Three Cal Poly students swept the top three Screenwriting awards at the 29th annual California State University (CSU) Media Arts Festival in Los Angeles Nov. 13. Cal Poly also won first place in Promotional Video.

The annual CSU Media Arts Festival is a film competition for students in the 23-campus CSU system. A panel of distinguished faculty and industry leaders select each year’s finalists and winners, and all finalist selections are screened at the festival. 

Journalism senior Shanti Herzog placed first and third in the screenwriting category for two original screenplays. English senior Matthew Lam placed second in screenwriting for an original screenplay. Art and design senior Casey Wieber placed first in Promotional Video.

Herzog’s screenplay ‘Rosie’ — written about a unique bond between a socially awkward plant professor and his blind student — won first place. Herzog said the festival encouraged her to continue screenwriting.

“‘Rosie’ is such a piece of my heart,” Herzog said. “I’m so, so proud and humbled to have won – especially because we were competing against schools with larger film programs. If I could do this for the rest of my life, it would be a dream come true.”

The winning films were written in Media Arts and Technologies: Storytelling (ISLA 340) and produced in Media Arts and Technologies: Cinematic Process (ISLA 341). Both courses are capstone courses for students pursuing a media arts, society and technology (MAST) minor.

Interdisciplinary studies in liberal arts (ISLA) lecturer Randi Barros teaches many MAST minor courses. Barros said the awards are not only an accomplishment for the students but for the ISLA department as well. 

“It’s absolutely fantastic – since a lot of the other schools are film schools, we’re like the little engine that could,” Barros said. “I’m so proud of them. They’re talented, hard-working and all have stories to tell.”

Barros said screenwriting was not something Herzog or Lam had ever done before. 

“It’s absolutely fantastic – since a lot of the other schools are film schools, we’re like the little engine that could,” Barros said

“It feels amazing to be recognized,” Lam said. 

He said his screenplay “Ruminations on Death and Family” was inspired by one of his own experiences as a 7-year-old when a family gathering was interrupted in an unforgettable way. 

“I’m so grateful anyone read my script in the first place,” Lam said. “I’ve really fallen in love with screenwriting.”

Lam said the project allowed him to explore an event in his life he continually came back to and rediscover the nuances and implications it had. 

“When I read the piece, it feels unfinished,” Lam said. “I love the notion that there’s so much more I could expand on and continue to explore.”

Wieber, who placed first in the promotional video category, said he took ISLA 340 as a requirement for his photography and video concentration. He said he was surprised to even be a finalist, let alone receive first place. 

Wieber’s promotional video “Danny Derrick: The Private Studio Experience” was produced and directed by himself, and the music was scored by Cal Poly alumna Brook Thompson, professionally known as Brook Munro. The video is a portrait of local tattoo artist Danny Derrick. 

“Danny and I both spent many years playing in the local music scene, and he’d been my go-to tattoo artist for years,” Wieber said. “I had less than ideal experiences in tattoo chairs before going to Danny.”

Wieber said he was challenged when his mini-documentary came out with a more promotional feel, but he said he made a conscious effort to keep emotion at the forefront of the video. 

“It turned into telling the story of his choosing to operate a private shop versus a traditional walk-in and his philosophy behind that decision, which was providing not just a good tattoo, but a good memory of the experience,” Wieber said. 

Wieber’s video can be viewed on the CSU Media Arts Festival YouTube page. The list of winners is available on the CSU website. 

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