The Graceland girls, all six of them, lounge in their living room on a Wednesday night. All is calm until one yells “Soundoff!” Cries of “one, two, three, four, five, six” echo through the house. From the other room comes the cry “seven!”
“Seven” comes from junior Jane O’Connor, who is studying across the hall. O’Connor does not live off-campus at the Manning Street house called “Graceland,” but she might as well. She befriended the Graceland girls last semester in a most unusual way: documenting their lives on film for about four months.
It all started in September, when O’Connor enrolled in the rhetoric department’s Documentary and Nonfiction Film course. For her final class project, O’Connor could either write a long paper or make a documentary film. She chose the latter.
“I’ve always been into filmmaking in secret. I was pretty terrified to do anything creative or expressive. This class was an opportunity to make filmmaking a part of school,” O’Connor said.
But, the film, entitled “Graceland,” wasn’t always about Graceland. O’Connor had planned to make a film about a local musician in her home state of Maryland. It was one joke that changed her mind.
“I was sitting on the porch with Maggie and Becca. Maggie jokingly said, ‘You should make a documentary about us,’” O’Connor said.
Though O’Connor went back home to start filming for her original plan, she couldn’t stop thinking about the potential of a Graceland documentary.
“The whole time all I could think about was the potential for this documentary about an off-campus house and people I’m friends with,” she said.
What began in jest soon turned into reality and O’Connor began filming mid-September.
“What eventually pushed me over the edge was even if the film is terrible, worst case scenario, they have family footage of their last semester,” O’Connor said.
She began with trying a cinema verite style film, where the filmmaker does not interact with her subject. Her goal was to create an overall story arc about the house with each of the other girls having their own mini storylines. O’Connor soon realized that this style she was striving for was too difficult to execute.
“Technical issues started to impede. I was making a lot of mistakes. And, I didn’t plan well enough for cinema verite,” she said.
It also took her subjects some time to get used to filming. For the first few weeks, the residents of Graceland were painfully aware of the camera. Senior Phoebe Fink said there were a few times in the beginning that were a little uncomfortable.
“Jane was filming me putting away dishes. I felt like such an idiot walking back and forth between the sink and the cabinet,” Fink said. “It felt so uncomfortable at first, but we got used to it.”
O’Connor filmed constantly over the next few months, learning from her mistakes as she went. As she filmed, she saw the opportunity for a meta film about her shortcomings with the filmmaking process. O’Connor said she was inspired by the documentary “Sherman’s March,” in which the filmmaker travels around the south randomly filming people’s lives.
“I was really inspired by that. He captured ordinary people who aren’t famous or anything, and I made it my goal with the Graceland documentary.”
O’Connor said that she soon realized there wasn’t much of a cohesive story, so she decided to make the documentary about what she learned throughout the filming process. But, the film also explores how O’Connor befriended her subjects, the girls of Graceland.
“I did form a real relationship with them. Hanging out at the house was probably the highlight of my semester,” O’Connor said. “By making a documentary about my mistakes, I accidentally stumbled into my original goal.”
The Graceland girls have all watched the documentary — they even hosted a “red carpet premiere” in early February where they invited friends for a special viewing. And they say it’s an accurate depiction of their lives.
“It’s intimate. It’s realistic. That’s exactly what it’s like to live here,” senior Michaela Peine said.
Senior Teresa McNeely said that she enjoyed getting to know O’Connor over the course of filming.
“It’s great to have this footage,” McNeely said. “But the best thing that came out of it is how Jane became the 7th member of Graceland. She’s such an important part of our lives.”