As our department grows, it can get harder to keep track of where our alumni are and what they are up to. Fortunately, we have a blog! Below, you’ll find a by-no-means comprehensive list of what our Wesleyan Film grads have been up to in 2019. Behold!
Sarah Shachat, Gabriel Urbina, and Zach Valenti are creators of the very famous audio dramas Wolf 359 and Time Bombs— but now they’re turning their sights toward education with the online course Audio Fiction 101.
Last year, we interviewed Mary Robertson about her political documentary work, including The Circus and She’s the Ticket. At the time she was starting work on a new series, Tricky Dick, which is airing now on CNN.
Ethan Young isn’t the only alum making waves in music videos. Recent projects include Jordan Fish’s video for Arcade Fire’s Baby Mine (made with fellow Wes grad Julia Simpson) and Maegan Houang’s work on Charly Bliss’ Chatroom.
Our alumni are also hard at work on traditional short and feature films— Danielle Krudy and Bridgette Cole will premier their feature BLOW THE MAN DOWN at Tribeca, while Carlen May Mann’s short film THE RAT had its moment at Sundance.
Blow the Man Down
Of course, this is a small fraction of what’s going on in and out of the film department. Don’t forget to keep checking in to stay up-to-date!
Welcome back to the CFILM podcast! This week, Scott Higgins sits down for part one of a discussion with the alumni/award winners behind the audio drama Wolf 359. Sarah Shachat, Zach Valenti, and Gabriel Urbina have a new series called Time Bombs, a gripping little product they churned out in a week. We kick off the two-part interview with a discussion of this writing process and time bombs themselves as a narrative device.
If you enjoy this interview, don’t forget to check out the team’s work! They have a new course available on the art of the audio drama which you can explore here. And tune in next time for even more on their creative process!
It’s been a hurricane of an academic year, but Spring Break forces a moment of calm before everything is once more plunged into chaos. So, while we’re in the eye of the storm, the time seems right to mention a few of the THINGS THAT HAPPENED over the past several months in CFILM.
Last October I made my way to Shanghai China as part of a symposium on the Liberal Arts with Michael Roth. There, we met future Wesleyan students, Wesleyan Parents, and other friends of the University. Sha Ye (MA ’96) hosted a dinner followed by a screening of The Meg, last summer’s blockbuster Chinese/American co-production. Afterward I moderated a discussion with Jon Turtletaub (’85) and Jon Hoeber (93), the film’s director and writer who flew in for the occasion.
Though they graduated nearly a decade apart, John and Jon collaborate like they are old friends. They speak the same cinematic language. The next day I offered a glimpse inside the classroom with a session based on FILM 307: The Language of Hollywood, and dove into a far-reaching conversation about collaborations between Hollywood and China with Jon, Jon, Professor Haibo Li of Shanghai University and Julia Zhu (’91) of Pheonix Live Entertainment.
Last November my introductory course hosted a surprise guest and a super-secret film. The guest was Peter Farrelly, the film was Green Book. He talked about the movie, his career, and the state of popular cinema with Jeanine Basinger, and then fielded questions from the class. The students did their professor proud — making sharp observations about sound, production design, story, and asking tough questions about the movie’s cultural stakes. One student noted that a door opening in the background caught his eye toward the end of the film and the writer/director revealed: “That was me. We liked the take and kept it.” Farrelly is one of those rare articulate creators who can explain exactly how and why he makes things, and he does it without complication or pretense. It was a semester-defining moment.
Earlier this winter, we hosted our annual screening at The Buttonwood Tree of short films produced by students for Sadia Shephard’s project learning course. This year’s event, titled In Their Own Words, featured seven documentaries focusing the lives of people in Middletown and Hartford. Shephard explained that the course challenges students to “learn about where we are in the world, how to build and create empathy from other people’s perspectives, and to actively become engaged citizens.” The venue was PACKED with community members and students. We saw films about first-time voters, first-generation Americans, Jazz musicians, and a local transgender youth activist. If you missed it, you can read more about the night in the Middletown Press. You can also hear about last year’s documentaries on our podcast.
In February, I attended the annual Film Alumni event in Los Angeles with Jeanine Basinger, where we had the chance to catch up with a few of the hundreds of former students now thriving in the entertainment industry.
Time was short, however, as I had to return to campus for a visit by Korean film producer Dongyeon Won. Mr. Won is responsible for some of Korea’s most successful popular films, most recently the mega-smashes Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days. We screened The Two Worlds and had the opportunity to talk with him about the Asian film industry, popular storytelling, and all things cinema. His visit was graciously arranged by Phoebe Shin (P ’17) CEO of Adante Design.
Two recent graduates also returned to share and discuss their work with our majors. Ethan Young (’13), who wrote our blog in January, brought his visual album for avant-funk artist (and Grammy winner) Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells. The videos are pieces of pure visual music, and seeing Ethan’s abstractions projected on our giant cinema screen was an ecstatic perceptual experience.
A few days later Conor Byrne (’11) discussed his successful career as a writer and director of prize-winning shorts and advertisements. Conor, who is helping mentor a few of our senior thesis filmmakers this spring, took time to talk to us about his path into the industry, his strategies for staying focused and creative, and his feature-filmmaking plans. You can see some of his distinctive work here. We will hear much more about Ethan and Conor in years to come.
Just before break, archivist Joan Miller offered film students a tour of the Reid Family Cinema Archives. It was a chance to get up close to film history. We looked at items from the Frank Capra, Kay Francis, and Elia Kazan collections, as well as script notes and a student film poster designed by Joss Whedon.
Finally, local author Dr. Michael Good visited to show and discuss a film based on his book about the German officer who helped save his mother and over 250 Jews from genocide in Vilnius Lithuania. The book The Search for Major Plagge tells an incredibly moving story brought to screen in a recent Canadian/Israeli documentary. Over 100 community members and students gathered for our discussion.
After break, we all slam into the other side of the “storm” which is April and May. We will have more terrific events, including a talk on recent Italian comedy by New York Times critic (and visiting Professor) A.O. Scott, a workshop on adapting movies to videogames hosted by game designer Matthew Weise, and a visit from screenwriter/producer/director Ed Decter who will announce our next edition of the Wesleyan at the AFI Summer Program. Our seniors will finish their thesis projects, share their work with the world at screenings and presentations, and meet alumni at our annual Life After Wesleyan seminars. Everyone else has papers, tests, films, and class presentations ahead of them. Nothing can fill a schedule or a mind like spring term. See you on the other side!
Just when you thought we were done with W. C. Fields! Ben Model, our resident expert on silent film, is here with a short guest episode on Fields’ silent work. Model discusses how these silents fit into the canon of such a verbal comedian, both as historical artifacts and as invaluable examples of his work and vision.
Don’t forget to listen to previous episodes of our podcast for more W. C. Fields material! And check out Ben Model’s own podcast for more on the silents.
What do you do with a film degree? We reached out to some recent alumni to get the answers.
It’s kind of amazing how well the film major has served me in aggressively not making movies. After flailing my way through various internships and discovering with almost scientific precision all the creative work I don’t like doing, I’ve spent the past four years in New York, working with fellow ’12 alum Zach Valenti and my perennial presentation group partner Gabriel Urbina (’13) making podcasts. First and most notably among these is a sprawling sci-fi audio drama called Wolf 359. It was nominated for a Webby (!), is hilariously still getting nominated for awards in the fiction podcasting community, and has hit over 8.5 million downloads to date. We got the project off the ground and had the great pleasure of working almost entirely with Wes alums on the show, including fellow film majors Noah Masur (’15) and Julian Silver (’12). The show’s led to all kinds of strange and wonderful things: pretty much daily fan-art, some incredible writing and teaching opportunities, and a really fulfilling sense of collegiality with some of the unspeakably cool creators working in audio right now. The major prepared me for how to collaborate well and tackle storytelling challenges with clear intentionality, but definitely not how to deal with someone getting words I wrote tattooed on their body; it’s been wild.
This year, though, I’ve been working with Zach and Gabriel to develop short, medium, and long-term projects, in audio and also not, and doing a little film writing of my own as well. Most notably there, I think, I had a piece published on Bright Wall/Dark Room on Only Angels Have Wings and the many ways in which Cary Grant is an ass (criticism is also wild). We just launched a foray into nonfiction podcasts with a storytelling game show called No Bad Ideas and that’s been a fun experiment thus far. So the two words I think describe my life after the film major are unexpected and busy. Still learning how to balance creative work with the business of day jobs, not undercharging for freelance projects, and just living in NYC, and I have a lot more grey hairs to show for it, but the ways in which the major rewired my brain have proved manifold and immensely useful. Even more than that, though, film folks working in creative industries and also not have been the collaborators/emotional supports that have helped me get work out there and just some of the most meaningful friendships I’ve had.