This summer will be bittersweet for the thousands of seniors who will bid farewell to their college careers. However, an ambitious group in the Screen Arts & Cultures department will have an early opportunity to celebrate the birth of their new careers as filmmakers today at the Michigan Theater. SAC seniors Joshua Bayer, Connie Huang, Li-Ann Kaye, Jacob Mendel and Noah Stahl will be presenting their production theses, which they will eventually submit to the festival circuit hoping for recognition from industry figures and cinephiles alike.
U of M Senior Thesis Film Showcase
Tonight at 6 p.m.
Each year, SAC students apply to the department for the opportunity to showcase the film theory and production experience they’ve acquired during their time at the University by composing senior honors theses. Though the students have a choice between a written academic thesis and a full-scale production thesis, most choose the latter.
“We basically submit an application for the thesis along with a portfolio of our other work in the department,” Huang said of the process. “Then we try to be as resourceful as possible when we write the budget proposal.”
The students rely not only on grants from the SAC department and the Honors College, but also money from plenty of other unlikely sources.
“There are a surprising number of ways to get money for films,” Mendel said. “Some of my friends from the business school helped me organize some competitions to raise funds.”
This year, the films’ subjects range from film noir to comedy to self-reflective musical.
“My movie is basically about the struggle that surrounds the creative process, and the doubts of the artist,” Huang said. “It’s very personal, and the main character basically represents me, so I spent a lot of time trying to work through my own thoughts and what I was feeling when I made it.”
To expedite the production process, the students had to get help from professionals all over the University. For her movie musical, Huang drew from sources outside of the SAC department, going to the Department of Music, Theatre & Dance for set pieces, singers and more. Similarly, Mendel spoke with engineering technicians who guided him through the process of proper 3-D imaging.
“Because 3-D film technology is relatively new, there’s no school that teaches you how to utilize it,” Mendel said. “The hardest part of prepping the thesis was learning the ins and outs of the new medium.”
Mendel refers to his thesis, “Train of Shadows,” as a “flashy business card” that promotes his new 3-D venture, Giant Eel Productions. The surreal dreamscapes featured in “Train” represent his pure artistic vision, and he thinks that short films in the vein of the Honors thesis are a perfect medium for that kind of expression.
“There’s not much of a market for short films, so it was a lot easier for us to focus solely on the aesthetics,” Mendel said.
But these students also recognize the important balance between relevance and artistry.
“There’s definitely a film school bubble,” Kaye said. “If you’re too immersed in it, you start to make films that appeal only to that audience.”
Kaye’s film “Slash Fiction” is a comedy about a conservative library that gets a unisex bathroom. It explores how people behave under the cloak of anonymity. To keep her films coherent, Kaye relies on her sister to read through the scripts and tell her what works and what doesn’t.
Nevertheless, the thesis students take most of the burden upon themselves, according to Huang.
“Some of us are directors, cinematographers, set designers, everything in between,” she said. “It’s a lot of work.”
After tomorrow’s affair, the SAC honors seniors have high hopes for the possibility of exposure and opportunities for future work.
“I’ve heard a lot of fantastic Cinderella stories about the festival circuit,” Kaye said. “I feel like, for most of us, this is one of the biggest projects we’ve done in our entire lives.”