The State University of New York at New Paltz was turned into a film set for a day. The HBO series Girls chose the campus as a setting to mimic a different university.
“Here we go kids. 3-2-1…action!
It all happened so quickly. Around the beginning of July, SUNY New Paltz officials got the call that Half A Yogurt Productions was interested in filming some scenes for the HBO series Girls. Richard Winters is community and government relations associate for SUNY New Paltz.
“I think it’s pretty exciting because you’ve got a well-known show that appeals to millennial generation that’s in college currently, whether they’re new students coming into college or whether they’re going toward the end of their time, and it’s popular,” says Winters. “It garners certain interest, let alone the benefits of having the recognition that an outside private company is interested in a public campus like ours. I think it’s wonderful.”
SUNY New Paltz accommodated the filming request in conjunction with the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, and Half a Yogurt is eligible for a 30 percent tax credit on production and post-production costs incurred in New York. Silvercup Studios, in Long Island City, Queens, is where Girls calls home. Girls’ creator and star Lena Dunham was in the director’s chair for a good part of the time, and also appeared in front of the camera later in the day. Regina Heyman is a producer for the show.
“We were scripted to shoot at University of Iowa in Iowa City,” says Heyman. “And we wanted to try and do it in New York where we have our 30 percent tax credit so we scouted a lot of universities in New York State, and SUNY New Paltz seemed to be the best stand-in for Iowa.”
Which means the Shawangunk mountains will not make the cut.
“There’s a lot of areas where if we just crop and show part of a building and just the way we frame it, we don’t necessarily have to see the mountains,” says Heyman. “So, we just looked at photos, research photos, that we had from physically going out to Iowa and saw what buildings could match. The student union building was one of them matched a building in Iowa. And the quad felt like it could feel like some areas of Iowa.”
Without, she says, incurring the expense of hauling out crew members to Iowa. She says about 85 crew members were in New Paltz. In recognition of the impact a large-scale film production can have on the campus and staff, Half A Yogurt Productions made a donation to the SUNY New Paltz Foundation. Winters declined to detail the amount. As for the filming, Winters says it was an opportunity for students to learn more about what goes into a television production.
“It’s certainly unique for our campus,” says Winters. “And it gives a chance for our students to see what it’s like for a real, live production to be set from the ground up.”
Some 40 SUNY New Paltz students and staff were extras. The quaint but growing college town has plenty in common thematically with the HBO series, which focuses on hip women in their 20s struggling to adapt to adulthood. Media management major Chris Marchitelli says when he found out he would be an extra:
“I was jumping up and down.”
Once the news set in, he says he had to heed wardrobe instructions.
“We had to wear, we had to dress like a college kid, although…” says Marchitelli.
Dunne says, “Oh, such a far stretch.”
“Kind of like a stereotypical college kid, though, not, not what you would expect,” Marchitelli says. “We had to wear a layer because it had to be late summer, early fall. You also had to wear some specific brands. So they wanted things that would look like Hollister, American Eagle, so kind of like a preppy college student.”
Blair Dawson just graduated from SUNY New Paltz and was watching the action.
“I thought it would be exciting and I really actually love Lena Dunham,” says Dawson. “I think she’s a wonderful person who’s a champion for women everywhere.”
“Why?” Dunne asks.
“She talks a lot about body issues and portrays that on her show,” answers Dawson. “And I think it’s quite important for our generation of women.”
In addition to filming on campus, from the Gunk Pond to the Old Main Quad, the crew had plans to move one block off campus, onto a residential street. That’s actually how Dawson learned about the filming.
“Well, I first heard because they’re renting out my boyfriend’s driveway. And they’re paying him $200 to use the driveway for a generator,” Dawson says. “And so that was exciting that we’re going to sit in his house and get front row seats to whatever their doing there. They’re filming on that street also.”
Heyman says the filming on campus will yield SUNY New Paltz up to one minute of screen time when the fourth season airs early in 2015.