J. Mitchel Reed, left, directs Emma and one of its main actors, Simon Paluck, far right.

J. Mitchel Reed, left, directs Emma and one of its main actors, Simon Paluck, far right.

They’re not even finished production, but a group of Ryerson students has already accomplished more than its members could have hoped for with their final-year film project.

Emma, written by and starring Simon Paluck, is the story of a cancer patient named Emma who meets a young man (Paluck) and introduces him to a community of teenagers living and coping with the illness.

At a recent fundraiser for the film, the team was able to raise $6,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Canada. The team started working with the foundation because the film focuses on similar themes of cancer in youth. However, most of the film’s funding comes from personal investment of the team’s behalf and donated money from an Indiegogo campaign.

The film is one of the biggest assignments for Paluck and his colleagues, who are all in their fourth year of radio and television arts school of media at Ryerson. The film began as a seemingly straightforward project, but evolved into much more.

“We wanted to make sure (that) our final practicum project (raised) awareness for childhood cancer,” said Paluck. “We really just wanted to do something with it. We didn’t just want to make our final project, wash our hands and say, ‘that’s it.’”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” added director J. Mitchel Reed. “We had a unique opportunity to partner with this charitable foundation that helped us raise money to make the film as well. It was like a tandem thing. We wouldn’t have had the money to make this film without Make-A-Wish partnering with us.”

In the film, Paluck plays Jayson, a student who is sent to write a story about the rumoured pregnancy of the captain of the school’s dance team, Emma. He learns that she has cancer, and the two form an unexpected friendship.

For Paluck, the film is based on real-life circumstances.

“One of my good friends — she does have cancer. I remember when I was first pulled into that world, it was not what I expected,” he said.

Paluck says that while “chemo, hair loss, and death” are associated with cancer, that’s only part of the equation. Reed agrees with that sentiment.

“I think the message underneath all of this stuff about people meeting and letting go, is that life is sad. But just because something is sad, doesn’t mean there can’t be happiness as well,” said Reed.

But for now, the project is still a work in progress. The film is still in production, with less than a week of shooting left on the schedule. Reed, who had stayed up with his editor until 4 a.m. the night before he met with The Ryersonian, acknowledges there is still lots of work ahead.

So far, he is thrilled by the results.

“It was the last scene we were shooting in the hospital. And there’s just a moment where everything comes together, and the shot was so good, and the performances were just right on. Perfect. Everything was perfect,” says Reed.

“Those moments are for me why you want to make movies.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 27, 2013.

David graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2014.