Thesiscrazy!!!: Eliza McKenna

Mobs, morgues, & millimeters – oh my! Today’s thesiser shot her short film, Brownie, in four days, three businesses, and with one hell of a family story. Read after the jump to learn more about the powerhouse that is Eliza McKenna ’20 !


Eliza McKenna ‘20 uses she/her pronouns and is a major in the College of Film and the Moving Image. Her thesis is a short film called Brownie, shot and edited (time-consumingly, by hand!) on 16mm film.


Wesleying: What’s your thesis about?


EM: It is based on my great grandfather, who was a tailor for the Italian mob in Atlantic City. So I kind of just took that idea and ran with it a bit. But basically, it follows this really awkward Jewish guy who’s in love with the hairdresser across the street. He is tailoring the suit for a mobster one day and he overhears that he’s going to whack a guy. He’s gonna kill a guy. And a few days later the hairdresser comes in and says, Hey, I need you to fit a suit for my dad. He’s like, “Of course! Just tell him to come in!” and he’s very nervous because he has a crush on her. And then she says, actually, he’s dead. So then he puts it together in his head that the gangster he was tailoring killed her dad, and he has to like mentally battle between telling her and being the mob’s bitch.


Does he end up… wait. I don’t wanna spoil it.

Hahaha, no spoilers, but some funny things happen. Dark, dark humor. Oh, it’s awesome.


How’d you come up with this idea?

My dad had told me about “Brownie” throughout my life. His name was Joe Bronstein, but everyone called him Brownie. It’s just like what the Italian guys call him. It just seemed like it was waiting to be made. Because it’s such a ridiculous idea, an awkward Jewish man working so closely with mobsters, but I knew something funny was bound to happen.


What was your favorite part to write and shoot?

I’d say my favorite part to write was… There’s a scene in the morgue where he’s fitting the body that the hairdresser asked him to fit. And it’s just slapstick. Like, very active comedy and it’s so funny. And we got to shoot in like an actual funeral home. We’re like, the guy had just gotten finished embalming people two hours before we got there. So, yeah, that was probably the grossest, but my favorite part, naturally. I feel like those go hand in hand.


What was the hardest part about shooting?

Time, probably. I mean, four days is not a lot of time. And it especially was tough because we were shooting in three businesses and they were not thrilled that we were there. But we made it work. We made it work, which was a miracle.


What was something you didn’t anticipate about the shooting process?

* Eliza flags over Chase Mayo ‘20, “Brownie”’s assistant director, to ask what was something they didn’t anticipate. Chase was a rockstar producer this thesis season, and all of our readers should know that. Chase and Eliza look at each other.*


CM: Hmm…. I guess you’re probably thinking in terms of the film and I’m thinking in terms of logistics. I dunno, did anything change on the fly?


EM: Just like, the little things. I didn’t anticipate having to cut as much as I did. I didn’t anticipate… messing up as much as I did.


CM: She’s a tough critic. 


Eliza smiles. 


EM: Yeah, that’s the best I can answer that.


What’s the thing you’re most excited for people to see?

I’m most excited for people to see it, period. Because there hasn’t been any decision about a screening. I’m bummed about it a little bit right now. But I would love to just see people watch it and see, you know, what I did right and what I did wrong.


What’s your current mental state?

Very tired, like, I think boredom makes me tired. I’m trying to wake up but I have to finish the sound for the movie right now. So right after this, I’m gonna do that. I guess I get like waves of sadness about missing what we’ve kind of been working up to. So, sad for sure. 


That ties into our next question, how has Coronavirus affected your thesis plans?

In terms of the production of it, like just getting it done,  the only thing that’s really changed is the location of where I’m doing it. Like I can still get everything done – I got my negative cut scanned at a lab and that’s all done so I have a 4k scan ready to go. But it’s just in a completely different place that I’m not used to  focusing or doing this kind of work here. 


What’s it like working on your thesis from home instead of at School?

It’s kind of harder to find the motivation to get it done. Like, there were six of us 16 millimeter people that all got really, really close in the Steenbeck [film editing] room. And we would all like, I don’t want to say it was a competition, but you know, there’s a subtle feeling of like, “Oh, you’ve already done like that.” Which is helpful. Competition is helpful.


Favorite form of procrastination/ quarantine pastime?

I’ve been watching a lot of true crime series. And then like if I don’t have a lot of time like a Forensic Files episode just to see that. And… I hate to say it, but TikTok is so entertaining.


What will you do once you’ve handed in your thesis?

I don’t know, ‘cus it’s like any effort to like do something would be kind of sad because it’s just not where you’re supposed to be celebrating, you know?


If you could compare your thesis to one other song/movie/TV show, what would it be?

I feel like it is some Coen Brothers kind of feel to it. Just like with the dark humor, like the morbid bodily humor in the dialogue. So I’m not sure which movie of theirs but suppose I’m doing that.


Any advice for future 16mm thesisers?

Well, especially right now, like in all this downtime, like, start thinking about what you want to do, like you should be writing and rewriting and writing and like sending it out to other people. And it’s never too late to start early. Or too early to start. So even like, casting helps. Just to like, put a face to some of the characters that you’re making. 

Yeah. Just go for it, start. Because the more preparation, the better.




Extra behind the scenes photos courtesy of Chase Mayo, pictured below on the right in the radiant pink hair.

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