Fiction Filmmaking Capstone Class Premieres Short Film to Sold-Out Theatre

After two semesters of hands-on experience in film production, editing, and marketing, the 2023 Fiction Filmmaking Capstone Class at Michigan State University premiered its short film, Promises, Promises, to a sold-out theatre on May 3 at Studio C! in the Meridian Mall. An on-campus screening also took place on May 4 at Wells Hall and was followed by a Q&A session with the cast and crew as well as a behind-the-scenes video of the making of the short film.

Promises, Promises trailer

Under the supervision of Executive Producers Jeff Wray, Professor and Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of English, and Pete Johnston, Academic Specialist in the Department of English and Manager of Digital Media and Film Production at Michigan State University, 25 Fiction Filmmaking students used their film education to produce the 30-minute short with an initial budget of $5,000.

Maggie Lupton, a senior Film Studies and Arts and Humanities double major, began to write the screenplay in April 2022 to submit to the campus-wide screenplay competition that takes place every summer. While the professors determined the winners, the entire Fiction Filmmaking Capstone Class was involved in the selection process last September.

A camera in the foreground stands in front of a table with two students behind it at restaurant. A smiling student in front of the table holds a clapperboard and looks into the camera.
The Promises, Promises cast and crew on set at UrbanBeat on the last day of filming. (Photo by Pete Johnston)

“I had submitted for a few years and could not be more excited that my script was selected the year I was in the class,” said Lupton, who is also a Co-Production and Costume Designer on set. “It was such a huge honor to be selected by my peers and my professors, and I am very grateful that they believed in my story and my characters from the start.”

Drawing on themes of family, friendship, and grief, the comedy drama follows college student Winona Adamson, played by junior Theatre major Jewell Redman, as she returns home to attend the funeral of her older sister, Lydia, after her sudden death. While Winona grieves alongside her best friend and aspiring comedian Hudson Royal, played by junior Theatre major Ben Corsi, she faces Hudson’s request of honoring Lydia by mentioning her in his comedy set.

Two students in the foreground handle film equipment while five stand in the background behind them.
Director of Photography Nolan Duff (center left) and Director Wallace Hill V (center right) set up a shot at Capital City Vineyard Church.

“I had a very clear vision for the story so it did not take me a very long time to write, yet I spent a lot of time editing and re-writing because I wanted it to be a top contender for the class,” Lupton said. “I aimed to highlight the small town feel of everyone and the idea of returning to a static place to find that while you have changed, the place hasn’t.”

“Watching my fellow classmates step into positions that excited them or piqued their interest and viewing friends discover their true love for filmmaking on the set of this production was just the cherry on the top.”

Brien Smith, Film Studies and Digital Storytelling double major and Producer of Promises, Promises

Wallace Hill V, a senior Digital Storytelling major, directed Promises, Promises from the first day of photography in early November to the last day of shooting in late March.

“I was so excited to be granted this opportunity because I spent the last year working on my skills not just as a director, but as a leader overall,” Hill said. “I knew that if I was given a chance, I could really help make this film special.”

Photo showing a stage with the words "The Funny Business" spread across the black curtains.
The Snyder-Phillips RCAH Theater was transformed into a comedy club for a shoot.

During the production of the film, the cast and crew rotated between locations including an Airbnb, back alley, car, and restaurant. Hill said he’s most proud of the date scene that was shot on the last day of filming.

“It does everything it’s supposed to for the story, balancing elements of comedy and drama and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out,” he said. “I look at the actor and director relationship as one of the most vital pieces to making a successful film, and I’m just so grateful to them for being so open to working with me and letting me bounce my crazy ideas off of them.”

Photo showing 16 people
The cast and crew of Promises, Promises on set during their three-day shoot at an Airbnb. 

Utilizing his prior experience on smaller film sets to acquire the role of Producer, Brien Smith, a senior Film Studies and Digital Storytelling double major, maintained the budget, organized the schedule, and worked with other film departments to plan, coordinate, and manage the different timelines of the film’s development through the use of an extensive Excel Sheet.

“The takeaway I learned from producing was learning that the process behind larger productions with bigger crews is difficult and requires more attention than you initially think,” Smith said. “Not everyone can be happy with every single decision, but it’s mitigating that with making sure that what you are making is the best it can be.”

Movie poster for "Promises Promises."
Promises, Promises movie poster

Earlier this semester, the class launched a successful fundraiser campaign in which they surpassed their goal of raising an additional $3,000 for post-production costs and festival submission fees.

“I found that the most rewarding thing for me was to see the finished piece alongside everyone that’s had a hand in the production and witnessing the culmination of our hard work for the better part of a year be pulled off,” Smith said. “Watching my fellow classmates step into positions that excited them or piqued their interest and viewing friends discover their true love for filmmaking on the set of this production was just the cherry on the top.”

Written by Kseniya Lukiy