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UTA commercial film students win national awards

Monday, June 18, 2018 • Media Contact: Herb Booth

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UTA art students won two national Telly Awards in the Student and Cinematography categories. The students created three professional-grade commercials for their 2017-18- commercial film class which won a bevy of competitions.

Norry Niven

Norry Niven, acclaimed director and adjunct professor in the Art and Art History Department, led the team and taught the class. Niven is a 1995 UTA alumnus.

The Telly Awards were founded in 1979 to honor excellence in local, regional and cable television commercials and now includes television and non-broadcast video of all types, including the Internet. 

The team also won the following awards:

  • Remi Award at the Houston International Film Festival, the oldest independent film and video festival in the world
  • Four American Advertising Awards, also known as the ADDYs in Fort Worth and Corpus Christi
  • Public Service Announcement award at the Dallas awards show

Norry Niven, acclaimed director and adjunct professor in the Art and Art History Department, led the team and taught the class. Niven is a 1995 UTA alumnus and had big aspirations for his Fall 2017-18 commercial film students. 

“On the first day of class I set the highest goal possible for a college commercial film class: that we make it into the Association of Independent Commercial Producers show,”  Niven said.

That goal became a reality when three professional-grade commercials were nominated for the 2018 AICP Awards in the student commercial category.

Troy Grant, top, and Oliver Tull during filming

Troy Grant, top, and Oliver Tull are pictured during filming.

Niven, who has won many awards including seven Emmys, 23 ADDYs and nine other Telly Awards, admits that he had high expectations of his talented students. Traditionally, such an achievement has been reserved for classes with abundant resources and contacts like Spike Lee’s New York University’s film class.

The class project was unproduced work Niven solicited from Kevin Sutton at Moroch Agency in Dallas. 

“I fell in love with the story boards and we went to work,” Niven said.

Niven created a work environment that simulated a real-world production company to enhance the student experience. The class participated in a conference call with the agency, brainstormed concepts and wrote mock director’s treatments, which he evaluated to award the job of directing the commercial. Though only three students won the opportunity to direct one of the three commercial spots, every student participated in the tasks of lighting, sound, directing, scouting and green screen work. The student directors were Jessica Flores, Hien Dinh and Aaron Payton.

“I felt comfortable to share all of my ideas with Norry,” Flores said. “He validated my ambition as a director. I wanted to reach for the stars.”

After the class went through a vigorous casting process, working with Lynne Quirion Casting in Los Angeles, two local comedians were selected for the leading roles. Oliver Tull and Troy Grant from the comedy troupe “Four Day Weekend,” received the class creative products and were energetic about being a part of the project. 

The finished spots were aired on the Sierra Club website and were used by Earth Day Texas. The accolades and awards for the commercials exceeded even Niven’s expectations.

“The public response to the spots has been phenomenal and having the work recognized with awards is surely thrilling for the students,” Niven said. “But the biggest honor for me to date is when the AICP revealed its 2018 short list, and we were on it.”

Members of the AICP account for the production of nearly 85 percent of all nationally televised commercials. Niven stressed that AICP is an extremely difficult show to get into and one of great honor and prestige.

“In the past decade only one commercial from a Texas production company has been in that show - it was one I directed for a Showtime series called Dexter.  So having three spots in that show, with all UTA students is simply incredible.”

The AICP screened the UTA submissions, along with the other contenders in nearly two dozen categories, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this month.  Though a win in this venue would be a complete upset, Niven said the nomination is one of the best things to have happened to him as a professor.

“I’m proud of every single student I had in that class. They can all say for the rest of their lives, ‘While at UTA, I worked on an award-winning commercial campaign,’ and they will have the spots in their portfolios to prove it,” Niven said.

Niven’s portfolio includes feature films, music videos and commercial work for global brands like Gatorade, Ford, McDonalds and Visa continued, “They all might not realize the importance of this experience right now, but I feel like we literally caught lightning in a bottle.”

Niven currently has nine different national spots on air – including Showtime and Fox, two television series that are close to production – and is opening a new studio and production facility in Texas.

In addition, he plans to continue teaching at UTA in the fall. 

Robert Hower, chair of UTA’s Art and Art History Department, said, “How fortunate our advanced film students are to have an opportunity to work with a top tier professional. We look forward to Norry Niven providing our students with exceptional experiences in the future. It is a significant step for our program to have students screening their work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.”

Flores said, “I am so excited to see the kind of response our spots are getting. I’m hoping that these awards help propel the spots forward and make them go viral.”

The three spots are linked by theme and can be viewed at these sites: physicsgravity and electricity.

-- Written by Tish Williamson