Even if his name isn’t inside the envelope at the Student Academy Awards Oct. 12, filmmaker Shane Watson said he feels like he’s already won.
The O’Fallon Township High School 2010 graduate is among seven nominees for Best Narrative (Domestic) at the annual contest for students that is sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Thirty-seven students have been nominated in international and domestic categories for animation, alternative, documentaries and narrative films.
He’s in prestigious company. Past winners include Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis, Trey Parker and Belleville native Ken Kwapis.
His 17-minute short, “I Live Here,” was his master’s degree thesis at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. He wrote, directed and edited the film.
He wanted to tackle current topics on race, homophobia and police brutality — entertainment with a message.
The story is the interaction between three roommates.
“I wanted to talk about things that are happening in our world. We have stereotypes on sexuality and gender,” he said. “It’s a day in the life in the Bay Area. It has hard truths and is more intimate. I describe it as ‘Living Single’ meets ‘Queer as Folk.’ ”
“I want things to change,” he said. “I wanted to make it accessible. Being able to talk about it is important. I want to talk to people who aren’t listening.”
The story is very personal to him.
“This is my coming out announcement. Only my parents and a few close friends knew I was gay,” he said.
His parents were on hand for the film’s first screening.
“I received incredible feedback,” he said. “People were raving to my parents about it.”
His dad, Lawrence, is a retired master sergeant in the Air Force. He was stationed at Scott Air Force Base, and they lived in Belleville for six years before moving to O’Fallon. His parents moved to Wright-Patterson AFB in 2012, then Barksdale AFB in Shreveport, La., a year later.
Currently, his dad is executive director of financial management and comptroller for the Air Force Global Strike Command.
His mother, Elrica, works as the executive assistant in AFGSC Plans and Programs. His older brother, LJ, earned a master’s degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis.
While growing up, Watson played sports, spending most of his time on a court.
“It was basketball all the time,” he said.
He played basketball and tennis at OTHS, and received an academic scholarship to college.
Watson’s passion for filmmaking was sparked during an internship in Barcelona in 2013. A business major at Rhodes College in Memphis, he worked for Trip4Real, which was a start-up company tailoring travelers’ experiences to be more authentic, less “touristy.”
He saw a documentary on graffiti and was intrigued. He made a note to check out film studies.
Four years later, he has seen a dream realized. The business experience has paid off, too, because raising funds and maintaining a budget are important aspects of the process.
Watson said the California College of the Arts was a fertile training ground for him. The art school added film studies to its curriculum just three years ago.
“It was incredible. We had so many mentors, people who guided us. They have well-known professors. Rob Epstein, one of my professors, is an Oscar winner. They have connections to the film industry.” he said.
“We learned to write about everything, not be afraid — write about stuff we knew, really do the research.”
Film-making has ignited a fire within, and now Watson is coming up with ideas and writing potential future projects.
He learned a great deal while shooting his film, and also enjoyed the collaborative aspect.
“If the actors had a better way to say the dialogue, we used it. We improvised some of the script,” he said.
Shooting the film had its challenges, but also its rewards. He received support from a homeowner and a barbershop owner that allowed him to shoot scenes on their property.
“It was such a long process,” he said. “I learned patience.”
But for now, he’s happy to promote his film.
“One thing I want to do is screen it at colleges and talk about it,” he said.
He has also entered the short at film festivals, including St. Louis.
Watson is moving soon to Los Angeles, and plans to make more films.
“Film is very powerful. It can reach a lot of people,” he said.
For more information, visit the website, thegreayarea.com.
For more on the student Oscars, visit Oscars.org/saa.