“Villanova On Set” Program Is Underway

Elena Rouse, Co-Culture Editor

Villanova on Set Program in Underway

By Elena Rouse


Lights. Camera. Action. Last Monday marked the start of the University’s annual “Villanova on Set” program, where a select group of students gets firsthand looks at the grit and glamor of working in Hollywood. 

Normally, the program takes place over the week of spring break, when students fly out to Los Angeles, spending morning to night visiting various sets, talking with different professionals in the field and reflecting on their various experiences. The program works closely with Disney and NBCUniversal studios but visits an assortment of places, including, but not limited to, YouTube Studios, Showtime, Hulu and Panavision. Panavision, a company that makes cameras, has formed a relationship with the school and now donates a high-quality camera to the media program each year.

There is also usually a reception, where past students come to speak to the current cohort and answer any questions about entertainment. 

This year, the program could not run as usual, due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, selected students were still granted the opportunity to participate in an online version of the program. Instead of a week-long intensive program, various Zoom sessions are taking place over the course of March and April, where students will still be able to meet with various entertainment workers.  

The program was founded and is led by faculty member and alumnus Dr. Hezekiah Lewis III, an award-winning writer, director and filmmaker who also heads the renowned social documentary course each year. 

Lewis created the program with the idea of connecting students to the multitude of Villanova graduates who worked in the entertainment industry. 

“Villanova has a roster of people who are in really prominent places,” Lewis said. “And [we] just went to these locations and saw how warm they were to invite us to be on their sets and how much time they wanted to give us.” 

Lewis, a California native and UCLA film school graduate, has connections of his own as well. With both Villanovans and Lewis’s connections altogether, Lewis saw a future for this immersion experience.

“Let’s try to create something that’s immersive, but also personal,” Lewis said, describing the vision for the program. “It’s good to understand the information about a business, but what about the people that run that business, or the people that are the driving force of those businesses and how do they get there? What is their story?”

The key component to the program’s success, Lewis noted, is the continued involvement of Jerry DiCanio. DiCanio is the Executive VP, Production Operations at NBCUniversal, as well as a Villanova graduate.

“Jerry DiCanio is the foundation of it all,” Lewis said. “If it’s not with him, there’s no Villanova on Set at all. We meet with him every single day.” 

Lewis explained further just how DiCanio’s passion for Villanova students in the program makes the program so special. During the week of the program, DiCanio starts the day with students, giving them breakfast and asking who they want to hear from. 

“If you want to hear from somebody that’s a showrunner in comedy, okay, I’ll get that for you tomorrow,” Lewis said, explaining how DiCanio works with students. “If you want to hear from somebody that’s a showrunner in drama, I’ll get that for you tomorrow. One person asked about diversity initiatives, and he brought the diversity person in the next day…It really comes off the interest of the students. That’s what great about Jerry because he’s such a key figure in that organization and he’s able to get anybody at the drop of the dime.”

Although this year’s setup will not grant the same opportunity for meet ups as Lewis described, DiCanio is still pulling for students. At the opening session, DiCanio not only answered questions himself, but also brought in NBCUniversal’s Head of Drama and Comedy, the head of UTV, the Head of Casting and the Head of Drama Development to speak to students. 

As for some of the other guests for this year, students also had an in-person event with composer Joe Trapanese, who has created scores for projects like “The Greatest Showman,” Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone” and “The Witcher.” 

Lewis is also hopeful that some people such as Mike Askins, HBO producer of “Mare of Easttown” and Brad Ingelsby, another creator of the show and a Villanova graduate, will do a panel, as well as a plethora of other entertainment individuals. 

  Lewis truly believes in the program and sees how this opportunity plays out for students.

“I see the pipeline working,” he said. “I see these students actually getting jobs, and these are the students taking advantage of these opportunities.” 

Though the entertainment industry is notoriously difficult, Lewis trusts in the process, relaying words of advice for anyone interested in pursuing work in the field.

“The biggest thing is to be passionate, hold yourself accountable and just be responsible,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that you don’t know the technical aspects of it all. I mean, I can teach a monkey how to hold a camera. I can’t teach him how to be passionate. You have to be passionate. You have to understand it’s a grind.” 

And all in all, “Just be ready.” 

Whether in front of the camera or behind, these Villanova students are very ready, and Villanova on Set’s glimpse into Hollywood is just what is needed for them to hit the ground running.