UNM Sitcom Boot Camp troupe to present final production

Feb 27, 2023

by Mary Beth King

This year’s Sitcom Boot Camp production from The University of New Mexico Film and Digital Media Arts program will be both a first and a last. For the first time, the comedy will be written for an animated feature. And the production will be the last for the Sitcom Boot Camp class, at least the last one under the direction of UNM alumnus and Hollywood director/writer/producer Brian Levant.

“When I first arrived here 53 years ago, I never could’ve imagined that I’d still be grabbing a burger at the SUB at age 70,” he marveled. “The class has produced nearly 4,000 pages of work over six years. The Boot Camp has been a thrilling, creative venture, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed collaborating with my students. But six years is as long as I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show ran. I try to learn from the best.”

The class has created a television-type pilot episode to be presented as a table reading to a live audience on the UNM campus every year, except during the shutdown of the campus in 2021 due to the COVID 19 pandemic when it went virtual. That production, entitled Two’s a Crowd, featured Saturday Night Live veteran Laraine Newman, as well as UNM College of Fine Arts dean Harris Smith.

UNM Sitcom Boot Camp presents Birds of a Feather
Thursday, March 2, 7:30 p.m. • SUB Theater • Livestreamed on YouTube

“The Sitcom Boot Camp remains a unique program where a small number of students create, develop, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, AND rewrite an original network or streaming style comedy program in only 42 hours of class time over six weeks,” Levant observed. “This year, though, an animated program script will still be performed live and we’re sharing with our audience drawings of each of the characters to prime their imaginations.”

Smith will once again be part of the new production, along with his wife, UNM professor and professional actor Melanie Nelson, and UNM student and Netflix series regular and star of an upcoming A24 film, Jack Justice. The show will be on Thursday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the SUB Theater or live-streamed on YouTube.

The sixth annual UNM Sitcom Boot Camp is veering from its usual exploration of the lives and relationships of the UNM student population to create an animated series about the lives and relationships of the population of UNM’s duck pond. Birds of a Feather will still get the same table read treatment but FDMA undergrad Gina Falcone has designed characters.

Birds of a Feather centers on the Swansons, a dysfunctional family who happen to have beaks and webbed feet.

Animated TV shows have been on TV for decades.

“Since The Flintstones became prime time television’s first prime animated series, cartoons have spread across the dial, including today’s bold work on the Cartoon Network’s Adult SwimSouth Park, and the longest-running entertainment program of all time, The Simpsons,” Levant noted.

Birds of a Feather was written by UNM students Maggie Branch, Mercedes Cawley-Whiddon, Houston Chaffin, Kenji Damp, Antonio de Dios, Jose Elguezabal, Lilliana Fraschilla, Noah Hinojosos, Kenneth McIntyre, Michael Ramos, and Marisol Velazquez. FDMA instructional assistant Isabella Pereira assisted. Local professionals Monique Candelaria and Eric Werner, and students Leandro Pita and Cawley-Whiddon are also in the cast.

The production will feature Justice, a UNM Film student who already has an impressive resumé. He’s a regular on the Netflix series Daybreak, has appeared on multiple series such as Stranger Things, and is one of the stars of the A24 film When You Finish Saving the WorldBirds of a Feather marks Justice’s second UNM Sitcom Boot Camp performance.

“This has been a professional standards class. I ask my students to function as a writing staff and give them the experience and tools to scale the wall that separates the student filmmaker and the professional,” Levant said.