The Student News Site of Taipei American School




Upper School film team’s “A Fishy State of Mind” and “Portraits” bring home prestigious awards from New York

The film team poses on the red carpet proudly holding the Taiwan flag [PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FILM DEPARTMENT]

The Taipei American School Upper School film team won several awards at the All American High School Film Festival’s (AAHSFF) in New York for two of their films. They showcased the talent and creativity of the film team and impressed the judges and audience members alike. 
One of the student’s short films, “Portraits,” took eight months to write and produce by all 41 students who took part in making it. It was nominated for Best International Film, Best Director, and was awarded Best of Festival from among the 2500 submissions from 50 states and 50 countries. 
Their comedy short film, titled “A Fishy State of Mind,” won Best Picture for the 3-day competition, receiving a NTD$150,000 prize. It portrays a mixup between two packages: a live goldfish and a fish taxidermy kit. “It was very spontaneous,” Anthony H. (‘20), the film team’s director of photography, said. “It started as a joke and then became a story.” 
The work and dedication put into the 3-day competition project was nothing short of incredible. “The 3-day competition is the ultimate test of the students’ skills and commitment,” Mr. Brett Barrus, Upper School film teacher, said. The students worked tirelessly even before they traveled to New York, in order to conduct thorough pre-production tasks such as booking spaces, writing the script, and testing shots, for ten weeks. “Students stayed at school everyday after class, as well as weekends,” Mr. Adrian Town, Upper School film teacher, said.
Upon arrival in New York, the team immediately started to work, despite their jetlag. The team was often forced to find creative ways and workarounds to overcome obstacles. “We asked postal services for cardboard boxes and even scavenged the New York streets for them,” Ms. Michelle Kao, Upper School visual arts teacher, actress, and leader of production design for the film team, said. “It was a lot of thinking on the spot and preparing for all scenarios.” 
The trip also involved many sleepless nights, where Michael N. (‘20), director of the film team, stepped up to keep everyone motivated. “By the third day, everyone became zombies,” Michael said. “I really pushed myself to stay energized and confident, hoping that it would reflect on the whole team.” 
The film team was especially focused on producing their best work after coming out as finalists at the same festival last year. “The students definitely came away inspired [last year],” Mr. Barrus said. “They were hungry after seeing what was possible.” 
Their hungry mindset undoubtedly paid off, as the film team came out on top at the competition. The awards ceremony itself, complete with a red carpet, was very Hollywood-esque. “It was like a toned-down version of the Oscars,” Anthony said. 
It was an experience that the team will never forget. “We walked down the red carpet with the Taiwan flag,” Michael said. “It was a cool, almost patriotic, moment where we were able to represent our school.” 
Other schools were also amazed by the TAS film team’s product during the screening of their film. “Our film was like a breath of relief,” Anthony said. “A teacher from another school sitting in front of me was even laughing throughout the entire film. It really made us feel great.”
Winning first place and hearing “A Fishy State of Mind” being called to the stage aroused a plethora of emotions, and the moment was almost surreal to the team. “We were all nervous, then they announced us [as the winners] and I literally felt weightless,” Michael said, “it was a beautiful moment.” 
The film team received a NTD$150,000 check to take back to the TAS film program. “It felt good to get validation for all of the hard work put into this,” Mr. Town said. 
As the largest high school film festival in the world, the AAHSFF fostered spectacular work from many numerous schools. “Some of the other films were insane and had really deep messages,” Michael said. “This is something we can definitely explore more- we’re just starting to crack the surface.” 
The trip and overall project was a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity that the students and teachers felt privileged to experience. “You can’t replicate the same type of competition in a school project,” Mr. Barrus said. “This festival hosted the best of the best.” This project also gave students the chance to work in a drastically different environment. “It gave them a taste of working in the real world of film, outside of just the grade,” Mr. Town said. 
Everyone on the team was exceptionally proud of the product, but also equally proud of the camaraderie that developed along the journey. “I was so touched seeing the whole group have each others’ back,” Ms. Kao said. “The students even fed each other water and made sure everyone got rest; each role was so crucial, and the teamwork was amazing.” The students felt the effect of their cooperation as well. “Everyone was working in harmony, almost like a professional team,” Michael said. “We could do anything we wanted.” 
The success of the team will undoubtedly help propel TAS film forwards in the future. “It further galvanizes the film community,” Mr. Barrus said. “The bar gets higher and higher, even TAS alumni currently attending film school are blown away every year.” 
The film team’s accomplishment is only one example of the outstanding work performed by TAS students. “Don’t underestimate high school students,” Mr. Barrus said. “They can do amazing things. It’s happening everywhere at this school.”

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