The Portrait of Tom Cassese
Film studies and production graduate Tom Cassese ’15 finds success as a filmmaker/animator
Tom Cassese ’15 knows how to operate on a tight budget. His award-winning short film Concurrence — featured at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival — cost $20 to make. The intriguing movie poster was hand drawn by Cassese himself, a trained illustrator and artist. And whenever Cassese can’t accomplish a task by himself, he gets by with a little help from his friends.
“Jon Bewley ’15, Joe Plescia ’15 and I were producers,” Cassese, a 25-year-old native of Hicksville, Long Island, lists off the names of Hofstra-based collaborators on Zoul, a horror comedy in post-production. “Tom Festo ’15 was the director of photography; Kyra Angione ’17 was the AD and also an AP; just to name a few.”
Cassese currently works as a program operations coordinator at AMC Networks and SundanceTV. Previously, he worked for shows on truTV (Comedy Knockout Seasons 1-2) and the Discovery Channel (Pacific Warriors Season 1), and interned at DC Comics.
Opportunities abounded for Cassese after graduating LHSC, but his relationship with Hofstra started years before he enrolled.
“I used to take drawing classes at Hofstra when I was younger, so I was already familiar with the campus. When I visited as a senior in high school, I was impressed by the studio space and film program in general. The students were actively involved, and I was especially impressed by their film projects. The professors were knowledgeable and welcoming, and I could tell they genuinely cared about the students.”
From lifelong friendships made over the course of his four years at Hofstra, Cassese learned the ins and outs of film production. He developed his visual storytelling skills and gained experience directing, writing, producing and editing a variety of film projects. During his senior year, Cassese directed two films — Wanted and Concurrence.
Both screened and won awards in festivals around the country and world, most notably the 69th Cannes Film Festival.
“Spending two weeks in Cannes was an incredible experience,” Cassese said. “I networked with filmmakers from all over the world and saw my fair share of celebrities. I went to red carpet events, world premieres, and after-parties, and got a taste of the highest levels of the industry. This experience, coupled with the success I found with my projects, has emboldened me to keep making films.”
Aside from live-action filmmaking, Cassese is also an animator and illustrator. He’s developed and pitched an original animated short to network executives at Nickelodeon, and developed a feature based on an animated short created while at Hofstra and pitched it to DreamWorks Animation Studios.
“Pitching ideas in front of executives has given me incredible insight into selling projects and how the industry works, and I fully intend to keep developing and pitching films.”
In the experience of life and filmmaking, Cassese values the importance of friendships. His advice to current students is to fall into a solid group of friends with shared interests who will support one another’s projects. And never burn a bridge.
“In my experience, I have found that Hofstra has a strong reputation in the industry. On many occasions, I’ve been personally complimented on the professionalism and quality of work of Hofstra students and alumni.”
Looking ahead, Cassese has additional projects in the works, and hopes to start his next film as soon as he finishes Zoul. He is also working on an animated projects and illustrating a comic book to submit to publishers.
“Make as many films as you can while still in school — don’t worry if they’re terrible,” Cassese advises. “You’ll learn and improve with each one. If you feel like you don’t have the time to make a film, believe me, you do. If you feel like you don’t have the money to make a film, Concurrence cost me $20 to make. After graduation, it only becomes more difficult and expensive to produce a film.”
Photos courtesy of Jon Bewley ’15