UNCSA Film School is among the country's top 25

The School of Filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) has been ranked No. 14 in the country by a prestigious voice of the entertainment industry. In its Aug. 7 issue, The Hollywood Reporter ranked “The Top 25 American Film Schools.”

The honor is just one of a number of recent accolades for the young Film School. Others include: two alumni are nominated for Emmy Awards, and several others worked on shows that are nominated; a 2013 graduate is one of five chosen from a field of 47 applicants for the prestigious Art Directors Guild (ADG) Production Apprentice Training Program; a 2015 alumnus is one of the finalists for the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Undergraduate Student Award; and a student film was the third most-watched entry in the 2015 PBS Online Film Festival.

We are extraordinarily proud of our recognition, and of the success of our graduates,” said School of Filmmaking Dean Susan Ruskin. “These are remarkable achievements for a small school that has been in existence for only 21 years and enrolls a little over 300 students. 

Susan Ruskin, Dean of Filmmaking 

Of the ranking by The Hollywood Reporter, Ruskin said, “The schools are very different in terms of what they offer. Aspiring film students have many factors to consider, including location, cost, and how much hands-on experience they will get making films.”

UNCSA students complete films each of their four years, with all of the production costs paid by the school. Ruskin said that results in filmmakers who graduate a step ahead of their peers. “Industry leaders tell us that our graduates are prepared to work at a professional level in a variety of roles, because of the caliber of work they do here with our expert faculty.” 

To assemble the list, Hollywood Reporter staff considered factors including prestige, practical experience, inspirational teachers, potential career connections and access to cutting-edge equipment. The magazine says its staff toured campuses, met with deans and educators, talked to academic and industry experts and observers, and interviewed alumni.

“We select our students very carefully,” Ruskin said. “And we know they weigh all the options before choosing us. Once they commit to us, we are 100 percent dedicated to their education and training, and our alumni are proof of our success.” 

The Hollywood Reporter article quotes 2005 graduate Brett Haley, whose critically acclaimed I’ll See You in my Dreams screened at Sundance. Main Street, the little drag of the film school, looks like a backlot of a fake town,” he said. But the theater at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts was the greatest movie theater I have ever been in, in terms of quality, picture and sound. Getting to see Star Wars in 70mm there, through a film history class, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The magazine also noted David Gordon Green and Danny McBride among the school’s alumni.

“This small film school in Winston-Salem has surprisingly strong Hollywood connections,” the magazine added. “Every year, selected senior films get screened in L.A. for industry audiences, while fresh graduates get flown out for field trips to the major agencies.”

Emmy nominees

UNCSA School of Filmmaking alumni Joshua Chase (2000) and Phil Davis (2007) are nominated for Emmy Awards, and others worked on nominated television programs.

Chase is nominated for Outstanding Sound Editing for the Netflix series “Marvel’s Daredevil.” He edited sound effects as part of a team nominated for the episode titled “Speak of the Devil.” The series received three nominations.

Davis is nominated for his work as additional editor for the Comedy Central series “Key and Peele.” He is on the team nominated for Outstanding Picture Editing on the episode titled “Scariest Movie Ever.” The series was nominated for six awards.

“Our alumni are working on some of television’s most celebrated programs,” Dean Ruskin said. “I am delighted for Joshua and Phil, and I am proud that their excellent work reflects very well on the training they received here.”

The 67th Emmy Awards will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20, on FOX.

Other UNCSA connections to Emmy nominated programs include:

The FX series “American Horror Story” received 19 nominations for the episode “Freak Show,” second only to HBO’s “Game of Thrones” with 24.Meghan Cirillo (2012), Rachel Fowler (2012), Austin Taylor (2013) and Andrew Young (2007) worked on the program for nominee Prologue Pictures.

Adam Banks (2006) worked as post production supervisor on “Marvel’s Daredevil.”  He previously worked on the Emmy-nominated “Friday Night Lights.”

At “The Walking Dead” on AMC, which is nominated for four awards, Dan Berkowitz (2014) works with a team that is nominated for the episode “Conquer,” and Teddy Wirtz, who returns as a senior this year, has interned with the team for two summers.  

Art Directors Guild Apprenticeship

Another alumnus, Aaron Kelly (2013) has been chosen for the Art Directors Guild (ADG) Production Apprentice Training Program. He is one of five designers chosen from a field of 47 applicants, and is the second UNCSA graduate chosen in the program’s three years. Last year, Nathan Krochmal became the first undergraduate selected for the program.

While at UNCSA, Kelly was production designer for the senior thesis film U-666, for which students designed and built a submarine interior and created a miniature submarine for “green screen” composite filming. He was art director for the student film Title Fight, and worked as in intern in the art department for the locally-produced feature film Susie’s Hope.

UNCSA and the American Film Institute are the only schools with multiple alumni among the 12 apprentices chosen since 2013.

The apprentice program provides mentorship, supervision and 260 days of on-the-job training to future motion picture and television production designers and art directors. Upon completion of the program and a satisfactory review from their mentors, trainees will be offered membership within the ADG Art Directors Branch as assistant art directors.

The ADG is composed of art directors, graphic artists, illustrators, matte artists, model makers, scenic artists, set designers and title artists, with more than 104,000 members in the United States and Canada.

“The Art Directors Guild is the premiere organization for art department professionals,” Dean Ruskin said. “We are proud of Aaron, whose body of work as a student was nothing short of brilliant. This apprenticeship will elevate his career options.” 

Since 2013, Kelly has worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, and has designed, painted, and worked as construction coordinator on several feature films and shorts in North Carolina, Miami and Los Angeles. He is originally from Wilmington, N.C.

American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Undergraduate Student Award

West Webb, a 2015 graduate, is one of the finalists for the Heritage Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Cinematography from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). He is nominated for his work on the film No Tip.

Three UNCSA alumni have previously won the award: Harper Alexander in 2014 for Starlight, Aaron Dunson in 2009 for Asphyxia, and Brian Melton in 2007 for Red Autumn.

Webb will attend the award ceremony in Los Angeles in late September.

PBS Online Film Festival

Some of this year’s graduates saw their second-year film, Helpless, receive the third highest number of views in the PBS Online Film Festival. It was one of 25 films produced by professionals and students chosen nationwide for the festival, and was the top finisher among five student films.

“Helpless” was written and produced by Evan Scott Russell, directed by Christene Hurley, with cinematography by Chris Ellison, and edited byIsaac Banks. All of the filmmakers graduated from UNCSA in May 2015.

The seven-minute film screened at a dozen film festivals, winning best of category honors at seven festivals including Best Short Film from Women In Film & Television at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival.

Since its launch in 2012, the PBS Online Film Festival has featured diverse films from PBS member stations, POV and collaborations with public television producers, including the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB), National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), and Vision Maker Media. The PBS Online Film Festival has attracted more than 1 million video streams and more than 100,000 votes over the first three years.

by Lauren Whitaker