He runs away, her car dies, they dine and dash—a brother and sister bond through misadventure in an alum’s first film.

Lana’s 12-year-old brother, Ronan, appears at her apartment on a Friday night with only $1.16 and some cigarettes he stole from their mom. Lana is frustrated that she has to cancel plans with her friends to take him home, but as she and Ronan bond through a series of misadventures (her car breaks down, they dine and dash), her anger fades. Ronan sneaks into a bar to use the bathroom, and while Lana is waiting outside, one of her friends appears. Though he is charming, she tells him “I’m here with Ronan, my little brother…I really like spending time with him,” and she’s surprised to realize that it’s true. This is the pivotal scene of Megan Lovallo’s short film, Off to the Races—and it was almost never made.

Lovallo (CGS’10, COM’12) wrote and directed Off to the Races for her senior thesis at Boston University’s College of Communication. Though the film received positive feedback from her professor and classmates, Lovallo felt that it was “lacking” somehow. After graduation, she returned to the film and added the pivotal scene, replacing a quieter moment in which Lana stares at her reflection in the mirror of the bar bathroom.

“It’s a short film and I was trying to convey a lot of emotions in a short amount of time,” Lovallo says. “The original scene didn’t have an obvious emotional shift. When she interacted with her friend, it was easier for her to project emotions.” Lovallo gave her actors the freedom to improvise the scene, resulting in a conversation that feels realistically awkward, during which Lana’s face registers joyful surprise in the discovery that she actually likes her little brother. “I think Lana and Ronan were lonely characters in the beginning,” Lovallo says. “They found each other in a way that made them both more full.”

The trailer for Off to the Races

Though Lana and Ronan have established a strong friendship by the end of the film, Off to the Races leaves their paths unresolved. The credits begin to roll as they walk off down the street; the camera doesn’t follow them home. We never learn why Ronan ran away from their mother, or why Lana seems so lonely. The realization that a film could end with unanswered questions is what drew Lovallo to filmmaking in the first place—ever since she saw The Graduate at age 14. She was captivated by Mike Nichols’s classic film, she says, because “when Benjamin and Elaine ride off on the bus at the end, you don’t know what happens next. I remember the end hitting me like a freight train: I felt like, ‘I want to know more, but I appreciate why they did this!’”

Megan Lovallo won first prize at the 2013 Redstone Film Festival for her film Off to the Races. Photo by Katherine Taylor

Lovallo’s love for film didn’t translate immediately into a career. She had never met a filmmaker, and “didn’t think it was a realistic choice to have as a profession,” she says. “That sounds so stupid because you should follow exactly what you love to do, but I didn’t know what film studies meant.” It wasn’t until she was a freshman in Boston University’s College of General Studies that Lovallo began to consider studying film. “We read philosophical essays and stories, and I related them to movies, because in CGS you watch films on a monthly basis. I naturally progressed into the College of Communication.”

At COM, Lovallo began to turn her passion into a career direction, starting with Off to the Races, which went on to win first place at the 2013 Boston Redstone Film Festival and 2013 LA Redstone Film Festival. Off to the Races was also selected for screening at the 2013 Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, and was the Official Selection for the 2013 Centre International de Liaison des Écoles de Cinéma et de Télévision (CILECT) prize by the International Association of Film and TV Schools.

Lovallo is now an associate cinematographer and editor at Long Haul Films, a film production company that covers commercial work, weddings, and documentaries. The four-person start-up was just named Best Wedding Videographer in Boston magazine’s Best of Boston 2013 list, and Lovallo thrives on the new challenge of working with clients. “The films I shot in school and on my own time were just for me,” she says. “I was happy with the way they came out, and I was thrilled when other people responded well. In this case, we’re working with clients to make them happy, and their positive feedback makes me want to keep going.”