Film majors spend hours on production, even longer on theory

by Frances Cha | 5/31/05 5:00am

Editor's Note: This is the final part of a four-part series in which The Dartmouth will delve into the arts-related majors here at the College. This week, we spotlight students majoring in film and television studies.

To most Dartmouth students, watching movies is a leisure activity that they indulge in order to take their minds off of their academic woes. However, to the small group of students for whom movies are in fact their academic woes, work and leisure together form an interesting dynamic.

Although the actual number of majors is quite low -- comparable to that of other arts-related majors -- there is nonetheless a lot of student interest in the film and television studies department. Yet despite the interest, the department remains understaffed. It is extremely difficult even for majors to get into the filmmaking courses, and selection is usually based on seniority.

Seniors who sign up for filmmaking hoping for an easy third class are often in for a surprise. "People take for granted the work that goes into filming a movie," said Tim Sun '06, who is double majoring in government and film modified with English. Sun said that filmmaking was the single most difficult thing he has ever done, asserting that he has spent more time in his filmmaking class than in any other course at Dartmouth.

Sun also said that it takes him about nine hours to shoot a two-minute movie, and unlike studio art or music -- where one can theoretically work alone for most projects -- filmmaking truly is a collaborative effort. Even smaller projects require the cooperation of the filming crew, the director and the actors, and this can be quite a difficult feat at Dartmouth, where it's practically impossible to line up everybody's schedules.

There are two shooting studios for student use: one in Fairbanks (adjacent to the Tucker Foundation) and one in Wilson, the little known red building next to the Hopkins Center that is also home to the film and television studies department.

Tyson Kubota '07 just wrapped up his shooting project for his filmmaking class this past weekend. When asked to describe his project, he said it was "a sci-fi 'think piece' about illusion, reality and synthetic life." Kubota wrote and directed the five-minute-long black-and-white project, which included two student actors and shot for a total of 11 hours over two days. Kubota said that he only used minimal effects, which was made a lot easier because the project was in black and white. For example, in order to achieve the effect of blood, he used chocolate syrup.

Production is a huge component of the film department, but majors say that the department is actually geared more toward history and theory. Brendon Bouzard '06, a member of the Dartmouth staff, said that this was the main reason why he chose to come to Dartmouth instead of a film school. "If you're going into film, you have your entire life to do production, but you'll never have the opportunities to take the obscure, random courses that are offered here," he said. Bouzard added that the department offers a good mixture of theory and production work.

Kubota also agreed on the importance of good groundwork. "As someone who is interested in production, you learn so much from the theory and history classes," he said.

Upon entering the "real world," film majors seem to separate into two major categories: those who pursue production in some form and those who enter academia. Sun plans on being one of the latter, and he offered that most film majors live by the "get lucky or starve" rule that prevails in the arts world.

However, there are a few majors who pursue a degree in film for completely different reasons. Aquila Lee '04 said that he chose to major in film studies specifically to develop business management skills. "A film cannot achieve commercial success without extensive research, networking, financing, market prediction and promotion. I regarded film production as the most integral means of teaching myself the skills employed in all business practices," he said.

Lee audited courses at Tuck School of Business after graduation and is currently waiting to attend this summer's Bridge business camp at Tuck. During his off-terms, he worked as a producer at a movie production company in Korea, where he contracted prospective screenplays and assigned directors and actors to movies. He also assisted in attaining an annual $5 million investment for movie production from an American studio.

He stated that he was not interested in the scholastic point of view and that he disliked the department's emphasis on it. "They want you to become film critics, which is fine. Yet that's not necessarily what film's about," he said. After receiving his CPA, he plans to enter the movie world from the business point of view. "I'd rather be a businessman, set up an agency and let other people work on my movies," he said.

Lee's opinion and experience is quite singular, however, and most film majors rather embrace the starving-artist mentality. When asked of his career plans post-Dartmouth, Kubota joked, "I'm going to document my starvation process. Or just hit up my econ friends."

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