Seinfeld-Inspired Student Sitcom Debuts on BUTV
Welcome Back, Brotter was born in Warren Towers| From BU Today | By Susan Seligson
Watch the BUTV10 premiere episode of Welcome Back, Brotter: “The Pilot’s Pilot”
The dyspeptic BUTV10 faculty advisor glares at Cody Brotter and Paul Ryan as they slump in their seats, pitching a still-unnamed student sitcom. “That’s it?” the advisor says, in a tone of utter exasperation. “That is your pitch for BUTV? Sex? That is the entirety of what your show is about—college losers constantly trying to have sex with hot women?” As his hand plunges into a bag of Cracker Jacks, Ryan (COM’13) whispers something in Brotter’s ear. “Yes,” Brotter (COM’13) then tells the advisor. “That is it, sir.”
This is a scene from “The Pilot’s Pilot,” the first eight-minute episode of BUTV’s newest sitcom, Welcome Back, Brotter. In this installment, actors Brotter and Ryan leave the advisor’s office after making their pitch and proceed to screen students responding to a casting call, rejecting any who are better looking, and/or better endowed, than they are. The episode’s dramatic denouement occurs when the unraveled faculty advisor…well, let’s just say there’s a reason they chose to shoot the episode on the fourth floor.
The show is the Seinfeldian spawn of College of Communication students living on the 11th floor of Warren Towers. It began as an occasional series on YouTube. This fall its creators made a formal pitch to BUTV10 to turn Brotter into a monthly offering. The station’s faculty advisor, Christophor Cavalieri (COM’81), a COM assistant professor of television, at first found the series a little too vulgar—it is mined with F-bombs and contains scenes shot at a bank of urinals and set to a porn video soundtrack. But he warmed to it.
“Despite what most people think, it’s difficult to do comedy well,” says Cavalieri. “The WBB producers are serious about developing their craft. They’re committed to finding their comedic voice. It’s a work in progress, but that’s how you learn and achieve.”
Cody Brotter (COM’13) writes and stars in the new BUTV sitcom Welcome Back, Brotter. Photo by Vernon Doucette
Welcome Back, Brotter debuted earlier this month on BUTV10, and creators Brotter, Ryan, and John Sanderson (COM’13), executive producer, director, cowriter, and editor, say that now that they’re on deadline, they aren’t able to just goof around anymore. Brotter is one of 12 broadcast, live-streaming, on-demand video shows offered by the COM-based University-wide BUTV10, founded in 2005 to present the work of students, faculty, and alumni via campus channel 10.
Cavalieri “actually was like a Hollywood hotshot,” recalls Brotter, who resembles a young Bob Dylan. “Me, Paul, and John were facing his desk, and he was saying he’d seen our stuff, that it has really good production value, and clearly some story value. I covered up how surprised I was.”
The Brotter team members, who have roomed together on campus and off in various combinations, also have a production company that has created a series of surreal shorts. For Sanderson, the BUTV gig means that “now we have motivation. In the past two years we weren’t forced to bear down, but now we have to.”
At a recent Sunday afternoon shoot for the premiere BUTV episode, a call for volunteers nets 16 wide-eyed COM freshmen, who fill the small CAS classroom reserved to shoot an office scene. Nerves are taut among the multitasking crew as director of photography Conrad Golovac (COM’13) toys impatiently with camera angles and implores onlookers to get out of his shots. Creative consultant, production assistant, and all-around wrangler Keya Vakil (COM’13) attempts to herd the assembled broadcasting and film majors out of camera view and the team attempts to give each a shot at holding boom microphones and clacking the slate, while Golovac grapples with camera angles and dodgy lighting equipment. Everyone buzzing around the area is a student except Thomas Olsen, the 60ish professional actor playing the faculty advisor. Enlisted through a College of Fine Arts friend of Brotter’s and Sanderson’s, the silver-haired Olsen is not being paid for his services. Aside from a credit to add to his résumé, says Sanderson, “all he wanted was a sandwich.”
George Shell (COM’13) (from left), John Sanderson (COM’13), Cody Brotter (COM’13), and Paul Ryan (COM’13) in a scene from their BUTV sitcom, Welcome Back, Brotter. Photo by Vernon Doucette
Like Seinfeld, Brotter (most of the real Brotter’s friends had no clue that the name parodies the popular 1970s high school sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter) is about nothing. And it’s hilarious. As “Ryan Paul,” a deadpan Paul Ryan coaches the disheveled Brotter through a maze of social situations, like Brotter’s lame pursuit of a girl from his French class, played by sultry beauty Victoria “Torre” Price (COM’13). Price, who first appeared in the debut episode, “The Girl from French Class,” has her own “Girl from French class” Facebook page with wall entries such as “Je ne regrette rien.” A Welcome Back regular, she renders Brotter stupid each time she sashays into a room on the show. This episode begins with an argument by Warren Towers urinals, proceeds to an argument about Hitler in the elevator, followed by Brotter trying out his inane stand-up routine on his lesbian friends (“Ryan says I’ll be the next Carrot Top”), and ends with a smitten Brotter badly botching his first encounter with the incandescent Price.
A YouTube description of the episode sums it up like this: “Freshmen roommates Cody and Ryan (LOSERS) spend their days at college failing with hot girls from class while criticizing eating habits of lesbians and bathroom etiquette of jerks. Will ass-spanking or coffee make them the kings of Commonwealth? Refresh this page a gazillion trillion times to find out!”
It all started on the 11th floor of Warren Towers during the trio’s freshman year, when they began hammering out episodes. “John and Paul did most of the writing, and we’d outline the scripts together and divide scenes up to work on,” says Brotter, like Ryan a great fan of classic TV. Ryan is a big Seinfeld fan and wanted to do a college version of the legendary sitcom.
“I think we got a little more creative as time went by, but we still want to focus on little, everyday things,” says Brotter, whose favorite street dress is flannel pajama pants. The son of a psychotherapist father and a mother who has worked as an editor and literary agent, he got the comedy bug as a kid growing up in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., after watching the all-star classic buried treasure romp It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He was particularly taken with comic genius Sid Caesar, and devoured footage of Caesar’s 1950s television variety series, Your Show of Shows. “I think that’s maybe when I decided to write comedy,” says Brotter, who, unlike his perpetually frustrated namesake character, has a steady girlfriend. “When the show was on YouTube, it was about us failing with women, and it made fun of us as socially inept.”
Photo by Vernon Doucette
“Cody and Paul approached me the first month of school about directing the show,” says film major Sanderson, who had directed short films at his Arizona high school and would love to work in “the industry.” “Right from the start it was nice and fun and relaxed. As we’ve grown and production has become bigger, it requires more thought. Since I direct and also edit, whenever I look at an episode I think, how can I improve this?”
The three have refined the writing process for the monthly episodes, which are shot in and around campus, including scenes in the George Sherman Union, Warren Towers, on Comm Ave, and in friends’ apartments. “Writing was a lot tougher earlier on because we all tried to write it at once,” says broadcast journalism major Ryan. The Farmington, Conn., native says he “is not an actor by any means” and simply plays second fiddle to Brotter. Still, creative differences often ensued, and while he is usually the one to back off, he says, Brotter and Sanderson battle the fine points until things come out “about 50-50.” With the less contentious new system, ideas are presented to one of the three, who writes a script, followed by back-and-forth revisions via e-mail and a few script meetings.
“We all make compromises, but it can get serious and a little more personal at times,” acknowledges Brotter, who digs his heels in when something “is just not funny. I’ve explained to them that sometimes I wish my name wasn’t in the title, because I feel nervous about every little thing.” Ryan says that as a shoot nears, the writers meet twice a week and talk almost every day.
Through their ups and downs, Brotter, Sanderson, and Ryan remain close, although their dreams diverge. Ryan’s “absolute dream job” is to be a play-by-play announcer for an NHL team. Sanderson hopes to pursue a career in film. And Brotter would like to do more of the same, though “statistically this should be impossible,” he says, in the real world. And he wants to try doing stand-up comedy. “When I was a kid I wanted to be Sid Caesar,” he says. “Now I’m old enough to do that so I have no excuse not to try it.”
As the show’s profile slowly expands—Brotter was recently asked, “Are you the guy from that show?” by someone sharing an elevator—the team is getting script suggestions from friends and other student fans, and pondering ways to lend the series an identity beyond “the college Seinfeld.” Some fans are clamoring for a musical episode, but for now the three hope to break ground by telling each episode in a different format, such as voiceover, action movie, mockumentary, and a parody of Inception. And someone suggested the characters get girlfriends and become “really arrogant.”