For many film majors at Wesleyan, the fall semester of senior year is a time filled with excitement and anxiety, as they spend countless pizza-filled, sleep-deprived days formulating and defending their own creative masterpieces. One of these stressed-out seniors is Conor Byrne ’11, who just wrapped filming on his senior thesis film. The Argus caught up with him on a warm Monday night in the Center for Film Studies.

A: Where are you from?

CB: A little town called River Edge, NJ. It’s about 15 minutes outside of New York City.

A: Did you plan to be a film major at Wes?

CB: I did, actually. I had an older brother here, class of ’09, and I learned about the program through him. I definitely wanted to do it.

A: What’s your film about?

CB: It’s a comedy about a suburban Santa Claus in the off-season, how he’s depressed when it’s not the Christmas season, and how he gradually hits rock bottom. He eventually figures out how to be Santa all the time. So it’s a heartwarming tale.

A: How was the overall shooting experience?

CB: I shot five days straight over fall break. Long days of getting up early and then wrapping late at night. Things never work out how you plan—you have to come up with a new game plan every night. All the exteriors I shot in suburban Middletown. I just knocked on doors.

A: And people were receptive to that?

CB: I left letters first, and yeah, they were. They had no idea how big of an undertaking it was. I used 16mm film, which is very sensitive to light and takes a long time, so they really had no idea what they were in for.
A: In terms of production, did you have everything provided for you by the school?

CB: Generally we made do with the equipment that was given to us. I did spend some time on eBay though looking for tacky Christmas stuff. So that’s where the majority of my funds went. A lot of my friends from the film major were my crew. I’m in Beta, so a lot of the Beta bros helped me out. You need strong arms on set and those guys just hopped to. Some of my friends from home came up too.

A: Did anything unexpected happen on set that you had to deal with?

CB: My two producers and I were knocking on doors in Middletown, and this guy was very flattered that we had left him a note. He invited us into his backyard where he and a bunch of his 50-year-old friends were drinking Heinekens and smoking cigarettes. Then he said he had a lot of Christmas stuff in his basement. So we went down to his musty basement and looked at his one box of Christmas junk. Then he starts telling us about how he makes pickled vegetables, and he had all these jars of pickled cauliflowers and stuff. He took one down and offered it to my friend Gus. Gus didn’t want it—he said he didn’t like that kind of stuff—but the old guy just held it in front of him for 10 seconds with no one saying anything. So I was like, ‘You gotta take it, man.’ Then we got out of there. So sometimes, to secure locations, you have to go into people’s basements and take their vegetables.

A: Solid advice. So how do you think your overall experience with the film major here was? Hard? Easy?

CB: It’s great. I love being a film major here. It’s something you have to be 100 percent committed to. I came here knowing it was what I wanted to do and gave it my all. I’ve had a great experience. It’s definitely not easy. People say you have to study what you love and love what you study. It becomes what you like to do in your spare time as well as in the classroom.

A: Do you have any advice for kids who want to be film majors?

CB: Watch movies. Go to the Film Series whenever you can. Talk to professors. But number one is go to the Film Series, even if you’ve never heard of the film, just go.

A: Do you have plans for what you’re going to do with your film major after you leave Wes yet?

CB: I’ve caught the bug. I can’t go from doing this to working in a cubicle. So I just want to work in the film industry on some level, even just making movies with my friends. Definitely something that involves directly making films. Everybody says that, but everybody means it.

A: What are your goals for this movie?

CB: I just want to make something that people will enjoy on some level. There are a lot of student films that look pretty but don’t have much of a narrative. So first and foremost is to make the mass audience laugh and have a good time watching it. I just want to tell a story that my grandma will like.

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