One of the five films produced by Brown Motion Pictures this spring, “Persimmons” uses an unconventional metaphor to portray how love endures complicated changes, according to director Lydia Riess ’24. The film, alongside four other student productions, screened at BMP’s Spring Premiere Thursday, May 4.
An intimate, slice-of-life character study, “Persimmons” follows characters Maggie and Ryan as they prepare to move away from each other and wait for the unspoken yet inevitable deterioration of their relationship. As the two struggle to come to terms with their fading feelings, Ryan becomes fascinated with Japanese dried persimmons — hoshigaki — and perfecting the drying technique. The film depicts the tensions that Ryan’s newfound fixation incites in his relationship with Maggie, drawing a parallel between their love and the gradually drying persimmons that begin to intrude upon their lives.
Riess, who also wrote the film’s script, said that “Persimmons” was based on personal experiences: watching her father attempt to make hoshigaki in their home and reflecting on her parents’ relationship at the time.
“When I was wanting to write a screenplay, I was thinking about that, and what container — what story — would the device of persimmons be effective for,” Riess said.
While “Persimmons” may be a quiet film action-wise, its strong emotional weight still made it challenging to shoot. Riess, having a background in theater, had to adjust to the more segmented nature of film production.
“Having these breaks between weekends and trying to get footage that will carve out the right emotional arc once it’s all put together and keeping track of how everyone should be feeling at each moment (were things) I found personally challenging,” she said.
According to Riess, looking for chemistry between actors was an integral part of the casting process. She aimed to cast actors whom she could believe were a real couple.
Teniayo-Ola Macaulay ’25, who portrayed Maggie in the film, comes from a similar theater background as Riess. She said that acting in the film allowed her to bring complex character nuances and interpersonal relationships to life on screen.
“Maggie is very different from any of the other characters I’ve portrayed,” Macaulay said. “She lets (things) simmer for a while and doesn’t really act until much later.”
Macaulay said she specifically sought to portray the “great amount of love (Maggie) has for her partner,” as shown in her willingness to let him “sacrifice her time.”
Spending time as Maggie allowed Macaulay to appreciate the film’s realistic depiction of relationships and the multifacetedness of its characters.
“I’ve been finding that (Maggie) is human. All these characters are all human … they have quirky and goofy sides to them,” she said. “They (have) little moments … where their love shines through.”
Behind the scenes of Maggie and Ryan’s up-and-down relationship, the crew of “Persimmons” worked to create a set where the film could flourish. Filmed over four weekends entirely in Riess’s apartment, “Persimmons” demanded that particular attention was paid to small, everyday spaces.
Anahis Luna ’25, who worked as the film’s production designer, said she considered the positioning and significance of every object when planning the overall layout and design of props on set.
In addition to “using color as a main component,” Luna and her team “focused on small props and very minute details, (and) being able to rationalize their placement narratively,” which was something she had never directly worked on before.
“You have to think about why a character would use (an object), and even if it seems like such a small component, you have to rationalize its use and placement within the frame itself,” Luna said.
Luna revealed that the crew actually had trouble sourcing the film’s central prop — persimmons. With production occurring right when persimmons were globally out of season, it was difficult to secure the fruit for the film. As a result, the team improvised, using various other fruits and vegetables — such as apples and bell peppers — to recreate the look of persimmons at different stages of drying.
“That was our biggest obstacle,” Luna said. “I’m glad we were able to resolve it and (now) it’s such a fun story to be able to tell.”
The constraint in filming space also offered a unique shooting experience for the crew. Producer Will Havens ’25 said having just one location allowed them to “do a lot with cinematography and lighting.”
“The fact that it was all set in one apartment, which happened to be the apartment of the person who wrote and directed the film, (also made) everyone feel very comfortable,” said Head of Production Jake Srebnick ’25. “There was a great sense of community that we built.”
According to Srebnick, the crew for “Persimmons” worked in a rotational cycle to accommodate the limited space available in Riess’s apartment. “We tried our best to strike a balance between making sure everybody had an educational experience without being pushed together.”
Reflecting back on their work this semester, the cast and crew of “Persimmons” hopes that the film’s message about accepting human flaws and transitions in life shines through to audience members.
“A theme that college students deal with a lot is relationships falling apart, or you having to leave another person for no reason that’s in your control,” Havens said. “It can be a very difficult thing. I hope that people resonate with that.”
Riess also hopes that “Persimmons” will allow people to acknowledge their imperfections and what it means to be human and to love.
“There’s value in communicating openly and transparently with people, but humans are so bad at doing that,” she said. “We don’t do that and aren’t inclined to do that. I want (the audience) to feel however they feel and take whatever they take.”
All five films produced by BMP this spring can now be streamed online.