Put in the work and success will follow. Academy of Art University students always tend to hear this advice. Yet, this year’s batch of students participating in the annual NXT Up Festival did exactly that and took home a slew of awards and honors.
“You are all incredibly talented, brave, innovative artists and we’re really lucky to have you as our students,” said Executive Director of the Schools of Entertainment Jana Sue Memel on the Brava Theater stage.
In the audience were students from the Schools of Acting, Motion Pictures & Television, Writing for Film, Television, & Digital Media. Now on its third run, the student film festival proves to be a solid platform to raise awareness and appreciation to the new generation of filmmakers from the Academy’s film school.
For the second year in a row, industry professionals joined Academy faculty in the judging panel. Students in the audience also had the opportunity to vote for their top picks. There were categories for Best Short Film, Best Long-Form film, and Best Acting Performance.
“It takes a lot of times, it takes working two jobs, for some of you it takes defying the situations you were raised under to say, ‘I’m an artist.’ And it takes exposing yourself everything single day.” – Jana Sue Memel
An Encouragin Film School Enviroment Produces Winners
Taking home the award for Best Director (Over 12 Minutes category) was MFA student Sunhee Na for the dark and gritty Carma.
“Three years ago, when I first came here, I kind of quit directing because I felt, ‘I’m not good enough to be a director’… I doubted myself. Fortunately, she found an encouraging ally in the person of Jana Memel, which, she described to be pivotal. “I changed my major to shoot this film and I’m here today.”
Liv Li’s short film Not for Comedy took home four awards, including Best Performance by actor Mario Mazzetti and Best Picture (Under 12 minutes). The story revolved around a comedian’s attempt to go back to doing stand-up comedy in the aftermath of his husband’s death.
The big winner of the night was Vincent, which was co-directed by Hanna Xueou Yu, Xiaoran Wu, Lu Cai, and Chuqiao Li. The film, which took home a total of six awards—including Best Picture (Over 12 minutes)—told the story of the special friendship that formed between a waitress and an introverted artist.
Apart from Best Picture, Vincent also tied with Patrick for Best Editing, and Carma for Best Picture.
Industry Pros Dish Out Advice on Getting In—and Staying in—the Film Industry
While the awarding ceremony was the highlight of the event, NXT Up Festival also did offer other activities earlier in the day, such as Industry Panel.
Moderated by Memel, the panel featured industry professionals giving advice on what it takes to get into the industry, and more importantly, thrive in it.
The guests line-up included art director and production designer Michael Goldman (Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Amazing Spider-Man, Star Trek: Into Darkness), cinematographer Hiro Narita (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Hocus Pocus, James and the Giant Peach), producer Stephen Nemeth (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and producer Andrew Muscato (The Zen of Bobby V).
“If you had one piece of advice about starting out or breaking in, what would that be?” asked Memel.
For Goldman, it was all about going for what you want. “Don’t be scared to make mistakes.”
Narita shared invaluable wisdom from a previous instructor: “There’s always someone who’s better than you are, so stay humble, but keep your curiosity open.”
Meanwhile, Nemeth advised the students to have a strong “stomach rejection.” Keep working at it, “keep going back to the plate,” and go for as many projects as possible, whether for smaller films or community theaters.”
As for a Muscato, “There should always be hustle. Don’t wait for somebody to put you in their film or project… make one yourself.”
He further added that the students are already in the right place. Echoing what Memel said on the importance of networking, he said, “The beauty of being in art school is that this is your instant network of people and potential collaborators. Ultimately, you’re going to find that you’re going to work with people that you know and that you like—you enjoy working with.”
Film Festival is a Production All On Its Own
And successful students become that with help from their mentors and instructors. This year, the festival paid tribute to instructor Paula Lima. Teary-eyed and visibly shocked at the outpouring of praise from students and colleagues in a video clip, she said, “You guys are an inspiration to me every day, all of you.”
Jana Sue Memel, in her speech, also acknowledged MPT Production & Post-Production Operations Manager Lia Garcia and Academic Vice President of Entertainment & Broadcast Media Melissa Sydeman, for being the “fearless leaders” who spearheaded the festival.
NXT Up Festival was held on May 3, 2019. All student entries are available online.
Article by Cristina Schreil of Academy Art U News
Images by Bob Toy and Adrian Childress