High school has its share of popular kids, jocks and nerds. The latter, of course, is the group that always finds itself excelling when it comes to academics, only to end up completely out of place in social settings. One such group of intelligent, yet socially awkward teens is portrayed in the new comedy web series AP LIFE, created and written by Jace Paul, produced by LeeAnn Giordano-Silletti and now streaming its first season of 10 episodes on its official Youtube channel.
The show’s first season premiered September 24th, and new episodes of AP LIFE premiere each Wednesday at 9 PM Eastern. In addition to the series proper, AP LIFE also maintains a constantly updated social media presence on Facebook, with newly updated extra content added on a daily basis, and high levels of interaction with the show’s fan base by its cast and crew. (More on that later).
AP LIFE focuses on a group of intelligent, geeky female high school students who seemingly know all there is to know about the solar system, the planets and pretty much anything that involves science.
However, like many teenagers, they’re still trying to make sense of the more complicated aspects of life in a world of peer pressure, relationships, and being on the low end of the social totem pole.
That group consists of new student Aubrey Hassel (played by Taylor Kudalis), a shy, yet very smart new student who makes fast friends with the school’s resident group of nerds. Among them are math whiz Ellie O’Grady (Elizabeth Percy), described by Paul as “a bit of a Mr. Spock for the rest of the girls” in that she tends to view things from a detached, unemotional perspective.
There’s also the talented artist Ocean Fine (Ava Serene Portman), who’s wise beyond her years and seemingly more adept with a paintbrush than with a calculator or a microscope. Rounding out the group is Piper Vinton (Kallie Tabor), a skilled athlete who loves the rough and tumble world of sports (and the unpredictable drama of sports itself) as much as she does the highly scripted elegance and choreography of classical ballet and Broadway musicals.
Complicating their attempts to stand out among their fellow students – both academically and socially – are three of the school’s “cool kids”, led by Reagan Desjournais (Katie Sour), a competitive and often boastful student who’s not so much of a bully as much as she is a girl who doesn’t quite understand anyone who isn’t like her.
Tagging along with Reagan are the rebellious bad girl Sadie Champagne (Alex Pollera) and Reagan’s associate, aspiring singer Mila Kline (Chelsea Armstrong). Unlike Reagan and Sadie, Mila empathizes with the less popular kids in school, and she gradually begins to separate herself from Reagan and her often narcissistic ways.
AP LIFE also stars Chris Dubrow as the handsome, quick witted Grayson Carmichael, who along with his often temperamental friend Cameron Wizniak (Jaybee Tiratira) make their way into the nerdy inner circle of Aubrey, Ellie, Piper and Ocean. However, Aubrey’s life is about to become even more interesting, as well as complicated, when a talented, good looking musician named Cooper Davidson (played by singer Tyler Layne) enters her life.
By now, everyone’s heard that famous saying “whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. However, that popular phrase didn’t necessarily apply when it came to the story of just how Paul created AP LIFE. The initial inspiration for the series came, rather innocently enough, at a party last year.
“I was out there with a group of friends from my World of Warcraft guild hiking in Red Rock national park, imbibing a shameful amount of alcohol, and just generally enjoying the excesses of Sin City. Anyway, more than half of the guests were female, and one night in the pool we got to talking about how under-represented female nerds are – even the highly popular show THE BIG BANG THEORY focuses mainly on male geeks – or did, anyway, until they introduced Mayim Bialik and her friend.”
As he explains, his goal with the series was to do much more than make people laugh. Through AP LIFE, Paul sought to bring viewers a humorous, and intelligent, side of geek culture that’s not often seen in popular media these days.
“I think primarily the lack of female “nerd” shows and female-dominated comedies drove me to create AP LIFE. But I also really wanted to write something funny and sophisticated – lots of jokes that science buffs and gamers, sci-fi fans, and people with a broad appreciation of American culture would enjoy,” he says. “I’d like to think that we try to focus on the under-represented female side of the nerd community.”
An even bigger impetus for the creation of AP LIFE came as a result of an all-too-common problem that continues to affect Hollywood: the lack of equal opportunities, especially behind the scenes as much as in front of the camera, for women in the overly male dominated entertainment industry. “We’re among a small group of shows, too, with almost exclusively female leads – and right now, Hollywood is very aware of the need for a stronger and more robust female presence in film and television,” Paul adds.
As soon as the party ended, the seeds for what would become a web series that focused on the public and private lives of female geeks would soon be planted. “That night I grabbed my notebook – I still write a lot of my material with pen and paper, can you believe it? – and jotted down a sketch for the characters and general plot outline for the show,” he recalls.
It was a major challenge, but in the end AP LIFE’s honest, realistic depiction of smart female characters who possess brains as well as beauty may well be what truly makes it unlike any other TV or online series.
“When I was writing, I tried very hard to avoid what I call ‘nerd black face,’ or the tendency of writers to portray nerds by falling back on standard cliches and stereotypes. For example, it’s sort of a received tradition that nerds are obsessed with math and physics – but there are drama nerds, art nerds, music nerds. We also tend to believe that all nerds are socially awkward, but of course many famous scientists were charismatic and popular (Richard Feynman, by all reports, was quite the ladies’ man),” he says.
Adds Paul: “Upon returning from Vegas, I wrote the scripts for the first ten episodes and solicited some feedback from writing colleagues. Once LeeAnn had come on as producer, we began the typical process of pre-production: casting, scouting locations, drawing up budgets, and so on.”
According to Paul, Percy also personally recommended Portman for the role of Ocean Fine, while the remainder of the cast was assembled through video auditions.
As Paul and his team prepared to roll the cameras on the first episode, his high confidence in the talent and professionalism of the show’s core ensemble cast was evident. “…I was immediately impressed by how well-prepared our actors were. Everyone had all of their lines down, naturally, but had with a very well thought-out approach to their characters. At our full cast rehearsal the night before shooting began, I was immediately assured that we would have a great ensemble in this show.”
AP LIFE filmed in several different locations throughout the Northeast, beginning in the town of Killingly, Connecticut, where a small community college would double as the fictional Central High portrayed in the series. Originally, Paul had planned to use a real high school for filming, but was turned down after its administration objected to the more raunchier aspects of the scripts.
Additional scenes throughout the series were filmed in locations such as Boston’s Harvard Yard and Harvard Square, including New Jersey, on up to New York’s legendary Grand Central Station, and finally, at the heart of the Big Apple itself, Times Square.
While the diverse range of locations set a cinematic backdrop for the entire season of AP LIFE, making the most of those settings didn’t come without the usual obstacles. “The major obstacle there (in New York) of course, was crowd control, but it all worked out well. Everyone loved filming there, of course.”
Perhaps the most complicated shoot, though, took place in New Jersey, where a luxurious mansion would be the venue for an elaborate, and messy, Halloween party in season 1. “In Jersey, we filmed at a mansion that doubled as Reagan Dejournais’ home. It was a Halloween episode, so everyone was in costume. Set decoration was a heck of a lot of work, there, with props, scenery, and hundreds of beer bottles filled with apple juice had to be placed in and outside of the mansion. And, we had about 20 extras on location to direct,” Paul adds.
Once shooting of the show’s 10 episodes began, cast and crew alike became closer than ever. “Filming was incredibly fun – hectic and stressful, of course, (but) that’s a given when you’re filming on a tight schedule and with a tight budget. But our cast and crew bonded immediately and became (I hate to use the word because it’s so cliche) a family,” Paul remembers.
Along with each episode of AP LIFE, the series also has a strong social media presence via Facebook. According to Paul, fans of the show get to see additional content that’s constantly updated, plus a high amount of interaction with fans from cast and crew alike.
While he hopes to increase AP LIFE’s social media footprint, Paul’s already off and running thanks to the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the show’s Facebook page, and it’s all because of his emphasis on giving the show’s viewers a complete inside look at what truly makes AP LIFE tick.
“…One thing I really push for is total access for our fans. I like to say that AP LIFE fans will be spoiled with extras – so the Facebook page is updated daily with production photos, interviews, bonus videos with outtakes and more. The cast and crew really want to engage our fans and make them feel like this show belongs as much to them as to us.”
Already popular with young female audiences, and described by Paul as THE BIG BANG THEORY meets MY SO-CALLED LIFE, AP LIFE seeks to not only entertain viewers, but to give them a view of geek culture that’s rarely been discussed or portrayed in a prominent manner in today’s mainstream entertainment.
Although Paul hopes that he can bring more male viewers to his show, his purpose with AP LIFE is to change the way those viewers think about females in geek culture, and especially how their intelligence and skills are just as important and attractive as any outer beauty they possess. “…If I’ve done my job, people will have fun watching the show, hopefully find themselves laughing, and maybe thinking about what it means to be a female nerd or geek a little bit differently.”
(NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning, Paul says: “It isn’t (closed-captioned), but that’s something I certainly hope we can do in the very near future.”)