Behind the Lens – Student Film at Wheaton

Film and New Media studies major Masa Mita ‘22 was busy this semester producing his short film, My Buddy Jesus as his final project for the course Production II. Working with Emmanuel Leal ‘23, Katie Brown ‘22, and Stefan Flores ‘23, the film was shot in October and November 2021. The cast features Max Van Osdol ‘24, Ethan Thombs ‘22, Lily Watson ‘24, Payce Shepard ‘22, and Kayla Garabedian ‘22.

Production II is an advanced filmmaking production course that organizes students into four-person teams. Each student writes and directs their own project and also rotates through key roles on their teammates’ projects; roles such as director of photography, sound recordist, and assistant director.  The course provides students with industry standard equipment and is structured to create a professional experience to prepare them for the workplace. 

Masa entered the course with strong command of filmmaking fundamentals. He produced the short film The First Dance in Production I (Spring 2020) and a 24 minute narrative film, Your World, My World, and The World, as an independent study with Professor Johnson (Fall 2020). The film features a story about two strangers that meet on a college campus during Covid times and spend the day developing a friendship.

The idea for My Buddy Jesus first took root over the summer through conversations with his brother while in quarantine after returning to Tokyo, Japan. As they debated and discussed different perceptions and religious beliefs regarding death, Masa started thinking about a feasible story exploring the subject that could be filmed on Wheaton’s campus.

After writing a first draft, Masa workshopped the script in Production II and began the pre-production process. He storyboarded the entire film, shot-by-shot, which helped him refine compositions and determine the logistical elements needed for each camera setup. This translated into a far more organized and efficient production process. 

“ I hope my film helps the audience to reflect on what they value in life. We live in a world of constant change, and life can change drastically at any given moment. The film is about realizing what you have: not dwelling on things you wish you had.”

A high point of the production was Masa’s experience working with actors. He and Max, who plays the lead role of Mark, built a strong relationship over days of rehearsals and developed a shorthand of communication that helped shape the performances. This was vital in the final hours of filming. The cast and crew had been working for over eight hours and it was cold and dark. Everyone was tired but with Masa’s clear vision and direction everyone was eager and committed to giving their best performances in the final hours of production. 

Masa has completed a rough cut of the film, but is currently polishing it in order to submit to film festivals this Spring. What’s next? After two narrative films, Masa wants to explore the formal qualities of cinema, specifically his relationship to the form and its power to convey messages that shape our society. He’ll be developing an experimental film as his capstone project in the Film and New Media Studies senior seminar.