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First Student-Produced TV Pilot Truly a Team Effort


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Jul 1, 2013 3:26 PM


The cast, crew and creators of doubleblind celebrate the pilot’s premiere on “TV Night” of the 22nd Annual Film Festival. Photo by Eric Charbonneau

The trailer alone is enough to get your blood pumping: Two masked figures race through a hallway, desperately searching for a certain laboratory. Once inside, one of them, a young woman, yanks up her sleeve and implores her male companion to “get this thing out of me. If you don’t take this thing out of me, I’m digging it out myself!” Then they hear a noise and look up to see someone shining a light into the lab. Panicked, the woman grabs a small knife. “Sheila, don’t!” the young man yells, as she raises the blade to her arm.

The two-minute trailer could be an ad for a show on TV’s new fall schedule, but it’s actually a teaser for doubleblind, a 42-minute television pilot created by students in UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. The pilot — a $50,000, first-of-its-kind project created for the Advanced Dramatic Television Workshop — made its debut at UCLA’s 22nd Annual Film Festival in June.

Sneak Peek at doubleblind

The $50,000 pilot was created for the Advanced Dramatic Television Workshop.

Video provided by Advanced Dramatic Television Workshop.

Doubleblind, the featured event on the festival’s inaugural “TV Night,” was screened before a packed house at the James Bridges Theater. Graduate screenwriting students A.J. Marchisello and Teresa Sullivan wrote the story, described as “a sci-fi thriller about six graduate students who sign up for a social experiment, only to discover that they have been genetically altered in vitro. They band together to expose and destroy the mastermind behind the ongoing illegal experiments before it’s too late.”

Following the screening, members of the audience enthusiastically approached Marchisello and Sullivan. “The best compliment I heard from several people was that they wanted to see where the show would go,” said Marchisello. “As a TV pilot it could have serious potential, and it was great just to see people curious about where we would take the characters and the story.”

“We’ve given some thought to continuing the story,” Sullivan added. “With some of the seeds we planted, it could go in many directions. There’s a lot of material there that you could mine.”

Professor William McDonald, who green-lit the project as chair of UCLA’s Department of Film, Television and Digital Media, said, “Doubleblind is an outstanding work of television. The story and characters are engaging on so many levels, just as a pilot episode demands. The level of craft surpasses anything I have seen come out of a film school.”

Students in the workshop didn’t have to go it alone — they had the guidance of noted television director Rod Holcomb (ER pilot, China Beach pilot, Elementary) and veteran feature producer Beau Marks (The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard, Straw Dogs). Holcomb and Marks created the workshop and oversaw the entire 33-week project.

Behind "Doubleblind"

Students from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television debuted the pilot to their sci-fi thriller in June. Listen as students, alumni and instructors divulge the details of the production.

Video by Aaron Proctor '05.

It was a massive team effort, involving nearly 60 graduate and undergraduate students as directors, producers, DPs (directors of photography), costume designers, actors, crew members and music composers.

The workshop began last Fall Quarter, when Holcomb and Marks lectured on different aspects of the business and invited their industry friends as speakers. In Winter Quarter, the two instructors chose doubleblind out of approximately 18 scripts and taught the class how to prepare for the shoot. Finally, during Spring Quarter, the students shot the pilot and completed post-production. It was a grueling schedule, but the final product was well worth it.

“It knocked me over. Knocked me dead,” Holcomb said. “Every time I look at it, I think, ‘Holy criminy, this is brilliant work.’ For Beau and me, our greatest satisfaction is that we can honestly say, ‘They got it.’ And we couldn’t be more proud of them.”



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