Filmmaker Jeanpaul Isaacs, a senior journalism major at Rutgers, still can’t believe that in less than a week he’ll be schmoozing with filmmakers on the red carpet at the Oscars, a spot he won with a film submission of his own.
As one of six winners (out of 1,000 entries) chosen by actor Channing Tatum, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Oscar producers, Isaacs will spend one week in Hollywood, touring studios and attending meet-and-greets with industry filmmakers. He will also participate in the March 2 telecast of the Academy Awards by handing statuettes to celebrity presenters.
“Besides having a chance to meet my film idols and people in the same creative space as myself, I am most looking forward to the big night,” says Isaacs. “To walk on the red carpet and be onstage with the presenters is to be part of cinematic history.”
In his short video submission, Isaacs describes his “drive and passion to keep making films that people can be immersed in – stories about journeys, vulnerability and, ultimately, character.”
Isaacs says he was speechless after Oscar producers contacted him to say that he had won the competition. He views the trip to Hollywood as a preview of coming attractions for his film career. “The experience will ultimately serve as great inspiration and motivation to one day come back to the Academy Awards on my own merit,” he says. “A trip to the Academy Awards will add an indescribable confidence and spirit that I will achieve my goals – and then some – in the future.”
Isaacs knows the figurative journey may not be easy, and that filmmaking isn’t the most practical career choice. His mom, who raised six children on a cosmetologist’s salary, often preached the value of job security. “In my family, stability means everything,’’ says Isaacs.
Hoping to land a steady, well-paying job after college, Isaacs, a star basketball player in high school, once majored in exercise science, even though it bored him. But in his junior year, he decided to give filmmaking a try. “I’ve always been fascinated by filmmakers’ ability to create worlds and immerse their audience. It's like a superpower,’’ says Isaacs, who has been passionate about movies since childhood.
Isaacs’s quest to unleash his creativity inspired his short film, The Youth, about a relationship between an artist and his much younger sister. The film won the national Campus MovieFest competition last year, earning Isaacs a screening at the Cannes Film Festival this May. “It’s a story about losing and rediscovering inner youth. How it’s important to keep the child in all of us, to hang on to creativity, imagination, optimism, joy and delight,’’ says Isaacs, who grew up in South Brunswick.Isaacs is attending Rutgers on an Educational Opportunity Fund full scholarship. Although he grew up with five siblings and no father, his mother made sure her children had everything they needed. His brothers and sisters took care of each other. “I was lucky enough to be raised in a big family because I was always surrounded by people I loved. When I was younger, I went through struggles. But it was always momentary,’’ Isaacs says.
His drive to find the safest and surest route to success was strong, but so was his artistic streak. “I always had this urge to make things. In grade school, I made comic books,’’ he says.
But when he saw the movie Forrest Gump as a child, he had an epiphany. He recalls being mesmerized by the film. “I wanted to see the journey of this man from beginning to end. I didn’t want to leave the movie. I wanted a sequel immediately. I never experienced that from music or painting or any other type of art.”
Before entering Campus MovieFest, Isaacs made two films, a documentary about his twin sisters, both college basketball players who faced off against each other on opposing teams, and a black comedy about two hit men, called Lunch With Larry, which won the Rutgers New Lens Student Film Festival last year.
Isaacs will be heading to Zambia in April as part of the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking's advanced documentary class to work on a documentary with James Simon, a Rutgers professor and leading plant biologist, about women seeking economic independence through agriculture.
As a filmmaker, Isaacs draws heavily from his courses at the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking at the Mason Gross School of the Arts. “The program taught me how to structure a story, to pace things so that you evoke emotion, to use the camera to signify what a character is feeling and to cut dialogue and work on a script,” he says.
Isaacs has just completed his latest short film, Across Dystopia, a story about two boys, one white and one black, untangling the complexities of an interracial friendship. The film was accepted to the Garden State Film Festival’s April screening in Atlantic City.
His instuructors think he has a promising career ahead. “Although the film industry is hard to break into, if Jean continues to work on his craft, I could easily see him working in the business,’’ says Mason Gross faculty member Patrick Stettner, who is also a filmmaker and award-winning director.