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Student film produced at DePaul’s Indie Studio set to premiere at Heartland International Film Festival

Director Linh Tran and faculty producer James Choi discuss ‘Waiting for the Light to Change’

Young people look at the sky on a pier in Michigan in the film 'Waiting for the Light to Change'
DePaul alumna Linh Tran wrote and produced the film "Waiting for the Light to Change" with an all-student crew. The film will debut at a festival in October 2022. (Image courtesy of Linh Tran)
In the age of digital cinema, student filmmakers are ready to launch big stories with small budgets. Faculty filmmaker James Choi created the Indie Studio at DePaul with this goal in mind. This month, School of Cinematic Arts alumna Linh Tran will premiere her film “Waiting for the Light to Change” in-person and virtually at the Heartland International Film Festival, through Oct. 16.

Entry into the fest qualifies films to be nominated for Academy Awards. In this Q&A, Tran and Choi talk about what it was like to make this film, and how the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic turned into opportunities to write and create something new. 

Tell us a little bit about Indie Studio and how it supports small budget films.
James Choi: DePaul’s Indie Studio started in 2017 to teach and inspire students to tackle the ever-changing landscape of the digital revolution in the film industry. We explore the shift in the process for a new generation of filmmakers coming out of school. The School of Cinematic Arts finances the micro-budget production and shepherds students through the whole process from development, production, post and distribution through workshops and classes.

Linh Tran: The concept is really brilliant because it teaches young filmmakers like us that if we have a story to tell, we can do it with very little money. All it takes is everyone's commitment and stamina.

What is the film selection and production process like for Indie Studio? What have been some of the outcomes?
The selection process has many factors including experience, story, sensibilities and a keen understanding of producing micro independent films. “Waiting for the Light to Change” is our third film, and this year graduate students took part in addition to undergraduates.

The first film produced out of Indie Studio, “Sun King,” played at festivals and was distributed through Film Hub in 2022. Just recently it has become available on Tubi, Xumo, Lookhu and Amazon. We’re excited for Linh and her team to share their film with the world.

LT: Because we were a crew of students and were all learning, it felt like a weird form of liberation. It was up to us to create whatever we believed in. James and the school were supportive of our crazy idea to write a brand-new script and shoot it quickly, without much control on their end other than safety protocols. That was the most helpful and encouraging way DePaul helped our production. 

What inspired the story for “Waiting for the Light to Change?”
LT: When we started writing the script, I had just come back from a Friendsgiving trip to New York. I did a lot of reflection on myself and my relationship with my best friend and others (especially after losing 30 lbs. during COVID, like the film’s main character). At the time, I also was reading The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, which revolve around a complex lifelong friendship between two women. All of these became inspiration and, eventually, material for “Waiting for the Light to Change.” 

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the production of the film?
LT: Initially, SCA had a few scripts that they’d optioned for us to choose from, and I picked a coming-of-age story. However, COVID-19 broke out shortly after the pitch, and everything got shut down. In 2021, we wrote a whole new script. The first draft of “Waiting for the Light to Change” was finished in January. A couple of revisions later, we shot it.

Because of COVID-19, we bubbled ourselves during production. There were 15 of us living in this small town of Port Austin, Michigan, in isolation while filming for a month. It was honestly both very fun and very tough at the same time. The film feels so intimate because of this. I am very happy with the performances in the film, and I think it was a result of the relationships between myself, my crew with the cast members, and their relationships with one another.

Linh, how does it feel for the film to be out there?
LT: I’m really excited to show it to a live audience and also my crew. A lot of them haven't seen the finished film yet. I'm also really nervous about it. But, at the end of the day, I know my cast, crew and I did our best to carry out what we believed in.

Learn more about the in-person and online screenings at the Heartland International Film Festival online.