Arts, Features

Late-night TV producers share words of wisdom with BU film and TV students

Viral segments from late-night television often spread around YouTube and Twitter after they air, featuring witty takes on current events and comedic political crossfire. The process of getting these programs to air, however, takes a group of producers, writers and editors who know how to get their audiences laughing.

Boston University’s College of Communication. Alumni from COM and the College of Fine Arts working in late-night television shared career advice with film and television students at a virtual panel on Friday hosted by Sheila Sitomer and the COM “Cinematheque” series. ELIZA SHAW/ DFP FILE

Producers for late-night television shows such as “Tooning Out the News,” “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” shared their advice for film and television students at Boston University on Friday via Zoom.

The panel, hosted by Sheila Sitomer and the College of Communication’s “Cinematheque” series, was composed of recent alumni from COM and the College of Fine Arts who have worked their way into late-night television production quickly after graduation.

Around 150 students attended Friday night to hear advice on working in the television industry.

Olivia Sanabria, a 2017 CFA alumna and segment producer at CBS’s “Tooning Out the News,” said making connections with classmates at BU and maintaining those relationships after graduation is one of the most effective ways to get a job, internship or other career in the television industry.

“I’m sure there are many parts of this industry that hire based on picking a resume out of a stack, but in my experience, there’s a lot more hiring in this industry that’s done based on relationships,” Sanabria said during the event. “All of the people that you’re friends with in college, you’re going to help each other.”

As a former intern, 2018 COM alumna Lauren Casabona said she and her colleagues at HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” noticed the show’s interns consistently take care of the less-glamorous tasks and find ways to be useful to the rest of the crew, even in slow moments.

“Trying to figure out what you can contribute is huge,” Casabona said. “I have interns, and I notice and I pay attention if they’re not on my rotation but they ask if I need help with something, even though they theoretically could have free time. I pay attention to that, I clock that and I know all of my coworkers also pay attention to that.”

Another 2018 COM alum, Claudia DeTrempe, is the writers’ associate producer at “Tooning Out the News.” DeTrempe agreed with Casabona and described when she was tasked with creating a list of local restaurants for the “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” cast and crew to eat.

“I could have typed it in a Word document, but instead I made this binder and added QR codes that would take you to the map,” DeTrempe said during the panel. “Anything that you can do, and I think this a big thing that I learned in life in COM, is to go that extra step. You can add a little bit of pizazz to it and that’s what people are going to notice.”

Sitomer, a recently hired film and TV professor in COM, said much of the work producers do in television today is multifarious because of smaller budgets, while her first jobs were more clearly defined.

“When I was a field producer, I went out with union crews, and I didn’t touch the camera. I didn’t touch the sound equipment. They had their job, I had my job,” Sitomer said. “When I went into the editing room, I certainly worked with the editor, but I didn’t touch the equipment because that was what the editor did.”

Alex Schaffer, a masters television student in COM, attended the event. She said it was fulfilling to hear about the career advice and successes from recent BU graduates as she begins her studies at BU.

“I have a piqued interest in comedy, especially late-night,” Schaffer said in an interview. “I grew up watching a lot of late-night, so seeing people not that much older than me … working in the industry already gets me excited.”

On the other hand, Tamara Sheraton, a COM grad student with experience in the South African film and television industry, said in an interview production for television is noticeably different from film when it comes to how projects are completed.

“I studied screenwriting and I worked in television as well, but the film aspect was very solitary,” Sheraton said. “You go away, you write for months on end, and then you come back and hope it’s useful, but with television, it’s really more collaborative and it’s a lot of group work and a lot of reliance on each other.”

Zach Schiffman, a 2018 COM alum who worked on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” before joining “Tooning Out the News” as a digital associate producer, said during the panel Bee herself gave him some of the best advice he’d ever received as a young professional in television: “No one is ever thinking about you.”

“It made me realize,” Schiffman said, “‘Oh yeah, I say hello to Sam every day, and she’s not thinking about me and that’s okay.’”

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