Students win cash prize in green video contest

Two USF students relied on their filmmaking talents to shed light on environmental concerns, winning a video competition and prize money in the process.

Dan Bakst, a junior majoring in TV production, and Dan Nguyen, a biomedical science graduate, learned last week that they placed first in a video contest sponsored by Florida’s A Bag Life organization, a public educational campaign that unites Florida’s Recycling Partnership with the community, according to its website.

Bakst and Nguyen won in the Plastic Bag Reuse category and will split a $1,500 award.

“It’s always great to be rewarded for something that you enjoy doing and something that you would be doing anyways for no prize,” Bakst said. “If you are committed to something and want to have fun with it, you can make it work.”

Video submissions were required to have a run time of 30 seconds, be in English and be original works. The entries had to include a plastic bag similar to those supplied by retailers but void of brand names.

Bakst said the competition featured two rounds of voting. First, the public voted online for its favorite film. Then, judges had their say, voting on the videos that received the most support.

Nguyen said they shot and directed the video in one day.

The idea for the video came when the two friends sat down and wrote a short song about reusing plastic bags, Bakst said.

“We based the video around the song. Dan made the bag and it was perfect. We tried to make (our idea) as simple as possible, but still fun,” he said.

Nguyen said the most challenging part was determining how to make a plastic bag float in the air.

“We had a lot of trial and error to keep the bag up,” he said. “We tried different things like balloons, thread and string.”

Bakst said they made the video in a series of steps.

“We went to the dollar store to pick up the supplies that Dan knew we needed. Then we came back and recorded our song and shot the video. Last, we edited it all together,” Bakst said.

“Bakst said he has always been interested in film production but didn’t begin making short films until his first year of college.

“It wasn’t until freshman year when I bought my first camera that I got really into it,” he said.

He said he began making short films independently during his freshman year. In February, he entered Campus MovieFest with his film, “Dennis.”

The film won Best Comedy in USF’s contest in March before winning in the same category at regionals in Orlando. It was then shown at nationals in Las Vegas in June. Judges viewed and scored the films.

The film follows the lives of two roommates named Dan and Dennis. Dan was played by Bakst and Dennis is a cartoon character he and Nguyen created. He said the success of “Dennis” inspired them to create a Web series of the film, which was causing them stress.

“We decided to take a week off,” Bakst said. “My mom sent me an e-mail about a plastic bag film contest, and we decided to try something that would be fun, but still work-related.”

Bakst said that led him to enter the recycling video contest.

“We make stuff all the time just to make it,” he said. “This showed us that if you keep doing what you are doing, hopefully you’ll be rewarded for it.”

The original film can be viewed at