College Corner: Meet “Swarthmore Slump” auteur Alex Kieft ’06

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Alex Kieft ’06 will present his 30-minute short film, “Swarthmore Slump,” starring Dwight Smith ’08, Nikandre Kopcke, Neal Dandade ’06, and Toby David ’06 tonight at 9:00 and 9:45 in LPAC Cinema. The Daily Gazette sat down with the director to discuss his work. Excerpts from the conversation follow.

Daily Gazette: What is your film about?
Alex Kieft: It is about a sophomore at Swarthmore named Max Staller. It’s basically him going through a tough period at the end of his sophomore year, which many students I think here would describe as being familiar.

DG: What inspired you to make it?
AK: It’s a little based off my own experiences, but it’s mostly based off a story about a friend of mine. There’s some embarrassing stuff in it, so I was allowed to make the movie on the condition of keeping my friend’s identity anonymous… I don’t want to describe it because it would give it away, but he had this incident and told me and a couple of close friends about it and we all thought it was hilarious and so I thought it would make for a great movie.

DG: Did you write it with certain actors in mind?
AK: It’s kind of a funny situation that for the most part I called on other members of [the improv comedy troupe] Vertigo-go to act in it. Dwight Smith plays the lead role, as Max… so I had sort of talked to him once I knew roughly what I wanted to do because I thought he would be a good young face to play the role.

There is, however, another role in it, the role of this girl, who I wanted to have a very specific look and a very specific attitude. And so rather than just choosing someone I knew from Vertigo-go I kind of just went around campus looking to see if I could find anyone who actually had this very specific sort of look to her. And so I stumbled across this girl, Nikandre Kopcke, who was a freshman last year and has since left Swarthmore, but she plays the other main role, and all the other roles are filled primarily by Vertigo-go members.

DG: Did you film it last year and edit over the summer?
AK: I filmed it last spring and edited it frantically during the last few weeks of school..I was able to come up with a rough cut. When I went home over the summer I tweaked a few things, I added a little bit of sound here and there. But overall it’s pretty much the same as it was then, but now it’s as finalized as I think it’s going to be so I’m ready to show it to the whole campus.

DG: How would you describe your cinematic influences?
AK: Actually, in the fall of last year I studied abroad in Senegal, and I did a research project on the film industry there. I was able to participate in the shooting of a television series and I saw them being very inefficient about how they went about it. It was just a lack of organization and it made things drag on and the director didn’t always notice because he was so busy with things, but I could see the drain on the actors and on the crew.

So when I went into this one of my main goals was less the content of it but rather the way it was produced… make it as efficient as possible and so that the people who acted in it and worked as crew members could do so without spending too much time on it. So I rotated crew people through, and most of the scenes involve the main character, Max, and one, maybe two, other people.

DG: Do you have any plans for future films?
AK: I feel like you really have to have a good story to make a good film and this is a case where I came across a good story. But right now I don’t feel like I have one floating around.

DG: Should this be read in any way as a rebuttal to the Admissions DVD?
AK: (Laughs) I haven’t seen the Admissions DVD… but I think the sophomore slump is not something unique to Swarthmore. I think it can be particularly tough here, but… I feel it’s fairly universal.

DG: What is the number one reason people should come and see it?
AK: Take a break from studying! Overall, people tend to need to lighten up a little bit around here. This is a good study break opportunity.

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