UPDATE: Brian Schwarz, MFA '12, won the gold medal in the Narrative category at the June 8 Student Academy Award ceremony. Congratulations, Brian! Watch his acceptance speech.
On June 8, Brian Schwarz, MFA '12, will walk across the stage of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills to accept a Student Academy Award for his film, "Ol' Daddy." Schwarz received the honor for writing, directing and editing the narrative film about a son who is struggling with his new role in life as his father's caretaker. He will find out his medal placement gold, silver or bronze at the 40th Student Academy Awards ceremony.
Russell O. Bush, MFA '12, was a finalist in the documentary category for his film, "Vultures of Tibet"; and radio-television-film graduate student Deja Bernhardt was also a finalist in the narrative category for her film, "The Midwife's Husband."
We sat down with Schwarz to learn more about "Ol' Daddy" and the experience of winning an Academy Award.
What are your thoughts on being an Academy Award winner?
It's a huge honor for sure. And a bit surreal. It's easy to feel small and insignificant as a student filmmaker within the greater world of cinema and big-budget movies, but then to be recognized on a national level by an institution such as The Academy! It's humbling, it's exciting and a real confidence boost as well.
What is your film about?
"Ol' Daddy" is a father-son story in which the parent/child roles have been reversed. Terry, the son, is struggling to figure out how to be his father's full-time caretaker after his father has suffered brain damage. Terry is a restless young man and wants to behave as such but after an argument ensues one afternoon, the father wanders off and Terry must drop everything to go find him. It has a fairly serious tone but there are plenty of laughs along the way, too.
What inspired you to create this film?
It started from a feature-length script I had written for a screenwriting class. I took the characters from that longer piece and then cut out all the parts that weren't working to make it a short film. For some reason, I am really interested in the parent/child relationship and how that affects who we are and how we behave. We all have some level of embarrassment about our parents (I believe) and so I wanted to push that notion to an extreme and see how a volatile young guy handles it.
How long did it take to create this film? Could you summarize the process?
Getting the script in a good place was the longest part. That took the better part of two years. But once I started to zero-in on the story, things started to move quickly. To find the cast, I decided to target actors instead of doing big, open casting calls. I went to plays, talked to classmates, looked at headshots at local talent agencies. We then found a great house in Bastrop to which we had full access. We got a great crew of students in place then we just went for it. It's never a pretty process making a film but despite the uncooperative weather and the shifting schedules, we made it out alive. I edited the movie in less than two months and that was that.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
In a nutshell: forgive the people close to you for being less than perfect and recognize the good that's around you. I've always thought that my job as a storyteller is to entertain and to make the audience feel something. I don't want them to have to think too hard to understand the plot or the world, just get into the story and the characters' situation, and feel sympathy, or anger or sorrow, something. I hope I've succeeded in that regard.
What was your favorite radio-television-film class here?
I had several great classes with many excellent instructors. One that sticks out was a production class that brought actors, architects, playwrights and filmmakers together to workshop and shoot scenes from student-written screenplays. I was a director in the class and we were encouraged to take risks and to experiment and it was incredibly helpful.
What future projects are you working on and what are your career goals?
Currently I am writing a feature screenplay I hope to make one day in the near future. It's set in a small town in Texas, again. As for my career goals, I'd love to be able to support myself writing and directing the type of films that I enjoy watching in the theaters and continue to evolve as a filmmaker.
A version of this story originally appeared on the website of the College of Communication.