Film Studies

Alumni

The strength of Film Studies at Wesleyan and the close friendships formed by students in the major have produced an exceptionally supportive alumni network. Graduates of Film Studies as well as other departments at Wesleyan work in a wide variety of capacities within the film and television industries—as writers, directors, producers, actors, editors, directors of photography, acquisitions and development executives, agents, critics, archivists—you name it. Other graduates continue to study film in Ph.D. programs at UCLA, USC, UC-Berkeley, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern University, and The University of Chicago. Film Studies alumni also currently teach at Wesleyan, NYU, Boston College, UC-Davis, UC-Santa Clara, University of Indiana, Florida State University, and the Pasadena Art Center.

Regardless of the career path they take after Wesleyan, Film Studies alumni bring with them the critical thinking and passion for visual storytelling that they developed while an undergraduate. Alumni frequently continue to work together long after they have left Wesleyan, offer internships and entry-level positions to recent graduates, return to campus to speak with students and show their work, and tirelessly support the Film Studies Department in myriad ways. Film Studies is particularly indebted to its alumni and their families for their leadership and generosity in helping to bring the Center for Film Studies to completion.

Our Alumni Speak

Filmmaker Jessica Sanders ('99) talks about how Wesleyan helped her career as a director and how she transitioned from graduating to supporting herself as a filmmaker.

Academia

“The film major at Wesleyan introduced me to a new kind of pleasure; not just the relatively simple pleasure of screening a film noir in the middle of a spring afternoon, but the more complex and sustaining pleasure of learning how to interpret cinematic form, how to craft an analytical argument, and how to develop an intellectual community. The major provided me with the solid foundation that I needed to go to graduate school and to become a professor. When I teach film today, I strive to introduce my students to these same pleasures.”

—Christina Klein, Associate Professor of Literature in the English Department at Boston College ; author of Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961

“Jeanine Basinger inspired me to pursue graduate work in cinema studies and to become a professor in the field myself. As an alumna of the Wesleyan film program, I draw constantly upon what I learned from Jeanine, both in the classroom and in my own research. Not only did the program provide me with an incredibly comprehensive education in American film, it also taught me formal skills of film analysis that to this day shape the way I think about images and image culture.”

—Anna McCarthy, Associate Professor in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University

Film

“While at Wesleyan, my passion for filmmaking was fueled to new heights by Jeanine Basinger’s exciting film theory courses. I learned about every genre and every major approach to storytelling. But most importantly, I learned that every great filmmaker defines film in their own terms. The program’s point of view is the most important ingredient in the whole process. As a result, Wesleyan film majors are fearless in their work. The program’s energy is so fantastic and contagious that it stays with you throughout your professional life. The film major at Wesleyan gave me the confidence and all the tools I needed to pursue my dream of directing.”

—Miguel Arteta, writer-director of Star Maps, director of Chuck and Buck , The Good Girl, and Youth in Revolt, Cedar Rapids 

“Wes film grads are a successful lot in the movie business, popping up on both sides of the camera, at film festivals, conference tables, commissaries, and union meetings on both coasts. But the sheer numbers mean little. What is invaluable to me as a writer-director is that all I have to do to discuss ideas with smart, talented, funny, honest (!), not to mention influential people making films—is to call my friends from college.”

—Daisy von Scherler Mayer, director of Party Girl, Madeline, and The Guru

“The film program at Wesleyan defines what is best about a liberal arts education. I’ll use a microscopic example to illustrate my point. While at Wesleyan I directed a short film. My cameraman was David Kendall. In turn, I was the cameraman on David’s film. Each of our films won University Honors and several independent filmmaking awards.

After graduation, I won a grant from the American Film Institute to direct a film. David Kendall was my editor. David then directed an independent film. I helped with his script.

Cut to several years later. I was writing movies in Los Angeles. David came to visit. Stayed on my couch. David got a job writing for television. Since that time David has executive produced hundreds of hours of television. I’ve created four network primetime series and wrote the movie There’s Something About Mary. Last season I created a show for ABC and David was the director and producer of the series.

Cut to the present. David wrote a feature screenplay entitled The New Guy. The Walt Disney Company greenlit it for production. I am the director.

What’s the moral of this little friendship saga? It’s about the strength of the Wesleyan film program. We all help each other. It bears repeating—we all help each other.

When each class graduates, some students migrate to Manhattan, others to Los Angeles. They are met by those of us who have come before. Bill Wolkoff, four years working as my assistant. Now a screenwriter. Diego Gutierrez, three years working for Joss Whedon. Soon to be a screenwriter. And the list goes on, ad infinitum.

What’s the goal of a liberal arts education? A student is exposed to the world, discovers his passion, bonds with others who share it, and those friendships last for life. This returns me to my topic—the film program at Wesleyan defines what is best about a liberal arts education.”

—Ed Decter, writer-director, producer, and writer of There's Something About Mary 

Television

“I simply do not believe there’s a better Film Studies Department in the world. The in-depth analysis of filmmaking and genre is presented with brilliance and clarity by professors who know so much they just might have to be killed. The major gave me an understanding of the art, the necessary requirement for any kind of creator. The alumni community has an uncommon cohesion; people united not just by an alma mater, but by the elevating experience of having studied with true visionaries, fed off a shared creative energy, and watched some really weird flicks.”

—Joss Whedon, creator, producer, and director of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dolhouse, writer/director of The Avengers 

“When I was a child, watching movies saved my life. (They also ruined it, but that’s another story.) To this day, beautiful and powerful films continue to affect my life profoundly. The Wesleyan Film Studies Department is one of the few academic institutions that promotes movies as an art form. In my opinion, this is a truly holy mission.”

—Bruce Eric Kaplan, a cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine, writer on Seinfeld, and executive producer of Six Feet Under

“I can’t imagine having forged my career without having been a film major at Wesleyan. Jeanine Basinger’s film study courses basically trained my brain to think critically and constructively about the medium (while stoking a good old-fashioned love for the movies). She also taught us courage. Academic courage: how to take an argument or idea and develop it to its full potential. Career courage: essential to succeeding in a business where the odds aren’t always in your favor.

Most of my professional life has taken place in television. I have worked on over three hundred episodes of primetime network television either as a producer, writer, or director. Two of the sitcoms I’ve written and produced have had seven year runs and are currently in worldwide syndication. I’ve had the thrill of turning on a TV in Italy and hearing my words (dubbed, actually, but you get the point). And through all this not a day goes by where I don’t draw upon my Wesleyan education. Understanding a visual story is crucial to what I do. And I developed that skill as an undergraduate.

And I’m far from alone out here in Los Angeles. The disproportionate contribution of Wesleyan alumni to the film and television industry (both here and in New York) is, of course, staggering. And part of the reason we alums tend to gravitate toward each other is that we know what we’re going to get. Meaning, we know we’re going to get somebody who cares, understands, and loves movies. Not simply a cold glamour-addict interested more in their next job than the old one they’re doing. Bottom line: Wesleyan turns out good cinema citizens. The best.”

—David Kendall, writer and producer of the television series Growing Pains, executive producer of Boy Meets World and Melissa & Joey, and writer of the feature film The New Guy

The Industry

“Unique in the world of great film schools, Wesleyan distinguishes itself as one of the finest departments in the country for cultivating students who, first and foremost, have been taught to think about film in the liberal arts tradition. I experienced this arena of discourse first as a student and continued the exchange of ideas when I had the privilege of teaching at Wesleyan. The community of minds that came together in the classroom had the courage to ask hard questions and entertain new ideas, precipitating an exchange rather than a lecture. This accounts for the broad array of success our film graduates have attained whether they became writers, directors, producers, executives, agents, or academics. The powerful code of ethics that exists among our alumni to help one another and nurture the next generation stems from the dialogue that began during the formative years in the classroom.”

—Susan Glatzer, independent producer, former Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Productions for October Films

“In the film business, both in New York and in Los Angeles, the Wesleyan name works magic. The Wesleyan film alumni are a diverse, impressive group, extraordinarily supportive of one another. Reminiscent of only the best qualities of Mr. Chips and Miss Jean Brodie, Jeanine Basinger shouldn’t only be instrumental (as she usually is) in choosing the next recipient of the American Film Institute’s Achievement Award, she should be getting it herself for what she has done for the advancement of film studies and filmmaking in this country.”

—Laurence Mark, producer of Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets, Working Girl, I, Robot, Dreamgirls, Julie & Julia, and many more