by Chandler Christopher

December 18th, 2021

Halcyon Days is a short film written and directed by 21-year-old, independent filmmaker Sophie Penn. With immense teamwork between Sophie and her two best friends, Arora McCargar and Maria Raad, the trio was able to crowdfund over 20,000 dollars in only 30 days to make Halcyon Days. Arora worked as the producer of the flick while Maria worked as the director of photography. Each of them have very unique skill sets, backgrounds, and cultures which created a natural synergy between them to make this project happen. The three met while attending Syracuse University’s film VPA and Newhouse programs, and the trio will be returning shortly to finish out their degrees.

Based in West Texas, the movie is a little slice of life, with the creators inviting viewers to let themselves fall back into adolescent naiveté and idealism. A coming-of-age drama, Halcyon Days follows two young teenagers, Stella and Rye (played by real-life acting couple Kylen Chen and Paul Grant), who meet online and quickly fall in love. When a dramatic incident happens between Stella and her parents, she and Rye make the impulsive decision to run away and escape their home lives. The two embark on a three-day escapade across West Texas with the aim of starting a new life together. However, tensions rise when Rye begins displaying unstable tendencies, and Stella begins to second guess everything. An unconventional romance, Halcyon Days explores the implications of love in this dark fiction on young relationships. 

I am lucky enough to be best pals with all THREE of the wonderful filmmakers behind this project, so I sat down with them in late November to discuss all things Halcyon Days and a little bit more… Sophie, Arora, and Maria are pioneers in their field and are carving a way for all young, female filmmakers by showing that if you work hard enough and stay present, you truly can accomplish anything… Additionally, during the shooting of the film (which wrapped December 6th), I got the pleasure of housing crew members and my best friends Robby Shaffer and Charlie Hane… So I wanted to quickly shout out those talented gents and say that seeing them throughout the 4 days they were on set made me realize how HARD it actually is to make a movie. It’s high-stress and takes acute mental toughness and resilience, so that was really cool to get a sneak peek of… Check out Happen Twice’s Q&A with Sophie, Arora, and Maria below and learn more about the movie and how to watch it here!


Q:  Sophie– when did you write this film and why?

Sophie:  I first wrote the script at the beginning of August. My schedule freed up with my media company taking a temporary pause, so I was craving a project. I had the idea about six months ago, so I wrote out a full script which took me about two weeks. I had already worked with Arora and Maria so much, so it was a great fit and time to make it happen. The story itself is based on a past relationship of mine. Rye represents the tipping point for going out of the environment that is comfortable.

Q:  Where does the name come from?

Sophie:  We went through a few different names… Arora came up with the name Halcyon Days. The word halcyon is meant to describe nostalgic feelings, which could be misleading but is accurate because the movie will cause viewers to look back on their younger self. 

Q:  Tell me about the crowdfunding experience… How did y’all make that happen? How many donors were there actually? Were there a few people or a company who made up a large chunk of the fundraising?

Sophie:  We ran our Seed and Spark for a 30-day chunk of time to raise our target goal of 17,000 dollars. We raised 18,099 on just Seed and Spark and after 3000 was given to us by outside donors. The budget rounds out to about 20,000 dollars for the movie.

Arora:  We had heard about seed and spark and we realized it was perfect for us. We made a content page, our social media, and started posting and pushing the movie. We also brought another production office assistant on to help us with graphic design and crowdfunding development. Sophie went to LA to promote the project and to build connections in LA for general advice and mentorship about making the movie. A big part was planting seeds in people’s heads before the official launch and once the actual launch happened people already knew about it. 

Q:  Tell me about what previous experience (voyager, school, Netflix job) you have and how that has helped you get to this point and prepared you to really go out there and make a movie? What do each of you bring to the table personally?

Sophie:  I’ve always done a lot of writing, like journalism in high school, articles in that sense. At Syracuse, I always acted as the writer-producer-director for our student films. For those student films, we made one larger movie when I was a sophomore. I got to experience my first time producing my own full movie. When I moved to Austin, some friends and I started a media company, formerly known as Voyager, in which I acted as a producer and director for a lot of the projects. Where I really flourished was the business side, but I helped a lot with the production. Contacting clients, making business connections with communications is what I was able to really refine. All three of us got to act and produce in the 48 hour San Antonio film festival and ended up winning that competition. All of those experiences made me realize that I could take on the role of directing and producing Halcyon Days.

AroraThe main reason I believe that I was brought on was because of my experience with crowdfunding. I knew how to produce a crowdfunding page which really helped us in raising the funds for the movie. Producing-wise, Syracuse Newhouse TRF classes have helped with being able to give development notes, production logistics, and skills like that that I learned in Syracuse. I’ve had a lot of practice in production management and creative production. 

Maria:   Before Austin, I had worked as director of photography for a lot of shorts and indie stuff. That allowed me to start getting comfortable with a camera. As a VPA major at Syracuse, I’ve gotten professional experience on cameras. I’ve worked a lot with Sophie before, but we hadn’t gotten to really do any narrative stuff until moving to Austin. When we moved to Austin, we got to do some commercial stuff with our media company which gave me some really valuable experience. Eventually, I got a Job with Netflix working for the show “Twentysomethings: Austin.”  I got to work as a camera assistant and I got a lot of industry and technical experience that is now able to be combined with creativity to be the director of photography on Halcyon Days.

Q:   The movie hops right into this intense sort of relationship with little to no context in the beginning. In what ways will the movie provide that context for how they have this very intense relationship when just meeting each other in person for the first time?

Sophie:  Their dialogue infers that they are invested in each other. The level of comfort they display together shows that trust is established and then, in a way, it’s up to the actors. Casting will significantly affect this entire film, and it’s really cool because our two main characters are already in a real relationship. If they weren’t dating, we would’ve had to do a chemistry test with the two actors to make sure that they could actually demonstrate closeness together. 

Q:  What is the plan/big hopes for the festival circuit? How does that work? What’s the ultimate goal for the movie? To reach streaming platforms?

Sophie:  We really hope to turn it into a feature film. I don’t want to just make a movie and win a couple awards and then be done with it. I very much want it to be a feature. Throughout this process, I’ve been learning how to get grants to enter film festivals and receiving credentials from certain societies and organizations to legitimize the film and give it credibility. Applying in the spring and summer to hopefully be selected for the fall to be part of a film fellowship which would allow for feature film funding and excellent connections within the industry.

Check out Halcyon Days and support artists by following them on their socials linked below! :)