Future Filmmaker Gets Insider's View

A summer internship sponsored by the Hurford Humanities Center gave aspiring director Matthew Bessey '10 the chance to learn about documentary film production at Philadelphia's Scribe Video Center.

Summer internships can be a great introduction to the work world as well as a place to learn new skills and hone existing ones. Even better are those rare internship opportunities that precisely align with a student’s career aspirations. That’s what Matthew Bessey ’10 found this summer in his internship at Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia.

Working with Scribe under the auspices of the Hurford Humanities Center, which sponsored summer apprenticeships with local organizations for nine rising seniors, Bessey gained experience he hopes will help him forge a future career in filmmaking.

Scribe was founded by filmmaker Louis Massiah, who has served as an adjunct professor at Haverford, to give voice to underrepresented groups through community-based documentary film projects. Over the summer, Bessey assisted Massiah, his former professor and Scribe’s Executive Director, with pre-production for five high-definition video installations and three soundscapes for the President’s House project, a memorial planned for Independence National Historic Park. The videos will examine the lives of Presidents George Washington and John Adams, who lived in the now-demolished Executive Mansion in Philadelphia when the city was the nation’s capital, as well as the lives of nine slaves who lived and worked there.

“The President’s House project,” Bessey says, “is a large collaboration that requires compromise among all participants as well as frequent debate about how to accomplish the project’s main goal: to educate people about the way liberty and freedom have adapted throughout this country’s history.”

The project will culminate in a commemorative site located next to the Liberty Bell for the slaves who once lived in the house. “The film shows how slaves aided the construction of this country and played an unspoken part, which Scribe is trying to memorialize,” says Bessey.

His internship duties included attending meetings, scouting locations, and assisting with budgeting, editing and reviewing scripts. All of these experiences, says Bessey, an economics major, have given him an insider’s view of the filmmaking business. At the same time, he has not lost sight of the capacity of film, especially documentary, to function as a humanitarian art as well as commercial entertainment.

“Documentary is capable of addressing problems at a level that can be shared with a large base of viewers,” he says.  Although he remains uncertain of how much social progress documentary film can incite, he emphasizes that documentarians “can take solace in the fact that they pointed a spotlight on the issue, even if nothing truly changed.”

In addition to collaborating on the President’s House Project, Bessey served as assistant editor on a short film about Bob Tomlinson, an up-and-coming artist from France, and worked on a few of his own independent film projects.  He is planning a documentary about the effect of Haverford’s Honor Code on students’ social relations, an idea that hinges on “exploring how a person is an object of truth— how they perceive themselves versus how others perceive them.”

His final independent project is a zombie comedy called The Night, which he is directing and co-writing with David Daise ’10.  In The Night, Bessey plans to take a more humorous look at the disconnect between the real and the imagined. He describes the film as a cross between Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Shaun of the Dead.

With a first draft of the screenplay finished, a band from Haverford set to score the soundtrack, and several roles already cast, Bessey will still be looking for Haverford students to star and help with the film this fall. “We want it to be really over-the-top,” he says, “with a lot of physical comedy that will take it to an absurdist level where you can’t help but laugh at everyone on screen.”

--Nicole Gervasio, BMC ‘10