Columbia graduate creates a buzz

By WilliamPrentiss

Columbia alumnus Sean Jourdan spent two years making 27 minutes of film, but judging from the film’s success, he’s finding the time was well spent.

Jourdan’s new film The Beekeeper is set to premiere at the Ojai-Ventura International Film Festival in Ojai, Calif., which runs Nov. 5 – 8. The festival specializes in short films and documentaries. Jourdan’s movie was selected by a panel of judges that included festival founder Steve Grumette. More than 400 films were submitted, but only 62 of those will be shown this year.

The Beekeeper is about a family strained by the father’s affair with his son’s girlfriend. The film focuses on how his infidelities reverberate throughout his family and their distortions of the truth to protect one another. It takes place in Woodstock, Ill., where the father works as a beekeeper. The movie is notable for its subtle acting, wordless exchanges and deft cinematography.

“It was very well shot and edited,” Grumette said. “I like the subtlety of the story. It was the kind of story where you sense what’s going on, but you don’t really understand it until you stay with the film and watch it unfold. Little by little it becomes clear what’s going on.”

The short film has been Jourdan’s focus since he graduated from Columbia. It required many hours of work from all crew members involved. They started in 2006 and completed the film in January of this year.  Jourdan said the reaction to the film is validating and he’s now writing a full-length script of The Beekeeper that he’s hoping to turn into a feature-length movie.

“Post-production took awhile, but it always ends up taking longer than you would expect it to,” Jourdan said. “Production was difficult. We had bees, a kid, a sex scene, a dog—I could have picked something easier to do.”

The short film’s complexity reflects Jourdan’s taste in movies. He said he prefers thoughtful films whose characters inhabit a moral gray area.

“I like films about people who do bad things for what they think are good reasons,” Jourdan said. “That’s definitely taking place in this film, and there’s some ambiguity there. There’s not necessarily a good guy or a bad guy in this movie.”

Columbia alumna Shawnecee Schneider worked as the film’s bee wrangler and used honey bees from her own hive for the shoot. Like many others who worked on the film, she knew Jourdan from her time at Columbia’s Film and Video Department.

She’s been a beekeeper since she graduated in 2007 and has a hive of honey bees in her neighbor’s back yard in Logan Square. She shared both her equipment  and her knowledge to inform the actor playing the beekeeper how to handle the bees.

She said working on the shoot was the first time her hobby crossed paths with her movie career and she’d like to do it again. However, the fact that moving the bees from their hive can kill them gives her pause, she said.

Schneider said her fascination with the insects stems from their social structure and how the thousands of bees in a hive function as one unit. As a beekeeper, she has to remain calm and focused to handle them so not to get stung by an agitated hive. Training them to perform is even more difficult, she said.

“They’re insects,” Schneider said. “Yeah, of course it’s difficult and kind of silly to think I could train the bees—that I had some sort of control over them. There was just hoping and creating some sort of pathway for them to go in the right area we need for the shot, sort of an optical illusion.”

Of course, any difficulties had to be overcome because the movie is called The Beekeeper. Jourdan said the film uses the hive as a metaphor, but he wants the audience to figure out what it represents in the movie for themselves.

“I am playing with the idea of a bee metaphor, but I don’t want to talk about what I think it is,” Jourdan said. “I would be more curious to what an audience response was and who they think is the beekeeper—how they think it’s being played with.”