Beer pong epics! Yale’s newest films

While it may not have all the elements of a typical David Lynch movie — no twisted plot, distorted characters or tripped-out dream sequences — a new feature length comedy by Brett Konner ’06 does have one thing almost all college students can relate to: beer pong.

Though today’s visit from esoteric filmmaker Lynch will focus on his new pursuit of meditation instead of his movies, the filmmaking scene at Yale is alive and well, with Konner’s upcoming “Beer Pong: The Movie” being just one of many student film projects this year at Yale. While filmmaking at Yale still faces logistical — primarily financial — obstacles, this year promises to bring student films of all kinds, dream sequences (and transcendental mediation techniques) or not.

Konner, a Film Studies major who has made numerous other films in his free time at Yale, has been working on this movie since last fall, when he started writing the story of two friends torn apart when they end up on opposite sides of the pong table. The movie, Konner said, takes place in Yale’s “beer pong underworld,” a place that has all the struggles of normal Yale — the friendly competition that goes too far, the love interests that never pan out, the tension that bubbles between prep school grads and public school kids — just all washed over with a sticky coat of beer.

Konner hopes that his movie — which is now mostly completed — will be “as true to life as possible.” He has about four scenes left to shoot and edit, using equipment from Yale’s Digital Media Center for the Arts. After the film is completed, most likely in about a month, Konner said he will set up two or three screenings of the movie in campus auditoriums.

While Konner hopes that his movie will leave audiences with a positive message about friendship and an accurate picture of life at Yale, he also articulated a simpler goal for the flick.

“The thing I want people to walk out of the movie saying is, ‘You know, that guy really got what beer pong’s all about,'” he said.

Besides independent projects like Konner’s, another major source of student films is Yale’s only student-run production company, Bulldog Productions. Founded two years ago, the company was created to unify student filmmakers and professionalize the process of making movies at Yale, Secretary Nick Collura ’07 said. Now at about 30 active members, the company works with both student and professional directors, cinematographers and actors to produce several films a year.

This semester, Bulldog Productions will be working on two films. The first is a fiction short entitled “Midnight Sun,” written and directed by Adam Davenport ’06. The movie tells the story of a professor who leaves his wife one night when he goes out to meet with someone he met on the Internet.

On the strength of the screenplay, which he wrote for a class last fall, Davenport has been able to secure the services of cinematographer Tom Stern, who shot both “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby” for Clint Eastwood. Davenport is also in the process of casting professional actors for the film.

While professionals like Stern are working on the film for free, Davenport has had to cover the other costs of the movie with a combination of a Panavision grant for camera expenses and money from his own pocket. After shooting his movie over reading week and screening it for Yale students in April, Davenport hopes to be able to find a wider audience for “Midnight Sun” by entering it in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

The company’s other film — with the most Lynchian ambitions of the group — will be a feature length documentary about Yale, Yalies and the meaning of life, directed by Collura. The film, he said, will be “an anthropology of Yale” that explores the “meta-levels” of how we spend our time here.

“Ultimately,” he said, “the film is about human endeavor.”

Bulldog Productions is also running a short screenplay contest, open to both students and non-students, with a Nov. 1 deadline. In the spring, the company will produce the winning script.

Collura thinks that Yale could improve opportunities for filmmaking at Yale by getting the word out about the filmmaking community.

“Spreading awareness about what we’re doing would be tremendous,” he said.

Yalies who choose to go the curricular track in their filmmaking endeavors may find themselves in instructor John Andrews’ senior fiction film workshop. Students in the year-long workshop write and produce 15 minute films that range in style and subject.

Hannah Frank ’06, a student in the class, is currently in the development stage of her senior project. The movie, she said, will focus on an 11-year-old boy struggling with the divorce of his parents and his estrangement from his former best friend. She hopes to shoot the movie on Super 8 rather than the cheaper and more available digital video.

Clearly in alignment with his students’ wishes, Andrews would like to see the creation of a film studies senior project fund to help students like Frank who want to take their filmmaking to a level currently out of reach because of cost. Many things that could make student movies better, like actual film (usually 8 or 16 mm) or professional actors, are expensive and difficult to obtain.

Still, Andrews says that the liberal arts education Yale offers is the most important asset students have when making their films.

“To know how to express your ideas is the most important thing,” he said. “That’s one thing that Yale does really well.”

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