It’s not everyday that an 18-year-old Minnesotan majoring in chemistry gets to rub elbows with Hollywood’s elite, but such was the case for Duluth native Abe Diaz when he took to the stage at the Academy Awards. Diaz was one of six chosen from across the country to be a part of The Oscar Experience College Search, a new contest that asked aspiring student filmmakers to answer the question: How will you contribute to the future of movies? Diaz, a freshman at DePaul University in Chicago, beat out hundreds of applicants to be an Oscar bearer on Feb. 24 with his 30-second video that pays tribute to Hollywood’s great moviemakers. Here, he tells Mpls.St.Paul Magazine about his experience—and dishes on the celebrities.
Mpls.St.Paul Magazine: In your application video, you mention filmmakers Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams, and Terrence Malick. Why them?
Abe Diaz: The whole concept was to highlight the aspect of unique style in film. I was trying to think of directors that I’ve watched and been influenced by. There are many more that I could’ve showcased in that video, but I only had 30 seconds.
MSP: Your major is chemistry, so where did this passion for filmmaking come from?
AD: I don’t really know where it came from. At some point, I realized that I began to watch movies more in depth; not just for what was happening, but looking for cinematography, how the score played in, and more intricate things like that. It kept growing and I started using what I learned from watching. It’s almost an addictive feeling going through footage and editing it and showing it for people. It’s a rewarding thing when you see people react to what you make.
MSP: Had you seen a lot of the Best Picture nominees before you went to Los Angeles?
AD: When I found out that I was selected, I tried to do my homework and catch up on all the movies I hadn’t seen for Best Picture. I still didn’t end up seeing all of them, but I saw most of them.
MSP: What’s your favorite?
AD: It’s probably between Django and Argo.
MSP: What did you do the days leading up to the big night?
AD: The first day after traveling, we got to take a tour of the Disney Animation Studios, where we met the directors and producers of Wreck it Ralph and some other animated shorts. Then we went to an archive library, where they had an image inventory of old photos, like Judy Garland costume tests for The Wizard of Oz and Steven Spielberg’s rough draft storyboards for Poltergeist. We also did a lot of rehearsing.
MSP: What was going through your head on Oscar night?
AD: The minutes leading up to the actual show time, I was starting to get really anxious and nervous. But as soon as I handed the award off and was on stage, all of that anxiety went away and I just wanted to get back out there and do it again.
MSP: What was it like to actually hold an Oscar?
AD: It’s really cliché to say, but they are heavier than they look. I worked so hard to get to this, and even though I was just presenting, it’s really gratifying to be able to actually hold an Oscar.
MSP: I heard you spoke with Ben Affleck. What advice did he give you?
AD: He said, “Don’t give up. Don’t take crap from anyone.” He talked about how he started with nothing and how he had to climb up. He told us to keep trying and said, “You guys are going to tear Hollywood down.”
MSP: Who was the nicest celebrity you met?
AD: Probably Jessica Chastain. We had a brief conversation with her and she was really nice. Either her or Renee Zellweger.
MSP: Who was acting like a diva?
AD: When the cast of Les Miserables was backstage, obviously they were all busy and warming up, but Helena Bonham Carter kind of seemed like she didn’t want to be there. Maybe she was in character.
MSP: Who seemed to be the most nervous?
AD: Daniel Radcliffe, since it was his first Oscars. Before he was about to do his dance number, he seemed kind of flustered and anxious to go on stage.
MSP: Are there any other celebrities you met?
AD: When we were in rehearsal, the stage manager introduced John Travolta to us. He was a really down-to-earth guy. He mentioned that he was there when the idea for this contest was born, and he said it was one of the greatest ideas that ever came out of the Academy. At the Governor’s Ball, I also got to talk with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for a bit. I told him I was a chemistry major, and he recommended an award-winning movie to me that was apparently directed by a science major.
MSP: What else would you like to tell our readers about the experience?
AD: It was the experience of a lifetime. In an industry like this, it’s all about marketing yourself and getting your name out there. This is the perfect opportunity for that.
Click here to watch Abe’s application video.