Syracuse University Magazine

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Israeli actors Liron Levo and Bar Refaeli talk in a scene at a sushi bar.




Made-in-Syracuse Thriller Debuts

Session, a thriller about a psychiatrist obsessed with his patient, was shown in a special advanced  screening at the seventh annual Syracuse International Film Festival (SIFF) in October. Shot entirely in Syracuse, the film was produced by College of Visual and Performing Arts faculty members John Craddock and Owen Shapiro, and directed by visiting Israeli filmmaker Haim Bouzaglo, with SU students occupying key technical positions. The film co-stars Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli as the patient and Steven Bauer as the therapist in need of a cure. “Haim wanted to shoot an English-language film in Syracuse,” says Shapiro, artistic director of SIFF. “He had a script written in Hebrew by his wife, Lisa Mamou, and Haim and I adapted it, reshaping it into an American story, giving it a new ending.” 

Critics will have their say after the film’s release in May, but Session is already a hit among SU students who jump-started their careers by working on it, and with Central New York merchants and service providers who attended to the production’s many needs. “It was amazing—we graduated on Sunday and started shooting on Monday,” says Brent Barbano ’07, Session’s best boy electric, responsible for meeting the power needs of lighting set-ups. “The only way you can learn to work on a film set is by doing it, and we had a safe learning environment. Our professors knew we were green and took the time to show us things. Believe me, it doesn’t always happen when you’re out there working.” Dan Campis ’08, Session’s best boy grip, describes his experience in different terms. “It was a lot of pressure, and that’s always a learning experience,” he says. “I want to produce films, and the clearest path to that goal involves a full understanding of what skilled technicians do, because without them you’re not going to have a film—no lights, no nothing.” Campis has worked for several productions in the Syracuse area, including a film shot in Auburn last summer for which, as line producer, he managed a $250,000 budget. He hopes to continue making films in upstate New York and recently formed a company, Dark Corner Productions LLC, for that purpose. 

Craddock, who has employed SU students in Lonely Joe (2007) and Germ (2009) as well as Session, believes the indie feature model used to make these films is a more effective professional training ground than a typical “student film” set. “We were in production for a month—six days a week, 14-hour days—something most students never experience,” he says. “Students get a better idea of the industry’s break-neck pace and how physically demanding it is.” With three Syracuse-area productions to his credit, Craddock is sold on the economic advantages of movie-making for the regional economy. “Our expenditures on hotels, alone, were about $30,000 for Session,” he says. “Catering is another huge part of the budget, and we rent vehicles and props and entire shooting locations.” According to the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, films made in Central New York return about three dollars to the regional economy for each dollar invested. “Our total budget for Session was $625,000, and we spent $400,000 of it shooting here,” Shapiro says. “Using the chamber’s formula, we can safely say that Session generated more than $1 million in Syracuse.”

Barbano, who grew up in Syracuse, now lives in Los Angeles, where he is a freelance cinematographer and a camera operator for Authentic Entertainment, a company specializing in reality TV. “I haven’t seen Session, and I wish I could have come home for the premiere,” he says. “But I had to be in Louisville where we were shooting a show for The Learning Channel.” Campis attended the screening and thoroughly enjoyed himself. “It was great to see Session after three years,” he says. “We had a lot of fun doing it, and I learned a lot about film and about myself. I think it’s very important to shoot films locally. There’s nothing like it.” Craddock agrees, and believes that lower costs, strong local talent, and a movie-friendly atmosphere are among the benefits of producing films in the area. “The Syracuse Police Department let us shoot several scenes for Session right in the station house,” he says. “In another project, the Village of Jordan shut down Main Street for us for four days. People have a real ‘can-do’ spirit here.” —David Marc

Photo by Alan Smith for Session