Stanford filmmakers awarded by Academy

Alumni of MFA documentary program take home gold and silver

A pair of Stanford alumni have claimed the top two prizes in the documentary category at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 2014 Student Academy Awards.

At the award ceremony, held June 7, Helen Hood Scheer took home gold for "The Apothecary," which followed a pharmacist living in a remote region of the American Southwest; J. Christian Jensen won silver for "White Earth," an exploration of the North Dakota oil boom told through the eyes of the children living there. Both are recent graduates of the Stanford's MFA program in documentary filmmaking. The two went through the program together, producing their award-winning pieces as thesis projects.

Scheer said it makes sense that she and Jensen would take gold and silver in the documentary category.

"The Stanford program has a reputation as being the best program in the country," she said, going on to explain that her professors pushed her and her classmates to be the best that they could be.

By way of example, she recalled the first project she was assigned: shooting a six-minute documentary with only 15 minutes worth of film -- as in actual film, not space on a hard drive. Being limited by the amount of film she had forced Scheer to plan meticulously, something that has been lost since the advent of digital video, she explained. When the amount of footage a director can take is essentially limitless, it creates the temptation to go into a project without a clear vision.

"They really challenged me to know what I was doing from a very early point in the process," she said.

Jensen agreed.

"I'm a huge champion of the program," he said, citing similar reasons as his former classmate. "It's a highly structured program. The structure lends itself to your ability to not only do well with your film but also make several films within a very short period of time."

Scheer said it was a "fantastic" feeling to take home the gold. Likewise, Jensen was elated to claim silver.

"I was pretty stoked about it," he said.

However, both added, winning the award meant so much more, in practical terms, than bragging rights. In the week leading up to the award ceremony, Scheer, along with Jensen and third-place winner Zijian Mu of NYU, participated in series of meetings with various guilds -- the directors', screenwriters', cinematographers' -- and power brokers in the film industry. All of this, according to Scheer and Jensen, was inspiring and is likely to come in handy as they both continue to pursue documentary filmmaking.

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Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

this is tough going for documentaries and filmmakers to excel in this way. hats off to some fine entries. producer gale ann hurd attended Stanford. there are some who actually become successful. the Stanford dept. of communication is widely known and produces some great talent. congratulations and keep on with this kind of production, thanks

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