The winners do not receive Oscars, but for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and participating college students, the organization’s annual Student Academy Awards reaffirm the future.
While students are provided a stepping-stone and additional resources to further their careers, the awards have also helped the Academy support young filmmakers who have gone on to receive 46 Oscar nominations and eight awards in the last 39 years.
“It is very important for the Academy in that it’s one of the ways we’re trying to encourage the next generation of film directors,” said Rich Miller, who coordinates the student awards program. “It’s continually amazing.”
Past winners have included director Spike Lee, recent Walk of Fame star recipient and Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, actor Bob Saget, “WALL-E” executive producer Pete Docter and “South Park” creator Trey Parker.
The Academy recently selected this year’s U.S. and foreign competition winners, and they’ll participate in a week of industry activities that will end with an awards ceremony at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on June 9.
Miller said the Academy received 518 entries this year, and they were narrowed down through regional competitions. Entries are separated into four categories: alternative, narrative, documentary and animation. On June 9, the winners will receive gold, silver or bronze designations that will offer cash rewards of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.
Justin Tipping, a student at the American Film Institute in Hollywood, is hoping for gold, but he’s very pleased with the honor and the opportunities that come with it. His film, “Nani”, received an award in the narrative category.
“It’s a little surreal, I must say,” Tipping said. “It’s just something you joke about or secretly dream about. When it happens, it’s amazing.”
“Nani” is about a tagger, Oscar, who is sentenced to community service after being caught in the act. During his service, Oscar meets a nursing home resident with dementia, befriends her and eventually shares his craft with her. Tipping said the storyline stems from his relationship with his own grandparent and aims to break typical connotations of the elderly.
“I’m really thrilled with the way it turned out,” he said.
Tipping, 27, is in his second year at the institute, and “Nani” is his thesis project. He said the institute “green-lit” the script he co-wrote with Joshua Beirne-Golden. After a couple months developing the script, the team, comprised of several American Film Institute students, did a six-day shoot. In all, the project was about a year in the making.
The institute does offer students a stipend, but it’s up to them to raise additional needed funding. Tipping said it is “definitely a hustle.”
Once completed, the group submitted the 21-minute film to the Academy, and then learned that it was selected as a regional finalist. Later, they found out that it had been picked as a Top 3 film in the narrative category.
“I think it’s a huge honor,” Tipping said. “Even just looking at the past winners … it’s really reaffirming.”
He said the Academy has booked him a room at the Renaissance Hotel from June 6 through June 9, when he’ll meet with representatives from the American Society of Cinematographers and the Directors Guild of America.
“It’s a pretty intensive three days with all the winners,” Tipping said.
He will be joined by another American Film Institute student, Ryan Prows, who was honored for his narrative, “Narcocorrido”. Tipping said Prows is also in the institute’s two-year program.
“We’re both really excited,” he said, adding that they have no idea who will win gold. “It’s really good to share the experience with another classmate.”
Miller, who has been with the Academy for 36 years, said Academy members frequently marvel at the quality of the films that are screened prior to the awards.
“They’ve always been good,” he said, adding that technology has helped budding filmmakers progress. “The overall production value has become better over the years. …They’re using a lot of the same equipment that the professionals use.”
For more information or to purchase tickets to the awards ceremony, visit www.oscars.org. For more information about “Nani”, visit nanithefilm.com.
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