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By Ben Feuer

Marc Longenecker '03, came to Wesleyan University intending to focus on physics, which had been his focus at Franklin high school in Somerset, NJ.  After taking “History of World Cinema to the 1960s” with then-faculty member Bob Smith, Marc fell in love with Wesleyan’s world-renowned undergraduate film studies program.

Several fortuitous accidents later, Marc has become an integral member of the faculty of Wesleyan’s film studies department.  As the Technical and Programming Director, Marc’s responsibilities at Wesleyan include overseeing the film series, maintaining and improving Wesleyan’s formidable arsenal of projection equipment, and teaching undergraduate classes on Frank Capra, Elia Kazan and the History of Television.

Ben Feuer at Forster-Thomas had the opportunity to sit down with Marc and quiz him about his role at the school, his philosophy of career success and the profile of a great Wesleyan film major (that’s what the department calls its students).

B: How did your college search go?

M:  I scored a 1560 out of 1600 on SAT, and I was valedictorian at my public school.  I applied to Yale, Tufts, William and Mary, Amherst, and Swarthmore, but Wesleyan was one of my top choices after I visited.  My school had a guidance counselor, but he was very little help — my parents hired a private counselor, which was tremendously helpful for me, because it let me know what options were out there for me.

B: And the film major?

M: I wasn't interested in film to begin with — although I may have heard about the film major before I applied, it was at best a contributing factor.  (B’s note: Wesleyan didn’t have the same reputation then that it does now, since alums Michael Bay, Joss Whedon and Alexander Payne have hit it big in Tinseltown.) I knew I wanted a liberal-arts school, but I didn’t want to give up sciences or humanities.  It was after I worked for the film series that I got really interested.

B: How did you wind up on Wesleyan’s film faculty?

M:  I became a graduate student and my role grew organically from there.  I’ve been at Wesleyan since I graduated.

B: What do you feel are the aspects of Wesleyan's film program that really stand out, pro and con?

M: Wesleyan as a school offers students the chance to test their limits and try new things in a relatively low-risk environment.  Rather than wasting time in grad school, or worse still on the job, doing things you don’t love, you can figure most of it out while you’re still in school. 

Despite its stature in the industry, Wes film is a small and interwoven department.  Everyone is involved with what everyone else is doing.  I think that’s something really special about us.

Wesleyan’s film program is a theory program, focused on Hollywood studio cinema.  We love foreign film, but for us, Hollywood is the creative apex.  A cinema that makes complicated things look simple.  Movies that are entertaining, but overwhelmingly sophisticated.  So you have to kind of love vintage studio films, or at least find them interesting.

Wes film focuses on where the technical meets the theoretical.  We’re very practical minded.  We try to extract meaning from the texts (the films) rather than imposing meaning upon them externally, like identity theory, for example.

B: There’s been a lot of talk lately that liberal arts education is dead.  What say you?

M:  I say nay!  Seriously, I wanted a liberal arts education, I got one, and I think it has real value.  The obsessively focused professional training program is great, but it’s reductive.  It can sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater!  The liberal arts experience is the opposite — you’re up to your elbows in bathwater trying to find the baby.

Another great thing about liberal arts?  Double-majoring.  I mean sure, some double-majors are just lazy and noncommittal.  But the value comes if you can commit to BOTH majors.  I was a physics and film double major.  I worked in a lab AND ran a projector.  And you could say, oh, his physics training is wasted, he’s not using it in his job.  But I don’t feel like it was wasted at all.

B: Who is the ideal wes film student?

M: The ideal Wesleyan student figures out how to organize and combine things while caring about them very passionately. 

The ideal film major gets involved in things, is proactive.  We like our majors to try everything.  Serve on the film board, go to the series, commit to your classes, make films of your own.  It’s all there for you.  Take responsibility for your own education.  Understand that who you hang out with and what you choose to do and not do are part of that.  Don't be afraid of your own passions — pursue them, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

B: Have you noticed any trends in the types of students applying?

M: Yeah.  The increased availability of movies and the fact that Wes film’s profile keeps growing -- some students come in refusing to be taught.  They reject Hollywood and take a reductive, hip narrative -- popular cinema sucks, obscure, foreign films are what matters.  That’s obviously not going to work well with what we teach.

We have also seen some people who want to start making films before they understand the language.  Aggressively pre-professional students who are worried about wasting money, wasting time.  I sympathize, but by doing it that way they’re wasting everybody’s time.  Why be at school if you have nothing to learn?

B: What should potential applicants do to make themselves more competitive?

M: Don't overload on film work in high school, but don't come in completely blind either.  It's a liberal arts school, so you have to strike a balance.  That said, getting admitted to the film major is fairly straightforward most of the time once you’ve been admitted to the school.  There are basic requirements you need to achieve.  We do also offer a minor.

B: Any last words of wisdom?

M: Caring about movies is important.  That might sound obvious, but you have to care about the medium itself, not everything that surrounds it, if you want to succeed at Wes.  There's a difference between liking film and being unable to stop doing it.

B: I guess you’re more of the latter.

M: Apparently.

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