Short film made by Newhouse students accepted to Garden State Film Festival

Television, radio and film sophomores Toby Aronson and Kiley Herlihy made the film last spring as first-year students after their COM 117 class was suddenly taken online by the COVID-19 crisis.

During the second semester of their first year at Syracuse University, students Toby Aronson and Kiley Herlihy were getting ready to produce a short film for professor Corey Takahashi’s COM 117 class when COVID shut everything down.

“Toby and I both decided we wanted to do the best we could given the circumstances,” says Herlihy. While she was at home in Connecticut, and Aronson was in New Jersey, they had to think creatively in order to write and produce their class assignment.

“Our first meeting was more about COVID than our actual work, and we thought, ‘Let’s do something with our fears,'” says Aronson. Based on that idea, the two wrote “The Messenger,” a short film that imagines a dystopian world where the masses are manipulated during a pandemic. The film has two parts, each played by Aronson and Herlihy.

“We both had cameras, which was really lucky,” says Herlihy. “We wrote it so that only one of us had to be in a scene at a time. We each filmed our own parts in our own houses. [Aronson] sent me the files of her recordings and I edited it all together.”

When Aronson’s mother suggested they submit the final product to the Garden State Film Festival, the team decided to go for it.

“We wanted to see,” says Herlihy. “We really liked it, we were proud of what we made, but we were also freshmen and didn’t know anything about what was good or not.”

A few months later, they received the news; the film had been accepted to the festival.

Takahashi expressed pride in their accomplishment, especially given the circumstances.

“Toby and Kiley pulled off this project during an absolute depth of uncertainty—just a few weeks into the very first round of pandemic lockdowns,” says Takahashi. “Back then, none of us thought this would last for a year, though I did encourage students to make the most of the fact that they were living through an undeniable moment in history.”

Even though the festival might have some accommodations for people wanting to go in person, Aronson says she and Herlihy plan to attend the event online.

“For Christmas, I got a projector, so I’m going to plug in my computer and have a screening,” says Aronson, who plans to have Herlihy over for a socially-distanced celebration. “We’ll make it special.”

The Garden State Film Festival runs March 23-28.