Film crew shoots a scene in "The Passageway"

Photo courtesy of: Brock Fowler


Students who worked on The Passageway" pose for photo

Photo courtesy of: Brock Fowler


Actors in hospital scene during "The Passageway"

Photo courtesy of: Brock Fowler

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New student feature film premieres June 5

"The Passageway" is based on an alumna-written play

Students from the School of Media Arts and Studies will premiere their newest full-length feature film "The Passageway" at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 5, at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.

After the success of "Trailerpark," many students and even the faculty in Ohio University's School of Media Arts and Studies doubted that less than two years later the school would produce another feature-length film.

"I originally intended to maybe do a feature film every four years, but this opportunity came up and I felt that we once again had the right combination of student talent and temperament," said Fredrick Lewis, associate professor and head of the video production sequence.

The film is based on the semi-autobiographical play, "Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver," by Ohio University playwriting program alumna Merri Biechler.

According to the film's online synopsis, "The film focuses on Mae, a struggling young actress who loses both of her parents to cancer. Peggy, her kind, peacemaker mother dies of cancer in 1995. Six years later, Mae is left to take care of her father, Al. Unlike Peggy, Al does not handle the treatment with any sort of grace and Mae struggles with her role as his caregiver. 

Throughout the story, Mae works to accept her mother's death while dealing with a less than compassionate doctor, Al's obsession with a sci-fi television show and the constant struggle to find a middle ground with her father."

Lewis is quick to point out that the play that the film is based on touched him. It also moved the students.

"I was surprised to learn that this play spoke to many of the students' experiences. Many had been touched by cancer in some way and related to it through that," he said. "They were all passionate about the project."

Teresa Strebler, a senior video production major who served as co-writer, co-director and production designer on "The Passageway," echoes that passion.

"The most rewarding aspect for me has been knowing that I was working on something with a real purpose," Strebler said. "We ran into a lot of issues, but we also had a lot of support from people who believed in the message of the film. It was also rewarding to see just how much a small group of committed people can accomplish. This was an incredibly tight schedule, and everyone involved pulled together in order to make it happen even though time was always against us."

Among those who were supportive of the film were a number of generous donors, including the American Cancer Society (ACS), which gave $5,000 to the production.

"Asking people for money is something I really don't like to do in general, and especially in these times it was not easy to ask companies or people to donate to our film. An inspiration was always in the $5,000 donation we received from the American Cancer Society," said Anna Livingston, a junior media management major who served as producer on the film. "This was a feature film, and this wasn't just another classroom learning experience. It was already invested in by a huge organization (ACS); its goal is to educate and inform."

To ensure educational accuracy, the College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) not only contributed financially to the film, but also with their professional expertise. Tracy Marx, associate chair and assistant professor of family medicine, served as a medical consultant. Among Marx's specialties is palliative, or end of life, care.

The production faced many early hurdles, including a later-stage reboot of the script.

"Working on the film has been a roller-coaster of emotions," said David Jefferies, a senior video production major who served as co-director, co-writer and director of photography on the film. "We had been working on it since last year and in December decided to scrap much of what we had done and rework from the ground up. With that, we had nearly six months worth of work to do in about three. I would say the most rewarding aspect of the film was the ability to bring together so many people including students, faculty and community members, who were willing to push their creativity and devotion to the limits to complete the project. The chance to experience such a committed feeling is something that doesn't happen every day."

The limited time, funds, and smaller cast and crew created challenges that many students had not faced during the production of "Trailerpark."

"Trailerpark was very much about adapting stories by Russell Banks and translating them to the screen.  The crew was twice the size and the end goal of the project was to be an entertaining piece," explained Jefferies. "With 'The Passageway,' we were in a situation with less money, less people, and very high expectations.  The goal of this project is to be an educational tool and discussion starter as well as being entertaining. Furthermore, it comes directly from the life of the original playwright who was with us throughout the entire project. We need to make sure we are accurately portraying her story."

The students came together to create a moving, realistic look at what is the private, day-to-day lives of many. In doing so, they grew as a team, in professionalism, skill and training.

"During filming everyone worked like a well-oiled machine and we all became great friends," said Meg Mealy, a senior video production major and one of the film's producers. "Not only that, every single person had a positive experience on this film and is truly proud of the work they have done."

So much goes into creating any feature film.

Look behind the scenes at the production of "The Passageway" on their website. To see the trailer on YouTube, click here.