West Hartford has a proud history of producing quality writers. Perhaps being surrounded by the legacies of Noah Webster and Mark Twain tilts the town’s youth towards a literary career. Maybe it’s something in the water.
David H. Steinberg (Hall grad) is a successful screenwriter (American Pie 2, Slackers, Puss in Boots) who was recently back in town to promote his first young adult novel, Last Stop This Town (using West Hartford as its setting).Michael Schur (Hall grad) was a writer for Saturday Night Live, then moved on to The Office, and more recently became the co-creator of Park & Recreation. Before Saturday Night Live, Schur was penning comedy shorts for West Hartford Community TV. West Hartford has also produced the enigmatic Charlie Kaufman (Hall grad), an Academy Award-winning writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich.
Michael Jonathan Smith is a Hall graduate who is trying to make a name for himself inLos Angeles. Like Schur, he sharpened his writing and producing skills at the town’s public access studios. His future goal is to be a showrunner, a television term for the head writer/producer responsible for the week-to-week development of a show.
Smith graduated from Syracuse University as a film major in 2007. However, like many recent college graduates, he felt underemployed and in need of more creative outlets. He released an online comic series. Soon after, he partnered with Chris Yule and Alex Aschinger to work as a creative collective in producing online television. Michael is the head writer and creator of new shows, while Alex and Chris are the main actors. All three contribute as producers. The collective is called Working Fish.
The first series produced by Working Fish was Mermates; one roommate is human, the other is a Mermate. They released a six-episode season, along with a Christmas special. The feedback Michael received was positive, so Working Fish set its sights on developing a new show called The Common Cult. To fund the filming, Working Fish did a Kickstarter campaign with a $1,500 goal. That goal was met in one day; the project received over $4,000 in funding.
The first episode of The Common Cult was released on Monday, September 29th. Like Mermates, The Common Cult will have a six-episode season. A new episode will be posted on YouTube and the Working Fish site every Monday until December 3rd. Although there are many sites to showcase a web series, Smith likes how YouTube has a built-in community.
Smith is realistic about the possible fame and fortune that await him. Although everyone posting a video on YouTube hopes for the elusive viral hit, it is often difficult to predict what videos take off and what videos fizzle. Making the prospect more difficult for comedy writers to stand out is the very acceptance of online video as a platform. As videos have grown in popularity and production value, so have the amount of A-list actors appearing in them. Every new video is trying to stand out from the pack, but it’s far easier when someone like Will Ferrell is in it.
Instead of striking the viral hit jackpot, Working Fish is more interested in building a trusted brand. If you like their style, you will hopefully stay tuned for future shows. Right now, above all, Working Fish is trying to build a solid audience by releasing quality work that strikes a chord with its particular brand of humor. “I just want people to see it. I don’t care if it makes money or not, I care about people responding,” says Smith.
The Common Cult is about a group of friends who are trying to run an ancient brotherhood, often to comical effect. The term “cult” can have multiple meanings. Here it is more along the lines of ceremonies, rites, symbols, and worship in the H.P. Lovecraft vein. According to Smith, the style of The Common Cult is along the lines of Parks & Recreation, The League, and How I Met Your Mother. On the surface it captures a certain situational absurdity, but at its core it is about the social interaction within a group of friends.
If The Common Cult is successful after its first six-episode season, Smith hopes to release a second season after the New Year. Until then, he is continuing to build a following. Thankfully there is no need for animal sacrifice to join.
Working Fish website (you can watch the show here)