Northwestern becomes set of coming-of-age, alum-directed feature film ‘Year One’


Photo courtesy of Lauren Loesberg

Co-leads Elizabeth Yu and Emma Raimi (Communication ’21) film a scene in Deering Library on the set of feature film “Year One.”

Jenna Wang, Reporter

Just five years after Lauren Loesberg (Communication ’20) started writing the script of her feature film during the summer after her freshman year, her vision became a reality.

Northwestern became the set of “Year One,” a coming-of-age indie film where Ruby (Elizabeth Yu) navigates her freshman year of college and discovers it may not live up to her expectations.

Loesberg, who directed the film, said it is loosely based on events from her own freshman year, when she expected college would be the best time in her life.

“My whole high school experience was about getting into college. And then when I got here and I was really struggling emotionally and mentally, I was like, ‘What is wrong with me that I’m not having the best four years of my life?’” Loesberg said. “I wanted to make something that challenged these myths of what the American college experience was like.”

Across the film landscape, Loesberg said she noticed many coming-of-age movies are set in high school but tackle college-age problems.

Her movie particularly focuses on mental health, drawing on her own struggles throughout college. It took her years to talk about them and even more to show people the script, she said.

“I was embarrassed of showing people that my freshman year was really hard and that I was struggling,” Loesberg said. “The biggest thing I want people to take away is that if you are struggling with your mental health while in college, you’re not the only person.”

Emma Raimi (Communication ’21) who plays co-lead Selene, described filming on her alma mater as a “trippy experience.”

Given the pandemic’s disruption to her college experience, Raimi said, she missed being a student. Filming scenes at Kresge Hall, in particular, resurfaced memories of her listening to lectures in the classrooms.

“Now I’m getting paid to be in Kresge whereas the past four years, I paid to be in Kresge and be taught so it’s a fun one-eighty,” Raimi said. “It was bittersweet because I won’t be able to be a student here again, but I kept thinking of all the Northwestern instructors that would have been proud of me.”

“Year One” is the first feature film in which Raimi acts in a lead role. She said she enjoyed playing Selene, whom she described as a people pleaser and a reactive character.

However, she said it was challenging playing an insecure yet emotionally demanding character, as many of the scenes required her to be sobbing.

Behind the camera, producer Dasha Gorin (Communication ’18) returned to Evanston from Los Angeles years after she workshopped earlier drafts of the script.

After being immersed in the entertainment capital of the world, Gorin said she noticed how much more collaborative Chicago is in indie filmmaking compared to Los Angeles.

“It can be tricky to find people who are willing to help you out because they’re so used to the industry and they typically want to charge exorbitant fees,” Gorin said. “I feel in Chicago, the community is so much closer and warmer, and indie filmmaking is still a novel thing that people are excited to help out with.”

As with any film, Gorin described the inevitability of things going wrong with so many moving pieces. However, she said it was special to see the cast and crew exchanging numbers and forming friendships.

For Loesberg, wrapping up the shoot and seeing those new relationships gave her an immense sense of closure.

“In my head I’m still in college, even though I’ve been in the workforce for two years,” Loesberg said. “Now that I’ve made this film and have had the chance to say goodbye to Northwestern and the college experience, I feel that’s really helped me to move on to the next stage of my life.”

After fundraising and post-production, Loesberg and Gorin said the next step is to send “Year One” to film festivals with the hope it will be picked up by distributors for a theatrical release.

No matter the outcome, though, “Year One” has already proved to be a personally fulfilling experience for Loesberg.

“This has been my passion project for so long now, and it’s absolutely insane that we’ve shot it and that it happened,” Loesberg said. “I’ve been looking through all the footage and it looks incredible, so I feel I could not be happier.”

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Twitter: @jennajwang

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