Three female students on film set of The Wrong Road

‘The Wrong Road’ Provides Invaluable Real-World Experience for Buffalo State Students



When Buffalo State University senior Catherine Ajayi learned that Emmy Award–winning alumnus Tom Fontana, ’73, was collaborating with students to film a new script in Western New York, she wanted in. Never mind that the opportunity was open only to students working toward a major or minor in Buffalo State’s television and film arts (TFA) program and she was a business major. Ajayi saw that as a technicality.

“I used my major to my advantage and basically negotiated my way in,” Ajayi said. “I recommended that I utilize my business-related skills on the marketing side of the production.”

Ajayi and other Buffalo State undergraduate students, many enrolled in the spring 2024 course TFA 480: Advanced Directing/Producing I, made up the majority of the 50-person production crew for The Wrong Road—the largest production of a Fontana script ever filmed in Western New York. The 30-minute film follows a young man on a cross-state drive who gets lost and finds himself at a mansion where two strangers seem to know all the details of his complex life. The project provided valuable real-world experience for students pursuing careers in television and film arts.

Each student was assigned a role—or roles—that determined their responsibilities throughout production. As a business major, Ajayi was a natural fit for student marketing director, but she also served as a production assistant on set, which meant providing support to almost every department, from art design to electric to craft services.

“This experience was amazing and has helped me move toward my career in promotional marketing and screenwriting,” she said. “If I could do it all again, I would.”

Angel Barber, a junior TFA major, served as student producer, which meant he hired a stunt coordinator, secured film and location insurance, and set and maintained deadlines—all before filming even began. Once on set, Barber was available and ready to fill in gaps.

“A lot of my job was putting out fires,” he said. “I made sure that if anything wasn’t running smoothly, I could contact someone who could get it to run smoothly or get it to run smoothly myself.” 

Angel Barber with a recording device on film set

“I made sure that if anything wasn’t running smoothly, I could contact someone who could get it to run smoothly or get it to run smoothly myself.”

— Angel Barber, Student Producer


Student production designer Summer Faye Harris, a senior TFA and theater double major, gained experience in budgeting and problem-solving. “I was given a budget, and I had to figure out how much I could use within it for each department,” she said. “I also had to make a door to match the exterior location door, because the exterior and interior were actually two different locations.” (Exterior shots were filmed in Gasport; the interior was a home in downtown Buffalo.)

For some, the project offered the opportunity to explore new aspects of filmmaking. Max Mayfield, a senior media production major and TFA minor, was tapped as first assistant camera. His role was to “pull focus,” or ensure clarity of shots. This role is critical, Mayfield explained, because blurry, out-of-focus shots can’t be used.

“I hadn’t done it before, and I was nervous,” he said. “Once I started getting the hang of it, I was surprised at just how much I ended up enjoying it. Now, I could see myself doing this as a career.” 

Applied learning opportunities like The Wrong Road are essential, the students agreed, because they allow important lessons to crystallize.

“This production really made me realize the importance of every role on set,” said Julia Eason, a junior TFA major and the production’s wardrobe supervisor. “Production assistants may feel small, but when you’re the head of a department and your head is swimming, they save you time and are so valuable. Everyone is super important; you don’t realize it until you’re there.”

“I learned patience and time management,” said Zoe Goñez, a senior theater major and TFA minor who served as script supervisor. “We had 12-hour days, but my job couldn’t start until filming did. There was a lot of downtime when we needed to switch a set up or change lighting or location. I learned how a clock runs on a film set and how to utilize time when you aren’t needed.”

Barber had previously worked on multiple student films, including School Haze—a television pilot that premiered at the North Park Theatre last fall—but this was his first professional production. He said one of the most educational parts of the experience was getting to see director Metin Hüseyin (The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling; currently in Glasgow directing episodes for the final season of Outlander) at work with the crew and actors Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Lee Tergesen (Weird Science, Oz), and Mark Ryder (Borgia).

“He speaks to different people in different ways because he knows they respond to different communication styles,” Barber said. “As someone who wants to be a director, I found it endlessly valuable.”

“I realized celebrities are people, too,” added Jake Dannenberg, junior TFA major and the production’s digital imaging technician. “It was nice that we were able to joke around and have fun. It kept me wanting to come back the next day.” 

“There was a lot of downtime when we needed to switch a set up or change lighting or location. I learned how a clock runs on a film set and how to utilize time when you aren’t needed.”

— Zoe Goñez, Script Supervisor

Zoe Gonez using laptop on film set


Perhaps most importantly, the production allowed students to see viable post-graduation paths. 

“It helped me figure out what I should apply for first in order to get to where I want to be later,” Harris said. “To be a production designer, I should apply to be an art production assistant, then a set dresser, then an art director.” And with The Wrong Road on their résumés, Harris and her classmates are objectively more competitive than many other entry-level applicants. 

“I’m a performer, and this experience—even though I wasn’t a performer during it—was such an insight to how performers on a film set interact,” Goñez said. “Watching them work and working in between actors, writers, and director was so beneficial and solidified that whether it’s on or off camera, the set is where I want my career to be.”

Aaron Daniel Annas, associate professor and director of the TFA program, recalled a moment from the first day on set in mid-March. Buffalo was met with surprise snowfall; Annas and Ajayi shivered in the cold as other crew members set up for an exterior shot. Annas turned to Ajayi and asked, “How do you feel?”

“I expected her to say, ‘This sucks; I can’t believe this weather’ or ‘I’m so cold,’” he said. “Instead, she said, ‘I know this is what I want to do now.’”

A special preview cut of The Wrong Road debuts at 11:30 a.m. May 12 at the North Park Theatre. Tom Fontana will be in attendance to introduce the film to the Buffalo community. To purchase tickets, please visit the North Park Theatre's website.

Top photo: Takla Younes (TFA major and production assistant), Catherine Ajayi, and Summer Faye Harris on set of The Wrong Road.

Photos by Jesse Steffan-Colucci, Buffalo State photographer.