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Catching up with 2012 Subway Fresh Artists finalist Gregory Williamson from “Frat House Musical”

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Suffice it to say that collaboration is an important of any kind of filmmaking. But for his entry in the SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series, “Frat House Musical,” producer Gregory Williamson discovered not only how essential a part of the process that it is, but how much it can actually strengthen the end result. Williamson is a member of one of two teams from USC that received funding and support from Subway Restaurants to create a series of webisodes for the company’s Fresh Artists™ competition, and in a perfect convergence of effort, form and content, he and his collaborators, writer and co-producer Billy Sullivan and director Jin Yoo-Kim, created a short, entertaining series about an idealistic singer whose determination to join a fraternity forces him to work together with other members to save their house.

IFC caught up with Williamson to discuss the process of putting together “Frat House Musical.” In addition to revealing the idea’s origins, Williamson offered some insights into how he utilized the competition’s resources to flesh out his group’s idea, and indicated how much it has inspired him going forward as he finds more creative opportunities in the field of filmmaking.

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Watch the rest of “Frat House Musical” and learn more about the SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series by clicking here.


IFC: Just to get started, talk about how you first became aware of the Subway competition and then how you came up with the idea for Frat House Musical.

WILLIAMSON: I first heard about it last year, when last year’s groups did it. USC had been doing a project with Coca-Cola for a while and last year switched from Coke to Subway, so I heard about it through the general USC channels there. Why didn’t I compete last year? I think that I just wasn’t ready. I was working on some other projects last year and the timing wasn’t right. But this year, the other two people on my team came to me. I’d worked with both of them quite a bit before on other projects and they came to me with an idea. As far as the actual beginning of the idea, the writer on the project had moved here from Minnesota and he’d been kind of fascinated by fraternity life, because actually where all three of us came from, we didn’t really have fraternities at the schools. It was kind of something that we just saw on television and in movies. And we got here to USC and USC has this bona fide fraternity row. And I remember all three of us, at one point, walking down it and going, wow, this stuff really happens, like in the movies. So we were just throwing around ideas of what are the some [crazy] things that could happen and our writer was like, well, it obviously has to be a musical. I had done a lot of music and musicals before I had come to film school at USC, but since I started doing the film program I hadn’t done any music or musicals. I just jumped at that chance — like “you’re right, this has got to be a musical, and we’re calling it ‘Frat House Musical’.”

IFC: What was the process of putting together a story, and how did you sort of tailor it if at all to the competition?

WILLIAMSON: Well, this was the first time any of us had really ever worked in an episodic format and that’s one of the things that I think was really enjoyable about this project. In the film program, we generally work on short films or a television episode, but we hadn’t really worked on episodic storytelling. So it was a challenge but it was also a lot of fun to try and figure out how do we take this story and use what storytelling techniques you’d learned and then apply that to the episodic format of five-minute webisods. So it was sort of like making a short film and then two sequels to it.

IFC: Was there anything in terms of the criteria for the competition, maybe having to incorporate the branding of Subway into it, that affected your storytelling choices?

WILLIAMSON: The branding? Not in a big way. Subway was surprisingly and thankfully not interested in doing really heavily branded episodes. They didn’t want it to feel like a Subway commercial, which felt really good, in part, I suppose, because we haven’t really had to make commercials, but in part because it also gave us a little bit more freedom with the actual storytelling. We knew that we needed to have Subway present in all of the episodes. Subway told us that what they wanted to promote in this project was their breakfast sandwiches, so as we were throwing around ideas, it just kind of made sense to have each of the episodes start out with the characters starting their day with a Subway sandwich.

IFC: When you came up with this idea, was it something that you thought of as something that could continue beyond this, or was it something you feel like would be pretty self-contained to this competition?

WILLIAMSON: We loved the idea of continuing the story and doing either additional webisodes or doing like the feature version, something that would give us a larger platform from which to work. So, yeah, in the earliest stages, we were talking about how do we tell enough of a story in three episodes but still leave enough loose ends to continue this story should we ever find that opportunity. As the project went along and we were developing it, we did still keep some of those loose ends, but we didn’t want to feel like we were trying to pitch a larger webisode to anybody. We wanted to sort of give that completed feeling of the story or of the journey for the characters.

IFC: Because of the money and/or resources that the contest afforded you, how did that affect your creativity or the things that you guys were able to do? Were things that you guys felt bolder about trying to include as a component of the storytelling because you knew that you might have a little bit more money to play around with or more access to things than you might if you were just doing a normal sort of student production?

WILLIAMSON: Well, Subway provided the funding for us and USC provided the additional resources, as far as equipment and insurance and general sort of production resources. I think that the benefit that we felt from this project was really more about sort of the profile of this project at school — there’s only two Subway projects happening at school and that gave us a little bit better opportunity to attract more and new people to work with within the program, as well as a recognizable brand, a recognizable name behind us that we could go out into the community and find a higher caliber of actor than we might be able to do just as a USC project. But I think the biggest limitation that we were up against was the schedule of the project because that was pretty crazy. You know, we went from pitching the project and then being notified that our project was selected to our first day of production in, gosh, it must have been like two and a half to three weeks — you know, not much time at all, and we had decided early on that we were just going to go for it. And with a musical, we needed to have the production value, so we weren’t going to cut anything that we didn’t absolutely have to in terms of music and actors and singers and dancers and locations. It was a pretty ambitious project and Subway kept telling us that throughout the project, so I’m not sure we really realized just how ambitious it was until we were on set trying to get it done.

IFC: How indicative do you feel like this project is in terms of the things that you want to do going forward?

WILLIAMSON: Well, personally speaking, I like a pretty broad range of projects. I don’t tend toward comedy. I like pretty much everything else. But comedy was always a little bit daunting to me, so it was kind of a nice opportunity to try that. I think that musicals, we’d all love to do a musical again; that part was a lot of fun. But I think that in terms of type of project I don’t think any of us had every really considered doing musical webisodes before, so I’m not sure I could say that’s really indicative of what we want to do long term. But, yeah, it was a complex project that will be, I think a great educational experience and a stepping stone to something else after that. This project was really the first opportunity any of us at school or any of us on our team had had since we’ve been at school to work with a client and to really have the input from a client, somebody else who has final say on scripts and casting and final cut. So I think that that was probably one of the best benefits of this experience was having all that collaboration. I mean, I know that some people sort of look down on having a studio or a client, just somebody to answer to in terms of creative freedom, but I think we actually really benefited from it.

IFC: What through this process and do you feel like you really learned? Were there any unexpected surprises from the production that you feel like you’ll take with you in your future work?

WILLIAMSON: I guess I’d have to continue with that same thought and say that working with a client – I mean, we kind of had our trio, which was the “Frat House Musical” team, and then we had this layer of USC and then beyond that we have this layer of Subway. So we had these three layers of collaboration that we would go through. And with such a tight time frame, sometimes it felt really crazy, having to go back and continuously revise the script or completely change our casting choices. But I think that all of us learned the value of that sort of collaboration, the value of having somebody else’s eyes on the project and with ideas that maybe we hadn’t thought of, because really we all wanted the best project we possibly can. And I think that our biggest blessing was probably just opening up to that sort of collaboration and embracing it in every way we possibly could and just continuing to run. I guess maybe that would be the biggest thing that we would take from this, just an enhanced, a higher level or maybe a more elaborate type of collaboration and how it benefited the project.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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