UW-Milwaukee film students court new media with Mediocracy
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Five guys, all wearing glasses, judge Nikolaus Aldrich’s DVD collection. “I haven’t seen the second one yet,” says Mike Schmidt, holding up the third Paranormal Activity movie.
“I got them all for $20!” says Aldrich.
It’s a Monday night. The young twentysomethings are talking preferred editing software and aspect ratios. They seem captivated and charmed by the art and process of filmmaking. Even after film classes at UWM, documenting a student government meeting, and putting together a rough cut of a short video, the group continues to talk shop. Tonight, the discussion is all about who will edit the pilot episode of the group’s new TV series, Mediocracy.
“It began with Aaron Alpert and me wanting to start a fun side project, and it just took off,” says Aldrich, the director of the project. Their brainchild, born after finding comedy in watching their classmates argue tirelessly over a film’s title, has grown into a project that includes more than 30 people. “It takes a village to raise a brainchild,” Aldrich says, laughing.
The show is about a college student named Kevin, who is trying to do something noteworthy. Through comedy, the audience sees Kevin react to quirky characters and experience defeats that keep him from rising above the “mediocre.”
“The main character, Kevin, is on the cusp of ‘Will I make it or not?’” says the project’s star, McCormick Sweeney. “I think that’s what everyone is thinking. We’re all trying to figure out what we love and whether or not we’re good at it.”
Mediocracy was conceived a little more than a year ago, and it has already created buzz after short promotional videos screened at the Sundance Film Festival. But the team members aren’t going to go the “traditional route” by sending the pilot to big-name broadcasting networks. With cable costing its customers so much a month, alternatives to cable such as Hulu and Netflix are beginning to purchase original, scripted content. Online providers assume that by gathering their own shows, more viewers will make the switch from cable to online streaming. With this in mind, the Mediocracy team aims to do business with new media.
Matt Ott, producer of the project and a graduate of the UWM film program, notes “the film community in Milwaukee is tight-knit.” Crew members rotate from project to project, and projects rarely seek new bodies, especially from outside of the city. Ott says most projects stay in the world of short films, documentaries, and commercials.
But as a brave, young thing, Aldrich is going after something bigger. He hopes the production and marketing of Mediocracy will bring more people into the Milwaukee film scene, and perhaps connect the “third coast” to the other two.