USC film student receives first Nikon scholarship

Drawing inspiration from his life experiences, Ernest Pund hopes to pursue storytelling through film. Photo courtesy of Ernest Pund.

For junior transfer student Ernest Pund, film is about more than storytelling alone.

Pund believes film is a medium that touches and resonates with audiences even after the credits roll. As an aspiring filmmaker in what he calls an “age of dwindling attention spans,” Pund hopes to produce creative content that provokes thought and contains a call to action for his viewers.

He sees the rigid doctrines that most Hollywood blockbusters adhere to as a flaw that limits the creative expression of individual filmmakers.

“I believe in the inscription on USC’s cinematic arts building: ‘Limes regiones rerum.’ ‘Reality ends here,’” Pund said. “Never feel restricted in what you make. Film is a medium with infinite possibilities … Navigating this relationship between reality and illusion is key to finding a voice as a filmmaker.”

Pund, who was among 10 students to receive the Storytellers Scholarship from camera company Nikon this year, draws inspiration for his films from his own life.

His scholarship submission, a horror-thriller short film titled “Sarah Sleeps,” was inspired by his friend’s struggle with self-harm and eventual suicide. The film follows a young woman trapped in a recurring nightmare with an obscure monster who murders her repeatedly.

“[The film] was both a meditation and cathartic experience for me when I dealt with depression and sadness,” said Pund, who is majoring in cinematic arts, film and television production. “Every time the monster kills her, she wakes up again to receive the same fate, in a cycle of destruction paralleling what my friends endured.”

Joe McNally, who judged  the scholarships and serves as USC’s Nikon ambassador said that Nikon was impressed by Pund’s vision of suspense, darkness and ambiguity, a combination that piques viewers’ curiosity about how the story unravels.

“For a submission to grab the eyeballs and attention of the viewer is a tall order,” McNally said. “Emotional involvement in the story is key to that. [Pund] is also confident at camera, and mixes up his camera angles, works entire to detail, throws in an interesting mix up of color palette, and directs his talent with assurance of a good director. He gets the viewer involved and guessing what might happen next.”

Pund said the $10,000 scholarship award will not only contribute to his tuition and film equipment, but also allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker who defies the boundaries of both reality and fantasy.

“While the financial aspect of winning the scholarship is important, I entered mainly as a way of testing myself,” he said. “I grew up shooting little movies on Nikon DSLRs. I wanted the challenge to show my work to a company that has been dear to me.”