Hollywood returns to GCU for film's premiere on Thursday

Producers, the film's director and some of the film's stars will be on campus Thursday for the Grand Canyon University premiere of "Identity Crisis."

Lights! Camera! Action!

About 150 Grand Canyon University students and alumni will see the fruits of their work during the purple-carpet premiere of “Identity Crisis" 7 p.m. Thursday at GCU Arena, an event that will be preceded by a student-focused Q&A session with writers/producers and the film's director. Another Q&A with the audience will follow the screening.

"Identity Crisis" was filmed on campus in January 2022, and GCU served as the location for every scene in this comedic, sci-fi story.

Students' contributions and the cooperation of GCU wasn't lost on writer/producer Alexandra Boylan.

"I want to make every movie at GCU," said Boylan, marveling over the willingness of students to learn various duties and their eagerness to pursue a film career.

The family-friendly movie, which follows a college science whiz in her efforts to clone herself, has been a springboard to launch students interested in the entertainment business.

The film's stars, twins Scout and Sophia Tayui-Lepore, as well as Finn Roberts and Laura Leigh Turner, will attend the premiere. And before the screening, the principal creatives – Boylan and her sister Andrea Polnaszek, also a writer/producer, along with director Shari Rigby – will answer questions about filmmaking at a Q&A for students at 3 p.m. in Ethington Theatre.

“There’s inspiration available for any student interested in working in Hollywood," said College of Arts and Media Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler, alluding to more than 100 students who worked as extras and about 50 who served as production assistants and even in accounting. “We need business majors in the entertainment business, as well as arts and media majors.”

After the production wrapped, Rigby hired GCU student Hannah Watts to assist on her next project for PureFlix, "Divine Influencer" in the Atlanta area, Boylan said. Other graduates were employed to work on the feature thriller “Condition of Return” and the western “Far Haven,” Detweiler said.

“It illustrates the power of relationships," Detweiler said. "Networking is so strong in the entertainment business."

Screenwriter and producer Alexandra Boylan will speak at Q&A sessions before and after the screening.

GCU alumna Rachel Schumacher can attest to the importance of gaining experience and networking.

Schumacher's work in "Identity Crisis," she said, "set me in a pool of professionals that helped me grow tremendously both during and after filming wrapped." 

"I made it a priority to make lasting connections while working on this film – and have gotten to work with many of them again," Schumacher added. "As a freelance filmmaker, you rely heavily on recommendations from your peers, and I have been blessed to receive a great deal of projects from that group. 

"The best way to network on a job site? Being someone other people still want to stand next to after an exhausting 12-hour day."

Diamond Benjamin, a senior, gained experience in production design, costume and talent assisting during "Identity Crisis." She also picked the brains of the professionals regarding their respective departments and meeting the challenges of the "fast moving set life" and maintaining connections with them.

"Working on the 'Identity Crisis' set really lit a fire under me to pursue my career in making impactful and entertaining films," Benjamin said.

“Refuse” will serve as the appetizer to "Identity Crisis." The short film documens a Korean-American man trying to shake his image as a drug addict to a skeptical congregation. It will be screened at 7 p.m. today in Room 157 in the College of Arts and Media.

Detweiler said "Refuse" and "Identity Crisis" are GCU’s equivalent to this summer’s box office hits of "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer."

GCU students were cast as extras in "Identity Crisis."

“You have two Christians in Los Angeles who have made a scary film about spiritual realities, and the next day we're hosting filmmakers from Hollywood coming in with the premiere of 'Identity Crisis,'” Detweiler said.

“This cinematic double feature represents the two sides of Scripture. There's plenty of scary stories in the Hebrew Scriptures of broken humanity, followed by the aspirational fulfillment found in Christ. And the Christian story starts as part of a horror show but moves toward a divine comedy in the end.”

The timing of the showings sends a message to students in the second week of the fall semester, with "Refuse" serving as a cautionary tale about addiction and its consequences, followed by "Identity Crisis" and the message that we are fearfully and wonderfully created by God.

The biggest opportunity for students, however, is interacting with the filmmakers visiting the GCU campus and following the advice President Brian Mueller gave to first-year students at Chapel this week: show initiative early and don't wait until well after the semester has started.

Director Shari Rigby (center) will be on campus for the screening.

"It's great to give people their start," Boylan said. "And then to see them parlay it. Their energy was great. I love seeing so many (posts) on Instagram with their names on the movie credits. President Mueller understands going to film school is great, but you need to get on a film set first. GCU helped us with anything we needed."

That included one scene filmed at GCU Arena, where shooting initially was delayed until the vibration of weights ceased, Boylan said.

"GCU is a game-changer," Boylan said.

Detweiler said GCU has about 400 film majors and minors on campus, and meeting executives on campus could provide them with at least a semblance of clarity on the future of the industry during the SAG-AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and WGA (Writers Guild of America) strikes.

“It's more important than ever for students to think about alternative means of distribution for both financing and distribution,” Detweiler said.

He wants the College of Arts and Media to build a community in the same manner as GCU, with a group of artists and storytellers that provide the foundation for three “CAM” pillars:

C – Creative collaboration

A – Authentic storytelling

M – Mission-minded

"There's space to pursue whatever your calling may be,” Detweiler said. “Performing in front of the camera, or telling the story from behind the camera.

“It takes everybody's skill to make a movie.”

GCU senior writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: 'Identity Crisis' movie casts campus in starring role

GCU News: New dean brings diverse background to Fine Arts

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