DePaul film school students came together during the pandemic to produce films.
In their freshman year back in 2020, Robert Nelson and Beck Nolan were roommates at DePaul, both studying in the School of Cinematic Arts. While they were working on a joint project, they wanted to produce it under a name that wasn’t “Beck and Robert,” so they created Paper Crown Pictures. From there, a production company founded by DePaul students in Chicago was born.
“We started thinking about the future a little bit, about how much we enjoy the production process, and how the production process is so challenging to navigate, especially for new filmmakers,” Nelson, now the company’s partner and operations director, said. “Someone who knows what they’re doing on your team will make the creative process a lot easier. We wanted to be that for people. We wanted to be that for DePaul.”
Nelson and Nolan wanted to find emerging talents at DePaul and give them a helping hand through the production process. Since then, their production company has expanded to include a marketing department, casting department and much more.
Although their venture started during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team says they were fortunate throughout their process.
“We were lucky to be able to move out and live in an apartment together in freshman year while we were online,” Nolan, now the company’s partner and creative director, said. “It was almost like, well, we know this exists, but we have the opportunity to be in person at school, so let’s take advantage of our resources.”
Nelson added that as high school graduates from the class of 2020, they were experts when it came to dealing with COVID-19.
“We were pretty fully adjusted to COVID. We graduated in COVID. We did almost a full year of high school in COVID,” he said. “So as a new production company, when we’re talking about what we have to offer you, we could immediately add to the list that, you know, we’ve only made stuff in COVID. We’re COVID experts when it comes to film.”
While Nelson and Nolan both fell into more executive producer roles as the founders, they found Emily Robinson, who is now a partner and the marketing director for the company.
Robinson started working with Paper Crown Pictures in summer 2021 after going through their Instagram and seeing their projects and potential. She took over their Instagram to create content that expressed the mission and voices of the company.
“I’ve really enjoyed learning more about filmmaking and all of the different roles, because once I better understand it, then I can communicate that to the people that want to work with us, and our audiences,” Robinson said.
As a marketing student, Robinson says she is still learning the process of filmmaking and is taking her own approach to showcasing it as well.
“I still feel like I’m a baby when it comes to this stuff, like these guys have been involved in filmmaking much longer than I have,” she said. “And as a marketing student, it’s a lot of trial and error and seeing what hits and what doesn’t with either likes or views or reception or comments, but obviously, we still want to showcase the work that’s being done.”
Robinson took the initiative of posting Instagram reels of what it’s like to be on set to showcase a behind-the-scenes look as a way of reaching out to new people and increasing engagement.
For a while, the company was just running, there weren’t super clear roles and they were jumping from one production to another.
“We were more of a well branded film team than anything else,” Nelson recalled.
In spring 2021, things started to change as the team decided to expand. They were able to get an official business manager who told them how to run things as a proper company, which allowed the team to learn a lot about the filmmaking process and themselves as a company. They became an LLC, which helped with having COVID-19 safety plans that would be respected by other institutions, purchasing rental insurance, getting equipment, city permits and other small things that became a much bigger deal in the long run. They expanded their team to include more women and people of color in leadership positions to better represent and include the diverse background of students in film.
“We went from doing one project every few months to having three projects running in a month,” Nolan said.
Those who have worked with the production company have only positive comments.
Junior Evan Showalter worked with Paper Crown Pictures on a few projects, including writing and directing the film “Ante Mortem.” He said working with the company feels very close knit, while also being able to expand to working on larger projects.
“Through Paper Crown I’ve been able to make my ideas come to life,” Showalter said. “It’s been wonderful.”
Junior Noah Keckler has worked with the company on multiple projects, which he says have always been a great time.
“They are such a professional and talented group whose drive to make quality films is unmatched,” Keckler said. “The films they have created and continue to create advance the standard of student short films to an entirely new level of professionalism.”
Senior Austin Tong, a current producer for Paper Crown Pictures, noted the company’s emphasis on hands-on learning.
“Paper Crown Pictures is an awesome student-run production company that allows students to collaborate and learn through hands-on full crew productions,” Tong said. “I’m having a great time meeting people in the community and also reaching out and bringing new people on set to experience the friendly and inclusive environment that the company holds.”
Others who worked with the company shared similar comments, emphasizing their professionalism, collaboration, and supportive learning environment.
In the past two years, Paper Crown Pictures has grown significantly. This past month, the production company held their first ever film fest event, co-hosted with DePaul Film Fatales in 14 East Jackson. On October 20, they held their first in-person premiere in the same building for their newest project, “More,” where they previewed the event by showing special features of the winners from the film festival. Since their start, Paper Crown Pictures has produced six films and one series and they continue to expand.
Header illustration by Madeline Smith