Tisch Summer Alumni: Then & Now

Tuesday, Jul 14, 2020

How much can a single class change your life? We caught up with several Tisch summer alumni who took classes ten years ago and asked them about how those classes gave them new artistic skills, impacted their careers, and supplemented their creative practices.

Alessandro Spreafico

Man looking through a 16mm camera with actors faces reflected into a TV monitor behind him

Alessandro Spreafico looking through a camera

Why did you choose Sight & Sound: Filmmaking and Writing for the Screen?

I graduated in Arts and Philosophy in Milan with a focus on cinema and theatre while working for Ogilvy Italy, a major communication company. My studies gave me a lot of theory of cinema and my job empowered my skills in editing and storytelling. I realized I missed good solid basics in filmmaking and that’s why I came to NYU.

Share a favorite memory from your time at Tisch.

My time at Tisch is something unforgettable. For me, coming from a different education system, Tisch was a brand new experience. Access to NYU's equipment and structure was something incredible for me at the time. I have a funny memory regarding my final assignment. I remember it took me a long time to figure out what to do and I had just a weekend to shoot it. Most of the scenes were outside and the weather forecast was terrible. I woke up on Friday and I found out I probably had only two hours in the afternoon without rain but I had no shooting plan yet. I called the crew, changed location, and improvised. In two hours I managed to get everything I needed. It turned out to be nothing like I was imagined before, but something better :).

Man and woman (actors) sitting on a couch as they film a scene

Actors from Alessandro's final film on set

How did your program impact you?

At the time, we shot with the old school Arriflex on a b/w reversal film and edit on a legendary Steenbeck editing table. In the new digital era, learning with that equipment it changes entirely my way to create (not only videos). I learned how to visualize the final execution of an idea already at the moment of the conception. All the "limits" we had to create a movie, allowed us to push our boundaries with creativity and reduce the margin of mistake. The program impacted me tremendously, even if I ended up not working in the film industry.

Actress posing in front of a cameraman

Alessandro shooting a scene for his final film project

What are you doing now?

Since I finished my summer at Tisch, my career took me to a fantastic rollercoaster. I ran for seven years an art company called Contaminate. We produced over 100 art experiences with avant-garde and experiential artists and offered creative services (including video making). 

Since 2013, I started collaborating with Julliard-trained pianist Lenore Davis to produce an innovative annual chamber music series called Arbor Music Series, partnering with Grammy-awarded musicians.

While running my own creative consulting agency, I recently founded, with my wife, Brooklyn Dance Lessons, a dance boutique in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Maria Verdu Bertomeu

Woman standing with back to the camera, looking onto the New York City skyline

Why did you choose Sight & Sound: Filmmaking?

A friend from my University in Barcelona recommended to me the course (Sight and Sound: Filmmaking). He had done it the previous year. The possibility to shoot in 16mm film was unique and very exciting, and also a good training to complement our degree in media studies and film.

Share a favorite memory from your time at Tisch.

It's hard to choose one favorite memory. It was a very exciting course. Every day was full of hard work but also great moments, especially for those who weren't local New Yorkers. Just the fact to be shooting around NY was itself amazing and every day turned into an adventure time. 

But if I have to choose one, I would say the moment you see your film screen in front of everyone else. The silence of the dark room, the light of the projector, the expectation, the reactions. The whole shooting process plays back in your mind while you watch your black and white images playing on the big screen. The perception of the film changes, even if you've watched it hundreds of times while editing. And when the projector stops, there's a sense of achievement and satisfaction that's priceless.

Maria Verdu Bertomeu

Maria Verdu Bertomeu

How did your program impact you?

Having to shoot one personal project each week plus working on the others gives you a lot of training on working in a fast-paced environment and you get used to coming up with creative ideas quickly. On a personal level, you have to develop a lot of skills, which is great. It boosts your confidence knowing that you can do such intense training. 

What are you doing now?

I work as a producer and director of documentaries and branded content. In the past few years I've also worked as an assistant to high-end TV drama Directors and Executive Producers such as David Benioff and Dan Weiss, showrunners of Game of Thrones (HBO) and TV Director David Nutter, among others. 

Luiz Antonio

Group of filmmakers shooting at an outdoor location

Students participating in an outdoor film shoot

Why did you choose Screenwriting I?

At the time, I was already a published writer (I had my first children's book published) and was studying drama and screenwriting by myself. I felt the need to deepen and improve my knowledge and also to have some time focused on screenwriting only. Tisch, for all of its history, was on my mind from the time I decided that. To study at the same place [where] names like Spike Lee or Scorcese have been was something that I could never have imagined to achieve as a kid.

Share a favorite memory from your time at Tisch.

I have many memories from that time, most of them real good ones. I was the only Latino there, and we were the only two non-U.S. residents, so it was kind of like being an exchange student, which I had never been before. At the first or second class, we had to get there with three ideas for a script. The truth is: I had already had one chosen, a lifetime project I was determined  to develop, but I also brought two others, as asked. We had to comment on each other's ideas, and the teacher and some of the other students thought that one of my ideas was really hard to develop, for its historical complexity and the hard work needed. The one they talked about was...the only one I wanted to write about, and I said it. I got the support of the teacher, even though people thought it was too risky.

Image of a camera viewfinder

How did your program impact you?

Having worked with literature before, I was not used to other people scrutinizing my work on its development (except for my publisher), but I've learned how important that was for my screenplay at the time. When you have a screenplay, at every stage of its production people will raise questions, try to modify it. Some will get determined to put it down. You have to learn how to be open to suggestions and at the same time, to be sure of what you have written, being able to defend it - a hard balance to find. The first time I had to do it was at the classes at Tisch. Also, that time gave me confidence to keep on writing for the screen, due to the tools I've learned.

What are you doing now?

Right now (amazingly) I have a screenplay in post-production. A movie based on real and historical events, shot last year after the script was sold four and a half years ago to a movie company called Paranoid Br five years after it was written. Written after years of getting to know a historical figure which became a hero to me and I thought the world should hear from. Yes, that screenplay that I had begun writing at Tisch, and finished after it, ten years ago, will see the light probably next year.

Gabriella Willenz

Why did you choose Sight and Sound: Filmmaking?

I was looking to get hands-on experience in several aspects of filmmaking while I was also taking courses and working in theatre. The non-credit certificate in Filmmaking enabled me to experiment with film shooting, editing, and producing, as well as writing a full-length screenplay, and directing a short narrative. I was able to quickly learn the basics on which I continued to build and integrate within the fields of performance and visual arts.

Share a favorite memory from your time at Tisch.

For the short narrative class, I wrote a script revolving around the doorman of an upscale apartment building. I managed to get approval from a very nice apartment building to film in their lobby. In order to have the least interference as possible, we started filming at 10:00 PM. There was one dolly shot we just couldn't get right and we repeated it again and again. I guess it wasn't only because of that shot, but we finished the day's shoot at 7:00 AM with coffee and bagels. The real doorman was with us and consulting throughout. There was this real moving engagement of all participants.

How did your program impact you?

I took a Sight & Sound class with Mo Ogrodnik and it was a magical class. She made me understand that films convey information not only through the events/storyline but also through the shot selection, angles, editing rhythm, music, etc. This might sound obvious for some, but at that point in my life she really changed the way I experience films and image-based work in general. 

What are you doing now?

Slowly I found myself transitioning from theatre and film to fine arts. I graduated from UC Berkeley's Master of Fine Arts last August and am currently working on several independent and collaborative projects. My work can be found on my website, gabriellawillenz.com.

Although my career  lives in the world of fine arts, a lot of it is video work or has performative or time-based components. I work a lot with actors and performative actions and also view my sculptural work as scenes and think of the narrative they create together, which affects the way I display them. And I can definitely draw lines between that sensibility and my initial training in filmmaking.

Responses have been edited for grammar and clarity.

Tisch offers courses for working professionals and visiting students. Take non-credit courses a la carte or as part of a non-credit certificate. Prior experience in the arts is not necessary. Contact Tisch Special Programs to discuss the opportunities available.