Alumnus Q&A: ‘Transient’ writer-director Alexander Stockton ’15
"Transient" is Alexander Stockton '15's first feature-length fiction film.
Alexander Stockton ’15, a film and media studies and economics double major, will screen his first feature-length film, entitled “Transient,” at Loew Auditorium on Monday, April 24 at 8:30 p.m. He wrote and filmed the entirety of “Transient” during his junior year at Dartmouth. Stockton currently works for VICE News Tonight on HBO as a graphics editor.
How did your interest in film begin?
AS: When I was 6 or 7 years old, my mom bought me the movie “The Matrix” for Christmas. One, it was an incredible movie, but two, it was the first rated-R movie I could see, so I treated it all special and watched it countless times and just dissected it. I was way too young to really understand it because it’s a pretty complex movie, so I just had to watch it over and over, and it gave me an appreciation for the fact that a movie is a construct of a lot of parts and you have to put it together. So since I was really little, I’ve always just loved movies and been fascinated with watching movies and dissecting movies and, later, making them. I did a lot of different types of art growing up. Drumming was my life for the longest time. I did photography with my dad for fun. On the weekends, we’d go out and shoot nature. Eventually, that all merged together into film, and I just started making films late in high school and decided that’s what I want to do for a living, merging my passions for all these different kinds of arts with this interest I’d had in film from when I was really little.
I made my first short film my junior year in high school. It was at this summer camp at the University of Texas. We were split up into teams. I directed this one short with a group of people, and we screened it there for the public. After that, I made lots of little films. For my senior year, I think I was making one short film a week. They’re all terrible, but it got me into this spirit of just making things and showing them and posting them on YouTube and holding little screenings at my house with my friends.
Can you tell us about “Transient”?
AS: So my roommate and best friend in college Varun Bhuchar ’15 — he and I decided pretty early on that we were going to make a feature film and spent all of sophomore year trying to figure out how we were going to do it and what it was going to be. Eventually, I settled on this character, Frankie, who’s an undocumented immigrant, and I wrote a script about him. I took my first eight terms on at Dartmouth from my freshman fall through my sophomore summer, and then I took all of junior year off to both do internships at the start of it but also make this film. I wrote the film from January of 2014 to summer of 2014, which is when I shot the film.
It’s a 99-minute fiction feature film about an undocumented immigrant who grew up in the United States but was born in Mexico, and early on in the film, he gets deported back to Mexico and goes on the physical journey to get back to the United States and his home and the emotional journey to really discover what home means to him. It was all shot in Texas. The majority of it was shot in Austin, and then some of it was shot in the Rio Grande Valley, which is where I’m from.
What do you hope your next steps in film will be?
AS: Right now I’m having a blast working at VICE. I’m in a very creative position; I’m very lucky to be in such a creative position so soon out of school. I definitely want to stay there and grow there.
I’ve done a lot of things — a lot of editing, a lot of graphics, some producing — and I want to continue to explore all of those. In my free time, before work every morning I wake up at like 7 a.m. and go to a coffee shop and write. Currently I’m working on a script for another fiction feature, and I want to continue to do that so eventually I can take on another big fiction feature project.
In school, I taught myself how to edit and spent a lot of time on set thinking those were skills I could learn that would be useful to get a job. Writing and directing and producing — yes, they are skills, and it takes a lot of work to get good at them — but it’s really hard early on to get a job in those things, so the majority of writers have to take jobs in something else while they write in free time before they become employable writers.
How do you think Dartmouth helped prepare you for a career in film, and what advice do you have for Dartmouth students interested in film?
AS: I was very nervous about going to Dartmouth at first because all my filmmaking friends were going to film school, but I was also really nervous about the idea of going to film school because I just love learning. I didn’t like the idea of just focusing on the skills necessary to becoming a filmmaker; I wanted to continue learning in all areas, and that’s what I liked about Dartmouth, but I also knew it was a risk because if you just know this wealth of knowledge, how does that help you to make a film? Does studying philosophy matter if you don’t know how to organize a bunch of people together to shoot something? But it turned out — at least, I hope, since I’m not successful yet — I learned a tremendous amount, and it directly led to me being able to make this film. A lot of the key positions on this film were filled by my fellow Dartmouth students. In editing the film my senior year from my dorm room, I was sending cuts to film professor Jeff Ruoff, and he was giving me tons of notes that were incredibly helpful. It was just this community that cared and that was really intelligent and also loved film and the purpose of the movie. All of that worked together to help me to make “Transient.”
Also, I think Dartmouth fulfilled me in that I was able to make a lot of films on my own, and I was also able to spend my time at school studying other things. To me, that’s the perfect combination because I wanted both of those things. I wanted to be able to make films and to learn, and I think Dartmouth was unique in that it enabled me to do both of those things.
As advice to other students, I would encourage them to do both of those things: to develop their skills in projects outside of school and to also realize that all the things they’re learning in the classroom that seem so abstract are also the greatness of Dartmouth and to fully take advantage of those and see how you can tie these two realms together.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
AS: “The Matrix.” Still. I probably watch it once a year and love it every time I see it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.