About ten years ago I arrived in New York City as a twenty to year old boy from Vienna, Austria, and entered the classroom of the 4 week intensive acting workshop at the New York Film Academy. In the first session, without even having been introduced to my peers, I was asked to pick a song, and perform it in conjunction with a repetitive physical action in front of the entire class. Talk about being thrown into the cold water. This experience set the tone for the twelve months to come, and it is what makes the New York Film Academy’s approach to learning the craft so different from other teaching philosophies.
Hands on, full immersion. This is the key principle to when your desire is to actively work in the industry. Imagine going to the zoo and watching a lion in a cage. You could come very close and would still be protected in your comfort zone. You could get away with many things. Now cross the bridge from the zoo out into the African Savannah, the open battleground where it is up to your skills whether you make it or not. No bars, no protection. This is exactly what happens when you first step on set of your feature film directorial debut; you are used to the cage but suddenly it is not there anymore and you have to face the lion with determination, bravery, wit and a solid dose of self-belief and confidence. If you don’t bring these along, you’ll be eaten alive. Self-confidence comes from uniting your talents with experience. But what if there is no previous experience on the battlefield of a feature film set? Well, then you have to do your best to replicate the real world scenarios in a protected environment, where mistakes are allowed and encouraged.
Try whatever you want, have your teachers and classmates critique you, and don’t let your egos get in the way. The job of a good film school curriculum and its teaching staff is to prepare you for the real world, and this can only be done if the real world is meticulously replicated. Nothing will come close to the experience of calling your first action in front of major cast, having to accept that you are the boss, the commander in chief, however being the one with the very least experience of all your cast and crew members on set. Still, you will not even be able to speak the commanding words if you have drowned yourself in theory and not in practice. Theory is vital for understanding, but it doesn’t necessarily have to come before practice. Both theory and practice can flow in parallel rhythm, side by side, complementing each other. This is the NYFA philosophy, and this is what I believe is highly beneficial to any aspiring filmmaker. I completed the one-year directing studies under the guidance and mentorship of Paul Warner, a man I have high respects for as he lives and breathes filmmaking like no other. His passion for the craft, and his demand for precision and detail execution is a level of teaching every student could only hope for. My first feature ‘The Tomb’, starring Wes Bentley, Michael Madsen and Eric Roberts, from the writer and producer of ‘The Crow’, premiered in Cannes 2009 distributed by Arclight Films internationally, and Lightning Media in partnership with Fangoria Frightfest and Blockbuster in the US. I had a Dennis Quaid helmed action thriller in the pipeline, which fell victim to the world financial crisis, and am now co-developing several projects, looking to line up an innovative film finance scheme.
-Michael Staininger, 2012