Allison Wordes — Staff Writer
Black and white keys blur in and out of focus on the big screen. The ticking of a metronome counts time ominously. Students sit quietly, captivated in their seats of SB 1606 at Emi’s short film showing, called Without, held on Tuesday, February 11.
As part of her senior capstone project, digital media major Emi Stewart worked to write and produce a short film showing off her skills and abilities in the world of filmmaking.
Digital media majors are required to do an independent study project before they graduate. There are multiple options for what exactly the project looks like: a short film, research project, or documentary. Stewart started planning in her junior year.
As she wrote a story and began to cast the project, it didn’t feel quite right. Over the summer she began in another, more confident direction. The second filming began during the fall semester and finished mid-November.
The film starred several Dordt students including Erika Buiter, Lindsey Zuidema, Damon Groen, and others.
“I could still act while having a lower level of commitment,” Zuidema, who stars as a young pianist, said. She has been playing piano since the age of 5 and acted in a high school for The Sound of Music. Zuidema also plays oboe and bass guitar and is currently involved in the 4th Avenue Jazz, concert choir, wind symphony, and worship team.
“Emi knows you have to have more than one good take,” Zuidema said. The cast and crew worked out the schedule so they could do 3-4 shots at a time. For Zuidema, the challenge was to play the piano at the correct tempo, over and over.
“You have to play it in front of 6 people recording you,” said Zuidema. Despite this challenge, she enjoyed working with Emi and her crew.
One major strength of the film was cinematography.
“I love to control the cameras and set up those nice creamy backgrounds.” Stewart said.
The film had some spectacular shots, including scenes where the character could be seen from reflected surfaces like car rear-view, bathroom, and practice-room mirrors. The shots switch to include mirrors every time the character is doubting herself.
“The mirrors are reflections of ourselves,” Stewart said. She said she was somewhat amazed herself by the way the small details of the film tied together. Some of this success was chance—for example, squishing 6 people into one of the music building’s practice rooms leaves little choice but to be creative with angles.
Stewart prefers the writing part of the filmmaking process, even though she doesn’t consider it a strength. The film is around 16 minutes long with the credits, which estimates out to 1 minute per page of script.
Stewart chose the theme of music—specifically, piano. While having played for 14 years, she confessed that she still struggles to play well.
“I was always frustrated with technique,” Stewart said, “and preferred to play by ear.” She said it is easy to focus on perfection both in music and the film industry. Perfection becomes the standard. As someone going into this area of work, she feels the unbelievable amount of pressure to perform well, for both herself and others.
“Overall, my character is not in a great spot,” Zuidema said. As a pianist herself, she realizes how it may be easy to get frustrated practicing but not to the extent the film portrays.
“There’s a little of me in that character,” Stewart said, referring to her protagonist. Reflecting on her previously abandoned project, Stewart thought perhaps it was her sense of perfectionism that kept her from finishing it.
“I have never hallucinated a metronome coming to life,” Stewart said as a disclaimer.
Part of the reward of a film premiere is seeing how others react. Stewart was delighted by the way people responded to the humor in the film. Even things she hadn’t considered funny came through in a new light.
“That’s one of the benefits of… previewing it—you get to see it in a way you’ve never seen it before,” Stewart said.
Digital media professor Mark Volkers encourages students to sit in the back at their senior project showing so they can watch for the audience’s response. After all, the filmmaker has already seen the film many times over. Stewart said she spent nine months with her script.
Stewart wanted to have a small, casual showing in Dordt’s new screening room. However, students are not allowed to use the room without a professor being present, so it was moved to the vast space of 1606. This allowed for even more people to come and support Stewart—and enjoy homemade gluten-and-dairy-free cookies.
Stewart offered encouragement to underclassmen, especially those going into media production.
“Don’t be afraid of failure,” Stewart said. “Reevaluate what you determine as failure. Make a story you want to tell.” Most importantly, she encourages students to keep it simple and have fun while they have access to all the professional equipment, professors, and fellow students in a university setting.
As an added bonus, those who attended the showing got to view pure joy and chaos in the show’s blooper reel.