Pale Moonlight Cinema’s (PMC) crew of about 50 Ball State students and alumni gathered at the Horrorhound Weekend Film Festival September 2019 in Indianapolis to view the debut of their fifth short film, “Popsy.” 

For many, it was the first time they’d seen their adaptation of the Stephen King short story from start to finish. 

Since then, the film has been featured at six other festivals and is halfway through its scheduled screening tours. 

“Popsy” was nominated for at least eight awards and won five awards at national and international film festivals.

Buried Alive Film Festival, Atlanta
Official Selection

Halloweenapalooza, Ottumwa, Iowa
Official Selection

Horrorhound Weekend Film Festival, Indianapolis
Official Selection

Independent Horror Movie Awards
Best Original Concept (NOMINATED)
Best Short (NOMINATED)
Best Special Effects (NOMINATED)
Best Writing (NOMINATED)
Best Twist (WINNER)

Optical Theater Fest, Rome
Official Selection
Horror Icon: Ted Raimi (NOMINATED)

Terror in the Bay Film Festival, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Official Selection
Best Actor (NOMINATED)
Best Featurette (NOMINATED)
Best Supporting Actor (NOMINATED)

Zed Fest Film Festival, Los Angeles
Official Selection
Outstanding Producing (WINNER)
Outstanding Directing (WINNER)
Outstanding Acting - Alex Dunning (WINNER)
Outstanding Acting - Ted Raimi (WINNER)

So far, “Popsy” has won five awards — four of which its crew received at the Zed Fest Film Festival in Los Angeles for outstanding producing and directing and two for acting. It also won the Best Twist award at the Independent Horror Movie Awards.

“Popsy” tells the tale of a desperate gambler who picks up “the worst child possible” to sell into child trafficking in order to pay off his debt, said Jac Kessler, the Ball State alumnus who directed the film.

PMC obtained the rights to film this horror story through King’s Dollar Babies program, which allows film students to make short film adaptations of some of King’s stories for as little as $1.

In addition to all the recognition, Kessler said there were a few obstacles that made the film one of the more memorable ones for PMC, particularly the “brutal” weather, which delayed filming for about four months.

“You can blame Stephen King, it’s his fault — he had a lot of outdoor stuff,” Kessler said jokingly. “In trying to stay true to the adaptation, yeah, it’s his fault.” 

Despite the weather delays, the crew, which was much larger than any previous PMC crew, persevered and completed “Popsy.”

First Assistant Director Abigail Urbik said “Popsy” is “the biggest and the grandest” film PMC has ever produced since the company made its first film in 2015. Half of the crew was comprised of Ball State alumni and the other half Ball State students.

“We involved many of the Ball State students, so they could have their name on something that was a great project and a great learning tool,” Urbik said. “We like to help the younger students kind of get their swing into some other roles that maybe they’ve never tried before.” 

The number of students working on the film, she said, posed a challenge for her because she had to schedule filming sessions around everyone’s schedules.

“It was definitely a challenge, but it is my favorite thing to do, so it wasn’t so much a job for me as it was something fun,” Urbik said.

This is the movie poster for the film "Popsy," directed by Ball State alumnus Jac Kessler. The film is an adaptation of a short story by author Stephen King. Pale Moonlight Cinema, Photo Courtesy

Graduate student Jordan Flora, who operated the boom microphone, was one of the Ball State students who worked on the film. It was her first time working on a film with PMC. 

“It was a wild ride, I think, from start to finish,” Flora said. “I’d only ever done things that were student projects, and I’d helped with some independent studies for students, but this really felt like a full-blown, huge production just because the crew was so large, we had so much gear and it just felt incredibly professional.” 

Flora added that the student films she worked on were also professional, but this production “had a different vibe.” 

“I was very shy at first, but that quickly changed because it very much felt like a family by the end,” she said. “We had late nights together, long hours, and it’s kind of impossible not to make friends in that environment.”

The purpose of making a film like “Popsy,” Kessler said, was to help convince investors to help fund PMC’s potential feature film projects. He said funding is always an issue when it comes to making films. 

“Popsy” cost PMC between $25,000 and $30,000 to make. Kessler said about $17,000 came from PMC’s Indiegogo page, and the rest came from the crew’s personal funding. 

“I think the film says, ‘Look how talented everyone is,’ and that was our purpose in making it — to then say, ‘If you give us additional funds, we can do even more,’” he said. 

Kyle Benham, the film’s producer, spearheaded most of the crowdfunding efforts, which he said were successful due to the “finesse and personal touch” the team put into it. 

“So many crowdfunding videos are just people sitting in front of their laptops, and we took the time to shoot basically like a short film every time we put up a new video,” Benham said. “I think that really went a long way in showing the people how much time and effort we were willing to put into this project.”

“Popsy” will air at the Nevermore Film Festival Feb. 28 through March 1 at the Carolina Theater in Durham, North Carolina. Kessler said he entered the film in about 50 other festivals that will take place throughout 2020 but hasn’t received confirmation from any of them.

While most of their other films are posted on their YouTube channel, Kessler said, the crew will not be able to release “Popsy” because of the contract with King. But, Kessler also said there is a small possibility that if King views and likes the film, Kessler can negotiate a limited release. PMC is preparing to send the film to King now.

“We hope he likes it,” he said. “We think we stayed pretty true to his original story.”

Contact Hannah Gunnell with comments at hrgunnell@bsu.edu or on Twitter @hagunnellNEWS.