And the Oscar goes to … Perry Janes (BA with High Distinction and Highest Honors in English/Creative Writing and Highest Honors in Screen Arts & Cultures, 2012)! Janes was the 2011-2012 winner of the Arthur Miller Arts Award, a Hopwood Award winner, and was the Kenneth Buckfire Fifth-year Honors Scholar. Janes had already completed his Honors thesis in Creative Writing when he earned the Buckfire scholarship. He used his fifth year to produce Zug, a short film that was his Honors thesis project for Screen Arts & Cultures. The film went on to win silver in the alternative category at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Student Academy Awards competition. In the forty-year history of the Student Academy Award, Janes was the first winner from the University of Michigan. “The Kenneth Buckfire Scholarship made it possible for me to extend my college career to a 5th year and film Zug, without which -- no Student Academy Award!” shared Janes. “The support of everyone in Honors has meant a lot to me.”
Zug is based on a short story that Janes wrote during his undergraduate career. The main characters are two boys from the suburbs of Detroit who are taken by an urban legend. The boys set off to investigate Zug Island in the movie, but Janes explains, “It’s about the myth of Detroit. It’s a human story; it’s meant to be humble reality.” To this end, Janes combined the fictional story with a documentary-style commentary, couching the narrative in context. Janes said, “The original idea was to have the characters do it, but it felt contrived. So, we interviewed real people.” It’s this unique format of the movie that landed it in the alternative category for the Academy Awards, but according to Janes, “it has been both a boon and a challenge for the film.”
It was also challenging for the filmmaker to have patience and to be persistent. Zug was rejected from 20 film festivals before it was accepted anywhere! The world premier of the film was at the Vancouver Film Festival in October 2012. It was also accepted at the Palm Springs International ShortFest and, in that same week, Janes heard about being named a finalist for the Student Academy Award. “That was a surreal confluence of events. Before that, we thought we were going to close up shop, that it was over,” reflected Janes. Good thing they persisted with those submissions!
Winning a Student Academy Award meant some star treatment. The winners were flown to Los Angeles for a week, where they met Academy members, went to the Writers Guild, the American Society of Cinematographers, and studios such as Lionsgate. Janes said, “I did get to meet the Director of Photography for Jurassic Park. But, there was such a staggering line-up, it’s hard to remember everyone!” The week in LA was a lot of fun for the winners, but was also a great networking event, as it put them in contact with artists and working executives and each other. “There were winners from all over -- Texas, Columbia, Ringling College, USC, foreign winners. I met them and I’m a big fan. Their work was amazing.” Janes is hoping for an opportunity to take him to LA, especially after having spent the last year focusing on writing in the Ann Arbor area.
Janes was able to use money from his Hopwood Awards to allow himself a year to focus on writing. He spent a year “vigorously revising” two feature-length scripts that he originally drafted as a student. One script is lower budget, the other more mainstream. “One could be made for about $500,000 (it sounds like a lot, but that really is low-budget in this industry!) The other would be about 10 million,” said Janes. Does he have a favorite out of the two scripts? He smiled, as if he had been asked to choose a favorite child. “No, I like them both.” Janes even had a hard time answering what his favorite move was. “Well, Winter’s Bone is a good example of the type of character stories that I dig on!” Janes also publishes in poetry and literary journals and plans to continue writing always, even as his film career takes off. We look forward to following him throughout what we’re sure will be an exciting career.
To see an excerpt from Zug, or learn more about the history of the Student Academy Awards, visit the Academy’s website: http://www.oscars.org/awards/saa/2013/janes.html.