Learning to fail: Spurred by disappointment, Joshua improves as a filmmaker and an artist

Joshua Wahl

Joshua Wahl

When he came to college, Joshua Wahl had a simple plan: Make as many short films as he possibly could.

He thought he knew filmmaking, and that all his creations would shine with creativity and technical skill. Maybe he would spend a year at SUNY Broome before moving on to a four-year school and his future as a director.

But for every good project he produced, he seemed to make eight bad ones – and he began to question his ambitions, whether he should continue in his Communications and Media Arts major or find a new path. His peers and his professors, however, provided needed insight and Wahl stayed on course – while learning some needed life-lessons.

“The moments of failure are just as important, if not more important, than the moments of success because that’s how we grow,” he reflected. “I was, and still am, in the beginning of my career as a filmmaker. There’s still a lot left for me to learn and I can’t give up based on failure. I have to learn from it and change to get better.”

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A Union-Endicott High School graduate, Joshua Wahl originally saw himself attending a four-year college out of the gate. His mother, however, suggested SUNY Broome as a smart way to take needed prerequisite courses while getting a good academic footing. It worked for her; she attended SUNY Broome before transferring and later graduating from St. John Fisher College, Joshua said.

He agreed to give his local community college a try. As a Presidential Honor Scholar, he received a full-ride scholarship, a smart start by any measure.

Originally skeptical about the benefits of a two-year degree, he fell in love with the Communication & Media Arts program and is glad he stayed to graduate.

“It’s not only production, but media and how we communicate. It has opened my mind; I’m looking at the world in a different way,” he said. “Who I am now is not the same person as I was in terms of artistry.”

A passion for film

Wahl first became interested in the world of film when he was five years old and wanted to become an actor. During his early years, performance called to him, everything from magic tricks to stand-up comedy to musical theater. When he was 13, however, he began to consider another aspect of performance: the view behind the camera.

He began to question what makes something good and what movies, film and other media were trying to say, the stories they sought to tell and the messages behind them. In high school, he avidly watched Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and was enthralled by the screenwriter’s work.

He wanted to write, film and create, not just act, he determined. And he had a vision of what he wanted to create: dramas with snappy dialogue, with storytelling arcs and an underlying message. He also drew inspiration from director David Fincher, writer-director Christopher Nolan and other luminaries in the field, and kept questioning what makes a film good.

Storytelling that allows the viewer to connect with characters in the film is a must; people must be able to connect their own stories to the ones they are witnessing. Take, for example, what Wahl considers the standout film of 2017: Ladybird.

“It was a perfect year in the life of a character, a perfect moment in time. It felt so personable,” Joshua said.

Getting to the level of excellence seen in films such as Ladybird, however, takes years of honing one’s craft and learning all the ins and outs of the media world.

Wahl’s classes help him gain that needed experience. For his classes, he has worked on lighting projects, interview packages, short films, informational videos and even a music video. Each class approaches film production in a different way so that students gain the skills they need, he said.

He deeply appreciates the mentorship of his professors, who are experienced in the field. One standout is his video productions professor, Chris Keaty.

“He gave us a lot of creative control and also kept us grounded. He’s very friendly and open,” Wahl said.

Student Ambassador

While you can mostly find him behind a camera or video production console these days, Joshua Wahl hasn’t entirely given up his love for performance. As a Student Ambassador, he works as a campus tour guide. Leading tours draws on those acting skills, as he tries to inspire excitement and enthusiasm in his audience – in this case, prospective students and their families.

Wahl is currently weighing the next step in his journey to become a filmmaker. He has already been accepted by SUNY Fredonia, Ithaca College and Long Island University Post, and is waiting to hear back from New York University and Columbia University.

Looking back, he remembered a stray comment from a high school teacher that may have skewed his initial perception of SUNY Broome. The teacher referred to it as “13th grade” – something Wahl found to be very untrue.

The academics, the resources available to students and the sense of community are comparable to four-year colleges, Joshua said.

“Each semester changes you in more ways than one, whether as a student or as a person,” he said. “Coming here is a great choice.”