‘Campus Town’ is must-see (MU)TV

Elle (Morgan White) tries to bond with new roomie Ian (Brendan Takash). Photo courtesy of MUTV.

Last year, MUTV members started dreaming about doing something that has never been done at Marquette – a fully-scripted sitcom. Now, that dream has become a reality with “Campus Town,” MUTV’s newest production.

Think “How I Met Your Mother” in a college setting, and you’ll start to understand the direction this show is going in. It promises to be witty, entertaining and funny, and you’ll have the chance to find out for yourself with the airing of the first episode on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.

Here’s a glimpse at how the dedicated members of MUTV have taken what began as an everyday idea and turned it into a real sitcom that will soon hit your televisions and computer screens.

From idea to reality

The creative masterminds behind this project, Lo Stolz, a junior in the College of Communication, and Sam Bringardner and Alex Gelhar, both seniors in the College of Communication, wanted something new and different that MUTV’s entertainment department could call its own.

“We wanted to bring the news and entertainment departments up to par, and we figured for entertainment, a sitcom would just be an amazing accomplishment and something really cool that people could get behind,” Bringardner said.

The entertainment department already has two established shows: “One Heck of a Week,” an entertainment news show, and “Cue Laugh Track,” a comedy sketch show. But both programs target a specific type of viewer, and MUTV wanted to come up with something that would reach a wider audience.

“We wanted to do a sitcom because it is something easy that we could put online that a lot of people will probably want to watch,” Gelhar said. “We want to put it online so we can get people interested in MUTV and realize that the broadcasting students at this school know what they’re doing.”

The three said they wanted the show to be a typical sitcom that anyone from any school could sit down and watch, and hope to gain some notoriety outside of the Marquette environment.

“We didn’t want it to be Marquette-centric where people like our family members or friends at different schools wouldn’t get the jokes,” Gelhar said. “We wanted it to be something that could speak to everybody.”

Naming the show was one of the more difficult tasks of the creative process, according to the trio. They finally settled on “Campus Town,” a title generic enough to appeal to any student but specific enough to maintain a bit of Marquette personality, as most of the apartment scenes of the show take place in Campus Town East.

With a solid name and tentative plotline, the group’s main focus turned to getting the show off the ground. Bringardner and Gelhar wrote most of the first episode, with Stolz jumping in whenever the script needed a funny one-liner.

The first episode served as a test run for the team, and they soon found that having three people working together in all areas of the creative process was not as efficient as it needed to be.

“For this first episode, we were all kind of working on most aspects and it was really tough,” Gelhar said. “So we split up the roles and it will hopefully be a lot more efficient and we’ll be able to hammer the episodes out and keep everybody motivated.”

Gelhar is now focusing on directing, while Bringardner and Stolz are taking the lead on writing.

Episodes of “Campus Town” will be 10 to 15 minutes long, edited down from two or three hours of footage per show. According to Gelhar, each episode will probably take three to four weeks to complete between writing, shooting and editing.

Finding the funny

Morgan White's charisma won her the role of Elle — a role originally written for a male actor. Photo courtesy of MUTV.

The group held three days of open casting and two days of callbacks in mid-September to pick the actors. The script called for five actors: a male lead and his group of four friends.

But the writers didn’t count on Morgan White.

“During auditions, we just fell in love with Morgan White,” Stolz said. “So we switched the lead character to a girl and we had to redo the whole script.”

White’s character Elle is a recent college graduate reminiscing about her senior year. Forced to find a new place to live when her roommate decides to study abroad, Elle moves in with Ian (Brendan Takash), a serious gamer, and Joe (Mike Schuessler), a practiced ladies’ man.

In the pilot episode, the friendly and outgoing Elle makes her way into Ian and Joe’s tight-knit group, which includes the guys and their two friends Jazmyn (Brittany Green), who is sweet on the inside but fierce on the outside, and Holly (Aly Purcell), who is fun and genuine, but a little spacey.

The cast and crew agreed that the camaraderie is what has been working out the best so far with the show, and the chemistry between the actors is obvious as soon as you set foot on set.

Green said it is really easy to relax and have fun while working with the other actors.

“If you’re working with funny people, it’s kind of hard not to get along with them if you like their work,” Green said. “They’re all there for fun, which makes the job much easier and the acting more fun.

It is clear the cast members are serious about their work, but they are very laid back around each other and aren’t afraid to joke around. The group often bursts into laughs midscene, forcing the crew to reshoot.

But the cast isn’t all giggles. While much of the filming took place inside a hot, cramped apartment, the team was able to stay positive throughout, feeding off each other’s energy to survive the long hours. Not even Gelhar’s requests to try their lines many times over fazed them, each variation delivered with as much energy as the last.

“It’s been really magical to be on the shoots and see them picking up the lines the way we intended them when we first wrote it,” Gelhar said. “Or responding to direction and staying with us and staying energetic through five or six hour shoots.”

Schuessler said part of that energy stems from the creators of the show. He said working with a professional and motivated crew encourages the actors to be the best that they can be.

“Everyone’s really excited about it,” Schuessler said. “It’s just been great so far.”

Stolz and Bringardner said to have something envisioned in your head is one thing, but to actually see it happen and have people excited about it is a great feeling.

“It just makes me so happy because we all came together and picked these five people and it’s just cool to see,” Bringardner said.

And cast chemistry isn’t the only thing going well for this production — behind-the-scenes work has been smooth too.

Chris Visser, a junior in the College of Communication, is director of photography for the project. According to Gelhar, Visser is a “technical wizard.”

Gelhar and Visser have worked on at least five projects together in the past, and their prior experiences have prepared them well for the sometimes-grueling work of shooting and directing a show in a college setting.

“He and I work really well together, and I don’t think we would have gotten these shoots done this week if I would have been doing it by myself or had to bark at somebody else,” Gelhar said. “We need him.”

In addition to the technical mechanics, wardrobe and makeup play a key role in the finished product.

“It’s definitely one of those aspects that we didn’t want to fall through the cracks,” Gelhar said. “We didn’t want to put this much time into it and then say, ‘Oh, wear what you want.’”

The final cut

The first episode is complete and ready to air, but it did not come easy – everyone involved in the production has been dedicated to the sitcom while continuing to balance life as a student.

“Everybody already has coursework, internships, jobs, family,” Gelhar said. “I was worried that people wouldn’t stay motivated, but so far everybody has been really excited and wants to come back the next day.”

The biggest thing for Stolz, Bringardner and Gelhar is seeing their long-dreamed vision turning into something tangible.

“All the planning is so worth it when you see them deliver that line and it’s hysterical,” Stolz said.

Before meeting Elle, friends (from left) Joe (Schuessler), Jazmyn (Green), Ian (Takash), and Holly (Purcell) socialize on campus. Photo courtesy of MUTV.

The first episode of Campus Town will premiere Tuesday, Nov. 2 in Johnston Hall 103 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Viewers will have a chance to meet the cast and win free “Campus Town” gear. All episodes will be posted on mutv.mu.edu.