Photos by Brandon Missig
The SUNY New Paltz campus was filled with activity last week — a month before the beginning of the fall semester — when more than 100 people arrived to participate in the filming of HBO’s hit show Girls. Trucks filled with props, clothing and filming equipment arrived in front of the Student Union Building on the morning of July 29 for a busy day of shooting. Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning Girls, co-directed and appeared in the last Tuesday’s filming.
Forty SUNY New Paltz students and 80 extras bussed up from New York City were involved in creating scenes that would help establish the setting for season four of Girls. The film taken will be used to portray Iowa University, a new setting on Girls, which has two weeks of filming left before it goes to the editing table.
Regina Heyman, the unit production manager for Girls, explained that New Paltz was chosen as a stand-in for Iowa. “We sent scouts to Iowa to take pictures,” she said. “When we compared those to pictures taken from the New Paltz campus, we found a few spots that resembled the campus in Iowa. Logistically, it is a lot easier to move our crew from the studio in Long Island City to New Paltz than to bring everyone to Iowa. It is more simple getting our equipment set up on a college campus, as opposed to a busy city street.”
What occurred on the other side of the camera last week resembled any other day during the semester at SUNY New Paltz; that is, other than the yellow Iowa University logos scattered on jackets and hoodies of mock students, an Iowa U banner hanging from a lamp post and the countless trucks and people pushing carts filled with expensive media equipment. After the hustle to set up equipment, hand out props and switch everyone into the proper wardrobe, most of the day was spent standing and talking with whoever you were placed near for the scene. Long portions of “hanging out” at your place were diverted by the occasional shouts of “action” and “reset.” The result was a unique opportunity for students at New Paltz to participate in a very authentic film experience.
“It was very cool; this morning was so quiet and boom, campus filled with trucks, there is full-fledged catering, buses of people arrived and a wardrobe crew is handing clothing out,” said Brendan O’Brien, SUNY New Paltz’s events coordinator of student activities and union services. This was O’Brien’s first time on a film set and much like many of the other New Paltz residents involved, his excitement was visible.
Scott Phillips, a student studying theatre and philosophy at New Paltz, recognized the process from his two other experiences on a film set. “It was very familiar in a way — the technique used to film, of action and reset over and over again,” he said. “You have to make it fun by talking and interacting with as many people as possible.”
Phillips, dressed in a bright yellow Iowa State hoodie, said this was certainly the biggest crew and cast of people he had seen involved in a production. “The most fascinating thing to me was how creepy and eerie everything seemed before the action,” he said. “Everyone was standing still around the quad, it was like something out of Twin Peaks. The fact that Lena Dunham does it all and she’s only two years older than me is something. It says that if you have a passion to do something, get it done, do whatever it takes. Produce, write, direct…and get it done.”
At the end of the day, Dunham did take time to thank a few of the students involved and pose for a picture. “Thank you, I love you too,” she responded after a member of the gathered crowd shouted her appreciation.
The Iowa episode featuring scenes shot in New Paltz should air sometime early next year.