LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION?

INT. SILLIMAN COLLEGE L22 – EVENING

For a long time, the film community at Yale was like extraterrestrial life — we were pretty sure it existed out there, somewhere, but no one had ever actually seen it. This is fascinating, especially considering that some of Hollywood’s biggest names once called Yale home (Meryl Streep, Edward Norton, Angela Basset, Jodie Foster, and the list goes on and on).

But they are all actors and actresses, not filmmakers.

Theater at Yale is colored by history, with opportunities screaming at students from every corner. And really, it’s not all that surprising. Theater is the ageless artform; cinema’s been around for just a blink of an eye.

But times have changed, and today’s campus film culture has taken steps towards legitimacy.

INT. FILM STUDY CENTER – MORNING

Yale does indeed have a film studies major (tell freshmen you are one for a guaranteed open-mouthed gape). But the focus of the major is right in the title: film studies, not production.

The major looks at the critical analysis of film, moving beyond the practical application of filmmaking to study the finer points of film style and history. It’s a distinction that’s turned away several potential majors.

ETHAN KUPERBERG, ’10, admitted in an interview last year that he’s never personally found film studies courses appealing, choosing instead to major in English with a concentration in playwriting.

RYAN KLINE, ’15, the director of the recent “Harvard Still Sucks” video, furthers the assertion that there is indeed a fine line between appreciation and application.

KLINE

I’m just more interested in film production than film studies. But I do plan on taking some [film] classes at Yale.

And then there are some, like RYAN CHAN, ’14, who’ve chosen the major with their eyes towards graduation.

CHAN

I would feel much more emotionally attached to a senior thesis film than a senior essay.

This does not mean that all film studies majors have their sights set to film production.

BECCA EDELMAN, ’14, is a film studies major because of cinema’s ability to hold her attention, in the present and for days on end.

EDELMAN

I love to look at film as literature, to see its place in its time period, among other films of its genre or with other films by its director.

DEANDRA TAN, ’13, the President of Bulldog Productions, says she’s a film studies major because of the stories movies are able to tell.

TAN

I love [stories] and I love art, and for me they both come together in the medium of film.

Tan also acknowledges that the faculty of the film studies program is another strong reason why she chose the major.

For me, it was really important that the professors loved what they were teaching.

PROFESSOR RON GREGG is one such instructor who consistently gets high praise from his students. A lecturer for the introductory course FILM 150, Gregg is particularly interested in helping Yale’s budding filmmakers. He also believes that anyone planning on pursuing a career in Hollywood should major in film studies.

GREGG

I think you should take a range of courses, but if you want to be a professional filmmaker, you should major in film. You develop your eye and narrative and aesthetic sensibility by watching, talking and making films. And [majoring in film] gives you a filmography for referencing style when in a conversation with other professionals.

JON ANDREWS, ’96, who teaches the intermediate and advanced film production courses at Yale and was also a film studies major, admits that his major was immensely beneficial.

ANDREWS

I think I have a richer and more nuanced understanding of cinema than I would have if I’d picked another major, and I’m glad I majored in film studies, but it isn’t right for everyone.

That being said, there are other perks for declaring in film studies as well.

EXT. DIGITAL MEDIA CENTER FOR THE ARTS (DMCA) – PAST MIDNIGHT

One of the biggest challenges facing student filmmakers is getting their hands on equipment. For most, Bass Library is usually the answer. But where did Bass get its half-broken Panasonics and Canons? From the DMCA’s leftover pile.

The DMCA is a compact facility with large editing rooms overloaded with disparate software programs and an equipment stockade filled with more than enough tools for any amateur guerilla filmmaker.

The catch is that only film studies and art majors can gain access, unless you know someone working there. Otherwise, good luck getting in. And even if you do, you’re competing with graduate students for equipment on a first-to-sign-up basis. Still, the DMCA can be a great place if you’re willing to cultivate the necessary relationships.

JULIA MYERS, ’12, once was a film studies major before she dropped it for a degree in linguistics. She’s been able to maintain access to the DMCA, sometimes at odd hours of the night, precisely because of the connections she’s made with the instructors of the various production courses there.

Joining these classes will also win you access to the DMCA’s technology. But the courses have been met with mixed reviews, with some students remarking that they are too dialogue-driven, which stifles visual thinking.

Otherwise, there’s Bulldog Productions.

INT. EZRA STILES COMMON ROOM – AFTERNOON

Bulldog Productions is one of the more perplexing groups on campus. It’s responsible for a few projects a year, but other than that, the group seems to stay relatively silent.

Tan, its president, claims that the group is focused on organizing the film community on campus, specifically through its creation of the Yale Filmmakers’ Database, an online network connecting those interested in lending their services to the art of filmmaking.

TAN

We’ve made a good start. There is just so much potential here, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it might go.

But even Bulldog Productions can’t undermine the fact that for all student filmmakers, the road to production is terribly frustrating.

Without the kind of structure that an organization like the Yale Drama Coalition has in place, most filmmakers end up calling upon their friends to help out, which usually gets the movie made, but also leads to the kind of diffuse film community that we have right now.

If anything, this diffuse environment is what hampers filmmaking on campus. It’s an issue that AVERY LANMAN, ’13, hopes to combat, independently of Bulldog Productions.

LANMAN

I am actually trying to start a group here at Yale solely for the production of films. A limited and exclusive group of filmmakers who can get to know each other not only as artists but as people with relatable feelings and experiences. The group would meet regularly and focus on the production of one project at a time.

Still, even such a group might not be enough to combat the other issues holding back most student productions.

INT. COMMONS – NOON

Professor Andrews believes that while the problems facing student filmmakers are manifold, it all comes down to temperament.

According to Andrews, students at Yale are too focused on achievement, so much so that they forget that learning through the process is most important, even for established filmmakers. More practically, Andrews also believes that Yale’s limited production resources (as compared to NYU or USC for example) make it harder to put together a solid crew.

BEN BOULT, ’14, agreeing with Andrews, adds that students’ time commitments are to blame for most unrealized projects.

BOULT

When you consider that film is a collaborative art, you have to start considering how difficult it is to coordinate any two people’s schedules at college, let alone three, four, or maybe the 15 you need for your shoot with ballroom dancing, light design, camera operation, production design, etc.

Chan believes that this moratorium on time can only have an adverse effect.

CHAN

The fact of the matter is, film is such a personal art form, yet it requires the commitment of so many people (many of whom end up doing grunt work for hours on end). What ends up happening is you owe everyone who helps you out a favor.

According to Lanman, this is the challenge that filmmakers should hope to face.

LANMAN

There is a lot of talent here at Yale. I wish to see people collaborating more. Filmmaking is all about teamwork.

But beyond FILM 150, Bulldog Productions, the DMCA, and all the rest, it seems to come back to the same thing: the individual, a point with which HUNTER WOLK, ‘12, agrees wholeheartedly.

WOLK

If you’re really passionate about it, then you can afford to trust yourself.

EXT. OLD CAMPUS – DUSK

Nevertheless, all of these on-campus issues, in perspective, are insignificant against the grand problem facing all those considering a professional career in film: what’s next?

As with any humanities-based degree-holder, film studies students have an uphill climb ahead of them, especially considering the line of work. Let’s face it, Hollywood is not for the faint of heart, and entering the market, even at the bottom, is difficult enough.

CARINA SPOSATO, ’12, admits that the process is not all that grand and optimistic.

SPOSATO

The contemporary consensus is that if you want to break into the Hollywood movie industry, you should start working in an agency, like William Morris Endeavor, establishing connections, and working your way up from the mailroom. But that path is not for everyone.

Professor Gregg, on the other hand, sees this uncertainty as a chance to expand your area of expertise.

GREGG

If filmmaking is in your blood, there are ways to make it happen. Have a sideline that allows you to work. Train as an editor, cinematographer, animator. Bring home a living wage, and then make films. It is not a hobby.

Either way, as both Sposato and Gregg attest, the important thing is immersing yourself in the world of film, from the agencies to the indie sets to the dark, musky editing rooms where you play with Final Cut Pro for the hell of it.

You don’t sit at home and watch movies and gripe about how competitive filmmaking is, that no one is giving you a chance. You make films.

There’s no other way around it.

INT. SILLIMAN COLLEGE L22 – RIGHT BEFORE MY EDITING TIME

In the end, the general idea appears to be that there is a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and help out there for Yale’s budding filmmakers. You just have to know where to look and whom to talk to.

Yale has produced great talent and seems committed to adding on to that success.

GREGG

In the last two years, [student work] seems better. More polished and original. I think we’re in a good place with the filmmaking talent among the undergraduate population.

And of course, when in doubt, it can’t hurt to just pick up a camera and experiment.

ANDREWS

The only way to become a filmmaker is to make films.

Everything else will come in time.

CUT TO BLACK

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