The filming of Kurt Schneider’s ’10 “College Musical the Movie” this summer at Yale finished on time, but the project had its share of hiccups. Flat tires, equipment breakdowns and New Haven thunderstorms were just the beginning.
As assistant producer and marketing head T.J. Smith ’10 tells it, Schneider, who gained fame as a YouTube celebrity, tried to recruit other Internet stars as cameos for the film. At one point, they thought they might get Perez Hilton and Obama Girl to come to the shoot.
“Then they flaked out on us, so we had to come up with other ideas,” said Smith.
Such is the challenge for Schneider trying to break out of the computer screen and onto the silver screen.
The movie revolves around a freshman named Cooper (Sam Tsui ’11) and his obsession with a smokin’-hot TA (Allison Williams ’10). At the same time, a fellow student named Jackie (Julie Shain ’13) develops a crush on Cooper. Sexual tension rises faster than the view count on KurtHugoSchneider’s YouTube channel.
While it follows the story arch of Schneider’s YouTube series “College Musical,” more characters were written in and the plot was expanded. Chris Ripley ’10, the film’s director of photography, said “College Musical the Movie” will run about 95 minutes.
Nearly all of the film was shot at Yale University with the permission of the Secretary’s Office. The University allowed the cast and crew to use its grounds for less than what a typical feature film would have paid and made many exceptions for the CMtM team along the way.
Although he could not disclose exact figures, producer Andrew Johnson ’06, a senior assistant director of admissions at Yale, said the price the production paid for Yale access was “extremely low.” Yale wants to support its students, Johnson added, and Kurt’s production of the undergraduate admissions video “That’s Why I Chose Yale” probably helped their cause as well.
“The admissions video played a part in that we showed them we have this ability to use the big equipment,” said Johnson.
But “College Musical the Movie,” with its sexual humor, is a far cry from the innocent bucolics of “That’s Why I Chose Yale.” Will the University react with dismay to lyrics about TA-banging and college lust?
“They don’t seem to be concerned with what we are doing,” Smith said. “Plus, outside a very small group of people, no one knows the movie was filmed at Yale.”
Potentially indicative of a strained relationship with Yale, the production at times shifted settings to historic New Canaan, home to leading lady Williams. The film’s final scene, in which the main characters meet at an awards ceremony, was shot in Williams’ middle school auditorium. Ripley said because the scene involved many extras, it would have been too much trouble to film it at Yale.
“It was basically a crazy day of shooting for 16 hours,” said Ripley. “In the end, it worked a lot better for lighting.”
For a movie shot at Yale and produced by Yalies, there will be no reference to the University. Unlike the admissions video with its iconic depictions of Harkness Tower and Cross Campus, “College Musical the Movie” will not show any famous Yale buildings, Johnson promised.
Schneider said the film is set at a generic university, rather than any place in particular. So the crew went to extra lengths to cover up any signs that said “Yale” or “Ivy League.” They even obscured street signs they felt would give away the location. But with the potency of the KurtHugoSchneider meme, it’s hard to imagine this cover-up will be successful.
“College Musical the Movie” started out with a little joke song titled, “I Want to Bone My TA,” penned by a bored, sophomoric Schneider. This hormone-raging ballad launched the incomplete four-part YouTube video series “College Musical,” which garnered more than 3 million views.
Schneider said the original series was not much more professional than a home video. He directed and produced the videos himself. As part of a two-man crew, Schneider shot the scenes with a handheld camera.
The film’s budget came from one investor who saw the YouTube series and wanted to help Schneider and his team turn the videos into a feature-length film, Smith said. Schneider mentioned the investor was a former head of Disney Studios.
Though he does not have a Hollywood budget for the feature film — with less than $400,000 at his disposal — Schneider has upgraded to much better equipment. In fact, much of the budget was used to rent a Red One, the professional digital camera used by mainstream filmmakers.
Schneider has experienced YouTube celebrity, but he doesn’t want to settle for the same fate as Tay Zonday and his “Chocolate Rain.” Ripley aimed for a commercial, “Disney” look for the film, a departure from the indie-style realism he showcased in such works as The Postelles “White Night” music video.
“The big challenge on a limited budget is that you usually do something grimy,” said Ripley. “It wasn’t my intrinsic style, but I made it pop and have a fun atmosphere.”
Hollywood magic on a dime ain’t easy, but the crew did what it could. They made set designs out of nothing, tackled 12-hour workdays with small pay and took on multiple tasks. Kat Lau ’13, an assistant producer, said her salary from the film just about paid for her food and rent while she worked in New Haven.
But a summer spent in New Haven, amid Gourmet Heaven sandwiches and summer session attendees, has led to Big League dreams.
“Our number one goal is to show at Sundance,” Smith said. “We’re hoping it would be something like Napoleon Dynamite. It started out as indie but became a mainstream thing.”
Schneider is partly banking on his YouTube fame to generate buzz about the movie. His YouTube channel has over 200,000 subscribers and his videos have generated nearly 70 million views in total. Celebrities like Oprah and Bonnie Hunt are fans, hosting Schneider and Tsui on their shows.
“We just have to aim big and see what happens,” Schneider said.