Tuesday, Aug 31, 2021
This summer, a production company used Rider for locations on upcoming movie
by Adam Grybowski
Rider University has always been in the business of producing successful alumni. As of this summer, it’s also in the business of assisting independent movies.
Over two weeks in June, Rider hosted Mountain Muse Productions as cast and crew shot an upcoming feature film called Stargazer. The production housed its crew on campus during the shoot, hired students, faculty and alumni to work in front of and behind the camera, and used locations like Moore Library, the Bart Luedeke Center, and the Science and Technology Center as shooting locations.
“This was one of the best experiences we’ve had with our students,” says Dr. Barry Janes, a professor of Film and Television. “I don’t know of any other college that can offer this kind of opportunity and this kind of professional filmmaking experience to recent grads and current students.”
Dr. Shawn Kildea, chair of the Department of Film and Television, wants to bring more productions like this one to Rider. “Our department is fully committed to providing our students with more engaged learning opportunities like the Stargazer project," he says. "We will be working aggressively to bring professional film and television projects to Rider’s campus so our students can work and network with industry professionals as they learn.”
About 10 Rider students or current alumni were featured in the movie or worked in real roles assisting the production, including as camera operators, media managers and production supervisors.
Victoria Francesca Grisanzio ‘21, a recent graduate of Rider’s film and television program, was offered the position of production supervisor within a week of graduating in May. Having previously worked on film sets as a student, she expected the position to include an intense amount of work. Regularly working about 12-hour days, she was not disappointed. But she found that the camaraderie and purpose brought the crew together, creating real bonds she hopes may lead to more opportunities in the future.
“It was such a fulfilling experience,” she says. “I really enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. It was a great team that was great to learn from.”
Thematically, Stargazer is based around the life story of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who among other accomplishments discovered that stars are mostly made of hydrogen. Her role in the discovery was obscured for many decades, as the male-dominated field of astronomy ceded credit to a male scientist. The movie frames Payne’s story around a contemporary female student who faces similar challenges and the possibility of history repeating itself.
Setting the production of Stargazer in Lawrenceville probably wouldn’t have happened if not for another movie making project that took place last year. Following the cancelation of Rider’s Semester in Los Angeles program due to the pandemic in 2020, about two dozen students embarked on the creation of a professional film alongside the mentorship of industry professionals. The students were involved in every aspect of filmmaking, from script writing and location scouting to shooting and acting.
The professionals involved in that production were instrumental in bringing Stargazer to Rider. "We jumped at the chance," Janes says. "Moving from the classroom directly into a professional environment epitomizes the engaged learning opportunities that Rider has to offer."