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.

Home for the Holidays

Pass the Dysfunction

10 Thanksgiving Movies to Be Thankful For

Gorge on IFC's four-day Sweatsgiving Marathon this Thanksgiving Day Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

There’s a movie for every holiday (well, maybe not Arbor Day), but Thanksgiving has more than its share. There’s something about a family coming together around an overloaded table that makes for gripping drama and hilarious comedy. Before you tuck into IFC’s Sweatsgiving marathon weekend, take a look at our picks for the best Turkey Day movies of all time. They’re far tastier than Aunt Bertha’s leftover three-bean casserole.

10. ThanksKilling

This ultra low-budget horror comedy about a killer Turkey is the perfect NSFW antidote to heartwarming holiday treacle. Fans of the film’s so-bad-its-good charms helped Kickstart a sequel, ThanksKilling 3. What happened to ThanksKilling 2? Guess the killer turkey ate the print.

9. The Ice Storm

Key parties, family secrets and Nixon masks all converge in one particularly eventful Thanksgiving weekend in Ang Lee’s searing look at dysfunctional families in the turbulent days of the early ’70s. And you thought your post-dinner family games of Trivial Pursuit were tense.

8. Pieces of April

Katie Holmes broke free from her teen drama roots with this indie flick about a young urban misfit who invites her straight-laced suburban family to a big city Thanksgiving dinner. An underrated comedy about the importance of families (be they urban or biological) that also answers the age-old holiday question: canned or fresh cranberry sauce?

7. Tadpole

What is it with Thanksgiving and quasi-incest comedies? 2002’s Tadpole tells the tale of Oscar Grubman, a hyper-intelligent high school boy who has a crippling crush on his stepmother. When he goes home for Thanksgiving, this Oedipal nightmare gets transferred onto a horny cougar chiropractor, and things rapidly spin out of control. A general rule of thumb for the holidays: keep it in your pants, particularly when family is involved.

6. Scent Of A Woman

Al Pacino comes dangerously close to the edge of self-parody in his iconic role as blind ex-Army Ranger Frank Slade, but also scored a Best Actor win in the process. Chris O’Donnell plays the college student who is hired to take care of Slade over Thanksgiving break and finds himself dragged along on an adventure that includes a stop by his brother’s house for a Turkey Day dinner that goes wildly out of control. Hoo-hah! Pass the gravy.

5. The House Of Yes

This psychologically twisted 1997 black comedy helped make Parker Posey a star. She plays “Jackie-O” Pascal, a mentally disturbed young woman who joins her family at their ritzy Virginia estate for Thanksgiving. As a hurricane bears down on the area, Jackie proceeds to go further and further off the rails, capped off by an incestuous encounter with her own brother while they role-play the JFK assassination. With a strong cast and a wickedly sharp script, The House of Yes goes down like a slice of pumpkin pie with a whiskey chaser.

4. The War At Home

This underrated 1996 drama tackled some pretty tough subjects. Jeremy Collier (played by Emilio Estevez, who also directed) is a Vietnam vet back home and dealing with PTSD. Martin Sheen plays his dad, who doesn’t understand that his son came back a little changed. It all comes to a head at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, where Jeremy pulls a gun on his dad because he wouldn’t loan him the cash he needed to flee the draft. The fact that Estevez and Sheen are father and son in real life only adds to the film’s dramatic tension.

3. Home for the Holidays

Few films capture the mix of dysfunction and warmth that comes with Thanksgiving better than Jodie Foster’s 1995 comedy. Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr. are perfectly cast as a brother and sister weathering uptight siblings, kooky aunts and other family drama with sharp humor and lump-in-your throat tearful moments. We’re not crying. Mom must be cooking her famous onion soup.

2. Hannah and Her Sisters

Widely considered one of the best films in Woody Allen’s vast filmography, Hannah and Her Sisters charts the lives of three very different sisters over the course of three separate Thanksgivings. The holiday serves as a backdrop that reminds us of the ties that bind and also tear us down.

1. Planes, Trains And Automobiles

No movie captures the ups and downs of Thanksgiving quite like this John Hughes classic. Steve Martin plays Neal Page, a high-strung marketing suit who gets paired with John Candy’s slobby salesman Del Griffith as they both try to get back to Chicago in time for the holiday. Hughes was a master of tapping into some very American emotions, and the movie’s climax — where (spoiler alert!) Neal realizes Del has nowhere to go and invites him to come to dinner with his family — is a touching moment that in lesser hands would come off as maudlin.

Dodgeball 1920 Everett

Grab Life by the Ball

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dodgeball

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There was a time, not long ago, when Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and their “Frat Pack” of fast-talking comedians ruled Hollywood. From Zoolander to Anchorman, these cut-ups couldn’t help but churn out hit after hit. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story itself grossed $124 millon at the box office, even after every studio in town initially turned it down. Thanks to a wrench throwing Rip Torn and a Lance Armstrong cameo that’s more uncomfortable in hindsight, this little comedy that could has grown into a much-loved classic. To celebrate Comedy Crib’s new dodgeball comedy Ball or Nothing, here are a few fun facts you may not know about the comedy that told us to “grab life by the ball.”

10. The Hoff’s Cameo Was Last Minute Magic

David Hasselhoff’s cameo as coach of the German team was a last minute addition, after stunt coordinator Alex Daniel mentioned he knew the Baywatch beefcake personally.

9. Roadhouse Was An Inspiration

Stiller is a film connoisseur, so it’s no surprise he chose to honor the seminal ’80s action classic Roadhouse by using Patrick Swayze’s hairdo as inspiration for his character, calling it a “super quaffed power mullet.”

8. Justin Long Took One For The Team

Rip Torn played the wheelchair-bound coach Patches O’Houlihan who motivated the team by hurling wrenches at them. The prop wrenches were made out of rubber, but that didn’t make things easier for Justin Long, who had his eyebrow split open after one particularly hard throw. Patches (and Torn) doesn’t mess around.

7. The Director Pulled A Hitchcock

For his feature film debut, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber made a cameo appearance as the guy who throws a drink at Steve the Pirate in Vegas.

6. Happy Accidents Helped Make It A Classic

Vaughn’s character, Peter LaFleur, makes a unique first impression in the movie, having a group of guys push his stalled car up to the Average Joe’s gym. This was in fact a last minute addition after the car on set actually broke down.

5. Norm Macdonald Made a Cameo

In a film chock full of cameos, the most unheralded probably goes to Norm Macdonald, who was supposedly an extra in the background during the Globo Gym ad. Is that him in the clip above lifting weights next to some musclebound bro-dude? Sure looks like Norm.

4. The Film Gave a WWE Diva Her Big Break

Future WWE Diva Candice Michelle briefly appeared as a sideline dancer, long before taking her talents to the ring.

3. Patches O’Houlihan Was Inspired By The “Miracle on Ice”

Patches insults his players by saying “it’s like watching a bunch of retards trying to hump a doorknob.” This was in fact a reference to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey coach Herb Brooks, who once said “it’s like watching a monkey trying to hump a football.”

2. The Writer/Director Made the Terry Tate Office Linebaker Ads

Dodgeball wasn’t Rawson Marshall Thurber first time tackling sports comedy — he got noticed after directing the memorable Reebok ads where NFL player Terry Tate enforces office etiquette through punishing tackles.

1. Dodgeball Will Be Back!

It was announced in 2013 that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story would be getting a sequel, which will no doubt be called Dodgeball 2: The Search for Patches’ Golden Wrench.


Award Winners

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader to Receive American Ingenuity Award

Smithsonian Magazine honors Documentary Now!

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During its inspirational 50th season, Documentary Now! earned our undying love and support. Now it’s earning awards, too. The show’s creators and stars, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, have won Smithsonian Magazine‘s American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts this year. Senator Al Franken will present the duo with the award in a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 12th. No word on whether Blue Jean Committee will perform.

In addition to the award, Bill and Fred received another honor—the chance to get their mugs on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine‘s December issue. Looking good, guys. And for more Documentary Now!, check out the archives, music and full episodes.

Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine

Fred on Seth

Fred's TV Recap

Watch Fred Armisen Give an ‘Extremely Accurate’ TV Recap

Portlandia returns January 21st, 2016 at 10P ET/PT on IFC.

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Did you know that Portlandia and Documentary Now! co-star Fred Armisen is so addicted to television that he can recap any show you throw at him? It’s an astounding feat, one that Seth Meyers had to share with the world in a recent episode of Late Night With Seth Meyers.

Fred is tasked to review last week’s episode of Haven which, due to popular misconception, is not actually a SyFy program loosely based on a Stephen King novel that focuses on Canadian townspeople with supernatural afflictions. Rather, as Fred explains, it’s “sort of a Friday Night Lights type of show,” centered around a small-town football team called The Havens. But because the town is so small, not only can they barely afford a football, they don’t have another team to play against. It’s a character study, really.

For more Fred, be sure to check back here for news on the sixth season of Portlandia, which premieres January 21st at 10P ET/PT on IFC.

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