While other Wesleyan students shipped up to “just outside of Boston” this fall break to decompress, catch up on work and/or “Breaking Bad,” and eat real human food, I elected to extend my sojourn in M-town to knock off one of my college bucket list items: act in a senior thesis film. Little did I know that in the world of action movies, “act” is widely understood to mean “run back and forth in front of a camera and tackle zombies.”
Don’t get me wrong—I have a range of experience in the running back and forth area as well as what some might call expertise in the discipline of zombie tackling. What I wasn’t prepared for was the dead squirrel.
To give the Festering Rodent Incident some context, here’s a little information about the movie we were shooting. Once edited, senior Lucas San Juan’s thesis—working title: “Resist the End”—should be a grandiose, post-apocalyptic thriller worthy of token Wesleyan film alum Michael Bay himself. The storyline follows a renegade soldier and a former slave—Brett Keating ’15 and yours truly—in their quest for the Midland Republic, which is the nearest dregs of civilization and their only hope for survival in a desolate world. Whether your frame of reference is Cormac McCarthy or “The Hunger Games,” “Resist the End” lives up to both in its imagining of what Earth will be like after the end (I’ll let you know just how prescient this vision is after December 21). Since shooting on film is considered by some to be a dead art form—and who really wants to see an action movie in 16 mm?—San Juan decided to go digital.
The shoot began with a healthy dose of foreshadowing in the form of a terrifying encounter with a decaying baby doll that Keating and I found while filming in the middle of the woods. Presumably, some creepy kid, who has most likely grown up to be an equally spooky middle-aged man, was caring for his plastic child back in ’73 in the middle of nowhere and dropped it into a stream. To debunk the claims of everyone who thought I was crazy (probably all my haters), I can now affirm that I was right all along: evil dolls exist. They’re lurking amid the trees of Long Lane. And they’re waiting for you.
Despite the probability that this corrupted plaything does indeed house a demon, the teenage girl in me couldn’t help but notice that the baby was, like, kinda cute. We have since cared for Brett Jr. as though he were our own.
The next shoot day also took place in the woods, this time at night. In what would prove to be a running theme of the shoot, San Juan did approximately one thousand takes of each shot, many of which featured my flawless delivery of lines such as “Got the map?” and “But—.” I expect this inspired performance will result in an Oscar at some point.
We also filmed a number of scenes consisting of Keating valiantly fighting off antagonists of all kinds while I politely waited at the bottom of the stairs, as a woman should.
The atmosphere of a film set is comparable in its constant state of emergency to that of a pre-Sandy Wesleyan. Every mishap is a crisis, and every demand is of utmost importance. Meals are few and far between, but the coffee flows freely, and snacks are often plentiful. I myself consumed upwards of 15 cookies during one day of shooting. Necessary car trips for the crewmembers were taken from Long Lane back to Home Avenue for the purpose of accessing a bathroom.
Despite the hectic environment, even fancy film people find time to relax. Assistant Director Danny Witkin ’13 was partial to kicking back with a copy of his favorite student newspaper, The Wesleyan Argus, whenever the opportunity presented itself.
The “Resist the End” cast and crew had their fair share of misadventures during production, as is to be expected in the process of creating a film with limited resources. In the case of this high-coverage, action-heavy endeavor, setbacks included the destruction of multiple venues in which San Juan had planned to shoot on location, an uncannily inconvenient torrential downpour, the unfortunate resemblance of the “Slaver” characters to filthy hipsters, and the depositing of the movie’s most talented actress—one Roxie Pell—into a river by the production assistants playing soldiers (which I suspect was on purpose).
All of these trials and tribulations were well worth the street cred I inevitably gained from rollin’ up to Weshop looking like an indisputable badass with my fake bruises and blood.
Now, since you’ve been waiting for it so patiently—it’s time for the squirrel.
When signing up for this project, I never anticipated the integral role I would play in Wesleyan’s ongoing Squirrel Massacre 2012. Although Keating was a perfectly adequate scene partner, his performance pales in comparison to our costar, the illustrious Mr. Dead Squirrel. If you’re wondering whether or not I touched it, the answer is yes. If you’re wondering whether or not Production Assistant Tristan Bass-Krueger ’15 was asked to locate and fish Mr. Squirrel out of the dense shrubbery after preemptively discarding our furry, disemboweled friend, the answer is also yes.
Based on my ability to jog on camera, my willingness to let the men do the talking, and the undeniable chemistry I shared with my costar, the squirrel, I’d say I’m expecting at least a Golden Globe for this one. If you’re intrigued and/or terrified by any of the above-mentioned shenanigans, keep an eye out for the crazy chick in a camouflage jacket at this spring’s thesis film screenings.