Whittier College alum celebrates behind-scenes role in Oscar-nominated ‘American Fiction’ – Whittier Daily News

This Whittier College alum learned that it’s never too late to set new career goals – and to succeed at them.

Emily Baeza, 33, worked as the second assistant director on the Oscar-nominated film “American Fiction,” which is up for five nominations, including best picture, at the 96th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 10.

In high school, Baeza was encouraged by one of her teachers at Montebello High School to apply to Whittier College, the four-year liberal arts college It had small class sizes and programs, that seemed just right for her.

She joined the Whittier Scholars Program, which allows students to design their own degrees. She tailored her studies to cover a diverse mix of journalism, creative writing, and environmental science. Her main focus of study became media and how it interacts with the community.

“A large part of my experience at Whittier revolved around collaboration and empathy,” she said. “From performing with the brass ensemble to my sisterhood with the Thalian society, the principles of working with others and pursuing new experiences are paramount to working in the film industry.”

After graduating from Whittier College in 2013, Baeza worked at a nonprofit called City Year, in Los Angeles and Boston. The educational nonprofit is dedicated to helping students from public schools in high-need communities to improve performance in school and develop professional skills.

Baeza’s work at City Year expanded her marketing and filmmaking opportunities, and led her to earning a master’s degree in civic media from Emerson College in Boston.

The interdisciplinary educational and career path that Baeza had helped in her role as an assistant director, she said, creating daily schedules and managing other logistical details to keep the project on time and budget.

“Film is one of the most collaborative, team-based professions you could be a part of,” Baeza said. “It’s because I have that ability to see across many different departments that I feel like it really helps my work now.”

Diversity has always been part of Baeza’s work, and in the film industry it will be no different.

Baeza said she is passionate about increasing representation both in front and behind the camera; her membership in the group Women in Film & Video New England played a pivotal role in connecting her with opportunities such as “American Fiction.”

Recently, a Hollywood Diversity report from UCLA illustrated growing representation overall for people of color in the industry, both behind and in front of the camera, and that audiences largely support diverse films. Still, researchers say, there is a lot more work to be done.

“American Fiction” had a diverse cast. Set in Boston, the comedy-drama is based on the novel “Erasure” and follows the story of a Black novelist – played by Jeffery Wright, who is a best actor nominee. The novelist is fed up with Black media’s reliance on tropes and he writes a book in the style he dislikes under a pen name only to see it become widely successful.

Baeza’s primary responsibilities on the set included ensuring that all actors were ready for filming, overseeing their transport and makeup and wardrobe timetables.

“I got to work closely with the cast – often being the first person to greet them and send them off each day,” she said.

Some of her favorite moments on set include filming on the beaches of Scituate, Mass.

“I also marveled at the level of talent I was surrounded by daily, not just in our cast but in every department from art to health and safety,” Baeza said. “It truly takes a massive web of teamwork to make a move. They’re little miracles.”

Now based in Burbank, Baeza was excited for the whole cast and crew when she heard that the film was nominated for the Oscars.

“All of our phones were blowing up with notes of congrats to each other, reviving the text threads we used during filming,” she said. “I felt so grateful to be a tiny part of masterful storytelling. I always believed this film was special and it’s extra rewarding to see other’s recognize it too, and on such a grand scale.”

She said she was especially excited for Sterling K. Brown being a supporting actor nominee and for Wright’s nominations, because they were “some of the most talented actors and wonderful people.”

Although the film industry is a daunting crossroads – and the threat of artificial intelligence and social media shifting the content pipeline – Baeza said the success of films like “American Fiction” is a reminder that talented and passionate people make great art  — and audiences respond to that.

“I’m so proud of the work my colleagues and I achieved with it and I am so grateful it’s been recognized by our peers,” she added.

Her advice to any fellow Poets, young people looking into the film industry or people looking to switch careers, is to set a clear intention or goal and not be afraid to speak it into existence.

“Just about every day, I have to convince the insecure part of myself that I deserve opportunities and success,” Baeza said. “What has helped me gain confidence the most are the people I told my goals to who remind me that I’m capable and connect me with the people and opportunities that can help me get there.”

First appeared on www.whittierdailynews.com

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