WORDS BY MEGAN PELSON '17, STAFF WRITER
IMAGE BY ELIJAH STEVENS '15, PHOTO EDITOR
Emma Gross and I first meet at one of the circular tables in downstairs Usdan. She places a box on the table with (presumably) her own handwriting on it and a small flower arrangement with a card attached. It isn’t until later that I gather that the flowers are a congratulatory gift from her parents on finishing her filming and the box contains film stock that she needs to send to the color lab. Unfortunately, it is Veteran’s Day so it can’t be sent out quite yet but this shouldn’t worry Emma—she’s been extremely diligent throughout the entirety of her thesis process in terms of getting things done to the nine and on time.
Emma is a senior Film major. But she’s also a French major. And she’s getting a writing certificate. Wait, I’m not done. She is also making a 16 mm film for her thesis (and if you don’t know what this means…you will soon). Time management is a skill that Emma has definitely honed at this point which became clear to me when I asked her when she will be done filming to which she quizzically looked at me and responded, “oh, no! I’ve been done filming.” At this point, I tell myself that I’m going to have to ask all my interview questions in the past tense—what was the filming process like? Were there any obstacles you came across? And so on, so forth. However, Emma assures me that she is far from a finished product of her film thesis. It is, after all, a 16 mm film (which, as I already said, you will soon know what this means!!). So, let’s start at the way, way beginning.
Before coming to Wes, Emma proclaimed to not know anything about the film department until orientation week when she heard mumblings. She decided to take a couple of the introduction classes so that she would have the option of being a major when the time came. As the time did inevitably come, she applied to the film major, citing the collaborative element and the dedication of film major students as persuading factors. Emma explains that Wesleyan’s film major program is not a production major, something that most people don’t realize. “I view the major as studying psychology, philosophy and history through the lens of film. In the introduction classes (Film History Analysis and Language of Hollywood), you get an idea of where film comes from, why movies are made and how different choices made by anyone involved in the film’s creative process affects our reaction to the film…I took Sight and Sound last year and that was my first time filming my own stuff. I felt like by the time the film department let me hold a camera, I was ready to shoot.” And now we’re about to come up on the big reveal (16mm!!!).
The idea for Emma’s thesis film has been a conception for a while, in a sense. Throughout here life, she has had a strong interest in writing. “One of the things my mom has always said is that you need to write about what you know. In my writing classes, I write about my family in various capacities.” Emma wanted to explore this more deeply. Her thesis explores how her and her sister’s relationship with their mother influenced the relationship between Emma and her sister. While her film is not all non-fiction, the root of it does come from the female relationships within her family. The importance of female relationships extends outside of the world within Emma’s film as she compiled a predominantly female cast and crew.
Emma’s celebration of women is also one of the reasons that led her to make a 16 mm film. “Last year, the senior theses that resonated with me the most were the 16 mm films written and directed by women. Until this point, I had intended to make a digital film because working with 16 mm is unbelievably expensive. When I had to make the decision between 16 mm or digital, I saw that only men had signed up to do 16 mm. When I called my mom and told her about the gender discrepancy she said, 'Don't worry about the cost, you have to do this." And thank god she did. "The film industry feels very male dominated. I think there's a difference between films made by men and films made by women. More films need to be made by women."
16 mm production is different than digital production. "Because there's no playback monitor and I had a finite amount of film stock to use, it was necessary that I plan every shot in advance- how I wanted it to look, how I wanted it to be cut together, and what emotions I wanted to register on screen. With 16 mm every shot has to be approached with foresight and meticulous attention to detail; it forces you to become a more thoughtful filmmaker."
For those who are unfamiliar, editing 16 mm film stock is almost an archaic process, involving taking scissors and tape and cutting up actual footage until you have a montage of pieces stuck together. Then, there are a series of processes that one must go through to smooth out the reel. Unlike digital film, there’s no editing on a computer and a rough cut 10 minutes after finishing a shoot. The process, which could very well be almost extinct, inspired Emma to make a 16 mm film because she “sort of knew that if I didn’t make a film on 16 mm now, I would never be able to again.”
Although this is premature, I ask Emma if she has any plans with her film thesis after Wesleyan. “What? Do you mean, like, sending it to festivals?” she laughs, “All I know is that my film tells a story about my family. Even after this film, I’ll continue to write about my sister, and I’ll continue to think about my relationship with my mom and my sister’s relationships with my mom. It’s a trope I’ll never stop developing.”