Lights, Camera, Thesis!

Personality disorders, suicide, and an eight-year-old detective: This wide range of subjects reflects just a few of the various films presented at last Thursday’s Senior Thesis Film Screening. The screening, highlighted six short films, featuring five fiction films and one documentary. The first film of the night, Seniors Sophia Capp and Celestine Manno’s “Tendencies,” is loosely based on the life and suicide of Evelyn McHale: the woman who became infamous as the subject of a 1947 photo known as “The Most Beautiful Suicide.” 

Illustration by Caroline Li

Capp’s interest in McHale’s background was sparked by the photograph which hung across from the counter where she worked at the Ivywild Bakery in downtown Colorado Springs. “I was intrigued by her story—particularly by how many gaps it has in it,” said Capp. She began writing the skeleton for the script in a class with Professor Idris Goodwin and eventually fleshed it out to create the final piece. “I had always wanted to make a period piece,” said Capp. “Parts of [Evelyn’s] life resonated with mine, so in the end it seemed like the right thing to dig into.”  Capp describes herself and Manno as “a great team.” “Cellie and I love to play music,” Capp explained. “That’s the original thing that brought us together on this project. From there we found a story that we both connected well to and did our best to tell it. Capp and Manno began working on the movie at the start of first semester. “At least 200 hours went into the project, if not more,” said Capp. “Cellie and I wrote, cast, produced, directed, filmed, edited, and wrote and performed the music for this film. We did almost everything together…and I’m a lot more sane than I would have been had I done a thesis alone.”“Working with Sophie was a wonderful experience,” added Manno. “Initially she and I came together as a team because of our musical backgrounds and we were interested in creating some type of visual album.  However, this eventually transformed into us making a fiction film and producing an original score for it, so we were still able to integrate sound and music.” Fellow senior Kexin ‘Coco’ Wang also produced a collaborative piece for her thesis. She and Ben Coldwell presented “Laugh, Fuck, Die” as the closing piece of the screening. “Ben and I spent so much time together and made so much effort to make this thesis project happen,” said Wang. “My original idea was to make a claymation art film, but then I had a chance to talk to Ben about his idea of making this film about how people with different personality disorders view the world and also how they communicate with each other.”

The pair used Coldwell’s knowledge about neuroscience to present the viewers with each different characters’ interpretation of events. The majority of the film was shot with a red filter and utilizes several different settings as well as a short section of claymation.  “My favorite part was going to scout for our shooting locations with Ben, especially the landscape spot we had in our film,” said Wang. “Looking at different spaces and imagining about film happening in it is always quite fun.” Both teams commented on the benefits of collaborating on a thesis project. “[Ben and I] were even discussing it when we were away in Mexico for Spring Break,” said Wang. “We actually didn’t face any big challenges because we worked very efficiently together and everything was pretty organized.”

“Aside from my obvious love for filmmaking, my favorite part has to be the community behind our major,” added Manno. “The amount of majors in our class is pretty small, and after spending so many classes and long hours in the editing lab together, there is so much camaraderie from helping each other throughout the process, providing inspiration for one another, and just being there for support and laughs.” Senior Charlie Theobald, whose thesis film, “May,” starred an eight-year-old actress, also commented on the inspiration and support that he found with the other filmmakers. “I appreciate the community I have found in the film department at CC,” said Theobald. “That really hit home—growing close to a lot of the senior film majors over the last few blocks. It was wonderful to have support and receive feedback from them and be able to work on their projects as well.” Theobald’s film follows the adventures of a young, unusually independent girl on her explorations, eventually finding herself in an abandoned house. “My favorite and most difficult part were one and the same, which was working with an eight-year-old actor, Chloe Bishop,” said Theobald. “She’s an incredible kid. She hadn’t acted before but fit the character I had written.” Working with a young actor made Theobald realize “how ridiculous filmmaking can be; how repetitive it is… I tried to make her feel comfortable on set, doing things like having the whole crew scream as loud as we could so that she would feel comfortable doing that. I owe a lot to her and I feel so lucky she was willing to see the film through with me.” All six of the films shown Thursday night have been in the works for over a year, when the then-juniors pitched their ideas. “It’s been a long process,” said Theobald. “It’s really strange for me to look at my film and see five or so months condensed into nine minutes. I wasn’t working on thesis for every second of those five months, but it was a constant thing and always on my mind.”

“It was a full year of brainstorming until we started working on our scripts before Christmas break,” added Manno. “Then it was over a month of workshopping and editing scripts, and a month of shooting, editing and scoring.  Personal challenges also come up when exhaustion takes over, but we powered through.”  Many of the film majors had little to no moviemaking experience prior to arriving at CC, but flourished once they discovered their passion within the discipline. Many of them hope to present their films again at festivals or other events at a later date. 

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