Andrew Migliori Discusses ‘Donner Party: The Musical’

by Naomi Laeuchli

Andrew Migliori, who has previously discussed his successful Kickstarter campaign to fund his senior film project ‘Donner Party: The Musical’, talks about filming the movie, working on location and the challenges of working on a musical.

How did the finished film compare with your initial vision?

Andrew Migliori: One of the most important things I’ve learned about the filmmaking process is that you should never expect your film to come out as you planned. I had all these grand plans for a musical number that would take place on working covered wagons and it seemed so clear to me how to do it and have it shot. Unfortunately, I came to realize how impractical it would be to arrange and I quickly came up with the alternative version which is now in the finished film—a dream sequence on a beach! The idealized film in my head was loaded with all sorts of crane shots and fancy steadicam sequences, but the final film is much more grounded, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. In the end, the greatest challenge is being proud of what you’ve made, and I am absolutely proud of everyone’s work on the project. You can see a trailer here.

What was the experience of filming on location like?

Andrew Migliori: Every time I’ve filmed on location, I’ve told myself that I wouldn’t do it again. There are so many considerations from sunlight to the passage of time that just make it a grueling and exhausting process. Though I’ve done location work before, this shoot really took the cake for difficulty. We were lucky enough to have the full cooperation of Moultonborough Academy in New Hampshire, and were undisturbed in our three-day shoot that generally went from as early as 7 AM to as late as 2 AM the next day. I was also looking for really authentic winter conditions, but when the weather on the first day ended up being nine degrees, it became clear what I was up against. I was truly blessed to have a cast and crew that stuck it out through our own harsh winter. Frankly, I’m just glad no one ate each other.

Did you find that there were any special challenges to filming a musical?

Andrew Migliori: There were plenty! It already requires absolute concentration to watch a take and focus on how well the actors are doing while also keeping an eye on the other technical aspects of a scene. With a musical, the choreography tends to be much more involved than typical blocking, and you have to direct the actors as usual, but also make sure they get all the lyrics correct and still hit their marks. It’s a lot to juggle, especially with a barebones student crew, but it’s really a pleasure to watch a fantastical world where people sing instead of talking unfold before your eyes.

What is your favorite part of the finished film?

Andrew Migliori: Without giving away any spoilers, my favorite scene is easily the climatic song called “I Want Your Body.” It’s equal parts horror and comedy, as evidenced by the double entendre title. It takes place at night in the frostbitten woods and was beautifully lit and shot by my friend, classmate and DP, Paul Bertolino. It’s at often times a breathless scene, with very clever lyrics that help alleviate some of the tension. The scene features magnificent acting from the two leads and is so much fun to watch any time it’s on.

What are your future plans, both for the film and for yourself?

Andrew Migliori: I’ve submitted the film to some film festivals: RI International Film Festival (my home state), Sundance, and LA Shorts Fest. They are pretty major festivals so I plan on using them as a gauge for how well-received the film is, while also looking out for more appropriate niche festivals. If it does well at any of them, I plan on submitting to even more and seeing where it takes me! While that is going on in the background, I am also doing some job hunting. There are some opportunities here in Rhode Island, but I recently had a very successful interview with Prologue (, and I plan on following up with them for opportunities. I’d love to be able to work from RI, but I will go where the opportunities take me!