Interview With Joelle Garguilo

May 13, 2015

New York Film Academy Broadcast Journalism School graduate Joelle Garguilo comes back to speak with us about her experiences: 

“I’m Joelle Garguilo, currently a digital journalist at NBC News, and my broadcast career started here at the New York Film Academy.”

NYFA: What in your background drew you to broadcast journalism?

Joelle Gaguilo: Before coming to the New York Film Academy, which at the time was in association with NBC, I came from a business background. So I worked in accounting and finance for many years, first at KPMG as an auditor, then I went to New Line cinema as a finance member.

New Line went under and at that moment I said, If I’m ever going to chase my dream—because that’s what broadcasting is and was, my dream—now’s the time.

So I met with a career counselor, found a course at NYU, and then I did a little research and found this school called the New York Film Academy.

“Let me just go, take a meeting,” and I fell in love at that meeting. I said, “You know what, four-weeks, let me sign up for a four-week program. Let’s see where it takes me.”

From four weeks I went to eight weeks. I was able to do a semester and then I stayed for a full year and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. And the best risk I’ve ever taken.

NYFA: What was it like learning to work on both sides of the camera?

JG: So on the first day, I go into the journalism portion of the program. I make a phone call to my mom during the break: “Mom, I am in love with this. This is what I am meant to do. I’m going to extend it to eight weeks.”

Then I go to the camera portion and the technical portion. I came out with my head so low. They brought out a tripod and just said, “Set up the tripod.” I had no idea what to do with the tripod. So, I was so drawn to the storytelling aspect, and the technical scared the ever-living you-know-what out of me because I’d never picked up a camera.

I knew nothing about editing software. I knew nothing about a tripod; a simple tripod. But that was a challenge.

Slowly as the course progressed, I realized how important all of those skills would be, but I truly didn’t realize just how essential they would be to what I do now until my first job interview.

NYFA: How did the New York Film Academy prepare you for the professional reality of working in journalism?

JG: I think NYFA, along with having the time with NBC, and everything I’ve done before this point had prepared me for that.

I mean, I was a business girl. Accounting and finance…you don’t get any longer hours than you do in that profession. So I already had the work ethic coming into NYFA.

But how NYFA prepared me for the real world was that I realized what it took to put together two minutes, whether it be for online, for TV, or for just class, takes a lot of work. And that’s what NYFA did for me. NYFA prepared me for the amount of work and love and care you will put into every single story.

NYFA: Can you tell us about your first job?

JG: The program ended and I needed to make the decision to take the last part of my CPA exam or go on a job interview that I got at NBC, specifically for the digital unit of NBC, which then was called NBC Mobile. It then switched the name to NBC News Mobile.

So I said, “What am I going to do? You know what? Let’s get this reel together. Leave the accounting behind. Go on the interview.”

I thought I bombed the interview. Luckily, I didn’t and I got the job. So that was my first job. My first job was working for the digital production unit at NBC News.

NYFA: How did your career progress?

JG: My hours, when I first started at NBC, were 1:30 to 9:30.

I found out where the equipment room was. Before 1:30 I would go to the equipment room, check out equipment, work on that equipment because it was a little bit different from what I had at NYFA. NYFA had some better stuff at the time, I will say.  Before 1:30 I’d be out shooting stories. After 9:30, I’d be editing them.

I did that every single day, and eventually I was able to get my stuff to the point where it was good enough, I felt, I could pitch out.

I was doing stuff for cell phones, which, keep in mind, five years and two months ago, that was revolutionary. I know everybody now, you only think about watching video on your cell phones, but at the time there wasn’t anything else like that. So we went from cell phones…I went to a cable channel at NBC, and we had this other show called Daily Connection.

I started just pitching my stories to them. For them, it was kind of a no-brainer because you had someone who was doing everything. So they took my spots and they loved them. And then I developed a relationship with them. Continued to work on the writing, continued to work on the shooting, on the editing, on the producing, behind the camera, in front of the camera, all of the above.

And from that, I was able to get myself—while working for NBC News Mobile—on New York Live, where I’m currently a correspondent.

That was my first time ever doing live TV, I had to open up a show in New York and do two stories. At the time it was on at 5 o’clock. Oh my god, I was so nervous. But I did it.

And after New York Live came the Today Show…the Weekend Today Show. And that’s where I work now, still doing New York Live.

NYFA: What skills emphasized in the NYFA program did you find useful professionally?

JG: Hands-down, the skills that have helped me the most professionally would be shooting and editing, no question.

NYFA: What are some of your favorite stores that you’ve covered?

JG: I’d say doing the live pre-show at the Golden Globes was such a highlight of mine. I still can’t believe I was there.

And then, oh my goodness, there was a seven-year-old cancer survivor. This little boy is still with me. And then there was an 82-year-old homecoming queen.

I mean, the people you get to interact with because of what you do…it’s amazing.

NYFA: Is there any one particular area of journalism in which you have a special interest in doing stories?

JG: I have a passion for Human Interest stories. I’m a talker and I’m a great listener. And any time I have the opportunity to listen, you find so many characters out there. And to be able to tell their stories? It’s the best feeling ever.

And then, I also love my entertainment. I love the Red Carpet. Love, love, love the Red Carpet.

NYFA: How did studying here at NYFA help you develop your interviewing skills?

JG: Within the first week of the program, they sat us down with the teacher of the class and we had to interview her. Now, this was a seasoned journalist. And I knew I had to do my work to impress her. I realized at that moment how important it was.

And whenever I go into an interview, whether it be on the Red Carpet, a Human Interest story, a feature, it could be even a food piece, I go in with great questions and that is something I know I learned from here. And it really sets you apart.

I got a compliment from Oprah on my interviewing skills. I mean, Oprah! Oprah! So…I have the endorsement from Oprah, I feel like I’m doing OK.

NYFA: Is there a particular lesson that you took away from NYFA that was important in the development of your career?

JG: The power of knowing how to do it all. And I’m telling you, if you want to make it in this business, you have to know all of it.

NYFA: How is journalism changing?

JG: Digital, right now, is sort of the hot word. Everybody is talking about digital. I love broadcast, I love digital too.

Again, I think it’s just being versatile enough to know how to produce for every single platform. If you know how to do that, you’re fine in this business. But digital is the place to be right now.

NYFA: What has given you an advantage in your profession?

JG: I think what gave me an advantage when I left New York Film Academy, and what still gives me an advantage now, is the fact that I can do it all.

You can send me out to the middle of nowhere with camera equipment, with lighting equipment, and my little suitcase, and I will bring you back a story. You don’t need to send five people, you can send me.

NYFA: What are some of your favorite interviews that you’ve conducted?

JG: I gotta say it again, Oprah! Oprah Winfrey, and it’s more so because I knew I needed to bring it to that interview. I brought it, and I got the best compliment of my life, from Oprah Winfrey. That would be one of them.

Steve Harvey was another great interview.

Another one that just touched me, this 82-year-old woman who went back to school, they crowned her Homecoming Granny. People loved her so much they dubbed her Granny Franny. That’ll stay with me forever.

NYFA: What advice do you have for someone pursuing a career in broadcast journalism?

JG: Be prepared to work. Work your buns off and you will never have a hard time getting a job.

In order to make it today, you need to constantly be evolving, and that means learning new skills, learning the new cameras, learning how to edit. You have to keep up with the technology. Otherwise, you’re going to be lost.

NYFA: Advice for current NYFA students?

JG: Just take every moment of class seriously. You don’t realize this, but you are in an extended job interview. The people who you are going to be talking with, those are contacts. That is your network. You’re going to need to reach out to them after. Every single second that you’re in class counts.

Just be prepared to have fun. I am having dinner after this, and it is with everybody who I met at NYFA. They were invited to my wedding. You are going to make some of the best friends. You are going to meet characters.

But again, come prepared to work.

NYFA: What was your most memorable day at NYFA?

JG: Pretty much every day was a memorable day when I was at NYFA. I had a class of characters. They are such dear friends of mine to this day. But one moment does stand out.

It was our 8-week project when we had to put together a complete package. We had people from a news organization come in. And I got their stamp of approval. They pulled me aside and said, “You should be doing this.” These were the talent people at this news organization and at that moment, I said, “I’m going to keep riding this as long as I can.” And then I extended it for a year.

NYFA: What is your advice for someone taking a course in digital journalism?

JG: Just take it seriously. You don’t realize when you’re going through camera class, when you’re going through editing class, how important those skills are.

I hated it at first. I swear, I would not be where I am today if I did not have those skills. Just embrace every single moment of it.

You’re going to have a great time. I look back at that year of my life with such fondness. Just the people you meet too. There’s something about the school, because it does draw an international crowd as well. I mean, you can’t pick people like that to all sit in one class. You can’t.

NYFA: What was the most important thing you learned at NYFA?

JG: The most important skills I learned at New York Film Academy that help me when I’m in the field would be the shooting and editing. Being able to do those two things on your own without any assistance, help you so, so, so much in this profession.