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Celebrating the Crew

Acknowledgement and recognition was given to students, instructors and department staff at the second annual NXT Up Fest

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Photo by Bob Toy.

For the second annual NXT Up Fest, the School of Motion Pictures & Television (MPT) at the Academy of Art University decided to do things a little different.

Compared to last year’s event, which had students’ peers decide who takes home the prize, this year, it was up to a select group of industry professionals with hefty resumes: Chris Moore (Manchester by the Sea, Good Will Hunting); Howard Rosenman (Call Me By Your Name); Liz Glotzer (The Shawshank Redemption, The Good Fight); and Barbara Fisher (Hallmark Channel).

“We wanted this work to be viewed by people in the industry,” said MPT Director Randy Levinson. “We wanted to get an assessment of what people were really thinking, the heads of each of their own particular crafts.”

On paper, NXT Up Fest is all about acknowledging individual student excellence. But for the entire night, the department instructors and award winners were all about showing their crew some love.

Each award winner – from Best Editing to Best Music Video – expressed gratitude to the people they owed their success to, cast, crew, instructors and department staff. Kai-Hsiang Chang, M.F.A. MPT student, who took home both Best Director and Best Picture (over 15 minutes) for his entry, Esperanza, asked the members of his crew in the audience to stand: “I think a director is someone who just knows how to talk on set. This couldn’t happen without the crew and everyone who helped [on set], I appreciate that it’s a great honor to work with you all.”

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School of Motion Pictures & Television Director Randy Levinson and Executive Director Jana Memel. Photo by Bob Toy.

MPT Executive Director Jana Memel, opened the show by sharing her own words of appreciation to the university and her entire staff, the cogs of the entire department, including MPT Edit Lab Manager Migdalia Garcia and MPT Technical Director Elan Santiago.

“There are people who make our department work and they don’t nearly get enough credit,” she told the room. “It’s not a short list but that’s because it takes more than a few people to make a film.”

Melissa Sydeman was specially recognized for her work as a casting director for many of the student films. According to Memel, Sydeman has cast over 300 scenes, not including 10 thesis films. “She doesn’t sleep,” Memel stated at the podium, before playing a tribute video of students expressing their gratitude, calling Sydeman a mentor, coach, problem-solver and friend.

“I was completely shocked. I literally felt I was out of my body seeing all these fantastic students saying such glowing things about me,” she said after the ceremony. “It just made me realize how many productions we have going on.”

Acknowledging the village went hand-in-hand with recognizing the individual. Though none of the judges were present for the event, other industry professionals attended NXT Up and commended the high caliber of the student work. 

Roy Langbord, a decades-long executive producer for networks such as Showtime and sports documentaries, complimented the students: “There’s a level of professionalism there that you don’t see other than from the top tier film programs in the country.”

Clare Kilner, director of films such as How to Deal (2003) and The Wedding Date (2005) and more recently for TV shows such as Claws and Good Behavior, said she always knew about the Academy through Memel and “personally love seeing what young people are doing.”

“I love to meet people who are just coming up, developing their own projects,” she commented. “I’m really inspired by the films, the stories people are telling, their approach to the industry.”

 

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The nominations ranged from documentaries about military life and demonic horror films, to electric unicycle clubs and families coping with Alzheimer’s. Salt Cebe, a B.F.A. film production student, took home Best Documentary for his film, Anxiety.

“A lot of people I know have issues with anxiety in general, and I just think there’s not much awareness out there,” he said. “I wanted to [bring awareness] in a new way with moving interviews to shed light on people who have suffered from anxiety, so more people can understand what they’re going through.”

Hanna Yue, M.F.A. cinematography and film/video production student, walked away with the Best Music Video award, along with Paris Hu, M.F.A. MPT student. In her speech, she shouted out women directors, filmmakers, producers and storytellers.

“Winning this is encouragement,” she explained. “I wanted to prove that female filmmakers are equal to their male counterparts.”

Spenser Querry, an M.F.A. screenwriting graduate, won the award for Best Screenplay last year and took the award home again this year for his screenplay, Patsy. He said the back-to-back win is a “welcome confidence booster in a department that’s full of self-doubters.”

“It is nice to have your work sort of validated, to be counted amongst really great screenwriters in and of itself is an honor,” he said. When asked if there was any comparison between being recognized by industry professionals versus his student peers, he responded, “At the end of the day it’s nice that your work is connecting with people and that’s what matters.”

The NXT Up Fest is the first stage Memel and company plan to get their students’ work seen by the public. Starting on May 17, Academy students, instructors and their friends and family can view all of the winning films at Spring Show before they head down to Hollywood for a screening with industry agents, managers and industry professionals on May 30.

“Both of us are thrilled,” Levinson remarked at the end of the night. “[Jana and I] both already feel this is a top 10 film school, we just have to get us out there and this is how we do it.”

 

All photos by Bob Toy.

The nominations ranged from documentaries about military life and demonic horror films, to electric unicycle clubs and families coping with Alzheimer’s. Salt Cebe, a B.F.A. film production student, took home Best Documentary for his film, Anxiety.

“A lot of people I know have issues with anxiety in general, and I just think there’s not much awareness out there,” he said. “I wanted to [bring awareness] in a new way with moving interviews to shed light on people who have suffered from anxiety, so more people can understand what they’re going through.”

Hanna Yue, M.F.A. cinematography and film/video production student, walked away with the Best Music Video award, along with Paris Hu, M.F.A. MPT student. In her speech, she shouted out women directors, filmmakers, producers and storytellers.

“Winning this is encouragement,” she explained. “I wanted to prove that female filmmakers are equal to their male counterparts.”

Spenser Querry, an M.F.A. screenwriting graduate, won the award for Best Screenplay last year and took the award home again this year for his screenplay, Patsy. He said the back-to-back win is a “welcome confidence booster in a department that’s full of self-doubters.”

“It is nice to have your work sort of validated, to be counted amongst really great screenwriters in and of itself is an honor,” he said. When asked if there was any comparison between being recognized by industry professionals versus his student peers, he responded, “At the end of the day it’s nice that your work is connecting with people and that’s what matters.”

The NXT Up Fest is the first stage Memel and company plan to get their students’ work seen by the public. Starting on May 17, Academy students, instructors and their friends and family can view all of the winning films at Spring Show before they head down to Hollywood for a screening with industry agents, managers and industry professionals on May 30.

“Both of us are thrilled,” Levinson remarked at the end of the night. “[Jana and I] both already feel this is a top 10 film school, we just have to get us out there and this is how we do it.”

The nominations ranged from documentaries about military life and demonic horror films, to electric unicycle clubs and families coping with Alzheimer’s. Salt Cebe, a B.F.A. film production student, took home Best Documentary for his film, Anxiety.

“A lot of people I know have issues with anxiety in general, and I just think there’s not much awareness out there,” he said. “I wanted to [bring awareness] in a new way with moving interviews to shed light on people who have suffered from anxiety, so more people can understand what they’re going through.”

Hanna Yue, M.F.A. cinematography and film/video production student, walked away with the Best Music Video award, along with Paris Hu, M.F.A. MPT student. In her speech, she shouted out women directors, filmmakers, producers and storytellers.

“Winning this is encouragement,” she explained. “I wanted to prove that female filmmakers are equal to their male counterparts.”

Spenser Querry, an M.F.A. screenwriting graduate, won the award for Best Screenplay last year and took the award home again this year for his screenplay, Patsy. He said the back-to-back win is a “welcome confidence booster in a department that’s full of self-doubters.”

“It is nice to have your work sort of validated, to be counted amongst really great screenwriters in and of itself is an honor,” he said. When asked if there was any comparison between being recognized by industry professionals versus his student peers, he responded, “At the end of the day it’s nice that your work is connecting with people and that’s what matters.”

The NXT Up Fest is the first stage Memel and company plan to get their students’ work seen by the public. Starting on May 17, Academy students, instructors and their friends and family can view all of the winning films at Spring Show before they head down to Hollywood for a screening with industry agents, managers and industry professionals on May 30.

“Both of us are thrilled,” Levinson remarked at the end of the night. “[Jana and I] both already feel this is a top 10 film school, we just have to get us out there and this is how we do it.”