Student Academy Awards


The Student Academy Awards

It was a fun week but it was time to get down to business… the Student Academy Awards medal presentations. 

The presenters!  Academy President Tom Sherak, Laura Dern (“Jurassic Park”),  Greg Kinnear (“As Good As It Gets”), Mena Suvari (“American Beauty”), and Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Jerry Maguire”).


Amanda Tasse (USC) - “The Reality Clock” - Gold


Eric Prah (Ringling College of Art & Design) - “My Little Friend” - Bronze

Mark Nelson (UCLA) - “The Jockstrap Raiders” - Silver

David Wolter (CalArts)- “Eyrie” - Gold

All the animation winners:


Heather Burky (Art Institute of Jacksonville) - “Lost Country” - Bronze

Ellen Tripler (American University) - “Dying Green” - Silver

Keiko Wright (NYU) - “Hiro: A Story of Japanese Internment” - Gold

All the documentary winners:


Justin Tipping (AFI)- “Nani” - Bronze

Ryan Prows (AFI) - “Narcocorrido” - Silver

Mark Raso (Columbia) - “Under” - Gold

All the narrative winners:


Elmar Imanov (The International Film School, Cologne, Germany) - “The Swing of the Coffin Maker” - Bronze

Thomas Stuber (Film Academy Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany) - “Of Dogs and Horses” - Silver

David Winstone (University of Westminster) - “For Elsie” - Gold

All the foreign winners:

All the gold winners:

All the silver winners:

All the bronze winners:

Laura Dern and Greg Kinnear enjoying some student animation:

Tom Sherak watching “The Reality Clock” in 3D:


Too busy:

Best friends forever:

ASC Cinematographers Give Advice

The SAA Winners also got to go to the American Society of Cinematographers Clubhouse this week. First came a delicious lunch, with lots and lots of mingling:

After the yummy lunch, an incredible collection of legendary cinematographers sat down and answered a question from every winner and their DP guest.  The panel was:

Christopher Baffa

Stephen H. Burum

Haskell Wexler

Victor J. Kemper

Stephen Lighthill

Karl Walter Lindenlaub

Isidore Mankofsky

Bill Neil

Daryn Okada

Woody Omens

On DP/Direction Relationship:

  • The relationship between the director and cinematographer sets the whole mood of the set.
  • There must be respect between the director and cinematographer.  There must be give and take.
  • If both are in tune with the heart of the story, both director and cinematographer should reach similar conclusions.
  • Sometimes an agreeable relationship between director and DP will create a dull film and a turbulent one creates an interesting film.
  • It’s great when a director has technical knowledge but it isn’t necessary.
  • If you want to direct, direct.  Nothing worse than a DP who secretly wants to direct.
  • It’s the responsibility of the cinematographer to make the best movie possible.  Sometimes you need to break things to the director.  But do it tactfully.

On Shots:

  • Simpler is always better.
  • Preparation, preparation, preparation.
  • Lighting should imitate what you see in life but keep it consistent.
  • If a shot is distracting, it’s wrong.
  • Save what you collect in life as inspiration for shots.

On Actors:

  • Camera must protect the actors.
  • In intimate scenes, kick non-essential crew out.
  • Be in tune with what the actors need.

On Working:

  • Most important factors when deciding whether you should take a job are good story? good people? and how’s the money?
  • Take all sorts of jobs.  It’ll give you an interesting career.
  • Don’t burn bridges.

SAA Winners at the Board of Governors Dinner

The Board of Governors dinner is where the Student Academy Award Winners get to meet the Academy’s Board of Governors.  There are five tables and five courses.  The governors sit stationary and the winners switch table at each course, being forced to mingle with everyone.  It’s like speed-dating for Oscars.

Everyone had a lot of fun.  Especially Woody.

AFI Rivalry: Justin Tipping vs. Ryan Prows

A funny thing happened this year at the Student Academy Awards.  Two of the winners in the Narrative Category, Justin Tipping and Ryan Prows, were peers at the American Film Institute.

That means they were in classes together, hung out together, and made their projects simultaneously.  In their year at AFI, over 100 scripts were submitted and pitched.  Only 25 made it through production, including Justin’s “Nani” and Ryan’s “Narcocorrido”.

They each followed the other’s film from conception to completion.  They even helped out!  Ryan helped Justin work out the dialogue in his climax of “Nani”.  And Justin fought for the musical bookends of “Narcocorrido” (the AFI faculty was heavily against the bookends but the Academy felt differently).

At the end of the day, Ryan took Silver and Justin took Bronze.

And they have the same agents.


Student Academy Awards tonight?  Who cares, it’s Portugal vs Germany!

To see more photos from this week’s action, check out other SAA Snapshots.

Jun 9

SAA Winners at Dreamworks Animation

Like they weren’t doing enough cool stuff, the Student Academy Award Winners were invited to a screening at Dreamworks Animation.

Director Steve Hickner, of DreamWorks Animation introduced this years SAA winning animated shorts and everyone had a blast watching:

Here are two of this year’s animation winners, David Wolter and Eric Prah:

Oh no, man down!

Then everyone was given an awesome tour of DreamWorks Animation studios:

"And over here we have a giant Madagascar 3 poster”:

"And here is a giant koi pond":

We weren’t allowed to take pictures in most places at DreamWorks Animation but take our word for it - it’s unbelievably cool.  And has a secret bar.

Jun 9


Just some Student Academy Award Winners roaming the Writer’s Guild:

The gang gathered around:

Look at all these scripts!

Animation winner Eric Prah:

Narrative winner Mark Raso:

Foreign winner Thomas Stuber:

Documentary winner Heather Burky:

Documentary winner Keiko Wright too busy for a photo op:

And alternative winner Amanda Tasse sneaking up on several Academy Award winning screenwriters:

To see more photos from this week’s action, check out other SAA Snapshots.

Jun 9

Screenwriting Advice from the WGA

Fade in:

The SAA winners got a chance to sit down with seasoned writers for a long, frank discussion on screenwriting.  The panel of WGA writers consisted of:

Howard A. Rodman (“Savage Grace”, “August”)

Scott Alexander (“Ed Wood,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt”)

Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects,” “The Tourist”)

Craig Mazin (“The Hangover, Part II,” “Scary Movie” 3 & 4)

Tom Schulman (“What About Bob?” “Dead Poet’s Society”)

So yeah, no big deal…

On sitting down and Writing:

  • You’ll get the most ideas under financial strain.
  • Shut off that internet.  Those emails you “need” to reply to can wait til 3 p.m. (there are many programs available that will block the internet for you).
  • Sometimes, wasting time is the best use of time.
  • John Melius suggests writing 3 pages a day no matter what.
  • It’s up to you to figure out your writing schedule.  Find what works for you and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Out of all the sins in writing, the greatest is “boring.”
  • Know the ending first.  Build to that ending.

On the subject of Notes:

  • You want lots of feedback from peers.  Especially if they’re jealous of you and will give harsh notes.
  • At the independent level, you don’t have to take notes from anyone.  Listen well and do what feels right.
  • Be open to all notes.  You can still fix stuff before you face the audience in the dark theater.
  • When listening to notes, put your anger or hurt aside.  Try to make the note-giver feel better, even if you end up not taking their note.
  • Remember that the subtext to every note you get is “help me like your script more”.
  • Pay attention to the emotions behind the note, rather than the specifics.
  • Keep giving the studio “you” until they realize that’s what they want.

On working with Directors:

  • Collaborations with directors are case by case.  Some will work closely with you, some will fire you and hire another writer, and some you will never meet.
  • Key to the best movies are a strong writer/director collaboration.
  • Story is the most important element but sometimes a director’s aesthetic choice will override it.
  • The moment you start directing your screenplay, the “writer-you” dies.  Have someone you trust be around to give you feedback and remind you of the heart of the story you’re trying to tell.
  • It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees in the heat of production, so it’s usually helpful to have the writer on set.
  • Don’t be too defensive of your screenplay.  A director’s job is to challenge your script and elevate it.
  • The only answers you may give to a director’s request for a change in the script are “yes, if…”, “yes, but…”, and “yes”.
  • A good script is a blueprint for the movie.  Just like two contractors would build similar buildings from the same blueprint, two directors should be able to make similar movies from the same script.

On once you start Making Money:

  • Once you start getting checks for writing, fight to defend complexity.
  • Don’t overextend yourself once the money starts coming, it won’t always last.
  • Only take jobs you think you can love.  Hard to do good work if you don’t love it.
  • Save up money not for a house or a car, but for the luxury to say “no” to projects.
  • Remember that they are hiring you to put things you love into scripts.
  • Don’t worry, you’re going to go in and out of favor many times in this business.
  • It’s not the film business.  It’s a film business.  You don’t need anyone’s permission to make stuff yourself.

The writers were mostly in consensus on all topics but, at the end, broke up into two opposite camps on the issue of Sending Out Scripts:

  • There’s the Christopher McQuarrie/Tom Schulman camp of being very careful who you send your screenplays to.  They say it’s a “me too” town and the more people that reject a script, the more likely others will as well.  Also, original ideas are highly rare and easy to steal.  And if you send someone your script, you’ve laid all your cards on the table and are not keeping them guessing.
  • Then there’s the Craig Mazin/Scott Alexander camp of sending out your screenplay to any pair of eyeballs that will look at it.  The idea being that you never know what will happen or who will pass it to whom.  Also, your script is your calling card and the more people that read and like it, the more likely you are to get hired for a re-write job.

They were torn.  Any thoughts, screenwriting Tumblrs?

Jun 9

Student Academy Award Welcome Reception

With all the SAA winners in town, it was time to officially welcome them.  And what better place than at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library? 

After delicious appetizers (the big hit was the Asian beef in a spoon), the winners and Academy members sat down in the Bob Hope Lobby and were welcomed by program director Rich Miller:

Followed by an introduction by Student Academy Awards Executive Committee chair Woody Omens:

A moving speech from the Academy’s Director of the Library Linda Mehr:

And a poem on greatness by The Graduate's make-out king, Brian Avery:

A toast was made:

And on with the mingling!

Alternative category winner Amanda Tasse with Academy member Wolfgang Glattes and his wife Kathryn.

Animation winner David Wolter and wife Amanda chatting with Sima Balser.

Animation Eric Prah talking with Academy member Victor Kemper (Cinematographers branch).

Foreign film winner Elmar Imanov talking to Actors branch member Damian London.

Cinematographer Woody Omens talks with documentary winner Keiko Wright and Producers branch member Michael Taylor.

Actors branch member Brian Avery chats with documentary winner Ellen Tripler and Stephen Tringali.

Short Films & Feature Branch Governor chats with Narrative winner Ryan Prows and his wife.

Narrative category winner Mark Raso and wife chat with cinematographer Victor Kemper.

Documentary winner Heather Burky (center) chats with Sound Branch Governor Don Hall and Florence Omens.

Foreign film winner Thomas Stuber chats with Academy member Wolfgang Glattes and Kathryn Glattes.

Narrative winner Justin Tipping and Joshua Beirne-Golden enjoying the reception.

Cinematographer Victor Kemper and animation winner David Wolter.

Oh look, it’s some of our favorite Academy staff members:

Woody Omens said the event was "overwhelming and in the most beautiful setting this student award dinner has ever been held."

Linda Mehr was "thrilled to have the students here, hope they’ll come back again and hope to document their films in the future".

John Landis was in attendance.  We approached him for a quote while he was speaking with winner Justin Tipping:

"Justin Tipping told me Justin Tipping’s film is great." -John Landis.

Jun 8

SAA SNAPSHOTS: Creepy Paperweight

Joseph Stefano kept a creepy skeleton paperweight on his desk while he was writing Psycho. It is now an artifact at the Writer’s Guild and documentary winner Ellen Tripler posed with it:

Narrative winner Ryan Prows also posed with it.  And narrative winner Justin Tipping wanted nothing to do with it:

To see more photos from this week’s action, check out other SAA Snapshots.