Tyler Sage Diederichs – Horror Film Buff

Faculty shout-out from Dr. Kaveh Askari: It has been a real pleasure to work with Tyler this year. His essays in my Classical Film Theory course demonstrated fluency with the logic of difficult theoretical texts. I was particularly impressed by his disciplined viewing of the films, which allowed him to pinpoint exactly where those abstract ideas manifested themselves on-screen. He often took the essay prompts in unexpected, but convincing, directions. The abrupt shift to online teaching has been a challenge for everyone involved, but one of bright spots of each week this semester has been reading Tyler’s thoughtful (and exceedingly thorough) illustrated discussions of each film in History of Film after Midcentury.

How would you describe your time as an English or Film Studies major at MSU?

I would have to describe my experience as a Film Studies major at MSU as insightful and inspirational. With my Film Studies major, I have the privilege of taking film theory courses that provide me with an eclectic knowledge and nuanced perspective of film. I also have a minor in Fiction Filmmaking, which allows me to thoroughly understand how the production and post-production stages of the filmmaking process work. After pairing my Film Studies major with my Fiction Filmmaking minor, I now understand what it takes to transform my screenplays into fictional films.

Which classes, instructors, or experiences particularly stand out for you and why? How did they prepare you for the next phase of your life?

Jeff Wray, Rola Nashef, Bill Vincent, Rick Blackwood, Josh Yumibe, Kaveh Askari, & Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai are some of my favorite professors.

I had Jeff Wray for Film Directing (FLM 335), Film Collective (FLM 200), & the Fiction Filmmaking Capstone (FLM 435A/B). Jeff always encouraged us to think outside the box while keeping an open mind for different points of view when collaborating on film projects. Without Jeff’s guidance in FLM 335, I wouldn’t have made strong connections with my classmates because I would be too afraid to break out of my creative shell. In FLM 435, Jeff and Rola Nashef often reminded our class of some of the harsh realities of the filmmaking process, and I respect them for that because they have helped me mature as a filmmaker.

Bill Vincent instructed me in Advanced Screenwriting (FLM 434) and Western Film (FLM 355). Bill isn’t afraid to tell you when you need to fix something in your screenplay, and that’s what I love about him. Another thing that I love about Bill is that (pre-COVID) he invited our screenwriting class over to his house for dinner during finals week. We got to meet his family and his animals, and it was a heartwarming experience. Upon exiting his home, Bill shouted, “keep on writing!” Bill plays Arthur in our capstone film, Varnish, and I don’t know anyone who could’ve fit that role better. Bill was so patient and generous with his time on every shoot day.

I had Rick Blackwood for Intro. Screenwriting (FLM 334) and Film Adaptation (FLM 337). He is quite an enigmatic storyteller, and I enjoy listening to his lectures because he often ties in psychology and philosophy into the class discussion. Blackwood doesn’t shy away from controversial subject matter, and for me, that is intellectually stimulating because it reminds me of how complex the human condition is. His detailed analysis of films from legends like Stanley Kubrick inspire me to think more deeply about what I watch, what I read, and what I write.

What advice would you give future English or Film Studies majors, based on your experiences in the department?

  1. Follow your intuition. After four years of college, I had many moments where I doubted myself and my abilities. In the end, I learned that I’m my own worst enemy because sometimes I’m too hard on myself and sometimes I listen to the wrong people.
  2. Keep an open mind. You don’t know everything, and life is full of mysteries. If you don’t know something, ask someone. You’re not dumb for asking and you’ll only be smarter for having done so. Being a writer/filmmaker, I take constructive criticism to heart because it only makes my work better by exposing some flaws in my story that I failed to notice.
  3. Make connections. Four years will fly by before you know it. Your roommates, the professors that you have, and the friends that you make in and out of the classroom will be some of the strongest bonds that you can form while at MSU.
  4. Put in the work. Show up to class early, don’t just do the bare minimum, and take advantage of MSU’s resources.
  5. Pace yourself. Don’t procrastinate, plan out a feasible schedule, and designate some of your time to study on a daily basis.

What coursework-related projects were/are you working on this year, and what interests or excites you about them?

During my senior year, I completed many interesting projects/assignments. The Fiction Filmmaking Capstone (435A/B) allowed me to collaborate with my classmates on a 30-minute short film. The film is called “Varnish” and it is about an elderly father who wishes to reconnect with his son after he abandoned him a lifetime ago to travel the world. This is a story that I feel like anyone with family issues can relate to. The story is brilliantly written by Kendall Veasey and directed by Nicole Ma. I am the Script Supervisor and the Post-Production Supervisor for this project, so I keep track of continuity, editor notes, and I work closely with the editor, director, music composers, etc. I’m proud to be working with my classmates on this and we can’t wait to premiere it at a drive-in theatre next month!

I also took an independent study paired with FLM 400: Global Horror instructed by Professor Pillai. This class/independent study delved deep into horror films on a global scale. For instance, we started the semester off by discussing Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Kwaidan, and ended it by discussing Ringu, The Shining, and Pan’s Labyrinth. This class helped me understand the underlying meanings behind various fears within cultures around the world. I’m very proud of the final essay I wrote for this independent study, in which I discussed how horror films induce dread within the audience’s psyche via space, sound, and ambiguity.

I never had a class with Professors Yumibe and Askari before my senior semester, but I’m glad I finally got the chance to take some of the courses they instruct. For instance, Prof. Askari instructed me for FLM 301 and FLM 380 and those two classes introduced me to dozens of legendary film theorists/critics like Jean-Louis Baudry, Walter Benjamin, André Bazin, Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Lev Kuleshov, and more. Prof. Yumibe’s FLM 480: Cinema & the Archive was surprisingly an enjoyable course. At first, I wasn’t looking forward to studying old archival footage, but Yumibe’s teaching methods reinvigorated the creative curiosity within me because we analyzed profoundly interesting films such as Dawson City: Frozen Time, The Master Hands, Do the Right Thing, They Shall Not Grow Old and Welt, Spiegel, Kino. These films (and more) illustrated to me the significance of preserving/repurposing found footage as well as the importance of the representation of marginalized people.

What are your hopes and aspirations, post-graduation? 

I always knew that I wanted to make movies since I was in elementary school. As I grew older and matured as an individual throughout high school, I started to realize that writing persuasive, argumentative essays was my strong suit. I’m still not sure if I want to go to film school, but I may change my mind a few months from now. After I graduate, I hope to become a screenwriter/director for independent and/or commercial films. Writing narratives for video games also sounds like fun. I plan on writing dozens of scripts for feature-length films and TV pilots while working (and searching for) a steady job in the film/media industry. Hopefully a production company will like one of these stories. I love drawing scary monsters as well, so I will also be working on a few storyboards for my horror film ideas. Sam Raimi is one of my local heroes because him and Bruce Campbell raised around $200,000 independently for their film, Evil Dead, right here in Michigan in their early 20’s. Before that, they raised $1,600 for a shorter version of the story, Within the Woods, that they used as a prototype to screen in front of their investors. Personally, I want to see how well of a horror film I can make on a reasonably low budget. Overall, I plan on mastering my craft even further by gaining experience in the film production world and by building an interesting resume.

Please reflect a bit on the strange experience of being a graduating senior during the ongoing pandemic. What resources have been most useful to you in navigating this unprecedented situation?

COVID-19 has been a real eye-opener for me. This pandemic really turned everyone’s world upside down, including mine. However, through all the chaos of the virus, I realized that my family and my friends were always there for me no matter what. Due to the fact that most of my classes were online (with the exception of shoot days for FLM 435), my would-be roommates and I cancelled our apartment leases in East Lansing. Instead of living in East Lansing, my roommates and I saved our parents a lot of money by living in their homes during senior year. Unfortunately, I felt very isolated from the rest of my classmates after moving back in with my parents, but I took that personal time to reflect on myself as a human being and to focus on my grades and skills. Living with my parents made me realize how important I am to my mother and my father and how much they really care for my health and success.