Let’s face it, University of Southern California (USC)
film Cinematic Arts school kids have it pretty well. Just getting in to what is arguably the most competitive graduate film program is a badge of respect in an industry littered with standouts amongst its alumni. George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard, not to mention The LXD director Jon M. Chu.
Now the famed feeder school for Hollywood the fast track is turning its students on to the digital side with a little help from Subway. It’s a first for both school and brand here, the former looking to prepare its latest breed of filmmakers for actually making a career in the emergent medium of web originals and the latter looking to polish its ‘fresh’ image amongst the film crowd. (Something other brands like Stella Artois and Audi have done in spades.)
A few months back, Subway approached USC, with some help from LA-based Content & Co., with an offer to fund two premium web series selected from pitches by teams of the school’s graduate filmmakers. From around fifty teams, ten semifinalist teams were picked to come in an pitch the brand reps with their concepts based on guidance that included little more than a brand brief.
One of the two teams selected—Andy Landen, Giles Andrew, and Alice Mathias—got ballsy, playing a little prank with the pitch right out of Good Will Hunting sending in two comedians in to the pitch in place of themselves. The two plants were protoypes for their leads in Do Whatever, about two friends who ditch their corporate jobs to take on random ‘whatever’ assignments such as this. The gutsy move paid off, with the six-person room laughing as soon the ruse was up.
From there the two series were given ample budgets to cast and shoot their three-episode projects. And we’re not talking about just grabbing a few college buddies. The teams cast working actors like Squatters star Brendan Bradley, Julia Cho, Barry Rothbart, and Chris Dotson and both series used the AFTRA new media contract to cover its actors, instead of the blanket SAG contract that covers most of the school’s student films.
The kicker for the students was the surprise announcement at the end of production that online comedy network My Damn Channel would release the web series with a sizable push that included a featured screening at SXSW this past weekend at the IFC Crossroads House. Add to that a nice feature on IFC.com.
“Subway gave us a great opportunity to help USC students jump start their careers,” My Damn Channel CEO Rob Barnett told us. “We loved the idea of supporting new filmmakers by giving them wide distribution throughout our network and by putting them right next to the top talent on My Damn Channel. Our friends at IFC put this program over the top by letting us all invade SXSW to screen the films and party like rock stars.”
The real win for the students was the chance to work with a major brand sponsor before even leaving the cushy walls of grad school. How many web series creators, even ones with a few completed projects under their belts, have pitched off a brand brief and then produced a fully backed season for a major online network?
“For most of the participants, Subway Fresh Artists was their first exposure to working within a ‘client service’ mindset, which will serve them well in their careers,” added USC’s Brenda Goodman who heads up the Producing Track.
Jeff & Ravi Fail History:
My Damn Channel’s Grace Helbig interviews the creators at USC:
Photos from the SXSW screening with My Damn Channel at the IFC Crossroads House: