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One On 1: Studio President Stuart Suna's Cup Is Pretty Full

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Many of the most prominent shows on television are about New York, and increasingly, they are being shot in New York. In the following One on 1 report, NY1's Budd Mishkin speaks with one man who is behind that effort.

While most New Yorkers do not know Stuart Suna, or Silvercup Studios, they probably do know "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" – two of the many shows that were filmed in Long Island City at Silvercup Studios, which is run by Stuart Suna, and his brother, Alan.

Among the shows filming there now are "30 Rock", "Gossip Girl", and "Ugly Betty."

"Ugly Betty" shot its pilot in New York City, before moving to Los Angeles for two years. This year, it returned to NYC.

Suna was part of the group which lobbied city and state officials to offer increased tax exemptions for shows filming here.

"It made economic sense, and they could also expand the show to be more about New York because, you know, 'Ugly Betty' is about Queens, and we're in Queens," said Suna. "So it's easy for them to do their location work instead of flying everybody over."

Silvercup also houses films and commercials. It provides the space, the equipment, and the architecture.

And that's where Suna's biography diverges from your average studio head. As a young man, he studied architecture and passion was art.

He serves on many arts-related boards, including the Hamptons Film Festival.

He's a risk taker when heli-skiing and rock climbing, but as a young artist, Suna was a realist.

"I always knew that artists, it's very challenging to support your lifestyle that I aspired to," he said. "I wanted to be able to go skiing and sailing and be in the Hamptons."

So now he facilitates a different type of art.

"Shows about New York should be shot in New York," he said.

The building that houses Silvercup Studios has a history of its own.

"It originally had flour silos in here for Silvercup Bread," explained Suna. "This was a bread factory."

In a classic case of foreshadowing, Suna once took a school field trip to the Silvercup Bread factory.

"I just remember it being huge, you know, this giant bakery," he said. "I remember going, 'oh this is the bread I eat at home.'"

Silvercup's roof offers Suna a spectacular view of Manhattan, perfect for yoga sessions when he wants to get away from the business downstairs.
And thanks to a grant from the New York Power Authority, it also offers a space for green roof technology, designed to give off oxygen, cool the roofs, and help with storm water runoff.

"Their roots are giant sponges, so when the rain comes pouring down they just expand, like almost instantly," he said. "And the sponges just drink in all this water and keep it from going to the sewer system."

A few blocks to the west lies the site of what Suna hopes will be his next big project.

Silvercup West is designed to house more studio space, apartments, office buildings, restaurants and an esplanade along the water.

Despite approvals from local, city and state officials, the project is still in what Suna calls "the evolutionary phase." But Suna's history indicates a patience and perseverance to see a project through.

"My father was certainly very tenacious and very and determined," he said. "And he's the one who told me that I can be like a pit bull."

Suna's home was on Long Island, where he showed an early entrepreneurial spirit.

"My passion was about skiing, and I figured out how to get there since I couldn't afford it, I would work for it," Suna said. "I went to work for a ski tour company, to run ski trips and then start a club at my high school and go skiing with your friends. It was a good thing."

He earned a dual degree from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh in architecture and fine arts. He even had an exhibit of his work called "Please Touch," specifically intended for the blind.

"Very often, when you go to museums, you're not allowed to touch things," said Suna. "So I believe that I encouraged them to touch, and so my work was different. They'd lift it up, they'd feel the weight, feel the texture, and it was just very exciting to see how people can really appreciate three dimensions without being able to see it."

But an artist's life was not for him. He came home to work as an architect.

In 1979, he came with his father to look at the old Silvercup Bread factory, vacant for six years in the aftermath of a teamster's strike.

"There was still the smell of bread everywhere," he recalled. "In the locker room for the employees, there were still personal belongings and newspapers and magazines from the day they closed because it was just like closed within two hours."

At the time, the area looked very different than it does today.

"There was prostitution and drugs," he said. "It was a sketchy area in daytime. [My father's idea] was to buy this building and consolidate two of his sheet metal factories. We had no desire to build film studios, that idea came because the caretaker of the building, Joe Zabo, who worked for Silvercup Bread, said CBS had come to look at the building to build studios. So that was the germ of the idea."

It started slowly with films like Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo," and "Highlander," with a scene up on the famed Silvercup sign.

Suna not only worked there. For 10 years, he and his family lived in a loft in the building, occasionally helping out on shoots.

"People would also ask us all the time that they need some candlesticks, that they needed towels," he said. "When they were doing shoots downstairs, we became like the prop house that they would come to for an emergency."

Silvercup prospered, and now hosts some of the top shows on television.

Along the way, Suna learned to work with his brother Alan as partners.

"Part of it is also learning what our strengths and our weaknesses are as whole, as people, not just as the personal relationship," said Suna. "For us, to learn, what are my strengths versus my brother Alan's strengths and to try and support each other's strengths versus to pick on each other's weaknesses."

Suna's cup is pretty full, as a studio head, real estate developer, chairman of the Hamptons Film Festival and the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, while raising two kids with his wife, Vicki, a vice dean and adjunct professor at NYU.

"She was on the landmark's commission for 14 years," he said. "So I love all the debate about landmarks and preservation versus real estate and development."

And, in fact, on the site that Suna is hoping to develop as Silvercup West, there is a landmarked building that will remain.

Despite the expansion of the Silvercup brand name, Suna's story still comes back to the old bread factory and the good fortune that ensued after his father's decision to buy the building his son visited as a kid almost 50 years ago.

"It's almost like a pride there," he said. "This show was shot here at Silvercup Studios and makes us feel that Silvercup has really grown a lot over the years."

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