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The Troupe - Advanced TV Pilot Shoot

This Fall I executive produced one of two NYU Advanced TV pilots, The Troupe. This was the first year that the Advanced TV class received funding from the Will and Jada Pinkett Smith Foundation. $10,000 for each of the two pilots. While that may sound like a lot, the reality is that after accounting for locations, food, and transportation, this is an extremely tight budget to make a 30 minute pilot with an on-screen troupe of 30 plus, set in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

When it came time for the administration to select which two pilots that would be made, they were very hesitant about The Troupe. It seemed as though the sheer scale of the script might make it too difficult to pull off. On Harry Winer’s request, I wrote an email to the administration outlining creative solutions we could use to tackle the biggest challenges, and asking for them to trust that we students could rise to the challenge.

I am very happy that the administration took the risk to fund The Troupe, allowing us to take on an ambitious script. It was clear from the start that Harry believed that we were capable of pulling it off. It has been a huge logistical challenge not just to create as realistic a “post-apocalyptic” look as possible, but to do so while making sure the on-screen relationships feel real. As a group, we were eager to take on the challenge and prove ourselves capable.

This has been the most memorable and fulfilling set I’ve worked on at NYU. As one would expect, plenty has gone wrong. We had to recast a main character overnight after they booked a gig in LA, when we had already filmed some of their scenes. It hailed overnight while we were filming and camping in the woods, destroying much of the set we needed to shoot on the next day. One of our crew-members even broke her nose at the end of our last day of shooting outdoors. Thankfully, she’s since recovered and even came back to set the next weekend to be part of the team for our last day of filming.

All of the challenges we faced were tremendous reminders that this was a learning environment, where it’s OK to make mistakes. Every obstacle forced us to find a creative solution that ended up improving some aspect of the final product. The mistakes I made on this production ended up being great opportunities for me to learn and grow as a producer. It was a great experience not only to bond with the cast and crew as we weathered the challenges together, but to see my peers grow and improve each day in their respective fields. I am very proud of what we accomplished.

THE BEST MOVIES & TV SHOWS OF 2015

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2015

10. Creed

Directed by Ryan Coogler, Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.

This one surprised me. The sort-of sequel, sort-of remake, passing-the-torch, seventh installment in the Philadelphia-based boxing franchise is a powerful and moving film. Huge praise goes to director Ryan Coogler (2013's tense indie breakout, Fruitvale Station) who gives the film a polish and intensity. Marvel's upcoming Black Panther is in good hands with Coogler at the helm. From the single-take fight scene, to the awesome soundtrack by (Childish Gambino's frequent producer) Ludwig Göransson, to the expert use of an aging Stallone, this film has all the right elements, and it knows how to use them. And of course, the film's biggest asset is its star Michael B. Jordan, who effortlessly embodies the role both physically and emotionally. While the movie hits all the expected beats, its polish and intensity outweighs its predictability, and I found myself tearing up and cheering during the climactic moments.

9. The Overnight

Directed by Patrick Brice, Starring Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, and Adam Scott.

Made for just $200K, this film is a hilarious, uncomfortable, and emotionally honest look at adult relationships. It's directed by Patrick Brice (2014's Creep) and produced by the Duplasse Brothers, who keep churning out excellent independent films. As the title suggests, the film takes place over one eventful night, started off by one couple inviting another to get together for dinner.  What follows is strange, suspenseful, and often hilarious. This movie swings for the fences, and yet for all of the hijinks that ensue, it never loses sight of these characters as real people with real feelings.

8. What We Do in the Shadows

Directed by Jermaine Clement and Taika Waitit (Flight of the Conchords)

A found footage movie about vampires. Hear me out! It's one of the funniest movies of the year. Made by the team behind Flight of the Conchords, this movie is just awesome. It follows a group of vampires sharing an apartment in New Zealand, and dealing with typical roommate issues such as washing the dishes and finding virgins to devour. A lot of goofy, bloody fun to be had. There's already a spin-of film planned about Werewolves ("We're werewolves, not swear-wolves").

7. The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott, Written by Drew Goddard, Starring Matt Damon, Based on the book by Andy Weir.

This movie is just so much fun. Based on the excellent book by Andy Weir, the Ridley Scott makes great use of a hugely talented cast, but the film is carried by the super charismatic performance of Matt Damon. When his team leaves him behind on Mars, the botanist must "science the shit out of this" to survive. The vast martian landscapes are beautiful, the action is thrilling, and the writing by Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) is often very funny. This movie is an optimistic, pro-science, roller coaster ride that should appeal to people of all ages. I showed this one to my parents and they loved it as much as I did.

6. Anomalisa

Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Starring David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan.

A melancholy, thought-provoking, meticulously crafted work of art. Written by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson (the stop-motion Christmas episode of Community), this film is unlike anything you have ever seen before. As has always been the case, Kaufman is at his best when accurately capturing the sad, existential details of human relationships. The film is fascinating, moving, and introspective. When I walked out of the theater it immediately left me wanting to see more of that gorgeously hand-crafted world.

5. It Follows

Directed by David Robert Mitchell, Starring Maika Monroe.

The scariest film of the year works on multiple levels: as a straight horror-thriller, and as a metaphor for loss of innocence. It gives a new twist to classic horror tropes and leaves you on-edge, even during day-time dialogue scenes, as you are constantly scanning the background, on the lookout for the slowly approaching "it". The unique, and disturbing atmosphere of this film sticks with you long after the movie ends. And while the movie slightly falters near the end, when it verges on over-explaining the monster, I cannot recommend this movie enough to fans of horror.

4. Inside Out

Directed by Pete Docter, Starring Amy Poehler.

This movie is a sweet, funny, and clever empathy machine. It literally shows the audience that the processes going on in your mind are universal, and we are all dealing with the same basic issues, in a manner that even young kids can understand. It is at once Pixar's most simple and complex concept, and one that hits the emotional highs of its best films (Finding Nemo, Up, Wall-E, Toy Story 3). Each emotion is perfectly cast, and voiced by a different brilliant comedian. The animation is (as expected) beautiful, and brings us in to a completely original world. And importantly, the film knows how to communicate that what's at stake is truly important: one little girl's happiness. This film will make you laugh, cry, and experience every emotion in between.

3. Ex Machina

Directed by Alex Garland, Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac.

This is the ideal of what sci-fi should be! A stellar cast made up of three of the best up-and-coming stars out there, fascinating performances, suspenseful twists, and beautiful, minimalist visual effects. This film keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire duration, and the climax is truly moving and unnerving at the same time. Although I go back and forth on whether I wish the film ended a few minutes earlier, I am ultimately satisfied with the film as is, and love how the relationships between the three leads change, ulterior motives are revealed, and we are able to simply witness the character's transformations with awe and wonder.

2. Spotlight

Directed by Tom McCarthy, Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams.

This ensemble piece is anything but splashy. Set in 2001, it's about the true-life story of the Boston Globe journalists that uncovered and reported on the Catholic church attempting to cover up countless allegations of molestation by priests. Rather than offering anything visually inventive, this film offers spectacular performances, and some of the best written dialogue scenes of any movie this year. Everything feels real, and the film is able to elicit huge emotional payoff without resorting to overdramatizing the real-life events. It doesn't idealize the protagonists, but rather lets everything play out in the manner that feels the most real. It's a magnificent, nuanced, important film that both entertains and informs.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Directed by George Miller, Starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? George Miller's fourth outing in the mad max universe is utterly unique, a non-stop thrill, and a modern masterpiece. The movie is one extended chase sequence, and is the most enjoyable theatrical experience I had this year. The visuals are stunning, including an expert blend of practical stunts and flawlessly integrated visual effects. The story is simple but effective, and the action is visceral and inventive. The best part? The 100% badass, feminist icon, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is the real star of the film. If you haven't seen this film yet, I highly recommend you find the biggest screen you can, turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and get ready to have a blast.

Honorable Mentions: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Sicario, The Visit, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Bridge of Spies, and The Big Short.

Movies I Still Need to Watch: The Revenant, Carol, Brooklyn, Son of Saul, The Look of Silence, Amy, and Room.

TOP 8 TELEVISION SHOWS OF 2015

 

8. Unreal (Lifetime)

This is soap opera-level drama at its best. It shows how the producers of bachelor-type reality shows manipulate the contestants to create the drama we see on TV. At times way over the top, this show is endlessly binge-able, dark, twisted, and delightful.

7. Bojack Horseman (Netflix)

Season 2 hugely improved on the interesting but uneven season 1. The show is a hilarious, dark take on Hollywood. The surprising thing is how much you will care about these characters, as the show has real emotional stakes and pathos.

6. Making a Murderer (Netflix)

A important and entertaining indictment of our justice system. It's easy to get wrapped up in whether the main subject is innocent or guilty, but more fascinating is the way this twisted, deliberately-paced documentary series portrays the police force, prosecutors, and judges in Manitowoc County.

5. Jessica Jones (Netflix)

The best superhero story of the year. Season one has a thematic through-line resembling a metaphor for surviving rape that adds a lot of depth to the main character. And the villain, Killgrave, is extremely fascinating and watchable.

4. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Hilarious and informative. Oliver and his staff put so much effort into each episode, and often pull off elaborate pranks or projects that not only are hilarious to watch play out, but often make a difference in the real world.

3. The Jinx (HBO)

Arguably the best of the recent wave of true-crime shows (including Serial). The Jinx stands above the rest by having a tremendous amount of access to its fascinating, dubious main character, and by paying off with a hugely satisfying and definitive conclusion.

2. Better Call Saul (AMC)

The spin-off of Breaking Bad took a while to get going, but everything payed off exceptionally well and the characters only got more interesting with each episode. The show is a dark character study, at times funny, at times sad, and it stands apart from its predecessor.

1. Nathan for You (Comedy Central)

The most daring, inventive show on TV right now. You need to watch Nathan for You. What started as a simple concept about a socially awkward comedian offering (bad) advice to small businesses, has transformed into hilarious and bizarre performance art that could rival Andy Kaufman. To be honest, Nathan for You is one of the most thought-provoking shows on TV right now. Each episode leaves my mind reeling with thoughts like "How did he get that person to do that?" "Would I react similarly in the same situation?" and
"Is that even Ethical?" If you have not seen Nathan for You, please give it a try!

Still Need to Watch: Fargo

LOOKING AHEAD:

Ready Player One

My favorite novel that I read in 2015 was Ernest Cline's sci-fi adventure book, Ready Player One. It's set in a dystopian future where people spend almost all of their time plugged into a virtual reality game called "The Oasis". The book contains plenty of well-paced action, satire, humor, and 80's pop-culture references. Most importantly, it describes visual worlds unlike anything I have seen or read.

Coming in 2017, Steven Spielberg is on board to adapt the novel into a major action blockbuster. He has already started to put together a great cast, including Olivia Cook (Bates Motel, Me Earl and the Dying Girl), and Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). I am extremely excited to see how Spielberg adapts the unique video game worlds onto the big screen.

UPCOMING MOVIES IN 2016

Here are some original movies I am most excited for (based on their trailers/pre-release buzz):

High-Rise

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Starring Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, and Sienna Miller, In Theaters 2016

The Witch

Hail Ceasar

Directed by the Coen Brothers, starring Josh Brolin and tons of stars, In Theaters February 5.

The Nice Guys

Directed by Robert Eggers, In Theaters February 26, 2016. It looks truly terrifying.

Directed by Shane Black, Starring Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe, In Theaters May 20, 2016.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to let me know in the comments what you think of these picks, and what I left out.