If you’re like me, you probably don’t know much about “crime and trauma scene decontamination.” As it turns out, CTS Decon (as it’s referred to) is a fairly robust industry, charging between $100 to $600 an hour for their services cleaning up anything from animal infested houses, to homicide and suicide scenes. From this dark, depressing industry emerges the new comedy series The Clean-Up Crew, about a small CTS Decon company with an odd collection of employees.
The series, by USC graduate students Scott Rickels, Tim Dragga, and Tim Kolesk, is Rickels’ graduate thesis. “The pitch for the series was well received except for the fact none of the USC faculty knew anything about making webisodes,” Rickels explained. “Mostly the response we got was, ‘Sounds like a great idea. I don’t know anything about it but let me know how it turns out.'” Adding to the challenge was the fact that USC also has a strict copyright policy. “If you use the school’s resources, they own your copyright and will not allow you to post your work on the internet. I ended up having to do a special thesis project where I received no support from the school, but in turn, I’d own the copyright.”
Rickels and his crew shot all the episodes over the course of eight days last June and then spent the past year “pulling it all together in post on a shoestring budget,” And by “shoestring” they mean just under $50k for all the episodes. While some people gasp at that cost for a student work, it’s apparently “on the average/cheap side for a USC graduate thesis project.”
Even with a small budget and a short time to film, The Clean-Up Crew boasts an impressive cast, especially with its leads Dale Midkiff (Love Potion No. 9, The Magnificent Seven) and Richard Riehle (Office Space). The great talent, combined with a strong script, makes for an impressive series, like something I would expect to watch on HBO or Showtime. Episodes can be found exclusively on Funny or Die, a decision Rickels made because, “It’s a smaller site, focused on comedy. Sure, videos are getting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube but the majority of them are 30 second clips of umbrellas attacking women. I was afraid since we were coming out of the blue with no advertising dollars and a longer run time, we might get buried in a big place like YouTube or MySpace.”
While the response hasn’t been huge so far, the show’s following is growing, with over 25,000 views so far for the first two episodes. New episodes will come out every other Monday; you can find out about the latest episodes on the Tubefilter Web TV Schedule.
While The Clean-Up Crew is still fighting to stand out, I asked Rickels what he thought about the future of the web series medium. “The desire for quality web content is growing and somewhere down the line people are going to figure out the best way to monetize it. Maybe that time is already here? Just look at Dr. Horrible! People are calling it a ‘sitebuster‘… I don’t think there’s ever been a webisode show that was an event like it! It’s a very exciting time in the new media sector of the entertainment industry and we’re glad to be considered a part of it. It’s the wild west! You don’t have to be a studio or production company to create a show or short film or whatever! Anyone can upload content and if it’s good…hopefully it will find an audience.”