Reimagining Romeo and Juliet at Tufts
Students adapt classic as Jules and Monty for YouTube series
By Shehryar Nabi, A14
|The Jules and Monty cast.
Photo credit: Nick Pfosi
Camera operator Ben Taylor holds the camera rig for Ed Rosini (Monty) in Jules and Monty.
Drama Professor Noe Montez plays Monty's advisor.
Lighting on Evey Reid, Jules and Monty's Artistic Director and "Nurse", in a bedroom vlog scene.
Andy De Leon and Ben Taylor film Imogen Browder (Jules) and Evey Reidy (Nancy) while Ed Rosini and Emma Wold observe.
During the 2013-14 academic year, sophomores Imogen Browder and Edward Rosini attended two universities at the same time: Tufts University, where Imogen majors in English and Edward majors in Drama, and the University of Verona (UV), a fictional campus where Imogen and Edward assumed the roles of Jules and Monty, respectively, while filming their web series, Jules and Monty. At UV, Jules and Monty became star-crossed lovers the moment they encountered each other in a sweaty fraternity basement. Their different affiliations with rival fraternities, however, made their love unacceptable within their respective social circles. Jules' older brother was the president of KAP, a fraternity with hostile relations towards the MTG fraternity, where Monty was a brother. The tragedy of a love so real, yet socially impossible, provided the thrust of the drama that defined Jules and Monty's year at UV together.
After brainstorming on Facebook, Browder and Rosini began co-writing Jules and Monty in the spring of 2013, finishing it in the summer. The story was crafted as a re-working of Shakespeare's classic drama Romeo and Juliet for the college setting. Using Tufts as a backdrop, each episode is told through the perspective of either Jules or Monty (and occasionally Nurse, Jules' roommate) in the form of a video blog entry, known as a vlog. The format is inspired by The Lizzy Bennett Diaries, a popular YouTube series that retells Pride and Prejudice through a vlog. What's different about Jules and Monty, however, is that the show moves beyond the typical, static setting of the bedroom vlog and takes its story in motion through Tufts' campus.
Although Browder and Rosini's partnership was the creative force behind Jules and Monty, materializing their work of vlog fiction required a whole team of actors, producers, directors and cinematographers and, most importantly, collaboration with Tufts University Television (TUTV), a student group that produces and promotes films made by Tufts students. After a successful pitch to TUTV, Jules and Monty was given the technical capacity to move from the script to the screen. According to Browder, this collaboration was a learning experience for everyone. "If you look at the beginning episodes versus the ending episodes, there was such a difference technically," says Browder, "because as actors, we were figuring out how to act in front of the camera and [the producers] were figuring how to light correctly or use sound correctly."
Collaboration in Jules and Monty extended to the Tufts faculty and administration as well. Drama Professor Noe Montez, in addition to being Rosini's real advisor, played Monty's advisor in the series as "Professor Lawrence" (an adaptation of the character of "Friar Lawrence" from the original play). Lee Coffin, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, appeared in the show's final episode in the role of Jules' father.
With the TUTV partnership, the crew of Jules and Monty was able to simulate the vlog camera style without having the actors walk around campus and videotape themselves. The show's cinematographic team had the actors hold on to a camera rig while the show's camera operator, Ben Taylor, A17, controlled its direction. This enabled the show to be mobile while maintaining a cinematic quality.
Although each of the show's crew members had separate titles, roles were not rigidly defined. When Andy De Leon, A15, the show's technical director, wasn't playing his normal directorial role, he would help out as the boom operator or work the camera and lights. Claire Bodie, A16, and Emma Wold, A17, both assistant directors, moved from script watching to camera operation to sound whenever they were needed.
Film takes on campus were noticed and the community was intrigued. The crew was limited to shooting mostly on weekend nights, which presented challenges. "A lot of the shooting was done when people were starting to go out," Rosini explains. But the majority of time, Tufts students proved to be cooperative and their presence in the show contributed to its natural college feel. "We held up signs that said 'just act natural' so we got a lot of free extras just walking through shots acting like students," says Rosini.
After releasing the series last spring, Jules and Monty built a dedicated fan base of primarily college and high school students. This was no doubt helped by the show's use of college-age lingo, making the show relatable to a young audience. "One of the first responses we got from a fan was 'This is how my friends and I really talk'", says Browder. Jules and Monty also helped promote student musicians from different colleges by including their songs in the episodes, so that fans of those musicians would become part of the show's audience. Fans even started making GIF sets, images showing a few evocative seconds of the show on repeat, for the show's Tumblr page. Although Rosini found it strange to see himself in a GIF, the fan base honored him. "It's a really cool community," says Rosini. "It's not huge, but it's very tight right now."
Jules and Monty incorporates the original language of Romeo and Juliet into a creative script written in the modern vernacular. Tension is released by breaking into Shakespearean verse, both a reminder that the show is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and a tribute to the Bard's ability to express emotions with more beauty and depth than our native speech allows. "It's like a musical," Rosini says. "The action builds up to a point where you can't speak anymore, you have to sing about it. In our show, when it builds enough, you can't just talk normally, you have to speak like Shakespeare."
Jules and Monty unexpectedly gained fans well beyond the Tufts community in places such as California, New Zealand, England and Australia. Without any promotion strategy catered to such a viewership, the show connected with a global audience by maintaining a social media presence on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, helping the web series acquire more fans, and in turn gaining more YouTube recommendations for people watching related content. Some exciting partnerships were formed as a result, including an offer from a Brazilian fan to create Portuguese subtitles of the show, which was readily accepted. "Our international and national fan base was an accident, but the best accident we could have hoped for," says Rosini.
At the end of the day, the cast and crew of Jules and Monty were still Tufts students, even as the events in UV unraveled. And completing Jules and Monty, says Browder, was rewarding, as well as "a practical education that we can apply later on."
With all of the Jules and Monty episodes released, there are currently plans to make a cinematic cut of the show to potentially submit to film festivals. Besides that, fans will determine the future of the series. "We're slowly watching it grow and soon it's not going to be in our hands anymore," says Browder. "The biggest thing we can ask of viewers who enjoy the series is to stay engaged and involved and send feedback."