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NewsOct 7, 2020

In ‘Stay,’ filmmaker James M. Del Ponte explores an unsettling ‘what if’

Recent graduate’s short film wins at IndieX Film Festival

Video: "Stay," a film by James M. Del Ponte ’20

By Georgia Sparling

Sometimes it isn’t monsters, evil aliens or supernatural serial killers that make the most terrifying subject matter for thrillers, it’s the stories that are so plausible they could happen to you.

For that reason, the plausibility of James M. Del Ponte’s short film “Stay” is as unsettling as it is memorable.

“It is a story about a young girl who has to live with the guilt of accidentally murdering her older brother,” says Del Ponte ’20, a digital filmmaking graduate.

Scene from "Stay" - a man dressed as a priest at an altar with video cameras visible
A scene from "Stay," James M. Del Ponte's award-winning senior project

We won’t spoil the twist, but let’s just say it packs a punch. Judges at the IndieX Film Festival agreed and award Del Ponte the Best Thriller Short for August 2020.

“This was the first time I had ever gotten anything like that,” says Del Ponte, a native of Somerville, Massachusetts. “I really hadn’t expected to win because there were so many great films up there in the festival pool.”

Del Ponte created “Stay” for his senior thesis, but it wasn’t his first thriller. Previous productions include one in which a girl finds herself stuck in a loop where time slows. In another, the scene opens on a character who is having his teeth extracted one by one.

James M. Del Ponte sits on a step smiling at the camera
Filmmaker James M. Del Ponte

The young filmmaker hits record

As a kid, Del Ponte didn’t start out making scary films. Instead, he documented the quotidian activities of his household, often standing on a chair to get a bird’s-eye view of his family as they traversed the house. In high school, Del Ponte began delving into horror movies. He names directors Wes Craven, David Lynch and James Wan as favorites.

James M. Del Ponte behind the camera on set
James M. Del Ponte records a scene from his senior thesis film.

While he takes inspiration from these directors, Del Ponte can’t say exactly where the germ of an idea originates. Once a concept for a film pops into his head, he thinks about it for a while and then starts developing an outline and finally a script. With each film, his ideas become bigger and his work more in-depth.

“Stay” was his first opportunity to work with a full cast and crew, many of them fellow filmmaking students. Once the pandemic eases, Del Ponte plans to start a new project, longer and with more locations than those he has made to date. Don’t be surprised if it’s spooky and has pandemic themes.

“I can see it creeping its way into some creative endeavor in the future,” he says.