Behind the Scenes of “As Seen On TV”

Still frame from As Seen On TV. Copyright 2019 Obscure Studios.

There was a time in my life where I could call up a couple of friends with a wild idea, grab my handheld camcorder and make a short film in an evening or a weekend. It was a freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of filmmaking that prioritized creative freedom over everything else — including scripts, plot, lighting, sound — and it’s what allowed Obscure Studios, the film company I founded and ran with a few friends, to rack up well over 100 videos in just two years.

After moving from Arizona to Washington and away from my cadre of usual collaborators, filmmaking took a backseat to my writing and other creative pursuits. Last year, with the 10th anniversary of our minor hit, Reilly’s Dorm, looming, I had the chance to travel back to Northern Arizona. There, I carved out a couple of hours with my go-to partner in crime, the incomparable Will McDonald, to write and shoot a brand new short film.

We were a little rusty, but five years between short films can do that. We cooked up a story outline at my favorite coffee shop and the next morning, filmed the opening and closing scenes of the film in the Airbnb where we were staying and the woods behind Will’s house. That afternoon, we set up shop in the basement of Theatrikos, Flagstaff’s community theater and a longtime support of Obscure Studios. We rigged up a lighting setup, cobbled together a campy alien costume for me to wear, and filmed the scenes that make up the heart of the film, as well as a quick promo video.

And that’s all we had time for. We left straight from the theater to catch our flight back to the PNW and dove into a remodel of our house a few days later. It wasn’t until January that I remembered the footage that was waiting on my iPhone’s hard drive.

Over the course of a few weeks, I pieced together the shots we’d captured that summer day. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good most of it was and how well the pieces fit into place. I played around with audio effects to give my voice an unearthly quality, tossed in a couple of visual and lighting effects, and added a 1914 public domain recording of “Stay Down Where You Belong” by Arthur Fields, slowed down to 10% of its regular speed as the soundtrack (I had originally planned to perform my own synthesizer music, but I quickly remembered that I’m not very musically talented, so only a few notes made it into the final cut).

Overall, I’m really happy with how “As Seen On TV” turned out. Much of the credit goes to Will, a fantastic actor who’s immediately likeable on screen and blessed with impeccable comedic timing. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my inspiration: my lovely wife who said, “You and Will should really make a movie while we’re in town” and provided both an unplanned cameo and makeup/special effects assistance with the alien goo (aka dish soap).

Filmmaking is one of those things that demands so much time and attention to detail that you always feel exhausted at the end of a day of filming or editing. But, as soon as you see the final product, a dose of endorphins convince you that the sweat and tears were all worth it and all you want to do is make another and another. Making “As Seen On TV” makes me want to break out my camera and tell more stories, so don’t be surprised if you see more in the coming months and years. I feel a renaissance coming.

— Jonny Eberle, Founder and CEO, Obscure Studios

 

This is What Victory Tastes Like — It’s Cheesy: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Reilly’s Dorm

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Let me start by saying that I have no idea what motivated me to open my laptop, turn on the webcam, and hit record on October 25, 2008. I honestly can’t remember if I was merely intrigued by this relatively new technology for film or if the germination of the character who would eventually become Reilly had been sprouting in my subconscious for a time. Whatever I thought I was doing, I was embarking on an experiment without the slightest inkling of how it would change my life.

The first episode of Reilly’s Dorm is actually really boring to watch, in retrospect. A college kid with an afro sits on his bed, talking directly to the viewer through his laptop webcam in a mishmash East Coast accent that’s difficult to pin down. Mumbling the entire time, he introduces the audience to his world and his belongings: A roll of duct tape, a lava lamp, a Deep Purple CD, a tiny statue of the Buddha. After I finished riffing, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I showed it to my friend and comrade in wild ideas, Will McDonald, and he liked it. But he thought that it was missing something: Reilly needed a roommate.

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The first episode with the character of George is where the series truly comes to life. Reilly’s roommate George is an athlete, a doer, and a bully. There is instant friction between the two characters and it is beautiful. Because from this point forward, the show has sharp dialogue and engaging plot lines springing from that central conflict — two roommates who didn’t get along.

Before we started filming, Will and I agreed on the simple rules that would guide the entire development of the show from that point on: Reilly’s Dorm would be unscripted. Aside from a vague scenario to work from, each episode was an unfolding creation that relied on improvisation. I didn’t know what Will was going to say or do. He didn’t know how I was going to respond. We would discover what was going to happen in real time, in one take, with a single camera that never moved and never cut away.

Looking back on that insane premise, it’s surprising to me that so much of Reilly’s Dorm is watchable at all, let alone interesting and funny. (Like so much comedy, not all of Reilly’s Dorm’s jokes aged well. There are moments of sexism, homophobia, and stereotyping that surface in some episodes that are sadly indicative of the time when it was made that I’d sooner forget.) But when the show clicks, it’s just as watchable as it was 10 years ago.

Soon after George’s introduction, the show took off and added a slew of memorable recurring characters: melodramatic villains Holmes and Lucy, college mob boss Fred, drunken frat boy Scott, dueling RAs, Reilly’s ex Kessie, and a host of others. Each episode was produced in a mad flurry of activity with the crew and I sometimes making three or four episodes in a single night. The audio was terrible; the lighting was worse. And yet, people seemed to connect to it.

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Over the short run of Reilly’s Dorm, I started to get recognized around Flagstaff by complete strangers. I made a couple of good friends with people who were fans of the show. We even sold a poster that claimed “Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Reilly’s Dorm” with 100 quotes, tropes, and jokes from the web series. For a short blip, we were YouTube famous and we didn’t know what to do with it. Above all, it was fun to make.

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Rewatching my favorite Reilly’s Dorm episodes always transports me back to that crazy year in my life when I somehow conned a lot of my friends to come over to my house and play pretend for a few hours. It was altogether delightful and I think you can tell when you’re watching that we were enjoying ourselves (and often trying not to break character and burst out laughing). All these years later, that sense of fun is still infectious.

This week, I hope you take a few moments to laugh with us and we revisit some of our favorite moments from the 96-episode run of Reilly’s Dorm. Thanks for watching!

Join Obscure Studios as we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Reilly’s Dorm with our top 10 favorite episodes this week on our website and Facebook page!

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-Jonny Eberle, President and CEO, Obscure Studios

Ten Years of Obscure Studios

It all started with a dream on a cold winters’ day 10 years ago. We were in high school then and we wanted to make a movie. An off-the-wall musical about a pirate, a blind woman, two Siamese twins, the Pope, a giant squid and some very angry Canadians. A script was written and then rewritten. Music was procured. The cast was selected. A few test scenes were filmed. And then nothing.

Gollandtsy! Gollandtsy! was never made, though rumors would stir up every few years that it had been glimpsed somewhere in the woods north of Flagstaff. But something was born. Something beautiful. Obscure Studios, founded to produce the musical in 2004, went on to make other projects a reality. From Reilly’s Dorm to the Big Night to Cold Read to Border Line to the one where Jonny narrated Will’s thoughts while he sat on an office chair. People grew to love the stories and the characters.

Fast forward a decade. On this 10th anniversary of Obscure Studios’ founding, the gang is scattered across the country. River and Katie are married with a daughter. So are Nathan and Danika. Jonny is off doing God knows what in the Pacific Northwest. He and the afro parted ways a few years ago — it now runs a record label in Nashville. Will and Yannick are still in Flagstaff. Sarah went off to seek her fortune somewhere near Alderaan. JACKson makes a living as a professional photobomber.

Obscure Studios’ video output has dwindled since the glory days. But don’t count us out yet. We may be separated by miles and years and new commitments, but the spark of our creativity has not gone out. No, Obscure Studios is a survivor. Don’t be surprised if you see something new from us in the future.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll celebrate us turning one-tenth of a century old. Check out our old videos, revel in the memories of the good old days and keep your eyes open for the biggest comeback since Star Trek II.

Hold on to your hats — the obscurity is on the move.

– Jonny, Will, Julio and the Whole Darn OS Family