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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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Very NSFW

The Brockmire Premiere Is All Truth

Watch The First Episode of Brockmire Right Now for Free

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At long last, the Brockmire pre-premiere has arrived. Which means you can watch it right now—on IFC.com, at Funny Or Die, on IFC’s Apple TV and mobile apps, on Youtube, on Facebook, on the AMC apps, and right here. So grab some headphones and get watching.

No seriously, get headphones.

Because whether he’s giving a play-by-play or ruminating on the world around him, Jim Brockmire calls it like he sees it. And how he sees it is very NSFW. His take on life is actually quite refreshing, even to the point of being profoundly sage. For proof just look at these pearls of unconventional wisdom from the premiere…

Brockmire On The Internet

“If I need porn I just buy a nudie mag, like my father and his father before him.”

Brockmire On Sex-Ed

“Kids, a strap-on is a belt with d— on it that mommies use to f— daddies.”
Brockmire-Strap-On

Brockmire On The Perfect High

“Somewhere between 10 cups of coffee and very low-grade cocaine.”
Brockmire-Perfect-High

Brockmire On The Tardiness of Spring

“Old man winter’s reaching his hand inside your coat to give that thing one more squeeze.”

Brockmire On Keeping Perspective

“I thought I hit rock bottom in a handicap restroom in Bangkok where a Thai lady-boy snorted crank off my johnson while a sunburnt German watched us on the toilet”
Brockmire-grain-salt

Brockmire On Humanity

“If you want to look directly into the gaping maw of oblivion, don’t look up to the heavens. Just look in the mirror.”
Jules-never-seen

See these nuggets and more in the first episode of Brockmire, and see the whole season beginning April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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