In order for students at Michigan State University to graduate with a minor in Fiction Filmmaking, they must first take a year-long capstone course known as Creating the Fiction Film. They’re told to collaborate with their classmates to create a short film from the ground up. Between writing, casting, shooting, editing, and promoting, the production is a process that is always met with a few speed bumps. The crew of Taco Soup, the film produced by the class of 2019-2020, saw our fair share. We started the year with only eleven students to produce the film, we had our main actress drop out halfway through production, and a global pandemic that shut the whole world down. No matter what, every time something went wrong, we put our heads together to find a solution and ended the school year with a finished movie.
Rum and Coke
Ordinarily, the class consists of 20-30 students that each have a specific, important role in the production. From the beginning, the Taco Soup crew drew a short straw. When we began our production in September of 2019, we only had eleven students to split the 20+ responsibilities. Nevertheless, we put our heads down and got to work on our first iteration, originally titled Rum & Coke. But that was only the beginning. We took an idea and, through hours of meetings and discussion, after several drafts, had a script. We casted it and even started shooting it. Our cast and crew were coming together. It wasn’t until two of our three main actors had significant setbacks that we had to jump our first major hurdle.
In the first script for Rum & Coke, Sarah Lynn played one of three main characters, Natalie. Her energy, enthusiasm, and passion for her work was a very welcome addition to our set. Her chemistry with the other two leads translated into better performances from everyone. And that’s why it was such a devastating loss. After shooting nearly a quarter of the script, Sarah decided to take a paid acting job elsewhere. The void left by her departure could not be ignored or swept under the rug. Making matters even worse, Chris Heeder, who played Jude in both Rum & Coke and Taco Soup, broke his collarbone while skiing. We were in limbo for weeks, debating whether or not to recast both actors. While we were able to keep Chris on board, recasting the role of Natalie was necessary. Instead, the three writers, Aaron Applebey, Kristina Familara, and Aaron Mariasy, put their heads together to create a new script from scratch. Now, the 11-person crew was tasked with starting from near-scratch with half the time left. Even with some of the original cast still on board, the new script had to be shorter. It was written for one location, and with as few characters as possible. Finding new actors and actresses was a necessity. And after several more drafts that included a title change, Taco Soup was back in business.
With a new script came new characters. Taco Soup only has seven characters, which means seven actors. Two original Rum & Coke actors, Tim Hackbarth (Sam) and Chris Heeder (Jude), were able to stay on in their original roles. Another Rum & Coke actress, Wesley Harris (Natalie), went from playing a drunk party host to a lead role. The rest of the new roles were filled with relative ease, and the crew was able to resume production.
As production continued, most of the crew began to view their time working on the now-scrapped Rum & Coke as something of a practice. Most of the crew cites the start of Taco Soup production as when they become a full, well-working unit. As Familara puts it, "It's a really good crew! We're all just really gelling together and it's been really good and really tight. I think we're doing a-ok!" With one more day of filming left, members of the crew and cast were getting anxious to see the final project. They all prepared to finally shoot the conclusion of the film. But then, the world shut down.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on finishing Taco Soup cannot be overstated. It was a shocking, sad, and gut-wrenching way to end a year already filled with unprecedented challenges. It was one of the toughest decisions that director Familara had to make, but she had to cancel the last shoot day. That last shoot day was supposed to be dedicated to shooting the ending of the movie. Without it, we were left without an ending. Production on the film may have slowed, but scrappy as we all were, we began to brainstorm new ways to finish our film. After the dust settled, the crew was still determined to finish the movie. We worked with what was already shot, shifted footage to different parts of the movie, and even devised and filmed a new ending without ever having to be in the same room as one another. We even found a way for a familiar face, Sarah, to make an appearance in our movie!
Throughout the approximately eight months the crew of Taco Soup had to make their film, they were faced with countless challenges and obstacles. However, if anything, the entire process brought the crew closer together as classmates, professionals, and friends. Each time we were knocked down, we stood up and put our heads together to figure out a way to move forward. At the end of the day, we made a movie that they are extremely proud of, one that we hope you will enjoy. Stay safe, stay healthy.
The cast and crew of Taco Soup
Find photos and a documentary produced by Emma Griffin below: