The co-creator/producer/star of the hot web series talks about the show's inception, interacting with the fans and future plans for the show
Web series' are nothing new, especially these days, with eons of web series floating around the internet on a bevy of different sites. I can't imagine many of these web series, though, have even come close to the level of success that Dorm Life has achieved in such a small amount of time. The show premiered in February of 2008 at Dorm-Life.com and has exploded in popularity since then. Earlier this year, the second "semester" premiered on sites like Facebook and MySpace - where you can also find actual profile pages for these characters - and Hulu and the show has just surpassed the 5 million hits plateau. One of the creators of this web phenomenon is Jim Brandon, who writes and produces for the show but also appears on camera as Gopher Reed. I had the chance to speak with Shannon over the phone about this internet sensation, and here's what he had to say.
Can you just talk about how this whole series started? Were you guys all college friends and did this idea just kind of come from that?
Jim Brandon: Yeah. So we all went to UCLA together. There are seven creators/writers of Dorm Life and we all went to UCLA together and a lot of us are in the same comedy group, kind of overlapping years. We just found a great chemistry together that we just wanted to keep going to do a show. As we started talking about all of our college experiences and fun college stories, so many of them happened in the dorms. That was kind of our jumping-off point. The seven of us, very early on, got in contact with Attention Span Media, they were the production company that came on. From the beginning, they were working with us when we decided to make it an online show and work together with them to create the show. The rest of the cast, we filled out a lot with UCLA students as well. Nora (Kirkpatrick) was another student at UCLA and there was just a bond from going to UCLA, a common experience that we could all share. It really helped when we started filming because we were filming in such... we filmed the entire first season in 16 days, and then the second season in 21 days. It was very rushed and kind of all together. A lot of us were friends going in, and that helped a lot because we were spending so much time together that it would've stunk if we didn't get along.
I just love Nora's character name, Courtney Clovercock, and there are some other great names in here as well, so where did these all come from?
Jim Brandon: She came up with her own last name. Courtney and Brittany were names we liked for the two best friends, just names that went together and she came up with her own last name, so you're going to have to ask her where that came from. We actually spent way too much time talking about names. Just stuff like Marshall Adams I, the RA. We talked so long about a name that would kind of sound East Coast and an old traditional name but nothing that was too cool or too lame. We came upon Marshall because we were also trying to think of a bunch of fun name puns that we could do. We were talking about Marshall Law and Marshall Arts, Marshmallow and all those things. Then my character, actually, Gopher Reed, is almost the opposite. We really wanted a character that just had a nickname. He always had a nickname and no one really questioned where his name came from, it was just there from the beginning and Gopher was the first thing that anyone said. We didn't want to overanalyze or overthink it, that one we just took and ran with.
So you're one of those mysteries, like no one knows what his first name is?
Jim Brandon: Yeah. We interact with our fans a lot, because as an online show, we do a lot of efforts to connect to our fans, whether it's Facebook profiles or MySpace profiles or live chats. A lot of people ask what my real name is and my character's response is always just, 'I don't know. My whole life I've always been called Gopher.' He's also been drinking for so long that he's had a fake ID for so long that he's never had to go and get a drivers license or a passport so he's not sure where Gopher comes from. We had a Parents Weekend episode this season and we kind of told the people who were playing my parents, 'Don't even reference the fact of where the name comes from and what it is. It's just Gopher and we're just going to run with it.' It's been a lot of fun.
This whole thing really seems like more of an interactive community more than just a web series. Was that your goal all the way through, when you started this, to connect with everyone?
Jim Brandon: Yeah. We definitely, from the start, looked at distributing our show online as a blessing. We could tell a more full story because we were going to be online. The audience that's already clicking on our show, are more willing to click on bonus content to find out more about our characters. Along with that, having a show that is a mockumentary, we're claiming that these people are real and if they're real college students, to us, of course they're going to have Facebook profiles and Twitter profiles and all of those things. It really made sense, but it was also something that excited us so much from the beginning of being able to create such a big, full world around it. That's actually probably been the most fun. When you have someone who is just a fan of the show, who we know on a first-name basis and we'll see, 'Oh, it's this girl's birthday today,' and we'll click on her profile and see she's listed her cell phone, so there's been a couple of times when we've called people on their birthday and just had interactions like that. I think that's a really big difference of our show, that you're not going to be able to get that if you're just putting that out through a different medium. There's just a level of interactivity that is incredible. I think that's just a huge focus of Dorm Life, and also Attention Span Media, the production company. It's just that we're not putting our stuff online because that's the cheapest way to put the things out. We're putting it out online because you can tell really cool stories online and you can do so much more on the Internet than you can through just a broadcast medium. Obviously, there's benefits for broadcast or sitting in a movie theater for two hours and just totally escaping, but what's equally as awesome to us is fans clicking on our profiles and being willing to explore our photo albums and being able to find out a lot about our characters and it's just a really fun way to engage an audience and interact with them.
Now this thing has blown up on Hulu, so have people approached you to bring this on to a network or to cable or anything like that?
Jim Brandon: Yeah, there are some talks right now. I don't know how specific I should get into it (Laughs), but there is some interest in developing it as a TV show. It's all kind of in very early stages, so we're not sure if that's going to happen or not. Obviously, it would be great, because there's a level of exposure and also a lot of resources that come with that, so that's something that would be really fun to do, if only to reach more people. But then, I go from a creative standpoint, we've never looked at it as something that this is only a launching pad to get a TV deal or get noticed. I think that's when new media is really interesting, where they're doing new things and not just rehashing old ideas on a smaller format.
So you have Spring Break episodes all this week, so does this have a different take on the whole Spring Break experience then?
Jim Brandon: Yeah. Spring Break is a different take on a Dorm Life episode, because we had the characters shoot it all by themselves. We kind of left the camera crew at home and gave handheld cameras to the characters. We didn't script it as much. Our episodes are very scripted and this was... there were some free-form beats that we wanted to hit, but it was a lot of just getting these people in a car together and playing around, a road trip for our Spring Break. Actually, one of my Spring Break's was a road trip across the country. My junior year of college we went to the Final Four to watch UCLA play basketball. There were a handful of other guys in the car who had taken big road trips like that, so we were drawing a little bit on experience, but there were also times where we would just find ourselves in the middle of nowhere and find something silly. For example, in the episode that, I think is coming out on Thursday - that's another thing about the Spring Break, is we release an episode every day of this new journey, which is very fun. A TV show just can't decide, 'Hey, let's do an episode every day.' We're really excited about that, but I think this fourth episode of Spring Break that's coming out on Thursday, we were driving on this kind of desert road and we just saw this chair in the middle of the dark. It was pitch black and the lights just came across and there was this white chair. We just drove up to it and we were just looking at it like this was the creepiest chair we've ever seen. We started daring one another to go out and get into the chair, so that was very much just a real and random thing that we found on our road trip that ended up being a pretty funny bit within the episode.
So, finally, what would you like to say to those who maybe not have seen your show on Hulu or your own site, what would you like to say to those college-aged kids or whoever else hasn't seen it, to give it a shot on the web?
Jim Brandon: I would say just check out our show. What's most exciting to me is when a fan will tell me, 'I totally had that experience. I totally knew that person in college. That totally happened on my floor.' I think that all comes from that we're all very young. When we first did the show, half of the creative team was still in college and so we were able to draw onto real and current experiences. We were able to get very specific, as in this was our college experiences, and it's been amazing seeing how universal that really is, as in graduates and college kids. I'm really proud of how our show is able to capture that time and come up with something very funny and, along with that, I think, because we are online, we're able to do something that is very different than what you're going to get from most shows and so I'm very proud of Dorm Life because it's a special thing and it's a special place right now. As new media is developing, there are all the exciting things you can do to tell a story and I'd like to think we're one of those shows at the forefront of that, telling a unique story, for college kids, by college kids. It's just a universal story of when a group of people get together and how they interact and all the fun adventures that can come out of that.
Excellent. Well, that's all I have for you, Jim. Thanks so much.
Jim Brandon: Hey, thank you.
You can catch a new Spring Break episode of Dorm Life every day this week at Dorm-Life.com, or, if you need to catch up on the first season as well, you can CLICK HERE to watch the entire first season, and most of the second season as well, right here on the site.