Golden Spike Studios’ sold-out debut screening reveals the labor of love in student film production

Oct. 31, 2021, 8:57 p.m.

“It’s like the film students are reclaiming Oshman,” said one eager attendee Thursday night at Golden Spike Studios’ sold-out debut “Halloscreening” at McMurtry’s Oshman Hall. Golden Spike Studios is Stanford’s only production company, run entirely by undergraduates. It was founded by Lore Vazquez Olivera ’22, Sofia Monroy ’22 and Zachary Lo ’22 just before the pandemic, making Thursday’s screening feel like the grand opening its founders never got. 

The student films shown in the Halloween-themed double feature were Golden Spike Studios’ first ever productions. Olivera’s horror short “Nasty Habit” screened first, followed by Regan Lavin’s ’22 dramedy “Boys Will Be Boys.”

Olivera originally wrote her horror short “Nasty Habit” as an assignment in Senior Lecturer Adam Tobin’s course FILMPROD 104: Intermediate Screenwriting, in which students were instructed to write a five-page script with one setting and two characters. In line with her creative interest in female relationships, Olivera wrote her script about two sisters trying to come to terms with their mother’s death. According to Monroy, though “Nasty Habit” and “Boys Will Be Boys” were both filmed under quarantine restrictions, the former enjoyed marginally more cinematographic freedom as a scaled-down on-campus production, whereas the latter was filmed and produced completely remotely. 

“It was nice to get to be in person again with friends, but it was a very small crew,” writer and co-star Olivera said about filming “Nasty Habit” in the question-and-answer session following the screening. “Usually on a film set you have like 20 people doing all sorts of things, and this was a team of six people. Sometimes I was holding like bouncers, mixing buckets of blood the night before or doing my own makeup. But I think that’s part of the beauty of student filmmaking: everybody gets to do everything.” 

In a behind-the-scenes Instagram video that showed the making of “Nasty Habit,” director Monroy concurred with Olivera’s description of student filmmaking. 

“Student film is very scrappy — you kind of have to come up with solutions on the fly,” Monroy said. “There’s never one right answer. We don’t have all the tech in the world, so it’s just about how we come together as a team.” In the case of “Nasty Habit,” coming together as a team looked like co-star Rachel Portillo M.A. ’22 closing a door with her feet while lying on the floor for a special effects-style shot, and Monroy coating Olivera’s costume dress in so much fake blood that it stood on its own by the end of the eight-hour filming day. 

Olivera also spoke about her unique situation of being both a writer and an actress on production: “As a writer, you imagine these things, and then when I was actually there on set, covered in blood for 16 hours, I was just like, ‘Damn, this writer really wasn’t thinking!’” Olivera emphasized that watching her peers work together to make her vision come to life was a deeply humbling experience. 

The final product, “Nasty Habits,” was an emotive film tactfully laced with psychological horror. In one particular scene, the two sisters Lexie and Alma, played by Olivera and Portillo, share a cathartic embrace in their mutual recognition of their overwhelming grief. However, the scene shifts in affect when older sister Alma pulls her hand back from Lexie’s hair and finds it dripping with blood. This moment is as jarring for Alma as it is for viewers, yet her enduring resolve to help Lexie — despite Lexie’s ambiguous crime — is a shrewd commentary on the sanctity of sisterhood. 

As Monroy reflects, “Even though it’s a horror film, it’s fundamentally about love and the lengths to which we will go for people we love.” 

Although “Boys Will Be Boys” was filmed drastically differently — via a legion of simultaneous Zoom rooms and lengthy post-production — its creation too was a labor of love. The phrase “This film was shot entirely remotely” was displayed during the short film’s end credits longer than any individual names, like a triumphant declaration of the production team’s collective effort. 

The “Boys Will Be Boys” logline reads, “Seeking catharsis after a particularly nasty break-up, a college student and her two best friends use Zoom as an opportunity to go undercover in a frat to expose the secrets that lie within.” The unique filmmaking process, which cast member Ahmad Koya ’24 compared to “making a YouTube video,” consisted of cast members filming themselves in their own quarantine locations, directors screen-recording over Zoom and editors shooting TikToks.

Lavin, who wrote, directed and starred in “Boys Will Be Boys,” confessed when introducing her film, “The logline was actually also my inspiration for the film. After a really bad breakup, I wrote this.” Lavin’s personal investment was evident in her compelling performance and others’ descriptions of her approach to directing. She conducted one-on-one meetings with every actor to ensure their comfort with their roles and was ready at the drop of a hat to film B-Roll as post-production got into full swing. 

Others, including Olivera and “Boys Will Be Boys” editor Eugene Ko ’23, affirmed the dedication of the film’s cast and crew, saying every one of their members “was giving their best” and “had to be really diligent in making this possible.” 

All in all, the quirky film — with its Riot grrrl-esque score, hot pink hues and hyperspecific moments of Gen-Z comedy like muted Zoom monologues and Siri interruptions — certainly pleased its audience. Given its technical limitations, “Boys Will Be Boys” is an entertaining watch with profound and timely commentary on gender privilege. 

As Golden Spike Studios board member Ben Schwartz ’22 said during the screening event, “It’s already hard to put together a student production company” given University clubs’ limited resources and Stanford’s relatively small film community. Yet Olivera, Monroy, Lo and others have successfully done so during a pandemic that fundamentally disrupted film production. Golden Spike Studios’ passion and dedication shone through at their first of many screenings.

Malia Mendez ’22 is the Vol. 260 Managing Editor of Arts & Life at The Stanford Daily. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, Prose track. Talk to her about Modernist poetry, ecofeminism or coming-of-age films at mmendez 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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