“I strongly believe this: film is the single best form of communication in the world,” said senior Abbie Steckler, who has a special major in film.
Steckler is passionate about filmmaking. After over four years of intensive study and filmmaking experience, she plans on turning this passion into a career. “Since I started making movies, it’s always felt like the most natural and the most right thing for me to be doing,” she said. “When I’m behind a camera, when I’m on set, I feel like I’m the most fulfilled, the most productive.”
Steckler, a Connecticut native, knew from a young age that she was going to spend her life working in film. One of the first films she made was in eighth grade, titled “Race to the Throne,” a medieval-themed film featuring herself; her younger brother, freshman Tim Steckler, and several of her friends. “It showed me how much fun it could be to go out with a camera and a bunch of friends and create something out of nothing,” she said. Steckler’s brother, who played the lead villain in the movie, said that “[Abbie] has always been someone who never likes having free time … she’s always working hard.” She became more excited about this budding passion in high school, where she learned from both her successes and her failures.
Coming into college, Steckler was positive that she wanted to make filmmaking her focus of study and future career. English professor Dinah Ryan, who is also Steckler’s academic and capstone project adviser, met Steckler as a prospective Principia student and discussed with her a possible special major in film. A student like Steckler could’ve gone to any college with a specialized film program, but she chose Principia because she believes that there is more to making films than just the technical aspects.
“If you really wanted to get a degree in film … you’d go to a big university with a well-established BFA program, but Abbie’s commitment to liberal arts is a commitment to a breadth and depth of thinking,” Ryan said. “She wants to know how ideas interact in human life … she wants to be a thinker; she wants to learn how to research, how to write, how to problem solve. Technical skills can be developed over time, but thinking skills and ethical skills are foundational.”
Steckler’s major took two years to be approved, and consists of a collection of Principia’s film and writing classes in conjunction with film classes at University of Southern California, including production, film criticism and film theory. At Principia, it’s easy to see the special majors as the majors that are gray areas – the unknown concentrations of study – but Steckler’s film studies major was meticulously put together. She has jumped into her special major both at Principia and at USC with a drive, focus and passion for what she loves. Over the past four years, she has taken all the film classes Prin has to offer, studied at USC, interned in Los Angeles on four separate occasions, and, in the fall semester of her junior year, traveled to Bolivia to teach film in Spanish to a range of students from 13 to 30 years old.
Taking summer classes at USC, which boasts one of the top film programs in the country, was an opportunity to advance Steckler’s own learning and be with other passionate, young filmmakers. In her internships, she worked with a variety of companies, from an independent film company to Warner Bros. Her work has been primarily in offices, learning the behind-the-scenes work that goes into filmmaking. Everything she has done, even jobs as minute as coffee runs, has been an opportunity to prove herself. “I always thought, if I’m gonna get this cup of coffee for this guy, I’m gonna do it with a smile on my face, do it as well as I can, and present it to him happily. Maybe he won’t notice I’m there, but maybe he will,” she said.
In her senior year, Steckler is busy working on her capstone project, which is a roughly 20-minute dramatic feature film that she has written, scripted, filmed and produced. It features a young woman in college who intercepts an alien signal and becomes interested in communicating with extraterrestrial life. She began writing the script last spring and has spent the fall months shooting the film, taking advantage of vibrant autumn colors and the scenery of Principia and Elsah. Once a week, Steckler meets with Ryan, who serves as a cultural consultant and an extra set of eyes to review her footage and edits. She is also working on just-for-fun side projects, like “In the Loop,” her new collaborative web series co-created with senior Tory Silver, about a comedic group of college friends starring several Principia students.
After graduation in the spring, Steckler plans on moving to Los Angeles and working on productions with the people she has made connections with over the past four years. In her free time, she will continue to work on her own projects, and has set a goal to shoot her first independent feature with her own production company with three years.
Ryan is confident in Steckler’s capabilities as she pursues her career in what is often seen as a cutthroat business. “What I see in Abbie is a very quiet but very committed emerging professionalism,” Ryan said. “This is something she’s dedicated to.” Steckler has worked hard to get to where she is in her studies today, and in her time at Principia she has gone above and beyond in exploring and learning about film.
Steckler believes that all her hard work on her capstone will have paid off when it is completed. She is looking forward to starting her career and having many possibilities at her fingertips. “The time for thinkers has come,” she said, “and I believe film can bring that.”