What would happen if a 13-year old, home alone, found a gun as she’s searching through her bathroom drawer looking for a tampon? A coming-of-age story commenting on gun-ownership responsibility gives more questions than answers in a seven minute film called “Triggered.”
Senior film studies major My Linh Tran, alongside her entire cast and crew, debuted her final short film thesis “Triggered,” at this year’s Film Studies showcase. Tran’s thriller is about 13-year-old Abby who finds a gun in her home when looking for a tampon during her first period. However, the young girl’s curiosity has repercussions that leave the audience shocked at the final scene.
“Triggered” stars Greencastle resident Dale Dye Thomas as Abby, DePauw Theatre’s costumer Caroline Good as her mother Kathryn, and Greencastle resident Logan Warren as her friend Ryan. Next to Linh, the lead crew of ‘Triggered’ is Producer, senior Katelyn Utz, Cinematographer, junior Jarius Pierre-Toussaint, Assistant Director, junior Greisy Genao, Production Designer, first-year Kaitlyn Root, Grip/Gaffer, senior Jeremy Boyd, and senior Jerald Parks as the composer.
The genesis of “Triggered” began in the summer of 2016 with the movie “Léon: The Professional” (1994), a crime drama starring Natalie Portman. “Before forming the idea, or the script, I wanted my film to have something to with with that movie,” Tran said. “It’s actually the starting point of me trying to generate the idea for a short film.”
“Triggered” is not Tran’s first short film, as she produced a few short films during her junior year. However, Tran said her past films have fallen short on the storytelling, that is, until “Triggered.” “Filmmaking is a visual art, but it’s all about storytelling. If you can’t tell the story, you fail,” Tran said.
In the fall semester of Tran’s junior year, she began writing the screenplay for “Triggered” in Communications and Theatre Professor Ron Dye’s class: Writing for the Stage, Screen and Television.
When beginning to propose her screenplay to the Film Studies program, which determined her film studies senior thesis, Professor of Communication and Film Studies Seth Friedman and Tran discussed the different types of narratives she could take when constructing “Triggered.”
“We talked from the beginning about what it means to be a filmmaker without the pressures of profit-driving artistic decisions and whether or not she should try to adhere to conventions of Hollywood cinema or take the opportunity to depart from it,” Friedman said. “I think that was really the driving [force] for everything she did in the film to a certain extent.”
Friedman says the theoretical scholarship Linh has been studying in his classes has influenced her work in production. “When you see the links between the films she’s been studying...it’s obvious that they are--pardon the pun--bleeding into her work as a filmmaker, even if it’s not conscious,” Friedman said. “What she’s been fascinated with as a scholar is really enriching her as a filmmaker.”
Pre-production of “Triggered” began during the fall semester of her senior year, where Tran was finalizing her screenplay, beginning to construct the visual story, and lining up her crew. She took a break from the project during Winter Term before starting production during her spring semester.
Despite the challenges with fundraising for “Triggered,” the film’s budget goal was met completely. “One thing about Kickstarter [a fundraising site] is don’t expect strangers to give you your money, it’s all your friends and family. Your family members will be the biggest supporter of whatever you do,” Tran said. “I felt truly loved and blessed by the community.”
Professor Ron Dye said that location scouting in Putnam County brings many challenges and opportunities. “It’s a challenge to find places to shoot, but I think one of the wonderful things about it is it makes people be creative,” Dye said. “That’s one of the marvelous things about film is that you can edit things in such a way, and dress them, so that locations become something different than what they are in real life.”
Tran said that the role of the director is much larger than directing the film, as she is also the screenwriter and overall organizer of the crew for “Triggered.” “The most important thing the director does is bring talents together,” Tran said. “You’re the author yes, but you’re not only the person who is in charge of the visual or the vision...you’re [also] in charge of everyone’s emotion.”
Producer Katelyn Utz agrees with Tran that a successful production relies on keeping everyone involved. “We have an incredible group of people, but getting people to the level of being emotionally involved, it is difficult,” Utz said. “You have to be fully invested in something that is so intimate, especially with a story that is so emotionally impactful.”
Tran and her crew edited “Triggered” in post-production after spring break. Parks composed the film’s score and sound effects. “You have to come up with a theme for the film, but it has to match it,” Parks said. “Linh wanted something that was very subtle, in the background...so I had to find a melody that didn’t take your attention away from what you were watching.”
Tran says “Triggered” differs from many films students see because of its complexities in storytelling. “It’s [‘Triggered’] not a typical film because it’s about too many things. It’s not clear cut, it’s not very crisp,” Tran said. “It’s about media representation, family dynamics, gun violence, it’s a coming-of-age story—it’s everything.”
Tran went on to say that the film’s complexity is interesting because it can reflect the realities of daily life. “The fact that it’s a lot of things is not a bad thing,” Tran said. “In real life it’s not just about one thing, we deal with a lot of stuff at the same time.”
Friedman said that “Triggered” isn’t your average student film because it surpasses usual expectations. “You hear the term ‘student film’ and it usually sends shivers up your spine,” Friedman said. “That isn’t the case here.”
Dye said that “Triggered” is an opportunity for students to see the further potential that one assignment may have past the required curriculum in a class. “I think it’s really worthwhile to [see] something a student has done...and then continue...developing it into something that is way beyond the scope from the original assignment,” Dye said.
The Film Studies senior showcase is a just the beginning for Tran as she is planning to attend graduate school for film studies and production next year. She hopes to continue telling stories when she moves past her undergraduate career. “You know what they say, do what you love, love what you do. It’s so cliché,” Tran said. “But I know I like the idea of creating, creating something.”