On Valentine’s Day in a small Stuart Court apartment, a group of crewmembers huddled behind a digital camera as others bustled with microphones and lights. Scripts and shot lists passed between hands as conversation faded. With the snap of the clapperboard, a class of VCU students rolled cameras to start the first season of a web series produced for a new interdisciplinary arts course.
“Creating and Producing Webisodes and New Media” offers 24 theatre, arts and mass communications students the opportunity to write, act and produce a five-episode fictional web series to be released on YouTube later this semester.
Lead by actor, writer, producer and assistant theater professor Wesley Broulik, the inspiration for the class came from another course, “The Actor and the Web,” which he taught at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.
“I always thought — ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get a bunch of kids with different skill sets together to make a scripted web series and see if we could get it to stick as an idea?’” Broulik said. “We make theatre, why not a web series.”
Broulik described a “webisode” as any video made to be distributed specifically on the internet. With the rise of award-winning web series such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” compounded by the increasing availability of high definition cameras and shifting audiences, Broulik felt that the time was right for students to explore “new media.”
As Broulik searched for facilities to house the course, he was introduced to associate professor Gary Gillam in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. After a brief discussion, Gillam offered the TV studios in the T. Edward Temple Building and was quickly approved.
When senior theatre performance major Madeline Bryan heard about the course, she immediately enrolled because of prior experience with Broulik.
“Wes and I have been working together for two semesters,” Bryan said. “Signing up for this one was a no brainer.”
Unlike his prior courses, Broulik began the semester by meeting and assessing the skill set of his students. To do so he assigned three short, individual video projects including “how-to,” “narrative non-fiction” and “straight-to-camera confessional” videos. After sharing and discussing their work in class, students were given two different roles within the production of the main series.
“Before this class, most of my filmmaking has been with friends with like-minded interests,” said Sam Roots, a senior graphic design major and co-writer and co-director of the series’ pilot. “Now I feel like I am building connections with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
After rounds of pitches, group work and voting, the winning premise for the series, “Imaginerapy,” focuses on a support group for people with imaginary friends.
“Writing room sessions have been the most fun,” Bryan said. “This class has proved challenging while we’re all trying to get our voices heard, but collaborating on the pilot script has been so exciting.”
Beyond creating a tangible series of videos to show friends and family, Broulik said the creative and collaborative process is the same in a Broadway theater and a small efficiency apartment.
“I hope students take away a greater understanding of how all these individual pieces of a production come together,” Broulik said. “Their creativity and drive is amazing, and I’m simply here to facilitate that.”