Lights, camera, action: A student filmmaker’s creative productions

By A. Oishii Basu, Staff Writer

Madeline Blair speaks with a sunny demeanor, dressed in all black in a square-cut top with sheer ruffled sleeves. Her arms have dainty tattoos placed strategically and, at a thinking pause, they stop to play with the golden pendant on her necklace. 

She sits upright with her hands in a passionate whirlwind, not unlike the series of events that led her to her filmmaking career.

Blair, senior in LAS, is majoring in creative writing and is now directing her second film, “Inner Child.” 

In her time here, Blair became the artistic director of the Penny Dreadful Players, the oldest theater group on campus, and co-produced her play, “The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory,” for the Players’ annual 10-minute play festival. 

“The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory” takes place in a waiting room after death and before the beyond, and an unlikely pair sit impatiently in the room.

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Writing “The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory” Blair pulled inspiration from seeing her boyfriend’s high school production of a play called “Rhynochetos jubatus” by Ari Kelo, a University alum. Blair acquainted herself with Kelo and said they were the first person to show her the University campus.

Blair and Kelo are now co-writing a film called “girl in soil.”

Blair said her other inspirations fueled her desire to fill “The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory” to the brim with motifs, referencing “No Exit,” “Grendel,” “Heathers” and “Beetlejuice.” 

When Penny Dreadful Players’ festival was canceled, Blair went about showing “The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory” in a new route. 

“I wanted to sort of immortalize it and still work with my cast,” Blair said. “So I dove into making it a film. And I had on-set experience from acting and films, so I felt pretty confident, but I had never directed anything before.”

Starting production on “The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory” Blair found collaboration in many places. She reached out to Illini Film and Video and found Baiwen Xu, the film’s director of photography, Arjun Panickssery, the film’s production assistant and Daniel Song, the film’s audio engineer.

They filmed inside her studio apartment, creating a black box theater out of bed sheets for their set. 

Entering postproduction, Blair said she ran into trouble finding a sound editor.

“A friend of a friend reached out to me, because I posted on Instagram, ‘hey, I need a sound editor,’” Blair said. “And then a random person emailed me and there was like, ‘hey, like, my friend forwarded this to me, and I would love to work on it.’ And he was a U.K.-based film student.”

Blair said sound editor Will Stephens is the biggest constant between “The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory” and her upcoming film, “Inner Child.” 

“Inner Child” focuses on Lydia, a girl who enters college without mourning a recent tragedy and finds herself stuck in a nostalgia-based nightmare.

Blair said her background in acting has largely informed her approach to directing in a film format. 

“Being more actor-driven too as a director … having all these different creative avenues bleed into each other, I feel like it makes it so much more fulfilling,” Blair said. “You can pull from so many more angles.”

Blair said her poetry has worked its way into her films as well. Blair published “Halcyon,” an amalgamation of her poetry from years past in 2020. The work sold out at the store Art Coop, Inc. multiple times. 

“Two or more people have talked to me after working on ‘Inner Child’ and they said, ‘I’m reading the script, and you directly influenced me, made me want to be more creative in my writing and made me want to be more poetic and stuff in my work,” Blair said. “I was like, this was the biggest compliment in the world.”

Blair said the narrative structure of “Inner Child” is very similar to “The Waiting Room, or Eggs in Purgatory” in the sort of emotional crescendos and weird surrealist experimental light.

In both films, Blair finds comfort in the surreal. 

“I think it comes from the poetry thing, like you write from a very abstract, imagistic, metaphorical place when you’re doing poetry,” she said. “Applying that into a visual medium, having weird dialogue, things that are unsettling, really encapsulates specific feelings that are otherwise very intangible.”

 

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