Film majors start prior to fall

Lights. Camera. Action.

Any student studying film at Keene State College can tell you it is just not that easy. If it were, they question, where would lie the challenge, the fulfillment?

For many, the chance to get a degree in something brings hope for a stable future, one with a career, benefits and security. But for the film majors at KSC, these comforts are not their top priority. In fact, they seem to be nowhere on their list.

Brian Cantore / Photo Editor: Film students begin shooting footage for their Production three/four class. The process of writing screenplays, finding actors and location scouting takes place over the summer prior to the fall semester.

Brian Cantore / Photo Editor: Film students begin shooting footage for their Production three/four class. The process of writing screenplays, finding actors and location scouting takes place over the summer prior to the fall semester.

“I like this major because it does not have job security,” KSC junior Sarah DeFreitas said. “I have my degree and I’ve got to go out there and wish for the best, but I can’t imagine doing any other thing. That’s why I’m taking that risk. I like to think that’s what everyone else here is doing.”

DeFreitas is currently in the process of taking on her first documentary.

That “risk” is the undertaking students take with Production three and four; a year-long course with a spring premiere date for a feature length film.

According to Ted White, a KSC professor of film, students prepare the summer before the class begins, writing, scouting and gathering materials.

Seniors Joshua Demeule and Ben Johnson know what it’s like to spend the summer working in preparation—and then some.

The two are currently working on a television pilot titled “Limbo.”

The amount of time, the two said, that film majors spend on completing just one task, or putting together just ten minutes of usable footage, is more than the average student realizes.

“As English majors or any other major here, yes you have to put time into it, but we guarantee we put equal if not hours and hours more,” Demeule said. “We lose weekends, we even lose holidays.”

Johnson, who came to KSC specifically for the film department, added that he and his classmates made the decision to pour their hours and precious weekends into creating these films.

“We willingly do this,” he said, “I love every aspect. I like the idea of getting this imagery in my head on a screen that people can watch and enjoy.”

Demeule added, “If there was any doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to get anywhere in this world I wouldn’t take this major because you’re taking a huge risk.

One of the best things about this department is [that] you get what you put into it.”

For DeFreitas, every hour of work puts her one step closer to the real world.

“You can work hard and get straight A’s or you can do half-ass work and get a degree. For every hour I put in here, I know it’s a little extra I can get when I get out of here. It’s the same for every major,” she said.

Brian Cantore / Photo Editor: KSC senior, Shay Lynch is on crew for the group production titled “The Infamous Rocco Zanzabar.”

Brian Cantore / Photo Editor: KSC senior, Shay Lynch is on crew for the group production titled “The Infamous Rocco Zanzabar.”

White, who teaches one class of production, explained the course as an opportunity for students to face some of the challenges and the ups and downs they may experience in the future should they continue on to the film industry.

“This is their last chance within their undergrad education to do something big, ambitious—to challenge themselves and create something they feel is more like a professional, independent project. That’s pretty exciting,” Professor White said.

White said that in this course in particular he sees students learn beyond just the realm of film.

“They gain an experience in sustained working relationships that they need to develop and maintain. That usually goes well, but almost never goes without some hitches,” he said.

“Each student always has a lot invested in it. They have this sense like, ‘I’m going to finish school and I want to challenge myself, to leave a mark. I want some kind of documentation that I really achieved something here.’”

White, who previously taught geography at Amherst College, said within the advanced courses in film he has taught at KSC, he feels confident enough to say his students have a leg up on the post-grad life.

“Their experience here is similar to the real world and I think when they move on a lot of what they would encounter in the professional film making world will feel somewhat familiar or at least it will kind of make sense as opposed to being shockingly different.”

DeFreitas expressed a similar sense of satisfaction but also said she felt her time at KSC was only one building block towards her tower of a career.

“I would never walk out of here and say ‘I’m ready to go, I’m done.’ It’s just another good step. I feel like that would be for any art.”

White explained that every aspect to producing these films rests in the students’ hands.

From casting actors, which is a process that takes place often across New England and even New York, to purchasing props, costumes, scouting locations, everything relies on the student.

White said that camera and editing equipment are the only resources made available by the school for the students.

“The positive side of that is that people reach beyond their comfort level, they learn the value in a really big way of organization, managing money,” White said.

“These days quite a few students are looking to funding sources outside of their own pocketbooks,”

Senior Rissa Grady, who took production three and four last year as a junior, explained that having to pay out of pocket can set limits on students’ productions.

“It’s all about figuring out what you’re actually capable of doing. Every year this happens that you have a thought in your head that you can do everything and you need to figure out what your limitations will be,” the senior continued, “but to be fair, the limitations are wherever you set them.”

Grady, whose project film titled “A Matching Set,” explained she and her team spent the majority of their fall semester writing, scheduling, location scouting and auditioning actors for their film.

“Over Christmas break we filmed most of our footage,” she explained, “This is like ten hour days each. And for all of second semester we were editing and going back and getting the shots we wanted to get.”

Grady, like Demeule and Johnson, said the time spent on film overwhelms the semester but working in film is such that the reward of the result is beyond satisfying.

“It requires so much effort you can tell that it is something you can see by the finished product.” White and Grady commented on the interaction between film students and their projects, the collaborative creative process and the friendly competition.

“It can be a fantastic learning experience,” Grady said,  “It is kind of interesting how collaborative of a project it is. I feel like everyone in the film department kind of works that way.”

White said similarly, “The enthusiasm is very high for these projects. That is great for us faculty to be around. It is really pleasurable to feel like your students really want to put in extra time. You don’t even have to say, ‘work hard.’ They are pushing themselves to do it. There is a friendly comrade competition.”

But for each of these students, more than competition, it’s about the dream, the vision. For Johnson, KSC is helping his dreams come true.

“When I was little both of my parents were in marine biology,” he said, “I just kind of accepted that was what I would do. But I always used to draw or write things. I was trying to tell a story to people and writing and drawing didn’t get the point across. When my mom got a Mac with a camera on it I realized this was a way to tell a story. You could make millions or live out of your car,” the senior said.

That alone was all it took to entice him.

As each of these students, and many more in the department, find their locations, choose their actors and finalize their working scripts, they are one step closer to “Lights, camera, action.”

Putting them one step closer to their next project: the future. And then they will really be ready to say to themselves,

“Lights, camera, action.”



Julie Conlon can be contacted at

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