Assistant Professor of Film Studies Steve Collins’ new feature “You Hurt My Feelings” has been accepted to three high-profile film festivals this fall, including the Austin Film Festival, the Vienna Viennale, and the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C. The film premiered domestically this June at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Collins graduated from Wesleyan with a degree in Film Studies in 1996. Prior to “You Hurt My Feelings,” he wrote and directed the feature “Gretchen,” which also screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, as well as many short films.
Film Studies Department Chair Jeanine Basinger commended Collins for his achievement.
“I’ve always liked his work, even when he was a student here and won a prize for the best senior thesis film of the year,” she said. “His work has just always been unique and it has a peculiarly personal quality–it’s funny and tragic, simultaneously.”
Following his graduation from Wesleyan, Collins worked in New York City on several lower-budget films as Assistant Director and Assistant Editor. However, he eventually returned to writing and directing and attended graduate school for filmmaking at the University of Texas at Austin.
“I found that I was a mediocre-to-all-right [Assistant Director] and that being an Assistant Editor was isolating,” he said. “I realized I missed filmmaking and making my own films.”
After graduating from University of Texas at Austin, Collins accepted a teaching position there and realized his desire to continue to teach and make films. He remained in contact with Basinger, who offered him a position at Wesleyan.
Though it is his feature-length film that will screen at the festivals, Collins emphasized the value of short films. Both “Gretchen” and “You Hurt My Feelings” started out as short films, which he then expanded upon.
“I realized how valuable shorts are as sketchbooks to develop an idea and try different things, or, just on a practical level, a short is always easier to get together than a feature,” he said. “As long as you’re working, producing, and growing, that’s a lot more important than the size of what you do.”
“You Hurt My Feelings” centers on a man who works as a nanny while trying to reunite with an ex-girlfriend. Collins said that he was inspired to write and direct the film based on his experience as a parent.
“When I describe it, it always sounds like ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ but it’s an arty-boring version with less yuks; it does have some comedy in it actually, just no old, British nanny suits,” he said. “I think that the movie was inspired by having children—experiencing the beauty of that and still being stuck with all my problems…It occurred to me to use the children as a kind of kick in the head to a troubled character, and that’s how it all got started.”
Collins said that throughout his work as a filmmaker, he has been attracted to characters with emotional wounds, which is reflected in his new film’s protagonist.
“I’m attracted to pain, I don’t know [why],” he said. “I’m interested in people rehabilitating themselves—figuring out what’s wrong with them and how to fix it.”
The film was shot during scheduled University vacations last year, so Collins was able to balance his duties as a professor with his shooting schedule. He said that he found the process of making a film while also teaching students to be rewarding.
“It invigorated my teaching—it gives you fresh ideas, fresh perspectives,” he said. “When I was younger I thought a professor was someone who knew everything and was somewhat static; I didn’t understand how you could do it semester after semester, but now that I’m doing it, I realize that it’s a process of growing and evolving—the teaching can inform your own work and vice versa.”
Collins said that the decision to submit the film to festivals was made in collaboration with the film’s producers. He said that festivals were chosen based on where they thought the film would get the most interest and attention. The film’s screening in Vienna in October will mark its international premiere.
“You want to be at a festival that is in love with your film, you don’t just want to be tacked onto the schedule,” he said.
Collins said that he is now at work writing an absurdist comedy about liars that is based on a short film he shot this summer.
“[‘You Hurt My Feelings’] was a drama, a love story, and it was very raw, and I’m looking forward to going back to something that is more straight comedy,” he said. “It’s essentially a comic version of my regular themes, where people have difficulty communicating and therefore enforce their own loneliness. Hijinks ensue.”