WORDS BY MEGAN PELSON '17, STAFF WRITER
IMAGE BY ARIEL JACOBSON '15, FILM EDITOR
Caroline Conrad (’14) is writing a book. Read that sentence again if you think your eyes might be deceiving you. No… they aren’t. Caroline Conrad is writing a book. Caroline, whose senior thesis explored how Peter Jackson translated The Lord of The Rings into a trilogy that appealed to a modern audience without losing Tolkien’s voice, is expanding and fine-tuning this idea with the intent of publishing a book. I believe it was Gandalf who stated that “all we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us” and it is quite obvious that Caroline is not wasting a second of her precious time. Check out our interview below to hear what one of the newest inductees into the Wesleyan Mafia is up to. She’s dropping wisdom, details of her insane process, a blog, and offers that you can’t refuse (note: she does not make any offers in this interview. This is a nod to The Godfather because she is now part of the Mafia. Why am I even explaining this?)
Megan Pelson: Is this thing on? Okay, yeah I was totally channeling Britney Spears in Crossroads when she is about to sing “I Love Rock N Roll” in the bar scene. If this reference is lost on you, consider yourself very lucky.
Caroline Conrad: It stirs a distant memory of a long ago viewing. I should probably refresh myself, though, now that you reminded me.
MP: An important film. Great segue into this interview. So, Caroline, while we’re on the subject of film, did you come to Wesleyan knowing you wanted to be a film major?
CC: No. I actually came to Wes 90% sure that I wanted to be a psychology major and I took the intro film class freshman fall, just on a whim, really to fill a schedule block more than anything else. I realized pretty quickly that I enjoyed it, but I was conflicted because I had so little experience with film and it seemed like everyone else was so intense about it. I watched a lot of TV and stuff, but I had never seen anything by Tarantino. I really had no idea what I was doing. But, I changed my schedule last minute and took intro analysis and after we watched Chinatown, I was like "wow." I don't know, it just kind of clicked. I did end up double majoring in psychology, too, but film became the clear priority after freshman year.
MP: Is there anything that you learned during your Wes film studies career that has helped you post-college?
CC: Well, actually, my post-college life is centered around developing my senior thesis into a book, so I would say everything I learned is helping me do that!
MP: Can you briefly summarize your thesis?
CC: Let me try and pare it down to a few sentences instead of my usual endless ramble. Well, my thesis was really focused on answering the questions of how and why Peter Jackson was able to translate J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings into a fantasy film trilogy that authentically portrayed the book's themes and tone while still relating to and engaging contemporary commercial audiences. I was analyzing the decisions made throughout the adaptation and filmmaking processes, breaking down how Jackson and his crew used the tools of cinema to convey the language of the original book within an accessible popular context.
MP: Did you always think Jackson succeeded in this translation or did your research help convince you of this?
CC: I definitely started off with the highest opinion of his adaptation; the LOTR trilogy has been my favorite for years. If anything, I have to make a really concerted effort to push down my admiration for the films because I try to be as objective as possible in my analysis. I'm not writing a fanzine, you know? At the same time, I completely avoided any mention of the new Hobbit films because I can't say I have the same respect for them...
MP: So what are you doing with your thesis now?
CC: I realized kind of when I first started working on my thesis that I wanted it to lead to something more. The idea of turning it into a book was a big motivator for me throughout the year. I had a lot of people constantly saying things like, "oh, I would never be able to write something that long, how did you keep going, etc" and it was, I think, because after a certain point I thought of it as a really rough draft for a book. It wasn't like writing an essay, it was something I could do as part of an actual career (or, at least, a cool thing to do before I figure out what I want my career to be). Right now, I'm polishing up a book proposal and getting ready to start shopping it around to publishers. I've met with a few authors and writers recently; I'm really just trying to get my ideas out there and see if anyone will bite! I'm also starting a blog (check it out here: http://www.carolinepragerconrad.com/blog/) this week, which I've been actively avoiding. My first piece is going to be about Mockingjay so hope y’all are into that. Spoiler: I’m into it.
MP: Our generation is the internet.
CC: I think it's a bit self-indulgent, but it seems like it's an increasingly valid way to establish yourself as a writer. It's another thing to show an agent or publisher who might be interested in your ideas and your voice.
MP: Are you in contact with any Wes peers/professors who have been there since the conception of your thesis?
CC: I'm still in touch with Scott Higgins, who advised me throughout my thesis, along with Lisa Dombrowski. I've been in sporadic touch with Jeanine [Basinger], and they've all been great. I met with Scott over homecoming to shoot the shit about my project and post-grad life. It's rad how much of a support system the Wes film department can provide. I've also been getting some feedback from friends and other Wes students who read my thesis, and that is the most amazing thing for me (to hear from people who actually downloaded it and read it out of their own interest.) I can't express how much I appreciate the support and encouragement. It made me more confident that there is an actual audience for this and it's not a total pipe dream because, like you said, it is a massive endeavor, and one that can be quite isolating at times. It still feels pretty surreal. I constantly feel like I have no idea what I'm doing, but it seems like not-very-secretly everyone feels that way, so I'm just rolling with it. I'm hoping to sign with a publisher in the next month, and then I imagine I'll finish the book sometime before next summer, I think. It's really hard to say, I'm just sort of guessing. I might be insanely optimistic.
MP: Is there something you’ve learned throughout this entire process that has been extremely valuable to you? This is your chance to drop some wisdom.
CC: Ah, what pressure. I think what stands out most about this last year especially is how valuable and important it is to have really good friends whom you can rely on, I would have never been able to do this without the support of my friends. Writing is really hard because it's so much about discipline, and, like I said, that can be isolating. Also filmmaking is so much about collaboration. Almost every production I've worked on has had other Wes alumni involved (I do production work to help fund the writing, along with working at a gallery.) It's awesome to realize how much passion everyone has, and I'm sure I'll keep working on projects with Wes kids as long as I'm working in film.
Be sure to check out Caroline’s thesis: http://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2221&context=etd_hon_theses