“When you come here, you’re part of something big. You’re part of something important. You’re part of something that has a history, a heritage and a future that is just going to blow everyone away,” said Charles Mangano, an Emmy-award winner and the creator, producer and co-director of CU Boulder’s new film, The Light Shines On, a story of the people and events who have made CU Boulder esteemed in spirit and in work.
Our story has been special from the beginning. It all started with a legendary midnight horseback ride in 1874, and has evolved to include a mission to Mars, employing one of the first female professors in the country, and running a buffalo around our football field on game day. The Light Shines On shares our story and the stories of the people who make our university so special.
Mangano worked closely to produce the film with senior producer Dirk Martin, both a part of CU Boulder’s Strategic Relations and Communications team. We sat down with both of them to learn the inspiration behind the film and to share in the excitement of the film’s public premiere at this year’s Conference on World Affairs.
What inspired you to begin this project?
Mangano: As a new person to CU Boulder, I was a totally fresh set of eyes. And after about a year or so, I realized people seem to be very focused on their particular department or specific college. You have to give a lot of kudos to the chancellor, Kelly [Fox] and Frances [Draper] on this—seeing the potential in this project. They were 100 percent supportive from the get-go. This was something that really showed a sense of trust.
I’m a big believer that in organizations like ours, you need to have a really strong culture if you’re going to succeed. And part of the culture to me was hearing some of the hints of the stories that were out there, of what CU has done and the people who built it. We have a phenomenal history, and that was the impetus to say, let’s get on the same page of what we are, what we believe in and what we’ve accomplished to this point.
How did you choose the title of the movie, The Light Shines On?
Mangano: I realized that on the university’s seal, it says Let Your Light Shine. And I thought that was a great way to talk about the fact this light is still shining. It just fit. It’s not about the past, it’s about who we are and, quite frankly, it sets the stage for where we’re going. That was a big part of what we did here—was to not make it chronological. We did not want it to be chronological because this is really a timeless piece.
Martin: And that’s why we called it a celebration of CU history. Because it’s not a documentary; it’s not following a timeline.
Can you speak to that a bit more? How did you find a way to connect the dots of CU Boulder’s history but not chronologically?
Mangano: It was kind of scary—
Martin: (laughing) It was really scary.
Mangano:—because we filmed for about six months and didn’t know where we were going with it. Dirk and I knew how we were going to start it and how we were going to end it. It was the middle part that was hard. This movie really is about the strategic imperatives: leadership, innovation and impact. And in a way that, I wouldn’t say is subtle, but it isn’t a strategy statement with pictures.
Martin: It tugs at the emotional. I think that the very end of the film, when we say “this campus, this city, this place,” it epitomizes what it is about going to CU Boulder. It’s a sense of place. CU Law Professor Emeritus Charles Wilkinson said it best years ago about the West; he said this region has a sense of place, and you feel a part of it when you get here. I think this movie really plays that out well.
You both are employees at CU Boulder, and Dirk, you’re a CU Boulder alum (Jour’81). Did making the video change your affinity to or perception of CU Boulder?
Martin: It didn’t change my perception. I’ve always felt this way. But the joy of seeing other people talk about it, that was really cool for me. And knowing there are other people out there who feel the same way was cool. It just reinforced how I feel.
Mangano: It was really interesting because, being a newcomer, I think what it did was give me a deeper understanding of how much this place has accomplished. When you stand back and look at the mosaic, it’s a great picture.
And I think, quite frankly, what I brought to the party was that I didn’t have any preconceived notions. I was amazed at how consistent the answers were and the feelings we got from people. Everybody from alums to people who work here need to think of themselves more as a collective of these feelings. Because everyone is feeling the same thing.
What is your favorite scene in The Light Shines On and why?
Martin: For me, it was going to South Park Studios. I know Trey and Matt, from when they were going to school here. And I knew that Eric Stough, who is the animation director, is a real big Buff fan. So we were able to get Eric involved. It was cool, to tour the studios and see these big pictures, Cartman and everyone. It’s like you're a little kid.
Mangano: This is like asking me which one of my kids is my favorite. I think what I liked the most were the people. To see how they almost felt permission to tell everybody how much they love this place, which was kind of interesting to me. And Jim Williams—it may not be my favorite scene but he’s my favorite part of the movie, when he reads the Norlin Charge at the end. I’ve seen it a hundred times and I still get a little choked up every time I see it.
Martin: That one really sends people over. You see the alumni and the people who go to school here watching that part and fighting back tears.
Many of the people involved in the production of the film are alums or affiliated with CU Boulder in some way. How do you think having the CU Boulder community behind the scenes affected the production and outcome?
Mangano: We talked to a bunch of people and got many bids to do the movie. I was really tempted to hire someone from Hollywood. And then Dirk and I were talking and we thought we’d get more out of people who have a connection with the place. We could not have done this movie with the soul that came out of it unless people went into this knowing what they were trying to get. And that was a big part of it. We made a really conscious effort to find anybody who went to CU to help us, to be a part of this.
Martin: That was a pretty interesting discussion because there were some decent production companies from L.A. that could have done this for us. But I’m not sure we’d have the movie we have right now. I think the fact that everyone working on it had a feeling for CU and was excited about it, we were able to get more out of it. I think we got more of a feel, more of an emotional attachment to the project.
Now that this project is wrapped up, any new projects on the way?
Mangano: It’s funny, Russ Moore saw it and came up to me the next day and said, “When are you starting the sequel?” But right now we want to share the movie with people, because it’s a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard.