Tisch Fails to Connect Acting and Film Students

While it seems intuitive that actors and filmmakers from the same school would collaborate, the Tisch departments often leave students out to dry.

Tisch Film and TV and Drama students express their struggle to collaborate on projects. (Photo by Katie Peurrung)

At the beginning of each semester, Tisch School of the Arts hosts a mixer for students in the undergraduate drama and Film & Television mixer to try and facilitate collaboration between the two departments. Students, however, feel that the school does not do enough in terms of facilitating cross-departmental connections. Calling the mixer “awkward,” “forced” and even “terrible,” they voiced their desire for real opportunities for collaboration. 

Tisch junior and film student Alex Sennett felt that these opportunities should be cultivated in class. “If they let you work with the actors in class so you could develop a relationship with them, that would be great,” he said. 

Tisch drama senior Emory Kemph similarly advocated for classes that combine majors. Her most recent on-screen work was for a film class for drama students, and while this gave drama students the opportunity to produce their own work, she regrets that the school does not offer courses which are set up to put film students behind the camera and acting students in front of it. While she has connected with some film students outside of class, exchanging contact information so that they could work together again, she definitely feels more could be done by the school to help foster these relationships. 

“There’s some encouragement from the professors to work with the film students, but from a practical perspective there’s no facilitation,” Tisch senior Jack Petersen said. He mentioned the Tisch Talent Guild, an online portal “designed to help NYU Tisch Students find and collaborate with artists who can help bring their projects to life.” There are currently four listings on the site, calling for roles like a production assistant or a videographer. One listing is from the father of an NYU graduate, seeking a film student “in need of a class project.” 

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Clearly, the site is not being used by Tisch students to seek collaborators. The other students interviewed had not heard of it or recognized the name but weren’t sure exactly what it was. “I’ve had way better luck getting work from Columbia MFA film students from their casting portal,” Peterson said. 

2019 Tisch graduate Pao Malo noted that film students tend to draw from the same pool of actors for all of their projects. Tisch senior Braxton Fannin agreed. 

“Film students were often scared or even resentful of trained actors,” Fannin said.

Sennet admitted that he finds most of his actors on Backstage, a popular platform for casting calls, or through friends of friends, and tends to default to the same handful of actors. 

“I have basically a pool of actors who I know I can go back to for anything and they’re all like good friends of mine besides just being actors,” he said.

While Sennet said he is always looking to expand this pool, it can be difficult to make new connections. 

“There’s no real way to connect with actors that Tisch provides. You just have to meet them, outside of school,” he said. “They post crew calls all over Tisch film, but they don’t do that for the actors.”

This lack of facilitation reflects a greater deficiency of the school in preparing actors for real, on-set experiences. Peterson said that the preparation Tisch offers for on-set work tends to be more explanatory than experiential. 

“It’s definitely difficult to reproduce that experience at a super low budget in class and have it feel the same,” he said. 

Other drama students agreed that the department often fails to provide students with these on-set experiences that could better prepare them for film acting, which offers far less rehearsal time and places different demands on the actor than a theater performance. 

“Knowing more than one aspect of the industry is crucial to be able to thrive in the professional world nowadays,” Malo said. 

While some were optimistic about opportunities for collaboration, others felt that, in such a large department, it is to be expected that students have to seek out those opportunities themselves.

 “Sometimes I think it comes down to who you work well with, and that really can’t be facilitated by the department, nor would I want that,” Fannin said. “Just doing my own projects the way I wanted to do them, I eventually found my collaborators.”

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, print edition. Email Julie Goldberg at [email protected]

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