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Freshman-made short film nominated for esteemed national award

Through a flat tire and 15-hour shoot day, the group created the six-minute short "Memento Mori," which was nominated for "Best College Short Film" at the Phoenix Film Festival

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Photo illustration of movie poster for ASU student-made film "Memento Mori" and stills from the film.

ASU Freshman Brett Cornell and his filmmaker friends had an idea, and in the span of one day, they shot the short film "Memento Mori." Months later, it's nominated for a national award at the Phoenix Film Festival.

The six-minute story follows a brief but emotional interaction between two strangers.

"It's basically just a conversation between the two (characters), but throughout the conversation, one character in particular gets a whole new look and perspective," said Cornell, the film's director and a freshman studying film and media production.

Despite its short runtime, the production journey of "Memento Mori" wasn't easy. Cornell and his team ventured into the Mogollon Rim to shoot the film in November 2023.

What was supposed to be a three-and-a-half-hour drive turned into seven hours. On the way up, their vehicle had a flat tire, delaying the filming time. The sun was going down and it was raining, setting them back further — but somehow the crew had just enough time to get the shots they needed.

"Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong," said Calvin Fischer, the film's cinematographer and a freshman studying film and media production. "We had to make sure every shot was perfect on the first take."

In total, the six-minute short took a 15-hour day to film, but the work seems to have paid off. The last shot was filmed right as the sun went down, and Cornell said he felt relief in the beauty of the sunset and its perfect lighting.

"We're all kind of just looking at each other, smiling, while the camera's rolling," Cornell said when describing the moment.

After filming, they edited "Memento Mori" for about a month before submitting it for awards and festivals. Cornell said allowed them to easily submit for multiple awards simultaneously.

Now nominated for "Best College Short Film," the "Memento Mori" team will have an opportunity to receive a national honor as well as network with other creatives on the big stage of the Phoenix Film Festival.

"Memento Mori" will screen with the six other college shorts on Friday, April 5 at 9:15 a.m., Friday, April 12 at 2:05 p.m. and Saturday April 13 at 10:05 p.m. at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 Theatre. Tickets are $17.39 online including a service fee.

Jason Carney, the festival's director, said that the event hosts over 250 screenings and roughly 20,000 people over 11 days.

Carney said this kind of event attracts filmmakers from all around the country, and the "Best College Short Film" category in particular is extremely competitive, with students from the most prestigious film schools submitting their work every year.

"It's really impressive that Brett's film got into the College Short (Film Award category) because it's a worldwide category — so it's a big deal when a local film makes it into that choice group," Carney said. "We're looking for films with great, compelling stories, films that move quickly and films that have some kind of cool, creative element."

READ MORE: ASU students' short film 'Hermana' takes on Phoenix Film Festival

This kind of renown is a gratifying step up for young filmmakers like Fischer, who was also involved last year in the high school section.

The award winner will be announced during the festival after all the films in the category are shown. Cornell said that the team is extremely honored and excited to be involved.

But it's not all about winning for the "Memento Mori" crew. Being there, getting an opportunity like this and creating with friends are enough cause for celebration, they said.

"I had the best help from my buddies who helped me out, they were absolutely amazing," Cornell said. "Calvin (Fischer) absolutely killed it behind the camera. Thomas (Chermack) was running around doing every single thing we asked him to do. Actors (Xander Cabezudo and Tyler Kilmer) were totally on it."

Edited by Sophia Braccio, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.

Reach the reporter at and follow @andrewdirst on X.

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