Student Academy Awards

Jun 6

Meet Justin Tipping

Justin Tipping - American Film Institute - Narrative Winner


From El Cerrito, California, Justin Tipping has always been a creative guy.  Movies were always a big family pasttime and his family went to see everything.  Justin started on his directing path by recreating GI Joe and X-Men battles with his action figures.  In middle school, Justin and his friends would record hip-hop music in makeshift home studios.  Eventually, the marriage between image and music would help him fall in love with film.  At the end of high school, Justin got a DV video camera and immediately started creating videos with friends.  Some projects included his cats starring in a parody of MTV’s Real World and a murder mystery starring his younger cousins.

When starting his undergrad at UCSB, Justin’s major was Business Economics.  But after a semester abroad in Rome, he fell in love with Italian cinema and the rest was history.  He switched majors to Film and Media Studies and got an internship as an assistant editor for a social documentary.  Justin started doing everything he could to learn about film— watch movies, make videos, take improv and acting classes, PA, AC, etc.  He started directing music videos but it was his short film created in a 48-hour film contest that helped him get into AFI.

American Film Institute

Justin is very grateful he got to attend AFI.  He says, like anything else, film school is what you make of it [another SAA winner this year from AFI said the exact same phrase.  Conspiracy?].  Justin got the opportunity to focus solely on directing for two years and to meet like-minded people with the same ambition and fervor as him.  He got to make mistakes and observe others make mistakes.  The most valuable lesson he learned is that nothing beautiful is ever perfect.  And it’s better to be finished than to be perfect.  It’s important to strive for perfection but more important to always try to finish beautiful films.

For Justin, film school was crucial.  It helped him become the filmmaker he is today.  It helped him hone his abilities to run a set, work with actors, understand story, and handle tone.  He also met long term collaborators and friends.


"Nani" is the story of a young man an an old woman bonding through graffiti.  Justin wanted to address the universal human desire to create something lasting in the world.  The idea began with an image of Justin’s grandmother holding a spray can.  Justin never got the chance to know his grandmother well due to her struggle with dementia.  This led to an important theme in "Nani"— the parallel between memory loss and graffiti (a unique art form that is here one day and white-washed over the next).

It took more than a year to go from script to production— including going through AFI’s thesis green-lighting process.  After going through numerous drafts, the themes of the story stayed the same.  In the process of finding locations for shooting, Justin was able to simplify his story to the bare essentials— two people bonding.

What’s Next?

Justin wrote his first feature film with the same writer he wrote “Nani” with and they are currently in the process of getting it made.  And Justin’s going to Disneyland, of course.

Check out more from Justin at his website.

And check out a clip from “Nani.”