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Michael Chernak

Cinema major gets a view of Hollywood

by Gabriela Carrascal

Though a number of Harpur College students have participated in the Liberal Arts to Careers Externship, few can say their experience took them across the country and into the world of cable television.

Cinema major Michael Chernak, a senior from Endicott, N.Y., flew to Los Angeles to learn about different careers in the field of television production in July 2013. There, he shadowed Binghamton alum Gary Levine ’74, ’76 MBA, the executive vice president for original programming at Showtime.

The Liberal Arts to Careers Externship (LACE) allows students to shadow Harpur College alumni for a first-hand look at potential careers related to their major. For Chernak, that meant five days of sitting in on table reads, touring production studios and reading scripts.

Levine says he wanted to bring a meaningful dose of the real world into Chernak’s undergraduate studies.

“My goal was to have Michael experience, first hand, each of the steps that go into creating an episode of one of our Showtime series,” Levine says.

“I learned the process of what executives do in media production that I wouldn’t learn in school,” Chernak says. “I like the production side of (cinema). The executive side I saw at Showtime is professional but still creative.”

Levine helped Chernak narrow his interest in television production down to a possible career.

“Gary would ask me what I was interested in,” Chernak says. “He took into account my interests and scheduled me with an editing person, scheduled me with a mixer. He would schedule me for what I really wanted to do.”

In addition to shadowing Levine, Chernak also met Madeleine Smithberg ’81, founder of Mad Cow Productions and co-creator of “The Daily Show.”

“I learned a lot from her because she was doing her own independent production,” Chernak says. “[She and her assistant] were doing a pitch, so I got to see their process with that.”

The experience in Los Angeles helped Chernak find what he wants to do after graduation. As part of his externship, he shadowed two editors working on the show “Californication.” While he was exposed to several different aspects of television production, he was drawn to editing.

The LACE program helped Chernak see how he could apply his cinema studies to a practical career.

“When you get real-life work and you’re going into a production, you’re learning how to interact with real life people,” he says. “You’re learning how to do very realistic jobs that you’re not exposed to in school.”

Because of this real-world experience, Chernak recommends the program to other Harpur students who are exploring career possibilities

“When we went to the LACE program meeting at the end of the semester, it was for so many different things,” Chernak says. “Mine was for a high-up executive media position, but some people went to New York and shadowed a small coffee business or other people covered medical or dental positions and some people did social work. … It’s something that can help a variety of (students).”

Chernak says the contacts he made were a rewarding part of his externship.

“Each and every person I met told me to contact them when I’m ready for internships,” he says. “They asked me to e-mail them and not to be a stranger.”

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Last Updated: 3/1/17