The Film Thesis Chronicles: Volume One
There comes a time at the end of every school year when the Film Department puts together a special presentation of senior thesis films to show to the entire campus. This well-attended event is the culmination of a stressful year of writing, shooting, and editing. The Argus will follow film majors throughout the process, to see what goes on behind the scenes of a senior film thesis.
The first major decision for an aspiring senior thesis filmmaker is the choice of medium: a 16-35mm film, a digital film, a screenplay, or a film history thesis. For Siyou Tan ‘12 and Veronika Vackova ’12, 16mm was the clear choice.
“It can be a harder and a more stressful process but more rewarding,” Vakova said. “You have to think twice before rolling the camera or making a cut.”
For both, the increased difficulty of the medium was outweighed by film’s classic look and feel.
“I think there is an irreplaceable visual quality in film,” Tan said.
Julian Silver ’12, on the other hand, opted for digital filmmaking.
“I chose digital because it’s the cheaper option as well as the medium that’s easier to work in,” he said. “I like the option to look at shots right after you shoot them, and though I definitely miss the Steenbeck room, it’s slightly easier to edit in as well.”
16mm thesis films can cost upwards of $10,000, while the cost of producing digital film hovers around $4,000.
Zach Valenti ’12 and Carolyn Cohen ’12 both chose a different creative outlet for their theses: screenplays.
“There’s a good chance I’ll want to pursue writing for film and/or TV after I graduate, so this seemed like a logical step,” Cohen said.
Valenti’s decision was based in similar reasoning.
“Having taken several fiction classes over the years, as well as the screenwriting class last semester, I was attracted to writing a screenplay,” he said.
The next step is the plot. In the past, theses have ranged from horror films to lighthearted comedies to experimental art pieces and everything in between. Valenti is writing “a story about a 35-year-old woman obsessed with racing in the 1970s who starts running drugs in order to get into speedboat racing,” while Cohen’s is about “a writer who ends up discovering a world where discontinued fictional characters live.” Vackova’s film is the story of “a grumpy old man who receives a mysterious package one day with a garden gnome.”
But settling on a storyline is only half the battle. Next, it needs to be transformed into something filmable.
“It’s rewriting and more rewriting, which is damn hard work, but I love doing it,” Silver said. “After you finish one draft, you’re already thinking of the next.”
Because film theses are self-funded and cost several thousand dollars each, covering the costs often requires a combination of hard work and creativity. Tan obtained the funds with a little good old-fashioned elbow grease.
“[I] worked like a dog during past summers,” she said.
Vackova received an award from the National Board of Review through the Film Department to cover most of her expenses, although thriftiness remains crucial.
“I am also hoping to get as much for free as I can and my housemates promised to help with cooking and feeding the crew,” she said.
Filmmaking and screenwriting are inevitably stressful pursuits, especially for college students already with a lot on their plates.
“The hardest part is going to be finding the time to give this project the focus and undivided attention it deserves,” Cohen said. “I feel that, for me, the writing process has to be really organic, so interrupting a good flow is insanely frustrating, but it happens all the time.”
Vackova is also feeling the time crunch.
“Pre-production is such a stressful time,” she said. “Rewriting the script, putting a crew together, casting actors, location scouting–all that happens within a very short period of time.”
But despite the stress, all of the seniors are excited to get going on their projects–and to work with their teams in doing so.
“I have a great team around me who I’m pumped to work with and who I trust very much,” Silver said. “It’s gonna be a lot of early mornings and late nights—wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Screenwriting is also a collaborative process.
“I love bouncing ideas around with other people that are down to tell some entertaining and meaningful stories,” Valenti said.
The shooting dates have yet to be assigned, but shoots will start in late October and continue for the rest of the semester. We’ll check back in a few weeks to see what progress the seniors have made.