CMU student wins Steeltown Film Factory award for coming-of-age comedy


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If Yulin Kuang's 16-year-old self could only see her now.

The 22-year-old, days from graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, spun her adolescent anxieties and delightfully distinctive voice into a script called "The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested." On Saturday, she won first prize and $15,000 in the Steeltown Film Factory contest.

Long a fan of male-driven movies such as "Rushmore," she told a sold-out crowd at CMU, "I wish I'd had more examples of female-driven, coming-of-age comedy at the time. I might have realized sooner that the stories I kept locked away in my diaries were the stories that were worth telling."

Her screenplay is about a high school girl named Katya "having a crisis worthy of Judy Blume" because her breasts refuse to grow in a timely manner.

"This is a story I feel particularly compelled to tell, mostly because 16-year-old me needs to hear it. Something I couldn't have known then was that the horrible agonies of adolescence would be useful to me in a few years; that insecurities I had about my chest size, my acne, my total lack of coolness could be exploited for the sake of comedy and screenwriting."

Ms. Kuang, a native of China who moved as a 3-year-old to Kansas and whose family now lives in New Jersey, plans to spend her summer making her short film with an actress she declined to name just yet.

In a surprise, second- and third-place winners also were named: Christopher Preksta received $10,000 for "Echo Torch," and Scott Peters and Anthony Poremski, friends since the alphabet linked their names and seats at St. Teresa of Avila in Perrysville, earned $5,000 for "Escape From St. Quentin's."

Winners were named after all three scripts were read -- or mimed in near-darkness for "Echo Torch" -- by CMU drama students who used minimal props but brought a professional touch to the proceedings. Five judges, including actor David Conrad, offered compliments, criticisms and suggestions before voting in private.

The Film Factory prize is now known as the Ellen Weiss Kander Award, in honor of the co-founder of Steeltown Entertainment Project.

She is battling cancer and did not attend but was warmly and well represented by her husband, Gregg, children Ben, Jake and Kate, and childhood friend Maxine Lapiduss. The comedy writer-producer recalled "schlepping around Beacon Street" collecting money for UNICEF and wanting to buy Kit Kat bars, but Ellen insisted it go to needy children.

"Today we honor her dedication as a patron, strategist, a nurturer and a supporter and as a champion to emerging artists of all ages," Ms. Lapiduss said. The awards will allow them to explore their own passions, creativity and visions.

Splitting the $30,000 prize money three ways will allow youthful and resourceful filmmakers to leverage their winnings to get their films made.

"We're hoping to get three movies made out of this," Carl Kurlander, Steeltown co-founder.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published May 13, 2012 4:00 AM


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