“Someone said something funny to me, a friend who graduated last year, and he said that making a thesis is like losing your virginity,” said film major Sidney Schleiff ’14. “And I think there’s a lot of truth to that.”
Now that the deed is done, the campus community waits with baited breath for classes to end and the screenings of the film theses to begin. This year, the class of 2014 has produced 9 screenplays, 17 digital films, 10 16mm films, and 1 history and theory film thesis. Each project started with a unique vision, and the results include films about pickles, birdwatchers, and an “Asswhoopin’.”
Though most of the excitement for the thesis screenings lies in congratulating the majors for all of their hard work, the films hardly stand as single-effort ventures. The film theses reflect the collaborative nature of arts at Wesleyan. Many senior film majors spent time working on other films besides their own.
“Every weekend, you’re devoted to filming and being in this productive mindset, and so you build a momentum and everyone just gets in the zone,” said Peter Conforti ’14, who worked closely on the sets of fellow film majors Spencer Burnham ’14 and Elijah Cone ’14.
While each filmmaker is trying to bring hir film to perfection, Henry Hall ’14, who made a musical comedy, said that this did not lead to a competitive atmosphere, but rather a community of support among the majors.
“Everyone was so supportive, and there was a real sense of camaraderie,” Hall said. “It wasn’t competitive or nasty; everyone wanted everyone’s movie to be as good as they could be.”
Many non-major students collaborated on the films as well. For instance, Leah Khambata ’14 held open auditions for her film, “A Future to Hold,” in September, meaning that her cast was made up of students from all niches of the University. The non-film-major housemate of Andrew Cohen ’14, Alexander Cantrell ’14, provided both story inspiration and voice-over narration for Cohen’s documentary. The film centered around Cantrell’s grandmother, who lived in Middletown until she passed away at 104 years old, while Cohen was still editing her interviews.
Cohen and Khambata both found challenges in condensing their stories into the 12-minute maximum for thesis films.
“Ideally, I would have liked to have time to develop the characters and really get into the depths of it,” Khambata said. “So I did feel like I was squashing a feature movie into 12 minutes.”
Though difficulties are expected in such an arduous process such as making a film from the bottom up, most filmmakers failed to predict which aspect of production would give them the most trouble.
“The first challenge was when we broke one of the cameras; that was not easy,” Burnham said. “Definitely made shooting more difficult.”
John Ryan ’14 found writing in the pre-production phase to be the hardest part, but was pleasantly surprised with his logistical success.
“I got really lucky with my locations and actors,” Ryan said. “Those were the things that I thought would be hardest.”
Khambata advises future filmmakers to secure a cast and crew early in the process, as not everyone gets as lucky as Ryan.
“Getting everything done early is definitely a plus, especially with the film majors now because there’re so many more of them,” said Khambata, referring to the increasing size of the film major in the class of 2015 and class of 2016.
However, when plans fall through, Cone says it’s necessary to be flexible.
“You’re gonna run across a lot of bumps in the road,” Cone said. “You have to be willing to change your movie to deal with that, or to be ready to deal with anything that might come up.”
Burnham urges future filmmakers to dive into the process because moments of utter frustration are inevitable in the world of film and thesis craziness.
“You’ll love it, and you’ll hate it, and hopefully ultimately you’ll either love it or have come to terms with it,” Burnham said.
This “love-hate” often results from the final product being nothing like the original expectation. Keelin Ryan ’14, who wrote a screenplay titled “Winging It” about the aforementioned birdwatchers, was happy that her project differed from her original vision because she learned from the process.
“I know that I progressed a lot along the way,” she said. “I learned a lot, and I feel like that’s the most you could ask for.”
Ian Vazquez ’14, who also produced a screenplay, said that the tangible product is extremely rewarding.
“I mean, to write 109 pages, and it’s the first thing I’ve ever written, and that I was able to come up with something completely on my own and to have it actually done on paper and say that I did that, is a great accomplishment,” Vazquez said.
Khambata is most proud of the parts of her film in which she stuck to her gut feelings, despite mixed reviews from her advisors and peers.
“Ultimately you want to make a movie that is yours,” Khambata said. “And if your vision gets lost in the process, you won’t feel satisfied.”
True to original visions or not, the film theses are ready to be shared with the Wesleyan community. The first premiere of many for the future leaders in film, these screenings are not to be missed. You might get the chance to witness the starting days of the next Michael Bay!
Presentations of History/Theory and Screenplay theses will be held Tuesday May 6 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively, in the Center for Film Studies. Screenings of the films will be held at the Goldsmith Family Cinema May 9-11 at 8 p.m.
Additional reporting by Dan Fuchs, Meg de Recat, and Charles Martin.