Student film production is hard. Imagine having to do an immense group project that meets over multiple months with at least 10 people involved. And that barely comes close to describing the difficulties present in working on any student production. A suitable location has to be booked, usually for multiple days. Scores of lines have to be written and memorized, and rewritten and rememorized. Hundreds of hours of footage must be meticulously edited, just to produce a few minutes of final film. Imagine doing all that, while still not failing out of your classes.
So I usually grade leniently when reviewing a student production, understanding that every student work is a laborious act of love made by people who feel the same way about film that I do. But the student-produced web serial “At Bay,” needs no such qualification. Created by Jay Moon ’17 and Katie Adams ’17, it can stand on its own as a complete work . It’s not perfect – it drags here and there – but it is quite thrilling and entertaining. And it’s one of the most accurate depictions of the Stanford undergraduate life I have ever seen.
“At Bay” is a techno-thriller in the “Social Network”/”Mr. Robot” vein. It revolves around four students and their lucrative(?) startup. Founder Felicia Elliot (Ellen Woods) is a type-A perfectionist who can’t produce a single, unforced compliment. April (Sarika Reddy) is her friend and co-founder – an intelligent young woman who begins to realize the superficiality of all her relationships. The ragtag-and-ramen-noodles Beatles are rounded out by Oliver (Ben Kaufman), their charming and smarmy CFO, and Seth (Elias Mooring), the company’s socially-awkward and self-doubting head engineer. Together they’ve created “Curate,” a photo-sharing app that could potentially make them rich — if they don’t royally screw up their release.
Adams and Moon’s writing is very well constructed. The story clips along at a steady pace, setting up challenges for the foursome which require energy and investment to be solved – only for new difficulties to emerge when they start to pull ahead. The depiction of Stanford startup culture feels incredibly accurate (certainly aided by the fact that Moon is actually a C.S. major). And a highly effective undercurrent of black humor runs throughout. The show makes one of its most effective critiques of the modern digital age when Seth refuses to have his photo taken at a party, as it might compromise his future chances of running for the White House. If anything, I wish this black humor was pushed further. There is something highly absurd about people with no life knowledge or social skills being entrusted with more money than most human beings will ever make. Hopefully, future episodes will do just that.
Moon’s direction is equally strong. Narratively, “At Bay” does not present a very pleasant depiction of Stanford. But visually, this is the best campus has ever looked – with Moon wringing unexpected amounts of beauty and menace from such common Stanford staples as the Dish, Hoover Tower and the Main Quad. The first episode never looks anything less than stunning. And Moon brings in some intriguing directorial flourishes with sound editing and montage which add a witty liveliness.
While some subplots or scenes feel extraneous, this is overall a very well-constructed, professional work – and it puts Moon and Adams on the map as two Stanford filmmakers to watch out for.
Episode One of “At Bay” is available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVrRjLxdrAs
Contact Raymond Maspons at raymondm ‘at’ stanford.edu