The Film Thesis Chronicles: Seniors Reflect on Last Semester
Twice before, we’ve checked in with senior film majors working on their film theses. Now, as second semester begins and the April screenings draw imminently closer, we talked to them once again about how their individual theses have evolved over the course of the year. The students and their crews encountered some struggles along the way, but each has come out on the other side more confident in themselves and in their product.
“Absolutely, for me, the blackout became the biggest challenge,” said Veronika Vackova ’12, whose film tracks the relationship between a disheartened musician and a garden gnome that is mysteriously mailed to him one day. “I remember we lost power [last October] in the middle of our shoot and all of us were worried we had blown a fuse. The next day, a lot of our actors from Massachusetts and Middletown couldn’t make it to shooting. It was really very stressful.”
Vackova said her choice to use 16mm over digital film caused further complications and increased the stress of the shoot.
“We accidentally exposed one of the rolls of film during shooting and so we had to do a lot of reshoots,” she said. “It was very frustrating.”
Siyou Tan ’12, who also chose to shoot on 16mm, shared Vackova’s sentiments, though neither Tan nor Vackova regret their choice.
“The 16mm has such incredible visual quality that the problems would have to have been much worse for me to regret using it,” Tan said. “The color is amazing and crisp and it gives the film such a good look.”
All difficulties aside, the filmmakers unanimously expressed how much they enjoyed being on set during production. Julian Silver ’12 found it to be her favorite part of the process.
“I don’t remember feeling quite so into something,” he said. “Just living and breathing it completely for a couple weeks—it’s a great feeling.”
Tan and Vackova expressed similarly positive outlooks on the filming process.
“It’s very exhilarating to be on set, filming, watching everything come together,” Vackova said.
“If anything, the hardest part is now the editing,” she said. “It’s really hard to have to take everything in your head and reorganize it. It’s also not as exciting as when you’re shooting. Or it’s a different kind of exciting.”
Carolyn Cohen ’12, on the other hand, chose to write a screenplay rather than direct. For Cohen, the decision was an obvious one given her interest in writing for television after she graduates.
“It also seemed like I had more options for my story if I just wrote the screenplay,” explained Cohen, whose story involves a writer who discovers a land in which defunct and obsolete fictional characters still exist and live their lives. “There are just certain things you can’t make a film about for your thesis, but with the screenplay you can write about anything.”
A digital film thesis costs about $4,000 and a 16mm-35mm film about $10,000, but screenplays are much cheaper.
“With the screenplay I just need to buy the ink and the paper,” Cohen joked.
Regardless of whether they chose to direct or write, and in spite of the freak snowstorm’s attempts to get the best of them, all of the thesis students expressed feelings of fulfillment with their projects. They may have almost a semester to go, but they are satisfied with the knowledge they’ve gained thus far.
“One of the best lessons that came out of this was how to deal with pressure and setbacks,” Vackova said. “Also, of course, how to work with a large group of people, how to manage all that.”
Cohen agreed, but felt that the experience was bittersweet.
“This is definitely one of my greatest learning experiences,” Cohen said. “What’s kind of sad, though, is that the ending of the film thesis seems like a marker for the ending of my time here at Wes, which I obviously don’t want to happen.”
We’ll check back in with our intrepid film majors later in the semester to see how they feel when they reach the end of their arduous journies.