Student Academy Award Winners Pick Favorite Films, Dream Team

The Hollywood Reporter polls the latest crop of Academy hopefuls on what inspires them.

Heroes, inspirations and role models come in many different forms. And that's certainly true for the 15 Student Academy Award winners from 2015. From Aladdin and Christopher Nolan to My Neighbor Totoro and Trey Parker, THR uncovered a mixed bag of sources that have all influenced the work of these young, now-award-winning filmmakers. 

The interview subjects include: Daniel Drummond, Chapman University, California; ChiHyun Lee, The School of Visual Arts, New York; Alyce Tzue, Academy of Art University, San Francisco; Seth Boyden, California Institute of the Arts; Nicholas Manfredi and Elizabeth Ku-Herrero, The School of Visual Arts; Alexandre Peralta, University of Southern California; Emily Kassie, Brown University; Meg Smaker, Stanford University; Henry Hughes, American Film Institute, California; Jeremy Cloe, American Film Institute; Bennett Lasseter, American Film Institute; Ilker Çatak, Hamburg Media School, Germany; Dustin Loose, Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany; and Patrick Vollrath, Filmakademie Wien, Austria. 

What was the first movie you saw or the first movie that made you want to direct?

ChiHyun Lee: "My favorite movie is Rocky Horror Picture Show and Inception and Starship Troopers. The three movies have no common thing, but I love them."

Dustin Loose: "I was 13 years old when I saw Magnolia in the cinema and it was so touching. I had never seen anything like that before. And even after that, every film by Paul Thomas Anderson is so inspiring and so exceptional and extraordinary."

Daniel Drummond: "My answer is kind of cliché, but it’s Star Wars. I remember when the new edition came out in 1997 and my whole family got together to watch it. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated by the filmmaking process. It’s just been a constant journey."

Patrick Vollrath: "Titanic. It was the whole magic of filmmaking. I wanted this ship to go on and on and on and on miss the iceberg. It opened a whole new world for me."

Ilker Çatak: "In 1999, I was a student in Istanbul and I went to the movie theater after school and saw this film with Tom Cruise called Magnolia. I didn’t really like the film at first, but I felt there was something to it and I became fascinated by it and I watched it again. Paul Thomas Anderson then became my personal hero. I wrote my thesis on the film."

Seth Boyden: "The first film that I ever saw, period, that resonated with me as a child was Toy Story. I collected all the toys, or if I didn’t happen to get all the toys for the collection I would make them or build them. The film that influenced myself as a filmmaker was Nick Park’s short film The Wrong Trousers, which is a Wallace and Gromit animated short. It was so phenomenal from a filmmaking standpoint including the characters and the humor. Every aspect of the film played so closely into each other."

Nicholas Manfredi: "The film that I first saw that really resonated with me was a Disney film called The Great Mouse Detective. It’s still one of my favorite Disney films. The villain in the film is so great. Vincent Price does the voice. And there’s just something so interesting to me about that story because it’s a retelling of Sherlock Holmes, but it’s done with mice and it’s a mystery."

First row (from left): Henry Hughes, Patrick Vollrath, Alyce Tzue; Second row: Meg Smaker, Seth Boyden, Emily Kassie, Nicholas Manfredi; Third row: ChiHyun Lee, Jeremy Cloe, Dustin Loose, Elizabeth Ku-Herrero; Fourth row: Ilker Catak, Bennett Lasseter, Alexandre Peralta, Daniel Drummond

Alyce Tzue: "The first film I remember watching was The Little Mermaid. This was before I even learned how to speak English. I had no idea what they were saying, but I wanted to be involved in the story so badly. I would sit in the living room babbling away, pretending I was speaking along with them."

Hank Hughes: "I saw The Little Mermaid in the theater. I lived on a military base and it was a big ceremony to watch a movie. They start with the national anthem and everyone rises, and they play a patriotic reel, and you sit down. It's incredibly interactive — everyone's yelling and talking at the screen. It's this weird place that doesn't really exist anywhere else and doesn't really exist anymore. Imagine a bunch of military base guys reacting to Aladdin. It was great."

Elizabeth Ku-Herrero: "The first movie I saw as a child that really affected me was Aladdin. I really connected with it because there were two characters coming together, really fighting against their backgrounds to be together. For me, my parents come from two different countries and came to America and fought all odds to do so. To this day, a couple times a year I must watch it. Every time I’m feeling a little down, I need to watch it. But the series that really made me want to be a filmmaker was Star Wars, because I grew up with two older brothers and they were very much obsessed with it, so I was kind of thrown into it whether I chose to or not."

Bennett Lasseter: "The earliest movie I can remember seeing was My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki. It was on Laserdisc, and it was in Japanese with no subtitles. I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, but I still somehow got the story from it. That movie really captured my imagination as a child, and inspired me to start writing."

Emily Kassie: "The film that made me want to be a filmmaker would definitely be To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my all-time favorite books as well. It was the first time as I was coming of age that I was encountering difficult themes like racism or injustice. It made me think a lot about white privilege, and got me interested in social justice."

Meg Smaker: "I never watched a film that automatically made me want to be a filmmaker, but there was a film that reinforced my belief in the power of storytelling, and that definitely would have to be Amores Perros. It was so creative and clever. And Man on Wire because it tells this really compelling story and takes you off into a different world."

What director’s career would you like to emulate?

ChiHyun Lee: "Christopher Nolan, definitely. It’s all about storytelling, so I want to be like him."

Daniel Drummond: "Brad Bird because I’m in love with animation and I love live action, so I would love to keep switching between genres. He has a sweet spot. He understands the terms of animation, the terms of live action, and how each of them can be used for a particular purpose."

Emily Kassie: "I would definitely say Joshua Oppenheimer in his film, The Act of Killing. His work really gets at human nature and the human condition. That’s something I'm constantly searching for in my films. The way he takes this pure form of evil and genocide and makes it so human and relatable is something that really captivates me and really inspired my work for I Married My Family's Killer in looking at that intersection between love and compassion and the human capacity for cruelty."

Jeremy Cloe: "A director I really admire is David O. Russell. I would love to have his career. He’s constantly working with really great actors and doing great character work. That's definitely something I'd love to be doing."

Meg Smaker: "(Alejandro Gonzalez) Inarritu in terms the way that he approaches stories so differently in all his films. There definitely are films that have inspired me for how they affected the world of documentary, like Waltz with Bashir, and of course, TheThin Blue Line by Errol Morris. Films that come around every once in a while and just change the whole entire way we look at documentary and just flip it on its head."

The Student Academy Award winners were photographed Sept. 17 at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

What’s the last movie you saw that resonated with you?

ChiHyun Lee: "Mad Max. The scene with the dust cloud and the humans are on the bike flying behind the car. That scene was amazing. I’m a VFX artist, so when I see a movie I try to catch the mistakes or the (bad) technique, but that movie looks perfect."

Daniel Drummond: "I saw Inside Out and I was bawling by the end of it. You could hear everyone sniffing in the theater. There’s no other movie in the past year that made me cry like that."

Alexandre Peralta: "Love & Mercy. The scenes in the studio when they're recording are so natural and so amazing."

Emily Kassie: "There was an amazing doc this year called Tomorrow We Disappear by Jim Goldblum and Adam Weber and it follows a colony of magicians and performers and artists in India, but they’ve been pushed out. It’s a magical story of this community and how strong they are despite the corruption in India. The film had an impact on the policy, so they're actually now trying to keep them there. To me, that was really extraordinary."

Who would be on your dream team to collaborate with on a new film project?

Daniel Drummond: "Roger Deakins shooting. That’s a given for any film. Jake Gyllenhaal starring. The roles he’s been choosing, he’s really challenging himself and I love how he puts himself out there. And I would like to have Denis Villeneuve whispering in my ear about the directing craft."

Seth Boyden: "It would be super fun to work with the Coen brothers. Their film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is my favorite film of all time. As far as developing character and stylized filmmaking, they’re the masters of it. And then I would say I’d love to someday collaborate with John Williams."

Nicholas Manfredi: "I would love to work with Robert De Niro. That’s a big one for me. And Jim Carrey. I really love their films and I respect them so much for so many different reasons and for a lot of the same reasons. To work with them would be amazing. As far as directors, I would love to co-direct with Pete Docter. That’d be awesome. That would be amazing."

Elizabeth Ku-Herrero: "I am very inspired by Louis C.K., Amy Schumer and Trey Parker. I love their writing. The reason I would want to team up with them is they have an amazing ability to take a topic and make you laugh about it, but then realize how uncomfortable you are and stare it straight in the face. I think the three of them, seeing their work has been so inspiring to me because they’re not afraid to be so bold and just sort of throw it into an audience’s face. I very much look up to them. They’re geniuses."

Alyce Tzue: "Two directors that I really admire are Brad Bird and Kathryn Bigelow. He is such a master storyteller who proven that you can move very elegantly between mediums — he has experience up the wazoo and I need to ask him 100 questions. She is an amazing female director and has broken so many ceilings and has transcended a lot of obstacles."

Bennett Lasseter: "I'd love to work with Stanley Tucci. I've been a big fan since I was young. I loved every character he plays, and he just disappears into the roles. The other one would be Cillian Murphy. He’s really talented and also has worked with Tom Hardy. I mean Tom Hardy, of course, is, like, the always unspoken, the one that you want to work with, but Cillian Murphy is massively impressive to me. I definitely want to work with Wally Pfister at some point. He's got an incredible eye that blows my mind."

Jeremy Cloe: "There's so many actors that I really want to work with, but I would love to work with Jake Gyllenhaal, Melora Hardin, who's so brilliant in The Office which is one of my favorite performances of all time. I'd love to work with Tom Hardy. Those are my top three."

Patrick Vollrath: "I would love to work with Daniel Day-Lewis. I just saw Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs, and she’s always, always amazing. I also want to meet Harvey Weinstein one time, just to see what it’s like."

Ilker Çatak: "Daniel Day-Lewis is a big one. Christian Bale. All these committed guys who just go beyond – they go the extra mile. When you watch a film like The Machinist, it’s like, what the fuck. That’s the commitment I want to see from an actor."

Dustin Loose: "I’m so sad that I didn’t get the chance to meet with Philip Seymour Hoffman, because I think he’s been one of the greatest actors of our time. But it would be extraordinary to work with all these guys like Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Joaquin Phoenix and Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m named after Dustin Hoffman, so I really hope I get the chance to meet him or maybe to work with him."