It’s Hard Out There For A Senior Finishing Their Thesis Project

Posted by Thursday, February 12, 2015 0 5

Let me start this post out by saying I have never written a thesis. I never had to write a thesis. I am glad I never had to write a thesis. I thank the Lord there was no thesis necessary to complete my journalism or food studies majors.

But because of the blessing bestowed upon me, I feel incredible empathy for those who have completed a thesis.

And I feel even worse for those souls who need to complete a thesis “project,” because most of these people need to put money into these projects.

It’s bad enough that we (or our parents) have to pay so much in tuition; but having to spend money to complete an assignment that is required for you to graduate is just insane.

You don’t want to put yourself even further into debt right before graduating, and every penny is going to matter while you are on the job hunt. Because you may not have a job right after graduating, and that is okay.

Now I have graduated, and I know a lot of you readers have too. But not all of you grown-ups out there have. And if you are a recent grad who had to complete a thesis, those wounds may still be wide open. So I think we can all learn a little something from this post.

Especially because we are lucky enough to have my friend Josh, a film major at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, here to today to talk about his senior thesis project, a short film.

And while his project is especially relevant to film students, he has insights that are valuable to all students who are working on a project that requires more funds than they have on their own, as he is using Indiegogo to raise money for his film.

An Interview with Filmmaker Joshua Kahn

 Q: Why is a project like this different from writing a thesis paper?
Joshua Kahn: A thesis paper is all about the final product. Endless research goes into it (and effective researching is a great skill itself), but professors and readers will care much more about the paper than the works cited list. If you can make a film, it shows you can go through all the hurdles that requires, like dealing with vendors, organizing large groups of people, fundraising, budgeting, casting, editing…the list goes on and on. Where writing a thesis paper constitutes mastery of a handful of skills, producing a film is a much more communal, invigorating, multi-faceted process. As far as job prospects goes, the film world moves fast. Employers want someone with practical experience and completed films are a good way to prove that.
Q: Tell me what your film is about.
Joshua Kahn: Impractical Solutions tells the story of boy genius Elton McCormack. After the sudden death of his parents, Elton utilizes his fantastical inventions to create new parents for his grieving little sister. This leads to even more complications: the new parents aren’t exactly, well, human, and Elton has to contend with a nosy welfare worker who can tell something fishy is going on. The story is dream-like, almost stream-of-conscious, with dark and brooding undertones hidden by a deceptively quirky surface. It’s a unique take on age old themes…childhood vs responsibility, hope vs reality, growing up, and sibling love.
Q: Why did you decide to raise the money for your film using crowd funding?
Joshua Kahn: There are a handful of ways to finance a short film these days. Large investors generally stay away from short films as there is almost no chance to recoup that investment. Shorts generally don’t get much play apart from festivals and niche indie theaters. The best way to raise money for what is essentially a professional portfolio centerpiece, a kind of distinct calling card, is to raise it in little chunks from friends and family who believe in me and in what the project can be. And while NYU provides a little money and I’m putting in some money of my own, indiegogo (and crowd funding platforms in general) are the quickest, simplest way these days to create a sort of warm community around the project.
Q: Why do you need the amount you need? What is it meant to cover?
Joshua Kahn: As NYU Film prides itself on being a professional training ground, they expect the students (especially those students preparing to graduate) to understand what it’s like to make a movie out in the real world. Part of that is the need to create a line-item budget and raise the appropriate amount of funds. The costliest items on any student film shoot are transportation (a cargo truck for equipment and an 18 seat passenger van for cast and crew), and food (which includes daily meals, craft services, coffee, you name it). And for this movie especially, being a somewhat quirky sci-fi, production design is a big element as well, as my production designer is creating some original props and needs materials and a workspace to create them in. Fortunately, as this still is a student shoot, some otherwise expensive filmmaking aspects come for free. The crew, comprised entirely of students (most of them juniors) is working for free; we’re eligible for a SAG Student Film Agreement, which allows me to cast professional SAG actors for deferred pay; NYU provides us with state-of-the-art equipment, as well as insurance for both the equipment and for any locations we shoot at.
Q: Do you think it is possible to finish your project with a lower budget and get a good grade?
Joshua Kahn: This class isn’t at all about getting a grade. In a way, it’s almost like a pass/fail class. Either the shoot is successful…or it isn’t. And who’s to say if the final result is good or bad? I mean, sure, some films are objectively bad, but this is still school. We’re learning about the process.
Q: Do you think it is possible to finish your project on a lower budget and make a film that will help you after college?
Joshua Kahn: The goal of this pre-production phase (and, I would venture to guess, the goal of every film’s pre-production phase) is to cut the budget as much as possible while not jeopardizing the quality of the finished product. That includes hunting for student discounts (gotta make use of the “I’m a student!” card as much as possible before graduation…) and bargaining with location owners for lower fees, etc. So it’s definitely possible to come in under budget, but the numbers my producer and I have come up with are a reasonable estimate of how it will all come out…some individual items may end up being lower, but those will be counter-acted by items that will be higher, and so on. And of course, there will always be surprise problems on set that having extra padding in the budget will help solve.
Q:  Tell me what your ideal goal is for how this film can help you, and also your realistic goal.
Joshua Kahn: Ideally, the film will be accepted into some notable film festivals and attract the attention of distributors and agents, leading to commercial play and future directing jobs. Realistically, the film will get some festival play at smaller festivals, followed with an online release. Either way, the end goal is to be able to use this short to help fund the next one.
Q: Tell me why you want to be a filmmaker.
Joshua Kahn: It affords greater storytelling opportunities than being just an actor or just a writer. “Filmmaker” implies being able to use the whole arsenal of filmmaking tricks and tools to create a fully-realized work of art. And that’s what’s exciting to me: the possibilities afforded by this medium are endless. You can do almost anything you want.
Q: Do you believe your education was worth the money? Do you think you could have gotten the same education somewhere else?
Joshua Kahn: NYU has such a unique style that an education from USC or UCLA or one of the other big film schools would have been a completely different experience. Whether I would’ve liked it more or less somewhere else, I can never know… But a comparison would be impossible. I started at NYU as a drama major in the theatre department (something I for sure couldn’t have gotten from another school) and that was a huge formative step in my process to becoming a filmmaker. Those 2 and a half years as an actor shaped my filmmaking and writing style in a way that stands out from other screenwriters and directors in my class, and for that I’m grateful. NYU has given me the best of both worlds (with theatre and film), so that alone has made it all worth it.
Q: Tell me what scares you the most about leaving school.
Joshua Kahn: Finding a job that makes me not starve or freeze. But that’d be the same regardless of film school, drama school…it’s just school, man. It’s scary out there, especially these days. I’d love to not have to degrade myself as a grocery store bag boy again…
Q: Tell me what you are most looking forward to after leaving school.
Joshua Kahn: The satisfaction of having completed 5 years of NYU. Being a proud college graduate. Looking ahead and thinking “Gee, the next 20 years sure are gonna be swell.” Just the adventure, I guess. It’s a story, like any other…
Q: What kind of movies do you want to make?
Joshua Kahn: (And continuing his thought went into next question)…and it’s real life stories that really intrigue me the most. The small simple things that everyone relates to. That’s why I love things like Friday Night Lights and The Spectacular Now and the Before Trilogy. They’re down to earth and real. They’re painfully authentic. Oddly enough, though, that’s not the stuff I’m drawn to write. Maybe one day. Now, it seems the ideas floating through my head are in the vain of “humanistic sic-fi.” But that real stuff? Hopefully one day I’ll get there.

Check out Josh’s Indiegogo page and watch the video below to see how he is going about raising the funds he needs to complete his senior thesis project.


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