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Q&A with SVA 2020 Alumni Scholarship Winner Jaelan Acosta
November 12, 2020
Mask Off

The title card image of BFA Film alumni Jaelan Acosta and Ryan DeVita's thesis project, Mask Off.

Credit: Jaelan Acosta and Ryan DeVita'

Over the next few weeks, SVA will continue a series that began last semester, highlighting outstanding projects from the 2020 Alumni Scholarship Award winners. Today's featured thesis project is by BFA Film alumni Jaelan Acosta and Ryan DeVita.

Written, directed and edited by Acosta and shot by cinematographer DeVita, Mask Off is an LGBTQ+ youth-centered coming-of-age film. The narrative centers on Trey, a closeted high-school senior who finally decides to come out at the party of the year and show his true colors, all the while trying to keep it a secret from his mother. We recently spoke to Acosta about the conceptualizing and making of Mask Off.

Tell us about your project. What inspired the idea?

The idea first came to me when I first started college. I knew I wanted to make something really personal and something related to my sexuality and experience as a Black queer person. What took the longest is if I was personally ready to create a story like this and have people watch it. When I had the idea, I wasn’t fully “out,” and so I was scared that this would open up a can of worms I wouldn’t be ready for. But by the time senior year came along, I had grown a lot in life and a lot of things were different for me, so I didn’t have that stress. The only thing that mattered [then] was getting it done. 

What most surprised you once you started working on the project?

I wouldn’t say I was entirely surprised by this, but creating this short film helped me realize how much work and funding goes into a movie and why we have such large teams developing them. Being a first-time director was also a challenging surprise; what added to that was I was sick the entire time shooting. When working on smaller projects, I feel it’s easier to experiment with things and take your time and create; but on a set where you have multiple moving pieces, there come more responsibilities and you need to make sure you tackle it the best way possible. I’m grateful to have had everyone who helped on set be there and lend their talents. 

What was a highlight of living and studying in New York City?

One highlight is that there’s always something to inspire you right around the corner, and there’s always something to be involved in. The City offers endless opportunities for you to create and build yourself into who you want to be. I think it’s tough to find that anywhere else. 

Was there a teacher or course that was essential for you?

One course I would say was essential for me as an editor was Kamil Dobrowolski's Digital Workflow class. You learn a lot about editing and the various technologies you may come across as you develop as an editor. It’s important to know how things work and how they operate. This class definitely helped. 

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program?

My advice would be to try not to stress too much about what you want to create. Stick to what feels natural and comes to you effortlessly. You most likely already know the story you want to tell. It’s just how do you go about making it a reality. And to also start building your support system: Things may go wrong when you least expect it, and having great friends and collaborators in your corner will make a huge difference. 

Mask Off is currently submitting to film festivals around the country. You can learn more about its progress by following the Mask Off Instagram page.

For last year’s SVA Alumni Scholarship Awards, a record 74 students were chosen from a pool of over 212 applicants. They were granted scholarships worth more than $60,000 for projects as varied as design products, animation, painting and photography. For more information about the Alumni Scholarship Awards and to see a complete list of last year’s recipients, click here. To Support the Talent this year, you can make a donation online at sva.edu/give.