Lights, camera … La Salle

For one September week, the University took center stage in a forthcoming Netflix movie featuring Adam Sandler.

Hurry up and wait. 

That’s a popular axiom used by Hollywood types during TV and film production, and it proved true when the cast and crew of a forthcoming Netflix movie visited La Salle University’s campus for filming. 

Adam Sandler and the team behind “Hustle” turned La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena at TruMark Financial Center into a movie set and filmed scenes there for parts of four September days. They converted Gola into the host of the NBA Draft combine—an annual event at which prospective pro players convene for workouts and scrimmages in front of scouts and other NBA talent evaluators.

Only a handful of people within the La Salle community got up-close looks at the production process.  

“It takes a long time!” said Beth Salazar, who managed digital signage needs inside Gola by occupying a bird’s-eye view in the crow’s nest high above the hardwood floor. “I couldn’t believe how many takes go into one scene.” 

Playing basketball, she said, often took a backseat to playing the waiting game. It wasn’t uncommon for there to be 10- or 15-minute gaps between takes, Salazar said, with the basketball-playing actors sitting on the court, stretching, and doing just about anything to stay loose until the camera started rolling again. 

“There was an added level of pressure on the basketball players to make shots,” Salazar said. “There were times that they had to do a few takes because they needed Juancho Hernangomez to make a 3-pointer.” 

Hernangomez, a professional basketball player for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, stars alongside Sandler in “Hustle,” which tells the story of a basketball scout (Sandler) looking to reinvigorate his career by encouraging an international player (Hernangomez) to join the NBA.  

At Gola Arena, production equipment lined the court and its north baseline. The crew affixed cameras to just about everything, including the backboard, in order to capture multiple angles. Off the court, close to 200 extras occupied Gola’s seats, sometimes remaining in place for hours to ensure continuity between takes. And wardrobe racks congested the arena’s back stairwells. 

For more on the film-making process at Gola Arena, we spoke to a handful of people in the University community who were on set for scenes of “Hustle”: 

  • George Broniszewski, electrician. He provided on-site electrical and temperature-control in the arena support throughout filming. Always just a phone call away, he often could be found standing in one of Gola’s tunnels—sometimes not far from Sandler. 
  • Zach Rissler, who formerly served as assistant athletic director for facilities and operations. He was the primary contact for the movie production, assisting with the location from coordination of parking, tenting, court decals, bleachers, and more, from start to finish. 
  • Beth Salazar worked with the movie’s art department to place content on the arena’s video boards and on rotating boards at the scorer’s table.  
  • Gina Scozzaro, director of strategic initiatives and special projects. She worked through location scouting and contracting processes with the production team and assisted Athletics with logistics coordination.  
  • Ryan Statham, assistant manager for athletic facilities and operations. He was a key facility liaison in Gola Arena on days of production, which meant he was almost always on the court during filming. 

The on- and off-camera crews were at La Salle for several days. What was your favorite moment?
Statham: “One of the best moments was watching the excitement of the director (Philadelphia-born Jeremiah Zagar) when they got the takes he wanted. To see their vision for the scenes come to fruition must be a rewarding feeling for them.” 

Broniszewski: “One thing that I took notice to was the way Adam interacted on the set. He seems like a man that treats all of those involved like family. The man was all over the place and I enjoyed watching him. I look forward to the finished product and will definitely watch it.” 

Salazar: “Watching Adam Sandler work, he really made everyone feel at ease. Between takes he would turn on a speaker and play music, tell jokes and make sure everyone was having a good time! It was also cool watching him and the director make real-time changes to the scenes as they shot.” 

Scozzaro: “Coincidentally, we were hosting a filming day on Adam Sandler’s birthday. Seeing our students sing him ‘Happy Birthday’ outside of his trailer, and then the social media buzz it created, was pretty neat to witness.” 

What were your takeaways from the film-making process?
Rissler: “Seeing how much truly goes into this, it seems to be very-organized chaos. There are so many people and things set up, that it’s just chaos. At the same time, everything runs smoothly. It is just such a huge production, which I thought I knew going into this, but once the production was here, it really put it into perspective.” 

Scozzaro: “Not many people realize that these productions start well over a year in advance with location scouting. There are many aspects of our campus that set us apart from other locations and were really attractive to the production team.” 

Broniszewski: “From the technical perspective, I was impressed with the work and set-ups that go with producing a movie.” 

Statham: “I agree—to see the detail and time that goes into shooting one or two scenes was really eye-opening.” 

So few people got a chance to see the inside of Gola Arena. What did it look like?
Rissler: “They completely transformed the arena into an NBA Combine scene and, if I didn’t know better, it didn’t even look like Tom Gola Arena. These productions put so much into just one location that turns out to be five minutes of the movie, so it puts into perspective what it takes to make a film like this.” 

Statham: “It was great to be able to bring an event like this to La Salle. It provided a great buzz to campus to start the year and I think gave the student body a fun experience.” 

Salazar: “I am very proud that we were able to have the movie shoot in Tom Gola Arena. La Salle is a special place and it’s nice to have that recognized. I think that when our basketball fans watch the movie they will be able to tell it’s Gola and feel the same level of pride for our University.” 

Rissler: “You’re right. Even though the gym didn’t necessarily look like Tom Gola Arena anymore, people who know the gym will be able to recognize it. I took great pride in representing La Salle in this process and it gave us an opportunity to show we can house a high-level production and be a part of something very cool. It was an exciting time for all of campus to say that something on such a large scale wanted to come here and was able to be successful at this location.” 

Broniszewski: “It’s something I’ll never forget.” 

—Christopher A. Vito 

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