“Starry Night” is a short film written and directed by NYU film graduate Paxton Farrar. The story follows sixteen-year-old Dawn and her struggle to escape her small town to pursue her passion for astronomy. Set in the beautiful, dusty landscape of eastern Washington State and funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Starry Night was shot on location in 2014 by a diverse cast and crew, and has gone on to win awards at multiple festivals, including the RAW Science Film Festival and the Seattle Shorts International Film Festival. The film has found praise for its portrayal of a smart and determined young woman, and its faithful representation of science. A feature version film is currently in development. 

The Story

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Dawn is an intelligent young girl with a passion for astronomy. She lives with her conservative mother just outside Electric City, Washington, a small town in the shadow of the Grand Coulee Dam. Her only connection for her intellectual passions is her boyfriend Isaac. They spend summer nights in the hills with his amateur telescope.

She hopes to attend college and become an astronomer, escaping a menial life in the dying town. But her mother is unsupportive, seeing college as unaffordable and dangerous, something for the “intellectually elite”. She therefore musters initiative and takes the SAT without her family’s knowledge or consent. 

She starts to reconnect with her brother Clayton, just back from an overseas tour in the army. He understands her circumstances, but even he is skeptical of her big dreams. In the face of this opposition, she sets out for an observatory located hours away, hoping to find a path to her future. 


The Sloan Foundation

Each year the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards grants to promising writer/directors at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts based on the submission of an original screenplay. The goal of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation film school program is to influence the next generation of filmmakers to create more realistic and dramatic stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers through visual media. The original short film script for Starry Night won a production grant in 2013.

The Short

The short film was shot over nine days in August of 2014 in locations around Washington State. The film stars, Paige Hiskey, Brian Combs, Shondale Seymour, Frank Lawler, and Joe Lambright. The majority of the crew was comprised of NYU Tisch students and alumni, including cinematographer and creative partner Maria Rusche.

The role of Dawn’s home was filled by a vacant house on a farm complex outside of Connell, Washington, once occupied by Zane Grey. The observatory scenes were filmed on location at Goldendale Observatory State Park in Goldendale, WA. It was captured on a Blackmagic Cinema Camera MFT using a set of Cooke S4minis, vintage Nikon SLR lenses, and a 1000mm telescope lens modified for cinema use.

The ideas and motifs that compose Starry Night have been swirling around my life for a long time. I developed a deep passion for science and cosmology at an early age, and it has come to serve as my philosophy for understanding the universe both practically and spiritually. During the summers, my family would drive through eastern Washington. With its endless scablands, rolling wheat fields, and scenic vistas atop basalt columns, it is the polar opposite of what one expects to find in the Evergreen State. I was struck by the vastness of the landscapes, and fascinated by the melancholic romance that permeates the land. The dusty, lonely feel was palpable, especially in small towns. The night was full of stars, with the Milky Way ambling lazily across the sky. Starry Night came about in my sophomore year script writing class at New York University, combining the love of the cosmos with the images of eastern Washington in a character: a young woman, trying to escape the small town to pursue her passion.
— Paxton Farrar