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Forsythia: A CLA Collaboration

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In less than a month, two instructors from the University of Minnesota will learn if their original web series has won an award at the prestigious Los Angeles Web Series Festival (LAWEBFEST). In its third year, LAWEBFEST is the first panel to honor and call attention to the growing number of serialized shows being created specifically for the Internet, and features entries from all over the world.

Over the course of four weeks in the summer of 2010, Peter Gregg and Mark Neuman-Scott (Communication Studies) and a crew consisting mostly of Communication Studies students shot in and around the Twin Cities for 17 days. The 80-page script resulted in more than 16 hours of footage.

They used cameras and other field production equipment funded and supported by CLA-OIT, and spent several days in CLA Studio-E in Rarig Center, where sets were built for interior shots.

Television Studios

One of CLA's primary areas of focus is on the theoretical aspects of visual story-telling, so the creators looked at the project as both a creative outlet and an opportunity to demonstrate to their students the practical aspects of the production process.

The genesis for the project began a year earlier in the summer of 2009, when Neuman-Scot and Gregg entered a local film festival in which participants draw a genre from a hat and have 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit a short film. They picked "fantasy," and while they were prepared to create a work in any category, they would have preferred another genre. Neuman-Scott's tastes lean toward mystery-style fiction, and Gregg prefers "hard" science fiction.

The five-minute video, "Forsythia," was well received at the 48-hour festival. Starring Alia Mortensen as the title character, the film focused on the story of an unearthly woman trapped in an insane asylum.

Soon after the festival, Gregg and Neuman-Scott were considering ways to retell the story in an expanded format. They researched many stand-alone format options, but after considering YouTube's statistics on viewers' short attention spans, they settled on creating a web series of "Forsythia." This emerging distribution method allowed them to tell compelling 4-8 minute stories with cliffhangers guaranteed to keep viewers coming back.

Contrary to a world usually populated with fairies and dragons, they chose to make a grittier, present-day fantasy; turning to such fantasy-fiction greats as Michael Moorcock, J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the popular British sci-fi series "Dr. Who" for inspiration.

Alia Mortensen, worrier with sword.

Alia Mortensen reprises her role as Forsythia for the web series. Gregg describes her character as worrier with a sword. As the perplexed magic-wielding heroine tries to find her way back home, she seeks to fill the holes in her memory and searches for other beings from her realm. Along the way, Forsythia befriends an eccentric sidekick (à la "Dr. Who"), encounters a kindly landlord, a mysterious woman who appears to be in a mental ward, and other, less benign characters.

Following the "Forsythia" shoot, some of the student-crew have gone on to win film festival awards and/or are currently pursuing advanced degrees in filmmaking. Many crew members also worked as student technicians in the CLA Video Services. This summer, Peter Gregg and Mark Neuman-Scott are planning to shoot a short film using another crew of CLA students.

Television Studios.

The Rarig Television Studios, Video Editing Workstations, and Video Camera Loaner Pool, are accessible to all in CLA, but are primarily used for instruction by Communication Studies, Theatre Arts & Dance, Art, and the Studies in Cinema and Media Culture program within Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. Communication Studies is the biggest user of the resources, offering several courses in multi-camera studio and electronic field production. Studio E and the professional and student CLA Video Services staff were also key collaborators in the recent "Driven to Discover: The Research Series" also distributed as web series.

The "Forsythia" series has a YouTube channel as well as a Facebook fan page. All 11 chapters of the first season are currently online at Forsythia.tv.

Best YouTube episode? Forsythia Season 1, Chapter 4 - Boolos

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