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Swift Filmmaking: Nik Noto’s Distinctive Presence

By Jennifer Ward

Nik Noto, senior film major (photo courtesy of Nik Noto).

Nik Noto, a 22-year-old film student at Purchase College, may seem like your average film kid. She spends hours in the editing lab, loves talking about her work, and has a notes app overflowing with ideas for future projects. However, there seems to be something about Noto that sets her apart from the rest.

As a junior in high school, Noto got into film by accident. Growing up as an actor, she was shocked when her teacher pitched to her that she should join a film class, reluctantly saying yes. The next thing she knew, she was four years deep into a conservatory.

“It showed me what I really want to do, and the things I actually enjoy about film,” said Noto. “It takes a lot to make them. It’s a lot more than just a silly little girl and her iPhone.”

Noto is preparing for the end of her senior year of college, an accomplishment which comes with the dreaded senior project. Contrary to the usual senior, Noto isn’t dreading her project at all. Based off of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, her ideas for this film have ignited interest in those around her.

Noto's senior project "The One" cover art

The film, “The One,” is based on a fictional love triangle Swift created in her 2020 album, “Folklore.” The triangle is told through three songs, “Cardigan,” “August,” and “Betty.” All three songs tell a different side of the love story. Noto’s senior project is based around these fictional characters, telling their story through film instead of song, and bringing them to life.

“For each character, I want to explore the different aspects of what young love is. I want to have them embody it, but in different ways,” said Noto. “The thing is, perspective is the most important part of anything. It’s just so fascinating how you can see something from an outsider’s perspective and have a completely different story each time you listen. I love to capture people being human.”

This is not Noto’s first Swift-themed project. Noto said that the majority of her films are based on Swift’s songs, and she’s proud of it. She plans to continue this theme even when she graduates.

Tiani Thompson, a senior film major and close friend of Noto’s said, “She’s very passionate about how she brings ideas forth. And they’re all Taylor Swift-themed, so I know her signature work.”

In her sophomore film thesis, “Champagne Problems,” Noto explores the heartbreak and complications of love. “That was my best work,” said Noto. “The actors put their whole hearts and souls into it, I put my whole heart and soul into that. I built an entire restaurant from scratch on the [Center for Media, Film and Theater] soundstage. Everyone told me that I couldn’t do it too, and I did it! It was one of the things my professors commented on the most.”

A still from Noto’s sophomore year thesis film, “Champagne Problems.” (Photo courtesy of: Nik Noto)

Being a Swift fan is nothing new to Noto. I’ve been a swiftie for as long as I’ve been conscious,” said Noto. “My sister grew up loving Taylor Swift and it’s sort of always been one of those things where, by association, I always loved her.”

Noto not only views Swift through the lens of a fan, but through the lens of a creator. She has used Swift's ability to create worlds within her songs and capture a listener with the descriptive language she uses in her music in order to create projects and worlds of her own.

“I’ve always been a big fan of lyricism, which is something she really stresses in her music,” said Noto. “I distinctly remember her releasing ‘Folklore’ during quarantine and me sitting in my bed absolutely sobbing to each song, just because the lyrics were so human. I know I’ve used that so much as a justification. They were just so… ‘this is me.’”

Her senior project will be split into three separate films. Each one will follow the individual characters of August, James, and Betty, the subjects of the three songs, to tell the story. Noto’s hope for the film is to tell each story with different styles of film in order to tell all sides of the story. By using different visual aspects, Noto hopes to transport the audience into a different world depending on the film you watch.

She hopes that the order of the films also impacts the audience members’ perspective. By doing this, the film will be left up to the interpretation of the audience to decide what their opinion on the outcome is, and whose side they’re on.

“I love the idea of following a relationship from three different perspectives, especially a love triangle in that regard,” said Mike Scarnati, BFA film store manager. “That’s a thread I’ve seen in her work. The idea of exploring relationships between other people. I’m glad that she’s telling those types of stories because that’s something that we as people can all relate to in a lot of ways.”

Outside of working on her own sets, Noto is a very dedicated crew member when it comes to other filmmakers in her program. With hopes of becoming an Assistant Director in the future, when Noto isn’t working on her own projects, she’s contributing to the work of her peers. Noto has been described by the people in her life as a little manic when it comes to her work, but as an asset to set.

“She also is probably one of the most important figures in her class alone,” said Scarnati. “She definitely has the leadership mentality and has definitely shown that she has a good command of a set. A lot of people look to her to fill that role. That kind of voice is really important.”

Although being in the Film Conservatory has helped Noto to find her passion, this journey hasn’t been without hardship – casting, funding, and time management have all proved to be a struggle. Noto has created a new GoFundMe to get money for her film, as well as being a recipient of a $500 award for her work with cast members by the film program.

“There are not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done to accomplish an actual great film,” said Noto. “Sure, people have done it. Probably not with more than four hours of sleep a night. It’s doable but it’s not functional.”

Regardless of the amount of work she puts in and the little sleep she gets in return, those around her admire her work ethic and how much she gives.

“As a filmmaker, she has a great ability to organize. She’s prepping before she needs to prep,” said Thompson. “She’ll be talking about her script the semester before she’s done with the previous project. Sometimes she’ll get sleep, and sometimes she just won’t. These days she’s like, ‘I didn’t get any sleep’ and I’m like ‘We don’t even have any assignments yet! How are you already not getting sleep?!’”

Scarnati highlights how much of an impact Noto has made on this program, and how she left a lasting impression not only on him but in the major as a whole. “It’s going to be really sad when she leaves in a year, I think that I’ve seen growth in her as I do with a lot of students in this program. I’m seeing that growth in her as a storyteller and as a director, which has been great,” said Scarnati. “She has that drive, I really think she’s going to go far if she keeps that up. That would be great to see.”

Scarnati continued, I think that she is somebody who, as a filmmaker, is not only passionate and eager but somebody who is very self-aware. As a filmmaker, you need to have that sort of self-awareness of issues going on. That’s what’s really needed to tell these stories effectively. That’s just one thing that I love seeing from her as a writer.”

Not only do those around her highlight her career as a filmmaker, they give credit to her personality as well. Nik’s sporadic and manic personality paired with her protectiveness gives her friends a ride-or-die element they hold in their personal relationship with her.

“There are so many different versions of her, some people say that’s the Gemini,” said Thompson. “It’s a combination of the manic moments, her protective mom moments, and the let’s party. None of those moments define Nik, but they’re just iconic. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being her friend is unpredictable.”

With this being her senior year, Noto is wrapping up her time on this campus and preparing to leave Purchase. Although those around her are proud of what she’s accomplished, they’re still mourning the thought of her not being around anymore.

“For someone who was so quiet her freshmen year, to see just how much more outgoing she is, approachable, and how she handles problems and problem-solving. I think it’s really impressive to see that growth in a young person. Nik is just so approachable and just such a beautiful personality to be around,” said Scarnati.

“Having students like her, not just as incredible filmmakers and storytellers, but as community members, working on so many different projects, dealing with the stress of this program and the stresses of just life. I’m going to miss having those personal conversations with her,” said Scarnati. “Just somebody to take my mind off the distractions and distress of this place, and to just have other genuine conversations about life and relationships. I will absolutely miss her and will cherish this last year with her.”

With graduation rolling around, Noto’s facing some hard decisions when it comes to what the next few years of her life will lead to. Noto aims to be a positive influence on those who will come after her.

When asked what she would like to say to her freshmen year self, Noto replied, Invest in monster. No, I’m totally kidding, but totally use that quote anyway. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You have good ideas, you just have to be confident that you can execute them.”



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