December 7, 2016

Lights, camera, action!

The average college senior is knee-deep in responsibilities, and it adds up to something like late nights studying, ten-page papers, multiple exams a week and tons of time in the classroom. Maybe even internships or graduate school applications come to mind. A fun elective is fairly common: fencing or yoga, perhaps?

Cut! Scrap all of that. This scene does not apply to all majors. Webster University’s film students know that much. In fact, film production student Kyle Drahl’s senior year has consisted of almost anything but exams and research papers.

At the beginning of his senior year in August 2014, Drahl wrote the script for his senior film project: A ten-minute short film for his FILM 4620 Senior Overview class. During the rest of the fall semester, Drahl casted actors for the film and set up a crew to work with him, while tweaking his project with critique from the class.

Jamil Ziadi (left), Director/Co-Writer Jenna McDonald (center) and Cinematographer Katie Ploessser (right)  prepare a scene for “June,” which McDonald wrote with her sister. / photo by Hayden Andrews

Jamil Ziadi (left), Director/Co-Writer Jenna McDonald (center) and Cinematographer Katie Ploessser (right)
prepare a scene for “June,” which McDonald wrote with her sister. / photo by Hayden Andrews

During the spring semester, film students like Drahl have to produce their films leading up to May 9, when all of the film projects will be shown in the Winifred Moore Auditorium in Webster Hall. Drahl said working on his film has taken priority over most of his other school work.

“It’s funny because I missed my advertising class this morning,” Drahl said. “I was like, ‘I can’t do that right now, I have too much stuff to do.’ I’m coming to school to make this film, so everything is almost secondary to that. It gets to the point where I’m so invested in it, I’m not even worried about grades at this point, as long as this film turns out well—and I can graduate, of course.”

Drahl’s film, “Welcome Home,” tells the story of a college student who lives separate lives at school and at home. At home, she is a closeted lesbian, but at school she is more open about her sexuality. Drahl said writing the script for the film was difficult since it so closely paralleled his own life, and he drew a lot of comparisons to himself from his main character, Abby.

“The way I wrote it, I hated it. I really disliked it,” Drahl said. “It mimicked my life too much and that made it really hard.”

Drahl went through multiple revisions of the story before settling on a final version more than  two months later. He eventually found a cast and crew, and decided to feature Conservatory student August Stamper as his lead actress. Drahl is filming from Feb. 5 to 8 and will soon be in post-production, when he will edit the film and produce a final product before the end of the semester.

Senior Overview professor Charlie Anderson said the process of students creating their films resembles the process of creating an actual Hollywood motion picture. He believes the average movie-goer doesn’t realize the film they are watching was in production for five to ten years prior to its appearance on the big screen. Therefore, his class is designed so their films take an entire school year, despite the films lasting only ten minutes.

“It’s so hard to impress upon the average movie-goer how much work goes into what’s on screen,” Anderson said. “This is the culmination of everything the film students learn throughout their education at Webster University.”

Anderson said one of the hopes of the senior film overview is for students to possibly be featured in film festivals. He wants to see the students create work they are proud of and that can gain recognition outside the university.

Drahl said creating his senior film project was like working on a real feature film, which he has experienced before. In the summer of 2014, Drahl and a group of Webster students visited the set of “Marshall the Miracle Dog,” a feature-length film starring Lauren Holly and Shannon Elizabeth that was filmed in St. Louis and Edwardsville, Illinois. Drahl said the people on the set wanted the visiting students to learn so they could work together in the future.

“I’ve learned a lot more from being on sets than being in school, honestly,” Drahl said. “School teaches you the basics, but you really learn your craft when you’re on a set and people are showing you how to do things.”

Webster senior Jenna McDonald was also on the set of “Marshall the Miracle Dog.” She said she never learned the details of the film industry in the classroom, such as the language used between the crew, or the on-set etiquette. However, she said her classes at Webster did prepare her to do the job properly. McDonald is also working on her senior overview and recently finished the production of her film, “June,” on Feb. 3.

McDonald described “June” as a commentary on ageism and how older people, especially women, are underrepresented in the media. McDonald said completing her student film after seeing a feature-length film set made her realize how different the film industry is from school.

“On a feature-length film, you stick to your job and you don’t blur the lines because that’s where it gets messy and confusing,” McDonald said. “And on these student films, we blur the lines a ton.”

Both McDonald and Drahl believe seeing the differences  between school and the professional world prepared them even more for graduation. Both plan to continue working in film: McDonald in the St. Louis market and Drahl out of state in advertising, despite skipping his advertising classes to work on his senior film. For both of them, it is how they have preferred to spend their senior year.

Senior overview films will show on May 9 in the Winifred Moore Auditorium. Anderson said to expect the show to begin some time around 6 p.m., so students, faculty and staff can attend following commencement.

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