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Academy Grad's Role as Producer Key to 'Soar's' Success

M.F.A. animation and visual effects alumnus Anson Yu gained valuable experience alongside top awards

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Harriett Barren, Palm Springs Film Festival Director of Development; Ginny Foat, Palm Springs City Council; Alyce Tzue; Anson Yu; James Egan, Executive Director of the School of Motion Pictures & Television. Courtesy of the School of Motion Pictures & Television.

Anson Yu, producer of the animated short Soar, knew the quality of the film he helped director Alyce Tzue create was good. He even thought it might win a few awards. But he never imagined Soar would win top honors from some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, including a gold medal for Best Animated Film at September’s highly competitive Student Academy Awards.

“That really surprised me,” said Yu, who graduated from Academy of Art University with an M.F.A. in animation and visual effects in 2014. “This was our first film. I was looking more at the experience I’d get from working on this film rather than the rewards.”

With beautiful animation and music, Soar tells the enchanting story of Mara, a young girl who finally achieves her dream of building a flying machine that works. When a miniature boy piloting a vehicle that is part of a fleet of tiny winged vehicles falls from the sky and lands at her feet, Mara helps him repair his damaged machine so he can rejoin the fleet and complete a special mission. 

Yu took on the role of producing the movie—a job that required him to wear many different hats—after meeting Tzue in a pre-production class.

“Anson jumped into the project near the very beginning and hit the ground running,” said Tzue. “He always believed the film would succeed and it definitely showed in the way he helped to manage our team and our production schedule. He also handled all the festival submissions, including the one for the Student Academy Awards as well as our more recent submission to the actual Academy Awards. We were lucky to have him on the team.”

Yu’s responsibilities included recruiting students to help make the film, tracking the status of various tasks, managing the budget, setting up meetings and promoting and marketing Soar.

He admitted that he didn’t really understand how film festivals worked until he enrolled in an MPT 363 class taught by Patricia Pawlak. “I thought film festivals were just for movie stars,” he said. “Pat helped me understand that festivals are where filmmakers make connections and find distribution deals or their next project. They’re really important for anyone who wants to be a filmmaker.”

In Pawlak’s class, he also learned how to create and fine-tune marketing and festival plans. “She was very generous with her time and advice whenever I had questions,” he said.

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Yu and Tzue at the BAFTA US Student Film Awards in L.A. Courtesy of Patricia Pawlak.

Pawlak was impressed by Yu’s intuition, organization skills and strong work ethic. “Anson was very clear about his goals and wasn’t afraid to ask questions,” she said. “He was constantly refining his plan.” She added that he was also patient and able to see the big picture. “Attending a festival is a bit like being in a popularity contest,” she explained. “Anson got that. At the Palm Springs festival, he handed out gifts and said hello to everyone. He attended all the screenings of Soar as well as screenings of other movies.”

Yu credits MPTV instructor Curran Engel for introducing him to the world of crowdfunding that lead him to launch an Indiegogo campaign for Soar. The campaign raised more than $16,000 to help cover the costs of participating in film festivals.

Yu said he’s grateful to all of his instructors at the Academy who shared their experience and guided him through the process of producing a film from start to finish. He also appreciated having people who had been in his shoes letting him vent when he was stressed about a problem related to the project. “They would listen and understand what I was going through,” he explained. “Sometimes they’d point out something that would lead to a solution.”

Yu and Tzue are eagerly waiting to find out if Soar will get to compete for an Oscar at the 2016 Academy Awards. In the meantime, Yu is using the knowledge he gained while working on the film to produce another animated short, Menino Do Rio, the story of a poor Brazilian boy who dreams of playing soccer for his country.