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Shooting a scene for their J-term course, director of photography Anna Lueck ’18.5 (right) watches the screen as camera operator Coralie Tyler '20 adjusts the camera setting.

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J-Term Scenes: Filmmaking in Four Weeks

February 6, 2019

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Winter term at Middlebury is long, but also short. Within the blink of an eye, the last week of J-term has arrived, leaving a group of students hiding in the basement of Axinn—brushing up their final edits before revealing their monthlong film projects at a public screening at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 31, in Axinn 232.

Less than a week ago, a four-person student film crew from the course, appropriately titled Collaborative Video Projects, took over the sanctuary of the Middlebury Congregational Church to shoot a scene from a short comedy, titled Locally Sourced, directed by Devin McGrath-Conwell ’18.5. For a few hours, the historic site was transformed into a film set filled with lights, boom mics, and camera gear.

“It’s a unique opportunity that allows for an intense focus on filmmaking for a month,” said Sinead Keirans ’14, assistant in instruction in the Film and Media Culture Department and instructor for the class. “The idea behind it is that students learn how to work together in groups in order to produce a project in a short but concentrated time.” 

Each of the 13 students takes on two major roles in two different phases of production during the course. By the end of the term, the groups will have produced four short, but very different, films, including two narratives, one documentary, and one music video.  

Anna Lueck ’18.5 (left) and Devin McGrath-Conwell ’18.5 discuss a scene from their short film, Locally Sourced, on set at the Middlebury Congregational Church.

    “I expect it, frankly, not to be the most polished work I have ever done, because making a 25-minute film in four weeks is ridiculous. I can’t believe I’m doing it!” said Anna Lueck ’18.5, of Seattle, Washington.

    Having worked on several film projects before and completed a documentary thesis film last year, Lueck, a joint major in film and media culture and religion, wanted to end her time at Middlebury also working on a production.

    “I expect it to be, more than anything else, an opportunity to play around a little bit, to work with other people, to iron out those relationships, and to try something different from my thesis, for example,” Lueck said.

    Working on a narrative project as director of photography and producer, Lueck collaborated with fellow film major and first-time director McGrath-Conwell ’18.5.

    “I wanted to leave Middlebury with a project that I am proud of, and I could say, I worked on this with people I love,” said McGrath-Conwell, an English and American literatures and film and media culture joint major from Saco, Maine.

    “What I have enjoyed the most—and what has also been the most challenging thing—has been directing my friends. . . . That has been a lot of fun. But it is also challenging because that can get a little wild,” said McGrath-Conwell.

    As McGrath-Conwell navigated the scene at the church, classmate Noah Sauer ’20 was hard at work producing a music video with another team.

    “I really appreciated having the instructor trust us to just make something,” said Sauer, a studio art and film and media culture double major from Madison, Wisconsin. Using music he previously produced, Sauer is working on a three-part video series as director of photography and coeditor.  

    “Because we made a music video, we got a little bit of freedom to get abstract. . . . We are still making a narrative, but there are definitely dreamier and more abstract visuals,” said Sauer.

    Unlike other film production courses that have specific guidelines with shorter assignments, Collaborative Video Projects allows students to experiment with their creative ideas through a more independent process.

    “It has taught me a lot about the process, like the order in which to do everything,” said Sauer. “Even though I am not technically the producer, I have been learning a lot about scheduling and what amounts of time are reasonable to budget for each part of making a film.”

    Sauer is now looking forward to sharing his work at the screening event that concludes J-term. “I am excited for everyone to see how it turns out. If nothing else, we have some really great shots of an old guy dancing with colored lights!”

    Story and photos by Qian Li ’19