Catching Up with 'Friends Like You'

By Joel Sams '15

WILMORE, Ky. — “Act one; scene one; take one; marker!” Asbury University senior Ryan Sommers claps the slate in front of the camera. “Five, four, three, two!” he yells.

The student crew moves quickly and professionally, manipulating what looks like a jumble of cameras and booms with precision. Two monitors at either side of the stage display live footage as the actors take their places on set in the TV studio at the state-of-the-art Miller Center for Communication Arts on the Asbury campus.

With that, the latest recording of Asbury’s award-winning sitcom series, “Friends Like You,” is under way. Created by the Sitcom Production class, this episode title “The Word” has provided students a unique opportunity to work at nearly professional levels under the leadership of Professor Doug Smart, an industry veteran.

The Sitcom Production class is a truly unique learning experience, Smart says, as it is one of only two or three such programs in the country, and it is the only one outside of the greater Los Angeles area. Additionally, Asbury’s class is a complete production experience that includes not only creating the concept, but also filming before a live studio audience, editing and distribution.

In order to complete such a time-consuming project, work began last year in Smart’s Writing for Media class. Smart solicited story ideas involving a coffeehouse, and from these he picked two ideas from students, and one of his own. These were then woven into a single episode, as is customary in sitcom production.

“You see it all the time,” Smart said. “On a show like ‘Friends,’ you might have a Ross and Rachel story running at the same time you’ve got a Phoebe and Joey story. That’s called ‘A’ story/‘B’ story” or ‘A, B, C story.’ The ‘A’ story is one I’m writing, and the ‘B’ and ‘C’ stories are ones students submitted, and they will receive story credit.”

After the script was finalized, work began on set design, and casting and rehearsal followed. For a sitcom, rehearsal means more than just learning lines; it also means teaching students how to perform their job descriptions.

Smart’s teaching style is less academic, and more hand-on. He runs his class like a production studio, the same way he learned it from the sitcom legend Desi Arnaz in his senior year at San Diego State University.

“Desi mentored me, and I try to mentor my students the same way,” Smart said. “What Desi did for us as students was that he didn’t approach it so much as a teacher, but as a boss. He pretty much set up a production company on the campus... and we were more like employees and less like students. He was the boss, and gave us jobs to do. So that’s the approach I take with the class.”

Smart says that the class has an academic element which involves lectures, projects and tests, but most of the teaching is hands-on, like a production company. All the students have jobs that they chose at the beginning of the semester, and they are expected to learn and perform those tasks.

Junior Taylor Dekker says that for him, the most valuable aspect of the class was learning the logistical side of sitcom.

“I knew multi-cam and basics of shooting a sitcom, but a lot of things that were new to me were like how they handle set and actors,” Dekker said. “Taping live is always interesting, because if people mess up, the audience gets to see it. It just brings a lot of laughs and keeps the crew going.”

Dekker says that Smart’s focus helps keep the students on track: “Since we’re making a semi-professional show, he holds us to a standard of professionalism while we’re shooting. It’s not just a fun time; it’s pretty serious.”

Smart anticipates having the show ready for release on DVD by the end of the semester. In the past, episodes of “Friends Like You” have premiered at Asbury’s Homecoming celebration in October of each year.

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