Professors at NYU are watching tonight's Oscar show with special interest because four of the nominees were students in the same class at New York University's Graduate Film Program. Former Chair, John Tintori, and his colleague, Mick Casale, nurtured the nominees, and they are so happy could not be more proud.
Their former students: "Nomadland" producer, Mollye Asher, and director, Chloe Zhao, are the favorites to win Best Picture. Another member of NYU's Class of 2007, Joshua James Richards, is nominated for his cinematography for that film. Their former classmate, Shaka King has two nominations for "Judas and The Black Messiah."
They were friends before any fame came. Now, they've all reached the pinnacle of their profession. Zhao could become the first woman of color ever to win an Oscar for directing a feature film, and King's movie is nominated for Best Picture alongside "Nomadland." No wonder their former professors at NYU are so proud! What made 'em special for me was that they seemed like colleagues more than students," Mick Casale told me via Zoom.
King's student film called, "Herkimer DuFrayne: 7th Grade Guidance Counselor," about a couple of parents meeting a counselor, show some of the same intensity of his films that came later. That's when Prof. Tintori recognized his potential, "you saw it right at that moment. It's like 'there he goes.'"
Both King and Zhao chose to make a full feature as a thesis film before graduation. "They were ambitious people," Tintori observed, "they're hard-working people. Really just talented, motivated artists." Her project became Zhao's first movie to be released commercially: "Songs My Brother Taught Me."
However, it wasn't all smooth sailing, and they hit rough sailing halfway through the program. Tintori told me, "both Chloe and Shaka made a second-year film, as all our students do; and I promise you, you will never see those films!! But, says Casale, added: the pair learned from their mistakes. "These two people are really smart and they're lovely people. They are nicest people you could meet, which makes it even better."
The professors told me both filmmakers have shown their gratitude by returning to NYU mentor the students who followed them. "I mean Chloe sat in on the class," said Casale admiringly. "She doesn't sit there and be interviewed or anything. She takes the class."