ENCINITAS — Canyon Crest Academy senior and aspiring filmmaker Gabriel Gaurano is no stranger to winning prizes for his work.
But even he had to react with shock when he learned April 20 that he won second place in Sallie Mae’s “Make College Happen” contest.
The prize: a cool $10,000.
“Man, when they told me, it was pretty amazing,” said Gaurano, whose win was broadcasted on Facebook Live by the college saving, planning and payment company. “It is definitely one of the bigger contests I’ve won, and I felt extremely lucky and fortunate to be one of the 10 finalists and to be in second place.”
Gaurano’s five-and-a-half minute entry begins as a horror film, with the protagonist running down a suburban street into a home, seemingly away from harm. Then, he takes off his glasses and the horror-themed music rises to a fever pitch to reveal the antagonist: a college tuition bill.
From there, Gaurano provides valuable tips on how students can plan to pay for college, both in the short term and long term.
“I just tried to keep it as genuine as I could with film,” he said. “The college application process, and of course the financial aid process, can be nerve wracking, even scary, but I wanted to show that there are ways to plan that can take the fear out of the process.”
Gaurano was one of 10 finalists for the grand prize of $15,000, part of a $40,000 prize pot.
Just a year ago, Gaurano and his filmmaking partner Navin Bose were finalists in a national contest sponsored by Toyota in which they created a public service announcement for distracted driving. They won $2,500 for the PSA, which encouraged drivers to “glove box” their cell phones and handheld devices while driving.
Gaurano hasn’t yet decided where he will attend school in the fall, as he is waiting to hear if he gets off of the waiting list for Chapman University’s film school. He also could attend community college in Los Angeles and transfer to the University of Southern California.
Wherever his future school may be, Gaurano said that filmmaking is central to his future. He is currently working on several documentaries, including one about two companies’ efforts to transform ocean waste into handplanes for body boards, and another chronicling the life of Akira Wyatt, a transgender U.S. Navy corpsman.
“As a filmmaker, I am trying to follow stories that are more impactful and raw,” Gaurano said.
He also recently finished a screenplay that he plans to film in July.
“I’m just trying to stay busy,” Gaurano said.