Student filmmaking at UMass

By Kevin Romani

Kevin Romani/Collegian
Kevin Romani/Collegian

While filmmaking and the University of Massachusetts may not be synonymous with one another, a growing presence of the art form does exist on campus.

Though there is no film major at UMass, secondary options such as the film certificate, communication department and BDIC major have made the study of film more accessible to students. The five-college system has also provided students with a broader platform to both make and study film.

One such student who is taking advantage of what UMass has to offer is BDIC major Tye Whipple, who just finished principle photography on a short film he co-wrote with communications major Adrian Atwood called “Honeysuckle.” Whipple is using the BDIC major to concentrate on social activism through film. “Honeysuckle” chronicles Henry (played by Atwood), a young man who is struggling to find his way in the world.

“I play Henry, a recent graduate who suffers an episode as he is trying to go through a normal day to day routine. By the end of the film he’s forced to confront whatever is causing his problem,” said Atwood.

Whipple was inspired to make the film after reading Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer,” which carried a sense of apathy that is also clearly present in his screenplay. Visually, Whipple looked to the films of the masterful and quirky David Lynch (“Blue Velvet,” “The Elephant Man”) to help him accomplish what he was trying to capture on screen.

“Just the overall sort of vibe and mood is very inspired by David Lynch. I hope that when audiences watch ‘Honeysuckle’ they can sense that, but they won’t say ‘this is a David Lynch rip-off,’” said Whipple.

Any reader of Whipple and Atwood’s script would easily see how both of these sources are infused within their story. The plot is in the realm of the abstract and studies characters detached from their lives.

The screenplay is extremely well-written, as Whipple and Atwood had a clear sense of what their story was and where it was heading. For a short film, there is an impressive amount of characterization associated with all the players. The story does not hold the audience’s hand and allows the viewer to decide for him or herself what is transpiring.

The production of “Honeysuckle” is just one of many examples of the exciting filmmaking taking place around campus. UMass communication major Katalin Soni, who plays the titular character, said of the film, “I think just going out and trying to make something is cool in itself, I really respect that.”

Atwood is pleased with what he has seen on campus regarding filmmaking, but sees room for improvement.

“There’s a lot of people that want to get involved in filmmaking on campus, but it’s not nearly as easy as it is on other campuses. There’s not really a community of filmmakers at UMass,” he said. “I feel like everyone is kind of disjointed, and there are a few people that are really into it but there’s not really a community. I think there could be.”

Whipple sees a similar issue and believes the answer to the problem lies in individual motivation.

“Filmmaking at UMass is great if you are self-motivated and have the energy to put yourself out there and reach out to the community,” said Whipple. “The community doesn’t necessarily advertise itself that well, so you really have to be kind of pushy in order to get connected to the people involved with the film community at UMass.”

A senior, Whipple recommended that up-and-coming undergraduate interested in film start filming as early as possible.

“My advice to young filmmakers at UMass is to start early, seek the independent film club and visit the film studies office. It’s cool because this Amherst community is full of young people who are creative and artistic, it’s just a matter of finding them,” said Whipple.

Whipple isn’t done making films, as he has three different stories simultaneously floating around in his head. He is also interested in making documentary films. But for now, Whipple is focusing on making “Honeysuckle” the best film it can be in post-production.

Students will have an opportunity to see “Honeysuckle” for themselves during screenings at the end of April in the Campus Center. The film will be shown on Friday, April 27 from 7 to 11 p.m. in room 803 and Saturday, April 28 from 6 to 10 p.m. in room 165-60.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinRomani.