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Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Producing Alum Emilia D’Agata

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 Producing Alum Emilia D'Agata

NYFA Producing Alum Emilia D’Agata

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 Producing Emilia D'Agata

NYFA Producing Alum Emilia D’Agata

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! 

Q&A with Actress, Composer, and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Xiren Wang

Canadian-born Xiren Wang is quite comfortable wearing many hats in the entertainment business–she is an actress as well as a composer, and has found success doing both. Wang first attended the 4-Week Musical Theatre workshop at New York Film Academy (NYFA) before pivoting to the 1-Year Acting for Film conservatory at our New York campus.

Since then, she has found work both in front and behind the camera, especially when it comes to scoring films and as well performing live. Her biggest project to date is scoring The Eyes, which aired on Showtime. New York Film Academy spoke with alum Xiren Wang about her eclectic work and how she first ended up at NYFA:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): The Eyes was released nationwide and had a run on Showtime. You scored and appeared in the film. Tell us more about this project and your experience working on it.

Xiren Wang (XW): After graduating from NYFA, I started taking classes at One on One, where I met Robbie Bryan, who directed the film. It was the first class that was back and running, because it was immediately after Hurricane Sandy, so I was one of the two people who actually showed up – and sometimes, showing up is that important. I met him as an actor, and invited him to the shows and concerts I performed in, and later on, when he needed a composer for the feature film, he thought the tone of The Eyes was a good match. The Eyes is a psychological thriller. Cerebral themes and dark emotions are definitely my genre of music. I write mostly for romance, drama, and yoga, all very different tones, but knowing your forte helps you define your sound, and film needs that specificity. Even though every trained composer, in theory, should be able to write for anything, doing something well is another level. Knowing your own sound helps carve out your sound world, and just like how there’s no actor who really can take every role, there’s no composer that is good for every general story. 

Xiren Wang

Because The Eyes was mostly filmed in one room, the sound world needed to be rich and multidimensional to keep the story moving forward. I blended classical sounds and electronic soundscapes to give each character another layer of identity, to speak to their backstories, and to expose a bit of what’s going on in their heads. I like to study the script and characters, and really get deep into the subtext and the headspace of what each character is holding back from the audience. 

Working on the film also afforded me the opportunity to learn about foley, and I was fortunate to have worked with the team at Skywalker Ranch for this. Because we had such a small team, I learned on the job what foley editing was about, and I’m glad to say that after the post-production process, I can handle any work that’s under the sound and music departments – usually consisting of a dozen or even hundreds of people, depending on the scale of the production. I’ve definitely started paying extra attention to the credits, just to see how the soundworld is sculpted for each film. I want to take what I’ve heard and then break it down into how it’s made, sort of like reverse-engineering, and then find ways to recreate something that sounds like the expensive output, but with a more resourceful approach, because most movies don’t allocate much budget or team to the music and sound departments. 

The reality of Hollywood orchestras recording for Hollywood films is not the reality we live in today, and a lot of production teams want skeleton crews and one-(wo)man powerhouses to take care of “everything”. Unless the director is keen on music, they often don’t know what creating a score really entails – composing is just one step of the journey, which then goes to recording, editing, mixing, matching to picture, etc. It’s a full suite of work, for many people, and having gotten my sound design start at NYFA really helped me understand this world, so that when I was hired as a composer, I could double as the sound designer as well. Understanding foley and other audio elements of the film is also crucial, and important lessons I learned from working on The Eyes

I’m fortunate to have worked with director Robbie Bryan, who trusted me enough to have this be my first feature film score. The soundtrack is also available to stream and buy on most digital retailers, but definitely get the whole experience on Showtime.

Xiren Wang

NYFA: You also music directed and performed live concerts at venues ranging from Arlene’s Grocery to Carnegie Hall, in which you also performed original music. Is your approach to composing music for your concerts different from the one you have for composing original film scores? How?

XW: Definitely. Music for film and music for picture is driven by story and frame. Music for live concerts is standalone music, driven by the pulse of the music itself, removed from the frames that anchor what it should be about. When I’m scoring a film, everything has to serve the story, and I believe a good film score should carry you further along and deeper into the story. A good film score makes you sink into more of your feelings and more of the story, it shouldn’t distract you with sounds that take you out of the story. It’s like a piece of fabric, tailored to the script and to each frame of what’s going on visually. 

Film music isn’t standalone music, it has to serve the story, and whatever doesn’t, is cut, like so much visual footage, as well. Composing for live concerts is where the musicians are the rockstars, and the performance itself is the story, so it’s a completely different mindset and landscape. Using the fabric analogy again, this time without a “body” of work to adhere to, the fabric can form its own shape and dynamics. 

I’m fortunate to be able to switch back and forth, because an actor-composer brings an extra set of eyes to the film, I feel. And being and actor-musician, I’m able to play with style, lighting, and the overall design of the music in a way that is storytelling, so this hybrid definitely heightens the production value, as it creates a multi-layered and multi-sensory experience. After all, whether we are actors or musicians, we are delivering an experience, and we want to make our work memorable.

Xiren Wang

NYFA: What brought you to NYFA?

XW: It was a talent scholarship to the Musical Theatre program, and then an extended talent scholarship for the Acting for Film Program. But there was definitely a distance between learning about NYFA and receiving the scholarships. 

I first came to New York when I was still in high school (2005!) at the time–I competed as a junior actress at IMTA (boosted as the talent convention where Katie Holmes and Ashton Kutcher got their start), and one of the girls in our group received a scholarship to NYFA, which for her was a huge deal, and for me, that meant more than the callbacks I got from the various modeling agencies in both LA and NYC. It was more valuable because it offered a journey, a journey of becoming something more, and of self-actualization. 

In 2010, I went to IMTA with one goal in mind, and that’s to get a scholarship from NYFA. As fortune would have it, one of the callbacks I received was from NYFA, and Steven Chinni, whose offer really changed my life, helped me make the transition to move to New York. One of the lines he said during the callback, I’ll never forget, was  “as an actor, you can be whoever you want.” And the possibilities of living a full and rich life, that line offered, meant the world to me. 

By August, that dream became a reality, and I did a record amount of student films while in the program. Working with the cinematography class also afforded me friends who not only gave me reel material, but helped me cut my first reels, some clips which remain in my material today! When I was in the Acting program, I was also taking composition classes at Juilliard, and I saw a NYFA filmmaker’s poster on the bulletin board asking for original music scores. So, I made a lot of posters saying that I could score your film, and put them all over NYFA, and I ended up scoring a lot of student films, and my first sound design job also came from that, and it was something NYFA instructor Paul Warner had produced. 

Xiren Wang

NYFA: What was the most valuable takeaway from your time at NYFA both artistically and personally?

XW: The education I received at NYFA made me a better human being. It introduced me to the entire spectrum of human emotions and taught me what empathy is. I learned about human behaviour, and about darker emotions, and confronting them in a safe place was something so rare – it doesn’t happen outside of school. It gave me access to emotions I never knew existed or knew what to call them. It taught me how to speak clearly, so that my voice lands. It taught me what subtext is, and what pathology is, and life is richer when you understand these layers.

NYFA: What advice do you have for aspiring actors and composers?

XW: First of all, this is not an easy life! If you’re going after fame and celebrity, then it won’t take long to realize that the craft of both acting and composition is really hard work, on so many levels. I’m fortunate to still count myself in the business, but I’ve done a lot of work to get here, juggling multiple careers as an actor, musician, fitness model, composer, sound designer, VO artist, and radio host/producer. You’re constantly competing with people better looking than you, and surviving in the industry requires a lot of inner work, work that we have to do every day, long after we’ve graduated. Because keeping our tools sharp is just one part of the puzzle, having a strong mental game is so necessary. 

Lastly, this is a piece of advice that was given to me, and I finally started to apply it: to create your own content. Find your voice, know what you’re about, and start creating your own work, because most people are waiting for work, and waiting is not a way to live. It’s most disempowering. So figure out what fuels you, and be proactive about life and career, because this really is a marathon, not a sprint. Art comes from life, and in every stage of life, there is story. It’s easier now than ever to create content, but not everyone who has a Canon5D is a great photographer! Continue training, always be learning, and learn about business and look at this as an entrepreneur.

New York Film Academy thanks actress, composer, and NYFA alum Xiren Wang for taking the time to speak with us and wishes her success as her career continues to grow!

Broadcast Journalists: Why You Should Spend a Year in NYC

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It’s fair to say that nothing is more exciting than being a broadcast journalist in New York City. Aspiring anchors, presenters and reporters from around the world flock to this capital of commerce, entertainment, and industry, seeking to make a mark and gain experience alongside broadcast giants.

Not only is the city bursting with millions of stories, but it is also the headquarters for an astounding concentration of leading new media and traditional news companies. If you’re wondering why New York City might be the right place to spend a year studying broadcast journalism, we’ve rounded up some great reasons:

News Happens Here

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From Wall Street to Broadway, from the Bronx to Staten Island, the world pays attention to stories that center on events in New York City. For example, New York Film Academy Broadcast Journalism students Ljuba-Lada Marinovic and Kyle Morris were able to make it to the scene to cover breaking news regarding a tragic car accident in Times Square, shooting a story for European media giant RTL. New York City is the right place to be if you want to be where news breaks first.

Feeding Your Passion

Broadcast journalists, first and foremost, are storytellers — and that requires passion and craft. What better way to feed your passion for journalism than by living in New York, a major global city packed with thriving culture, diversity, incredible art, amazing food, awe-inspiring landmarks, jaw-dropping skylines, and enough sizzling energy to inspire you and your work for the rest of your life?

Industry Connections

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As Forbes notes, most national media outlets are centered in only a handful of major cities, and New York is at the top of the list! Here, aspiring journalists are in the heart of the world’s leading new media companies, such as theSkimm, Group Nine Media, SheKnows, Gimlet Media, Refinery29, Mic, NewsWhip, and News Deeply.

And, if you want to go the more tradition route, there’s ABC, Univision, CBS, MSNBC, Fox News, NBC, CNN, Telemundo, ESPN, MTV, and more.

From morning shows to late night news, from new media to The New York Times, the city provides an incredible opportunity for aspiring broadcast journalists to experience their industry at its zenith.

Learn from the Best

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At the New York Film Academy, aspiring broadcasters learn from a faculty of working industry professionals who remain active in the field. And, in addition, NYFA students may have the opportunity to enjoy special master classes and workshops taught through our Guest Speaker series. Past broadcast journalism guests have included MSNBC primetime host Rachel Maddow, Emmy award-winning journalist Bob Dotson, and photojournalist Stanley Greene.

As a NYFA student you’ll talk with network Executive Producers, as well as top producers from digital news publishers, who visit NYFA to give our Broadcast Journalism students insightful “off-the-record” briefings. Students in the conservatory program get an exclusive “behind-the-scenes” tour of NBC News. Our instructors have local, national, even international production credits.

Community

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New York City is a wonderful environment to not only pursue a new professional life, but also to be able to plug in with like-minded people who are passionate about shared interests besides your work. You’ll be able to meet and develop relationships with many of the best and brightest fellow broadcasters in the world; As one of the most diverse cities on the planet, New York offers burgeoning broadcast journalism students opportunities to grow and flourish not only in their professional pursuits, but also in their personal lives. Here, the world is at your fingertips.

Incredible Training Opportunities

Most of all, New York City itself offers aspiring journalists incredible opportunities to roll up their sleeves and get busy crafting content. At the New York Film Academy’s conservatory program, broadcast students are making their own stories hands-on from day one. You’ll learn from working industry professionals and get plenty of practice covering stories from every angle with some of the latest technology. Most importantly, you will find your own “editorial voice,” the qualities that make you stand out as unique.

Ready to start your journey as a broadcast journalist in New York City? Check out NYFA’s broadcast journalism programs.