Sabrina Percario has been very busy since graduating from New York Film Academy’s MFA program in Acting for Film. She has worked in multiple positions in film productions and has produced and acted in numerous multi-award-winning films, with several more on the horizon.
Her journey to becoming a prolific and decorated actress and producer had an unconventional start. Born in Brazil, Percario originally worked for nearly a decade in medicine before gradually becoming immersed more and more in the world of drama. Her deep passion for the art and craft of filmmaking matches both her talent and her incredible work ethic.
The New York Film Academy recently spoke with Sabrina Percario about the many hats she wears in the film industry, as well as what keeps her motivated and moving forward:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Sabrina Percario (SP): I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and I have dual Brazilian and Italian citizenship. In college, I majored in biomedicine and for almost 10 years I worked in the field of Chinese traditional medicine.
I used to lead a lot of workshops in this field in front of large audiences of around 200 people — yet I was very shy. I decided I needed to do something to improve my effectiveness as a speaker. So in 2009 I went to an acting school called the Celia Helena Acting School. I immediately fell in love with acting. Acting is very fulfilling to me because I was always fascinated with human behavior. When you study a character, you put yourself in the place of that person. When you step into another person’s shoes, you suddenly understand why someone would act in a particular way. You stop judging people and, in the process, you learn more about yourself.
From 2011 until 2014 I worked as a drama teacher for children ranging in age from six to sixteen. Working with kids was one of my most satisfying life experiences. I learned to be more flexible and open to changes, more willing to let others lead the narrative, and more honest with myself about my feelings. During that period in my life I worked two jobs: I was an acupuncturist as well as a drama teacher.
In November of 2013, I decided to enroll in NYFA so I could study my craft and improve my knowledge about acting for film.
From 2014 to 2016 I worked on NYFA’s MFA program in Acting for Film. My thesis film Julia won several awards, including Best Leading Actress at the United International Film Festival (UIFF). Julia is a tribute to my mother, who died four years ago. I used the film to talk about grief and express my gratitude to my mom. She taught me to pursue my dreams — and that’s exactly what I am doing.
NYFA: Your IMDB page is filled with all sorts of roles — actress, producer, writer, composer, to name just a few — do you feel it is important to learn as many trades in the film industry as possible?
SP: Yes, it is very important. Everyone should learn as much as they can about the business, especially in the beginning of your career, so you have a holistic view of how a film is made.
It was important for me to wear many different hats on set. Having done these jobs, I have so much respect for all the departments. I know how physical and challenging the grips and electrical (G&E) department can be, and how essential they are in contributing to the director of photography’s view.
As an actress, I’m much more consistent and self-aware about continuity. That happened only after I was a script supervisor and had to take note of how full the wine glass was or its exact position on the table for every take. I learned similar things as a production designer and when I worked in the wardrobe department. All of this knowledge is tremendously helpful to my performance when I’m in front of the camera.
For a year I explored all the different jobs on film sets and I realized I had to choose which department I liked the most and wanted to work with. I decided to be an actress and producer.
As a producer I’m able to produce my own projects and cast myself in them. This gives me a certain amount of control over my career as an actress. I can also create my own voice with stories I think will inspire people. Being a producer has enabled me to meet a lot of people in different departments in the industry. The breadth of my extended network has helped me enormously as a producer when I’m casting my crew.
As an actress, I want to be in a feature film. To that end I’m writing a feature film (In Search Of) inspired by my life. I want to say to all my international friends that it doesn’t matter where you are located as long as you keep doing what you love. I’m writing in collaboration with other screenwriters, both here in Los Angeles and internationally.
I recommend trying out different departments if you still don’t know what you want to be. Become familiar with the universe behind the camera and then choose a route. Once you decide where you fit in, people will begin to associate your name with that specific department.
NYFA: Is there something you haven’t done on a film yet that you’d like to try?
SP: I would love to direct a film one day, but right now I want to have more experience producing one.
NYFA: You’ve won a litany of awards for your work already. Your projects Tell, I.C.E. CREAM and Breaking are the latest to gain recognition. Can you talk a little about these projects and your roles in them?
SP: My recent projects that I produced are still in the film festival circuit. My latest films are Breaking and I.C.E. CREAM. Breaking is a fable — it’s the inspiring story of a porcelain doll who overcomes her fears and breaks out of her snow globe. Our purpose was to bring awareness about those who have suffered from sexual harassment. So far, we have won three festivals, two finalists, seven semi-finalists, and seven official selections.
I.C.E. CREAM is another project I had the honor of producing. This film portrays the life of an immigrant family in this new Trump era. Our purpose was to bring awareness about the collateral lives affected by the immigration policies in place. So far, we have won nine awards.
My overall purpose in my films is to touch people’s hearts, inspire them, and spread a good, positive message through the characters I play and the films I produce.
Tell is a film in which I played the lead actress. Its logline reads: Expecting a visit from his ex, a once-famous alcoholic writer decides to play a game of shoot the apple, until the truth of tragedy unveils the outcome of his intentions. For that film I won three awards as best leading actress.
NYFA: Which of your many projects was the easiest for you to work on and why? Which was the most difficult?
SP: Breaking was an easy project to produce because it was shot entirely in one location and the crew and cast had an amazing professionalism and respect for each other. Everything went smoothly. Julia was very challenging for me because I was doing the film as a tribute to my Mom, who died four years ago. When I made the film I was still grieving, and it was very hard for me at that time to accept the loss. I was playing myself in the film, so I channeled all my pain and feelings through the character. It was therapeutic to write, produce, and act in that film, and it helped me to accept loss. It gave me the opportunity to express my love in a poetic way.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on?
SP: I’m currently working on Mojave Shadows, in which I play the lead. Its logline reads: A woman named Susan hikes in the middle of the Mojave Desert while coming to terms with guilt about the death of her son. One night she is attacked by a rattlesnake, and in the harrowing process, finds herself.
I’m also producing another project called El Fred. Its logline reads: A not-so-imaginary childhood friend returns as an unusual vigilante to protect a struggling single mother and her bullied son. And in December I’ll produce my first documentary, about self-healing and self-knowledge.
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that has applied directly to your career?
SP: I’m very grateful to NYFA. Thanks to a very hands-on program, I was able to learn how a film works from script to final editing. I also learned that producing a film is a group effort, and each department is essential in creating a coherent film. There are no small roles. I learned that it’s very important to respect your co-workers.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
SP: Be professional. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a class assignment or a student project, you will graduate with your friends and they will be in the film industry with you. Instead of just making a connection, work on building relationships. Be responsible and reliable. Most importantly, ask yourself every day why you’re doing what you are doing. Remember what it’s all about: this is your passion. It’s important to have a goal, a purpose. Pursue your dreams. Don’t let anyone say no to you. Believe in yourself and trust your instinct.
I just want to say that I’m very grateful for NYFA. In less than a year I was already working in the film industry. That would not have been possible without the kindness and expertise of the wonderful and talented people at NYFA.
The New York Film Academy thanks Sabrina Percario for her generous time and looks forward to following her continuing success!