This spring more than a hundred students submitted films for the 19th FilmFest Gala at the historic Paramount Theatre: FilmFest Flashback. The event featured short films in a variety of genres including western, scifi, thriller, rom-com and documentary with awards given out in 14 categories.
Because of a shift in scheduling in 2008 that moved the event from fall to spring, the 19th Gala also represents the 20th year of FilmFest on campus. Since 2004, more than 1,500 students have produced 204 films, and this year’s gala featured updates from FilmFest alumni working in the entertainment industry, in media, animation, advertising, sales and marketing. Here they reflect on how their FilmFest experience impacted their careers.
Caleb Pierce (’15) is now an actor in Los Angeles who has appeared on Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy and Insecure. He said, “FilmFest is a blast! It’s an absolute must for anyone remotely interested in a film career. I loved the excitement of taking an idea and running with it! It’s the reason we chase after these dreams in the first place – to tell stories you’re passionate about with your best friends.”
In 2006, Alex York (’09) submitted FilmFest’s first stop-motion animated film, Cell(s) that won five awards that year including Best Picture. He is now with Netflix Animation after working as a storyboard artist in TV and film animation for the past ten years. “Participating in FilmFest helped me find my spark to pursue filmmaking and animation seriously,” he said. “It showed me that creativity and passion merged with hard-work could make magic.”
Katheryn Cansino (’13) has worked with the Texas Film Commission and now Walt Disney Company since graduating. Her FilmFest participation taught her the value of collaboration. “Learning to work with many different people and working styles and blend everyone’s talents together has been invaluable,” she said. “FilmFest solidified my desire to work in a creative and innovative environment. Being a part of Disney (while not in film or television entertainment) has allowed me to be immersed in such a culture.”
Lawson Soward (’11), now a group creative director at the marketing agency Simon/Myers in Chicago, said he uses the skills he developed every day. “Working on FilmFest felt like I was finally doing something where every part of the process made sense to me,” he said. “I now work on the ad agency side, and it’s extremely helpful to be able to speak the same language as the directors I work with. Conceptualizing how to tell a story around a brief is one of the most important elements of my and my team’s job. At FilmFest, everything I was passionate about came together in one place. Filming, editing, music, planning, design, spending time with talented friends; it was one of my favorite memories from my entire time at ACU.”
Brittney Johnson (’16) produced six films in her three years with FilmFest, and is the only student to win Best Producer three years in a row. Brittney works in media marketing with The University of Texas at San Antonio and said, “I’ve always considered myself a storyteller, but FilmFest brought that out in me in an unexpected way. Skills I developed as a producer in FilmFest, like communication and organization, I still use today. FilmFest was one of the best experiences in college. It pushed me to get out of my shell, but also affirm my place and space as a creative.”
John Puckett (’18) worked on six films in his four years with FilmFest, writing, directing, producing, shooting, editing and even acting. During the last two years he’s earned his first big credits as an editor on the documentary The Jesus Music and the feature film Jesus Revolution. These opportunities came working with filmmaker Brent McCorkle, who returned as an industry judge to his 10th FilmFest this year. John said, “The judges genuinely want to see you succeed as filmmakers, and their advice has helped tremendously. In many ways I owe my career to FilmFest. Without the connections and relationships that I built through FilmFest I would not be where I am today.”
– Dr. Kyle Dickson
May 9, 2023