Rocketing to an Academy Award

Media studies alumnae join elite filmmakers

Brenna Malloy ’13 and Sarah Hulsman ’13 have won a Student Academy Award for their short film Rocket.

The prize — from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars — puts the two media studies graduates in elite company with previous Student Academy Award-winning filmmakers, including Robert Zemeckis, John Alan Lasseter, and Spike Lee — who went on to direct Forrest Gump, Toy Story, and Malcolm X, respectively.

Rocket won bronze in the narrative short film category, and took home top prizes from festivals in Los Angeles and London earlier this year. Directed by Malloy and produced by Hulsman, the film is a coming-of-age tale set in the world of 1950s dirt track car racing.

Rocket was two years in the making, so the recognition it has received is something of a relief and feels amazing,” says Malloy, who completed the film for her master’s project at Chapman University’s top-10 ranked Dodge College film school.

But the filmmakers aren’t basking in the glow of their win. In fact, Malloy is hard at work on two new feature scripts. Hulsman, also a Dodge College graduate student and a producer at Burbank, California-based digital media company CreatorUp!, is producing a short horror film.

The two knew each other at USF but didn’t join forces as director and producer until graduate school when they created another award-winning short film Nisei (2015). Nisei tells the story of a multi-ethnic couple torn apart by the American government’s Japanese internment actions after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Director of film studies Danny Plotnick and media studies Professor Bernadette Barker-Plummer were big influences on both Malloy and Hulsman during their time at USF, they say. “Danny taught me how to write a script, how to light a scene, how to edit. The list goes on. Most importantly though, he taught me how to tell a compelling story,” Hulsman says.

Malloy, who grew up in Orange County, California, came to USF at the recommendation of her father Kevin ’85 and grandfather Tom ’61. “After I visited, I knew it was the place for me. San Francisco is an incredible place to spend your college years,” Malloy says.

At USF, Hulsman learned that everyone has a story to tell and that it’s important to practice inclusiveness with everyone you meet, even if you don’t agree with their point of view.

“USF helped me decide that I want to work to make the world a more positive, more inclusive place, namely through film,” Hulsman says. “That’s something I look for in the projects I take on. It’s at the heart of the person I want be.”