Could you imagine taking a class that’s over 50 years old? Sight & Sound Filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts was one of the first curriculums of its kind. The concept: small guerrilla crews of students shoot, edit, screen, and critique each other's work once a week, every week for sixteen consecutive weeks. By the end of the semester, each section makes a total of 150 films. As a sophomore, you’re taking the class that kicked off the careers of Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone. Grab a camera, hit the streets of New York City, and find your voice.
So how did that lead to me lying half naked on the rocks of Brooklyn, soaking wet with dirt rubbed all over my body? It was a chilly afternoon last Tuesday. A light breeze blew over the East River and my wet t-shirt only heightened the fact that summer was coming to a close. The strangest part of all this? I wanted to do it.
The way I see it, my classmates are some of the brightest and most creative people in the world right now. So when it’s Rogelio’s turn in the rotation to direct and he wants me (his fellow crew member) to take a stab at acting in our film, I only want to help.
The plot involves a stranger washing up on the shores of Brooklyn, without any recollection of who or where he is, trying to uproot his past.
Any actor will tell you that one must sacrifice a bit of dignity to perform. The rocks on the Brooklyn coastline compose a brilliant shot, but not without a little pain. Sure, dog-walkers, commuters, and tourists walked by and took selfies with my muddy body struggling over rocks. But you gotta let those things go.
Rogelio’s final shot was to be the masterpiece. There’s a tunnel beneath the Manhattan bridge that resembles a man-made brick cave. He wanted me to dramatically run towards the tunnel and disappear into darkness. As we approached the tunnel, we started to notice vintage cars, large trailers, and smokestacks manned with pyrotechnicians. What was going on?
“Action!” Four vintage cop cars pulled up in front of the tunnel. A SWAT team piled out of a nearby truck. A handsome gentleman in suit and tie grabbed a woman in handcuffs and pushed her towards one of the police vehicles. “Cut!”
We had just walked onto the set of the television show Gotham. This professional film crew just stole our shot. At first we were disappointed. But then, as film students, we were in awe. The large teams of camera crews, extras, gaffers, actors and craft services inspired us. With our small team of four, we were striving to become that some day.
And maybe that’s why this class has been around for decades. The technical aspect of film has changed a lot since the '60s when Scorsese went to school here. But the strange experience you gain by just having a camera and venturing into the great unknown is exciting. Going outside of your comfort zone isn’t easy. So embrace the obstacles.
But I still I hope those selfies of me sprawled on the rocks in Brooklyn never return to haunt me.
Thomas K. Fields is a student in the NYU/Tisch Undergraduate Film and TV Department from the class of 2017.
This piece originally appeared in Odyssey.