The film scene at Yale is a protean, fractured entity. Classes in the major such as Close Analysis of Film, World Cinema, and Film Theory provide students with ample tools for picking apart films, but they provide very little in the way of building films up from the ground, based on a strong narrative structure. Film Studies majors do not necessarily learn how to create. Rather, they learn how to deconstruct, becoming adept at decomposing every trivial element of film. Such an education is ideal for aspiring critics and intellectuals. Sadly, the majority of students declare the Film Studies major because they want to make films. These students graduate with a deep understanding of the history of film — and even the language of film — but very few know how to tell a good story.
Yale’s filmic extra-curricular scene is also fractured: while some organizations supplement the major, others further discourage students’ narrative creativity. The Yale Film Society, for example, gives students a chance to learn from exemplars in their prospective field while also granting its officers a chance to make useful industry connections. YFS has successfully sneak-previewed several films and brought a number of celebrity directors, producers, and actors to speak at Yale. Recent sneak previews include “American Beauty,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and “Insomnia.” Two years ago, Ed Norton came to Yale with “Fight Club,” two weeks before it hit the theaters. YFS also invited director Baz Luhrman and actors Alan Cumming and Al Pacino. If students want to hit the Hollywood scene immediately after graduation, YFS is the closest thing to a useful organization at Yale.
For those tortured, aspiring indie filmmakers, there’s University Pictures. Somewhat incoherent in its organization, UPix purports to support Yale filmmaking, even though very few films are actually produced by UPix, and very few UPix members make any films beyond the dreaded “avant-garde” genre, which heightens the narrative-phobia plaguing Yale’s budding filmmakers. Granted, stories require a significant amount of development that the short film format cannot always grant. Furthermore, films take an extraordinarily long time to make. The longer the story, the exponentially longer the film shoot. Yale students simply do not have the time required to make a feature-length film.
Despite these hindrances, two years ago, YFS officer Pedro Kos ’01 wrote, directed, and edited the feature-length “Blue Devil.” With Aaron Kogan ’00, co-founder and former President of YFS, as his go-getter producer, and another former YFS President Lucien Lefcourt ’02 as his talented director of photography, Kos was essentially working with the best Yale had to offer. After months of grueling shooting, “Blue Devil” wrapped, and Kos began the post-production process at the invaluable Digital Media Center for the Arts. Within a few weeks, “Blue Devil” was ready to be shown. Kogan ran a massive advertising campaign, and “Blue Devil” was received with surprising enthusiasm, nearly gaining a profit from ticket sales.
Efforts such as “Blue Devil,” and the previous year’s student production, “Ivy Weeds,” are very rare at Yale. The curriculum simply does not allow for them. Until the DMCA opened, students had no real way to take advantage of the new world of digital technology vis-ˆ-vis filmmaking. There are a few individuals who have made the most out of Yale’s Film Studies Program. But if it were not for the relatively new DMCA, the Film Studies Program’s “production track” would be a dismal track indeed.
The DMCA lends out equipment — worth thousands of dollars — over weekdays and weekends, making it possible for students to use nearly top-of-the-line equipment at no charge. The Canon XL-1 Cameras and various light and sound kits give filmmakers a chance to shoot hours of high quality digital footage for free (except for the minor cost of mini DV tapes). Through the DMCA, Yale undergraduates have been making more and more films over the last few years. Above and beyond production equipment, the DMCA provides valuable post-production digital editing computers. With top of the line computers, students can edit hours of digital footage into a tight visual presentation. Typically, film students doggedly use the DMCA’s incredible equipment to edit their avant-garde films. Only a few have harnessed the full potential of the DMCA for actual film narratives.
It takes a bold individual to head up a project like “Blue Devil” — one with deep pockets and little regard for his or her GPA. Is this the way of the aspiring filmmaker at Yale? Unfortunately, the Film Studies Program was never designed for vocational training. It was, from the start, focused on critical analysis of film, along with political, historical, and cultural studies through the artistic medium of film. It has never sought to turn out filmmakers; rather, it strives to turn out individuals capable of thinking about film in an intellectual manner. The problem is that the film industry needs intelligent filmmakers, and Yale is only poised to produce individuals who can think intelligently about film but are nonetheless unable to make them very well. Furthermore, a great deal of students who come to Yale utterly determined to make films cannot find the channels to warm up their vocational muscles.
But then again, what do I know? I’m just a Literature Major.
Andrew Camargo is graduating from Trumbull College. He plans to pursue a career in film.