Special topics course at UW-River Falls creates Web-based sitcom

Posted October 13, 2015

A new online show has a classroom on the UW-River Falls campus talking. It is a sitcom about three men bumbling their way through a college course, and it has the class watching it in laughter. But it’s not hard to see why it would have this effect. After all, the class created the Web-based show.

That is what one can expect to find in the newest course in the Stage and Screen Arts Department. The course, titled Web Series, is as much an experiment as it is an opportunity for students to try their hand at creating something for a completely different format.

It was created this year after a collaboration between film, screenwriting and acting courses took place last year, prompting the professors to explore Web series creation as a special topics course. Proposed over the summer to the department, this semester is the first time it is ever implemented in the major.

Web Series is a course that is all about collaboration, from the work it demands of its students to the three faculty who teach it — Assistant Professor Erik Johnson, Instructor Joe Blum and Assistant Professor Joseph Rein.

And what is being taught is a whole new way to create films, according to Johnson.

“The phenomenon is really becoming more popular as distribution for media becomes more diversified,” he said. “I think that trend is going to continue.”

Johnson notes that a Web series combines many different aspects that go into any media production, such as filming, storytelling, acting, but also marketing, advertising, and being able to put oneself out on the Internet. These are some of the lessons the course sets out to teach students through hands-on experience.

One of the most important parts of the course is that the students are able to create what kind of Web series they want, within the parameters and means available at UWRF.

The title of the series they are creating is called “Pass or Fail,” and is about three male friends at college taking a Feminist Topics course, and trying desperately, despite their personal flaws and prejudices, to complete it. A rough cut of the first episode has already been made.

However, the course is still considered an experiment, and some difficulties have arisen. Rein said that one of the problems that is becoming apparent is time.

“We sort of knew this coming in that we wanted to set a certain amount of time to talk about things in class,” he said, “but realistically, when you have 14 or more students who all need to be together to film this thing, they want to use this class time to put it all together, and once the filming started we haven’t been able to get together much to work out the issues.”

Rein added: “We’re trying to think of ways we can work out the balance of actually filming and how much of the class can we all come together, but right now it’s hard because it’s a lot of work.”

Despite the time issues and amount of work put in, the students in the course are still finding it all enjoyable, evident from the laughs they give at their own work and the ideas they throw around when meeting together.

Two such students, Sydney Howell and Connor Nelson, spoke about what they are learning.

“It’s a very fast paced course, it’s very challenging, but it’s something that I think we all enjoy doing, so it’s been fun,” Howell said.

“I get to work in a really large group and get a feel of the professional field,” Nelson said. “It’s students, but it’s all upper-level students, and students who are really interested and engaged.”

Planning to release all episodes of “Pass or Fail” in December, the class will offer teasers online leading up to that day. The class also plans to hold a red carpet event for the premiere of the series.