Alumnus Calen Coates (’18) had the idea in mind for his recent film Wrapped during his senior year of high school. Once he came to study at Biola University’s Snyder School of Cinema and Media Arts, the script and production grew from a short film to a full feature length film. The film, now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, is a coming-of-age comedy about a girl searching for her stolen birthday present. It’s the first-ever student-made film to be widely distributed on a streaming service.

The film, according to Coates, was an enormous undertaking. The days spent filming totaled 17, with shoot days racking up to 12 to 14 hours each. The film was originally Coates’s senior thesis in high school, which he adapted into a longer feature film during his senior year at Biola for his final senior thesis project. Coates became the director and writer of Wrapped, and was joined by alumna Rachel Valente (’20) as producer.

“I was naive enough to think that if we were able to film my 35-minute long high school thesis film for $3K, then I could definitely film a 90-minute film version of the same story [for] $9-10K,” said Coates. “To give a reference for just how little $10K is, I recently edited a 60-second TV commercial that had a budget of $15-20K. But I wrote the script anyway, and I outlined the proposed $10K budget.”

The film cast and crew endured long days and nights with high heat while filming. However, spirits remained high on set while shooting the film.

“Nobody was paid, and each of our locations graciously allowed us to use their property for free. Biola also lent a helping hand through the donations made by SGA and CMA's support through equipment and studio space,” said Coates. “After two weeks of overnight shoots and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears we wrapped production on July 27, 2018.”

After wrapping Wrapped, Coates spent a year and a half editing the film, but wanted more people to see the feature he put time and work into. He worked with Amazon to get his film on Amazon Prime during the first couple months of quarantine earlier this year.

“I'm so proud of the work everyone poured into the film, and watching the movie with friends on Prime is such a gratifying experience. Although I naively hoped at the outset that this film would launch my directing career, that's rarely how these first projects work (nor is that what God had in mind),” said Coates.

Coates recognized the large task of directing feature films, and said that he wants to step back into directing when he feels ready. He is currently working as a video editor and post supervisor at the video marketing company, Rob Wiltsey Creative Partners.

During his time at Biola, Coates learned under the direction of Professor Dean Yamada in courses such as Visual Aesthetics and Advanced Directing. Yamada spoke highly of the process behind Wrapped.

“As a director, it also takes vision because you’re materializing something that only existed in your imagination and now is being realized — shot by shot — by a group of collaborators.  Calen and his team exhibited this skillfully,” said Yamada.

Yamada remarked on the ever-changing world of film distribution with the development of Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

“Securing distribution is the goal for any filmmaker, but it’s particularly sweet for a group of undergraduates who did it for the love of the craft,” said Yamada. “More and more movies are forgoing traditional theatrical distribution and premiering on streaming platforms.”

Although Wrapped was the first Biola student film to be widely distributed, Coates is hopeful for more Biola Snyder School of Cinema and Media Arts student films being distributed in the future.

“I know for a fact Wrapped is just the beginning of student features being created through Biola. "Space Waves" and "Rubaru" are two Biola features that also filmed in summer 2018 and are in the process of finding distribution, and with the expanded facilities and faculty support I think future students will have the chance to accomplish even more than I did,” said Coates.

Learn more about and apply to the Snyder School of Cinema and Media Arts. Watch Wrapped on Amazon Prime Video.

Written by Sarah Dougher, media relations assistant. For more information, contact Jenna Loumagne, assistant director of media relations and strategic communications, at