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On the Crest of Comedy | MIHS grads bring Island school into New York limelight
Mercer Island High School graduates Alex Ricciardi and Adam Goodman have brought a piece of their past to the big screen.
“The Other High School,” a mockumentary depicting life at Crest Learning Center, earned national repute last September in the New York Television Festival (NYTF).
Ricciardi and Goodman, who produced the 20-minute pilot, attended the showcase along with hundreds of other television artists. It was an encouraging experience, to say the least. Almost overnight, their dream of creating a television sitcom woke up a little closer to reality.
The New York Television Festival, established in 2005 as the industry’s first independent TV festival, gives young artists “a greater voice in the industry by allowing them to present their ideas unfiltered to the decision-makers in the business.” Held annually in September, the festival unites amateur television artists with industry experts, showcasing originally scripted pilots that range from comedies to reality shows.
More than 400 pilots were submitted from across the country. Only 36 were chosen, “The Other High School” one of them.
Indeed, the 2005 MIHS graduates saw little of this coming.
“As far as getting selected, we were really surprised,” Goodman said. “We thought we’d [submit the pilot] just to see what would happened. We kind of just made the film for fun, so to have an entire festival say they enjoyed it was really surprising.”
The mockumentary, which is similar in style to NBC’s “The Office” and the cult classic movie, “Spinal Tap,” pokes light fun at alternative high schools and the students who attend. Shot at Crest in early 2008, Ricciardi and Goodman veiled the school’s identity under the name Northwest Alternative High School. Yet the script is directly inspired by the filmmakers’ personal experiences at Crest.
“A lot of people at the high school say, ‘Oh it’s just an alternative school. All they do is finger paint and eat cookies, you know... and it’s not true,” Ricciardi says — playing himself — in the pilot’s opening sequence.
“Everyone gets to learn at their own pace at an alternative school,” Goodman says in the next shot. “I know that makes it sound like we’re all retarded but... uh, most of us aren’t, and the rest of us do what we can.”
This self-depreciating humor struck a cord at NYTF.
“There’s something endearing about characters who are like, ‘I’m different but that’s what I am,’ and I think everyone latched on to that,” Goodman said.
Ricciardi agreed that the pilot’s humor was its strongest draw.
“One thing that Adam and I thought was a good compliment was that people at the festival seemed to really enjoy our pilot. It got people laughing,” he said, adding that a crowd of nearly 500 convened for the Sept. 17 showing.
Most of the audience, Ricciardi admitted, was there for the pilot shown alongside “The Other High School.”
“We were paired with another pilot; one that had a much higher production value. The majority of people who showed up were there for that New York produced pilot,” he explained.
In contrast, “The Other High School” was created on a budget of next to nothing. Filmed with Ricciardi’s own camera, the two Islanders produced the pilot for less than $100. Most of the cost, Ricciardi said, went toward pizza and snacks for the actors.
“All of the actors were friends from Crest who volunteered. That made things really easy — and cheap of course,” the MIHS graduate said, adding that the entire pilot was filmed while home on winter break.
Despite its minimal budget, “The Other High School” was well received at NYTF. Ricciardi and Goodman earned praise from friends and industry professionals alike. One compliment, in particular, encouraged the Island graduates.
“One of the higher-ups of the festival went so far as to say that our pilot best exemplified the reason the festival existed: to take unknowns who may not have the money or connections others do, and try to give them a foot in the door of the industry,” Ricciardi said.
Well aware of the invaluable opportunity NYTF has presented them, Goodman and Ricciardi are determined to follow things through.
“What the festival does is it takes your pilot and sends it out to networks, talent agencies and production agencies with a note saying ‘Hey, this is good.’ That way it’s not unsolicited material anymore,” Ricciardi said, admitting that he is still new to the process. “I met a lot of people at the festival and developed connections that could help in the future. Right now, I’m figuring the best way to use these connections.”
The fact that both MIHS graduates are currently living in New York City makes things easier. Ricciardi is months away from receiving a bachelor’s degree in film studies at Brooklyn College. Goodman earns money as an actor, auditioning for films whenever he can. Both are as serious about “The Other High School” as their own, individual ventures.
“Currently, we’re working with an entertainment lawyer to make formal submissions to several networks and production companies for the coming pilot season,” Ricciardi said.
If their pilot is picked up by a network, both MIHS graduates will be thrilled to get their friends from Crest back onboard.
“We’d like to use the same cast because we’re so used to being around each other while acting and goofing off,” Goodman explained. “Because a big part [of the series] is improvised, there’s a comfort level in the fact that we all know each other.”
At heart, that is what “The Other High School” is really about; a group of longtime friends, joking around on camera.
“More than us thinking it’s good, we really just have a lot of fun doing it,” Goodman said. Indeed, this may be the TV show’s best chance.
To watch “The Other High School” pilot go to: www.theotherhighschool.com