Women-led student film ‘The Obedience Project’ takes viewers back in time


Chris Medina

The cue for lights, camera and action to begin production on “The Obedience Project.”

Time, patience and passion is what drives the filmmaking process, film production major Shaylen Haller said. 

In her final semester at San Diego State, Haller has been working on her thesis project titled “The Obedience Project.” This film is inspired by 1950s and 1960s studio films and sitcoms. The film encapsulates a twisted 1950s simulation with test subject Mary undergoing a brutal experiment that molds women into becoming the ideal wife every man desires.

With being heavily inspired by ‘50s and ‘60s sitcoms, Haller shared her passion for her creative projects and the meaning behind her ambition. 

Film production senior and "The Obedience Project" director Shaylen Haller observing her set.
Film production senior and “The Obedience Project” director Shaylen Haller observing her set.

“My love for studio films, ‘50s and ‘60s inspired films, I’ve always loved the aesthetic of that and I really wanted to combine that with a social commentary type of film,” Haller said. “While I was writing this very extravagant high production value type of film, I found myself inserting my own experiences being a woman living a patriarchy to the story.”

Upon arriving in Studio C in Hepner Hall, cast and crew were ready for a two day filming period. 

“Film is a very hurry up and wait type of industry,” Haller said. “While you watch a ten-minute short film and you’re like ‘oh, this is so short’, it takes us days and days and days to make that for the most part.” 

Film and production fourth year and production designer Brittney Khansari was in charge of making the set come to life. From the set building to set dressing, Khansari worked with a team to help bring the project to motion. 

“This project was a time piece and so this is my first time ever actually building an actual ‘50s set,” Khansari said. “It was overall a challenge to have to get all those things, so finally looking at the set, it was really cool to be like ‘I did that.’” 

The hunt for mid-century inspired furniture and equipment started in summer before the fall 2021 semester began. A foundational part to searching for timepieces involves a good work ethic, attention to detail and research skills. 

“I think research is the foundation of a good production designer because you need a blueprint to go off from,” Khansari said. “You need to understand the time period you’re in and you need to know what you are looking for.” 

Connor Trees, production fourth year and director of photography, handled everything from the surrounding camera, to framing and all the imagery around the film.

“Since we’re basing it off a ‘50s sitcom, we were looking for very old, something more analog style,” Trees said. 

The '50s inspired set immerses the audience into the world of a mid-20th century sitcom.
The ’50s inspired set immerses the audience into the world of a mid-20th century sitcom. (Chris Medina)

The pre-production included story boarding, mood boards and looking at color palettes in order to establish the look and feel of the film. To replicate the 1950s sitcom feel, the crew used equipment to make the set feel more authentic to the time period. 

“So we’re using hot lights, which are tungsten lights, which use actual flames in bulbs to be able to light the set instead of LEDs and more safelights used these days,” Trees said. 

Along with a short time frame to film everything, something valued on set was communication and respect from one another. This project is primarily women-led, which is meaningful to Haller and the rest of the crew because of existing reputations of film being a male-dominated industry. 

“Over the summer, I really chose who I wanted to be in my group. Who could be the best representation of the story that I wanted to tell, who could relate to it,” Haller said. “So, about 80-90% of my crew is actually female which is amazing and I want to not only give opportunity to the women who have been quieted in the past, but let them tell their stories through the story that I have written.”

Kyla Harrison, film production fourth year and co-director, stressed that listening to one another and having beneficial communication on set determines the mood of everyone and creates a positive work environment. 

“Something that’s super important is listening and making sure you are asking the right questions as well,” Harrison said. “You have to make sure you are on the same page.” 

Check out the Emerging FIlmmakers Showcase film festival at the Don Powell Theater Dec. 14 and 15 for “The Obedience Project.”