Tell

Screenshot 2017-06-21 13.11.43

There is an old axiom in Hollywood that says: “show don’t tell.” If you want to communicate how courageous a character is, don’t say it: Instead, show the character doing something courageous.

In the same book for video game storytelling I mentioned above, Evan Skolnick says that in games, where the players are active participants, this axiom can be modified to: “do, then show, then tell.”

If you want to communicate how courageous and powerful a character is, give her powerful abilities and give her big challenges to face. Instead of telling the player the attributes of her character, let her experience them herself.

If you cannot find a way to communicate story through actions, then use visuals as a second option — and only if there is no other way of conveying important information that your player needs in order to make sense of what she is doing, say it through dialogue or text.

Rule of Thumb 3: Keep It Simple and Minimal.

Screenshot 2017-06-21 13.08.46

The right story makes the game more intuitive, but to do that it needs to be simple. It can get deeper and more complex as the game progresses, but the primary goal is to make your game’s goals and rules easier to connect with and easier to understand. If the story is not making it easier to play, chances are it is not the right story.

The story should also be kept to a minimum.

One of the main mistakes that game developers make when adding story is trying to communicate at the beginning of the game all the background of the story to the players. Players generally do not care about your story details or your characters until they are more invested in the experience as a whole. It is important to provide meaning, but you don’t have to provide the player with more information than the bare minimum to make your immediate goals and activities make sense.

The worst thing you can do is present your player with a bunch of information that they don’t yet care about. Long dialogues and explanations are usually skipped and all your work will be in vain.

Start simple, and add complexity only if the rules and goals of the game require it.

Evan Skolnick divides story facts into three categories: first, facts that you need to know right now to understand what you need to do in the experience; second, facts that will be important later in the experience but you don’t need to know yet; and third, facts that maybe add flavor but are not essential at any time in the experience to understand what you need to do.

As a rule, the only information you really need to give the player is the one related to the first category. Save the rest for later and even then try to convey it first through actions and visuals.

Chess

Screenshot 2017-06-21 13.07.14

Let’s look at chess as an example. It may be an extreme case but it exemplifies the points I am making.

The conflict is simple and easy to understand: you are a king with a court and an army, your enemy is another king with his own court and army and you need to defeat him. There are other details in the story about who is in your court, which characters are important and powerful, how big is your army, etc., but all that information is communicated through actions and visuals:

  • You know who your enemy is because your team is one color and your opponent is the opposite color.
  • You know that there are different characters because your pieces have different shapes.
  • You know who is in your court and how powerful they are because your different pieces have different attributes and behaviors, and some of these attributes prove to be more powerful.

The story in chess is simple and minimal. It helps us make the rules and goals of the game more intuitive; like the fact that only knights on horses can jump other pieces, or that the most important piece is the king — but the game does not give us additional information that is not essential to understand what to do next.

Conclusion

Story is an important tool to help us add meaning and connect emotionally to an experience. But the wrong story could turn into an annoyance to the player. By following these three rules you can avoid wasting time and resources developing stories that don’t help your game:

  1. Introduce a clear and easy to understand conflict as soon as you can.
  2. Communicate your story through actions first, visuals second, and only as a last resort through dialogue and narration.
  3. Keep the story simple and minimal, give you player only the information than helps him/her understand what he/she needs to do in the game at that point.

National Pride Month: Movies and Stories That Deserve an A+ on Pride

“Angels in America”

This sweeping, breathtaking six-part HBO miniseries covers a number of important issues facing the LGBTQ+ community in the mid-1980s, including the rise of AIDS and lack of access to both knowledge and treatment regarding the HIV virus.

Based on the 1993 Tony Kushner play “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” this series delves into the lives of gay individuals in New York City and examines how politics, social change, and the terrifying AIDS epidemic affects the LGBTQ+ community.

“Angels in America” garnered much critical acclaim, winning multiple Golden Globe and Emmy awards; it was the most-watched made-for-cable film in 2003.

“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”

This 1994 Australian comedy-drama film follows the adventures of two drag queens and a transgender woman who attempt to cross the vast Australian Outback in a van named “Priscilla.” It became a surprise cult classic worldwide, especially in the LGBTQ+ community, for its positive and empathetic portrayal of queer and transgender characters.

The film was so popular that it was made into a Broadway musical and also referenced during the 2000 Sydney Olympics Closing Ceremony, where a replica tour bus was adorned with a giant stiletto heel during an Australian popular culture scene.

“Viva”

Set in Cuba, “Viva” is a 2015 Spanish-language Irish drama written by Mark O’Halloran and directed by Paddy Breathnach. It stars newcomer Hector Medina as Jesus, a young gay hairdresser who dreams of being a drag performer.

Jesus’s life is turned upside down when his father, who abandoned him in childhood, comes back to live with him and is blatantly intolerant of Jesus’s drag queen activities.

The clash between father and son is portrayed well; Jesus’s father must come to terms with his son’s sexuality. “Viva,” the Irish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, made the December shortlist of nine films but was ultimately not nominated.

“Milk”

Gay rights activist Harvey Milk is spotlighted in this 2008 biographical film, which follows the career of Milk as he becomes the first openly gay person to be elected to California public office.

The film stars Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as Milk’s assassin. Directed by Gus van Sant, “Milk” covered a number of important LGBTQ+ issues, as Harvey Milk fought for gay political rights against major opposition.

“Milk” ultimately received eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Penn).

“But I’m a Cheerleader”

While this satirical 1999 romantic comedy looks campy on the outside, it covers some important LGBTQ+ issues. Natasha Lyonne plays a high school cheerleader who is sent to conversion therapy camp as a cure for her lesbianism. She eventually embraces her sexuality and falls in love with another camper.

The film explores gender and sexual identity within a given social construct (the strict rules of the camp) as well as within a larger society (the outside world, which is much more accepting of homosexuality).

What are your favorite films and plays that celebrate LGBTQ+ pride? Let us know in the comments below!

Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

 

The Evolution of Film Over Time — A Brief History

Have you even noticed how much films have evolved during your lifetime? Over the past few decades, film technology has made major advancements. Just  compare the original “King Kong,” made in 1933, to the recent remake made in 2005.

Notice how lifelike the CGI King Kong looks in comparison to the stop-motion King Kong in the original film.

Here are some other films that have been remade … can you spot the changes in filmmaking technology?

“War of the Worlds”

“The Thing”

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

“Casino Royale”

“The Karate Kid”

“The Mummy”

“Ocean’s 11”

While some changes to filmmaking technology and the craft of filmmaking might be obvious, there are other things that are not so apparent. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the more subtle ways that filmmaking has changed over the past century.

Shorter Shots

James Cutting, a psychologist at Cornell University, was a panelist for the Oscars’ “Movies in Your Brain — The Science of Cinematic Perception” discussion in 2014, and has been studying perceptual and cognitive processing. Cutting examines how the brain’s processes relate to film components such as editing, frame rates, projection, and scene and narrative structure. He has been looking at shot duration over the past few years, and has found that the average duration of a shot is consistently shorter now than it was a decade ago.

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.20.07

In an interview with “Wired,” Cutting said that the average length of a shot in 1930 was 12 seconds. Today, the average length is only 2.5 seconds. You may notice that in older films, directors added at least 1.5 seconds to each crowd scene, so the audience has time to look around and see who was  in the shot. That isn’t the case today.

Attention spans may have something to do with shorter shots and the different patterns as well. It’s human nature for someone’s attention to waver, no matter how hard we try to focus. According to Cutter, “People flake out every few seconds. You fluctuate in and out, and there’s a natural pattern to this.”

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.30.16

Cutter argues — and some film scholars disagree — that different patterns of shots found in today’s films go better with natural fluctuations in human attention because each new shot forces the audience to refocus their attention. There is a fine line though: films with too many short shots require too much attention and films with too many long shots may allow the audience’s attention to wander. A strategic mix of short and long shots will help keep the audience engaged and entertained.   

Of course, there are obvious exceptions. Both “Birdman” and “Gravity” have almost no visible cuts at all. However, both films take advantage of modern technology to move the camera in ways that would have been impossible even a few decades ago.

More Motion

Motion and action in a film help keep the audience’s attention. Have you ever watched an action movie and noticed your heart beating fast? Was your adrenaline pumping hard? It’s your body’s physiological response to motion within a shot. Filmmakers carefully and intentionally craft the motion we see on screen, to match the dramatic intensity of the scene.  

 

Changing Light

Modern, digital technology has allowed filmmakers to maintain better control over a more dynamic range of light. Movies today are often shot with much less light than their predecessors, allowing for more naturalistic effects. Take “Collateral,” for example, which was shot in the nighttime streets of LA with mostly natural light. Additionally, modern films are often much darker, than films made in the gold age of Hollywood. And even the application of color has been adjusted to suit the taste of modern audiences. As Cutter explained in his interview, bright colors have stayed the same but interestingly dark colors have gotten darker.

An example of this is “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” Notice that some  shots from the trailer, are extremely dark with only small focal points of light in the frame. Filmmakers use this technique to control where the audience looks and what they see.

Other Factors

There are other factors that have played a part in how film has evolved such as Blu-ray discs and IMAX theaters. Audiences can now also watch movies on smartphones, tablets, and computers, and stream movies through platforms such as Netflix.

Of course, these are just the changes in visual style that have been been made possible by new technologies. Perhaps the biggest changes are those brought about by changes in society. But that’s the subject for another article.

What do you think are the most impressive innovations in film over the last century? Let us know in the comments below! If you’re ready to learn more about filmmaking, study at the New York Film Academy.

NYFA Conservatory: Why a 1-Year Program Is Your Next Life-Hack

We’ve all heard inspiring rags-to-riches tales of celebrities who found their big break by being discovered in malls or whisked away from their ordinary job by a chance encounter with a talent scout, director or agent. While we can’t deny this fairy tale does sometimes come true in real life, for most professional visual and performing artists the road to success is paved with hard work — and excellent training. If you’re considering the arts, you may want to consider updating your training.

Whether your dream is to make magic behind the camera, on the screen, or in post-production, don’t wait for a chance encounter with fate: you can take matters into your own hands by pursuing hands-on training in the skills you’ll need to change your own life and learn to be an artist.

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.38.48

Daydreams Come True

It’s never too late to pursue your dream, but it’s important to understand what tools you’ll need along the way. It can seem like there’s a huge gap between daydreaming at your day job and actually living your dream. The good news is that there is one secret weapon that can help you find your footing as you develop professional skills while saving time: a conservatory program.

Why a Conservatory?

Picture spending all day every day doing only what you love, all while working closely with and learning from people who are experts in what you want to do. That’s a conservatory: intensive artistic training in a creative environment designed to push aspiring artists to develop their skills to the highest level.

A conservatory program is a little bit different than traditional college. Rather than requiring classes in a core curriculum of all subjects, a conservatory allows students to focus exclusively on their subject. The intensive focus allows conservatory students to develop a unique depth of understanding for their craft and receive specific training relevant to their specialty in the arts.

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.30.16

Why NYFA?

At the New York Film Academy, our conservatory programs offer students from all backgrounds the training and experience they need to rise to a professional level and build a body of original work. The New York Film Academy’s conservatory is unique because we believe in “learning by doing.” That defines everything we do, and our hands-on instruction helps our students learn to handle the real-world challenges of their chosen industry, whether that’s a working film set, an animation studio, a photography studio, or a Broadway stage. In one or two years at NYFA, students complete more training in less time through an intensive, project-based curriculum crafted to prepare professionals for the real world.

Hands-On Learning

Starting on day one, we put our conservatory students in real-world situations, whether that’s behind the camera, in front of the camera, or working with software to create their own digital works of art. Learning hands-on challenges our students to learn to think on their feet, adapt and problem solve — all skills that are essential for work in the arts. Collaborative projects allow our students to work together, build a strong network, and learn to see their chosen craft from every angle.

Industry Teachers

Our students learn from a faculty of working professionals who are still active in their fields. This means that our instructors offer a direct line to the heartbeat of current industry trends and provide vital insight to the business side of the professional arts.

Incredible Locations

If you’re excited about the idea of spending a year or two changing your life through one of NYFA’s conservatory programs, check out our campus locations:

NYFA New York

If you are looking for a sense of adventure, choose a conservatory program at NYFA New York City. Our campuses at 17 Battery Place and 26 Broadway place students in the heart of one of the world’s most diverse cities, the home of independent film, the proving ground for actors, and the theatre capital of the world. For the artistic soul, New York City is alive with unimaginable hope and inspiration, and students will recognize the setting of many beloved films and television series shot in the city, from “The Godfather,” “Ghostbusters,” “Taxi Driver” and “Do the Right Thing” to “Madmen,” “Broad City,” and “30 Rock.”

NYFA Los Angeles

NYFA Los Angeles is in the heart of Hollywood, the birthplace of American cinema and the heart of the film industry. From the sunny and inspiring city to the nearby beaches and mountains, students are in the perfect place to create their own original projects in the same city that served as the location for countless classic and contemporary films and television shows, from “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Graduate,” “Tangerine,” and “Nightcrawler” to “Star Trek,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Broke Girls.” And NYFA students have unique entertainment industry opportunities, such as working on the prestigious Universal Studios backlot and in Warner Brothers facilities. 

NYFA South Beach

“The Gateway of the Americas,” Miami is a city of diverse culture, sun, and energy, with gleaming white beaches, turquoise ocean waters, a beautiful Art Deco district, and a famed nightlife and restaurant scene that draws visitors, artists, and industry leaders from around the world. Located in the heart of the gorgeous South Beach neighborhood of Miami, NYFA South Beach offers conservatory students the opportunity to make art while exploring one of the most vibrant cities in the U.S. Miami has served as the location for many major films and television shows, including “Scarface,” “The Birdcage,” “Jane the Virgin,” and 2016’s Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, “Moonlight.”

NYFA Australia

Screenshot 2017-06-21 10.34.05

The New York Film Academy Australia has two campuses, in Sydney and Gold Coast, where conservatory students can can attain their CUA60615 – Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media or CUA51015 – Diploma of Screen and Media.

NYFA Australia: Gold Coast

Our Gold Coast (Queensland) campus is located in a state-of-the-art facility in Southport, directly across from the Gold Coast Broadwater with a popular waterfront promenade, large estuary and attractive parklands. We also have our own production studios on-site at the renowned Village Roadshow Studios, where our students have the opportunity to do their production work in the backlot, the filming location of international blockbusters including “San Andreas,” “Unbroken,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “The Shallows,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” among many others.

NYFA Australia: Sydney

Australia’s largest and most famous city, Sydney is considered the jewel of the Southern Hemisphere, with one of the most beautiful harbors, great surf beaches, a magnificent opera house, and an eclectic film and music scene that adds to rich cultural environment. NYFA students have access to premier facilities and equipment and can create their own work throughout Sydney’s beautiful beaches, iconic buildings, historic landmarks, award-winning restaurants, and a uniquely vibrant culture. Sydney has served as the location for numerous blockbusters such as “The Great Gatsby,” “The Matrix,” “Stealth,” “Babe,” “Crocodile Dundee,” “Wolverine,” “Mad Max The Road Warrior,” and “Mission Impossible II.” 

Have you enrolled or completed one our conservatory programs? Let us know about your experience below! Learn more about our conservatory programs and continuing education at the New York Film Academy.

A Guide to Getting Your First Film Made (On The Cheap)

Alright, so you’ve just graduated and you’re eager to make your first feature film. And you’re broke. Let’s just assume everyone reading this is broke. Where do you go from here?

Here are some tips to help you get started on your quest to create your own low-budget feature film, outside of the comfort of school:

Rule #1: Make a List of Everything You Have

Screenshot 2017-06-21 12.21.31

So you have a script written, but you need actors, a cinematographer, editor, costumes, craft services, and maybe even a director.

We all know that filmmaking is expensive, but if you’re a first-time filmmaker on a shoestring budget you’re far from a Hollywood level of production quality. So take some time to make a list of all the locations, equipment, actors, crew members, or props you might already have access to for little or no costs at all.

See if any of your friends have time or tools. Got a camera? That’s somewhere to start! And once you’ve made a list of everything you have that you can make a film with, that leaves…

Rule #2: Make a List of Everything You Need

Screenshot 2017-06-21 12.23.47

Reverse budgeting works: figure out what or who you need. That’s all a budget is. Now, itemize everything and everyone on that list. Do your research. Figure out how much you’re able to get for cheap or zilch.

There are three ways people pay for the budgeted line items:

  • pay now (cold-hard cash)
  • pay later (deferred payment based on profits made from the film)
  • pay through product placement (sometimes referred to as “in kind,” or the “you scratch my back/I scratch yours” deal).

Rule #3: Locations Are Expensive

Screenshot 2017-06-21 12.24.56

Ever wonder why so many low-budget movies seem to take place in just one location? Rodrigo Cortés’s “Buried.” Steven Knight’s “Locke.” Steve McQueen’s “Hunger.” Michael Snow’s utterly sublime Wavelength. Even Barry Jenkin’s Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” with a story that takes place throughout many decades in a character’s life, only has a handful of on-screen set locations throughout.

Every time you add a location to your story, you add in more costs and even more time. Keep that in mind when budgeting. Always remember your paperwork too. Paperwork is super important.

Rule #4: Sound is King

Screenshot 2017-06-21 12.26.10

You may be fretting about whether you have the most streamlined, high-tech, newest and hottest camera on the market for your first film project, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: Having good sound is equally important.

Just look at any documentary to see how good-quality audio can make a professional difference. You can find more creative solutions to shoot compelling visuals with a cheaper camera or very little lighting equipment, but audiences will be far less forgiving if your audio is impossible to listen to.

Rule #5: Have the Rights to the Music

Screenshot 2017-06-21 12.27.25

If you know someone who can do your soundtrack, if you can hire someone for cheap, or if you can make music yourself, go that route for sure.

But definitely, definitely do not use music that you have no rights to.

There are so many urban myths surrounding fair use laws and licensing, but the simple truth is that you can’t use anyone else’s music effects or soundtrack without their permission. Charles Burnett’s “The Killer of Sheep” wasn’t released for nearly 30 years for this very reason.

Get permission in writing if you can.

Rule #6: Thinking On Your Feet Is Okay

Screenshot 2017-06-21 12.30.42

If you went to film school or made some short films in the past, you’re probably well aware that it is often the case that things don’t go as planned when on set or in the editing room.

You may have spent months or even years writing the perfectly crafted script or creating storyboards and shot lists that are detailed to the teeth, but all of that is likely to change any given minute you spend on set. Let’s be real: problems happen all. the. time.

All legendary filmmakers have had to deal with this. What is their secret? They see these “problems” as creative opportunities. And as most film junkies know, some of the best scenes in movie history were completely improvised.

Rule #7: Marketing

Screenshot 2017-06-21 12.34.43

For most filmmakers, this is the hardest part. You’ve spent sweat, blood and tears making your baby, and now you need to deliver it to the people.

The toughest part after your film is made is getting people to care. We wish there was a catch-all tip for marketing indie movies, but there isn’t. However, we will say that marketing is something you need to be thinking of from day one, when you first begin writing the script. Throughout the process, reach out to professionals and hire a professional if you can.

What is your best advice for first-time feature filmmakers? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.