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NYWIFT Report from Tribeca: Isabella Olaguera on AD’ing, Celeb Encounters and Breaking into the Biz at 14

Isabella Olaguera as assistant director on the set of the Oscar-nominated short MY NEPHEW EMMETT (directed by Kevin Wilson Jr).
We’re deep in the heart of Tribeca Film Festival season, and it’s a perfect time to highlight our talented sisters at New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT). In this interview, multi-hyphenate artist Heidi Philipsen gets the scoop on assistant director Isabella Olaguera, whose work on the acclaimed new feature All These Small Moments proves you should never judge a girl by her age.

By Heidi Philipsen

New Jersey-based assistant director Isabella Olaguera has worked professionally on over 50 feature films, television shows and commercials since 2010 – including an Oscar-nominated short. She has every right to brag, but she’s been keeping a big secret: She’s only 20 years old!

Isabella sat down with producer, director, writer and actor Heidi Philipsen to discuss her work as the 2nd AD on the indie feature film All These Small Moments, a coming-of-age tale shot entirely in NYC, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

HEIDI PHILIPSEN: How long have you been an assistant director?

ISABELLA OLAGUERA: I’ve been AD’ing for about six years now, on features, short films, commercials, and television shows. I have to always mention my parents when I talk about my beginnings. Throughout my childhood, my parents were prolific freelance graphic designers with backgrounds in film production, acting, fine arts and photography. From an early age, they always encouraged me to pursue my artistic endeavors. While other kids’ parents became worried about their kids wanting to be artists, or tried to convince them to treat it like a hobby, mine always treated every interest like the beginnings of a possible career.

How do you navigate your career when you are surrounded by mostly older and mostly male colleagues?

Honestly, I was never hesitant or uncertain when it came to making my dream career a reality and I have to again thank my parents for putting that fearlessness and determination in my head despite so many things that could have discouraged me. I knew I didn’t exactly have it easy from the get-go, considering I’m not only young, but a woman, and a young woman of color to top it off. But I am also different from many of the people who came before me. I am born at the end of the millennial age, or the beginning of Generation Z, two of the first generations to be born after the trailblazers for equality in the age of technology. I was privileged enough to be able to grow up around the set life, with a female and/or POC role models of AD’s, producers and industry leaders.

What were some of your favorite experiences working on the film?

All These Small Moments was one of my favorite productions to work on. The entire film, to me, captures the essence of a modern John Hughes movie — a teenager struggling with the concept of growing up, and his positive discovery within himself despite the trials that are set before him: A perfect, simple, slice-of-life story.

I know they’ve been advertising Melissa Miller-Costanzo as a first-time director, but to me, there is nothing “first-time” about her. She’s a seasoned pro, and a powerful woman who not only has clear vision but knows how to achieve it.

Our producers [Lauren Avinoam, Katie Leary, and Jed Mellick] were all strong forces, each bringing their own expertise to the table. Our crew was a little army. Our cast had lots of credits and prestige to their names, yet included some of the most down to earth people I’ve ever worked with.

Molly Ringwald is one of the stars!

Molly Ringwald has always been in one of the top slots of my “celebrity bucket list.” There’s a scene in All These Small Moments where Molly’s character sits at the dining table by herself, picking at her mostly untouched birthday cake. We shot it on the day I [substitute] 1st AD’d, and for the first few takes, everything was very standard. Roll, Action, Pick, Reset, Repeat, Cut. But on the very last take, she kept going. She made larger and larger dents in the cake with her fingers, and then all of a sudden — BAM — she smushed both her hands into the cake and mixed it all up! Molly started laughing, and then Melissa was laughing, and video village was laughing, and the crew was laughing, and the cast was laughing — I could even see Adam, our DP, giggling behind the camera.

And suddenly my anxiety and nervousness faded away and here I was, this 19-year-old girl — who didn’t follow the beaten path and didn’t go to college and didn’t listen to anyone who told her she was too young, yet still didn’t let ANYONE on set know how old she was because she was afraid they’d fire her for it if they ever found out — 1st AD’ing this huge set and KILLING IT.

And we made our day. Everyone told me I did a good job and it meant, and still means, more to me than they could ever know.

ALL THESE SMALL MOMENTS runs at the Tribeca Film Festival through Saturday, April 28th, 2018. For more information and tickets, go here.

To learn more about the Tribeca Film Festival and for tickets to this year’s screenings, visit tribecafilm.com. Use #Tribeca2018 on social media for updates.

Heidi Elizabeth Philipsen-Meissner is a producer, writer, actress & director with 20 years of professional experience in international film, television and communications. Follow her on Twitter at @heidiphilipsen.

Learn more about the organization at nywift.org, and keep checking Honeysuckle for more news from NYWIFT!

 

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