Buffalo State’s new planetarium is showing an immersive student horror film

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Buffalo State’s new Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium offers up stunning images of the night sky and the solar system – but this Halloween season, you can find scares as well as stars there.

This weekend and next Friday, the planetarium will be showing a student-made horror film called “Portrait” on the 360° screen.

The film, described as a “paranormal heist film”, was completely conceptualized and shot by students in Buffalo State’s TV and Film Arts program, program director and associate professor Aaron Daniel Annas said.

“I pitched it to my students and they were scared at first – it’s such a new technology,” Annas said.

But four students -Camden Gradwell, Emmaus Nakagawa, Matthew Markayze and Sydney Baker-Hendryx- rose to the challenge. They spent the summer working on the film.

To shoot for the planetarium screen, they had to utilize special equipment that captured a 360°shot – meaning they couldn’t put lighting, directors, or other equipment in the usual spots.

“We had to shoot this without people behind the camera,” Gradwell said. “We had to figure out where to hide people – it was a very innovative project.”

The students used local spots like Hamburg Beach and the Broadway Market to shoot.

“It took a lot of careful planning and trying to stay as true to the script as possible,” Nakagawa added.

The idea to shoot a horror film for the planetarium came from the planetarium director, Kevin Williams, who is also an associate professor at the college.

“Often, you’re looking at a movie and everything is in front of you, but not knowing what’s to the side or coming from behind you really increases the scariness of the movie.” Williams said. “The students did an amazing job and it turned out really well.”

“If you want to be scared, there’s no better way to be scared in any movie than actually knowing something is behind you,” Annas added. “In this movie, it’s not just behind the person on the screen – the monster might be behind you as well.”

Williams said that the planetarium’s regular star shows and other events have been well-attended since the planetarium opened to the public last month. You can find tickets to those events here.

Friday and Saturday’s showings of “Portrait” at the planetarium are fully booked, but they’ve opened up another showing at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5. The event is free, but you must reserve your tickets in advance.

Kaley Lynch is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of her work here.

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