They've been friends since they were just kids with a common interest in movies. By the time they reached Summit Middle School, though, the way they watched movies was anything but common.
Chris Purdy, Phillip Aleman, Will Kioultzopoulos and Drew Agler were taking note of camera angles, character development, dialogue and sound quality. As teens at Homestead High School, they even made a few short films as a hobby before their 2007 graduation sent them off to different universities.
Now, since completing college, they're taking that hobby to the professional level. All still great friends, all working to turn a vision into reality, through the company MediaChef LLC they've just wrapped production on the pilot episode of a drama series.
It's rare for students from a large city school to remain close friends from childhood through college and beyond. For this group to form a company that makes films and a series is even more unusual. But this group has all the bases covered.
The business began in early 2008 when Purdy and Kioultzopoulos formed MediaChef during their freshman year at Purdue University. They began creating television commercials, websites, and films before they finished their degrees in film and video studies. Kioultzopolous added another degree in actuarial science. They've got the cinematography, editing and business bases covered.
Add Aleman, who earned his degree in telecommunications and film and television studies from Ball State University while honing his writing. He writes the scripts and directs.
Meanwhile Agler was at the University of Saint Francis completing a degree in music technology with a marketing specialization. He composes, performs and produces the soundtrack.
Now these individuals are putting their talents to use on the Web series called “Development Hell,” which is a term used among media professionals for a project that's stalled, neither moving forward to distribution nor canceled. The struggles of being caught in that state of limbo drive the story. Set primarily in 2004, the show is about college friends trying to build their fledgling video game development company.
“No one has done a story like this,” Aleman said. “When I first wrote the script in early 2010, I thought, 'yeah, gamers would think it's interesting, but would anyone else want to watch a show about how the whole video game industry has grown?' So, I sort of shelved it. But I was inspired to take another look at it when we all watched 'The Social Network.'”
The movie about the beginnings of Facebook dispelled his concern. “'It demonstrated that audiences could not only accept, but also truly appreciate, a drama that takes place in a tech-savvy environment,” Aleman said.
The key was compelling character interaction.
“We show each character's triumphs and falls. Those story lines appeal to a wide audience,” Kioultzopoulos says. “We want to keep the production quality high and be as authentic as possible in setting the scenes and telling the story.”
It's a look at business leaders that the team feels may not be fully appreciated for what they've accomplished. “The game developers should get credit for the impact they're making,” Agler said. “The video game industry is huge – billions of dollars.”
In fact, Kioultzopolous points out, video games are now bigger moneymakers than films.
Aleman already has the first 10 episodes written. Originally conceived as a series that would have episodes 40 minutes long and run on television, the concept evolved into a web-based format of 10-minute episodes.
“It's a challenge to tell a story in such short segments,” Purdy says. “There are Web series out there, but they're mostly pure comedies. This is a drama, although it has lighter moments too. And, usually, Web series are only about five minutes per episode. We've expanded on that.”
As the project has grown, so has the circle of friends. The newest MediaChef partner is Lisa Lambert, a Purdue senior majoring in theater design and production, who works on staging the sets and managing production schedules. Miles Meyer and Michael Morreale, other friends from the Homestead days, also are credited for their production help on the pilot.
For future episodes, the group needs to secure spare office space for location shoots and track down props. “We need computers, monitors, phones, and clothes that fit the time period,” Lambert said. “We need to re-create the look of the early 2000s.”
As it is for any new series, a major challenge is financing. Eventually sponsorships will help fund additional video gear, lights, travel expenses and payment for the actors. So far the performers, including actor Hank Fincken, have agreed to do their roles gratis.
The first episode can be seen on the series website at http://developmenthell.net. To raise awareness, the team also has placed the pilot and an introduction about the making of the series on Kickstarter, a website where viewers can show support for new entrepreneurial ventures.
What do they do until sponsorships are in place?
“We find a way to keep going on our own,” Agler says.
The team enthusiastically agrees. Just as they always have, they'll keep working to develop the dream.