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University filmmakers win ‘I LOVE NY’ competition

By : Ryan Yarosh

Sean Cunningham and Justin Hartough were classmates last spring in Cinema 451: Advanced Film and Video Making.  There in the Lecture Hall basement, the two practiced their craft with dreams of breaking into the film industry. Just five months later, both are prize-winning filmmakers. 

Separately and coincidentally, Cunningham and Hartough entered a competition to find a new “I LOVE NY” TV commercial and both were recently chosen by a panel of judges that included Hollywood heavyweights such as actress/writer Tina Fey, director Doug Liman and actor/filmmaker Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Cunningham, who graduated in May, won the grand prize with his 60-second film, titled “Discover a Different NY”  Hartough, a senior who plays an active role with Binghamton Television (BTV), won the Student Filmmaker Award for “Crab Meadow,” a short film inspired by a beach in his hometown of Huntington,  Long Island.

“I wanted to show New York as more than just New York City, but New York as just a beautiful place,” Hartough said.

The idea was to create a short film that would powerfully reflect the “I LOVE NY” theme.  Like “Crab Meadow,” Cunningham’s film does not include a single shot of the Big Apple, but instead captures the natural beauty of upstate New York. It opens at a backyard graduation party, where a young man dressed in a Binghamton University cap and gown is asked what he plans to do now. The response: “I’m going to New York (City).”  The film then takes the viewer everywhere but New York City. The young actor taking that trip is Michael Parish, Cunningham’s roommate for the two years he lived in College-in-the-Woods.
Parish was the first person Cunningham called after receiving word that all of the film finalists were being flown to New York for the announcement of the overall winner.
“As it turned out when we got there it was just me and Michael: I was just blown away,” Cunningham said. “The next thing you know we are on the set of the TV show Ugly Betty and were given the award by the show’s star America Ferrera, who I have to say is gorgeous in person.” 
Cunningham and Hartough both fell in love with filmmaking at Binghamton and credit the Cinema Department with helping them to develop and nurture the skills needed to make quality films.

“The department is small but tough; you really need to focus and the production classes are not easy, but the whole process really makes you better,” Hartough said.
It was through the department’s undergraduate director that Cunningham first learned of the competition.

“I learned a lot of cool techniques while in the program, but I also learned a lot about networking and it was Ariana (Gerstein) who sent me the information about the contest,” he said.

The Cinema Department is happy to see these aspiring filmmakers make great strides so quickly.

“This was highly competitive,” Gerstein said. “I am very proud of our students and think this is pretty amazing considering that a call was put out all over New York and that not only one, but two of the top winning spots went to those educated in our small but challenging department.”

For now, both filmmakers are preparing to enjoy the fruits of their labor. As the grand-prize winner, Cunningham’s film will make its nationwide debut during television coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and will also be shown on flights operated by JetBlue Airways, a competition sponsor, along with screenings at New York film festivals and the Independent Film Channel.  Cunningham will receive new filmmaking equipment, as well as free flights to several major festivals.

Hartough also will receive an HD camera, lunch with a New York Post film critic and a mentorship with producer Liman, best known for films The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.  

While Hartough is thankful for the head start on what may be a very bright filmmaking future, it’s the recognition from fellow filmmakers that he values most.

“When you spend your life watching movies and making movies, and somebody gives you an award for it, it changes everything,” he said.  

Binghamton University Videos On-line

The University has established its own YouTube page, offering the campus community a place to highlight videos of research, student life and the University. To See "Discover a Different NY" and “Crab Meadow” visit the Binghamton University YouTube page to watch the commercial.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08