"Masked," Short Film Made With Students During Pandemic, Debuts Online

Monday, December 21, 2020
Actor, wearing a mask, looking out the window

Of all the activities that have been curtailed as a result of the pandemic, live performances have continued to prove among the most vexing for many arts organizations.

Projecting one’s voice without a mask, through singing or as a stage actor, is unfortunately exactly the kind of activity that can put people at risk for contracting the virus. Add an audience indoors, and it’s a recipe for potential spread.

Matthew Schmidli, MFA, assistant professor of theater, wouldn’t let the pandemic stop him from providing his students an opportunity to make and share their art with the University community.

The pandemic actually turned out to be a source of inspiration, providing the backbone of the story for a short film made with a cast and crew of students under COVID-era restrictions. Masked, directed by Schmidli, follows a group of bank robbers who take refuge in a storefront in the midst of the pandemic and premiered on streaming platform Vimeo in November. Though only seven minutes long, the film says a lot through its characters about both the pandemic and current society as a whole. And it almost didn’t happen.

“We had a few other ideas, mainly a beautiful script written by Jason Arthur (Ph.D., associate professor of English), but none of which we thought we could film safely,” Schmidli said. “Masked came to me, hilariously, while I was taking a shower.”

The switch from stage to celluloid did mean a change of pace for some of the students who helped make Masked. Kathleen Watz, a senior who plays one of the bank robbers in the film, said she was more accustomed to stage acting, having been in theater productions since eighth grade, and had to adjust to the more subtle stylings of film.

“I did not have to worry as much about projecting my voice or making grand gestures like I do on stage because on camera it would look ridiculous. It was much closer to real life, which was really interesting and different,” she said.

Shot inside a building adjacent to the University campus, the compressed schedule for the film — it was filmed in one long day — along with the need to observe COVID-related restrictions such as social distancing meant an unusual experience on set, Schmidli said.

“First off, we couldn't eat on site, so we had to take a longer break than we typically would. And no snacks,” he said. “We also had to use lavalier mics because we didn't have time to boom each person individually due to safe distancing.”

Each decision forced other decisions – for example, using those individual lavalier microphones (which each actor wore under their mask, pointed at their mouth) resulted in scratching sounds on the recording that had to be fixed later. Schmidli said the students — both in front of the camera and behind the scenes — handled each challenge with professionalism.

Though she couldn’t help but wonder what the final product would look like, Watz said Masked exceeded her expectations. And, at a time when it seems there are so many roadblocks to creativity, being able to take part in an activity she loves made for a special experience. Being able to share it, despite the pandemic, was even greater.

“We worked very hard and wanted to give the Rockhurst community something to see and let them know the arts are still here and that a pandemic might change things but we will still be creating art,” she said.

Warning: Masked contains adult language.


MASKED from Matthew Schmidli on Vimeo.