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Boise State’s Narrative Television Initiative is Ready for its Closeup

Actors in "And Beyond"
Actor Shelly O’Neida (center), plays Cody, a teenaged intern in “And Beyond.” Actors Justin Ness (left) and Luke Massengill (right), play the leads, Joey and Alex, in the original series.

The Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise screened its first movie, “Don Juan,” starring John Barrymore, in 1927. At 7:30 p.m. on March 13, 2018, other firsts will take place at the iconic theater. Boise State will debut its first campus-made, three-part television series, “And Beyond,” at a special screening, free and open to the public. It’s a workplace comedy about hapless ghost hunters who take themselves more seriously than their talents warrant.

The choice of the Egyptian was intentional, said Professor Richard Klautsch, who, in addition to chairing Boise State’s Department of Theatre, Film, and Creative Writing, has an on-screen role as an eccentric landlord — who’s in the vape business — in “And Beyond.”

“The Egyptian is downtown, so we hope to connect to more community members, make a big splash,” Klautsch said.

The screening is the first event presented by the university’s School of the Arts, which encompasses the departments of music, art and the newly combined department of theatre, film and creative writing. The event marks the culmination of a multi-semester, multi-disciplinary project, the Narrative Television Initiative, that began in the fall of 2016. Over the course of four semesters, students worked with professors as well as professionals in the field on all aspects of creating “And Beyond.” That included writing a script in a class known as the Writer’s Room taught by Professor Brady Udall, to pre-production, filming and post-production, all leading up to the red-carpet moment on March 13.

‘An incredible proving ground’

While the project is the first of its kind at Boise State, it won’t be the last. When the School of the Arts begins offering a new undergraduate degree in film and television arts in fall 2018, narrative television will be among the requirements for a BFA.

Actor Richard Klautsch
Professor Richard Klautsch has an on-screen role as Barry the landlord. He runs a vape business on the side.

Ryan Cannon, a filmmaker and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, created the initiative based on a program at the University of Texas in Austin where he received a Masters of Fine Arts in film. Students and professors there work with industry professionals to make feature films.

“It was an opportunity to apply all of the stuff you’d been learning. All of a sudden, it really mattered,” said Cannon. “You were collaborating with people with a lot of experience. It was an incredible proving ground.”

When Cannon came to Boise four years ago, his first goal was to start a similar program at Boise State. The timing is right for the NTVI, he said. America has been enjoying a “golden age” of television spurred some years ago by series like “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad,” and more current award-winners like “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The project is in line with the new School of the Arts’ emphasis on preparing arts students for professional fields, whether that’s by helping them network, suggesting professional paths students didn’t know existed, or offering programs that let students leave Boise State with an impressive project in their portfolios.

The project, said Leslie Durham, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, allowed a “rich mix of people and talents working together.”

As engaging as the local nonprofit arts community is, Durham said, “it’s great to also direct students to the commercial side of the arts, to broaden the landscape of where they might put their skills to work.”

Actor Chris Henderson
Actor Chris Henderson plays Brett in “And Beyond.” He’s shown here with a prop camera at a downtown farmer’s market.

Opening doors

Nolan Turner, a third-year student in the creative writing masters program, was the main writer of “And Beyond,” a script born in the Writer’s Room. Writing for television was a completely new form of writing for Turner, who’s now working on his thesis collection of short stories. He admits he found the process of script writing, which included input from other writers in the class, grueling.

“I got to a point that individual moments in the script don’t register with me anymore. I’ve lived with all the jokes, heard them for so long. If people laugh at something, I’m like, ‘Hmm. That works.’”

But the challenges didn’t put him off. Thanks to the NTVI, he sees script writing as a possible professional pursuit.

“I’d be fine trying to do these things. It’s opened me up to more avenues,” he said.

Challenges and experiential learning

The pre-production and shooting of “And Beyond” took place during the spring and summer of 2017. Cannon co-directed the pilot with student Joshua Schneider. Rulon Wood, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, and Phil Atlakson, a professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, directed the second and third episodes, respectively.

Locations included sites around campus and the city, including the Dutch Goose Bar on State Street and a farmer’s market in downtown Boise. Unlike a big-budget shoot, Boise State crews didn’t have the luxury of closing down streets, so they had to contend with ambient city noises and constantly shifting backdrops. And they had to be inventive, figuring out how to cover windows and doors to shoot “nighttime” scenes in the middle of the day.

“With every shoot there were challenges,” Klautsch said. “But you talk about experiential learning. The students were doing a real show.”

The university hired Lincoln Lewis, a professional cinematographer, to shoot the series. Toward the end of the shoot, Lewis handed the camera over to Tyler Maynard, a senior who will graduate in the spring with a degree in communication with media production emphasis.

“It was huge for me,” said Maynard. “Being able to get that kind of experience. You don’t usually get to work on that big of a set until you’re out there and you find a job. Here, I was able to take everything I learned through my classes and apply it all in one place, in one super saturated session.”

Student Tyler Maynard and Prof. Ryan Cannon
Student Tyler Maynard (left) and Ryan Cannon, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, on the set of “And Beyond.”

“Tyler’s a quiet kid,” said Cannon. “It was cool to see him go from student, to camera assistant, to running the camera department, blocking the actors. To see that happen so quickly, that speed of immersion.”

And there were at least five more stories like Maynard’s, said Cannon, other students who took on immense challenges and proved their professional chops throughout the production. He plans to submit “And Beyond” to festivals to get more exposure and hopefully earn some “gold stars for the actors and students who put so much into this,” he said.

For his part, Maynard is seeing possibilities for the future.

“As soon as I started doing it, I was in love with it. It’s what I want to do,” he said.