The Film School Path: Is This Any Way To Win Awards?

Guest Post by New York Film Academy

Winning an award is not the end goal of becoming a filmmaker. But it makes for a pretty darn good start.

Rare is the person, inside and out of The Industry, who doesn’t picture themselves saying “thank you” to The Academy. And as any independent filmmaker clearly understands, being accepted into, receiving praise from and winning some category at a film festival is an important marketing plus in getting distribution for a film. But lest anyone assume the award-winning artist is born, not made, consider the nominations, awards, kudos and accolades achieved by recent alumni of one film school, the New York Film Academy:

Samantha Waite: Nominated for her short live action film, “Wish 143.” Waite also worked on “Man on Wire,” which won an Academy Award for a documentary film.

Naya Rivera: Playing the role of Santana on “Glee,” Rivera has won a SAG Award (ensemble performance category), Imagen Award (best supporting actress), and Alma Award (best television actress). Gabriel Egito: Best L.A. Short at the Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival, at the Las Vegas Film Festival (best foreign short), at the Atlantic City Cinefest (best drama short), all for “Stuffed,” her school thesis film. Another of her productions, “Synergy,” has been selected for 10 international film festivals – all since studying at NYFA in 2010.

Ivan Blasser: A photographer, one of his images took the Judge’s Choice Award by the American Society of Media Photographers.

Paul Dano: Working as an actor, Dano has won an Independent Spirit Award (best debut performance) and a SAG Award (outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture) for his role (Dwayne) in “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Kim Chapiron: Tribeca Film Festival (best new narrative filmmaker) award winner for his 2010 feature “Dog Pound.”

Martino Zaidelis: Worked on “El Secreto de Sus Ohos” (“The Secret in Their Eyes”), which won an Academy Award in 2010 for Best Foreign Language Film.” While it is not an award per sé, recent graduate Chika Anadu has been accepted to the Cannes Cinefondation Residence with a screenplay treatment she developed while studying at NYFA. Another short has won a $10,000 grant from Focus Features Africa First Program to enable its production.

All have graduated from the school since 2007, and most are under age 30. None seem worried about the jinx-effect of early victories.

So while a film school academy degree or coursework are no guarantee of success, there are plenty of successful actors, directors, cinematographers, editors and others who formally studied the fundamental principles of movie and television storytelling, enough to get their start there. Of arguably equal importance, it never hurts to form relationships with other nascent filmmakers while in school.

But it still comes down to having the confidence necessary for the task of writing, directing, producing and performing – particularly as an undiscovered, independent filmmaker. Anita Tovich, chair of the Producing Department at NYFA, had producer Jawal Nga (“Howl”) speak to students at the school about the film, including the demographic he intended to reach with the film. Nga replied that he hadn’t really given it much thought, that it simply was “the movie I wanted to make.”

Tovich calls that “the indomitable spirit of the independence of the filmmaker” – a nod to the art of storytelling above all other considerations.