He's got big dreams — and a 2017 Emmy Award for his work as an editor on "Life Below Zero." Meet Southern alumnus Eric Michael Schrader, '10.
Born in the early ’80s, Eric Michael Schrader, ’10, spent much of his childhood dreaming up story lines and filming short parodies of Indiana Jones and Star Wars, starring his brother and friends from the neighborhood. Through the years, Schrader kept telling his tales — and in fall 2000, he enrolled at Southern, majoring in communication with a concentration in video production.
At Southern, he immersed himself in the world of media. Schrader worked at the on-campus Video Production Studio in Earl Hall (it’s the Digital Production Facility now) as well as Wallingford Public Access TV and a local video store, learning on the fly while soaking up professors’ expertise — even if he didn’t always realize it at the time.
“I can remember transcribing interviews for projects at SCSU thinking to myself, ‘I’ll never need to do this in the real world.’ Sure enough, I’ve transcribed multiple interviews for our own documentary films that have truly helped with the story telling,” says Schrader. He adds that the department’s focus on team projects also reflects the industry — and he quickly learned the importance of networking.
His first big break came from a friend who sold a show to National Geographic and then hired Schrader to work as a production assistant in Boston. Among the initial perks: a couch to sleep on. “I was in charge of all the grunt work,” says Schrader of his earliest assignments, which included picking up food orders, setting up lights and tripods, and driving the producers around Massachusetts.
“That first show for me was grueling as much as it was educational and inspiring. I learned a lot about on-location shoots,” says Schrader. In 2012, he headed to Los Angeles, armed with “some flashy-stylish business cards” and a reel that showcased his best work. He financed the trip by selling most of his belongings, including his DVD collection, Star Wars action figures, and memorabilia from The Simpsons television series.
Once in LA, he hit the local music scene, and found work filming and editing low-budget music videos. Then, two months to the day after moving to the West Coast, he had his Hollywood moment while waiting at a stop light on Melrose Ave. “I’m staring at the red light, suffering from anxiety ’cause money was drying up quick,” says Schrader, recalling the minutes that changed his life. Gazing out his car window, he recognized a producer from his Boston days. The two shouted out greetings, which ultimately led to a job offer for Schrader to work on a new show, Life Below Zero, a documentary series about life in the remotest areas of Alaska.
Schrader was hired as a production assistant and, over three years, worked his way up to editor, garnering industry accolades along the way. He and his teammates were nominated for an Emmy Award for work on the series in 2017, 2018, and 2019 — and they won the award for “Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Series” that first year.
“One of the greatest, if not [the] greatest moment in my life, shared with incredible co-workers and close friends,” he says.
Schrader also continues to make pictures, including Zulu Summer, which he codirected with Joseph Litzinger. The documentary, about a Zulu prince’s unlikely journey to Butte, Montana, to see the “real” America, premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and in the Northeast at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival.
Currently living the dream, Schrader’s advice to would-be filmmakers is matter of fact: work on every possible project — indies, shorts, low-budgets, no-budgets. As for Hollywood? Get there, he says: “Make moves and make the move! Take the leap and at least try to make it out in Hollywood.” Sequel expected.
Two years ago, Southern student and screenwriter Lisa Tedesco was among the crowds at Cannes, but not as one of the paparazzi or a mere film fan. Tedesco was screening her short film, August in The City, one of about 200 short films chosen from among 10 thousand submissions for the festival’s “Short Film Corner.”
Tedesco wrote the screenplay for the film and was executive producer, teaming up with Los Angeles-based director Christie Conochalla (Once Upon a Zipper, Forever Not Maybe) to produce it. Shot in Brooklyn and Oceanside, N.Y., the film did well at Cannes and spent over a year on the festival circuit, winning several awards. Now that it’s off the circuit, Tedesco recently released it on Vimeo.
Not one to let grass grow under her feet, she now has a new film — House of La Reine — hitting the circuit, and to celebrate she and her team held a red carpet event in October, “a benefactor screening” for donors who helped support the film. “It’s my way of giving back and to have an event to kick off the film,” she says. A media studies major, Tedesco was delighted to welcome Communication, Media, and Screen Studies Department faculty Wes O’Brien, Charlene Dellinger-Pate, and Karen Burke to the event.
Tedesco is a busy person. In addition to attending Southern part time and working on her film career, she works the second shift at Sikorsky as an electrical installer, working on helicopters. She also owns a film production company, Ladyfilm Media, which she started in June 2017.
“’Breaking all barriers’ is one of our mottos,” she says. “We like to project stories with strong female presence, give voice to the LGBTQ community, and support projects with 50/50 male/female crews.” A native of West Haven who now lives in New Haven, Tedesco says, “I’m so incredibly busy with my company and working full time, I’ve only been doing about three classes at Southern a year.” She estimates she has about 10 classes left to finish her degree.
The story told in House of La Reine surrounds a woman who is embarking on the next chapter of her life as she opens an inclusive performance space and bar. She has reservations and frustrations but is visited by someone from her distant past who once reigned the stage in Paris in the 1920s. Tedesco explains that a year ago, she went out to Hollywood to shoot this new short film with a $25,000 budget. “We shot half in color/digital and half in 16mm black and white,” she says. Her plan is for the film to be on the film festival circuit beginning in early 2020, and yes, she is hoping for Cannes once again. She’ll also submit the 13-minute-long film to such festivals as Slamdance, Tribeca, Inside Out Toronto, Frameline, among many others.
Tedesco says she started writing House of La Reine soon after August in the City went on the festival circuit. “I wanted to focus on a female protagonist who owned her own business and was independent and strong,” she says. But she left the project on the back burner for awhile because August was on the circuit. Then, in the summer of 2018, while she was taking a summer class with Dellinger-Pate, she rewrote the script. Filming took place in December 2018, and at this point, “it’s a waiting game,” Tedesco says, as she and her crew wait to see what happens with film festivals.
Meanwhile, Tedesco’s company will be producing a friend’s film – a male coming-out story – and she has sold a script to a company in Los Angeles. This film — called “Dear Emma, Your Charlie” — is now in preproduction, and shooting will happen in the spring.
Back on campus, Tedesco worked on a capstone project this fall with Rosemarie Conforti, associate professor of communication, media, and screen studies. Tedesco explains that the project was a thesis proposal on a media topic of her choosing. Her proposal is called “Finding the Rainbow: How Fantasy/Sci-Fi Television Fandoms Help the Self-Identity Process For LGBTQIA+ Young Adults in the Modernized World.” Tedesco explains, “It’s basically a study on how queer youth can form long-lasting friendships in an online safe space where they are heard, respected and discuss the representations they see from these TV shows. I’m using Hashtags, fan fiction and vidding [the making of fan videos] as a way to showcase the interactions between fans inside the online fandoms.”
Conforti describes Tedesco as a “super-smart . . . creative and earnest student, and always provocative in her thinking. She moves seamlessly between the Cannes Film Festival and EN 117. Unpretentious and authentic, Lisa is the dream package of outstanding student, award-winning writer, producer and director of her production company, Lady Film Media, and Sikorsky employee.”
Associate Professor of Photography Jeremy Chandler’s work is part of a group exhibition titled “Subversive Suburbia” at Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami, Fla. The exhibition runs from from June 7 – July 27. Chandler’s documentary film collaboration, Invasive Species, will be included in the exhibition, and he will be present at the gallery for a public screening and artist talk during the opening reception on June 7.
More about Chandler’s work and the exhibition:
Invasive Species Synopsis (40 min 2 sec):
The Florida landscape comes alive in this experimental documentary film created by Shawn Cheatham and Jeremy Chandler. Striking cinematography and a haunting original score guide the viewer through a contemplative glimpse into the state’s ongoing struggle with the Burmese Python. Told from the perspective of “the local”, Invasive Species explores how pythons were artificially thrust onto this fragile ecosystem and continue to challenge the ethical, social, and psychological paradigms of a people learning to live side-by-side with a new predator. The landscape is presented as a dangerous, wild space that can harbor and effectively conceal an entire breeding population of apex predators, as the python invasion becomes a vehicle to poetically meditate on metaphysical concepts of place, masculinity, and the indigenous.
Chandler is a photographic artist who creates through a variety of conceptual and formal approaches, such as straight photography, tableaus, and documentary and narrative film projects. His work subverts ritualized expressions of masculinity to reveal a more nuanced idea of maleness while questioning how culture and myth can often intertwine to create altered perceptions of space and place.
In addition to being the 2008 Photographer Laureate for the city of Tampa, Florida, he has exhibited at notable venues, including: Hagedorn Foundation Gallery in Atlanta, GA; Balzer Art Projects in Basel, Switzerland; and Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, CT. He received his BFA from the University of Florida in Creative Photography and MFA from the University of South Florida. He is currently an Assistant Professor teaching photography at Southern Connecticut State University.
For anyone in the film industry – or anyone interested in film, for that matter — the renowned Cannes Film Festival in France is considered one of the most prestigious festivals in the world. Each year in May, producers, directors, screenwriters, actors, and many others involved in the process of filmmaking, from all over the world, flock to Cannes to see others’ films, show their own films, and network.
This year, Southern student and screenwriter Lisa Tedesco will be among the crowds at Cannes, but not as one of the paparazzi or a mere film fan. Tedesco will be screening her short film, August in The City, one of about 200 short films chosen from among about 10 thousand submissions for the festival’s “Short Film Corner.”
Tedesco wrote the screenplay for the film and is executive producer. She teamed up with Los Angeles-based director Christie Conochalla (Once Upon a Zipper, Forever Not Maybe) to produce August in the City. Shot in Brooklyn and Oceanside, N.Y., last November, the production team has now begun its run on the film festival circuit.
August in the City has already screened at the ClexaCon Film Festival in Las Vegas, Nev. Local audiences can see August in the City on Friday, May 5, at 6:15 p.m., when it is shown in the New Haven International Film Festival.
A visionary project in lesbian filmmaking, August in the City deals with the theme of love, loss, and attempting to persevere throughout life without feeling quite whole. August (Daniela Mastropietro) is a woman who has always seen the world through her parents’ eye. They had stability and a loving relationship that August grew from and wanted. August’s husband Salvatore (John Solo) is an old-school Italian man who loves family values and the simple life. Together they have raised two daughters, Ana and Marie (Stacey Raymond and Amanda Tudor). Upon hearing of Ana’s impending return home from college with Nick (Raquel Powell), a new love, August prepares to meet him. When August sees that Nick is a young woman, not the young man she had expected, the film flashes back to 1978, the night when August let her true happiness slip away from her.
Tedesco attributes her vision for the screenplay to a story her mother wrote about her when she was off at film school, about 12 years ago. Her mother, Southern alumna Nancy Guthrie Manzi, ’76, had been an English major with a concentration in journalism while at Southern and says she has always loved to write.
“My mom had called me one night and said that she has written a little something about me,” said Tedesco. “It was about my very first love that I had in college – her name was Nick – and she was expecting to see a young man when I brought her home.” Her mother had been surprised when Nick turned out to be female. Manzi’s story sparked Tedesco’s imagination, and she began thinking about the perspective of the mother in the story.
Tedesco asked her mom for permission to use the story. “I wanted to do more with it,” she says. She decided to do a “time hop” about the mother’s side of the story — which she adds doesn’t reflect Manzi’s experience — and delve into the fictional mother’s past. Tedesco’s screenplay for August In the City took that element from her mother’s original short story and combined it with her own dramatic touches to make something new.
Tedesco explains that her film is 16 minutes long, and within the short film genre, films can range from one minute to 30 minutes in length. “Starting out, you don’t have access to a lot of the resources you’d have with a Hollywood budget,” she explains. “Short films are good when you have a low budget. “
At film festivals, short films can help filmmakers network and sell their work. At Cannes, for instance, Tesdesco says, “the hope is that you’ll get noticed and get more money to build upon the short” and possibly produce it as a feature film. She explains that distributors from all over the world come to the Cannes Short Film Corner to see the films, and “high production value increases your chance of getting someone’s attention.”
In addition to attending Southern part time and working on her film career, Tedesco works the second shift at Sikorsky as an electrical aerospace technician. A native of West Haven, Tedesco now lives in New Haven and worked on August in the City mostly within the New York City film community.
A media studies major, Tedesco credits her professors in that department with motivating her to “go for it” and make the movie. She says that Associate Professor Charlene Dellinger-Pate “gave me a sense of stability in knowing I could overcome the stigma of women being underrepresented in the film industry.” Associate Professor Rosemarie Conforti, Tedesco says, is supportive and “just wants you to succeed at everything.” Chairperson and Professor Wesley O’Brien says he and the entire department are proud of Tedesco, adding that she is “a self-directed young woman who knows what she wants and is wise enough to pursue it.”
For more information about August in the City, visit:
Perhaps the most controversial word in the American lexicon is a word many do not speak. The word commonly known as “the n-word” has a longer history in the United States than many people realize, but what is behind its taboo nature and its loaded meanings?
“Everyone has an n-word story,” says Journalism Professor Frank Harris III, and a couple of years ago, he set out on a journey across America to get to the bottom of the word’s meanings and place in American culture. The product of his research, the film “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word,” combines interviews with diverse Americans, research through hundreds of newspaper archives, and surveys of today’s news media. In the film, Harris takes viewers on an informative, provocative journey that fosters discussion about “the word that persistently rattles the chain from our past to our present,” as he describes it.
On November 16, as part of Social Justice Week, Harris screened his film and led a discussion about it in the Adanti Student Center Theater.
Of his project, Harris says, “Frankly, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would receive. After all, it’s not every day that a man with a camera walks up to people and asks them about the n-word and their first or most memorable experience with it.”
The film began with his research on the many racial names by which Americans of black African descent have been identified over the years. “My focus soon shifted toward the n-word and my desire to track its origins,” he says, “as well as the experiences that Americans of all backgrounds have had with this word.”
Harris says, “It is an interesting encounter when the interviewer and interviewee are of the same race. It becomes even more interesting when the two are of a different race. The stories told by the many people I interviewed, interspersed with the word’s usage in America’s news media, provided a compelling story that I wanted to share.”
The film examines the haunting, persistent link of the word and its variant forms with the words “kill” and “death” and violence against blacks. It includes painful stories from older black Americans about their experiences with the word, along with portrayals of the experiences of younger African Americans who use it as an acceptable and different term of endearment, never having felt its sting. Harris has also captured stories from whites, Asians, Hispanics and others in America about their experiences from parents who taught them the word or told them never to say it.
Among those who appear in the film are former Black Panther Party leader Ericka Huggins, discussing the n-word and the Panthers; journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, recalling her experience at the University of Georgia in the early 1960s; Yale child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer discussing the effects of the n-word; and Mississippi civil rights workers describing the physical pain of violence that often accompanied the word in their experiences.
In addition to interviews, Harris uses original newspaper clips in the film to illustrate the striking ways in which the word has been used. The clips dispel the myth that rappers and hip-hop artists created the variant form of the word that ends in “-a” rather than “-er.” The film shows that the word was in use freely during and after slavery in America and reveals that even then, blacks were referring to each other using the n-word. Among the discoveries Harris made in his research was that Abraham Lincoln used the word during his 1860 presidential campaign stop in Hartford, Conn.
The film has been an Official Selection in the 2016 Twin Cities Black Film Festival and the 2016 Baltimore International Black Film Festival. It will be screened at a festival in Texas in 2017. Harris says of the film’s reception, “It’s quite amazing, the impact it has had.”
In addition to teaching journalism at Southern, Harris is an award-winning Hartford Courant columnist.