Living room laughter feeds production company

Sophomore Darren Miller is serious about being funny. On Saturday afternoons, when he sits around his townhouse laughing with his friends about making a mock tribute to the children’s book “Where’s Waldo?” someone is actually taking notes and considering angles.

Miller is the president of Always On Productions, a new student organization with a goal that its material will not only entertain GW, but also get noticed in the “real world.” He and three other guys live in The Comedy House, a Scholars’ Village Townhouse on F Street that serves as the headquarters for their 12-person humor team.

The group plans to produce four half-hour filmed episodes of original sketches and improvisation, a combination style they have dubbed “the documockery,” by the end of the year. While many of their ideas start out as jokes, they make sure to get down to business to make even the goofiest sketch fine-tuned and flawless.

The Comedy House is a continuation of last year’s Project G Street – a freshman Living and Learning Community that focused on making a feature-length film. With just 30 students and a lack of leadership from professional staff, Project G Street had difficulty organizing and carrying out their planned screenplay, and did not end up accomplishing their goal.

Miller and several others from Project G Street have taken away valuable lessons and experience from last year’s group, which they believe will make their efforts this year far more successful.

“We’re not going to be that cohort that just makes a cookbook and then wants to go on a trip,” Miller said. “We are actually working consistently on something that’s important to us. This year we will be more focused, more ambitious and more productive.”

When Miller and others in the group applied to GW, they were planning on majoring in electronic media hoping to go into filmmaking. But when GW changed the electronic media major and scaled back other creative programs like music and theater, these students took matters into their own hands.

“Any creativity that GW had is fading away,” Miller said. “The University is trying to become more specialized in everything political in order to develop a better image. This comes at the expense of anyone who came here actually expecting to get a liberal arts education.”

One reason the group wanted a townhouse was to store bulky equipment like cameras and other gear for shooting the episodes. The group members say they have not received funding for a camera and will probably only be given access to a computer lab in Mitchell Hall. These limitations will make production more difficult, but not impossible.

Paul Fucito, director of communications for SMPA, said he understands the students’ frustration, but said GW continues to invest in their studio facilities without the independent electronic media major. He added that Panasonic recently chose GW to pilot its new state-of-the-art $20,000 digital camera and editing suite.

“We beat out Harvard to be among just five schools in the country to use the same cutting-edge technology as Steven Spielberg,” he said.

For the aspiring comedians of Always On Productions, this year will be a chance to make something noteworthy, and get recognized for it. They plan on combining their four episodes into a DVD and marketing it on campus and on the Internet.

They will also send it off as part of a press pack to every major television network, and hope to turn some heads. During Project G Street’s trip to Los Angeles last spring, Darren and others made connections with several producers, and now have names of people who have agreed to watch their material once it’s completed.

With such an ambitious goal in mind, the 12 members of the production group will be working diligently all year to write, cast, direct, film, edit and produce their best sketches.

While group input and piggybacked ideas are essential to their artistic success, the creator of each comedy sketch is ultimately in charge of deciding what goes in and who does which job. This division of labor lets the group move from joking around while together to actually getting work done and producing results.

Describing themselves as “hardcore comedy nerds,” the most dedicated members of the group are hoping that a career in comedy or filmmaking awaits them. Several are involved in GW’s comedy group Recess, and others practice their stand-up comedy routines at various venues within D.C.’s growing comedy scene.

“With what we have at GW, this is the best thing we can be doing. It’s another way to get solid experience and still have a degree to fall back on,” senior Chris Singel said.

While it might seem surprising that such film and comedy enthusiasts chose to come to GW, Miller said, “We’re here because it’s easier to grow as a big fish in a small pond. At a film school we would be nobody, but coming from GW, we have a shot.”

Singel said aside from the lofty goals, there is a smaller, immediate purpose to the student group.

“At very least, we want to entertain GW,” he said. “I just want to spread happiness. Who doesn’t like laughing?”

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