FSU Film School thriller wins gold in Student Academy Awards

Patrick Alexander

For the fourth time in three years, a Student Academy Award has gone to a film written and directed by a graduate student from Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts — best known as The Film School.

At the 34th Annual Student Academy Awards ceremony on June 9 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., first prize in the Narrative Category went to "Rundown," a dark thriller created by FSU Film School student Patrick Alexander, 29, of Cincinnati.

Alexander conceived the idea for "Rundown" during a summer break from college in 2005 after visiting his brother, who worked for "ABC News Nightline" at the time. "I watched a live broadcast from both the control room and the studio and was fascinated by the drama and the stark contrast between the two locations," he said.

"The control room was alive with tension as people barked commands back and forth under a ticking clock, and the studio was equally dramatic but eerily quiet," Alexander said. "All the attention — the lights and camera — was focused on one man: Ted Koppel. I thought that if I could craft a unique story that placed my protagonist in this type of hot seat, I would have a dramatic narrative on my hands." Apparently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed.

"The Student Academy Award is the one honor I dreamed about the most since entering film school," Alexander said. "The world of filmmaking is such a hard business to break into, and this award is definitely looked upon as a legitimate launch pad." His role as "Rundown" director did hit a few bumps in the road, so to speak. "We initially had a difficult time finding a news station that could accommodate our 12-hour shooting days," he said. "When the folks at FOX 49 WTLH in Tallahassee agreed to let us use their facilities, we faced a challenge: They didn’t yet have a news set in place, so we had to construct one from scratch, delivering it to the station just in time for the shoot."

Alexander met that and other challenges with help from fellow FSU film students Bradley Hawkins (producer), Lucie Rouche (cinematographer) and Daniel Villa de Rey (editor).

The high point of making "Rundown" was the hit-and-run scene, Alexander said. "I wanted to keep the photography tight on Alison Gallaher (the lead actor), and I also wanted her reactions to be visceral. We mounted the camera on the car’s hood and had Alison drive over a mound of sand bags. The force of the collision was real, and so were her reactions."

His fondest Film School memory involved an illustrious former FSU football star. "I served as Burt Reynolds’ teaching assistant when he taught at The Film School in the fall of 2006," he said. "We worked closely with one another, and I walked away with a deeper understanding of acting for the camera compared to acting in the theater."

Alexander credits "every ounce" of his success to FSU. "I entered the program as a writer, but will graduate with a detailed understanding of every position in the filmmaking process," he said. "This is the best place on the planet to learn the filmmaking craft." FSU’s winning tradition continues on the small screen as well. Its latest Student Academy Award comes on the heels of a 2007 College Television Award (Emmy), The Film School’s 22nd such honor in 16 years.