Three students gathered around a table in a small apartment with three shot glasses and two handles of water. “Act drunk,” the directors said. Then the filming started. Before they knew it, the actors started talking about Pokémon for half an hour.
“The Kids Are All Wrong,” an NU Channel 1 web series, aired its first episode Sunday. While the Pokémon conversation did not make the final cut, much of the drinking scene in the episode was improvised.
Created by Communication junior Richie Hoffman, the series revolves around four students who move into an apartment together without knowing each other.“The main inspiration is how weird a roommate relationship is,” said Hoffman, who is also the director and writer of the series. “You can be best friends with someone, but when you live with them, you see a new side of them.”
Although Hoffman wrote a script, the show allows for improvisation, as the crew would film scenes following the script and then film scenes where the actors could improvise, as long as they hit certain plot points. “Everybody is very serious about putting out a product but having a good time doing it,” said Communication freshman Daniel Stompor, who plays one of the four main characters. “Just having dynamic, in-the-moment exchanges with the other actors is a lot of fun.”
In another instance, Communication freshman Tracy Rosenblum and Communication junior Chamblee Smith were filmed sitting on a couch, watching TV and talking. Their conversation about spirit animals made the cut. When they started taking cookies apart and licking each other’s cookies – that did not make the cut.
Hoffman wrote the script over winter break, and he decided to co-direct the series with Communication junior Aimee Hechler, who is also the cinematographer. They were interested in mumblecore, a genre that consists mostly of low-budget productions that focus on daily life and personal relationships. Girls on HBO is an example of this genre.
Hoffman and Hechler held an open casting call for actors in the show, then filmed the episode in their apartment. “It was kind of inspired a little bit by our experiences,” Hechler said. “The show is about four roommates who don’t know each other. It’s our first year in an apartment. You learn a lot more when you live with them. We wanted to explore that process – what goes on in everyday moments that can happen in each other’s lives.”
The actors can add their own twist to the characters. Rosenblum said she shares her character’s dark sense of humor, while Smith's character's habit of playing Neopets everyday is based on herself, a fact she mentioned while improvising. Stompor said his character can be hard to relate to, but sometimes the way that Jacob reacts to uncomfortable situations is relatable.
"We're going to do a lot more character arcs and dramatic storylines," Rosenblum said. "We're putting them in situations that test them. How actors can portray these personalities' reactions to different things will be interesting to see."
Communication freshman Alex Kohanski can relate to his character’s introversion, although his character deals with his problems in a more aggressive way than he would. Kohanski even started method acting, acting like his character in everyday life to research his role. He even changed his wardrobe. “They just really dive headfirst into their characters,” Hechler said. “It’s really fun to be a part of that.”
Improvisation can make the series more difficult to film and edit since they only have one camera, but it also makes it more realistic, Hechler said. However, they plan to work on streamlining the improvisation process. “When you let actors improvise, it’s hard to put the shots together,” Hoffman said. “Like in one scene, Tracy has her hand up, and in another, she’s lying on the floor with cookies. In general, with the amount of leniency we gave actors, bizarre things happened.”
Hoffman also chose to have the series in black and white. “Basically, we were really focusing on minimalism as an aesthetic choice,” Hoffman said. We wanted to focus on the actors and the writing. Eliminating color is one less distraction. It’s also a moody script and a moody show. We enhanced the mood of it and fitted the tone of it well.”
For much of the cast and crew, it is their first time working on a web series. Although Smith has worked on films before, Smith likes how she can keep returning to her character when filming upcoming episodes. “It is the idea that it’s going to go somewhere,” Smith said. “Not, I spent a weekend on set and [was] done. My character can grow and evolve.”
Hoffman said they plan to film an episode the day after Dillo Day, and they have planned four more episodes to come out in the next year. “I’m excited to do more episodes and share it with everyone,” Kohanski said. “So far, we’ve gotten really good reaction, and people seem to like it. They might be surprised that the rest of the episodes won’t be as lighthearted as the first one, but hopefully, they’ll stick with it.”
The web series will bring issues such as sexuality and abuse to the spotlight. “In future episodes, we deal with a variety of different themes and focus on different characters,” Hechler said. “They will be a bit darker in tone than the pilot. We’ll explore themes that don’t get talked about.”