Alumni Spotlight: Austin Lee

Barbara Yerkes, Crown Staff

Few people have the opportunity to study and pursue what they are truly passionate about right after they graduate. Austin Lee, from the class of 2014, has this rare chance through studying Film and Television at New York University. With a love of entertainment and a knack for making people laugh, film making was an obvious choice for Austin, and he plans to work towards being a screenwriter or director. I had the chance to ask Austin about his time since graduation, and what studying a creative and intuitive degree in the arts is like.
Q: What Marian activities and programs did you participate in?

A: During freshman year, I participated in Pep Band, Spring Musical, Scholastic Bowl, Tennis, and Variety Show. During sophomore year, I did all the activities from the year before, but with the additions of Model United Nations, Tri-M, and Fall Play. Junior year, I did all of the previous programs (except Fall Play), but added on NHS and the Mentor Program. Senior year, I did all of the above, including Fall Play again.

Q: How would you describe your overall experience at Marian?

A: I honestly can’t imagine what high school would have been without Marian. The people were always fantastic and the teachers were understanding and fun. I think everyone knows that adolescence is all about finding yourself, and I definitely found myself through Marian. It was just a nice mixture of atmosphere, academics, and extracurricular that really give you a great foundation to leap from.

Q: What was your favorite activity you were in while at Marian?

A: All the activities offered at Marian have their own individual set of perks, but my personal favorites boiled down to the ones involving theater. This includes fall play, spring musical, and variety show. Not only was it related to what I love doing, but the end products were always so rewarding. The student communities built within those activities were always so tightly knit, and it was so much fun to get together with those people. Pep Band, Model UN, Tennis, and Scholastic Bowl were incredible as well, though. All of you, do yourselves some favors and sign up for all of the above, ASAP.

Q: What are you majoring in, and how did you decide it?

A: I’m currently majoring in Undergraduate Film and Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I always knew from when I was younger that I wanted to work in the film industry, so choosing a Film and Television major was a pretty simple process. Thankfully, my parents were onboard with it, too!

Q:What made you want to study in New York?

A: I mainly came to New York for NYU itself. The film program at my school is known primarily for its past alumni: Martin Scorsese, Chris Columbus (not the explorer that all the juniors at Marian love to hate right now, but the director of the first two Harry Potter movies), and even Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad. They have a strong commitment to story, character, and craft here that will hopefully make me the best filmmaker I can be.

Q: How has your time at Marian aided you in college?

A: I’m sure all the students at Marian are already well-aware of this, but Marian is hard. Not in terms of the difficulty of work, but in terms of how much work needs to get done every night and how to manage all of it. Now, it varies from college to college, but certainly at NYU, the amount of work one needs to do is roughly the same, and I can’t thank Marian enough for preparing me for that. Marian makes college a lot easier, and I wholeheartedly testify to that!

Q: What projects have you been working on outside of school?

A: Outside of school, I’ve been slowly working on developing my own projects. I’m always trying to incorporate the techniques and knowledge from my classes into my own outside work, but as of yet, I’ve only come as far as story outlines and treatments (the materials that, God willing, will turn into a script somewhere down the line). We’ll see what happens!

Q: What has inspired you to pursue film?

A: What’s primarily inspired me study filmmaking is, first and foremost, a love for entertaining. If anyone still remembers me at Marian, they may remember that I loved making people laugh and smile. I’ve always loved the emotional components behind filmmaking and how an audience can be so connected with characters they just met. The community at Marian was a giant inspiration, as well. If you like filmmaking and you’re presented with an opportunity to do a video project for class, DO IT. You learn so much about the construction of movies and, if they screen it in class, you get feedback directly from your classmates. Do they think it’s funny? Should they have thought it was funny? Are they silent when they should be laughing? People normally reacted positively to the work I was doing for classes, so I decided to continue on making movies.

Q: What are your short-term goals, or projects you have coming up?

A: Right now, I’m in a class called Sight & Sound: Film making. We form a crew with three other students, and then each person individually has the entire semester to make five short films. Essentially, I’m working on twenty short films this semester (five for me and the other fifteen are my classmates’ that I’m crewing on). I’m currently working on my third short with #4 in the casting stage and #5 in early planning, so I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me this semester.

Q: What career would you like to pursue?

A: Ideally, one day far, far in the future I’d like to be given the chance to direct feature films. Being a great director takes decades to work up to, so I’m taking it step-by-step and learning as much as I can. I have a great love/hate relationship with screenwriting, but hopefully by the time I’ve practiced and learned enough I’ll be a decent writer/director. As always, we’ll see what happens, but being a writer/director is what my heart has always been set on.

Q: What are your long-term goals, for school and your career?

A: My long term goals are very much career-oriented, and thankfully NYU Tisch allows for you to start planning for those goals as soon as you start your freshman year. My long-term goals boil down to: become a better storyteller and a more articulate director, and form close working relationships with the other students in my class.