Lily: A Look Behind the Scenes

With the release of Lily looming on the horizon this winter, it’s high time to explore some of the creative aspects behind its production! We recently released a video that talks about what went into casting the title role, as well as a little bit behind the thought process that brought the 1950’s environment to life. You can watch that video right here on Vimeo, but it can also be viewed on Facebook. The video touches on these things, but I thought it might be fun to go into a little more depth with an article.

The Story

Mary Anderson Pew Dormitory, where the legend was born.

Mary Anderson Pew Dormitory, where the legend was born.

What made us choose this as our story? Where did the story come from? This question isn’t so hard to answer, actually. The Lily story is very much inspired by a real legend at Grove City College in western Pennsylvania. Deep in one of the girl’s dormitories, there is a mysterious locked dorm room with thick dust under the door and cobwebs in its hinges.

According to legend, this dorm was forever locked when a girl committed suicide inside, and her ghost started haunting any occupants of her dorm room. The room was referred to as the “Lily Room” because supposedly the girl wore lily-scented perfume – a smell that never subsided since her death. In recent years, the popularity of this legend has declined somewhat, but historically speaking, the legend has remained alive in the cultural consciousness of the college – appearing several times in special Halloween reports in the college newspaper and so forth.

James (played by Jon Ousley) inspects the mysterious locked door, which is featured prominently in the film.

James (played by Jon Ousley) inspects the mysterious locked door, which is featured prominently in the film.

Of course, the details surrounding the legend can’t really be verified, and there are serious doubts that anything quite like this particular legend took place. However, the story was enough to capture the imagination of both me and Adam Pettis, who were roommates at the time we really heard about the legend. Both amateur filmmakers, we decided that we were going to dramatize aspects of the “Lily Room” legend. A major deviation to the legend occurred when we realized that the whole lily-scented perfume wouldn’t really work in a movie. After all, you can’t smell anything when you watch a movie! So to respect the “lily” roots of the legend, we named the girl herself Lillian – Lily for short.


 

Locations

Archival photos were consulted to place plants and trees that have since disappeared from the college campus.

Archival photos were consulted to place plants and trees that have since disappeared from the college campus.

Grove City College has a beautiful campus, and it was even more lovely back in the 1950’s. As such, it was really important to us to capture the feeling and look of the college from that time. We spent hours and hours of time researching exactly how the college looked in 1954, and then we spent even more time bringing that to life. We chose our battles carefully. Many locations on the campus are essentially as they looked in the 50’s, but we made sure we didn’t rely too heavily on such locations, as they weren’t all that visually exciting. However, convincing digital effects are had to do on a small budget, so we tried to find locations that would be noticeably different without jeopardizing our workflow or budget too terribly much.

A basic matter of principle is that Grove City College used to be a much more densely-wooded campus. There were trees and plants everywhere in almost every archival photo we looked at, so many of our digital alterations honor that.

Some locations are remarkably similar to how they appeared in the 1950’s, and one particular location that we really, really wanted to show was a place called “South Lobby” which is in Mary Anderson Pew Dormitory. This particular room has delightful wood paneling and retro tiling from the 1930’s, and has remained pretty much unchanged since its construction. We featured the location very strongly in an opening scene of the film, and it looks really beautiful.

We really liked the look of this location, so it features in several scenes of the film.

We really liked the look of this location, so it features in several scenes of the film.


 

Costumes & Makeup

Stanley (played by Lanze Heerdt)

Stanley (played by Lanze Heerdt)

Lots of research went into what a typical college student was wearing in 1954.

Lots of research went into what a typical college student was wearing in 1954.

Given the 1950’s setting for the film, accurate costumes and makeup were a must. To help us out with this, we had lots of archival photos, as well as a whole lot of yearbooks, so we could actually source specific costumes from actual students who attended Grove City College in 1954. For instance, the look of the Stanley character was especially sourced from actual students. We also had a very knowledgeable retro clothing hobbyist – Hannah Reem – who gave us a huge hand with clothing, makeup, and hairstyle information. She also ended up playing the part of Emma in the film.

It was important to us that we didn’t stereotype 1950’s fashion. Modern consciousness has a particular image of the 1950’s in their minds, and when you get into the reality of things, much of that image comes from the late 50’s, where fashion was a lot more flamboyant. In the mid to early 50’s, things were much more mundane – especially at backwater colleges. Our film tries to more realistically depict the era than we might at first imagine.

 

Valerie (played by Meagan VanTil) and her friend Emma (played by costume/makeup supervisor Hannah Reem)

Valerie (played by Meagan VanTil) and her friend Emma (played by costume/makeup supervisor Hannah Reem)


Is there anything else you’d like to learn about? If so, let us know in the comments, or on our Facebook page!