When producer Bruce Cohen ’83, who won an Academy Award for “American Beauty” and a nomination for “Milk,” decided to pursue his passion for film as an undergraduate at Yale, he had to install “a camera on top of a video deck the size of a briefcase” to shoot a film.
The University did not have a formal film studies program or advanced equipment available to students, so Cohen created a special divisional major for himself with a focus on film. And while Yalie filmmakers today have the benefits of a Film Studies Department and an entirely student-run production company, Bulldog Productions, there are still many students on campus who choose to produce films independently.
Bulldog Productions, Yale’s only film company run by undergraduates, was established in 2003 in order to initiate and support film development on campus. The company encourages all students to approach them and pitch project ideas, current co-President of Bulldog Productions Matt Bakal ’10 said.
“Typically people come to us and say, ‘Listen, I have a script I want to produce,’ and then we contact the board [of Bulldog Productions] to get people involved with the production,” he said. “We e-mail our panlist, put notices on our Web site and talk about the projects to see who would be interested in working on them.”
While Bulldog Productions does not have an endowment or special University funding — it finances its films through Sudler funds and other grants available through the residential colleges, in addition to the $500 provided by the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee — Bakal said they are working on raising money to facilitate future projects.
The company’s long-term goal is to become more legitimate and widely recognized, he added.
“We’ve been doing our gambit to find professionals who are Yale alumni and gain support and recognition in the industry,” he said. “We want to have the ability to contact agents of talented artists and say, ‘Bulldog Productions would love your involvement in this project.’ ”
Yet not all student filmmakers focus on garnering recognition and a wide audience for their projects.
Max Barbakow ’11, who is working with Jacob Albert ’11 and Streeter Phillips ’10 on a project called Co-op — a film that involves murder, missing dogs and pedophilia — said he did not know if there will be a public screening for his movie. Barbakow explained that, for him, what matters is the learning process of filmmaking.
“It’s all about three friends wanting to shoot a movie,” Barbakow said, noting that the number of people involved in Bulldog Productions films makes a project more difficult to organize.
Still, certain skills can only be acquired by working with a group that emulates a real film company, said Eset Akçilad ’07, a former president of the company. Akçilad said he gained important knowledge about the business side of filmmaking through his experience with Bulldog Productions.
“Writing funding and development proposals and trying to convince professional filmmakers, alumni, administrators, corporate sponsors to work for and under students for free are the exact skill sets necessary for survival and success in the filmmaking business,” Akçilad said. “Without Bulldog Productions I would not have the courage to move to a new city, ring the doorbells of every producer and face the top European production companies’ development heads to tell them, ‘I know I am younger than you expected, but I am ready to make my first feature movie.’ ”
But while Bulldog Productions’ entrepreneurial opportunities are attractive to some, others complain that since the company does not have additional funds to support projects, they do not see why it is necessary to have it as an intermediary.
“Honestly I don’t understand what Bulldog Productions does,” said Cooper Lewis ’11, who acted in the student film “Palo Alto” and plans to produce his own script next fall. “If you apply for a Sudler yourself and find a good producer, the purpose of Bulldog Productions becomes vague.”
Still, he added that the company does a good job of procuring cameras, lights, people and locations for shooting films for students who need them.
Besides supporting film projects, Bulldog Productions organizes an annual nationwide screenplay competition as well as social events for cinephiles, including an Oscar Night Party.