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Cinema alum earns two regional student Emmy Awards for capstone film

Cinema alum Jonny Hughes ’23 was awarded two 2022-23 Capital Emmy Student Production Awards for his capstone film "Sky & Shadow," which he created in his final year at McDaniel. We asked him 10 questions to get Hughes' insights on the Cinema program and the significance of earning two Emmy Awards after graduation.

A man stands next to a poster reading "Sky and Shadow."

Jonny Hughes ’23 graduated from McDaniel with a degree in Cinema, culminating in his capstone student film, “Sky & Shadow,” which debuted during the annual Cinema Showcase in spring 2023. Tying together themes of science fiction and comedy, the film recently earned two 2022-23 Capital Emmy Student Production Awards for editing and long-form fiction. We asked Hughes about his experience as a Cinema student, what it was like creating his film, and what Emmy recognition means to him.

What does it mean to you to be recognized with two regional Emmys for “Sky & Shadow”?
It’s incredible. It’s a huge honor to be recognized, especially so early in my career. I had submitted my capstone film in two categories in hopes it would up my chances of being considered; I didn’t think I’d actually win in both categories. I can only hope that this leads to me being recognized in future job applications!
Give us a 30-second synopsis for “Sky & Shadow”:
“Sky & Shadow” is a story about a college kid who accidentally clones himself and eventually learns to live with himself. It’s a story that’s very important to me because I think it highlights how we as humans treat ourselves differently than we do other people in our lives. That’s what I most wanted to represent through the film’s concept.
What was your biggest challenge while creating the film? Was the “duplication” of yourself difficult?
To be honest, the most challenging part of the whole experience was nailing down the story in a way that was satisfying to me. During COVID, I fell into a long stretch of depression and was generally not very nice to myself. I was harsh and bitter and had no patience with myself — even though I’m usually very kind and patient with others. This is the idea I wanted to get across through fiction. I struggled for months developing the idea, and it took many forms before it reached the final version, and I’m quite proud of it. Generally, when I create videos, I am very particular about the idea before I get started, and I’m happy to say that this is one of my best yet.
As far as duplication effects go, this might be one of the more straightforward parts of the process for me, even if it is very time consuming. When both characters are on screen it comes down to placing them properly in the frame when filming. We put the camera on a tripod and then filmed the same scene twice, once as Sky and another as Shadow. After that, we simply cut each video in half and placed them side by side. It can take a lot of work, especially when there’s a lot of movement happening with the characters, or if both characters talk to one another in the same shot.
The most unexpected thing you learned while making the film:
Something that helped a lot from the very beginning was having a plan and deadline for each part of the process. Having a script prepared after a couple weeks really helped lay everything out, and having to present footage every week of stuff we’d shot was also really helpful; it kept production moving at a steady pace, and having that script finished and able to be referenced helped me know what I still needed to get shot.
What’s one thing your Cinema degree taught you that will stick with you always?
It’s really hard to pick just one important thing I’ve learned from my Cinema experience at McDaniel. I feel like I have a strong grasp on all elements of the production process. But I guess if I had to pick just one, I’d have to go with scriptwriting. Just being able to have that concept or idea translated into written film is beyond helpful. It helps you understand if an idea is working well or if it needs work.
Which faculty members had a big impact on you?
My film wouldn’t have been as good as it was without the teachings of my professors, Jonathan Slade and Richard Brett, as well as the rest of my Cinema capstone class for sharing their suggestions and feedback about my film. I really learned a lot at McDaniel about all elements of film production. I hope I have more opportunities to create more films like “Sky & Shadow” in the future.
What film would you recommend someone go watch ASAP?
Absolutely watch “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” It’s one of my favorite films ever and I feel like most people haven’t heard of it. It’s an independent mockumentary about a talking shell who lives with his grandmother. Not only is it amazing from a production standpoint, with a combination of stop-motion animation and live-action filmmaking, but it also has a strong story full of heart. It makes you view the world in a different way. If you haven’t seen it, it should be at the top of your list.
What are your thoughts on studying Cinema in our current era of video content?
I’ll always be analyzing film for as long as I live because it’s what I’m passionate about. As long as there are films with powerful stories and hard work put into them, I think there will always be things to analyze about them. And I think it’s important that we as audience members take the time to try to break down and understand the meaning behind a story, and why the creator made it, included certain elements, or made certain decisions.
Have you been recognized for other film projects in the past?
When I was in high school, I made a bunch of films for a student film competition my school ran called Spring Shorts. In my senior year I won best visual effects for my short film “Chaotic Neutral,” which included some weather effects, duplication of actors, and some magical spells.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment, I’m still job hunting for something in my field. But I’ve also been hard at work on side projects for my YouTube channel, “No Cable TV.” My friend Andrew and I have been working on short comedy videos and have some pretty good ones on the way. I hope others will enjoy watching them as much as we have enjoyed making them. You can find the channel here.

Watch "Sky & Shadow":