Sam Roberts, CC '08, had a dream. He imagined that there could be a television show that showcased homegrown CU talent and faithfully reflected the Columbia experience, while simultaneously remaining funny and compelling even for outsiders who might not understand in-jokes about Iranian presidents, the "Rough Ridin' Turkey" sandwich at 212, or the McBain "shaft." To hear him tell it, the guiding vision for Exclusion Suite, Columbia's latest student-run soap opera, was that of a program where "tuning in could feel just like hanging out with your friends, if only your friends were about 25 percent funnier, better spoken, and better looking."
Yes, Sam had a dream. And at the outset, the music major and aspiring executive producer also had no funding, next to no production experience, and the frustrating task of redirecting confused first-years who had shown up at his auditions hoping to score a good housing deal for next year. A lesser man might have been discouraged, but Sam, along with his trusty sidekick-cum-co-producer Katie Simon, CC '08, only saw such setbacks as reason to throw himself more fully behind the fledgling project.
Artistic vision alone, though, however brilliant, does not a television series make. For all their dedication, Sam and Katie quickly realized that the show would not get far without help. Enter one Robert Brink, a GS film student and actor with over 20 years experience in the biz. After seeing a notice that Katie had sent out to the film studies undergrad listserv, Rob found himself equally taken by both the premise of Exclusion Suite and the enthusiasm of its would-be creators.
Drawn by the prospect of what he saw as "a fun production experience with my fellow students, where nobody knows what the hell they're doing," but where there's nevertheless "a great spirit," Rob met with the duo to discuss lending a hand and was soon signed on as director and co-producer of the show. Before long—taking advantage of their newest crew member's experience and connections—the Exclusion Suite team had cobbled together basic plans for a six-episode arc, a motley crew of local Columbia and imported professional talent, a full production team, and even a shiny new Web site.
Exclusion Suite follows three male Columbia upperclassmen and the two female sophomores they take on in order to fill a double in their East Campus suite. The show aims to capture all the drama of co-ed cohabitation, but the writers are quick to insist that viewers needn't fear the excess of melodrama, cheesy music, or gratuitous close-ups that plague most soaps. They stress the great care taken during script writing to keep characters relatable and entertaining. "It was really important to us that we 'keep it real,'" Katie said. "The drama you'll find [on the show] is more, 'Oh no, I just puked and that's awkward' than 'Ohmigod that girl in my Lit Hum class is pregnant and was abducted by aliens and is her own twin sister.'"
Though the crew only recently wrapped filming on their second episode, Sam said that everyone affiliated with Exclusion Suite is doing a great job and is still deeply committed to the success of the project. They have to be—filming for each 17-page script takes approximately 20 hours every other week, starting at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays, with weeks not spent filming dedicated to rehearsal. "The actors and the crew are a Superbowl-quality team," Rob said. "We've got a fascinating blend of on-screen talent, and we're dedicated to these people.... Most of them never even wanted to be actors at all, they were just roped in by our passion and the script."
You can catch the premiere of Exclusion Suite Wednesday at ExclusionSuite.com. While you're there, you can also read the latest information on the show, browse production photos, and even download the theme song, composed by Sam himself. He is a music major, after all.