April 6, 2012 | Arts and Culture
Scripts, Scenes, and Setbacks
three student producers give the lowdown on tv at brown
article by alexis aurigemma
The original philosophy behind our show was simple: an ensemble cast of eight, one location per episode, and no minor roles or extras. All this would ensure that each episode could be filmed in a single day and that, with five filming dates strategically spaced throughout this semester, Kate Doyle ’12 (the director and writer) and I (the producer) would be able to put together a sharp, complete story-arc and produce the show in a single semester. I was initially dubious about the concept, but when I read the script for the first episode, I literally laughed out loud. Thus was conceived “Nothing Productive”: an independently produced, mockumentary-style show about eight oddballs on the board of a theatre group at an equally oddball university. The series takes place during the production process of a play they’re producing but, at its heart, it’s really about how being stuck in a room with 8 people, week after week, can take its toll on you. Especially when everybody in the room is crazy.
I’ve never been behind the scenes of a project like this before. A lot of our team’s experience, both of actors and producers alike, has been primarily onstage, so there’s been a bit of a learning curve. But with each episode we finish, we’re getting a better grip on the process of television production—in everything from how to organize a day of shooting to what technical aspects of filming we might be overlooking. At this point, we have gotten pretty good at a lot of things, but …
For some inexplicable reason, every episode always seems to have one un-filmable scene. For instance, in Episode 2 (“Rules”, when the board tries to solve the problem of their meetings accomplishing, well … nothing productive), the climax containes one long shot of chaos breaking out at the end of the meeting that lasts about a minute onscreen. We had to get it in three takes or fewer because of a certain, un-nameable prop involved. I’d rather not ruin the plot of the episode, but this particular shot involved someone leaping across a table, a handful of carefully timed awkward interactions, and lots of screaming. After calling action for take three, we realized (with horror) that our tape would run out in less than a minute, but we were too deep in to stop. Miraculously, the actors understood our panicked “pick-up-the-pace” gestures, and we got the take finished just in time.
However, for all the hectic-ness that accompanies every marathon filming day, the whole process of making an episode is incredibly rewarding. From the first read-through—when the actors are yelling at us about plot twists they’ve just found out about—to shooting—when everybody is cracking jokes and generally enjoying themselves (the cast has now collaboratively written two songs on set based on lines of the show)—every step of the way should be a source of stress and anxiety, but the people and product make it so hard to be anything but fun.
The first two episodes of Nothing Productive are slated to premiere April 19.
Since its inception in 2009, BlogDailyHerald has become somewhat of a cult among its writers. The Blog’s staffers belong to a Facebook group called “The BlogLog,” where we exchange article ideas. Our address book is called the “BlogDailyContactSheet” and staff parties and pre-games are only half-jokingly referred to as “BlogBonding” events. There are also BlogDailyColumns, BlogDailyPolls, Flog(s)DailyHerald (which we apply liberally when we don’t like something), and many more inside jokes than space constraints would allow me to list here. We also love to hate on our big sister organization, the Herald.
Now, while BlogDH isn’t going Waco anytime soon, one of its first staffers and budding screenwriter, Mike Makowsky ‘13, nevertheless noticed the absurdity in the BlogDailyCult and found it ripe for parody. He came to me—I was then editor in chief of the blog—and the managing editor, Matt Klimerman ’13, last May and told us he wanted to write a webseries about BlogDailyHerald.
At first, we were confused. A parody webseries about our own publication? Would that not tiptoe dangerously close to self-indulgence? But, before we could express our concerns, Mike handed us a pilot that immediately eased our anxiety. The first script was satirical, self-aware, and decidedly self-deprecating. The Blog, as the series became affectionately—albeit not so creatively—known, was not just another inside joke, but rather a reflective piece that made light of a culture that Blog and, occasionally, Herald staffers take far too seriously.
The Blog follows the lives of four bloggers working for a fictional BlogDailyHerald whose staff is composed of hilariously awkward misfits who wear their collective geekiness like a badge of honor. Together, these sorry heroes struggle against two tyrannical Herald editors who exercise their power by kicking bloggers out of the Herald office to play bocce ball, spraying beer on the blog’s managing editor, and hitting on the blog’s staffers. I feel that I am obligated to note that this part of the show is not representative of reality— the Herald is actually led by five editors, not just two.
Episode 1 was shot entirely over the course of one eight-hour day, as it is set exclusively at the Herald office. Realizing that we had room to expand and move the bloggers away from their home base, Mike wrote a hugely ambitious script for Episode 2, requiring us to shoot in a total of 19 different locations throughout campus and downtown Providence. This mammoth task necessitated vast amounts of planning and even more patience on the part of our cast and crew. Along the way, I learned a great deal about producing and developed an emotionally abusive relationship with When2Meet.
But I can now say, with a great deal of pride, that—after about eight months of work and several false starts—we at last have a (nearly) finished product. The first two 10-minute episodes of the series have been completed. (Though, as you read this, it is likely that the second episode is still being formatted as HD Widescreen and exported to a DVD because, like any good collegians, we had to leave some aspect of the show to the last minute.) These 20 minutes of footage represent hundreds of man-hours invested by The Blog’s cast and crew and Professor of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine, who makes a short cameo in the show’s second episode. When The Blog is revealed to the rest of the Brown community those hundreds of hours will immediately be made worthwhile.
The first two episodes of The Blog will premiere tonight, April 5, at 9 p.m. in Kassar Fox Auditorium.
I started at BTV without any experience in film. Working on projects like Whole Grain, a featurette, and Two Hearts, a 115-minute feature film, gave me a sense of how much work goes into making a good movie. Along with my peers, I spent many a sleepless night working on set and in the editing suites. I was always surprised by how much fun we had and how high everyone’s spirits were.
Barely recovered from 18 hours of filming the day before, we arrived early in the morning to set up—what might we call it?—a lighting system of sorts. Another BTV member and I spent three hours putting up the hammock (don’t ask) and filling it with water 15 minutes before we were scheduled to start shooting. It seemed like everything was going according to plan—until I heard a loud tear and found myself soaked in water from the hammock. Members of the crew looked on in shock as silence fell upon the set. I didn’t miss a beat and asked for a mop. The crew was so eager to make up for lost time that we got the shoot done on schedule as planned.
It is this type of dedication and spontaneity that continues to make me happy and honored to be a member of BTV, two years after I first joined. Each semester, our organization holds a short screenplay writing contest where the members of the Executive Board select four short films to produce. We take applications from people who are interested in being members of the crew and, regardless of experience, make sure everyone who applies has a job to do. Along with the production of our short films, we also support our alumni by screening their post-graduate work for the Brown community.
While BTV has accomplished a great deal, I know there’s always room to grow. Luckily, I’m surrounded by brilliant and creative minds who push and support me in all the right places. I’ve taken great pride in watching the club grow into a community that fosters strong friendships and exceptional films.
Two Hearts, along with the winners of BTV’s short film writing contest,will premiere at the AVON Theater on April 30 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit browntv.org.