New York Film Academy (NYFA) Producing Alum Emilia D’Agata has come a long way from her hometown of Rome, Italy, where she first attended an arts and entertainment high school and thought about becoming a professional actress.
It wasn’t long before D’Agata found her true calling though, and enrolled in the 1-Year Producing Conservatory at NYFA’s New York campus. Since graduating, she’s found work with production companies, as well producing the LGBTQIA+ drama Sunrise Stars, a film by NYFA student Ximena Montes de Oca.
New York Film Academy spoke with Producing alum Emilia D’Agata about Sunrise Stars, her time at the Academy, and her advice for new students:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Emilia D’Agata (ED): I was born and grew up in Rome. Since I was a child I’ve been interested in cinema—initially I wanted to be an actress. So I attended a high school in Rome with a specialization in arts and entertainment, so in addition to “normal” classes like history, geography, etc., we had lessons of music, dance, and acting. After high school I gave up the idea of wanting to be an actress because luckily for me I realized that it was something that I enjoyed but I didn’t want it to become my job.
So I went to film university in Rome and during my studies I became passionate about movie trailers, so much that my thesis focused on the difference between Italian and American movie trailers. Until now I thought I wanted to become a trailer editor, but during the writing of my thesis I got to know the world of production and distribution, and so I realized that the sector that was most interesting for me was producing.
I did a one-year master’s degree in cinema, where every month the professors taught us more or less all areas, from screenwriting to post-production. During and after the master’s program, I started working on sets for short and feature low-budget films as assistant director and producer. I realized that wasn’t enough for me and I always had the desire to go to America—the famous ” American Dream.” So I got information about New York Film Academy (it’s famous all over the world, especially in Italy), I completed the application, and to my surprise I was admitted!
NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on Producing?
ED: Many people think that the producing job is the less creative in this business, because you work with contracts, agreements, budgets, etc. But it’s absolutely not, or rather it’s not just that. I like producing because it’s a job that is never the same, it’s always different.
For each project, there are different strategies: how to raise funds, how to find the cast and crew, the different deals, the different marketing and distribution strategies etc. I mean, you never get bored and you always have to reinvent yourself. And when a project is completed and you know that you have contributed to its realization from beginning to end, it gives you an incredible satisfaction.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your work at BAWARAO LLC? What were your day-to-day duties?
ED: I worked with BAWARAO LLC for the low-budget film Black and White and Red All Over. I contacted Davide Berardi (instructor of sound engineering at NYFA) after the graduation to tell him that if anyone needed a hand on set, I was more than available. He connected me with NYFA alum Anthony Faure, who was the line producer on this project. We met and he told me that he needed a production assistant for this project and I didn’t hesitate for a moment to accept the proposal.
From the very beginning there was a good feeling, and now I can say that I found not only a great professional but a friend. As you know, there are several things that a production assistant can and has to do. I was responsible for unloading the equipment of the various departments, for the catering, and anything you can think is always needed on set.
My responsibility was also to make sure that everyone had the sides of the day, and of course if you noticed that something was missing on set, I ran to retrieve it. Another assignment, which sounds easy but isn’t, was to make sure the actors had everything they needed. And when the assistant director, through the walkie talkie, told me which actor he needed at that moment on the set, I would accompany the actor(s) from the holding to the location. I mean, the production assistant’s job is a bit like a handyman.
NYFA: Can you tell us about the film Sunrise Stars?
ED: Sunrise Stars is the final project of Ximena Montes de Oca, an 8-Week Filmmaking workshop student at NYFA. The story is set during a house party. The protagonist goes to this party to meet her boyfriend. When she arrives, he hasn’t arrived yet, and she notices a girl on the dance floor and is immediately attracted to her. The evening continues and the protagonist sees at one point the girl approaching another girl and start kissing. Shortly after the boyfriend of our protagonist arrives, but he is already drunk and has rude/violent ways towards her, so the two fight and she moves away from him. She approaches the two girls on the dance floor and all three of them decide, after kissing each other, to go to the rooftop to have some privacy. The story ends with the three of them watching the sunrise. We don’t know if this story between them will develop into a real polyamorous relationship or if it will be just a one-night story.
NYFA: What inspired you to produce Sunrise Stars?
ED: Honestly, the first thing that convinced me to be a part of this project was my friendship with Ximena. I met her at school, she was in acting class at that time. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to work with her during that period. When she started the Filmmaking program I had just finished the Producing program and I was just looking for some interesting projects to work on to keep learning. Then of course I was immediately fascinated by the story! I’ve never seen or read anything about a threesome between girls, it’s still unfortunately a taboo topic in these days. And above all I think it’s more and more difficult to be able to work on projects where the story is really new, not ordinary in other words. At last I was really curious to see how Ximena, who came from the Acting for Film program, worked behind the camera. I was very surprised, she was very good and very professional. Of course, the fact that we were friends also really helped our professional relationship.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
ED: Right now I am working part time for a PR company, Sally Fischer Public Relations, and part time as an assistant to an Israeli independent film producer, Roy Wol. The first job is very useful for me to create connections with people from New York and people from Italy, as we are involved in events for Italian brands in different sectors: cinema, fashion, food, business, etc. In the film industry it is fundamental to create connections and unfortunately many people undervalue this aspect. With Roy, we are involved in reading scripts and evaluating whether it is worth producing these projects—it is very interesting. I’m grateful to him, he became my mentor. So for now, unfortunately, I don’t have the time to look for and find a project to produce on my own… but who knows in the future?
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly your work?
ED: I learned a lot of useful and interesting things at NYFA. I recommend everyone to attend the Producing program, because whether you want to become a producer or something else, it allows you to have a complete overview of all sectors of the film world. The first thing [NYFA-NY Producing Chair] Neal Weisman told us is that if you want to become a producer, you have to learn in a general way, all the requirements of the different departments. Because as a producer, you have to be able to give everybody what they need in order to work at their best. So before each set, I make sure that everything is in order, that everyone has all the material they need. Cinema is a teamwork.
Then, thanks to NYFA Instructor Richard D’Angelo, I learned to use Movie Magic, a very useful program for budgeting, scheduling, script breakdown etc. Let’s not forget about the Call Sheet, a fundamental part of every day on set. In addition to these more “technical,” the instructors taught us that it is essential to define the roles on a production—only in this way the “film machine” can work. But at the same time, again, it’s a teamwork so you always have to help each other because everyone has the same goal: to complete the project.
Moreover, to safeguard our work as producers and also the work of others, the contracts and agreements are fundamental to be as clear as possible between the various departments. Before each set, I make sure to create all the contracts for each person on the set, including the actors. Speaking of which, the teachers taught us how to do auditions and I have to thank NYFA instructor Paul Warner for that. I don’t know why before school I always underestimated this aspect, which is fundamental! so thanks to him I am now much more able to find the right actors for my projects. Because honestly, you can make the best movie ever, with a fantastic set design, poetic shots, breathtaking photography… but if the actors don’t work, it doesn’t make sense. I’m grateful to NYFA—it’s been much more useful to me than anything I’ve studied and done before.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
ED: My advice to new students is not to get demoralized at first. Honestly, it’s going to be hard to pick up the rhythm at the beginning because you’re going to have to do a lot of things at once and you’ll have to stay in school practically all day and that will make you tired. But don’t give up! I was probably one of the worst students in my class in the first months, but then I got my satisfaction: for the commercial project my classmates chose my idea, I passed the Producing Craft test with a good grade, I got a great result for my final thesis project. So again, don’t give up and don’t worry about the moments of discouragement… we all have moments of discomfort! And above all don’t be embarrassed to ask for help, the teachers are always very helpful and asking for help doesn’t make you stupid or anything like that. Also don’t “isolate yourself”, try to create a good relationship with your classmates! I was very lucky, I found some beautiful people with whom I sometimes work but who have become very good friends!
Enjoy this experience to the maximum, with all its ups and downs—it will be one of the best things that will happen in your life!
New York Film Academy thanks Producing alum Emilia D’Agata for taking the time to speak with us and we wish her the best of luck as her career continues to grow!