Classic Ad Campaign Gets New “Upstate” Twist

I Love NY Commercial WinnerThe screen fades from black to a backyard college graduation party. Family and friends congratulate the young grad and ask where he’s headed next.

“New York,” he says, proudly.

“Oh, the big city…,” someone in the crowd muses.

Turns out, he’s headed everywhere in New York – except for the big city. The film then takes the viewer on a colorful journey through the wine region. Past majestic waterfalls. Across rugged walking trails. And along serene images of boats dancing on glistening lakes.

This is the New York that Onondaga alumnus and filmmaker Sean Cunningham ‘05 wanted to portray. And out of the nearly 1,000 entries, it was his film that resonated with the judges of the “I Love New York Short Film Contest” – among them actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and Saturday Night Live comedienne Tina Fey. They, and several well-known New York City movie critics, were searching for a film that broadened the popular campaign from city-based to one that showcased the entire state. They chose Cunningham’s film as the Grand Prize Winner.

Cunningham grew up in the Town of Onondaga and says he’s always loved upstate New York. “There are so many beautiful places in this region,” says Cunningham. “In my film, I wanted to help people really see its beauty. I thinkit was eye-opening for many who have yet to discover the splendor of upstate New York.”

In 2005, Cunningham graduated from Onondaga Community College with a degree in graphic design. He transferred to Binghamton University to study film and in his senior year he says he entered the contest on a whim.

The grand prize was a high definition camera and tickets to attend a filmmaking workshop in New York City. Also, his short film was shown nationally during the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2009, his film will be shown at all New York State film festivals.

“Most of my family is from the Syracuse area. They’re really proud of the commercial and on Thanksgiving Day they all gathered at my home to watch my national debut.”

He says his time at Onondaga provided just the right foundation for a career in film. “I’ve always wanted to use my creativity, and graphic design was a huge interest of mine,” he says. “Art Professor Deb Haylor-McDowell was one of my favorite professors. She let me integrate my passion for film into my final art project for one of her classes. She appreciated my enthusiasm enough to let me take a risk and do what I love to do.”

Cunningham will always love upstate New York, but right now he’s packing his bags and moving to the Hudson Valley area. “I’ll be working for a small production company in a nice town along the river. The big city is nice but it’s too crazy to live in. I love visiting there, but I’m partial to this end of the state.”

To see Sean’s award-winning film and learn more about this talented filmmaker, go to