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Hastings grad wins student Emmy

Actress Natalie Zea, Billy Sullivan, co-producer/writer Gregory Williamson and actress Ashley Madekwe pose in the press room at the 34th College Television Awards. Photo by Scott Kirkland, Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images

Billy Sullivan, a 2002 Hastings High School graduate, started making a name for himself in the film industry last year with a short web series, "Frat House Musical." This year, his work is still turning heads. The show was nominated for and won a Student Emmy at the 2013 College Television Awards April 24-25.

"Frat House Musical" is a series of three five-minute episodes about a college student trying to get into a fraternity but keeps getting rejected because of his tendency to break into song. The series was created for the Subway Fresh Artists Filmmakers Series competition last year, and was one of four winners of that competition. The series also got its premier at one of the largest film and music festivals, South By Southwest.

The College Television Awards are produced by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the same organization that holds the Primetime Emmy show for professional filmmakers. The two awards shows are done essentially the same way, with the only difference being that the College Television Awards work with student filmmakers.

The day before the awards show, Sullivan and other nominees got a chance to rub elbows with the pros in the business, including past Primetime Emmy winners, film executives, writers and others working in the field. Students got to hear about how those professionals got to where they are now, what they did as students and what their careers are like, Sullivan said.

"Frat House Musical" won the award for best series April 25. The awards show was hosted by Tom Bergeron from "Dancing With The Stars," and other celebrities presented awards. After a winner was named, the winner would go on stage, accept the award, give a speech and then head backstage for interviews and photos.

While the Student Emmy is a highlight for Sullivan, it's not the only accomplishment he's added to his portfolio since he produced "Frat House Musical."

While studying at the University of Southern California, he finished his thesis project and got a position as a teacher's assistant. He graduated in May of this year.

While talking with others in the industry at the College Television Awards, Sullivan met one of the producers of a show called "City Walk," a series about how walking is transforming cities across the nation. The show, produced by Rigler Creative, had just been sold to the public access station KCET and Link Media, and the producer needed a second editor to help start producing episodes. Later, Rigler Creative called Sullivan and offered him a job as a segment editor.

"About a month and a half ago, the lead editor got a job offer and she moved to South Africa," Sullivan said, and he got a promotion. Now he's in the lead editor spot.

His job, he said, is a little like writing a story. Once the producers come up with a story idea, the camera crews goes out to get raw footage. They bring it back and give it to Sullivan, who watches it all and has to figure out where, exactly, the story is for the show's two main segments. Over the course of about a week, he puts together a rough story, then walks it through several review processes with the main producer, executive producer and network. Meanwhile, his segment editor is doing the same sort of work on the smaller pieces of the episode, and when those are finished Sullivan puts everything together and polishes it up before sending it off to be aired.

Because the show has no script and is more of a documentary style show, he sometimes has to get a little creative in figuring out how to put it all together.

"It's pretty interesting, pretty challenging," he said.

Also in the past year, Sullivan has produced a short film called "Private Life," a story about Eric, a young reclusive photographer who secretly follows his boyfriend into the mountains in hopes of finding answers about his fidelity. Instead, Eric finds a deeper connection to himself and his boyfriend just as they fall prey to a stranger who targets them. The story is inspired by an actual hate crime and was filmed in the national forests surrounding Los Angeles. The film has just been finished and is being submitted to film festivals, Sullivan said.

He's also currently working on producing and directing a television spec pilot about Alex, Luke and Holden, three hard-partying, lazy, inconsiderate and unaware roommates who get cut off from their parents' handouts and must band together to save their house, fill their freezer and pay their bar tab. Reluctant to grow out of their frat boy ways, they do the only thing they actually learned in college and start a party planning business. Filming for this episode will begin early next month, and casting is underway. Sullivan said he hopes to sell it to a network.

Looking ahead, Sullivan said he expects to stay with "City Walk" for at least a little bit longer. There are a few episodes left of this season, and it's been picked up for a second season. When this season wraps up in October, Sullivan expects to switch into more of a writer/editor role, which is more closely aligned with his career goals. Ultimately, he wants to be writing, directing and producing, he said. The producers at "City Walk" understand, he said, and the work he does there doesn't take up so much of his own time that he can't work on other projects as well. He's also doing some writing and directing for the company. He's working on a web series comedy set in their own office. The company also really liked "Frat House Musical" and is gearing up to do a second season of that show. Sullivan said he'll start production on that project later this year and expects a release date sometime in 2014.