Most members of the UNC Class of 2014 are still just starting out in their professional fields, but their classmate Alex Rizk Keane, a School of Media and Journalism graduate, has already made significant accomplishments in the entertainment industry.
Rizk Keane was the featured speaker at the Stembler Lecture, an event that is held every other year on Homecoming Weekend thanks to an endowment from UNC alum John H. Stembler Jr. and the Stembler Family, on Oct. 27.
While working as a production assistant for Embassy Row, Rizk Keane ran into James Spader, star and executive producer of NBC’s “The Blacklist,” when he was taking a cigarette break outside of Chelsea Piers in New York City. She recalls confidently asking him outright for a job on his show and even leaving a note in the phone of his head production assistant in which she promised to be a successful and hard-working production assistant.
“In this industry, if you’re not aggressive about what you want, it’s going to be a lot harder to get where you want to be,” Rizk Keane said. “I was aggressive about getting myself hands-on experience even if it meant being roughly one out of five girls on a set of over 100 men.”
Her aggression paid off and she got the job. On the set of “The Blacklist,” she would meet Sean Rappleyea, a fellow production assistant, and Ryan Eggold, one of the stars of the show.
In 2016, Rizk Keane went out on her own and started her own independent production company, Rizk Pictures. She named Rappleyea as an associate producer for her company. The company’s first production was a film called “Literally, Right Before Aaron,” which was written and directed by Eggold.
The UNC School of Media and Journalism screened the film as a part of the Stembler Lecture on Friday. Rizk and Rappleyea were then present for a Q&A session with the audience of students and community members. Eggold also participated in the session via Skype.
However, the film, which is loosely based off Eggold’s real life, actually premiered earlier in the year at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“Tribeca was a fantastic experience,” said Eggold of the festival. “They are very supportive and it’s kind of a family environment there. We were super grateful to be a part of it.”
Rizk Keane, Rappleyea and Eggold were all very proud to debut the film at Tribeca, especially considering that it was the first production for Rizk Keane’s company and Eggold’s directorial debut.
“When something that you’ve been envisioning for a while comes to reality, that’s an amazing thing,” Eggold said. “You get to see scenes evolve and grow beyond your expectations. That’s the joy of making movies.”
The three had also assembled a well-known cast for their first film. The credits included many familiar faces, such as Justin Long, Cobie Smulders, Dana Delany, Lea Thompson and Peter Gallagher.
“The casting was very fortuitous,” Eggold said. “A lot of people thankfully responded to the script.”
Overall, the Stembler Lecture offered both students and community members an opportunity to engage with those working in the entertainment industry.
“I thought it was really cool to see a UNC grad being that successful,” first-year Maura Holt-Ling said. “A lot of times, Hollywood feels kind of distant. It was cool to have that personal connection and get to see someone who’s made it in the business.”
Rizk Keane remains proud to be a Tar Heel and hopes to continue to share her future works with the university community.
“Telling stories is pertinent,” Rizk Keane said. “There are so many people that have a story to tell, and without the proper medium to tell them, none of those stories will be heard. So, we should never give up, because Tar Heels don’t give up.”
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