MFA Acting for Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYFA Alum Gina Parris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poster for ‘A Twist of Life’

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

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

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

Poster for ‘Like a Dog With a Bone’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Mottola shooting the ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ interactive Netflix special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYFA: What was the inspiration behind Unrequited?

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

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

Mottola acting in his thesis film ‘Unrequited’

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

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

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

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