Industry Trends

5 New Ways to Execute Old Stories

From reboots of classic television series to new spins on known movies, franchises, remakes, and old stories keep resurfacing in Hollywood for better or for worse. So what’s the secret to revamping familiar stories?

While there are a lot of ways to execute old stories, here are five approaches to reviving old tales that will help make your own adaptation a success. (For a great example, check out Magnificent Seven starring NYFA alum Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.)

1. Add New Twists

If you plan on revisiting a well-known story, ask yourself a lot of what-ifs to get new ideas.

What if the main character was of a different gender?

What if the story was told from another character’s perspective?

What if the time setting was different?

What if at least half of the supporting characters were female?

Even the tiniest details can make a big difference when it comes to imagining something new.

2. Make it Modern

Having old characters react to or live in the modern world is a fun way to recreate an old tale.  A story’s lessons are what tend to speak the loudest to an audience, so show how versatile the lessons and themes can be by setting a remake in contemporary times.

One great example a timeless story finding applications in many retellings is the various adaptations of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813. The Bridget Jones’s Diary series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Bride and Prejudice, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are just a few examples of adaptations with a modern time period or cultural update.

No matter what story you want to retell, having classic themes and characters interact in the modern world or with modern ideas can be a smash hit.

3. Challenge Harmful Stereotypes

A lot of old stories have problematic themes that might have been acceptable at the time, but aren’t now. If you’re building on or reimagining a dated story and run into racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the story, consider how you can challenge or transform these elements. Leave out the harmful stereotypes, or update the story to draw awareness to a social justice issue.

For example, leave the days of having a charming prince rescue a helpless maiden and have her rescue him. Allow for more opportunities for diversity characters to thrive in your story for something fresh and much-needed in the world of entertainment.

4. Don’t Copy What Others are Doing

Don’t feel the need to conform to the way other people approach adaptations. Sure, there are expectations that people may have about how a familiar story should be approached, but doing the same exact thing as other retellings gets very boring.

If you have a new idea or something unconventional to bring to your genre of focus, then take a chance on it! You never know if it will work until you test it out for real!

5. Have a Clear Focus

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself why you want to remake an old story. Too many people try to revive an old tale without taking the time to realize why they want to remake it.  Are you doing it because you have a genuinely thought-out take to the story, or are you just feeling pressured to do what other creators are doing? Share the idea with trusted colleagues who can help you shape your adaptation into something special and truly innovative.

Finding your creative spark doesn’t have to be hard. The New York Film Academy offers 15 programs for up-and-coming creative minds. Explore professional-level programs in the visual and performing arts today.

Super Bowl Sunday: Innovative Ads That Have Changed the Game & What You Can Learn From Them

Apple’s “1984”

There’s two types of people that watch the Super Bowl—those who want to watch football, and those who want to watch the commercials. Either way, that’s a lot of people—the NFL’s championship game is typically highest-rated event of the year, and 19 of the top 20 most watched TV broadcasts of all time are all Super Bowls (the M*A*S*H finale being the only exception at #9.)

It’s hard to stand out from the crowd of countless ads that have aired in the previous 51 games, though dozens have managed to become iconic—including the dancing Pepsi bears, the Budweiser frogs, and the screaming squirrel.

But only a few commercials have actually changed the game when it comes to advertising or filmmaking, introducing new concepts and employing out-of-the-box techniques. By doing something unique and influencing future spots for years to come, these game-changing ads are lessons in themselves.

Here’s five such Super Bowl ads, and what you can learn from them:

1. Apple’s “1984”

“1984” is possibly the most famous commercial of all time, Super Bowl or not. Released the same year as both the Summer Olympics and the 1984 cinematic adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” it was a relevant short film that audiences easily identified with, and introduced Apple’s Macintosh desktop PC, which would shortly go on to revolutionize the home computer lifestyle.

The commercial, while signifying major change, was also a short film — a dark, moody, science fiction epic directed by the perfect person for the job, Ridley Scott. Scott was fresh off his own dark, moody, science fiction epics “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”

To this day, the “1984” commercial is a testament to spectacle — influencing countless advertisements that went very, very big to make themselves heard.

Apple's "1984"

Apple’s “1984”

2. GoDaddy’s Teaser Ads

GoDaddy, the company that web hosts and sells and registers domains, doesn’t typically offer highbrow advertisements; indeed, they’ve gotten a lot of flack for tasteless, sexist commercials on more than one occasion. Several of these have been rejected for the Super Bowl, so GoDaddy’s marketers came up with an innovative solution — using their 30 seconds of Super Bowl time to advertise their full-length, real commercials online.

By playing teasers of their actual ads, GoDaddy made a name for itself purely on buzz, while also incorporating social media into advertising well before most of the industry had caught on to the Internet’s potential in such regards. While their actual content was nothing worthy of emulating, this unique innovation has led to an entire industry of “commercials for the commercials.”

3. Coca-Cola’s “Mean Joe Greene”

One of the earliest iconic Super Bowl ads came in 1979, though it had already premiered a few months earlier before making a splash during the big game. This Coca-Cola ad featured NFL star “Mean” Joe Greene chugging a bottle of Coke in the halls of a football stadium before tossing his towel to a 9-year old fan.

The heartwarming moment was a perfect storm of Americana, celebrity, and — of course — football. By using a celebrity most of the television audience already idolized and combining it with a cute kid and some good ol’ fashioned sentimentality, the advertisement formed the basis for countless imitators, including other Coke ads.

If a commercial can give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, the “Mean Joe Greene” ad argues, then maybe so can the product it’s advertising?

"Mean" Joe Greene

“Mean” Joe Greene

4. Nike’s “Hare Jordan”

Michael Jordan was as famous for his TV commercials as he was for his basketball skills, but the “Hare Jordan” spots that advertised his Nike-brand Air Jordan sneakers took marketing to a whole other level. By appearing on screen with an animated Bugs Bunny in modern-day “Looney Tunes”-style shorts, Jordan changed yet another game.

Cutting edge special effects and combining live action with animation was typically only seen in the movies (and in the latter case, only very rarely.) By putting money and unique visuals into their advertisements, Nike proved the investment could be worth it. The ad first hit the Super Bowl in 1992, when computer-generated effects were just hitting the mainstream but were still a rarer, more expensive option than traditional hand-drawn animation.

The ad ended up being a harbinger of the special effects-heavy commercials that would follow in the next two decades as CGI became cheaper and easier to implement. A Super Bowl doesn’t go by these days without several CGI-assisted commercials, but Nike’s hand-drawn/live action combo “Hare Jordan” can be considered the grandfather of them all (and the predecessor to Jordan and Bugs Bunny’s feature-length collaboration, “Space Jam.”)

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

5. Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl”

For 10 years, the Doritos approach to their Super Bowl ads was to hold a “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, where anyone could film and submit their own Doritos commercials. The winner of the contest would have their amateur project aired for TV’s biggest audience.

The ads were highly successful. By opening up their commercial pitches to millions of amateur filmmakers, Doritos also had way more choices to choose from than any advertising firm could offer. And audiences could connect to the DIY-style low-budget ads — it was a democratic solution that showed that anyone could potentially be seen or heard.

Aspiring filmmakers, advertisers, and just funny people who liked Doritos instantly had a shot at the big time. In the age of YouTube and Instagram stories, Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign couldn’t be a more relevant, decentralized way of telling stories — even if those stories were selling Nacho-flavored tortilla chips.

Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl"

Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl”

 

Interested in learning the skills to make your own Super Bowl commercial one day? Check out NYFA’s filmmaking program here.

Groundhog Day: Our Favorite Binge-Worthy Time-Warp Movies

Ah, Groundhog Day — it’s everyone’s favorite holiday, from the cute little mammal to the intermittent time travel.

Time travel?! Yes, that’s right: you may not have heard, but ever since the seminal 1993 classic found Bill Murray reliving “Groundhog Day” over and over again to comic perfection, the holiday itself has become the perfect excuse to get your time-warp on — film buff style.

If you’re in the mood for some Groundhog Day fun but can’t quite figure out how to travel through time, we’ve created a movie list that will make you wish every day was Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen them, stop the clock: these beloved time-travel movies will rock your socks and maybe even save the world.

“Rocky Horror Picture Show”

Okay, okay, this movie may not involve an actual time warp … but then again, are you sure?

Nothing is as it seems in this popular cult classic. Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick) blow a tire and find themselves stranded at the spooky castle of the mysterious Dr. Frank-N-Ferter (Tim Curry). Hilarity and weirdness ensues — including the actual musical number, “The Time Warp,” to help you get your Groundhog Day started right.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

In this adrenaline-packed action flick, Wolverine goes back in time to save the world. What more do we need to know? We’re watching it:

“Time Bandits”

No self-respecting child of the ‘80s could put together a time-travel movie list without including Terry Gilliam’s inventive brain-child.

When a troop of time-travelling pirates (who, oh yeah, are dwarves) bumble into a young boy’s life looking for treasure, our hero finds himself unable to avoid tagging along through time on a series of misadventures that just might save the universe…

“Edge of Tomorrow”

Cage (Tom Cruise) finds himself dying on the same day over and over again. The loop continues until he can build the skill and strategy to work with warrior Rita (Emily Blunt) to fight off an alien invasion and save the world:

“Dr. Strange”

For those who like their time-loops in another dimension and with a heavy dose of sarcasm, step into the weird and wonderful world of unlikely hero Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) — the caped cynic who survives a debilitating accident and discovers that he can learn and practice magic. SPOILER ALERT: His ultimate feat is triggering a time loop to — you guessed it — save the world:

“The Time Traveller’s Wife”

Take a break from the high stakes of time-travelling-to-save-the-world movies and refresh your palate with this sweeping romance.

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, time-travelling Henry (Eric Bana) can’t control his strange powers or his fate as a time-traveller. But that doesn’t stop true love  — it just complicates it — as he pursues his wife Clare (Rachel McAdams) through time in this lush tear-jerker:

“Arrival”

Ready for an Oscar-winner? This riveting 2016 sci-fi, adapted from Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life,” was nominated for 8 Oscars, and won for Best Sound Design.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called in to break the language barrier with aliens that arrive on earth, preempting an apocalyptic global crisis. Yet while figuring how to communicate with the visitors, Louise discovers that alien language has some important side-effects … including a life-altering effect on time.

“Happy Death Day”

For those who like their time-loops with a side of horror, this flick provides mind-bending chills.

College student Tree (Jessica Rothe) is murdered on her birthday, and then wakes up again to re-live the ordeal on loop until she can figure out who is after her. It’s a horror puzzle sure to thrill fans of time loops and terror alike.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Eva Green stars as Miss Peregrine, who runs an orphanage for children who have inherited a rare recessive gene of “peculiarity” that grants them powers that are … unusual, to say the least. With the help of a time loop, they live together in relative safety and secrecy … until the time loop is no longer enough, and young Jake must learn to use his powers to become the protector.

“Safety Not Guaranteed”

Starring New York Film Academy alum Aubrey Plaza, this flick follows a sardonic magazine intern as she investigates a local man (Mark Duplass) who places a classifieds ad seeking a time travel companion. Complications ensue when she goes undercover in this quirky indie adventure.

“Groundhog Day”

The movie that started it all … Phil (Bill Murray) is a cranky weatherman who finds himself trapped living the same day over and over again — until he gets it right!

“About Time”

Tim’s (Domhnall Gleeson) life changes when his Dad (Bill Nighy) reveals a family secret: men in their family can time travel! Tim revels in his newfound ability and its possibilities to help him bolster his love life with wife Mary (Rachel McAdams, who can’t seem to avoid marrying time travellers), solve problems, and excel at work … until he discovers that some of life’s most bittersweet moments just can’t be time-hopped around.

“Back to the Future”

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) goes back to the 1950s in a Delorean to save the life of his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). But in the process, he disrupts the time space continuum — and jeopardizes his own existence — when he accidentally interrupts his parents’ first meeting. Forget getting back to 1985: the real question is, can Marty make his mom fall in love with his geeky dad, and get a chance to exist at all?

Marty McFly may not exactly save the world, but this is the greatest time-travel adventure of all time. It’s official.  

What are your favorite time-loop movies for Groundhog Day? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

How Film School Can Help Your YouTube Channel

YouTube ChannelWhether you are putting together a web series to showcase your comedic talents or nurture dreams of being the next beauty, gamer, or  film vlogger superstar, having filmmaking skills will help your YouTube channel achieve a professional look. Camera skills, the ability to work with sound, lighting, and actors, and good editing skills, all lend themselves to creating content that inspires viewers to subscribe instead of moving on to someone else’s offerings.

Starting Strong and Slick

Most viewers determine whether they will watch a YouTube video in the first few seconds, according to WikiHow, so it’s vital that your intro is compelling and professional. Whether you use music, title cards, voiceover, or a teaser, film school gives you the production, design, and editing skills you need to pull a viewer in and keep them from looking for the next big thing.

Looking Good

The delight of YouTube is in its endless choice and variety for the viewer, which is of course the challenge for the content creator. Bad camera work and lighting can give a viewer an excuse to find what they’re looking for elsewhere, so why give them that excuse? Film school teaches you the technical aspects of using your camera and of how to work with lighting, both natural and artificial, so that you can make the most of your budget, as it grows with your channel.


Sounding Good

“Bad video is forgivable. Bad audio is not,” declares this No Film School article. But as it goes on to say, recording clean audio is not easy, and fixing it in post-production is also not easy. As with camera work and lighting, you can teach yourself through trial and error, but in film school you will learn from the trial and error of others, and start with a firm footing that can minimize wasted time and disasters.

Directing and Acting

Finding the right actors and directing them to achieve your goals is no easy task. Film school can teach you where to find actors, what to look for in the hundreds of headshots and resumes, how to conduct auditions, and finally how to direct them to help you achieve your goals.

And for actors, having some experience in front of the camera is vital to connecting with your audience, so that they feel that they know you. As we talked about in this article, acting for the camera is very different from acting on stage. There is an intimacy demanded by the camera for film and television that is at least as important for YouTube since so many people watch it on small personal screens.

Meeting Collaborators

Connecting with compatible and talented people is no small thing. We can’t say it enough: Filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and the connections you make in film school with both your instructors and your classmates will likely prove invaluable. As your YouTube channel grows, you will be glad you have people to call on to help you produce a steady stream of quality content for your millions of YouTube subscribers!

Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

What Does the Internet Think About “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opened last weekend to a whopping $220 million Box Office take — which USA Today reported is the second-largest opening weekend ever (second only to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”)! Which has all of us asking: yeah, but … what did the internet think?

While the New York Film Academy offered a filmmaker’s perspective on some of the storytelling elements of Episode VIII, there are many more angles to plumb as fans and film buffs alike respond — with wildly different feelings — to the much-anticipated film.

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93% but an audience score of only 53%, there is clearly a disturbance in the force. The internet has been a cacophony of conflicting voices and passionate debate.

If you haven’t seen Episode VIII yet, stop what you’re doing and make it happen — we want to hear your reaction, too!

In the meantime, here are the main types of of responses we’ve seen so far to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Spoiler Warning! Read with caution!

Joy and Adulation

What character actor Andy Serkis has called “a rich meal of a film” seemed to hit the sweet spot for nearly every critic and at least half of the three generations of Star Wars fans who reacted across Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and beyond. As Rotten Tomatoes makes clear, the critical response is all positive: “The Last Jedi” is officially “too big to fail.”

Many applauded director Rian Johnson’s fresh take on the Star Wars universe, with a more tongue-in-cheek tone, a breathless, complex interweaving of characters, and entirely new themes added to the starscape of the franchise.

Newsweek featured a sampling of some of the joy and adulation across Twitter. “Best Star Wars ever” was a common refrain:

 

See a roundup of more positive Tweets in Newsweek and EW.

Yet social media wasn’t always kind to “The Last Jedi”…

Fanboy Fury

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" poster via IMDB.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” poster via IMDB.

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

As the title of Episode VII suggests, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” takes a sharp turn away from the central themes of prior Star Wars films. There’s no new hope, there’s no return of the Jedi. There may not even be a light side or a dark side of the Force.

And many life-long, die-hard Star Wars fans are not having any of it.

Perhaps most of the social media backlash down to the fact that a very vocal swath of the hardcore Star Wars fanboy population feels Johnson may have gone too far, not refreshing the franchise but rather feeding it to the Sarlacc. For social media’s loudest critics, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” takes us to a galaxy far, far away from everything made them love Star Wars in the first place. Many also criticized “The Last Jedi” for failing to answer what seemed to be the driving questions left unanswered by “The Force Awakens.” (Who are Rey’s parents?! Why is she special?!)

And while some fans applauded Johnson’s decision to infuse a strong dose of jokiness to “The Last Jedi,” a louder group thought the humor just didn’t work. Also, it seems many are angry at what happens with Luke Skywalker’s character … perhaps including Mark Hamill himself, who is quoted in Mashable as saying, “‘It’s time for the Jedi to end.’ Are you kidding me?” Between the fanboy fury and the huge box office wins/positive critical feedback, maybe the real question, as Vanity Fair pointed out, “Is whether this divide is representative of how the fandom truly feels.” Yet I can’t help thinking it seems unwise not to take them seriously…    

See a roundup of more angry fan responses on Screenrant.

Last but Not Least: Honoring Carrie Fisher

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" poster via IMDB.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” poster via IMDB.

 

The main thing critical and fanboy reactions across the board can seem to agree upon within the internet universe of responses to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” is that it’s very hard to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher.

The actress, writer, and mental health advocate, who sadly passed away last December, turned in an unequivocally amazing performance as Princess Leia in “The Last Jedi,” and will be missed not only in future franchise episodes, but throughout the galaxy.

Director Rian Johnson, it turns out, felt just as emotional about losing Carrie Fisher as the rest of us did, and went out of his way to keep the storyline of Episode VIII the same even after her tragic death.   He told The New York Times in September, “I felt very strongly that we don’t try to change her performance. We don’t adjust what happens to her in this movie. Emotionally, you can’t help recontextualize it, now that she’s gone. It’s almost eerie how there are scenes that have an emotional resonance and a meaning, especially now. She gives a beautiful and complete performance in this film.”

If you’re not afraid of more spoilers, check out Time magazine’s feature on Carrie Fisher and how “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has said farewell to a legend.

What were your reactions to Episode VIII? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

Star Wars Sequels 101: How Do “The Last Jedi” Filmmakers Build On “The Force Awakens?”

[NOTE: This isn’t spoiler heavy, but if you still haven’t seen “The Last Jedi” and you want to go in cold Porg-y, er… turkey, you should bookmark this for later. Also, what are you waiting for? Go see it already!]

The_Last_Jedi_poster

“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”, the most anticipated movie of the year (and then some), has finally come out and now critics and fans can scrutinize each and every individual moment for decades to come. But besides who Force-choked who and which CGI creature will be the hottest new toy, “The Last Jedi” answered a more technical question for film buffs—what did Episode VIII do to build on Episode VII?

While “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” isn’t really an original movie in itself—in fact it’s the (obviously) seventh movie in the series—it did hit a reset button for Star Wars in numerous ways. So it’s easy to see how “The Last Jedi” is a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” more than it is the eighth movie in the Skywalker Saga.

And sequels normally get a bad rap, though “The Last Jedi” is in good company considering “The Empire Strikes Back”—another middle chapter in a Star Wars trilogy—is considered by many to be the greatest sequel of all time.

So how, from a filmmaking perspective, did “The Last Jedi” build on “The Force Awakens?” Here’s just a few, broad examples:

Production Design

Hollywood titan J.J. Abrams was lauded for his direction in Episode VII—namely because he responded to the artificial looking CGI-heavy prequels by bringing grit and texture back to Star Wars. A full, beat-up Millennium Falcon was built for the movie, which was shot often on location and fully built sets as opposed to large swaths of green screen. This dirtier, rougher version of space is kept in the look of “The Last Jedi”—whether on Luke’s isolated island or the remote planet covered in dusty red salt. If you can feel an image you’re really only seeing, the filmmakers are doing their job.

Film Score

It’s pretty much a given that any new Star Wars film needs to retain the iconic themes John Williams first wrote in the 1970s, but to stand out on their own these movies should offer new melodies we’ll be able to hum to. “The Force Awakens” introduced us to “Rey’s Theme” as well as “Kylo Ren’s Theme”, strong motifs that hold up alongside classics like the “Imperial March” and the “Binary Sunset/Force Theme.” “The Last Jedi” is a little scarce on completely new soundtrack entries—though it does have a motif for new character Rose—but it recalls the best music of “The Force Awakens” throughout, using it in several powerful scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren. As the story progresses so does their relationship, and the mixture of their themes accentuate this narrative.

Screenplay – The Story

One of the criticisms of “The Force Awakens” was that it imitated the original trilogy too much, failing to set itself apart. However, a benefit from this was that it created a broader simple story of heroes vs. villains that “The Last Jedi” could then develop and subvert. Now that the audience is familiar with the characters, screenwriter and director Rian Johnson was more free to complicate the narrative, jumping around between solar systems and even including flashbacks, a cinematic technique that’s rare for the Star Wars series. Like famous sequels before it, including “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather Part II,” a more complicated story gives more thematic weight and allows for more emotional nuance for the audience.

Screenplay – The Characters

The narrative wasn’t the only thing complicated in this sequel. Now that Episode XII allowed us to know the new characters in the series, we can find out more about them in more subtle ways. Rey was a mysterious loner who discovered enormous power in “The Force Awakens”; here, she learns how to grapple with such power and we see how shaped she is by never knowing her parents. Kylo’s internal conflict is made more real and evolves from broad angst to a scared child who thought his uncle was going to kill him in his sleep—that would mess anyone up! Even more minor characters, like Supreme Leader Snoke, benefit from the foundation “The Force Awakens” built. In the previous film, Snoke was quickly painted in a hologram as an ominous villain. In “The Last Jedi,” we see just how overwhelming his power in the Dark Side of the Force can be, as well as his knowledge of and hatred for original trilogy protagonist Luke Skywalker. By inferring more backstory, it places characters like Snoke more firmly in the world and makes their actions more palpable and believable.

Casting

“The Force Awakens” was notable in its diverse casting—bringing more women and minorities to a genre of filmmaking historically dominated by white men. “The Last Jedi” continues this tradition by introducing the characters of Rose & Paige Tico, played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran and Vietnamese actress Ngô Thanh Vân, respectively. It also introduces Vice Admiral Holdo, a complex leader of the Resistance played by Academy Award nominated actress Laura Dern. Seeing Laura Dern and the late Carrie Fisher—two women over 50—play powerful leaders making heroic wartime decisions—is something rarely seen in Hollywood blockbusters, but something that needs to be seen more and more if cinema is to remain culturally relevant. If the upcoming, untitled Episode IX wants to retain its worldwide audience, it needs to continue this tradition of casting people and faces from every corner of the globe.

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

Jobs in the Entertainment Industry That Don’t Get As Much Credit

When you think of the entertainment industry, the first thing that comes to mind are the glamorous actors and actresses that bring characters to life. But a movie or television series requires a team of collaborators and a lot of behind-the-scenes effort that doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention in the spotlight.

pexels-photo-275200

There are so many components going on behind the scenes to complete a project, and several stages that occur before a movie or television show can be released to an audience. Many jobs in the entertainment industry are less known or don’t get as much credit, and at the New York Film Academy, we feel these artists deserve credit where credit is due for their integral role in the process of creating a film or television program.

Below, we’ve outlined some behind-the-scenes jobs and the people who help see the project through to the end.

Casting Director

pexels-photo-515169

The production company or corporate client hires a casting director to organize and facilitate the casting of all the roles for a film. The casting director will work closely with the director and producer under the vision of the film, and its needs, and requirements before moving forward with interviews and auditions. The casting director draws on their network of artists to help make connections between a production and prospective performers, providing the producers and director with viable choices for roles.

After interviews and auditions occur, the casting director meets with the director and the producer to help make final selections for roles. Notable casting directors include Kerry Barden, Randi Hiller, Ellen Lewis, John Papsidera, and Ellen Chenoweth.

Camera Operator

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A camera operator usually works with the director of photography to manage the technological aspects of creating shot composition and development. An operator starts work at the end of pre-production, and assesses details such as performance, art direction, lighting, composition and camera movement to create film sequences.

The camera operator oversees other roles in the camera department, including first assistant camera, second assistant camera, and the camera trainee. Once shots have been blocked off, the camera operator works with the director of photography to determine the position of the camera, and how the camera’s position will affect the director and grip’s workload.

The Society of Camera Operators’ 2017 Lifetime Achievement Awards has recognized outstanding camera operators, including: Mike Moad, Mobile Camera Platform Operator Award; Brad Hurndell, SHOTOVER, and Phil Saad, That Cat, Technical Achievement Award; Phillip Caruso, Still Photographer Award; Michael Keaton, Governors Award; Bobby Mancuso, Camera Technician Award; Dr. Thomas C. Lee, CHLA Vision Center; Andrew Mitchell, COY TV; Ari Robbins, COY Film; and Garrett Brown, Camera Operator Award.

Film Editor

A film editor, also known as a picture editor, takes raw footage of the film and combines them into sequences to create the finished film. The film editor must collaborate with cinematographers and sound editors to combine sight and sound. The editor spends hours looking at raw footage and must assemble the film a half-second at a time, while keeping deadlines in mind.

Film editor Walter Murch in 2005 told National Public Radio that, “I like to think this is sort of a cross between a short-order cook and a brain surgeon. Sometimes you’re doing incredibly delicate things. Two frames different will mean whether the film is a success or not…”

Verna Fields, Anne V. Coates, Robert Wise, Walter Murch, and Dede Allen are just a few respectable film editors in Hollywood.

Composer

hand-music-musician-compose

A composer creates music – also known as musical accompaniment — for the film. Through music, speech, and action, the composer can create and set a mood for a specific scene, or the entire movie. Film music composers must come to an agreement with movie directors – music must be written to match a certain tone of a scene. Once an agreement has been met, scores are fleshed out, musicians are hired, and recordings are made.

Alex Ross, a contributing writer for The New Yorker, wrote, “… when a film composer hits a sufficient vein of inspiration, the images are charged with a feeling of newness, of unprecedented action … the injection of ‘live’ sound gives us the feeling that we have been kicked into the present moment, as the best film music invariably does.”

Well known composers include John Williams, Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, James N. Howard, Jerry Goldsmith, James Homer, and Danny Elfman.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate all of the hard work behind the scenes that goes into making a movie or television series. The entertainment industry wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without all of the incredibly talented and hardworking professionals that make film and television come to life.

Toronto International Film Festival Favorites for the Fall

A cool, crisp breeze is in the air. Leaves are turning colors and drifting down to the pavement. It must be fall, which means the kickoff of the fall film awards season, which in turn means the world will now focus on catching all the critically acclaimed, award winning, and audience favorite movies from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which ended this week. For the full list of winners, visit TIFF’s official website.

Here are a few key films from TIFF that you won’t want to miss this year.

“The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this Cold War-era fantasy thriller sets a tone akin to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Sally Hawkins plays a government laboratory employee who accidentally discovers a creature in a forgotten water tank. Lonely and mute, she befriends the animal until her secret is uncovered.

Set for release in the United States in early December, “The Shape of Water” also premiered at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the Golden Lion for best picture.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

This comedy-drama from Martin McDonagh features a knockout cast: Frances McDormand, Peter Dinklage, and Sam Rockwell. An excellent script paired with fantastic performances from the entire ensemble makes this a can’t-miss film for movie enthusiasts.

A local mother (McDormand) attempts to galvanize the local police into action by purchasing billboard space accusing the police department of a shoddy job serving justice. It’s the type of movie that swirls around in one’s head for days.

“The Disaster Artist”

Remember “The Room,” Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult film, considered one of the worst movies ever made? “The Disaster Artist” chronicles the making of the film as well as the friendship between Wiseau and actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco).Wiseau is, as always, a commanding presence who captures the subtleties of Wiseau’s character: an ambitious, ultimately lonely figure. It’s fun seeing the two brothers work off of each other, and makes for terrific entertainment.

“The Current War”

Every schoolchild knows that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, but did they know that it was a race to the finish line? The perpetually brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch plays Edison against Michael Shannon’s George Westinghouse as the two geniuses compete to harness electricity. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” fame, it also features snappy dialogue from writer Michael Mitnick. This is also an excellent film for anyone interested in American history and how electricity conquered the country.

“Thelma”

This Norwegian psychological horror film from Joachim Trier showcases an eerie performance by lead actress Eili Harboe. For the upcoming Academy Awards, it was selected as the Norwegian entry for Best Foreign Language Film. Harboe plays a student who moves to Oslo and falls in love with another girl; she then discovers that her crush has triggered certain inexplicable powers within her.

“I, Tonya”

This black comedy-drama centers around the life of figure skater Tonya Harding, who famously smashed her opponent Nancy Kerrigan’s kneecaps with a baseball bat in 1994. Nominated as runner-up for the People’s Choice award, this film features Margot Robbie as a young Tonya Harding.

Interested in learning more about film? Check out our filmmaking programs.

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.

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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

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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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

Stars Protecting the Earth: Celebrities Who are Environmental Activists

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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.

Did Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon Revive the Rom-Com with “The Big Sick”?

There was a time not too long ago when romantic comedies dominated the box office. Films like “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Bridesmaids” were perfect for going on a date or watching with a group of friends. But then, the genre faded away.

In a time when rom-coms struggle to get anywhere near the list of top box office performers, “The Big Sick” arrives to remind us why the genre isn’t dead and buried. Here are a few reasons why a critically-acclaimed indie rom-com made with a budget of $5 million is now being seen as the savior of the genre.

Makes great use of the rom-com book of clichés.

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Film has been around long enough that it’s nearly impossible to avoid every idea used before. The same can be said about any film genre you’re talking about. Of course, it’s hard not to notice when a new rom-com is marketed as a “fresh, new love story” but instead ends up featuring the most common clichés in the industry.

In “The Big Sick,” we don’t see an impractical “thoughtful gesture” to win the girl’s heart. Nor is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity forfeited in the name of love. While Gordon and Nanjiani’s film does have a number of familiar tropes, they’re executed in a way that makes the story feel authentic and believable — perhaps because the story is, indeed, based on the writers’ real life romance … with each other.

For example, in the film, Kumail offers his love interest a bag of mementos, not an exaggerated musical number. And the gesture fails to win her back. As Showalter himself put it, “Tropes work beautifully when a writer knows why the audiences have such an affectation for them.” And sometimes, subverting a trope or showing a different outcome than expected can refresh the narrative.

Love unfolds via three relationships, not one.

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In most romantic comedies we see the lovebird’s relationship unfold via their interaction throughout the film. A large number of minutes are spent showing the audience how the couple meets, goes on a date or more, has a conflict, discovers their love toward each other, etc. Would you believe that in “The Big Sick,” the protagonist spends very little screen time with his love interest?

Instead, we see more of Kumail interacting with his and Emily’s parents than with Emily herself. The result is a special, heartwarming story where the guy pursues his love interest without actually being around her. As Kumail deals with his family’s restrictive traditions and wins the trust of Emily’s folks, viewers are convinced by his believable love toward Emily in a way not normally seen in romantic comedies.

The story is both hilarious and heartfelt.

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The goal of the average romantic comedy is to keep us laughing as the love story unfolds. Somewhere along the way a conflict emerges, causing viewers to feel just as sad and hopeless as the protagonist who just had their heart broken. The best rom-coms, however, offer plenty of funny lines and moments while also tugging the heart strings in a profound, genuine way.

“The Big Sick” does just that and more with its excellent writing and acting. The humor is there thanks to the main couple’s interaction as well as Kumail’s one-man shows. But what sets this film apart is the big shift when his love interest breaks things off and falls ill, creating tension when her parents enter the story. Kumail’s struggle against real issues in order to win Emily, no matter what his or her parents think, sets up a story that’s just as touching as it is funny.

6 Great Movies to Watch for the 4th of July

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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!

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The Rise of Superhero Films

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“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.