EVERYBODY LOVES COMMUNITY: BRAD HALL
Soon after Marissa Mayer took the reigns at Yahoo, the purple palace acquired Tumblr and best of all, Community. A show about a misfit study group in college, the resurrection of this canceled show was cheered by fans everywhere, though none as much as WNW Member #7908 Brad Hall. An art director by trade, Brad offered to lead the creative team, soliciting mainstream appeal for a show that is, for lack of a better word, weird. A self-described misfit himself and an original Community fan, who better to review its relaunch than Brad? He gives us the inside scoop.
How did you get involved with the Community relaunch campaign? What was your role?
When Marissa Mayer started her stint at Yahoo, I knew she was going to throw some sparks. So I followed her over, leaving Disney and moving into the purple palace. Soon Yahoo started doing all sorts of crazy things, and acquiring Community was definitely on the top of my ‘cool stuff Marissa bought with a pile of cash’ list. I quickly volunteered to run point on the the creative for the project.
For some, Community is the best comedy on television. For others (ahem, executives at NBC) it’s been a ratings bottom-scraper that never quite cashed in the hype. Personally, I started out hating it. The first few episodes seemed pretty tame. But about the time everyone in the show became an 8bit video game avatar.… well yeah, I was hooked.
Were you a misfit growing up? What do you think is the strength of telling stories about misfits?
It’s a show about a misfit study group in a community college, and a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with communities. Or colleges. Claymation christmas specials, paintball wars, epic pillow forts, alternate timelines, Dungeons and Dragons, the ass crack bandit??
As an often-misfit myself, I got it. Because the thing about not belonging? Most of us don’t. Until we find a bunch of people that also don’t belong, and then suddenly we do. It’s an outcast paradox that Dr. Who would be proud of.
And I wasn’t alone, because the gleeful bastion of creativity that was Community had enough people loving this show—and I mean really, really, loving this show—that it could not be killed. Yes, I’m looking at you Reddit. These guys even started their own self-funded fan conference?! (CommuniCon, look it up). After five seasons and a cancellation, the oft-tweeted prophecy came true. #sixseasonsandamovie had a new lease on life by way of a hail-mary contract with Yahoo, of all places.
Yes, Yahoo. I know. Email. Kim Kardashian stories. And now, a show beloved by millions.
Was bringing back a new season to rabid fans an intimidating task?
Bringing the new season back to that many crazed fans may have been intimidating, but as soon as we started to get a taste of this crowd, it was clear they worshipped the ground Yahoo walked on for extending an olive branch to Their Show. Didn’t hurt that NBC only gave them 5 bucks and a sandwich board to advertise the first five seasons. So really, we could do no wrong. Even so, we set a high bar for ourselves—this was going to be a bloody well-marketed show if it killed us.
What was it like to work on this campaign, as such a big Community fan?
As a Community fan, I knew a few things right away. This show was special. It was special because it was weird. It thrived because, much like the characters, most people will never understand it. The weirder it got, the better it got. The better it got, the more weirdness was demanded by the fans. The writers were happy to comply, and the whole show became a never-ending cycle of meta, self-referencing insanity with an ever-shrinking, ever more rabid fanbase. It was magic.
We started with the hardcore fans. We blitzed Comic-Con with a campaign that reveled in the inside humor, plastering one-liners all over the building. We bought out Subway for the day with themed character sandwiches (also inside humor). We had people in white leotards, giant school IDs for Instagram, clever restroom signage and big OOH panels everywhere. It was a little overwhelming for some of the fans… there were tears. I definitely did not cry though, not at all.
And what about the mainstreamers? By season six, you could pretty much forget about coming into this show as a novice. But that’s exactly what the Yahoo execs, the show creators, and the ad team (that’s me) set out to do next: attract a broad audience, but preserve the Community goodness.
How did you balance attracting new viewers while also staying loyal to the show that its most passionate fans knew, loved, and petitioned for?
It was tough. I’m a fan, so that was my lens. There were all these concepts for the key art that were just way out there—An armageddon scene in front of the school. The cast as zombies (get it?!). Joel McHale as the triumphant resurrected, raising the rest of the cast from a tomb. But in the end, we balanced the message by centralizing it around the most important point: Community is Moving. That had to register immediately, especially since Yahoo is not a place that comes to mind when you think of watching TV. So that’s where the boxes come from. To give a nod to the fans, we hid dozens of references to the best jokes throughout the set. So all the humor and the recurring gags are coming with them as they come over to Yahoo. It was great, I’m not sure if anyone actually ever found them all. From there we made dozens of videos, ran ads in Vanity Fair and a bunch of other print, launched a massive digital campaign, a Youtube takeover, a cool Tumblr with an ID generator, and a bunch of other stuff to get new people to give the show a shot.
How did all these different groups (yahoo execs, show creators, and the ad team) come together - each has a slightly different agenda, no? How do you make sure everyone has their eye on the same prize?
This focus was across the board. Yahoo, Sony, the show creators, the ad team. The campaign was exposed to more of mainstream America than possibly ever before, and it changed the way we approached the creative.
Does the new fan-emphasis show in the actual writing themes of season six? You tell me: A roof collapse caused by a million frisbees. An episode based in 80s VR. A dog gets a degree. A (stunning) Karate Kid reenactment by Ken Jeong. An entire episode deftly sold out to Honda. A giant plaster hand spells disaster. A(nother) paintball war in the school. Incestuous weddings. And a masterful, emotional conclusion to one of the strangest, warmest shows not on television.
Maybe that's a recipe for a more mainstream audience… maybe not. I have no idea. I don’t really care. In Jeff’s words, “how much can you improve Greendale before it stops being Greendale?”
To be honest, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care who you are, the entire season is worth watching just for the absurd buttons at the end (Portuguese Gremlins anyone?).
So go watch it, you’re not doing anything better tonight. It’s free and on Yahoo Screen, which you can find on most internet devices near you.
BONUS ROUND :)
Who from the cast were you most excited to meet? Who exceeded your expectations the most?
I mean… Alison Brie. Do I need a reason? They were all super nice. To be honest though, the one that surprised me was Danny Pudi, that guy is just so naturally hysterical. And chill, and normal, which you wouldn’t expect from Abed’s character at all.
Any fun anecdotes or stories from this campaign / shoot? Any surprises?
Community is notorious for operating at the edge of disaster in terms of timing, schedule, etc, and Dan Harmon would probably be the first to admit that. It’s just the way he works I guess, you can’t schedule genius. The sort of nerve-wracking result of all this was anytime we needed to capture anything, we had like 3 minutes. We shot an entire 2:00 min cinema spot, like 9 pages of script, in just a couple of hours. Almost every shot was like 2 takes, maybe 3 if we were lucky, and we were grabbing 5, 10 minutes at a time with the cast between makeup sessions, and we never knew who was coming or what scene we were shooting next. We’d be scrambling to set up props, inventing locations out of thin air, pushing C-stands and grip carts out of the way. It turned out great though. We were lucky the cast was so talented, they’d look at this massive paragraph of script and have it down almost immediately.
What other cult shows are you planning to resurrect?
Are you into any newer shows that our members should start watching, the kind of show that you would maybe bring back to life if it was suddenly canceled?
There’s this random show I saw last week on Amazon Video called Sneaky Pete. Weird title, but pretty good, it’s about this conman that gets out of jail and basically steals his cellmates life and family. I think they’ve made like 1 episode. Everyone go watch it so they make more. Oh, and International House Hunters.
Who - or what - inspires you creatively?
Such a big question. For me it’s not necessarily even just amazing artists or designers or filmmakers, but people that are designing their lives through their creative output. I see people doing stuff like Devinsupertramp, who shot some of my student work and now travels the world making the best videos on Youtube. Or Diana Zalucky, who was a rising star photographer while I was at Disney’s Yellow Shoes creative group and then just left to chase her own dream. That’s where it’s at. It’s a freelance economy now. There are a million more example and those are just two from my life. Seeing that helped me make the jump and go solo myself a few months ago, which is of course what brings me here among such talented people on WNW.
Who are some other WNW members you admire, and why?
“Try everything once.” (thanks mom!)
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl
Anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t asked?
Just how grateful I am to the WNW team for building such a life-changing tool. It’s like a snowball down a hill now, no stopping the freelance economy from taking over the world. Keep up the awesome work.