Behind the Scenes: Meet the winner of the AT&T Film Awards Best Youth Filmmaker Award
In October, we called for submissions for the 3rd edition of the AT&T Film Awards, an open competition seeking imaginative, undiscovered short films from aspiring storytellers. Filmmakers answered the call, with 664 outstanding entries vying for a shot at prizes including cash awards, trips, camera equipment kits, and a summer film program at the USC Cinematic School of the Arts. Now here’s your chance to get to know more about the winner of the Best Youth Filmmaker Award David Mansour for his short film, LEAVE A MESSAGE.
David is a TV Production major at High Tech High School in North Bergen, New Jersey. For winning the Best Youth Filmmaker Award, he won a week-long trip to a filmmaking course from Fresh Films (with parent/guardian), and a camera equipment package valued at $2,000.
Q: Describe your project and what you aim to achieve with it
A: LEAVE A MESSAGE is honestly a very dear film to my heart, as it captures and creates a very accurate visual representation of what teens like me have to go through on a daily basis. The goal of the film was to show everyone that they’re not alone, that simply saying a few words, saying what’s on your mind can ultimately change the course of someone’s life. Offering hope is one of the best gifts that you can give to someone; especially in this day in age in which cyber bullying is so prominent.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your short film?
A: The idea for LEAVE A MESSAGE was essentially to make a film that any person can relate to, no matter where they are from. I was stuck for a while with several ideas and themes that I wanted to incorporate into the film, but they were all still like puzzle pieces that didn’t quite fit together yet. The theme of suicide was one that I definitely wanted to include in the film because unfortunately, it’s been a thing that crosses too many teenagers’ minds. Also, a young man by the name of Angelo Collazo committed suicide in November of 2017 after severe bullying and very minimal support. Reading about an occurrence like this broke my heart and reminded me that not everyone out there knows that there will always be people there for them. And also, encouraging the spread of positivity and the act of spreading positivity in itself is like a snowball, exponentially reaching more people and growing as the positivity spreads.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your team and how you worked together to create your entry.
A: My film crew was very cooperative and easy to work with, partially because I am the film crew…but that’s besides the point! I would have loved to have worked with other teens like me on this project, but I had a very clear and specific vision for the film. However, working with peers and in teams is ultimately what every filmmaker should strive for, as community and teamwork can go on to produce the most wondrous works! It’s like a solo performer and an entire orchestra: a sole performer can play an amazing piece, but an orchestra can produce symphonies.
Q: What do you find most interesting about making short films?
A: What fascinates me about making short films is how powerful a film can be. In the allotted time that you have, you can go on to create an impactful and potentially revolutionary piece of art. You have the power in your hands to create something as inspiring as MLK Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, as beautiful as Van Gogh’s Starry Night, or as pleasant as Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.
Q: What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
A: My biggest challenge was, as I’ve stated before, being able to stitch everything together and transition seamlessly from idea to idea. It can be quite difficult, but when you finally get the ball rolling and you really begin showcasing your style and your workflow through your film, everything will come to you naturally. It’s all a matter of believing in yourself and your abilities.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve entered your work in a contest?
A: While this is my first contest on a national scale, I have entered films into several other film festivals previously. What I find unique and special about the AT&T Film Awards is that there’s a variety of different categories that you could have submit to. Whether you are 13 years old and still learning the ropes of film or 22 years old and having a message that sounds better in a different language(Spanish), you have a place to fit into. I find this to be a huge plus with this contest.
Q: How did you first get interested in filmmaking?
A: My dad. It all started with my dad. He’s probably the most adventurous, funny, and spontaneous man that I know. He always has a story to tell, whether it be about the time he went to Madrid, when he visited the pyramids of Giza, or the crazy things he did with his brothers when he was younger. When he first even got his hands on a camera, he immediately put it to use. I was used to him always being around with a camera as long as I can remember, constantly filming everything that we would do as a family. It was something he loved and it was essentially his way of expressing himself. As the years went on, the camera slowly got retired, and the stories lost their visual component. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that my Visual/Audio Production teacher Mr. Gregg Ascolese told me about a film competition nearby and I set off to make my first film. Before I knew it, I thankfully started winning awards and going to places I’d never thought I’d end up at.
Q: What does the AT&T Film Awards and contests like this mean to you?
A: The AT&T Film Awards and similar contests mean a great deal to me, going to show that there are indeed people out there that are encouraging the spread of positivity and good ideas, ultimately for the betterment of our communities and for a better society. They are a wonderful outlet and showcase of talent for up and coming underrepresented filmmakers.
Q: Who have been your biggest influencers in the film industry (directors, writers, teachers, etc.) and what have you learned from them?
A: With the new age of the internet and of online streaming services such as YouTube, there have been several filmmakers that have influenced me. The most iconic one that I can think of is Casey Neistat: the most down to earth and real filmmaker that I’m aware of. What puts him above any other filmmaker for me is not his cinematography or his editing, but his unique talent of being able to tell stories in such a captivating way. He’s been my idol since even before I got into film and film production. Casey Neistat revolutionized the idea of a film drastically by showing that it’s not the camera that you’re recording with, and it’s not the computer that you’re editing with, but it’s the story that you’re telling. The cameras and all that jazzy stuff come along later, but the story is always the backbone of a good film. He solidified that idea in my mind.
Q: What advice do you have for new filmmakers just getting started in the field?
A: Be yourself. You can try to be the next Scorsese or the next Spielberg, but at the end of the day, their styles are unique to them and they’re what define them. It is great to have inspiration and idols, but there is always a point at which you have to take off and do your own thing. No one can ever replicate what you do and that’s what makes you special. Another huge thing is to surround yourself with positive people and people that share your mindset and are determined as well. Believe in yourself!
Q: What video technologies do you see shaping the future of film and content creation?
A: The future of film and content creation is obviously going straight to the mobile world. Most people in their pockets right now have a device with the potential of making a movie. Other devices such as drones and 360 degree cameras are also evolving rapidly and they will obviously have a very prominent role in future films. We are heading into an age of immersive and captivating films, with both visual and auditory technologies being more advanced than ever.
Q: What are your future plans around video content creation?
A: The future hopefully will hold a lot in store for me. It’s all about the amount of effort and care that you put into your work, and I hope that things will only get better! I plan on making more inspirational and meaningful content in the near future and I am nowhere near a halt. Stay tuned!