Oscar Jr. a sign of things to come?

What do Trey Parker, Spike Lee, John Lasseter and Robert Zemeckis have in common from their college days? The then-budding directors all stepped up to the podium and took home Student Academy Awards from AMPAS.

The junior Oscars are handed out every July to gold-, silver- and bronze-winning films in narrative, animation, documentary and alternative categories. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences also honors an outstanding foreign student film.

“The short-film executive committee of the Academy conceived the award to foster excellence in future filmmakers,” says Rich Miller, who has been administering the kudos since 1976, three years after their inception.

Entry forms are sent to about 1,000 film professors to give to their students, and the Academy gets about 350 submissions. The works must be made by a full-time student within a student-teacher curricular relationship and must be 60 minutes or less. Most are much shorter.

Three regional judging panels pare down the entries to three top films in each category. Then, Academy members from respective branches screen the pics and pick the winners.

“The production values are probably almost equal to professional films, but of course the hardest part is they all need to start with a good script,” notes Miller.

The Academy pays for all the winners to come to Los Angeles for a week of activities leading up to the ceremony, and gives the budding filmmakers cash grants of $2,000 to $5,000. The students also meet with directors, cinematographers and the Academy’s board of governors.

“In a nutshell, the Student Academy Award was the fanciest icing on my already delicious filmmaking cake,” says Brooke Keesling, whose film took home this year’s gold in animation, and has been screened at several festivals.

The award won’t guarantee a career in the business, but it certainly gives its recipients a leg-up when they’re out pounding the pavement.

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