One of the cornerstones of a Southwestern education is giving students real-world experiences and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. From working with faculty on research projects to assisting a film crew, the University offers many high-impact experiences for students to take advantage of. When Ashlyn Zunker ’25 learned that a film production company would be filming a feature-length film on campus, she knew she had to get involved.

Party ‘O Clock is a coming-of-age film that follows 15 college students over the course of a night who are trying to get to a party. When scouting for locations for the film, director Joey LePage selected Southwestern because it was the first place he thought of. As a Georgetown native whose father worked on campus, he said the University holds a special place in his heart and couldn’t image telling this story anywhere else.

“Southwestern and the students were incredible to work with. At every step, we were met with enthusiasm and excitement,” LePage said. “Film sets are stressful, and the hours are long, but the students we worked with were smart, eager, resilient, and generally joys to be around. Most of the students who volunteered didn’t have much experience before working with us, but I’d hire every single one of them on our next project. Ashlyn killed it in the art department, and I’m going to recommend her to every filmmaker friend in Austin.”

As a theater major with a performance concentration, Zunker has dreamt of being an actor her entire life. So when the opportunity arose to work on a set on campus, she jumped at the chance. Initially brought on board as a production assistant, Zunker tackled miscellaneous tasks like arranging props and ensuring the set was prepared for filming. During her second day on set, she transitioned into the art department and was hired as the set dresser. Following this swift progression, the production team recognized her capabilities and also hired her as the film’s social media manager, where she promotes the movie across online platforms.

“I’ve always been interested in film but had not tried it yet. It takes a village because if you see three people on camera, there are at least 40 on the other side. I enjoyed working behind the scenes, especially in the art department; I loved the set dressing work. I’ve done a lot of set design for theater stages, so it was interesting seeing how it’s done for films. I still want to be on screen, but I love that you can do both.”

Zunker recalls one of the more challenging experiences was undoubtedly the nighttime filming schedule, where shifts often spanned a grueling 12 hours. Shoots took place five and sometimes six days a week in different locations, from the University’s campus to spots around Austin, and would end around 5 a.m. Zunker had to balance these commitments with her daytime classes and was determined not to miss any school. Although she had to sacrifice some sleep, she juggled her academic responsibilities by attending classes during the day and participating on set throughout the night.

In addition to her on-set responsibilities, Zunker also enjoyed observing the ins and outs of the filmmaking process. She said witnessing scene sequencing, the meticulous planning and resourcefulness involved in capturing certain shots, and hours of preparation was eye-opening. She looks forward to seeing the beauty of the final product on screen created through the extensive teamwork that happens behind the scenes, which often goes unnoticed by an audience. This experience of working on a film set has shifted Zunker’s aspirations. While noting that the theater is her first love and home, she now wants to pursue a career in the film industry.

“There’s an enchanting quality about film. Moving into this field fills me with excitement, and I’m eager to engage with the countless opportunities that exist,” Zunker said. “While the film industry might appear out of reach, it’s the dedicated people working tirelessly behind the scenes who truly drive it. Knowing that with dedication and perseverance, achieving success is not just possible but very much attainable. So, I envision a future where I can contribute both on-screen and off-screen to create cinematic marvels.”