Day Nine

“Connie’s world”

By: Connie Castilla

Do you want adventure? Do you want some laughs? Do you feel lost? If you are feeling all the previous be happy because The Groundlings Theater is launching a new and exciting video game this 2020 to bring fun to the world. Yep, you guessed it: Connie’s World. I have no concrete idea of what it’s going to be about but you might read many references to it in my friends’ blogs because it was one of the sketches we saw tonight at the Groundlings’s show “Cookin’ with Gas.” It was truly hilarious, and we all had a great time there.

However, the best part of today was our meeting with Debra Bergman, EVP physical production at Paramount. For me, as an international student who left everything I knew just to follow my love for films at Hofstra, her story of hard work and passion was inspiring as I’ve never seen before in anyone. There are always good and bad days; sometimes work feels just like that. But Ms. Bergman demonstrated us this life is made out more than just trying to do a good job. She still lives with the magic of storytelling in her, as we saw when she recounted so fondly the time she fell in love with filmmaking for the first time by watching “Citizen Kane.” Encountering people like her makes me so happy because now I know more than ever that I’m in the right field. If there are more professionals like her who care so much for stories and who feel the magic of fantasy worlds coming to life like she does, I want to be part of them, too. She is also an symbol for women filmmakers and the efforts to have more and more female storytellers working out there under equal opportunities. Thank you, Ms. Bergman, for inspiring all of us.

One more day in the sunny L.A.!

Puncture through the fear

By: Joe Gilberto

Today was inspirational. We got the chance to meet a very powerful woman named Debra Bergman. Debra is the executive vice president of physical production at Paramount and has had a very successful career. She started as an assistant production accountant and went on to be an in-house production accountant for Steven Spielberg himself. After she felt she had built up the necessary experience, she went into freelancing as a line producer in order to work her way up to becoming a production manager.  She worked on projects all across the country and became known as the “Queen of Indie.” After some time, she learned that Sony was looking for a vice president of production for features and worked there for some years, loving the big studio system. After Sony, she went on to Fremantle for scripted television production but realized she preferred the larger studios and ended up going to Paramount’s television department. From there, she worked diligently until recognized and was promoted to executive vice president of physical production.

She was truly an amazing person to meet. Even as someone more focused on the creative side of production, I found her wisdom incredibly useful.  How she stood up for herself throughout her career, especially being one of the few women in a male-dominated career field, was brave and motivating. She told us to reach for all the opportunities within our grasp and to, “puncture through the fear” and apply. Debra was a wonderful alum who was very honest with us about her story because she wanted to pass on as much wisdom as possible, and I really appreciated her passion and candor.

Connie’s world

By: Aliyah Dinkins

As our trip is coming to a close, our program directors gave us an Easter egg of an opportunity to go to the “Groundlings” theater to watch an improv show. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that tonight was one of my most comedic memories, and it really opened my eyes to a new thing that I enjoy immensely. Before the show began, the gang and I stood in their lobby where tons of pictures hang, displaying their past performers. Among these names include Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Will Ferrell and much more. I was starstruck; so many talented individuals that I admired on “Saturday Night Live” and feature films began their careers at the “Groundlings.” When we entered, I realized that the stage was way smaller than I expected, but boy was it utilized. The entire dance the director did of using suggestions from the audience (including one scene that mentioned our beloved Connie) and giving them to the improv-ers to create scenes was very inspiring. 

As an aspiring writer, I saw first-hand that there is much to learn from improv, and that it will definitely be a useful tool. The finale in particular had such a rise and fall, just like any well-written story. Sitting in those seats, I couldn’t help but think about how much my friends and family back home would have enjoyed it. As a result, at my earliest convenience, I will be sure to take them to an improv comedy show (I’m not sure if it will beat “Groundlings” though). Until we meet again… 

We love powerful women

By: Kat Holm

Today was the day I was looking forward to most out of this whole trip. We got the chance to visit Paramount Studios and meet Debra Bergman, who is the head of physical production at Paramount Television. Debra Bergman is incredibly inspiring to me as someone who is interested in the world of physical production. She recommended getting involved in freelance early and to work as hard as I can. It was encouraging to know that a woman from the east coast could come to Los Angeles, knowing absolutely no one and build herself up to becoming the head of production. I’m glad that I got the chance to speak with her briefly after the meeting. I mentioned how I am strongly considering coming out to L.A. for the whole summer and asked her whether it would be better for me to pursue a summer internship or try to land some freelance work. After the meeting, I felt so grateful that I had gotten the chance to meet such an influential, powerful woman, and I will strive to be like her someday.

Right after our meeting at Paramount, I received a phone call from one of the people I freelance for out on Long Island. I assumed the call would be asking me to shoot an event like I normally do but to my surprise, got asked if I would be available this summer to take on a freelance management position. This gave me a lot to think about because I’m still very interested in coming to L.A. for work over the summer, but I also don’t want to pass up on the opportunity to add a management position to my resume. It looks like I have a lot to think about in the coming months!

On the spot

By: Joe Unda

Another day, another dollar. In this case, a dollar represents an amazing experience, of which today had plenty. 

Our journey began today at Paramount Studios where we met with Hofstra alumna Debra Bergman. However, we couldn’t have gotten there without help from the amazing electrician at Paramount, Jim, who turned on the fountain for us, before our meeting. Thank you, Jim. You are truly a national treasure and a hero.

Debra is the EVP of physical production at Paramount and carries with her an incredible story. She told us of how through a connection she met on a random flight, she ended up on the set of Quentin Tarantino’s first film, “Reservoir Dogs.” Through the connections she made along the way, she got her next jobs, ending up at her amazing position at Paramount. Debra also explained her experience working in the male-dominated entertainment industry as a woman. This was inspiring and really showed just how much perseverance it took for her to get to where she is now. Her reasoning for her fight, unflappability and courage? She loves what she does, and wants to do it more than anything. 

Later on in the evening, we made our way to the “Groundlings” for an improv show. Having done a lot of improv in the past, I was very excited to be immersed back into this world, especially one where so many comedians got their start. This show made me laugh until tears filled my eyes. It reminded me how much fun improv was and really made me want to get back into it, which I plan to do.

This trip is really doing a lot more for me than I had originally thought.

 Day 10- woah. Day 10. This is it. 

I don’t want this trip to end

By: Kalle Neuman

It somehow feels like we’ve been in L.A. for two seconds and also a year at the same time. We’ve packed so much into each and every day here that the concept of time just doesn’t make sense anymore. That being said, today was once again remarkable and memorable. The meeting with Debra Bergman at Paramount was probably the most inspiring and touching of any of the meetings from the trip. It was incredible to hear her story and her honesty about her struggles and the challenges she faced, specifically as a woman in this industry, really struck a chord with me. It’s really motivating and inspiring to see how successful she is, despite the many obstacles in her way, and I learned a lot from the discussions we had with her today.

The meeting at ABC with Jill Gershman was super interesting since we got to hear from an entire panel of people about the process of marketing and working on “The Little Mermaid Live.” It was cool to see how each step of the process worked, and I wasn’t expecting to get to hear from so many people in so many different positions. It was also incredible just to be near the Disney lot, but I could write an entire blog post just on that, so I’ll just leave it there for now.

Getting to see a “Groundlings” show was not just a trip highlight but a life highlight for me. I have been a huge fan of improv for as long as I can remember, and since I’m such a comedy nerd, I know just how sacred the “Groundlings” company is. So many of my heroes and idols who inspired me to  pursue a career in television got their start at Groundlings like Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wiig, etc. It was so funny, and the fact that Mitch Silpa was in the cast tonight was awesome because his scene from “Bridesmaids” is one of my all-time favorites. My mom and I quote it to each other all the time. She’ll definitely be jealous when I tell her about this.

Connie’s world

By: Marissa Santorelli

Today, we kicked off our agenda by going to Paramount and meeting an alumna who told us about her professional journey, Debra Bergman. She is, by far, one of the most influential people I have ever met. As a female pillar in a very male-dominated industry, she broke through barriers and setbacks and evidently strived in her career. I was hanging on to every word she said. She said one quote that really stuck out to me: “Puncture through the fear.” Her advice was based on remembering to be our authentic selves and to never lose sight of our goals. She told us to step up and speak our truth… it really hit home. From Paramount we traveled to ABC/Disney and met with their marketing team. They discussed their strategy when promoting “The Little Mermaid Live.” It was interesting to see all of the moving parts that go into promoting special events and their respective casts. We all then traveled to The Grove to do some shopping and get dinner. Immediately following dinner, we had reservations for a comedy improv show at The Groundlings.

I have never laughed so hard! The show was so interactive and exciting, and the talent on stage was fantastic. We all had a blast. The director of the show called out for audience members to shout out things that could contribute to shaping the bit, and she kept using words/names that our students said, like “Connie’s World” and “Michael,” which made the experience that much funnier.

Hofstra inspires

By: Michael Valentino

Being completely honest, I had absolutely no idea the vast alumni network that Hofstra had in the entertainment industry, until this trip. Each day has been more shocking than the last, as we continue to meet people that are just mind-blowingly talented, powerful, and most of all, kind. I cannot believe how willing to help each Hofstra alumnus we meet is; not only do they give us their valuable time, but they always go the extra mile. This was clearly evident in today’s host, Debra Bergman, executive vice president of physical production at Paramount Television Studios. 

She was such an amazing person to get to meet and listen to, and she truly cared about ensuring we all learned something. You can tell that she was extremely passionate, not only about her career but of the industry as a whole. After only a few minutes of speaking with her, I was so proud of everything she’s accomplished. Her story not only inspired all of us, but taught us that through hard work and passion, you can get anywhere.

I was very interested in learning about how she determines the number of episodes a show is granted in a given season. She explained that the old model of a 22 episode season is no longer the norm, thanks to streaming services. The new number is between eight to 10 episodes, depending on the show’s budget. For example, if a show has more episodes, the set budget can be amortized, saving money overall.  

Today’s meeting was not only inspiring but truly taught me exactly what it would take to one day become and be a successful studio exec. 

Production at Paramount

By: Caroline Lea

Our first stop this morning was, for me, one of the most enlightening meetings we’ve had so far on this trip. We met with Debra Bergman, the EVP of physical production at Paramount. We had a fun start to the day at Paramount where Dean Lukasiewicz, who accompanied us to this meeting, found a groundskeeper and requested the iconic Paramount studios fountain be turned on for a group photo, as it was off when we arrived. We also got to see some cool things like bicycles featuring the logo of some of their popular shows as well as the “Forrest Gump” bench, as we walked to the office where we were meeting Debra Bergman. While it was all fun and games as we made our way to the meeting, the most fascinating part of the day was our time with Debra. Debra went into production accounting right out of school and worked her way up and around to being a line producer and unit production manager (UPM) for different independent works and networks, before eventually landing her current job at Paramount. As someone who wants to go into production, this really opened my eyes. I wasn’t sure what opportunities there were beyond technical managing or UPMing, and I wasn’t even quite sure how to get to those positions. Hearing her explain how she got to each of her jobs and what other paths you can take to get to where she is now was a great start to getting me thinking about where I want to head after graduation. It also really showed me what production opportunities lie ahead beyond working in technical operations and production managing. 

Business decisions

By: Heather Konefsky

Today was a really interesting day because it gave us a lot of insight into the marketing and public relations world of television. We first went to Paramount, where we spoke to Debra Bergman. She started at Hofstra as a business major, before switching to communications. This was really interesting to me because I am a video/television and business major. Debra told us that starting in television as a production accountant is a really good way to get work since there’s always a demand for that job. In high school, I was really good with math and statistics, so talking to Debra opened up a completely new career path for me. After this conversation, I’m rethinking my classes for next year and I want to add at least one accounting class. I thought I would only take marketing classes to fulfill my business requirements, but now I want to branch out and learn more. 

We, then, went to talk to Jill Gershman and her team. She walked us through an entire campaign to promote “The Little Mermaid Live” on ABC. This meeting was insightful because I never thought I’d be interested in the business side of television. I added business to my degree because I was afraid of not getting a job, but now, I can actually see myself working in something relevant to business. As part of the campaign, they had to film and edit videos and use graphic design to create posters. These are all things I’m interested in and have had to work on for classes. Before this trip, I didn’t realize promoting a television broadcast requires a similar skill set to producing the broadcast. Today opened my eyes and showed me that I should truly spend more time focusing on business.

Part of your world

By: Christina Morgana

Today was definitely felt like a women empowerment day. We met with Debra Bergman of Paramount and Jill Gershman of ABC. While both of these women were phenomenal, I was very intrigued by our meeting at ABC. Jill brought in most of her marketing team to talk about the campaign they ran for “The Little Mermaid Live.” This program was the most viewed live event in the past four years, airing in November of last year. Getting this viewership is no small feat; it takes a huge, talented team of individuals, dedicated to a certain project. They had to create many different forms of promotions to attract audiences. They did some photoshoots of the main cast including Graham Phillips, Queen Latifah, Shaggy, Auli’i Cravalho, john Stamos and others for the poster they wanted to put out to the public. While the team did the whole shoot in a matter of hours, this translated into an exciting billboard that literally popped out at the audience. They also created short packages of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, talking about the upcoming event to tease the ABC viewers. Jill’s team also had to make sure to cover their bases on all types of platforms for these promos: TV ads, “GMA” and “Live with Kelly & Ryan” appearances, ads for all social media and even a Snapchat filter that made you look like the princess herself. All of these tactics were used to bring nostalgic feelings and entice the fans to watch a Disney classic in a live setting. 

I had no idea how long and how many people are involved to get a project like this to come to fruition. While this was exhausting for the marketing team, it definitely paid off, leading to almost four million viewers in total. I hope I can entice that many viewers one day!

“Puncture through the fear”

By: Kathryn Harley

It’s Day 9, and I can hardly believe that our time in L.A. is almost finished. The days seem to fly by, but it also feels like I’ve been in this city forever. Maybe that’s me getting too comfortable, maybe it’s a sign that this is where I’m meant to be. That feeling is like approaching the top of the biggest hill on the rollercoaster; I’m excited and looking over the edge, but slightly terrified about just how steep the drop is.

Now that my existential moment is out of the way, let’s talk meetings! Our time with Debra Bergman, the EVP of Physical Production at Paramount, truly resonated. Our past conversations with speakers have been mostly focused on their career trajectories and professional endeavors, which is amazing, but Debra took it a step further. Throughout our conversation, Debra shared her experiences as a woman working in the entertainment. It was clear through her passion and emotional presentation that this is a topic that meant a great deal to her, and it meant the same to me.

Often, I feel intimidated being a woman going into any professional environment, especially working in the entertainment industry. Seeing a powerful woman like Debra being unafraid to speak her truth felt like the push I needed to fully be confident in myself and my career. Women working in the industry, including her, have faced challenges and conquered them to pave a new, easier path for women like me who are beginning their journey in the field. In her presentation, she encouraged us to “puncture through the fear,” a sentiment that I believe I will carry with me throughout my career. So to her, and all other women who have created the opportunity for me to follow my dreams, thank you.

Under da sea

By: Daniella Colletti

Am I really writing my blog post for day 9/10 in Los Angeles? *Inserts crying emoji* 

The highlight of my day was getting to see all of the steps that went into creating “The Little Mermaid Live” on ABC.  To me, this was particularly interesting because there was so much behind-the-scenes work that made this live version of a classic movie so successful. I watched the event live after my mom told me “Come watch this; you used to love this movie as a kid,” and sure enough it was “The Little Mermaid Live.” I thought it was absolutely spectacular, but hearing about the planning of the show today made me think it was even more spectacular.

To be even more specific, I loved hearing about how the publicists used creative strategies to promote “The Little Mermaid Live,” effectively.   Katherine and Amber on the publicity team discussed how mailers were very important in getting press excited about the event and hopefully, have some influencers post the “swag” on their social media pages for extra promotion. They also did a satellite media tour, a radio tour, a rehearsal observation by press, a VIP screening, and my personal favorite, large statues at the Grove of different characters in the upcoming event. Sebastian’s crab legs, Ursula’s tentacles, and Ariel’s mermaid tail took over the popular shopping spot. It was a great opportunity to get people excited about watching the live show and from the promotion video, it seemed that everyone of all ages couldn’t wait to tune in!

“Look at this stuff; isn’t it neat?”

By: Emmeline Blaner

Disney is my dream company to work for. It seems like Disney Channel, Disney movies, and ABC were always on my TV at home, and it has always inspired me to follow my heart and my dreams. Being able to visit the headquarters for my childhood favorites was an incredible opportunity, and I learned a lot from our meeting with Jill Gershman, senior vice president of marketing creative at ABC Entertainment.

We walked into our meeting expecting to sit at a large conference table like we have been all week, but we were delighted to unexpectedly walk into a screening room to a full panel of ABC marketing directors and executives. Since we were meeting with the marketing department, the panel took us into the process they used to market “The Little Mermaid Live!” The marketing approach was unique for this project since it would be a live, one-time event, and because they usually have existing footage to pull for editing promotional material. For this project, the team had to plan and execute the shooting themselves and figure out what would be needed. Gennifer Leong, the executive director of creative services, showed us some of the original concept art that was created to plan out photoshoots for posters and advertisements. As someone who loves art, this was interesting to me, and I loved how they designed elements that combined the animated style with the photographic elements to portray the concept of a partially live spectacle. From there, we were shown mock-ups of digital advertisements, out-of-home marketing, and interactive display pieces that were put up as an art installation at The Grove.

Although marketing is not my area of study or expertise, it was still very enlightening to hear about this side of the television business and what it takes to promote the content people work so hard to make.

We all need a laugh sometimes

By: Penelope Lopez

Dear blog: Sometimes it’s okay to sit down for a moment, grab some popcorn, enjoy life, and laugh a little. Today, we had the opportunity to visit the Groundling Theater. Here, I let go of any stress, worry, and doubtful thoughts and allowed myself to laugh until tears came out. The Groundling Theater is a safe space where comedic artists showcase their talents and entertain strangers for two hours. This amazing experience opened my eyes in realizing that there are moments in life where we need to take a step back and enjoy it before life passes us by. 

One of my favorite parts of this improv comedic relief experience was the scene of the two male gay couple arguing with their neighbor over their abundance amount of jack-o-lanterns on their front porch. Not only was this scene hilarious; it was great to see my peers and friends enjoy the night and let loose. Unexpectedly, four members of our group had a cameo in the skits. For instance, there was Connie’s World, Michael for one of the lead roles, uncle Pete, and they oddly used my name. All in all, it was an amazing wrap-up to a long hard working day. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone in need of some self-care because laughing cures sadness.  

Livin’ it up in Connie’s World

By: Paula Chirinos

It is worth noting that my peers for the Hofstra in L.A. trip are some of my favorite people. I wish I had met some of them earlier in my college career since it seems that we are all very goal-driven individuals. I got to witness some light-hearted moments today, from befriending Jim, an electrician at Paramount, visiting Disney and ABC Studios (and winning an adorable Little Mermaid Live! water bottle), eating food from all over the world at a farmers market next to The Grove, and finally, getting to watch a performance at the Groundlings Theater. 

This show was definitely a major highlight of the trip. The comedy sketches were iconic and truly creative but my favorite part was definitely when the actors pretended to review a video game titled, “Connie’s World,” by the suggestion of my peers. It is evident that these actors are talented in their craft since outside the theater, there were photos of previous participants of this show who have since made it big, such as Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. Earlier this week, some of my peers and I also met a former rockstar who toured with Marilyn Manson and currently works at Trader Joe’s. One of our Uber drivers was also a filmmaker that worked on parody films with Steve Oedekerk. 

This just goes to show that in L.A., you truly can find talent in the randomest places.  

Sometimes you just have to make a bad cup of coffee

By: Jessica Zagacki

Today we met with Debra Bergman, the EVP of physical production at Paramount. Not only was it extremely inspiring to see a woman thriving in this industry, but also it was incredibly empowering to see a woman thriving in the positions that she’s held and continues to hold. I loved getting to hear more about her and her journey. Ms. Bergman has been working insanely hard since college when she would take on projects for free just to gain the experience and the credits. Moreover, having a background in finance, banking, and communications made her an extremely valuable team member in the entertainment industry. She’s worked as a production accountant on several noteworthy projects and has negotiated hundreds of pages of budgets, sometimes just in one budget alone. As someone who isn’t very good at math, statistics, and business, the fact that she has a talent and an interest for these boggles my mind. However, even though it isn’t my cup of tea, I know it will be beneficial for me to learn the numbers game and business side of the industry so that I will also be more desirable to future employers.

At a couple points during the meeting while she was telling us about her story, Ms. Bergman got emotional and started to tear up. Seeing her be so genuine and vulnerable with us and knowing how hard she worked to get to where she is today really moved me. She also passed along a lot of really valuable advice that will stick with me, such as “puncturing through the fear.” Another thing that she said that really stayed with me was that the only time she was asked to make coffee for someone, she made it so badly that no one ever asked her to make it again. Ms. Bergman also said that she stopped bringing a notebook to meetings because she didn’t want people to automatically assume that she, as the only woman or as one of two women in the room, would be the one to take notes and become the secretary of the meetings. These are bold moves to make, and I respect Ms. Bergman immensely for them. Sometimes you just have to make a bad cup of coffee for someone else in order to brew a better one for yourself.

Words of inspiration

By: Julia Farella

Today we met with someone truly inspiring: Debra Bergman. Debra Bergman is the executive vice president of physical production at Paramount. Learning about her story from working as an assistant production accountant for shows such as “Reservoir Dogs” for Quintin Tarantino. She then worked her way up as a production accountant to line producer and executive producer then into her current role. One of the pieces of advice she gave us, especially for future freelancers, is to manage your money as if you’re never going to work again. That really stuck with me because it was the most realistic approach to money for current professionals that I’ve heard since coming out to L.A. I also learned that I need to start studying public show budgets and contracts of actors, producers, and directors. This will allow me to exercise my business mind and will help me become more comfortable with learning budgeting skills.

But the one thing that stuck with me was how passionate Debra was about her career. When speaking about how far she has come in the professional space, you could see her get choked up with emotion. It was so inspiring to see these human emotions in someone for powerful but also as a woman. Being a woman in Hollywood, women like Debra are the ones who set the path for equal opportunity and demanded respect in the workplace. And seeing her be such emotional about her journey really showed me how much she loves her career. And I can only hope that in my future that I will be telling other young women about my journey and love my job so much that I will be overcome with emotion. Overall, the meeting at Paramount really motivated me to not only strive for my dreams for myself but to inspire a future generation of kids as Debra has done for me.

Classic day in L.A.

By: Jared Brown

Visiting Debra Bergman, a Hofstra alumna, was our first stop of the day. Bergman is the executive vice president at Paramount Television. Her passion was illuminated in our informational meeting today. A strong work ethic and determination are the essences of Bergman’s career. At work, Bergman oversees various shows, departments, and people. Getting to this position of executive power exposes how authentic and honest work always prevails. It was mentioned in the meeting that there is no such thing as a bad job or opportunity. Exploring and experiencing different aspects of the industry is vital. Bergman prioritizes her schedule based on importance and urgency. She loves the collaboration with the people she works with and explains how to puncture through common industry fears. 

At ABC Disney, Jill Gershman, the senior vice president of marketing creative, put together a large panel and presentation. We learned about the strategies and process which took place in executing the promotion of “The Little Mermaid Live” on ABC. Ryan Casey, the director of the marketing strategy, discussed the human approach and plan for the project. In a contemporary media era of nostalgia, the live event reimagined the beloved classic. The star stacked cast, music, production, and more were pieces of the packages the promoters used in targeting different audiences. A family-focused fun film was widely advertised to all ages. Disney has a plethora of assets and can be used to the movie marketer’s favor. Social media was used on the campaign because it is a more intimate user experience. When an advertisement seems more personalized, it tends to be highly effective. The organic social strategy leaves the company with a staggering amount of impressions. Getting the attention of the media consumer is difficult this day in age because media is everywhere. People get bored with advertisements, but ABC does a good job grasping attention and standing out of the crowd. 

At night we went to an improv show at the Groundlings. Something that all three of these events and activities had in common today was that they all require collaboration, interpersonal communication, and persuasive skills. Talk shows, interviews, social media, outside influencers, and more are responsible for a campaign like my little mermaid live. Experiential marketing was brilliantly done on snapchat, and at the grove. At the Grove, large sculptures were representing the live television event. Fan’s reactions were excellent, and the campaign was successful. Yes, it is bittersweet, but tomorrow is our last day of meetings, and I plan on getting the most out of them.