Talented filmmakers from the University of Sunderland have walked away with not one, but two prizes at this year’s Royal Television Society (RTS) Awards for the North East and Border.
The awards, which were hosted by South Tyneside comedian and writer Jason Cook – also a Sunderland graduate – at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead on Saturday (February 26th), are given each year to showcase the best of television and student production across the region.
And this year, it is Sunderland’s Digital Film Production graduates’ time to shine.
Elton Tan, 24, from Singapore, directed Before It All Happened, which won ‘Best Student Drama’.
“As a director, winning this award feels like I’m watching my child grow up and be successful!” he said.
“It is a huge blessing and honour to know that the film is recognised for what it is and its quality. It would not have been possible without producer Tiago Francisco, scriptwriter Nicole Teh, and sound man Leonard Lee, who all worked hard through the pandemic to make this film happen.
“The guidance of our lecturer Nicholas Glean was also vital to this film’s success. He sat with me in the editing suite for weeks even after formal submission, making the film what it is today.
“Winning this award shows that everyone’s hard and honest work has paid off.”
Swiss-born Tiago now runs his own media company RAWR Productions in Sunderland.
The 25-year-old added: “Knowing that we produced this short film during a pandemic makes me even more proud of the outcome because we followed all the NHS guidelines, testing the cast and crew upon arrival on set.
“We were students at that time, but it felt like a professional production. Some of our backgrounds were not in film production, so getting this far is such a blessing and an honour.”
Before It All Happened tells the story of Nathan, a groom sent to the future on his wedding day and is unsure if he likes what he sees.
Last year, the romantic drama achieved international success at numerous film festivals across the globe, including being short-listed and screened at the LA Shorts and making the nominations at the Paris Film Festival.
It also won ‘Best Original Story’ at the London Short Film Festival.
Nicholas Glean, Senior Lecturer in Video and New Media at the University of Sunderland, said: “Wow, what an achievement for the students to win such a prestigious award.
“It has been a fantastic journey for these young filmmakers, who managed to produce a film of such high quality in a time of crisis and challenge. They were dedicated, hardworking and the rest of the department and I are proud of them.”
Nicholas added: “This is the second time our international students have won a regional RTS award.
“We pride ourselves on our course’s ability to integrate diverse students into our programme. This helps the students to produce award-winning films, in this case, internationally recognised.”
Sunderland’s winning streak at the RTS Awards continued with The Importance of Acquiescence scoring the top spot in the ‘Best Student Entertainment’ category.
Inspired by British double act Vic and Bob (also known as Reeves and Mortimer) and the surrealist movement of the mid-20th century, the absurdist comedy is about a young woman whose day is interrupted when an uninvited film crew take over her home, hell-bent on making her the star of their film.
Callum Simpson wrote, directed, and produced the film, as well as taking up the roles of cinematographer and production designer.
The 22-year-old, from Stockton, said: “We’re all incredibly proud and excited, it was completely unexpected and a really great justification of all of our hard work over the past three years.
“The greatest part for me is the validation of our work as something that is good enough to be recognised on such a level outside of university.
“To win an RTS award has given me renewed motivation to continue carving out a career in the film industry, as a sign that my ideas and style are well received as something that is enjoyed by people outside of my own mind. It’s a complete honour.”
Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University and Chair of the RTS Education Committee, Graeme Thompson, said: “This year’s winners can feel especially proud of their achievements because they’ve had to overcome lockdowns and many other challenges to produce their programmes. It is testament to the resilience and ingenuity of creatives that so much exceptional work is showcased in our ceremony.
“It is an exciting time to be part of the screen sector following news of the BBC’s investment of £25 million in the production economy and the launch of a £12 million production and skills fund by the 12 local authorities. Prospects for jobs and opportunities are looking good.”