Film School graduate wins Student Academy Award

Z. Eric Yang

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

On June 7 at the 35th Annual Student Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., the silver medal in the Narrative category went to “The State of Sunshine,” a short film written and directed by FSU alumnus Z. Eric Yang.

Created as Yang’s student thesis film—he graduated from The Film School last August with a Master of Fine Arts degree—”The State of Sunshine” tells the fictional but all-too-familiar tale of two siblings who illegally enter Florida from China, and who cling to hope even though they must engage in prostitution to pay off their smugglers.

“The support I received from The Film School during the entire process was just tremendous,” said Yang, 32, a native of Shanghai, China, who came to the United States in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in material sciences from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. After focusing on video production and earning a master’s degree in Communications at the University of Memphis—where he currently teaches an introductory film course —Yang began his film studies in earnest at FSU.

“I wouldn’t trade my filmmaking experiences and growth at FSU for anything else in the world,” he said.

This isn’t Yang’s first honor for “The State of Sunshine.” In what’s shaping up as a banner year for the emerging writer-director, the film earned him the East Coast’s “Best Asian American Student Filmmaker” award last December from the Directors Guild of America.

“Even here at FSU, where we’ve always drawn the lion’s share of talented, award-winning students and alumni, Eric Yang is a remarkable filmmaker who stands out as someone to watch,” said Film School Dean Frank Patterson.

Yang encountered a few challenges during the making of his film. “We had around 10 locations during our nine-day shoot and close to 70 extras,” he said. That’s a lot for a student film, though fortunately all the locations were free and the extras were volunteers. In addition, because of the nature of the scenes, we had to start the production with all-night shoots, switch to day shoots, and then revert to night shoots again. It was tough and exhausting, but amazingly, everyone pulled it off well enough to create a film that now has received both a Student Academy Award and recognition from the Directors Guild of America.”

For thesis film productions, The Film School sends out casting teams (typically first-year MFA students) to Los Angeles, New York City, and other major filmmaking centers to find the best possible actors. “For me this was a very helpful strategy, because it was virtually impossible to find the right Asian actors in Tallahassee for the leading roles,” Yang said.

And the best part of his role as director? “I think my biggest joy was the same as it probably is for any filmmaker,” Yang said. “It was during the final stage of post-production when everything finally came together—the shots, the sound effects and the music. Nothing could be better than seeing a moment I’d imagined so many times actually come to life on the screen thanks to the great work by our cast and crew.”

While FSU’s long-standing Student Academy Award-winning tradition makes earning them look easy, it’s anything but, said Patterson. “We compete for those gold, silver and bronze medals against hundreds of other entries from dozens of other top film programs at private and public colleges and universities across North America, and the vast majority of those programs choose to enroll far more students than we do,” he said.

Nevertheless, over the past decade work written, directed and produced by FSU Film School students has won a huge share of the film industry’s top honors, including a host of College Television Awards and other national nods.

“The film business is full of uncertainties, but despite some obstacles and the detours I’ve taken in my life, filmmaking is still my most important goal,” Yang said. “I hope the Student Academy Award helps me to move to L.A. and open doors so I can more actively pursue my career, which thanks to FSU is off to a better start than I could ever have imagined.”

Recognized by the Directors Guild of America for its distinguished contributions to American culture, FSU’s Film School encompasses one of the largest and best-equipped facilities devoted wholly to film education, and includes undergraduate and graduate programs that rank among the most highly regarded in the world. Learn more at