By Peter Barell and Alyssa Seidman
A&E Editor, Assistant News Editor
Lorber Hall was used as a set on Jan. 15 and 16 to shoot the sizzle reel of “OSS,” a television promo project by LIU Brooklyn grad students. The sizzle reel will be shipped to various television networks, with the hope of being made into a full show. Gina Massaro, a graduate student in the M.F.A. in Writing and Producing for Television program at LIU Brooklyn, received her B.F.A. in Film from LIU Post in 2012, and was one of several students to develop the story and helped cast actors for the production.
“OSS” is a period piece set during World War II. “[It focuses] on William Donovan,” said Massaro, “[who is the] head of the Office of Strategic Services, and his agents who work across the globe, both behind enemy lines and in the United States.” The OSS was the wartime intelligence agency that preceded the CIA. This was part of a class assignment by Professor Norman Steinberg, who gave the students a prompt the first day of class. Steinberg has won an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Variety or Music for the series “Flip” in 1971, and was one of the screenwriters of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.”
“From there it was our job to come up with characters, story arcs and ultimately a script,” added Massaro. “The first year focused on writing the pilot and individual episodes. The second year focused on production. At the beginning of the production semester, each class member lobbied for a position in the department,” she added.
Lorber Hall was set up to be the OSS headquarters. Since the production takes place in the 1940s, several things were changed to accommodate the period. The production team brought in appropriate items to join the existing antiquated tudor-style buildings on campus, ranging from paintings and typewriters to desks and a leather couch.
Massaro stressed the effort of such a production. “We had an amazing art department [that] secured wonderful props and furniture,” she explained. “The quality of their work was one of the most impressive aspects of production that I experienced. They made everything look professional and authentic.”
Having prior experience in casting internships, such as at NBC Universal, Massaro’s choice to take on that role was easy. When the time came to find extras, the alumna reached out to Post students, sending out her call online, including on the Post Filmmakers group on Facebook, and acting community sites like backstage.com.
“Casting is a fun and rewarding job,” said Massaro, “[After editing audition tapes] we forwarded our favorites to Jonathan
Frakes, our director, who made callback selections and then ultimately determined our cast. In addition to principal actors, we had to cast all of the featured extras and background extras. We actually used some really great LIU Post students.” Frakes is best known for his acting, portraying Commander William T. Riker on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The actor has also directed television episodes for shows such as “Falling Skies” and “Burn Notice,” and also directed the trailer as a favor for Steinberg, who is a friend.
“Returning to LIU Post felt like coming home,” said Massaro. “Post has a beautiful campus and I truly loved my time there as a student. Being able to combine two parts of my life, the former at LIU Post and the current at LIU Brooklyn, was special for me, and I will always treasure it,” she added.
Massaro is happy to be pushing forward in the film industry. But first, she’ll finish grad school. “Graduate school has taught me a lot about what it is to be a writer in the industry,” she said. “You have to learn to collaborate, filter ideas and deal with egos. There will be arguments. You have to be able to not only communicate effectively as a writer, but also be able to deal with personality conflicts in the least damaging and most productive way. At the same time, we laugh, and we laugh a lot.”
“OSS” is one of many student films to be shot on LIU Post’s campus. Students in the Film Department have traditionally used the campus for their productions. The production lab short “Love Less Naked,” written and directed by junior Michael Mirabella, is shooting through February and March. In addition to these student projects, LIU Post has recently been the site for several commercial film projects. Last spring, students were able to witness bits and pieces of “The Reluctant Professor,” by director Mark Lawrence (“Miss Congeniality”), which was shot at the campus bookstore, as well as in the Kahn building. That film stars Marisa Tomei (“The Ides of March”, “My Cousin Vinny”) and Hugh Grant (“About a Boy”). In 2012, the tennis courts by the Pratt Center were used to shoot parts of Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which has been racking up awards and nominations in recent months.
To find out more about working with experienced industry professionals, The Pioneer sat down with Gina Massaro, a member of the TV Writers Studio, who received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film from LIU Post, to learn more about her experience.
The Pioneer: What was it like working with a professional director?
Gina Massaro: It was really exciting to watch Jonathan Frakes work. He had a great energy on set and you could see the positive impact it had on our actors, including extras.
TP: How can this experience help film production majors become accustomed to the daily challenges faced by professionals in the industry?
GM: The biggest lesson to learn is how to roll with the punches. At the eleventh hour everything can go wrong; weather, extras dropping out. You name it and it will happen. There’s no controlling it when it does, but you have to be inventive and find quick solutions. Another thing is everyone has to work as a team. If one person doesn’t do their job, it’s a domino effect. You have to be on your game at all times.
TP: What was your favorite part about producing this project?
GM: Aside from collaborating on the pilot script, I was involved in casting all the actors, including extras. I loved holding auditions for the principal actors. Sometimes it can wear you down, seeing dozens of people for the same role, but when that one person comes in and blows you away, it’s all worth it.
TP: It seems a lot of shows and movies have been filmed recently on LIU’s campus. How does working on location differ from working in a studio?
GM: While our program meets at Steiner Studios (a Hollywood-style production and support facility in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard), I only have experience working on location. Working on location has a lot of challenges and limitations. Certain objects are not removable and there may be noise that’s not under your control. In a studio you construct the set on a soundstage, so you’re able to limit outside interferences. At the same time, being on location gives you advantages you wouldn’t have otherwise, especially for outdoor shoots. The fog during our morning shoot at Lorber Hall really set the mood for the scene. We got lucky in that respect.
TP: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the production experience?
GM: As a screenwriter, seeing your characters come to life is an indescribable experience and watching the daily footage from our shoots is mind blowing. Knowing all the work that went into it, and seeing it all come together is truly rewarding.