The Charger Blog

University of New Haven Students and Alumni Recognized by National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

Students and alumni received National Student Production Awards in six categories as well as seven honorable mentions in five categories from the New England chapter of NATAS. They said their work enabled them to gain meaningful industry experience.

July 13, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Students shooting the award-winning film 'Divine'.
Students shooting the award-winning film "Divine."

A few weeks before he was to begin an advanced filmmaking course at the University of New Haven, Michael Stevens ’20 realized he still needed a script. He found inspiration in Far Cry 5, a video game that he had played over the summer, creating the script for the film “Divine.”

The piece recently earned National Student Production Awards in long form fiction, directing, and writing from the Boston/New England chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS).

“When I found out ‘Divine’ had won, I immediately felt shock, followed by immense gratitude,” said Stevens, a communication major who served as the film’s director. “To see something that began as a script recognized amongst other great films and works of media was such an amazing thing. I was also very grateful for all the people who worked on the film and made it possible for us to get recognized for all our hard work.”

“Divine” was one of several works created by University of New Haven students that were recognized by the New England chapter of NATAS. Students and alumni received awards in six categories and seven honorable mentions in five categories.

'It felt like all our hard work paid off'

Jenna Sullivan ’20 also worked on “Divine,” serving as part of the production design crew, costume and prop coordinator, and as an assistant camera operator. She also wrote and produced the student film “Park Bench,” which was also recognized.

Image of Students shooting on the West Haven Green.
Students shooting "Park Bench" on the West Haven Green.

“I was so happy and beyond grateful that I had been a part of both of these projects,” said Sullivan, a communication major. “It felt like all our hard work paid off. It was amazing to know that we had done something so creative and fun and that we were acknowledged for it. We were up against some outstanding schools, and I think this reflects how incredible the University’s program is and how talented our advisers are.”

NATAS is a professional service organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of television and related media, as well as the promotion of creative leadership for artistic, educational, and technical achievements within the television industry. Submissions were evaluated by members of NATAS and compared with that of students from across New England.

“This is an accomplishment that our department, and, indeed, our University, can be proud of,” said Paul Falcone, director of studio operations and media production at the University and the students’ adviser. “These awards are a tangible demonstration of our students’ talent and dedication to their craft and art. I’m sure we can look forward to even greater accomplishments from this fine group of students.”

'You cannot work without each other'

“Divine” was the first film that Stefania Sassano ’21, a communication major, worked on. The film’s casting director, she received honorable mention for her work. She enjoyed being a part of the auditions, which were held in New York City and at the University, and working with the actors.

Image of Stefania Sassano ’21.
Stefania Sassano '21.

“Being a casting director taught me how much communication there is between cast and crew,” she said. “I also learned how crucial teamwork is, since putting a film together is a group project. You cannot work without each other, and that's what I love about working in film.”

Taylor Bennett ’20 wore many hats working on “Divine,” and the experience helped guide her career path. Working as a casting coordinator, production manager, and first assistant director, she attended four separate auditions, helped organize the shoot schedule and budget, and kept the cast and crew updated.

“This gave me the opportunity to explore my interests and to gain a full understanding of what each position entails,” said Bennett, a communication major. “Now I know what skills I should work on to become a first assistant director in the future. Working on this film enabled me to develop important skills, such as communication, resilience, management skills, and teamwork.”

Several University of New Haven students and alumni were also recognized by NATAS last year, and they received their awards at the 42nd Annual Boston/New England Emmy Awards Ceremony. Typically held in Boston each June, the event brings together honorees and industry professionals, but it did not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

'I want the audience to be filled with awe'
Image of Nathan Gagne and Diana Perez.
Nathan Gagne and Diana Perez working on "Divine."

Several students who were recognized last year, including Nathan Gagne ’20, a communication major, was recognized again this year. He served as director of photography for “Divine” and for the award-winning Connecticut Bankers Reward Association public service announcement. He also edited “Park Bench.”

“After hearing about the recent NATAS awards, some of my previous internships have reached out to me asking if I would join them on projects, such as commercials,” he said. “I am excited to see where this might lead. I am extremely proud that everyone was recognized for their talent and hard work. This is everybody's achievement, and they deserve it.”

Diana Perez ’20, who also worked on “Divine” and “Park Bench” as production designer and director, respectively, says being a part of both projects enabled her to develop confidence and gain experience that has her well prepared for her career.

“I realized that hard work and teamwork bring the best results in the end,” said Perez, a communication major. “When watching these films, I want the audience to be filled with awe as they realize they were produced by students from the University of New Haven. I hope to come back to the University in the future to meet the next generation of filmmakers.”

Image of the 'Divine' crew.
Members of the “Divine” crew.