GTPulse: Motion Picture Arts Student Strengthens Storytelling Through Film Project

Although filmmakers aren’t performers like dancers, singers, actors or musicians it’s an art form that cannot be done alone. Where all of the aforementioned can perform solo, a filmmaker relies on a team of cast and crew to bring their vision to life. In many ways a filmmaker has to know how to do it all; write, produce, edit, set design, lighting and much more. Interlochen Arts Academy immerses students in all aspects of filmmaking in their Motion Picture Arts program. 

Ella Stone is a young filmmaker in the MPA program at the arts academy. Well-spoken and introspective, she told me about her daily life as a student and where she draws inspiration from for films.

“We start at 2:20 and we go til 5:00. During that time it’s kind of split in half between two blocks of time for classes. I usually have two classes in a day, occasionally one, occasionally none. They change every semester but we have classes like film history, film genre, film aesthetics, sound, directing, scenes and shorts, production workshop. What classes you take depend on how many years you’ve been here.”

Ella has been here at the arts academy for three years and is a junior. Upperclassmen in the program are expected to create a film for a thesis project. Ella has just completed shooting her thesis and will be showcasing it at DeRoy Center for Film Studies in January.

“Usually people will start working on it their second semester of their sophomore or junior year, and then go into production in their junior and senior year. I came here as a freshman so I had a year before I started this whole process, but I wrote this script at the beginning of last year and spent a year writing it.”

The film is unnamed, or rather, still titled Ella’s Thesis and is about the complexities of a father and daughter relationship where a father struggles with not wanting his daughter to leave home.

“It’s really about the emotional confrontation.”

The film has a very real-life plot, but Ella said that it’s not something derivative of her own life. 

Not only was Ella responsible for writing her thesis’s screenplay, but she had to direct, produce and edit as well. She began the production process at the beginning of this semester. Interlochen students frequently collaborate on projects together, and Ella naturally utilized the theatre department.

“The director of the theatre department played the dad and a theatre student played the daughter.”

The film is shot and Ella will spend the rest of the semester editing it for January. 

The majority of arts academy students are from all over the United States, but Ella was born in Petoskey, Michigan and currently splits time between Traverse City and Ludington. She started playing around with making movies when she was in middle school, but the interest started in elementary school.

“I don’t know what you wanna call it but our school got Apple-ized. We got the iPads and all of that. The things we did on the daily were really project based and a lot of the time we had the option to do some sort of video for a project and that was just so much more fun, and I started to get creative with them. I’d always try to add some pizazz with editing or sound.”

She started making movies and music videos for fun at home with her brother.

“Little skits and music videos, mostly. It was just a lot of fun. It was fun making them, it was fun editing them, it was fun sharing them,” she said.

Ella didn’t actively seek Interlochen out. Her mother tried encouraging her to attend the summer camp at arts center to which Ella adamantly refused.

“But, they did have an academy so that’s what I ended up going for. Never did go to summer camp. A lot of people go to camp and then go to academy, not me though. I went in blindly, but I’m glad I did.”

Ella said that being a freshman was nerve-wracking because there is a limited number of freshmen and the talented upperclassmen made her feel overwhelmed at times. However, as time has gone on Ella has become the talented upperclassman that she admired as a new student, and she has felt herself grow exponentially as a filmmaker.

“My storytelling skills have gotten way way way better. Workshopping and my classes have helped so much with that.”

So what kind of movies does a young filmmaker like? Ella doesn’t consider herself a “pretentious filmmaker” and wants to make sure not to pigeonhole herself into a certain genre of movies to make. She says her appreciation for different genres spans far and wide, ranging from Marvel movies to more indie selections like Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. 

Ella said that she could be happy working on multiple aspects of filmmaking for a career, and after leaving the arts academy she will have 4 years of film school under her belt. 

“As far as what stories I’m going to tell? I really have no idea. I’m still figuring that out.”

Categories: GTPulse