Jiménez recently received a Student Heritage Award from the American Society of Cinematographers and saw his work screened at Sundance
When a young Oscar Jiménez looked ahead to potential education and career paths, none of them placed him behind a camera. He certainly didn’t envision his college years taking him to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, nor in his wildest dreams did he imagine himself accepting an award from the American Society of Cinematographers — he didn’t even initially see himself at BYU.
“In high school, I was convinced I was going to go to culinary school,” said Jiménez. “After I was baptized, my bishop told me about BYU — I didn’t know anything about BYU or Utah — and I decided to come to school here for marketing. I hadn’t even considered the arts, but after my mission I took a film class as an elective. I thought it would be easy, but instead it was heavy on theory and analysis. It was cool to see that there was a class dedicated to thinking critically about media.”
Though drawn to film — and specifically camerawork — Jiménez didn’t feel that he was ready to jump into the media arts major. He took a year off from school to learn basic technical skills by working on local sets and watching tutorials on YouTube.
“I took a lot of really lousy pictures, but eventually I started figuring out how to make the camera work for me rather than the opposite,” said Jiménez. “I was just absorbing information like a sponge. By the time I applied and heard back from the media arts program, I had made up my mind that I wanted to be a cinematographer.”
Despite his emphasis on the technical side of filmmaking, Jiménez continued to resonate with the thoughtful and contextual approach to film that he found in the Department of Theatre and Media Arts.
“In retrospect, the more theoretical stuff was huge for me in becoming a better storyteller,” he said. “Cinematography isn’t just about pretty pictures; it’s about telling a cohesive story through images. Now I’m putting more thought into everything I do — I can tell you why I chose a wide angle or why this lens or that lighting.”
During his time at BYU, Jiménez had the chance to put his studies into practice through various documentary and fiction capstone projects and two films with photography professor and director Robert Machaoian Graham — films that would land Jiménez at the Sundance Film Festival, watching his work with an international audience.
“I feel really lucky and blessed to have just graduated and already have had these experiences,” said Jiménez. “It’s a vulnerable thing to put your work in front of an audience, but it’s also very validating that the programmers liked it enough to give it a spot and show it to other people. And I’ve learned so much from Robert — if you as a student can put forth the effort and be in this humble state of mind to admit to yourself that you don’t know everything, you might find yourself collaborating with somebody who knows a lot more, and you can be a part of something amazing.”
But even Sundance wasn’t quite the pinnacle for a young cinematographer. In October 2019 — just six months after his BYU graduation — Jiménez received an American Society of Cinematographer’s Student Heritage Award for his work on media arts capstone film “Gather.” The ASC is the largest group of cinematographers in the world and is, in Jiménez’s words, “the governing body representing what all aspiring cinematographers want to reach.”
“I see the ASC Heritage Award as the top award in the country for cinematography students, so at first I didn’t even know if I should bother submitting,” said Jiménez. “I didn’t feel like I was good enough, but I ultimately decided I would rather submit and be rejected than always wonder what might have happened.”
Jiménez was named one of 12 nominees in three categories representing seven universities across the nation — placing BYU alongside schools such as the University of Southern California and the American Film Institute.
“The nomination alone was huge for me,” said Jiménez. “To be recognized by the ASC body — by some of my heroes — and to be deemed worthy in their eyes was so validating. Of course I wanted to win, but I would have been happy with just that. It also felt good to represent BYU. Some of these other schools are like the Juilliard of film schools, and many of their students have been working toward filmmaking since they were five years old.”
Award recipients were announced at a dinner with ASC members on Oct. 12. To his shock, Jiménez was named the winner of the Richard H. Kline Student Heritage Award – Undergraduate Category.
“When they said my name, my blood pressure just dropped, and I thought I was going to faint,” Jiménez recounted. “I was emotional, but at the same time, I wasn’t able to process what was going on, so a lot of it is blank in my memory. I was just blown away. The whole experience confirmed to me that I want to keep working at it, keep going and keep learning.”
As Jiménez continues to pursue new projects and develop his own unique voice or signature, he also hopes to give back to his alma mater and local film community.
“I want to pay it forward in any way I can,” said Jiménez. “Right now I’m an adjunct here at BYU teaching a basic video cinematography class. It’s helped me learn to remember and go back to the basics.”
Jiménez offered advice to film students just starting out at BYU.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” he said. “Watch, listen and take good notes. I’ve found that the students who try to just get through their classes so they can move on to their projects often don’t feel as satisfied with their work because they’re not really understanding the ‘why.’ The other thing I found was the importance of finding a good group of collaborators. I made a lot of subpar work with friends early on in the program, and we failed so many times — but we were ambitious. School is a safe place to be ambitious and to fail miserably. I think we should all be less worried about failing.”