It was a scene you wouldn’t quite expect in October, but there it was: the Montclair State University’s Red Hawk Diner decked out for the Holidays and festooned with gleaming faux snow.
A car full of festive revelers pulls up and they pile out under the glare of bright production lights and studio cameras.
But they’re not students: They’re paid actors shooting a professional commercial for NJ Lottery Holiday Scratch-Offs — just one of many professional productions to film on campus and work with the University’s Broadcast & Media Operations facilities and services.
“The University is rich with a wide variety of locations for commercials and film projects,” says Patricia Piroh, director of Production Services and Technology for BMO in the College of the Arts.
“We have a diner, Mission revival-style buildings, traditional-looking and contemporary dorms, indoor and outdoor pools, a fully-functioning newsroom, film and TV studios — including the only fully integrated 4K studio available for rent in the Metropolitan New York area — athletic fields, you name it,” says Piroh.
Requests for filming cross Piroh’s desk regularly as she serves as point person for production companies seeking access to the campus, while providing real-life experience for students studying broadcast production in the School of Communication and Media.
“I see our services as an enhancement for those seeking to use the University as a location for their film or TV project,” says Piroh. ”Because College of the Arts and Broadcast & Media Operations understand the needs of film projects and the flow of how securing locations happens, we have been able to streamline the process, and provide on-the-ground support. We coordinate with parking services, facilities, campus police and our administration to get the required permissions for shoots, so film producers don’t have to. This makes production at the University very attractive. If you have a need, we can fill it.”
As a result, Montclair State has developed a bit of a reputation as an East Coast Hollywood. “Montclair State is widely acknowledged as the leader among all universities in New Jersey in its engagement with the burgeoning film and television industry here,” says Daniel Gurskis, dean of the College of the Arts. While many are seeking location shoots at the University, Gurskis says this has led to off-campus opportunities as well, such as “placing students on production crews for films like Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.”
Whenever possible, Piroh reports, Broadcast & Media Operations involves students as part of the crew: ”I view location production activity on campus as an extension of the academic experience for students in the School of Communication and Media.”
With the NJ Lottery Red Hawk Diner shoot, Kiler Weir ‘20 served as a production assistant for both Broadcast & Media Operations and the film crew.
“Working with the very talented professionals who produced the NJ Lottery commercial, I learned many things that I could have never learned in a classroom,” says Weir. “It was incredible watching the crew transform the diner into a winter holiday scene. Everyone wanted to be there and it made the whole experience one I would do again in a heartbeat.”
It’s not just that Montclair State has great locations, says Piroh. “We also provide expert service, and we have talented and eager students.”
“It’s a win-win-win.”