Freshmen Advice from Upperclassmen

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Freshmen Advice from Upperclassmen

by Marielle Cuccinelli

Marielle Cuccinelli, Sophie Flemings, and Chris Weingart conduct an interview and Q&A with three freshmen students about life at JPCatholic.

MC: Introduce yourself and tell us what do you want people here to know about you?

MM: I’m Marylin Muro. My major is Communications [Media] with an emphasis in directing, and hopefully a minor in business. I’m super sarcastic. If I say something mean, 90% of the time I don’t mean it. Also, I’m very spontaneous. I like to adventure, so if I see something that’s interesting I’ll go do it. I want to direct movies, mainly. I really like action and rom-coms/comedies.

RB: My name is Rosemary Bailey. I’m from Connecticut, and I’m studying screenwriting and acting. I’d like to take this opportunity to advertise myself as an extra, who’s also very receptive to fight scenes. I want to be in projects. I lean heavily [towards] action and comedy.

SL: My name is Sam LeMark. My emphasis is in game development and I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana. I’m a chill person. I’m literally interested in everything here. I want to do as much as I can and get experience everywhere. I came in as game development because I want to learn more about that specifically because I’ve already done a lot of acting and stuff, but I think acting on sets would be a great opportunity.

Q&A 

Marylin Muro: Do you think JPCatholic prepares you for what’s to come?

Sophie Flemings: I think you get out of it what you put in. Right now, Chris and I are making a movie every quarter. Marielle’s doing more than one. It’s those people who put in a lot who get a lot out of it.

Chris Weingart: If you’re just going based off the curriculum – sort of. But if you’re looking beyond the curriculum and more at the opportunities and the access to people and equipment you have, then yes, absolutely. Pay attention to what the faculty are saying – like, Riley will talk about his personal life and how he got places. Career services is actually really good, even though nobody knows about it. There’s a lot of great opportunities here, you just have to pay attention to them.

Marielle Cuccinelli: I would repeat what Sophie said – you get out of it what you put in. I know people who’ve left saying the school did nothing for them, but those are the people that never were involved in the community here. I hardly ever saw them on projects or anything like that. And they blame the school for it, I think, but it was really just them not taking advantage of the opportunities they were given. Here you have all the means to make stuff and to improve right at your fingertips. After you leave, you won’t have the resources that you have here – people, mentors, equipment, time. These three years go fast; take advantage of them.

Sam LeMark: People keep saying “know when to say no.” What is your guys’ take on that?

MC: I don’t really believe in that. My philosophy is that you can always fit in one more thing, and so far it’s never steered me wrong. My friends think I’m insane. I have a decent GPA, I’m alive, I love what I’m doing, and I think I’m one of the most prolific filmmakers at our school because I’m involved in so much stuff. The only times I say no are when I actually can’t, like when I have a schedule conflict. I’ve been on some terrible projects, but you learn as much from the bad sets as you do from the good ones, if not more – including your own! I’ve done projects that went terribly, but you learn more from that than you do from anything else.

CW: Don’t be afraid to say no, but be very aware of why you’re saying no, and always have a good reason. A lot of people say no because they think they’re busier than they are, or they feel like they’re too good for a project. Saying no can be a very valuable thing because it’s good to care for yourself and know when you need that time. It’s about evaluating your gut feeling on a project. I somehow became a gaffer; people just started asking me to do it, and I have no idea why, but there were a lot of jobs like that where I didn’t want to do it because I wanted to direct or write. But I want to get better at cinematography, and that’s rooted in being good at lights, so I said yes to all of them because I had the time and it was an opportunity for me to develop a skill that would bleed over into something I wanted to do. Pay attention to those things people ask you to do – what’s the benefit, even if it’s kind of sucky at face value? 

SF: I just want to give some context here – you’re talking to three workaholics, if not the biggest ones at this school. This school breeds workaholics. Specifically with the structure – ten weeks in a quarter, four quarters in a year, so you’re constantly going – for some people that doesn’t really work. The people it does work for are like us, who just like to work a lot, and care and love and want to keep going. I’ve found that saying no really has to come down to you and what you need. Like Chris was saying, it’s not about being too good for a project or not helping on underclassman projects. It should never be about that. It should be about learning, always. You can only learn by doing… From the start of our freshman year to now, we’ve really only gotten where we are because we put in the time. So if you want to do it, love it. Go hard. Give it all you’ve got. But at the same time, take time off. Don’t be like us, to the extreme. Don’t be afraid to start slow, but don’t be afraid to go for it.

Rosemary Bailey: How do you know when to lean into the ambition of a project and when to recognize that it’s unrealistic?

CW: First of all, I want to say, don’t take our advice too seriously. Take the good stuff – whatever works for you. The way we approach things usually is we always lean into the ambition of it and go for it and don’t let that limit us too much, and that has to varying effects worked out. A lot more is possible than you think. It’s about finding the right people who can help you believe that – because there are things that are too ambitious at this level, but that line is not where you think it is.

SF: I have three things to say. The first one is, always keep creating. Make it, and if it’s bad, make another one, and if that’s bad, keep going. Because chances are if you’re an artist you’re probably going to be like “wow that was awesome while I was making it and now I hate it and that’s really awful so no one’s going to watch it and I’m just gonna keep doing the next thing.” The second thing is, do not let equipment or time or not having a location or the right costumes or not being able to get the Red stop you from making stuff… A t3i and a sound kit and a lowell will get you through. That’s the basics – you can make anything you want with that- within reason and insurance and stuff. My last thing is, just in general at JPCatholic, [if] you want to get something made, and it’s ambitious, cap it at 12 pages.

Rosemary Bailey: How do you know when to keep going after your original vision and when to adapt it to your time/resources?

CW: What you’re asking about is something you develop over time and being on set. I think the trick – because it’s something that we’re still trying to figure out, and it’s one of the things that I love about filmmaking, as much as I hate it, but it’s inherent to the process – is that when you get to set, nothing’s going to be the way you thought it is, so you have to change it. The more times you do that, the better you’ll get at the panicked last-minute creative decisions that get better because you’re more used to that. My advice to you is, don’t ever not do something because it’s ambitious. I think you can do it, and it may go terrible the first time, but you can’t live in fear of it going terrible – you just have to kind of go for it.

SF: To finish a thought on that, I’d say that’s what your classes are for. Inevitably you will grow and stretch and learn the things that give you those perspectives. You are given the ability to see those things in your classes, and then you apply them to your work. So, go for it until you know you shouldn’t, because there will be a point where you know.

CW: The other thing is, don’t always listen to the professors. If they’re skeptical about the size of a project, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

MC: Something my professors have told me again and again – they’re going to be so happy if they read this and see my saying this to you guys – is that bigger is not necessarily better. It sounds obvious, but I’ve had a really hard time with learning that lesson. Professor Scoggins told me last quarter that a short film I made wanted to be a feature, and I realized that’s how a lot of my projects go – I’m cramming a feature into twelve pages. This quarter I’ve actually dug into making short stuff – I’ve been making two, three page shorts every week. It’s been honestly amazing. You can spend the whole quarter working on one big project or you can spend it on five small projects. I’d say, if you have an ambition, go for it. The first thing I directed was a fifteen-minute ensemble period piece with fight scenes and archery, and it was such a good experience. You can do really ambitious things, and a lot of the upperclassmen – especially our class – really like helping people make things. If you have an ambitious thing in mind, feel free to go for it, but also, something small and high quality is better than something big and medium quality.

Rosemary Bailey: A lot of people have said it comes down to having a team you know and trust. What happens when you’re on an important project and someone with the skills that you need is a difficult person to work with? How do you work with difficult people when they’re really integral to the process?

MC: So here’s my thing. The set experience for everyone involved is just as important as the end product. I don’t ask people to work with me who make everyone’s lives more difficult, even if those people are good at what they do. It’s more important to me that my crew and cast have a good experience than that I get that one person that’s really good at that one thing but also make it that much less fun for everybody. At the same time, sometimes you have to work with people – I’ve AD‘d a lot of projects where I’m not the one picking the crew. Most people you can at least figure out a way to work with when you need to.

CW: Yeah, the on set thing is super important. This is something I have to remind myself of: the relationships you’re making while making stuff are more important than the final product a lot of the time. If every set you’re on is miserable, that has something to do with you or the people you surround yourself with. No one else is going to want to work with you, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot. So it is very important to value that, and if you walk away from a bad project but these people had a good time, they’ll want to work with you again when it gets better.

SF: Don’t be afraid to work with everyone, to start. Work with all the people you haven’t worked with, try it out, see how it goes, and if there ends up being people you’re not very keen on and they don’t really work with you on set very well, don’t be afraid after that to not work with them. Set brings out the worst in people. These are my best friends and they’ve seen the worst in me, but it works because we’ve grown together and we mesh really well. I’m sure there’ve been people on my sets who’ve seen me at my worst and don’t even want to talk to me again, let alone work together. Don’t be afraid to work with everyone, try it out, see how it goes, work on collaboration, get comfortable with that, problem solve, if someone’s really irritating, be patient and kind to them and have a good time on set and then don’t be afraid to never work with them again. Find the people who help you do your best work and then work with those guys.

Rosemary Bailey: Besides the facebook groups, how do you get on sets?

SF: The first thing I’d say is talk to Marielle.

MC: I think I’ve gotten more freshmen on sets than anyone else at this school. Feel free to reach out to me – about anything. I like helping people figure things out. Also, insider tip: upperclassmen are more likely to want you on their set if they think you’d be enjoyable to work with; whether or not you already have the know-how is irrelevant. Some freshmen will show up admitting they’ve never done this before and they have no clue what they’re doing, but they’re eager to learn. When I’m looking for people to invite to help out on my sets, the ones that don’t know anything yet but are enthusiastic about being taught are the ones I want to have around.

SF: The class above you guys is in Directing 1 right now, so if you know any of them, tell them you want to be on a set.

Rosemary Bailey: What positions can you go into without already having experience?

MC: The positions I typically give to freshmen are slate, PA, grip, script supervisor. You can be a boom op or AC if there’s an experienced sound or camera person to guide you, and you can be an extra.

CW: There’s definitely roles upperclassmen won’t give you as freshmen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be working those roles. Don’t let that limit you. Generate your own project and be that role – get some people together, make the project, make those opportunities for yourself. Within two quarters, if you’re competent, people will start noticing. Don’t wait on upperclassmen to give you approval- or really anyone to give you approval.

Marielle Cuccinelli: Closing advice to the freshmen?

CW: Look for those opportunities. Don’t worry about what people think of you, because it’s more fun to prove them wrong.

SF: Healthy competition is really good for you, but don’t let it ever stop you. I personally struggle a lot with comparison – there are people in our class that are better than me at what I do, and there have been multiple times when that was really hard for me to swallow. There’ll be times when you’ll be in your class and you’ll have to screen your movie right after that other person’s movie that was way better shot or written or lit, and you wonder why you should keep trying. Be competitive because that’s how you get things done, but don’t ever let comparison stop you. Also, this is college, so remember to come up for air every now and then and have some fun. The beach is 30 minutes away. Go to the beach. Hang out. Have fun. God bless.

MC: A big thing I’ve really struggled with is not wanting my stuff to suck. Obviously, no one wants their stuff to suck, but what’s more important with your projects here is that you learn from them. I’ve done a lot of projects and half of them have turned out terrible, but I learned from them, and my work gets better every time, and that’s what matters. Everyone makes sucky stuff. It’s most important that you do it anyway and get that experience, because you can learn more from on-set experience than you can from even the best professors.

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