The main character is a Manhattan debutante. Her father is serving time for insider trading. Her mother is planning to marry her high school sweetheart, the king of the Roller Palace Hot Dog Empire. Things get truly weird when the spoiled teenager takes a job as a roller skating waitress on the Jersey Shore.
So goes the plot of Roller Palace, a sitcom pilot written by a College of Communication student that will be broadcast on mtvU later this month. The 30-minute pilot, which was produced, cast, filmed, and edited by COM Associate Professor Paul Schneider’s class, will be shown at the Photonics Center on Friday, March 17, at 7 p.m.
“This has certainly turned out to be a real success for us,” says Schneider. The pilot is scheduled to air on mtvU at over 730 college campuses beginning March 20. “So much effort has gone into this. We really want people at BU to see it because this is where it was made and this is where our people are.”
Schneider, who has directed more than 30 television movies and episodes of Beverly Hills 90210, L.A. Law, and JAG, earned the chance for his students to produce and broadcast the pilot after hosting a scriptwriting contest last year for his Advanced Television Writing class. A panel of judges made up of television executives from major networks was assembled with the help of Ted Harbert (COM’77), president and CEO of E! Networks.
Competing scripts were sent to Los Angeles for judging, and Roller Palace, written by graduate screenwriting student Elizabeth Coopersmith (COM’05), climbed to the top of the pile. Schneider worked with mtvU to broadcast the show and with MSN for funding.
“As soon as I proposed this concept to mtvU they were really crazy about it,” says Schneider. “They are trying to highlight what college students are up to, and there are not a lot who are up to producing a full production of a television pilot. We are probably the only ones.”
In addition to broadcasting the pilot, mtvU has been filming the production process and already has begun showing on its Web site behind-the-scenes footage of the COM students from start to finish — choosing actors, who include two College of Fine Arts students, scouting locations, adding music, and editing.
“This was done pretty much as it would have been on a professional set,” says Schneider. “The students encountered all the same kinds of problems and situations.”
The episode may be only 30 minutes long, but hundreds of hours went into making it. “It was a very big commitment for the students,” he says of the eight-credit course. “I think some of them were a little shocked at how time-consuming it was.”
For several weeks in December, a busload of students left campus each morning about 6 a.m. to drive to Salem, where they had converted Hobb’s Ice Cream shop into the Roller Palace. Most nights the bus didn’t return until 7 p.m.
Despite the long days, student producer Reece Cardwell (COM’06) describes the production as “an amazing experience. The set was run like a professional shoot instead of just a student film, and it was so incredible to see that in action,” says Cardwell, who rented equipment, organized catering, and managed the budget. “I certainly feel like this experience has helped me prepare for working after I graduate.”
Schneider’s plan to give his students experience and exposure seems to have worked. Coopersmith, encouraged by the judges, has moved to Los Angeles to pursue scriptwriting. On March 9 she attended the L.A. premiere of the pilot, shown in conjunction with the Redstone West Student Film Screening, an annual showcase of the best film and television department student projects, and a N.Y. screening is being contemplated. Schneider plans to repeat the exercise next year, but will let someone else handle the directing.