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Indie filmmaker reels in students for sci-fi thriller shot at ASU

Students land key jobs on movie project as Herberger Institute program gains notice

October 11, 2017

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2017, click here.

“The Nutty Professor” (1963), “A Star is Born” (1976), “Jerry Maguire” (1996) and — coming soon — “Rhea” (year TBD).

An in-production feature film is joining the ranks of those in which Arizona State University’s Tempe campus has had a co-starring role.“Rhea” is setting itself apart from its predecessors in a unique way, however; a way that is putting ASU’s young film program into focus.

The film, a futuristic sci-fi production from Arizona filmmaker Robert Conway, marks the first outside film production to involve the participation of ASU students in key production roles including assistant director, script supervisor, production manager, camera operations, editing, wardrobe and set decoration and extras.

Sixteen ASU film students participated in the filming of “Rhea” in the summer of 2017 under the supervision of Assistant Professor Jason Scott of ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Shot over 23 days on and around ASU's Tempe campus — and other locations around the Valley — the film involved students working 12-hour days in the heat of Arizona’s noted summer months for an experience none will soon forget.

“No other film program has so successfully and consistently integrated undergraduate students into key positions on professionally produced feature films,” Scott said. “There are many one-off examples of small groups of students from a school getting to work on a feature — and some have graduate programs that fund feature films and offer experience to graduate students on those sets — but there is nothing equivalent to this ‘teaching hospital’-type model in the world of film and media education.”

That model appears to be working and is getting noticed as an industry incubator. Online trade publication recently ranked ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre — one of the fastest-growing film programs in the country — at No. 35 on its list of the Top 50 Film Schools of 2017. The publication highlighted the program’s features including student access to the state-of-the-art Sun Studios soundstage and internships via ASU’s Film Spark career accelerator program, which produced the movie “Car Dogs,” “Justice Served” and “Postmarked.”

ASU's film program also boasts a connection to newly minted Oscar winner David Breschel. The ASU alum and USC graduate film student produced this year's Academy Award winning student short “Mammoth,” directed by Ariel Heller of USC.

Created just outside the margins of the Film Spark program as a non-ASU-originated film project, Conway's “Rhea” internship offered a first-of-its-kind experience for ASU students in terms of working with an outside filmmaker — and left a strong impression on the seasoned director and screenwriter.

“I wanted to make sure the students were getting what they needed out of the project,” Conway said. “It was interesting because by the end of the second week, they were like regular crew — they had jobs, they understood what they were doing — and this was not an easy shoot. These were six-day weeks and long days. It was a lot to put on the students, but they were really dedicated. I told them at the beginning that I can’t promise you that you’re going to have fun all the time, but I can promise that you will learn a lot.”

And they did.

Lynzie Robb, who is majoring in film and media practices, served as a script supervisor for Conway’s “Rhea.” She said working on the film and other coursework has made her all the more excited to venture into the world of film production knowing how many jobs there are behind the scenes in pre- and post-production.

“I feel like I have had a really enriching experience learning about film,” Robb said. “After this internship, I feel like I am a little more prepared for what to expect on a film set. I feel much more ready to jump into the water.” Robb, who will graduate from ASU in fall 2017, has her eyes set on working in editing and script supervising after graduation.

Samuel Maupin, a senior majoring in filmmaking practices, had the opportunity to tackle several roles on the set of “Rhea” both behind the scenes and in front of the camera — even performing a little stunt work as an extra. Having gained what he described as an “in-depth experience” with the “Rhea” internship, Maupin said he felt like the film program at ASU keeps getting bigger and better every year.

“It’s really great how much the professors put into this program and how dedicated they are to their students,” Maupin said. “There may be some other schools that have a lot more resources and funding than we do, but I think the family-oriented environment at ASU helps create success for the students.”

After graduation, Maupin says he wants to work with some local production groups that he hopes will open more doors for him in film. He and other students earned college credit for their participation in the internship.

Citing the school’s available resources in the way of building architecture, camera equipment and production talent, Conway says he is happy with his decision to partner with ASU to make his movie at the university and encourages other filmmakers to do the same.

“It was definitely a team effort; it was a joint production for sure,” said Conway, who has been making films professionally for 20 years. “Between myself, another friend and the school, we were able to cover all of our equipment needs with very little need to rent additional gear.”

Conway encourages students to take full advantage of the programs and resources offeredStudents and faculty can get an up-close look at some of courses and resources offered through ASU's film program through a series of workshops on Herberger Institute Day on Oct. 12. through ASU’s film program.

“Write as many scripts as you can, shoot as much as you can, edit as much as you can and learn as much as you can. That’s going to pay off for you,” he said.

Described as a young-adult, campus take on HBO’s futuristic fantasy series “Westworld,” “Rhea” — whose producers include ASU instructors Jason Scott and Chris LaMont — is in post-production.

Conway’s film credits include a number of horror and sci-fi thrillers, including “Redemption,” “The Encounter,” “Krampus: The Reckoning,” “Krampus Unleashed,” “Breakdown Lane” and “The Covenant.”

Behind-the-scenes “Rhea” shoot photos by Jamie Ell/ASU

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