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Me, on A and E: The Art of Writing a Thesis

By Pete Barell18 - Petes column

It’s about time that I need to write a thesis. As a film major, you have several options for this task: film a short script, edit or shoot a couple of shorts, write a long essay dissecting a certain part of the film world, or in my case, write a feature length script. I’ve found that the hardest part of all of this is just settling on a damn story. There seems to be an endless abyss of possibilities, experiences, and influences to draw from that I am crippled in being decisive.

The hope is to write something that holds true to myself and also fits into the “American” experience. By that, I don’t mean my characters will eat hamburgers and play football all day. I mean that the themes of the film should resonate with the weird, multi-cultural, muddled experience of being an American – a nationality that isn’t fully its own, but an amalgam of different cultures mixed into one. I know it’s a little heady to try to consider these things and cram them into ninety pages, but I’ve got to, or else I’ll feel like I have nothing to say to the world.

So, I sit at my computer typing away and I consider how to make sense of all of this. I remember years ago when my dad first exposed my brother and me to classic films. Dominant among those were the quintessential Western films with Clint Eastwood, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – films that I probably shouldn’t have been watching at age eight, but who cares? I carefully consider how the Western genre
is rooted in American culture. And it hits me. I’ll write a Western! The genre is entrenched in American identity, several films taking place right before, during, or after the Civil War.

If any of you aren’t familiar with the genre, you’ll surely have heard of Quentin Tarantino and his neo-westerns like “Django Unchained” and his upcoming “Hateful Eight.” The genre is very much alive, as “Birdman” director Alejandro Inarritu is releasing “The Revenent” starring Leonardo DiCaprio this year, which is gearing up to be a potential Oscar contender. Yes, the genre is still relevant, and I feel that it is relevant to my upbringing as a filmmaker, slotting neatly into the landscape of being an American in the arts.

I have been vigorously ingesting anything to do with the genre – books, TV shows, movies, even magazines. Research is key, particularly for a period film piece. Later in the semester I will write an update about the script, which right now is the framework for a revenge story set in the American West, loosely inspired by the plots and themes of several William Shakespeare plays.

What I ask is that, if you are inclined and have read this column in full, you email me any personal recommendations for the Western genre at Anything you think may be interesting for me to look into during my research phase. Thanks in advance. Adios, partner!

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