An “Off Campus” Reunion

Posted in Features, Summer 2018

We celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the student-produced Drexel TV series “Off Campus” with a visit with some of its first student creators.

Far from Drexel in Hollywood, five alumni from the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s film and television program gather to discuss life after college — and to reminisce about the Drexel TV series they helped to shape while undergraduates.

Off Campus” is a millennial dramedy about a group of recent college graduates living together near campus, produced entirely by students in Drexel’s Department of Cinema and Television.

The five Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s film and television program alumni who helped to shape a Drexel TV series while undergraduates.

As it marks its 10th season, the program boasts five nominations and three wins from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ College Production Awards of Excellence at the Mid-Atlantic Emmys. It also received a wink from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which called it “the longest-running Philadelphia television show you never heard of,” and a slot on CBS’ CW Philly 57 network, which has aired all 10 of the halfhour episodes since picking up the series in 2011.

The five alumni — still close friends and now pursuing successful entertainment-industry careers in Los Angeles — were among the first cohort of students to work on the series. They spent countless hours writing, directing, photographing and even acting in the show.

Over a reunion dinner in Los Angeles, they recounted how their own lives as young adults have unfolded since graduation. If the evening were a script of “The Making of ‘Off Campus,’” it might go something like this.

The Making of ‘Off Campus’

EP. #1XXX01

01/02/18

 

OPEN TO BLACK

An unidentified INTERVIEWER is heard:

(INTERVIEWER O.S.)

Here you are all together, recent graduates, starting out your lives and careers. It’s like “2,800 miles off campus.”

Ambient sounds gradually get louder — we hear LAUGHTER and the CLANK AND CHATTER of a busy restaurant.

FADE IN:

INT. LOS ANGELES RESTAURANT – NIGHT

A Mexican restaurant in a quiet part of town that tonight is very loud. Everyone at the table is having a good time. The lights are low over a large, round table. The camera slowly pans to each person seated, and a chyron identifies them: RYAN GOLDBERG ’10, ANDREW CATANIA ’12, LAUREL CHADWICK ’12, SAM MOSKOWITZ ’13 and MEGAN POLLIN ’13. While this is happening we hear:

Close Up — Andrew Catania, smiling and talking with others off screen

ANDREW CATANIA (V.O.)

We knew we could do it, because we had already done it. Making “Off Campus” felt like we were making a legitimate product, what you have to do in the real world. We took all the things we learned in all the classes and made it a lab.

(INTERVIEWER O.S.)

So, what was it like?

ANDREW CATANIA (V.O.)

Andrew Susskind was like the network, breathing down our necks.

CUT TO:

EXT. BUILDING THAT HOUSES THE WESTPHAL COLLEGE OF MEDIA ARTS AND DESIGN CINEMA
AND TELEVISION DEPARTMENT

Establishing shot.

CUT TO:

INT. PROFESSOR ANDREW SUSSKIND’S OFFICE

Inside PROFESSOR ANDREW SUSSKIND’s office are mementos of his career as a television and film producer for projects such as “Parenthood” and “Married…With Children.” He is now program director of the TV production and media management program in the Department of Cinema and Television and the faculty executive producer of the 20 to 25 students who crew “Off Campus” each year. He leans back in his chair and recounts the show’s origins.

PROFESSOR SUSSKIND

When I first came to Drexel, Westphal Dean Allen Sabinson asked me to supervise a production class that would emulate a network prime-time experience. So I taught a writing class of 12 students, divided into two groups of six, and assigned the task of creating a show that would allow them to use their personal experiences.

(a reflective pause)

Interestingly, each group came up with essentially the same idea: a group of recent college graduates living together near campus as they begin their journey into adulthood. And even though the two approaches were very different in terms of tone — one was very broad, the other more serious — the ideas and the concerns of the characters were very similar. I picked the more serious show, which had enough smart comedic material to make into a half-hour show.

ACT ONE: “SEASON ONE”

FLASHBACK:

EXT. DREXEL’S UNIVERSITY CITY CAMPUS — DAY

It’s the year 2008 and class is in session in Philadelphia.

CUT TO:

INT. EMPTY APARTMENT

Students are furnishing the set — a nondescript apartment — and preparing to film a scene for the first episode of “Off Campus.” Ryan Goldberg is conferring with actors and crew. As this happens:

RYAN GOLDBERG (V.O.)

Being one of the creators and writers, I always felt like a core member of the show, the show felt like my baby. Besides our teacher Andrew Susskind, I was pretty much running the production on my episodes and making a lot of final decisions from casting to crew to budget to the art department and set dressings, and okayed a lot of our student directors’ ideas.

CUT TO:

INT. PROFESSOR SUSSKIND’S OFFICE

PROFESSOR SUSSKIND

The students of “Off Campus” work in a professional environment, with a large crew of 25, over 20 weeks. There is a hierarchy of departments, with department heads reporting to two supervising producers. The cast is mostly young professional actors. A single episode is produced over the course of an academic year, and students experience all of the ups and downs of producing a prime-time series.

(reminiscing, Susskind continues)

Ryan was the first student to run the “Off Campus” production by himself, which was an immense undertaking. At first, he was intimidated by the experience, and by me. And initially, anytime something went wrong, or someone didn’t do their job correctly, he blamed himself. By the end of production, he had gained self-confidence and was prepared to enter the industry.

CUT TO:

INT. MEGAN POLLIN WORKING IN THE DREXEL TV EDITING ROOM

MEGAN POLLIN

When Professor Susskind screened the first scene I had cut for the crew, I was definitely nervous because no one had really seen much of anything I’d cut, but everyone was excited to see the raw footage coming together and seemed impressed with the cut. So it was a relief for me, but also really satisfying.

CUT TO:

INT. PROFESSOR SUSSKIND’S OFFICE

PROFESSOR SUSSKIND

When Pollin first joined “Off Campus” as editor, she was very shy, especially around me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that she possessed major-league talent, with particularly great instincts for comedy. She also became a highly confident and articulate creative partner for any producers and directors smart and lucky enough to hire her.

CUT TO:

INT. “OFF CAMPUS” SET

Sam Moskowitz is setting up a camera inside the “Off Campus” living room. Over this we hear:

SAM MOSKOWITZ (V.O.)

The second two years for me, I was the gaffer and then the director of photography; and in both of those positions, I really felt like I had a lot of control over the look of the show because I arranged the lighting and what camera angles to use.

CUT TO:

INT. PROFESSOR SUSSKIND’S OFFICE

PROFESSOR SUSSKIND

Sam is a great charmer with a heart of gold, and a supremely talented director of photography and gaffer. He also has incredible good fortune in choice of bride.

JUMP TO:

Sam Moskowitz and Laurel Chadwick, dressed in bridal outfits, walking down the aisle together as the wedding march plays. CHYRON: Maine, Aug. 27, 2016.

ACT TWO: “SEASON TWO”

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY PARK — MIDDAY

This is the second year of “Off Campus” production, and the cast and crew are in busy Clark Park in West Philadelphia, lugging TV equipment while dodging dog walkers and joggers.

LAUREL CHADWICK (V.O.)

My first year on the show was fairly easy. There wasn’t a lot of prep that had to be done, because once the set was built, we knew what to expect each and every Tuesday. But…

(a beat, and she continues.)

…for the second season, all of a sudden there was a scene in the park. I was only a sophomore and I had to a find a park, get parking permits, and cast 10 or so extras. Some were friends who volunteered, others responded to ads we used on CraigsList. I worked with the Greater Philadelphia Film Office to obtain permits for parking and filming. It felt like we were making a legitimate product, what you have to do in the real world.

ANDREW CATANIA (V.O.)

Working on the second show, the full importance of the undertaking hit home. It had a bigger budget, a larger crew and a dialogue-driven plot that featured shots in a real bar and at Clark Park, about a mile from the campus.

CUT TO:

A CLIP FROM THE SECOND SEASON OF “OFF CAMPUS”

It’s as if we’re watching a scene of “Off Campus” on a TV monitor. We see a small apartment, furnished casually. In one of the bedrooms two “Off Campus” actors are doing a scene in which DEAN is telling his roommate FELIX that he should break up with his new girlfriend whom he just met and instantly fallen in love with.

DEAN

How do you know she feels the same way about you?

FELIX

I don’t have to know. I feel it. Here.

(he taps his heart)

DEAN

OK. You’re obviously impaired, so I’m going to take the adult role here.
In the future, just remember to thank me.

As the actors say their lines the VOLUME decreases and we hear:

(NARRATOR V.O.)

This episode featured actors playing out real-world scenarios written by undergraduates just dipping their feet into the real world themselves. The comedic relief comes from Dean’s bright idea of breaking up Felix and his new girlfriend before they get too involved. This sets in motion events that lead to Dean’s own girlfriend dumping him.

We faintly hear the actors deliver their lines, muting gradually into silence as the scene

FADES TO:

ACT THREE: LIFE AFTER GRADUATION

INT. RESTAURANT — NIGHT

We’re back in the Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. The scene has quieted and the hour is late. Off-screen, the unidentified interviewer continues:

(INTERVIEWER O.S.)

How did Drexel experiences help you find your first jobs in Hollywood?

One by one, the camera swivels rapidly to each person as they respond, almost like they’re being called on in class. Occasionally, a WAITER flits past filling water glasses or bringing plates.

ANDREW CATANIA

We worked on projects with alumni and upperclassmen to get a foot in the door, and they were the ones who would continue to call us as they got jobs. The professors helped teach us the basics, but if we were motivated to start a career in film and television, then we had to go out and search for ourselves. In essence, if you weren’t motivated to go do it on your own, then you weren’t going to get far in the business. Still holds true to this day, I think.

MEGAN POLLIN

I knew one of the assistant editors on the film “Trainwreck” from my co-op at a post facility called sixteen19 in New York. I had also recently moved to L.A., and I met with her for coffee when I first came out. Their post-production assistant got another job offer, and when he left, my résumé was pushed forward.

LAUREL CHADWICK

My first job was as an assistant to a talent agent at ICM Partners. I got this job from my co-op! They told me to keep in touch after I graduated and they would hire me back, and they did.

SAM MOSKOWITZ

My first job was on the show “American Dream Builders” on NBC. I got the job from a Drexel alumna, Angelina Zak. I did the interview, and I actually didn’t get the full-time gig, but they had me on as a day player and after the first day they decided that they needed to hire me for the run of the show, which went for about five months.

ANDREW CATANIA

Jon Wolf, from the class of 2011, got me a few production assistant jobs at CollegeHumor when I first got to L.A., and I eventually started coordinating for them.

RYAN GOLDBERG

When I arrived in Los Angeles in August 2012, I only knew a handful of people, mostly Drexel alums and alums from “Off Campus,” including a lot of our original actors who also moved out here the same time as me. We all were friends and hung out, which was nice because it helped ease the move and the lessen the feeling of being so far away from home. My first job in California was production office assistant for a trailer house called Seismic Productions.

CAMERA PULLS BACK TO SHOW ALL FIVE GRADUATES AT ONCE.

(NARRATOR V.O.)

Initial jobs led to more opportunities and Laurel Chadwick is now the assistant to the co-executive producer on the TV show, “This is Us.” Megan Pollin is a post-production coordinator at a company called Pilgrim and editing a weekly sketch comedy written by Drexel grads. Ryan Goldberg shoots and edits videos at Creative Artists Agency. Sam Moskowitz recently spent a month in Miami as the assistant production coordinator working on a show for Verizon Go 90. Andrew Catania worked on the Hugh Jackman film “The Greatest Showman.” Several of the group are also making independent short films.

CUT TO:

INT. PROFESSOR ANDREW SUSSKIND’S OFFICE

PROFESSOR SUSSKIND

I believe that this group of young professionals are exceptionally talented as practitioners and extraordinarily gifted human beings. They comprise the group of which I’m most confident in their professional success and most honored to have played a small part in their education.

CUT TO:

A GOOGLE SEARCH PAGE ON A COMPUTER SCREEN

Camera zooms to the page’s search box. One by one, capital letters appear as IMDB. Beneath it is a chyron: “Internet Movie Database.” We see the IMDB, and hear a CLICK, as if someone is striking a computer key.

In the box, Laurel Chadwick’s name appears one letter at a time. CLICK. Next we see the page appear with a list of search results. Another CLICK, and Chadwick’s IMDB credits are listed.

This process is quickly repeated for the other graduates.

CUT TO:

INT. RESTAURANT NIGHT

A man too handsome to be a waiter walks up to the table and presents the alumni with the bill. As this happens the camera slowly begins to pull back.

(NARRATOR V.O.)

Relocating to California wasn’t easy for this quintet, being so far from family and friends, but they agree that if you want to work in entertainment, Southern California is the place to be…though of course, they still root for the Phillies when the team comes to play the Dodgers.

As the scene begins to FADE OUT we hear one of them say:

(ANDREW CATANIA O.S.)

I remember we were shooting a scene outside one day and someone did drive by saying, “‘Off Campus?’ I saw you guys on TV.” If that’s our only fan in the world, I’d be OK with that.

FADE TO BLACK