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Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking Grad Alexia Garcia del Rio

The idea of studying film never even occurred to Alexia Garcia del Rio until she just happened to walk by New York Film Academy (NYFA) while visiting New York City from Argentina with her family.  Four years later, she was enrolling in the BFA Filmmaking program at NYFA’s Burbank-based campus.

Since then, Garcia del Rio has graduated and earned a job at Daily Wire, where she manages a team and produces a ton of content for the company. Garcia del Rio has also found time to work on her personal projects, including the short film A Land Where Children Play.

Alexia Garcia del Rio

NYFA BFA Filmmaking Alum Alexia Garcia del Rio

New York Film Academy spoke with BFA Filmmaking alum Alexia Garcia del Rio about her film, her responsibilities at Daily Wire, and what brought her from Argentina to producing films in the US:

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?

Alexia Garcia del Rio (AG): I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I lived until I decided to attend New York Film Academy when I was 19 years old. I remember the first time I was in New York travelling with my family when I was fifteen, and as we casually walked around the breathtaking city, I stumbled across the NYFA building. I felt immediately drawn to it, something I still can’t explain, and ever since then I always knew that was the place where I wanted to study. I walked into the building right away and asked for all the information regarding all careers there, and funny enough, I had never even thought of studying film until then. 

I got emails and a handbook (which I think I still have with me), and saw it as an impossible dream. So impossible, that I started studying film in Argentina, sure it would never happen. In my family, and at that time, no one had really left to live abroad; in fact, we all lived pretty close to each other. But after a year in Argentina, I got an email from someone at NYFA, mentioning their programs, and immediately that spark of desire and fire came back to me–and half a year later, I was packing up my bags to go to and live something that seemed an utter distant dream since childhood. 

Alexia Garcia del Rio

NYFA: What drew you to filmmaking over the other NYFA programs? 

AG: I have always had a passion for films, from a very young age. At the same time, I shared the same passion with writing and storytelling in general. In Argentina, the circle in which I grew up in was more conservative, and studying something like film also seemed like one impossible dream. So at first I started to study psychology right after high school until, just like when I saw NYFA for the first time, lightning struck me and in one day all the fears went away and I got into film school. By far, the best decision I’ve ever made.

I believe film is the perfect medium to convey all the thoughts of social awareness and deeper struggles I love to explore, that I would have done as a psychologist as well, but in large, it provided me with the platform to make a change at a larger scale. Argentina is a third world country, and as such, there are a lot of things I saw growing up around me that I would love to be able to improve, and film is that medium, resource, and tool to help me do so. I would love to have the opportunity to do a master’s in psychology and sociology if I get the chance to do so, and broaden my awareness and perception of the world. 

NYFA: How did first start working at Daily Wire?

AG: Well, I had just received my approved OPT in order to work after graduation, and I was applying to many jobs at the time–this one happened to be one of them. You could say I stumbled across this job, I didn’t know much about it before. I went to four interviews, and as weird as it may sound, the very first time I stepped foot in the building I knew I was going to see this place again, I could feel it. After the fourth interview, the CEO followed me to the elevator and asked me to send him my short film, A Land Where Children Play. I was very scared to do so, since the film covers a sensitive subject, and I wasn’t sure if it would be well received. But I got a call back immediately after saying that they were so impressed with my interviews and film that they wanted to offer me the position of associate producer at the company. 

Alexia Garcia del Rio

NYFA: What is your job like at Daily Wire? What are your responsibilities?

AG: I started as an associate producer, helping the producers in the managing of all the shows produced. After seven months they promoted me to be the manager of the post-production department, the role which I currently occupy. It was amazing–I could not believe it when they offered me the position. Now, I manage and lead the team of designers, illustrators, and animators for all Daily Wire productions and for third party contractors as well. I have a handle on all creative and technical aspects of the content, and make sure everything is on schedule and budget as well as meeting quality expectations. 

NYFA: Can you tell us about your film A Land Where Children Play

AG: My film is about a sick and old Israeli, conservative man whose values are put into question when he is forced to live with a Syrian refugee Muslim child.

NYFA: What inspired you to make A Land Where Children Play?

AG: I wanted to write a love poem for society, portraying the contrast and power of religion and culture, and how a belief system and the way we are raised can sometimes be blinding or conditioning. Exploring both cultures’ similarities and differences, the juxtaposition of innocence and ignorance, how ultimately we are all human beings–even though sometimes we forget.

I wanted to pass on a message that if we actually get to know one another, we might have more things in common than we believe. How senseless wars are taking over lives, destroying cities, and leaving children scared, humans scared. After all, we haven’t really evolved as much as we think we have. 

I also wanted to portray both sides of adopting an older child, with post-traumatic stress, showing both beauty and struggle, love and desperation in that situation–maybe in the hopes to raise awareness, since I would love to do it myself when I can support him/her.

NYFA: What are your plans for A Land Where Children Play?

AG: I would love to turn it into a feature film, and I would love for it to raise awareness of these issues and topics I touch upon.

A Land Where Children Play Alexia Garcia del Rio

NYFA: Has your work at Daily Wire had any impact on your personal filmmaking?

AG: Well, gladly, since Daily Wire is a production company, I get to do what I love every day. I create all animated shorts we produce and have creative freedom and decision making for every project we do. We shoot shows regularly and I get to be a part of that as well. Also, I am very glad that I can still write, direct, and produce smaller projects outside of work, such as music videos or short films on the weekends, and simultaneously continue to write my feature film project.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work?

AG: Well NYFA gave me all the tools to apply in the workplace, the experience and technicalities I needed in order to excel in my job from day one. I had already directed and produced so many projects thanks to NYFA and the hands-on workshops provided, that doing it regularly was a continuation of my studies. Everything I had to learn on the job in order to produce the live shows was facilitated due to the learnings from the instructors and programs offered. 

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA? 

AG: Take advantage of every opportunity offered. Shoot as much as you can, network, make contacts, and always try to get onto sets–the more experience you gather the best results you’ll get after. Always strive for excellence, not for anyone else, but to excel and overcome your own personal expectations. Fail, make mistakes–but always learn from them. Be very observant of what things you like and you don’t from other fellow filmmakers, and take the classes seriously. If you do, by the time you graduate you’ll be fifty percent there. 

NYFA provides the great opportunity to be very hands on and shoot constantly, but filmmaking is a career that mostly will depend on you–so you are responsible for your own success or failure. Finally, people should take advantage of Barbara Weintraub, NYFA Director of Career Development and Industry Outreach, and her team that helps with training for interviews making your resume as strong as possible. I couldn’t have done it without her help.

Alexia Garcia del Rio

New York Film Academy thanks BFA Filmmaking alum Alexia Garcia del Rio for taking the time to answer our questions and wishes her the best of success with her film A Land Where Children Play and her work at Daily Wire.

IDA: Window to the World of Filmmaking

by Sanora Bartels

When students ask me what’s the best thing they can do when starting out as a documentary filmmaker, I always tell them: “Join IDA!”

IDA is the International Documentary Association and students can join for $35 a year — a small price to pay given the wealth of access to high-level documentaries and their directors, producers, writers and editors.

To give a “for instance,” on Jan. 6, 2018, IDA held a Master Class with Rachel Grady & Heidi Ewing in Los Angeles, CA at Netflix Studio facilities — a beautiful new building next to the old KTLA building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.  Driving onto the lot was a pleasure and everyone involved with the day was enthusiastic and welcoming, including Netflix’s Director of Original Documentary Programming Jason Springarn-Koff.  In other words, attendees were rubbing elbows with the people in charge of obtaining new work for Netflix.

More important than the welcoming atmosphere was the opportunity to hear Rachel and Heidi share their experiences making documentaries: Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp, 12th & Delaware, Detropia, and their latest, One of Us.

They shared clips of their films and spoke specifically of the individual challenges faced with each project. Tickets were limited (100 people were in attendance in the filled to capacity screening room) and there was time for Q&A throughout the Master Class.

NYFA documentary alum Valentine Rosado and classmates on set.

One of the most important pieces of advice Heidi and Rachel gave that day (and there were many) was to hold off pitching your project until you have secured unique access to the subject or story.  

In this era of internet and email, the most important tool to help documentarians secure access is the phone. The filmmaker must make the call and connect one-on-one with the people important to the story. Once you have developed a relationship with the people involved, you can then pitch your story without fear of a production company saying, “Yeah, great idea, thanks for bringing it wrapped in bow, we’ll get right on that,” And then proceeding to put their own team on it.

Yet access can be tricky and often it’s not just as simple as a phone call.

While researching One of Us, the filmmakers learned about Footsteps, an organization designed to help individuals leave the Ultra-Orthodox world of Hasidic Judaism.  With the permission of the organization, they hung out in the lobby of the non-profit for months in order to develop relationships with individuals and possibly use them to tell the story of the difficulty in leaving an oppressive community. Heidi and Rachel estimated that they spent nearly a year developing access and casting their documentary.

Spending a few hours with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady reminded me that Documentary Filmmaking requires patience and steel-eyed persistence tempered by a genuine compassion for your characters as they share their lives and story.  

The reminder came at a bargain price.

A Q&A With New York Film Academy Documentary Instructor Denise Hamilton on Creative Circles Forum

New York Film Academy Documentary Instructor Denise Hamilton has made her career by producing incredible films on the history of Broadway. She is a member and Co-Chairperson of the Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers-West, and an expert on documentary filmmaking. Her work includes productions for KCET, WABC, NBC and Discovery. She recently sat on a panel at Burbank Arts for All to discuss the future of documentary filmmaking.

Hamilton took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss why these conversations are important to the community with NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith.

NYFA: What is the goal of Burbank Arts for All?

Hamilton: Burbank Arts for All, or BAFA, is a foundation that provides funding for arts programs and arts-related materials and equipment to educational institutions located in Burbank. Because the budgets for school arts programs are often limited, BAFA raises funds from corporate donors, then turns around and gives grants that enable dance, music, visual and graphic arts programs to thrive in the Burbank schools. Schools can apply to BAFA and get, for example, musical instruments to replace broken ones, a ballet barre for a dance studio, lighting for theatrical productions, or a 3D graphics printer.  

NYFA: How did you become involved in the project?

Hamilton: I became aware of BAFA because I teach NYFA’s Community Film Project, and I researched local nonprofit organizations that my students could choose from to do pro bono work.  My 2014 MFA class selected BAFA to be the recipient of a promotional video that the students produced, and it was well received.  

As a result of this working relationship with BAFA, I was then invited to participate as a panelist in their annual Creative Circles Forum on Documentary Films, held Nov. 8th.  The panelists included Chief Financial Officer, Rugged Entertainment  Kelly Bevan, Burbank High School Digital Video Production Teacher Amy Winn, Writer-Director at New Filmmakers Los Angeles Varda Bar-Kar, and Academy® and Emmy® Award nominated Director/Producer and President/CEO, Rugged Entertainment Peter Spirer.

NYFA: What topics were you most excited to discuss?

Hamilton: We spoke on the industry from our various perspectives, and I talked about documentaries as a creative art form. There was so much to cover, and not enough time to cover it all, but the most important discussion for me was centered around recognizing that documentaries have become a major source of valuable information. In the last few years, the increasing popularity of documentaries has made them a welcome alternative to news outlets for information that’s trusted.  

NYFA: What was your goal for the evening?

Hamilton: My goal was to show that creating documentaries can be just as interesting as narrative filmmaking, and can lead to job opportunities in entertainment beyond documentary production.  I also mentioned that the international student population at NYFA provides a great forum to network and develop lasting relationships that are helpful in the professional world upon graduation.  The time flew by, and there was plenty of insight provided by the panel.   I certainly enjoyed the evening, and hopefully, the audience took note of the great information that was shared.

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Denise Hamilton for taking the time to speak with us about her endeavors.

A Q&A With NYFA Los Angeles Director of Admissions Ragga Thordarson

New York Film Academy Los Angeles MFA Producing Alumna and Director of Admissions Ragga Thordarson was recently spotlighted in leading Icelandic publication Morgunblaðið for her impressive roster of accomplishments as a filmmaker, artist, and educator. Originally hailing from Iceland, Ragga has mastered many transitions: between nations, between careers, and between student and professional life in the film industry. Check out her inspiring insights, below.

Screenshot 2017-08-25 14.49.06

NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

RT: I am Icelandic-American, born in Reykjavik (Iceland´s capital) and raised in a small fishing town in Iceland called Stykkisholmur with a population of 1,000 people until I was almost nine. I then moved to the States and have lived extensively in both places.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the Los Angeles area (moved a lot). When I finally came to NYFA, I had been working in TV and radio in Iceland for several years (hosting several shows) and I had been thinking about going to graduate school for some time. I kept coming back to the idea that I wanted to go back to school. Although I had a career which involved a few years of broadcasting and producing and had made and directed one film (a documentary called “From Oakland to Iceland”), I wanted to learn more.

I was essentially a self-taught filmmaker and producer, and felt there were some elements missing from my film education. School was the answer for me in that regard. I also happen to love school and being a student, so college and graduate school have been some of the most rewarding times of my life.

NYFA: What was it like moving to the U.S. from Iceland?

RT: The immigrant experience definitely marked my life. I didn’t speak a word of English until I was nine years old. I remember being in a Montessori School classroom all of the sudden and not really understanding anything, but within three months I was speaking English pretty well. I also went from walking to school in Iceland in the dark in a snow suit covered from head to toe all by myself to wearing shorts and T-shirts in Berkeley, and being driven everywhere. We were more on our own in Iceland, there is a lot of freedom there for kids. Here everything was bigger and there were more moving parts; bigger cities, skyscrapers and freeways, more rules and regulations, more people! These are different worlds. It is great to be able to experience different cultures and then the interesting part is that when you grow into a bicultural individual you take parts of each and then that becomes the evolved version of you. Certain sensibilities are very Icelandic and others very American for me. Also, I don’t  have an accent when I speak English, so often people assume I´m from here … but I grew up in a household speaking Icelandic and celebrating Icelandic customs. My brothers and I gravitated toward and had friends that were also from bicultural households, Iceland, Iran, Thailand, East Germany, Romania, Tanzania.

NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment from your time as a student? And now, a favorite NYFA moment as part of our staff?

RT: I had many such moments while studying at NYFA, most which involved me learning something new. Screenwriting classes are really where I found my producer voice as creative producing is my favorite kind.

My top favorite moment was likely when I finished my thesis, it was definitely thrilling, and when my $500-budget sketch “Carlos & Brandi,” that started as a class project, was featured on Funny or Die´s front page.

I also loved the pitch fests in the producing program. I met people there that I ended up working with later on, so the networking really started in school for me. Those were important moments that turned into relationships down the line.

As a staff member, I always enjoy the feedback from excited students that are coming into the programs. When I read pieces about countless former students that I remember running around campus that are out there doing well in the industry, that is always inspiring and makes me happy.

NYFA: What advice can you give to fellow NYFA students who are adjusting to life in the U.S.?

RT: I think being open-minded and a little bit outgoing, frankly, is important here. It is such a large, diverse market and environment (at least compared to Iceland). In order to create relationships and opportunities here I found just good-old taking initiative was the way to go. Also, seeking out like-minded people who are in the same adjustment phase or have similar goals. Building a little community around oneself is great, and school is the perfect place to start.

NYFA: What do you think is different about working in the arts in the U.S. in particular? What should international students do to prepare?

RT: There are differences both as far as content goes (some of the stuff in Iceland would probably be considered more “arthouse” vs. commercial, etc.) [and in the market size]. The U.S. market is so big and there are scores of people from all over the world trying for the same goals, so it´s hard work.

When possible, show up early, stay late, don´t complain, and be easy to work with. Always keep your word with or without what you consider having success, which rarely happens overnight. Focus on the craft, the art not just on the end goal. It´s easy to caught up in a game of comparisons, but I say focus on the work itself.

NYFA: You went back to study at NYFA after living a little life out in the workforce. What was your experience like going back to NYFA for continuing education to make a career shift? Why did you pick NYFA?

RT: The New York Film Academy had a philosophy that I connected with: the hands-on approach. The do-it-yourself Icelandic part of me definitely found that appealing. The thought of graduate school had been looming for a long time, as I felt I was missing some stuff being a self-taught filmmaker and I wanted more knowledge.

Also, I liked that the teachers are industry professionals, and they were truly the best part of my NYFA experience. I still see some of the producing, screenwriting and film instructors around that I connected with, and it really marked my time here. The instructors truly are phenomenal.

NYFA: What inspires you in your creative work? What kind of stories do you want to be a part of telling?

RT: I write and produce comedy when I am doing my own stuff and have done producing and consulting of various kinds of projects for others, or as a freelance producer. If I really look at the stuff I´ve made personally, most of it is a bit female-centric and in fact a lot of it is about my bi-cultural life experiences. The Scandinavian sarcasm and cynical humor is definitely visible in there too.

NFYA: What advice can you give to our students who, like you, are passionate about a profession in the filmmaking industry, while also juggling parenting?

RT: Before we have families, working up to 17-hour days at something is entirely possible and it is something I personally did for years. After kids, it’s all about balance. Having said that, some days are longer than others and obviously production by nature is time consuming. It´s about time management and truthfully perhaps some things you did before you simply won’t do unless you can make it work on multiple levels (appropriate assistance with childcare, etc.). I say write for your budget and according to time while in film school! I.e: Shooting minimal amounts of locations, etc. Anything to simplify production without compromising the material.

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ragga for taking the time to share a bit of her story with the NYFA community. Ready to learn more about filmmaking? Check out our many programs at NYFA.