For a generation of high school students raised watching viral videos and splashy television shows, Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions is venturing into pop culture with a new promotional video — and it’s a musical!
The Admissions Office will post its new video — “That’s Why I Chose Yale” — in high definition on YouTube, the admissions Web site and the admitted students site today. The new video forgoes the campus stills and student interviews of past Yale promotional videos in exchange for more than 200 students, faculty and staff belting out songs of praise for Yale.
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Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said the video allows Yale to “set a tone” for prospective students, capturing the spirit of the University even if they cannot visit. The video was the brainchild of recent alumni and current students, he said, and captures the Yale experience first-hand.
“It’s going to get noticed because there’s nothing like it,” Brenzel said in an e-mail. “I expect that there will be parodies and attempts at imitation.”
Although Brenzel declined to specify the exact cost of the film, he said the video was written and shot in-house at less than one-tenth the cost of a professionally-produced admissions video.
The video opens as an admissions officer, played by New York City-based actor Kobi Libii ’07, finishes his address to a campus tour. A bored-looking girl in the last row asks, “But why did you choose Yale?”
Libii pauses before launching into a musical exposition of all Yale has to offer. When the scene changes, Libii, striding before the looming Gothic buildings in Branford College’s iconic courtyard, is joined by Sam Tsui ’11 — the YouTube sensation, who is also a Yale College tour guide.
Hundreds of other Yale students join in the singing and dancing over the course of the 15-minute movie. Even NBC news anchor Brian Williams, the father of Allison Williams ’10, makes a cameo appearance at a staged Master’s Tea. Libii walks the viewers through scenarios that showcase Yale’s residential colleges, academics and extra-curricular activities, and eventually, viewers are brought back to a panting Libii, who cries in elation, “That’s why I chose Yale!”
The last time the Admissions Office produced a video nearly a decade ago, it featured students strolling around Yale on rollerblades, donning high-waisted jean shorts and baggy T-shirts, according to Andrew Johnson ’06, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions. Until today, the outdated video still greeted prospective applicants when they first arrived at the Admissions Office.
But because of its age, the video offered potentially misleading information and dated facts, Johnson said. Last spring, after making an amateur, private video series about the lives of admissions officers, Johnson said he raised the idea of making a new admissions video but with a twist: He wanted the movie to be a musical. While he was initially unsure if the Admissions Office would approve his idea, Johnson said, he met with Brenzel and was given the green light and a modest budget.
Work began that summer when Johnson and student filmmaker Ethan Kuperberg ’11 started the first of two drafts of the video’s script. The pair mostly worked via e-mail, meeting once over a weekend. Meanwhile, Johnson drafted the score to accompany the lyrics and recruited Kurt Schneider ’10 – who works with Tsui on his YouTube projects — to help with the sound editing and production of the video.
The next challenge was getting together the cast. With his low budget, Johnson said he had to rely entirely on volunteers, whom he drew from a network of friends, student organizations and eventually Facebook. Even admissions officers and their children did not escape his net, Johnson said.
“We begged, pleaded, coerced anyone we could find,” Kuperberg said. “We would tell the cast that we were about to start the shoot when the camera equipment hadn’t even been set up.”
Ben Stango ’11, president of both the Yale College Democrats and the College Democrats of Connecticut, was cast in the video as the member of the Yale Political Union.
“Ethan told me to come in a suit,” Stango recalled. “I quoted Aristotle and page numbers.”
The strategy worked: For the final shoot, more than 200 students turned up one morning early last semester to storm down the front steps of Sterling Memorial Library, Johnson said. To complete the scene, which features a large crowd of students jumping for joy, the production crew even asked onlooking Yalies to join in.
But the 10-day shoot was not without a few close calls. The directors of the musical still vividly remember what they now call “that camera incident.”
On the afternoon before they were due to shoot the Yale Symphony Orchestra playing in Woolsey Hall, Schneider said the production crew received a call from their equipment rental company, which informed him they had rented the equipment to someone else.
“We had three and a half hours to get new equipment or walk into Woolsey empty-handed,” he said.
Streeter Phillips ’10, the movie’s cinematographer, said the best memories from the set were from the end of the day, when he, Schneider and Johnson would stand exhausted and giddy from the day’s accomplishments before heading to the Applebee’s in Hamden to kick back for a beer and a two-for-$20 meal.
Of the roughly 60 Jonathan Edwards College students who attended a preview in the college Thursday night, all 13 interviewed had overwhelmingly positive responses to the video and approved of the Yale the film portrays. Five students added that they liked that it displays a playful side of Yale College.
Zachary Groff ’13 noted with approval that, though very obviously an admissions video, the film is self-aware of its camp nature. Indeed, Schneider said that the night before shooting, he and the rest of the production team watched Disney’s “High School Musical” for inspiration. He added that the score for the video is meant to be “accessible and pop-friendly.”
The new admissions video will also be shown to campus visitors at information sessions and tours at the Admissions Office. Yale students interested in seeing the video on the big screen can attend the premier in the Whitney Humanities Center tonight at 7 p.m.
Correction: Jan. 15, 2010
An earlier version of this article misreported the location of tonight’s premiere, which is at the Whitney Humanities Center, not William L. Harkness Hall.