UT students explore “real-life” love story in thesis film, “What We Talk About”

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Emily Gibson

A couple semesters after radio-television-film seniors Kelsey Hockmuller and Olivia Biehle met outside a professor’s office for the first time, Hockmuller knew it was time to take her relationship with Biehle to the next level — so she popped the question.

“Will you produce my thesis film?”

“It’s like the beginning of how we started dating,” Biehle said. “But without the dating.” 

Hockmuller wrote her short film, “What We Talk About,” in summer 2013. She and Biehle will begin filming on 16mm film once their IndieGogo fundraiser, which they hope will cover production costs, ends Sunday.

The movie focuses on two middle-aged adults as they sit down at a restaurant and talk about their relationship. Hockmuller drew on her personal experience with a toxic relationship and focused the work on the romantic connection between the script’s two main characters.

“I cared very deeply for someone who would never feel the same about me,” Hockmuller said. “I always wanted to tell him and I didn’t, so this short is kind of that. It’s a compilation of a lot of my real life attempts but centered around these people who are not me.” 

Hockmuller said the film’s focus on older characters deepens the impact the film has on its audience. She said that the characters’ age and inability to romantically connect or let go of troubled relationships will resonate more strongly than a story centered on young, inexperienced people. The movie conveys a more genuine love story than most, Hockmuller said, because the title characters reach closure rather than ending up together despite their flaws. 

“One thing I’ll say a lot is that I don’t believe in happy endings because you’ll have a happy moment, then the next shitty thing happens,” Hockmuller said. “People who can stay on the 50-year plan and get married at 20 and die at 80, that’s amazing. It’s beautiful, but it’s really fucking hard, too.” 

Hockmuller ultimately teamed up with Biehle to produce the movie in an undergraduate thesis film class. They worked on Hockmuller’s script, now in its 12th revision, and received feedback from their classmates. 

Hockmuller said shooting “What We Talk About” on 16mm film contributes to the movie’s feeling of wistfulness. 16mm film, which has been used in movies such as “Moonrise Kingdom” and “This Is Spinal Tap,” gives films an older quality and color than those shot digitally. 

“Because of the color and graininess of it, [the film] has a built-in nostalgia to it,” Hockmuller said. “That is going to help the feel of [the film] a lot. We’ll get to kind of coast off of the connotations that [16 mm] film already has.” 

Biehle said the project provided a good opportunity to work with 16mm. The Department of Radio-Television-Film gives them access to equipment and student discounts for film processing. 

“It’s expensive as a student, but when we graduate it’s going to be even more expensive,” Biehle said. “So this was our last chance for a while.” 

The film will be ready to show at a thesis screening by the end of the academic year. Hockmuller, who said she hopes to distribute the project to film festivals, said she ultimately plans to extend the script into a feature-length film. 

Hockmuller said she has enjoyed watching “What We Talk About” transform from a personal project to something she can share. Hockmuller said community support made her even more enthusiastic for the project as time went on. 

“The positive feedback from everyone — from [Biehle] to our actors to our crew to just random people I tell about it is incredible,” Hockmuller said. “I did not expect to get that kind of response. It’s amazing — it’s the best feeling in  the world.”