q&a

A Q&A With New York Film Academy Filmmaking Alum Jacob Hayek

New York Film Academy Filmmaking alumnus Jacob Hayek decided to use his NYFA thesis project as an opportunity not only to tackle tough contemporary issues, but also as an opportunity to take the international film festival community by storm.

So far this year, Hayek’s film “The Jim Crow Holocaust” received a fantastic collection of accolades from international festivals. The nominations and wins include Best Short Screenplay, Best Rising Star, and Best Ensemble Cast at the Monaco International Film Festival; 2nd Best of the Fest, Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Actor at Feel the Reel in Glasgow; Best Short Film, Best Short Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress at WIND International Film Festival, Los Angeles; the Golden Palm Award at Mexico International Film Festival; and more at the Transylvania Cinema Awards in Romania, the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival in the U.S., the Bucharest Shortcut Cinefest, and the Sochi International Film Festival in Russia. Whew!

Hayek found time in his busy festival schedule to chat with the NYFA blog about his film and his recipe for success after film school.

 

The Jim Crow Holocaust

The Jim Crow Holocaust

NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?

JH: Well, believe it or not, the last thing I wanted to be before I chose to become a filmmaker was a professional wrestler. When I graduated high school, I was sort of discovering what I wanted to do with my life. I got a job at McDonald’s, which taught me a lot about what I didn’t want to do. I was going back and forth between being a pro wrestler and a filmmaker. One day I thought back to my childhood and realized I love telling and creating stories, particularly movies. For fun, I decided to write a short screenplay to see if I was good at making a movie. I absolutely loved the experience, and that’s when I decided to become a filmmaker.

I searched for a ton of film schools in the New York area; I thought it’d be a good way to start. What drew me most to NYFA was that it threw you right into filmmaking. Whenever I set my mind to something, and my Dad can confirm this for sure, I’m like a bulldog: When I get my jaws on something, I never let go. I wanted a school that didn’t linger on, but made us work under that pressure and realism that you only get on a set. That’s what I love about NYFA. It’s for those who are really driven and committed to their craft, and who will get the type of education that won’t drag on like others. It’s shock and awe. Only the best can make it.

NYFA: Why filmmaking?

JH: I love the idea of making an incredible story and bringing it to life for all to see. Making an amazing film requires the most vigorous of research and knowledge. It’s one of the best ways to learn.

NYFA: For our current filmmaking students, can you tell us about navigating your transition out of school? Any advice?

JH: My advice to them would have to be, just keep jumping into it. The more experience you gain, the better you become. Make as many connections as you can, make as many movies as you can to master your craft, and yes it’s going to kill you knowing this might not be your best work, that you made mistakes that could’ve been avoided, but never let it get you down. The reason we fall is so we can learn how to get back up. And if your ideas don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough.

NYFA: What inspired “The Jim Crow Holocaust” and how did you go about bringing this film to life?

JH: It was originally a very short film about a little girl sewing a scarf back together for a little boy who was bullied. I was coming up with ideas for a thesis film before I officially enrolled in NYFA. One day my Mom said to me that I was the product of an Arab and a Jew: My father being Lebanese and my mother being born a Jew. In light of all the recent events happening in the Middle East, it hit me that that’s a rare combination today. I decided to make the boy a Syrian Muslim and the girl Jewish. As the election here happened, I added the events of a future with Trump as president and the mass hate encompassing America.

In comparison to many thesis films, mine was beyond ambitious. I co-produced the film with my father. We had actors come from Virginia all the way to Alaska to be in this film. That, and we had to have a ton of extra actors. The one thing that kept this film going was the amazing people who helped us make it, from crew to actors, and the need to create a story about the issues going on today.

NYFA: Your film has inspired an amazing response at film festivals internationally. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, and how you found the right festivals for this film?

JH: It came as quite a shock to be honest. We sent the film to multiple festivals to see where it could go. The very first festival we applied to (Monaco International) nominated us and we ended up winning. From then on, we were on a streak. We were both nominated and won awards in countries like the U.K., Mexico, Romania, Russia, Japan, and here in the U.S.

Don’t limit yourself at first, achieve all you can. You’d be surprised the kind of doors that can open for you.

NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful for preparing you for your work on “The Jim Crow Holocaust”?

JH: Yes it was. It taught me just how hard it is to make a movie, and that it shouldn’t be taken lightly. I learned that you need to know the rules and the reasons for them if you’re ever going think outside of them.

NYFA: What is next for “The Jim Crow Holocaust”?

JH: Because of the amazing reception the film has received, we’ve decided to turn it into a feature film. We’re going to take our time, do everything right, and create a film for the whole world to see. The screenplay is complete and we’re getting ready to pitch it to studios.

NYFA: Are there any other projects you are currently working on that you’d like to tell us about?

JH: In addition to “The Jim Crow Holocaust,” I’m currently writing a short screenplay for Director/Cinematographer Earl Stepp of “Isomnija.” I’m also writing a few screenplays for other future projects, as wells as video promotions for well known companies and their products. My father and I started a production company together called Birds of Prey Films, and we intend to make it the best there is.

Interested in learning the art of filmmaking? Check out the hands-on programs the New York Film Academy has to offer here!

A Q&A With New York Film Academy Photography Conservatory Student Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow


Known for decades as a cutting-edge leader in crafting fine light-shaping and flash tools for professional photographers, Profoto is a Swedish company that recently
featured New York Film Academy (NYFA) 2-Year Photography Conservatory student Tanne Willow and her images in their Local News section.

A true representative of NYFA’s diverse international community, Tanne original hails from Sweden and has lived in Denmark, France, and the United States. With a background in dance and an obsession for motion, her work has a truly unique energy and it’s easy to see why she was chosen by Profoto to spotlight as a “Rising Light.”

In the midst of her fourth semester at the New York Film Academy, Tanne took the time to answer some questions and to share part of her story with our student community. Read on to hear more about her pathway to NYFA, her favorite photography equipment, and how surviving a busy semester is helping her create her own professional identity as a photographer.

NYFA: You worked for many years as a dancer before deciding to go back to school for photography. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience studying in NYFA’s Photography Conservatory, as an adult continuing education student?

TW: Before I came to NYFA I had quite a few years of experience but it had been a very long time since I had last studied, and I felt there were a lot of holes in my knowledge. To be able to come here and build it up from the base even though I had preexisting knowledge was completely a revolt. It changed everything.

Today I can say with confidence that I am a photographer and know that there is a certain professionalism that comes with that word that I possess, and I can now deliver on a professional level consistent work. I know my own limits in a completely different way, and I also know my capabilities after these two years. It has really meant everything in that sense.

 

Photo by Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow

 

NYFA: Can you tell us how your featured story on Profoto came about?

TW: I sent in my images for submission, and I was chosen. There was a call from my [NYFA Los Angeles] teacher Amanda Rowan, she was the one who put me in touch with the Profoto agency.

NYFA: What is your absolute essential toolkit for a shoot? Any equipment you can’t leave the house without?

TW: It depends on what I am shooting, and for every shoot there is a different toolkit. I shoot in very many ways. I shoot digitally but also analogically on large format — 4×5, and medium format also. The only thing I can say I can’t leave my house without is my camera! That’s the essential part photography can’t happen without — and me and my eye! As long as I have my camera, I can do something.

NYFA: What’s next for you? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?

TW: I’m currently in my fourth semester at NYFA and working on my thesis project, “Matriarch.” It’s a study about the definition of femininity — something I am quite unclear about. Growing up as a female in this world, I have experienced different countries. Being born in Sweden, living in Holland, France and the U.S., I have seen many variations of how femininity is defined and how females and non-females are defined by femininity. I have heard myself being described as feminine and I have used the word myself, but I have a very ambivalent relationship with it — because of that fact that it is so so attached to my being somehow, yet I see the difficulties that I have myself, in the world around me, in knowing what we mean when we use this term.

What I do is I work with performance artists. I search for the physical interpretation of their ideas of what femininity is. I discuss with them what they think it is and how they define femininity, then they improvise under my direction. And I photograph them. I document them both digitally, all environmental portraits. The cameras I use in my thesis are a Canon 5D Mark III, with a 24-70mm lens, and a Toyo 4x5in View-camera, with a 90mm lens. 

NYFA: What are your goals as a photographer?

TW: My main dream is fine arts exhibitions, also shooting fitness (dance background) and have lots of experience in shooting motion-filled images. My preferred way to work is with people in motion, whether it’s fine arts or commercial photography. This is my main interest. I thoroughly enjoy the analogue part of photography and I wish I could incorporate that in my career with lab and print work.

 

Photo by Tanne Willow

Photo by Tanne Willow

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Tanne Willow for taking the time to share a part of her story with our student community.

Ready to go back to school as a continuing education student? Check out the New York Film Academy’s Photography 2-Conservatory programs!

National Photography Month: A Q&A With NYFA Instructor Paul Sunday

May is National Photography Month, which means it’s time to take a deeper look at the visual language that inspires and evokes so much in human life. From ads to Pinterest, from high fashion editorials to high art, from photojournalism to Facebook, photography is more a part of our lives than ever before. What better way to learn more about photography and gain insight into its importance than by hearing from expert photographers? We had a chance to catch up with some of our amazing photography instructors here at NYFA to ask them about why they love photography and what a life in pictures really looks like. Read on to get a glimpse into life behind the lens:

Photos by:  Paul Sunday  @paulsundayphoto for Soma Magazine’s “I-POSE”

Hair by George Kyriakos for Stylebookings.

Makeup by Yumi Nagashima

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Photos by: Paul Sunday @paulsundayphoto for Soma Magazine’s “I-POSE” Hair by George Kyriakos for Stylebookings. Makeup by Yumi Nagashima

NYFA: Tell us a little bit about your journey in photography and your approach to your craft.

Paul Sunday: I became involved with photography through my theater work. I started documenting plays I was involved with and doing head shots for friends. I still view photography in the context of performance. When it comes to my fashion and portrait work, directing and playing off the subject as a fellow actor is the most important part of my craft.

NYFA: What first inspired you to become a photographer? How has your style evolved?

Paul Sunday: I bought a damaged book of Man Ray photographs from a sale rack on the street. The images somehow got a hold of my brain and wouldn’t let go. Within weeks I was enrolled in a basic black and white darkroom workshop.

In the beginning, my style was a bit nostalgic. It has evolved into a more contemporary, minimalistic approach.

Photos by: Paul Sunday @paulsundayphoto for Soma Magazine’s “I-POSE” Hair by George Kyriakos for Stylebookings. Makeup by Yumi Nagashima

Photos by: Paul Sunday @paulsundayphoto for Soma Magazine’s “I-POSE”
Hair by George Kyriakos for Stylebookings.
Makeup by Yumi Nagashima

NYFA: Are there any particular photographs or photographers that have particularly impacted you and your work?  

Paul Sunday: In addition to Man Ray, it would be Mr. Penn above all. He is the master. Beyond those two, I always look at Rodchenko, August Sander, the Bechers, Sugimoto, Atget, Judith Joy Ross, Disfarmer, Brassai, Lartigue and many, many others. I believe in tapping into diverse sources of inspiration.

NYFA: When you’re on a shoot, what is your process? Any must-do’s on a job? Any pet peeves?

Paul Sunday: For fashion and portrait, I set some of the lights the day before. In the morning I welcome everyone to my studio and feed them breakfast. Then I meet with the team. During hair and makeup, I do more light tests. I don’t allow myself any distractions during a shoot.  No phone calls, no social media, no newspaper, no internet. I focus intensely on my team and the pictures. I observe my subject and build a relationship. It’s like having someone over for tea, but we are also making images. I pay close attention to my energy level. The late afternoon and the end of the shoot are moments where one needs to call in an extra reserve of concentration. It’s all about pacing.

Regarding pet peeves, I have two: lateness and distraction.

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Photos by: Paul Sunday @paulsundayphoto for Soma Magazine’s “I-POSE” Hair by George Kyriakos for Stylebookings. Makeup by Yumi Nagashima

NYFA: Why the New York Film Academy? What drew you to teaching with us? What about the program here is unique?

Paul Sunday: I saw an online ad seeking new teachers and I had been aware of the school for awhile. I had known a few people who taught here in the acting department. I loved the swirl of creative energy. The place reminds me of my early days in New York when I studied acting.

The unique thing about the photography program is the emphasis on replicating real-world scenarios, and the quality of our infrastructure. NYFA does not scrimp on the details. Fantastic spaces, quality gear, professional collaborations and our hands-on approach, all support us in thoroughly preparing students for the industry.

NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment — with your students, on a project, etc.?

Paul Sunday: My favorite NYFA moment is the moment a student realizes that they have had a creative breakthrough. There is nothing like seeing that joy of accomplishment where a new world has opened up to an artist. I also love the thesis exhibitions. It is so exciting to see emerging photographers have that first experience of showing their work publicly. It’s a pivotal moment in their self-belief.

Brooke

Photos by: Paul Sunday @paulsundayphoto for Soma Magazine’s “I-POSE” Hair by George Kyriakos for Stylebookings. Makeup by Yumi Nagashima

NYFA: What do you feel is the most important thing for your students to understand from your classes?

Paul Sunday: I want students to leave us with rigorous self-assessment skills, professionalism, and the readiness to own their artistic choices. I try to help them develop the courage to go for it, to develop a career strategy and take the necessary steps to realize their aspirations. The most important thing is for them to understand that they can make meaning through their photography practice.

NYFA: What does photography mean to you in the age of the internet, social media, and smartphones? With technology innovations and the popularity of iPhone photography, why is it important to study photography?

Paul Sunday: Photography has become the language of contemporary society. It is more important than ever for serious photographers to study and develop their craft. It is the best way to set oneself apart and discover a voice in the photographic universe.  

Thank you Paul Sunday for sharing a bit of the story behind your passion for photography with our NYFA community! For those ready to learn more about photography, NYFA has a wide array of incredibly hands-on photography programs. Check out our photography courses.

Black History Month Recap: A Q&A With NYFA Faculty

As Black History Month comes to a close, New York Film Academy celebrates the diversity and strength of its community. We had a chance to sit down with a few members of our faculty to hear their insights and inspirations in light of this important month. Joining the discussion are NYFA’s Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department Nancy Kwang Johnson; digital editing instructor and professional Hollywood editor Leander Sales; and film directing instructor and Chair of Community Outreach Mason Richards.

Here is what they had to say:

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Nancy Kwang Johnson

NYFA: Can you share a little about your career or journey in the entertainment industry, and what has driven your success? What makes you get up in the morning? What are you working for?

Leander Sales: I got into the industry because Spike Lee was determine to see more diversity in the film industry and I was determine to be part of this industry. The joys and duties of being a parent [are what get me up in the morning]. I’m generally a very optimistic person and I look forward to what the future may hold. [I’m working for] My kids and making more movies.

Mason Richards: The film industry is extremely rigorous and challenging because there is no real clear path to success, therefore it takes an extreme amount of tenacity and vigor to navigate. The industry is such that in order to be able to tell your own story, you have to work extremely hard. It’s also a great feeling when you get those opportunities to share your journey and tell the stories that matter most to you.

NYFA: Tell us about the first time you saw a character or story on the big screen that really resonated with you culturally and that you felt you could personally identify with. What was that moment like for you?

Leander Sales: Seeing “Cooley High” and getting a chance to meet the director, Michael Schultz.

Mason Richards: One of my favorite films of all time is “To Sir, With Love” directed by James Clavell — the film tells the story of an idealistic engineer-trainee and his experiences in teaching a group of rambunctious high school students from the slums of London’s East End. One of the reasons I love this film is because it stars one of my favorite actors of all time, Sidney Poitier; and this film was the first time I saw someone on the big screen who was from my birth country, Guyana, South America. It was a great feeling then, and it’s always a great feeling when you see strong characters in leading roles that reflect your identity.

Nancy Kwang Johnson: I am Korean and African American.  My great grandmother on my father’s side is full-blooded Cherokee.  As a result, as a teenager, I would empathize and hold onto every word of Cher’s hit song, “Half Breed.”  

As far as languages go, I grew up in a household with two parents who were fluent in Korean.  As a result, my mother tongue is, and will always be Korean; it’s the only language that I can speak without an accent.  I teach in French and English, and I speak basic Albanian and Wolof.

Because of my mixed racial heritage, I always had two types of dolls when I was growing up – an African American doll and a Korean doll adorned in the national costume (hanbok).  As I did not have dolls that actually looked like me, I gravitated towards female role models on the silver screen – tv and film – who were also mixed like me.  

From the onset, I would gravitate towards my namesake, Nancy Kwan (of “The World of Susie Wong”) as she was my mother’s (Kwang’s) favorite actress and [she] had been on the set of “Susie Wong” during her pregnancy.  

As a child, I was a huge fan of the television show called “Zoom,” because one of the cast members was Puerto Rican, also named Nancy, and looked like me (for example, she wore her hair in two braids). As a teenager, I gravitated towards Irene Cara of the hit show, “Fame” (1980) and Tai Babilonia (the 1980s Olympics hopeful). Why? As a Korean and African-American female teenager, it was refreshing to see aspiring actresses and Olympic-calibre figure skaters break the boundaries of race and gender on the silver screen.

Throughout my college years at Vassar, I would have to say that the person who made the most impression on me would have to be Jennifer Beals of “Flashdance” (1983) for a number of reasons. Jennifer Beals, like myself, was bi-racial, had an upbringing in Chicago, and is also a fellow Ivy Leaguer. She attended Yale and I attended Cornell.  

In 2012, I was invited to the first White House Korean-American briefing.  On this momentous occasion, I would have to confess that of the 150 plus Korean-Americans in attendance I was one of two Korean-Americans who had an African-American parent.

The French have a saying, “…bien dans sa eau (to be comfortable within one’s skin).  With respect to images on and off of the silver screen coupled with the absence of images – that look like me – I am comfortable within my skin.

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Mason Richards

NYFA: Is there a particular film, piece of art, or Black artist that has had a profound impact on your life? Why?

Mason Richards: I’m inspired by the art of Jean Michel Basquiat, not only because of his use of color, form and medium, but also for his ability to tell his personal stories through art – this inspires me as a filmmaker. 

Leander Sales: James Baldwin’s books have been very important to me because while I lived abroad, I often found myself reading his book of essays “Nobody Knows My Name.” Why? His essays gave me deep insight into American and European racism.

NYFA: What stories would you like to see brought to the screen that are yet untold?

Leander Sales: There are many, but I would like to see more movies like “Hidden Figures,” “Malcolm X,” etc. I guess you would say historical which may be movies we may find on Netflix.

NYFA: How have you seen the industry shift or grow over time in terms of diversity in representation?

Leander Sales: Recently, things are getting very interesting after a few years of #OscarsSoWhite. We will see if this is temporary.

NYFA: What is your favorite moment from Black television history?

Leander Sales: I have to say my favorite moment was when I realized we, as a people, have a lot of work ahead of us. Why? We have so much to offer to this world. Our talents and genius has made this world a better place. Can you imagine America without African Americans?

NYFA: How does your culture, environment, and experience inspire your artwork?

Leander Sales: Many things have influence me, but visiting Africa six times really gave me a deeper understanding of who we are as a people and who I am as an individual.

Mason Richards: I like to tell stories that reflect the world we live in. Film is a beautiful medium to inspire, reveal, and share different views and perspectives of the world.

Leander Sales BW300dpi

Leander Sales

NYFA: Any words of wisdom for aspiring black artists and creators?

Leander Sales: Put in the work. Climb to the top and throw the rope back down.

Mason Richards:  It’s really important for any artist or filmmaker to tell their own personal truths; and although this can be intimidating and challenging at times, it’s an amazing feeling when you get to see your story, your personal truth, and your own narrative on the big screen.

NYFA: Is there anything we’ve missed that you’d like to speak on?

Nancy Kwang Johnson: Having lived abroad (namely, South Korea, France, Senegal, Canada, and Albania), I learned very quickly that the manner in which race is conceptualized in the U.S. differs greatly from its European, Asian, and African counterparts. As a result, I have become accustomed to the social construction of race, and know that in the U.S. people tend to fixate on the one-drop rule (if you have one drop of Black blood then you are black). For example, in the U.S., people tend to categorize me as Black albeit I self-identify as Korean and Black, or I will check the “other” box and list both Korean and Black.

On the other hand, all of the other countries that I have lived in (such as South Korea, France, Senegal, Canada, and Albania), I am deemed as the exotic “other” and racial mixing is more accepted. In South Korea, I have the same racial mixture as Hines Ward. In France, Parisians approach me and greet me in Polynesian. In Senegal, I am called “Madame Chinoise.” In Canada, I am classified as a Francophone and a First Nations member. And in Albania, I am dubbed the Francophone Ivy Leaguer with North Korean ancestry who is also biracial like President Obama.

New York Film Academy would like to thank Nancy Kwang Johnson, Leander Sales, and Mason Richards for taking the time to share a part of their stories with our community.

Q&A with NYFA alumna Jessica Myhill

New York Film Academy 1-Year Filmmaking Program alumna Jessica Myhill recently completed a short film that beautifully expresses her perspective on studying at NYFA. We had the chance to sit down with the South African filmmaker to discuss her video, her inspirations, and her experiences with student life at our New York City campus. Whether you are a current NYFA student or are considering joining our community, read on and be sure to check out her NYFA video!

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Hi Jessica, thanks so much for sitting down to answer our questions! We’re excited that you’re here to share your story with fellow NYFA students.

Before we talk about the short film you’ve created and shared with us, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to New York Film Academy?

I struggled with finding a school which suited me. Many universities or filmmaking schools I was looking at in my own country were too theoretical. I have always learnt best in an extremely hands-on environment. In high school I co-founded a film club with some friends and could already see that if you put a camera in my hands, I will start learning.

It’s amazing how much the New York Film Academy has packed into one year of school! I have had the opportunity to learn how to use all sorts of cameras starting from a 16mm Camera to the Red camera. I have written, produced, directed and edited about 10 short films and I have been a crew member for other directors and even acted in one or two films along the way. I have met and worked with so many people from all around the world which has been by far the most fulfilling thing for me as an artist. The collaborative nature of the New York Film Academy is one of my favorite aspects of the school!

What has surprised you the most about your classes at NYFA?

I have always been extremely passionate about nearly every creative medium. This made the diversity of what we got to learn very exciting for me. In high school I was very involved in art and theatre, thus the acting and production design classes were some of my favorites of course.

Do you have a favorite NYFA moment?

It was the shoot of my classmates thesis film (the last film we filmed in my class). I was the cinematographer, one of my favourite roles. After many challenges and setbacks we had trying to shoot this film, this final reshoot was such an awe-inspiring experience. The director was prepared and everyone was just working together so well. I could see all my classmates growth and also my personal growth in trusting and managing the crew as well as my general understanding about the craft of cinematography. Most importantly, it was such a joy to see how much we bonded as a group of individuals

What has been your greatest challenge at NYFA, and how did you overcome it? What advice would you give your fellow filmmaking students?

Constantly coming up with ideas was extremely hard. I had a major period of writer’s block while trying to come up with an idea for my final film. I overcame it by bouncing ideas around with friends and family. I think it’s important in any creative field to know how to access your creativity. If you are visual, start drawing. If you get inspired by other films, watch lots of film. Learn what inspires you and do that until you come with ideas.

Most importantly, you must trust yourself. Everyone has powerful stories to tell. One just has to learn how to access them.

How do you feel your approach to storytelling has changed over the course of your studies?

Writing for film is challenging, as I sometimes forget to include information that only I know but that the audience may not be aware of. I realized that the craft of writing is learning how to take the audience on a journey. You have the pieces of the puzzle and you have to build it in the most interesting way to really make the final picture even more beautiful and impactful.

What inspired you to want to create your short film about your NYFA experience?

My family were organizing a Catch Up Fundraiser while I was in New York to celebrate as well as update my supportive community of my latest endeavors.

We decided that it would be good idea for me to record a message to summarize my NYFA experience, especially as I could not be at the event [in South Africa]. I set up and recorded an interview with the help of my classmates.

While I started planning and assembling the video, I was compelled to keep adding and expanding the visual elements to paint the picture of my journey more vividly.

In your video you mention what a significant role your community has played in your pursuit of filmmaking. Why is community important in film?

Filmmaking, in my opinion, is the most collaborative art form there is. Not only is it many different types of crafts and artists joining together but it also is a way of connecting with many ideas from the world and making it into a form of art.

You share in your video that you really discovered a lot of value in studying along with NYFA’s very diverse, international students. What is your biggest takeaway from meeting students from around the world?

Learning about the different cultures of my classmates was extremely interesting. I learnt we are different culturally in what we eat and wear and our traditions. The universal truths of what we all relate to become very clear – especially in film where these themes are explored often. It did make me see home differently and I have returned to visit South Africa with a huge appreciation of the weather, the food and the general spirit of the people.

Did you discover any new artistic inspirations from other cultures?

I fell in love with “Chunking Express” directed by Kar-Wai Wong. I admire how he captured the feeling of loneliness in such a visually stylized way.

What was it like studying film in a country other than your own?

It was character building to say the least. Living away from my family and living alone for the first time really forced me to grow. I had found a good support system in New York which eased the burden of being an international student living on a very weak currency.

What’s inspiring you right now?

I am inspired by the active responses to the current injustices of our society. It reminds me of the truth of this quote by Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

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What’s your favorite film?

“American Beauty”!

Any last thoughts you’d like to share that we missed?

I think it is important that more females go into filmmaking. I am so glad to see many strong females around me in this industry, but we need more.

It is also important that females allow themselves to be treated in the same way males are treated. If you are a gaffer and are able to carry lights, carry them instead of allowing a man to do it for you even if their intentions are good.

Equality in this field starts with people treating female filmmakers the same way as they treat male filmmakers.

Jessica, thanks so much for sharing your insights and your NYFA story. Congratulations on completing a lovely film. We can’t wait to hear about what you’re up to next!

Q&A with NYFA Alumnus: Adrian Rodriguez

 

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New York Film Academy alumnus Adrian Rodriguez has been hitting the festival pavement with three new films, “Princess,” “43,” and “New Dawn.” He took some time off from collecting awards to sit down with NYFA correspondent, Joelle Smith, to discuss how he’s building his career, his art, and what’s next on his to-do list.

Joelle: Tell us about your latest projects.

Rodriguez: I have directed three award-winning short films in the last two years:

“New Dawn,” won Best Director at To the Point Short Film Festival and at the Direct Online Film Festival. It won Best Short Film at WorldFest International Film Festival:  “Short Film narrating the mystical time-traveling journey of Ocelot, the Aztec Jaguar Warrior.”

“43” won an award at Feel the Reel Film Festival. It was an Official Selection at Move Me Production Film Festival and London Rolling Film Festival: “Julian and Marcos are part of the 43 students that have gone missing in Ayotzinapa, Mexico. Gonzalez, leader of thepolice, threatens their lives”.

“Princess” won an award at the Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, Hollywood International Film Festival, Los Angeles Cine Fests, and the Move Me Productions Film Festival. Recently, “Princess” was a strong nominee for the “Best of the Best” at Fest Forums Film Festival in Santa Barbara, CA: “Princess is a young good-looking prostitute who works for a man who cares dearly for her. Princess, however, plans to kill him and leave the street business for good.”

Joelle: What was your process for applying to film festivals? Were you surprised by the outcome?

Rodriguez: The process wasn’t about just applying, it was selecting the most adequate film festivals for each of the short films. Target the right market. Platforms such as FilmFreeway and Without a Box are the best for submitting. I was certainly surprised by the outcome. Never expected for my films to win awards.

Joelle: What have you learned in the process of making these three films?

Rodriguez:  Filmmaking is a beautifully complicated process from concept development to post-production. However, the one thing that I have learned is that a great film can be done with a small budget. All it takes is a great narrative, highly talented filmmakers, and a dedicated cast.

Nuevo Amanecer

Joelle: Where does your inspiration come from?

Rodriguez:  Life experiences. Traveling. Understanding where do you come from and more importantly what do you want to communicate to those who see your films. Cinema is a language, and such language must have an aftermath meaning — a prestige.

Joelle: What are you hoping to achieve in the next five years?

Rodriguez: My aim is to finish my first feature film. Consolidate a financial deal to acquire the necessary resources and finally initiate the pre-production process. Plus, I hope that one of my films, if not all, get recognized internationally winning a strong award in film festivals such as Venice Film Festival, Cannes or Sundance.

We at the New York Film Academy would like to thank Adrian for sitting down to talk with us, and congratulate him on all of his success!

Q&A With Salvatore Interlandi, Chair, Cinematography Dept., New York Film Academy

Salvatore Interlandi is chair of NYFA's cinematography department

Q: What is the first lesson to learn in becoming a successful cinematographer?

SI: The first lesson is to understand the language of cinema and how images work together (to learn what it means to be cinematic). Understanding the power of perspective and how that shapes a viewer’s experience. And with that understanding you can create images that are far more impactful than words.

Q: What do you wish you knew when you started in your field?

SI: To keep shooting. Never stop. Become obsessed with images, color, and light. Keep your eye active throughout your day and watch how the light breaks through a set of French doors, be conscious of the atmosphere in a restaurant, watch people, go to museums and deconstruct paintings and photographs.

Q: How do I get the most out of my program at NYFA?

SI: Be ready to come to work everyday. Be present, get your hands dirty, open your ears, and absorb as much as you can. In a little over nine months, you learn several different cameras as well as different shooting formats: 35mm, 16 negative, 16 reversal, and HD/digital video. On the very first day at NYFA, students have a camera put in their hands and the intensity never lets up.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your professional career?

SI: To keep stretching yourself and find out everything you are capable of. Keep asking yourself who you are. And live the questions.

Q: Which pieces of equipment do you find most effective in your field?

SI: Lens, Light, and Filtration. The lens is the foundation to any image and establishes the visual tone of the film. The light allows me to create emphasis and separation within the frame as well as create a mood. Filters help to give the image personality and style.

Q: What are the essential first steps to breaking into this field after completing a cinematography program at NYFA?

SI: The essential first step to breaking into this field is the building of your Cinematography reel. At the end of the one-year program, you have the opportunity to have a very impressive reel. In a little over nine months, each cinematographer is expected to complete eight (8) projects. And the students that make the most of their time at NYFA end up shooting more projects with the relationships they make with other filmmaking students at NYFA.

The next step is to recognize that you also walk out after completing a program at NYFA with several different skill sets like gaffing, gripping, ACing, and camera operating.