Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Studio North: A creative haven for student filmmakers at Hopkins

By HELENA GIFFORD | April 11, 2024

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COURTESY OF KAORI TAYLOR

Students and hired actors involved in making Lin’s film Red Prior smile for a group photo while working on the film set. 

Hopkins is often, unfairly, considered a STEM-focused school. And yet, on an almost weekly basis, I have witnessed and been deeply impressed by students on this campus engaging in art that is endlessly creative, thoughtful and even experimental. Studio North is an organization on campus that I think very few have heard of. But for those in the know, it is a deeply passionate and close-knit organization of students who devote themselves to film and the craft of filmmaking.

Studio North is the only student-run film production company on campus, and this year they celebrate their 10th anniversary. They teach students how to make films and, every year, award two students grants to make their own short films.

Studio North is different from other film-related clubs and classes on campus because, rather than focusing on appreciating films, they give students the opportunity to actually make them. In an interview with The News-Letter, Studio North President Mia DeAngelo spoke about the unique role the organization plays in the film program at Hopkins.

“[In class], it’s a lot of learning and education, but you miss that hands-on, in-the-wild experience because you’re there with the teacher and [they’re] helping you out on your project. But when you’re on a Studio North set, if things are going to go wrong … it’s about addressing those problems as they come up, and everything that goes along with being on a set,” she said.

Senior Indi Aufranc is the production education chair for Studio North, and she is responsible for teaching students the technical skills they need to succeed on sets. She also organized the end-of-year set exercise, where students get to put their new skills to work by creating a short film piece. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Aufranc spoke about the value of the set exercise.

“A lot of these students are freshmen and sophomores,” she said. “And the goal is really just to get them comfortable being on set doing a bunch of different roles and using this equipment that feels very foreign sometimes.”

A big part of what Studio North does is create a pair of grant-funded films every year. DeAngelo spoke about some of the criteria the executive board follows when deciding which pair of students will win the grants.

“What we look for is something that’s super original and that we would love to be a part of,” she said. “Just something that has a really interesting perspective and that speaks to the perspective of the filmmaker as well.”

This year’s grant winners were senior Devin Andrada and recent graduate Sophia Lin, both students of the Film and Media Studies department. 

Andrada’s film, Cocaine to London, which he describes as being “part mockumentary, part kind-of-musical” follows a bassist in a punk band as she tries carve her own path in life — dealing with challenges like mental torment, stress and writer’s block. 

Some of his inspirations for Cocaine to London included tense, high-octane media like the television series The Bear and the movie Whiplash. However, his biggest inspiration was 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, which followed a metal band struggling to achieve success. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Andrada spoke about how his own frustrations with writer’s block during the COVID-19 pandemic inspired the film.  

“I [spent] like three years cooped up and, in those three years, I didn’t write a single thing. So the writer’s block was definitely hitting me,” he said. “I just kind of sat down and went to a park nearby, sat down and just decided to try to turn something out. And this was birthed out of my anger and frustration, intermingled with my love for music.”


COURTESY OF KAORI TAYLOR

Production on Andrada’s film Cocaine to London was challenged by a snowstorm that hit Baltimore during their week-long shoot. 


Lin’s film, Red Prior, is a story about a woman in prison who’s had to give up her daughter. Imprisoned, she passes the days in a monotonous funk until she begins to connect with another inmate. The film is about human connection helping someone through a seemingly impossible time — as she copes with both the loss of a child and the guilt of feeling that it was her fault.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Lin discussed the origin and thematic elements of the story.

“I wrote it for my intro screenwriting class, and I really wanted to explore this idea of self-forgiveness. And also to try to look at motherhood through a different lens,” she said.

Lin also spoke about her inspirations and her drive to create a female-centered narrative. 

“It was very much inspired by these gritty drama films that I’ve always loved, where there’s a lot of inner turmoil. People were in distress. But I felt that they were very often male protagonists, so I wanted to flip it and write a female protagonist,” she said.

COURTESY OF SOPHIA LIN

In Sophia Lin’s grant-winning film, Red Prior, a woman in prison must grapple with the guilt and heartbreak from the loss of her daughter. 


Junior Angala Rajasegaran is the programming chair for Studio North and, in an interview with The News-Letter, spoke about the challenges of planning the grant film premiere.

“We don’t necessarily have all the money in the world because we’re a student-run organization,” she said. “And also, we’re not a [registered student organization], so that definitely makes things harder for us. But every year we continue to persevere through all our limitations.”

She also spoke about why she hopes students will come to the premiere.

“[There’s] lots of fun reasons to come see the premiere. Get dressed up and take some photos! It’s a very unique experience that I don’t think we tend to get a lot of as a very STEM-heavy school,” she said.

Lin and Andrada could not have made their films alone. Behind them were amazing crews of student filmmakers and local actors doing tasks like organizing schedules and budgets, lighting the sets, recording sound, doing camera work, color correcting and sound mixing — there’s a mountain of skilled work that needs to be handled for a film to come together. It’s an intensely collaborative process, and maybe that’s why the community of student filmmakers at Hopkins is so tightly knit.

On film sets, anything can happen. When asked about some of their favorite moments and most memorable catastrophes, the students I interviewed all laughed a bit, before beginning their recounts of their best memories. 

DeAngelo talked about a time when, working as an assistant director on a grant film a few years ago, she worked on building a really efficient shooting schedule – only to realize at the last minute that all of the night scenes had been scheduled during the daytime, and all the day scenes scheduled for the evening. Quickly, they had to reconfigure the whole schedule, as well as beg the guys at Domino’s Pizza to change the time of their lunch order. 

Aufranc spoke with fondness about a time when, after filming a lot of scenes for a past grant film in a claustrophobic apartment, she got to go out on the last day of the shoot to a beautiful, open beach in Anne Arundel County to film the final climactic scenes.

Andrada recalled the joy of having the crew gather in a parking lot outside the Film Center to smash a stool to pieces to use as a prop. But also, the stress of being hit by a major snowstorm during their scheduled filming week, and their lead actress getting into a car accident on the first day of filming. 

So why do the members of Studio North put in so much effort to make these films? Because they love film, and they love the energy and excitement of being on set. In her interview, DeAngelo spoke about the motivation of the student filmmakers.

“It’s a lot of late nights. And it’s a lot of staying overtime to get it done,” she said. “But the reason why it works so well is because, even though no one has any professional experience, we all want that professional experience. And we’re dedicated to making these films happen, which just makes it a really amazing environment.”

So, even if you have no experience, if you’re interested in participating in film, Studio North has a place for you. Be sure to check out the grant films in their premiere on April 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the historic Parkway Theatre (which is within Blue Jay shuttle and JHMI shuttle range). 

Disclaimer: Sophia Lin is a former Arts & Entertainment Editor for The News-Letter. She did not contribute to the reporting, writing or editing of this article.


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