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Student Profile: Dan Stewart, Film and Media Studies

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Saint Charles, MO


Film and Media Studies

What brought you to KU?

When I decided I wanted to go to film school, I knew I wanted to be somewhere with a recognized film program that also gave me a “big school” experience, with great athletics, lots of students and a distinct college town so that I could meet lots of different people and have plenty of different opportunities.

When did you know you wanted to pursue film and media studies?

I specifically remember the first week of my summer after junior year of high school being really boring, but I had been writing down movies that I had wanted to see and finally had the time to watch them. One of the first few on my list was Donnie Darko. The moment I finished that movie I knew that filmmaking was what I wanted to do with my life. I had made videos here and there, but up until this point I didn’t think to take it too seriously. I watched Donnie Darko four times that week, and spent the rest of summer watching Tarantino, Kubrick, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, and all the others I still love to this day.

Which of your projects has had the most profound impact on you or others?

I made a video in my EXM Video and Time-Based Media class in the art department called “You’re Not Funny”, for which I had to really get outside my comfort zone and put myself in front of the camera. It’s a video that is really personal to me, and what I found was that when I showed it to my best friend, that it seemed to, even in some small or abstract way, reveal some things about me that I couldn’t normally explain. He said he felt like he was seeing a different side of me, and I think that’s really incredible. When I was able to really dig deep and make something that meant something to me, it seemed to show, and it made people in my life understand me a little better and grow a little closer to me.

How do the arts have an impact on your daily life outside of the classroom?

I’ve met almost all of my friends either through the film or art departments at KU. The community is really strong throughout the school of the arts and I make new connections all the time that are beneficial in both social and professional ways.

Who is your biggest inspiration either personally, professionally or both?

My brother is the hardest working, most professional and creative person I know. I may be a little bias, because I often feel like we’re almost the same person, except he’s eight years older than me, but because of that, he’s definitely the wiser of the two of us. He can always give me good advice, or see things in a way that is different, but still very true to how I might feel without me actually knowing it. He always seems to be taking on a new challenge and doing something great and he never quits or does something half-baked. It’s all very genuine and that’s something very inspiring to me.

Why do you think the arts are important?

For me personally, art gives understanding and meaning to what’s happening around me. For example, I particularly love horror movies because they address something that is common to all of us: fear. How do we react to fear, and how do we beat it? Horror movies can give us that catharsis. Art then also sustains our energy and keeps us alive, it’s an interpretation of life, and at the same time, the most pure version of life because it elevates reality to a shared experience. We’re all connected by what we’ve been taught by Star Wars or Ghostbusters. Those things are so significant in our lives that they might as well be real, and if they’re real, than life is so exciting, and we can propel ourselves through another day. One of my favorite quotes about movies is from Scorsese: “Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” I love that quote.

What is your creative process like?

My process changes often. A lot of times with my video work, I’ll come with the idea for a setting and characters, and then improvise everything. I find that if you have the right people working with you, you can easily tap into something genuine that someone is passionate about by simply letting them get it out. I made a video called “No Gods, No Managers” that played in a film festival in London at the beginning of this year, and that video was mainly improvised between a couple of friends of mine, just talking about what, in our community, is bugging us, and putting that into characters. Once we had those ideas in place it was easy to work out a story and a structure for the video, and where we were going to take it. Lately, I’ve been trying to conceptualize my videos more, and give them more intentionality. It’s a bit more like a puzzle that way, because I can think about something I’ve noticed around me or something that’s making me anxious and convert that into a character or a moment, and build a story around that. I did that with the video I’m working on currently, called “Ignoring It: The Big Ba$il Story” which is a sort of mockumentary about a struggling rapper who’s convinced that he’s famous. I created the character first, thinking about facades and denial, and then just tried to find ways to make that effective.

What message do you hope to communicate through your work?

I suppose the thing that is consistent through my work is the idea of being “genuine”. I feel like a lot of discourse and communication right now is done in ways that encourage us to hide or put on a happy face. I want to probe what makes us angry, what makes us sad and what makes us feel catharsis by unraveling those layers. It’s really effective to make that challenge, and I think it makes the audience question themselves a little bit. No matter what, if you’re being genuine and saying something that you care about in a piece, people will recognize that, and it will resonate with them.

What advice would you give to students just starting their path to an arts degree?

Try to branch out and do things that you wouldn’t usually do. I didn’t take any art classes in middle or high school. I took the expanded media course and it changed everything for me. I started approaching my work differently, and met people who gave me different perspectives that have been very beneficial to me personally and to my work.

If you could invite five people, living or deceased, to a dinner party, who would you invite?

David Lynch, Kanye West, Rocco Botte, Bill Murray, and Patrick Stickles. A lot of big personalities.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be and why?

I don’t think I can really pick a song that fits my entire life, but I think my favorite song is “Supersonic” by Oasis. It’s the ultimate pick-me-up of confident self-belief. It always makes me feel good.