King’s student creates Parks and Rec-inspired mockumentary web series
“I woke up one morning and I made a video on my iPhoto of the opening monologue,” King's student, Andrew Nielson ('14) said. Months later, Nielson’s independently produced web series, PLANT, is preparing to launch on April 6. Concerning his inspiration for the show, Nielson said, “I heard that you should write what you know best, and I grew up as a pastor’s son so I thought well, if there’s one thing I can find the comedy in, it’s growing up in the church. Some of my favorite comedians--people that I look up to--are strong women like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wig, so I basically crafted a sitcom-style series about a pastor’s wife.”
With regards to the process of creating his own web series, Nielson said, “The way that I learned [filmmaking] was just by going to screenings and observing and talking to people and working on sets.”
Nielson described PLANT as a "'mockumentary'--a documentary that follows Reverend and Mrs. Todd (Lynn Berg) and Tammy (Liz Days) Lawn. They embark on a God-inspired journey to start a church in New York City - to plant a church in New York City, as it were.”
Nielson ran the idea past his father, a pastor who thought the concept was funny. Following his dad’s approval, Nielson said, “I felt more comfortable pushing the envelope a little further and making it a little edgy. It’s not funny if you’re not pushing a little bit; you’ve gotta push some buttons, but you want to make sure that you’re not pushing to the extent that you’re alienating your potential audience, especially with a first project.”
PLANT will begin with five pilot episodes before ending with a cliff-hanger leading into a 15-episode Season One, according to PLANT’s Hatchfund page. Nielson personally funded production for the first five episodes, and then used Hatchfund--a crowd funding website that helps artists raise money for their projects--to raise additional funds.
Next, Nielson put out a casting call on Actors Access--a website that allows film and television casting directors to post their breakdowns--and received hundreds of responses. After a lengthy selection process, Nielson finally had his cast.
“I made sure that we got along and they understood what I was trying to do with the project," Nielson said. "I wanted to make it very clear that I wasn’t trying to attack anyone with the project, because I think some people see it that way, and I didn’t want to work with anyone who’s intention that was.”
Describing his casting choices, Nielson said, “I think with a web series in particular, but also with comedy, you need someone who is really quick on their feet and who can immediately take what you give them and turn it around and give you something unique.”
In terms of his lead, Nielson said he wanted someone who understands the genre and can anticipate what the director is trying to do--someone who can immediately “give you what you want,” and works well with him.
Nielson went on to describe his vision and overall purpose for creating PLANT: “I wanted to poke fun at the human foibles of Christianity, rather than the actual faith, but poke fun at the religious aspects of Christianity. Like, what are the weird things that we do that we find so important to living out that faith on a daily basis, and how does that get in our way, and how does that change people’s perception of us, possibly for the worse?”
He explained that every day, Christians are simultaneously "glorified" and "villainized" by the media.
"There’s this disconnect from what Christians intend to do and how they are perceived, and what I eventually decided, with PLANT, was that I didn’t want it to be an attack against Christians, but I also didn’t want it to glorify them.”
When asked to describe his ideal audience, Nielson said, “It’s a human story; it’s a human comedy. Yes, there is this umbrella of Christianity because it takes place in a church, but it’s about these people who are trying to make it and the obstacles that they have, so the ideal audience...appreciates broad comedy, appreciate strong female leads...people that like things like 30 Rock and Parks and Rec would like this style of comedy because it has that same feel.”
“Christians can watch it and laugh at their own stereotypes; non-Christians can watch it and laugh at the Christians’ stereotypes.”
Following the April 6 premier, Nielson plans to release one episode per week at the same time. The website will not go live until the week before the first episode is released, but people can like the PLANT Facebook page to receive updates on screenings, meeting the cast, behind-the-scenes material and more.
Visit Nielson's personal website to learn more about the creator of PLANT.