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Laughter, life lessons and hard truths wrapped with care are the gifts that Bill Cosby has been giving to people for decades. He and director Robert Townsend are still providing these gifts to a new generation of California State University, Northridge film students by hand selecting them to capture the behind-the-scenes footage for the new Comedy Central special “Bill Cosby: Far From Finished.”
“Far From Finished,” which is scheduled to air Saturday Nov. 23, marks Cosby’s first television concert special in 30 years. The special comprises of footage taken from the television icon’s June performance at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center.
“It’s a historic experience that my students got to be a part of,” said CSUN cinema and television artsprofessor Nate Thomas, head of the film option at Northridge.
Townsend said a previous encounter with CSUN’s film students prompted him to reach out to the university when he was tapped to direct the Cosby special.
“I had the opportunity to work with CSUN students during the NFL Player Engagement’s Pro Hollywood Boot Camp, where we train NFL players in the craft of filmmaking,” said Townsend. “I was so impressed with the CSUN students during that event I called professor Thomas to recruit students to work with me on the Comedy Central special I was directing with Mr. Bill Cosby. But it wasn’t just me who was impressed. Mr. Cosby was so extremely impressed with the students’ professionalism that he stopped rehearsal to meet and shake everyone’s hands personally.”
Thomas called the experience a great learning opportunity for his students.
“From hands-on learning to getting to work with two men who are pioneers in so many ways,” he said. “Mr. Cosby is also very passionate about education and providing opportunities for the little guys. Twenty four years ago when I was fresh out of film school, Mr. Cosby provided me with the opportunity to do the behind-the-scenes footage for his movie ‘Ghost Dad.’ Out of all the people I’ve worked with in my career, Mr. Cosby has had the most impact, so I felt like a proud father as my students now got to do the behind the scenes for his comedy special.”
Thomas noted that Cosby and Townsend “could have gone to UCLA, USC, Cal Arts or NYU — or even a professional production company —but they came to us because they knew we could do it, and do it well, and for that we’re happy.”
The students who took part in the project credited CSUN with giving them the skills to do the job.
“CSUN has a very supportive and passionate CTVA staff, which makes the classroom environment much more enhanced when your professor cares,” said Alyssa Carter, a fourth-year student in CSUN’s film option. “However, the real education comes from doing hands-on work and practice in your field. Professor Thomas is excellent in providing his students with opportunities to work in a professional atmosphere based on the connections he has in the entertainment industry.
“What was so wonderful about this particular experience for me was getting to learn from the ambitious director Robert Townsend,” she said. “It’s my goal to become a director in the future. Being able to observe his work-flow first hand was something I’ll never forget.”
Christopher Jackson, another fourth-year student who took part in the project, agreed.
“CSUN’s training was instrumental in preparation for working with Mr. Cosby on the special,” he said. “Everything, from our organization skills to our technical prowess, was put to the test. Judging by the final video produced, I’d say we passed with flying colors.
“Getting to work with Mr. Cosby was phenomenal,” Jackson added. “We had a blast working behind the scenes. Mr. Cosby took the time to address each of us individually and gave us each a bit of his wisdom gathered from his years of working in the entertainment industry.”
“Seeing how significant Mr. Cosby’s support of education is to society is truly inspiring, considering our team was a group of students,” she said. “When he asked us all to line up so he could meet us individually and shake our hands, we were all shocked. That was a truly powerful moment to see him take the time and show how much he cares about the students who were working the event.”
Townsend said the CSUN students earned Cosby’s respect and attention.
“The CSUN students are really top notch in every way,” said Townsend. “And so now I’ve nicknamed them the ‘Hollywood Guns from CSUN’ — they get it done.”
The behind-the-scenes footage will be contained in the Blu-ray/DVD extras when the special is released on home video Nov. 26.
CSUN’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts — housed in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication — has an international reputation for producing dedicated and talented entertainment industry professionals who recognize the value of hard work as they learn and continue to perfect their crafts. The department’s alumni work in all aspects of entertainment media, from writing, producing and directing to manning cameras and having the final say in what project is made.