Lights, Camera, Action: Student-Produced Film Garners Attention Ahead of Festival Run

Film & Media Arts alum Piper Peña Hadley (B.F.A. ’23) wrote and directed “Crossroads” as part of the division’s most recent Summer Feature Production program.

Director Piper Peña Hadley (B.F.A. ’23) consults with a crew member on the set of her film "Crossroads."
Director Piper Peña Hadley consults with a crew member on the set of her film "Crossroads."

For most college film students across the country, working on a professional feature-length film is not an opportunity that is awarded often. In Meadows’ Division of Film & Media Arts, however, an extracurricular program geared specifically toward feature film productions has made it possible for students to not only work on a film of this magnitude but to produce their own feature-length film from start to finish.


Piper Peña Hadley’s film Crossroads is the most recent product of this biennial Summer Feature Production program and, like the previous films created in this program, was written, produced, directed, designed, shot, and edited entirely by Hadley (B.F.A. '23) and her fellow students. Crossroads is the sixth student-produced film that has been supported by the program since its conception in 2011.


“The program was originally created as an experiment of sorts, to see if it would be possible to create a feature-length film with only an undergraduate production crew,” says Derek Kompare, chair and associate professor in the Division of Film & Media Arts. “The film faculty vets scripts and student production teams to determine which film will be selected for the program, and then provides gear, advice, and funding to help it get made.”


Student actors get feedback from their director and producers on the set of the film, "Crossroads."


According to Kompare, the film selection process involves selecting a script that tells an engaging story, regardless of genre, that can be realistically produced with limited budget and resources. And Hadley’s vision for Crossroads fit the bill perfectly. The relatable film, which follows Naomi and Chance as two struggling characters who are able to experience life in the others’ shoes when they swap bodies, explores themes of radical empathy and truly understanding others. Despite its heartwarming story, the process of getting the film made was not without its challenges. From writing the script and months of pre-production to a rapid 22-day production schedule and year of editing, sound, and coloring, bringing Crossroads to life proved to be a grueling, though wholly worthwhile, journey.


“This film has simultaneously been the most rewarding and most challenging experience of my life,” explains Hadley. “Each step of the process proved to have different challenges than the last, but I believe we emerged as better filmmakers because of the journey.”


These films would not get made without the hard work and unwavering commitment from the entire student production team dedicated to bringing it to life. Hadley and her producers, fellow SMU Meadows film majors Anna Butcher (B.F.A. ’23), Kaytlyn Bunting (current student) and Grace Maddox (current student), were able to keep spirits high with a “Compliments Jar,” where crew members gave one another kudos for the work they did during their 22-day stretch on set. And while that marathon-worthy shooting schedule was no doubt intense, it was also only part of the work that goes into creating a feature film.


A crew member operates a camera on set of the new film, "Crossroads."


In addition to allowing students an experience of the intricacy of creating a feature-length film, the process also gives them a realistic look at the timeline and process of such productions. For Meadows’ Summer Feature Production program, selected films will typically have about eight months of pre-production, two to three weeks of production, and 10-11 months of post-production before a quiet premiere in May, over 18 months after students began on the film.


“It is definitely crazy to think that at the age of 21 I have successfully directed my own feature-length film, considering most people don't even receive the opportunity to work on one as a Production Assistant at this stage of their career,” says Hadley. “I've learned a lot from the journey, and I hope that this will serve as just the first of many films to come in a long career of filmmaking.”


The next step for Crossroads? Hadley and her production team will continue to fine-tune the edited version of the film and gather resources for a festival run in 2024. Eventually, the film could even land itself on a streaming platform, like previous program films All the Wrong Friends (2016) and The Book of Job (2019). You can also stay connected with the Crossroads’ journey on their Instagram @crossroads_thefilm.


Director Piper Peña Hadley converses with crew members and actors on set.