They came from Connecticut, from New York City, from Orange County and from Exposition Boulevard. Some were already working professionals; some others were still looking for their first big break.
But all 23 winners of the 10th annual FOCUS (Films of College and University Students) Awards were in agreement on one thing: Winning is great, but better still is the chance to meet fellow young film makers from around the country.
The 380 persons attending the awards ceremony on Wednesday night at the Directors Guild Theater in Hollywood--and the ceremony itself--celebrated the singular achievements of a passel of young directors, writers, animators and cameramen. These awards provided the winners not only with recognition but also with cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 and automobiles (courtesy of the awards' major sponsor, Nissan U.S.A.).
Yet the awardees themselves--ranging in age from 21 to 32--emphasized the collective triumph over individual glories, however attractive those might be.
"The networking, the sense of us all working together, was what really struck me about this whole deal," said UCLA fine-arts graduate Jennifer Collopy, whose screenplay "Leprechaun" won first prize in the screenwriting category. "Writing is a lonely undertaking, but after being with these folks for a week, I really feel the impact of a community at work here."
The awards ceremony was the climax of a weeklong battery of seminars, working sessions, meetings and late-night brainstorms for the students. They visited a special-effects workshop, a couple of post-production facilities and received a generally thorough (if brief) immersion in the working film industry.
"Actually, I found the 'biz' to really be a bit scary, even overwhelming" said 22-year-old Ens. Steven Austin, who entered the Navy last year after graduating from Ithaca (N.Y.) College. His film, "Insel," took the top narrative film honors. He and the three first-place winners won Nissan Sentra automobiles.
"But now I've got the confidence to try my very best, knowing that hard work is sometimes rewarded," Austin said.
For the FOCUS winners, those rewards sometimes go beyond the money and the brief inside look. Past awardees such as Albert Magnoli (director of 1984's "Purple Rain") and John Fusco III (whose FOCUS-winning screenplay "Crossroads" became a Columbia Pictures critical success earlier this year) become magnets for other winners and help the newcomers get a foot in the door.
"The contacts you can establish through these awards will help, I'm sure," said USC's Scott Greene, 27, co-winner of this year's editing honors. "They give me a step up on other folks trying to get to the same place I am, and in this business every little toehold is needed.
"But that's not really the important thing. I had come here thinking it was, but I've been converted. What I've learned about the range of people, and their common goals, is really what I'm going to take away--a better understanding of the whole process, as performed by people working together."
"It's great getting the strokes of winning awards," added ex-Columbia University screenwriter Christine Danelski, 31. She took third place in the screenwriting competition. "I can't deny that the money ($1,500) will help," she said.
"But that's just the icing on the cake. What I really enjoyed was meeting all these talented people who didn't have to compromise to get here. They may have to later, but this time at least the vision was all theirs."
Also sponsoring this year's FOCUS Awards were Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, Benihana of Tokyo, Columbia Pictures, Dolby Laboratories, Eastman Kodak Co., Home Box Office, Max Factor and Co., the Sheraton Premiere Hotel, Tony Roma's restaurant and Universal Pictures.
A complete list of this year's winners:
1st place: Steven Austin, Ithaca (N.Y.) College, "Insel."
2nd place: Todd Holland, UCLA, "Chicken Thing."
3rd place: Paul B. Holzman, New York University, "The Locust."
4th place: John Travers, University of Bridgeport (Conn.), "Jenny."
1st place: Lauren Lazin, Stanford University, "The Flapper Story."
2nd place: Torv Carlsen and John Magnus, USC, "Knocking on Armageddon's Door."
3rd place: Cathey Edwards, CalArts, "Songs of Wool: Vena Tipton's Hooked Rugs."
4th place: Karen Croner, USC, "Between April and May."
1st place: Peg McClure Moudy, De Anza (Calif.) Community College, "Housecats."
2nd place: Valerie Lettera, UCLA, "The End."
3rd place: Amy Kravitz, CalArts, "River Lethe."
4th place: Valerie Swanson, CalArts, "Charlie's Boogie Woogie."
1st place: Jennifer Collopy, UCLA, "Leprechaun."
2nd place: Terance Black, Orange Coast College, "Dead Heat."
3rd place: Christine Danelski, Columbia University, "Dakotah Spring."
4th place: Dan Algrant, Columbia University, "Duet."
Shawn Hardin and Scott Greene, USC, "Knocking on Armegeddon's Door."
Narrative Film: David Steinberg, New York University, "The Locust."
Documentary Film: Jamie Enomoto and Jeffrey Fine, USC, "Knocking on Armegeddon's Door."
Todd Holland, UCLA, "The Chicken Thing."
Women in Film Foundation Award:
Cathey Edwards, CalArts, "Songs of Wool: Vena Tipton's Hooked Rugs."
Renee Valente Producers Award:
Todd Holland, UCLA, "The Chicken Thing."