A group of Tufts students have been working on a modern and virtual new version of “Romeo and Juliet” (1597) called “Jules and Monty,” an 18-part series that will be available on YouTube on March 10. The collaboration between student writers and Tufts University Television (TUTV) is part oratory narration and part found-footage. An experiment that tweaks the formula of modern adaptations of a tragic classic, “Jules and Monty” puts a fresh spin on one of the most well-known stories in the English language.
A Writing Exercise
The project began as a collaboration between sophomore friends Imogen Browder and Ed Rosini, both of whom were looking for a new creative outlet. Browder proposed a web series – an idea that occurred to her after watching “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” (2012-2013), a video blog series that adapted Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” (1813).
“It kind of started as a writing exercise,” Browder said. “Ed and I sat down to brainstorm, and over a couple of breakfast meetings, we came up with this idea of setting ‘Romeo and Juliet’ [at college] and seeing how the characters would change and how the plot would change.”
Looking for a project that would engage people, as well as something creative and fun, Rosini and Browder sent emails back and forth, bouncing off ideas for episodes. The pair plays the leads, who have been rechristened as Monty and Jules. They take turns narrating the video – telling the story from different perspectives.
“At the end of our second semester of freshmen year, we decided, ‘Let’s see what our friends think,'” Browder said. “So we had a reading and invited all of our drama friends and our English friends, and they commented on it and gave us feedback. We rewrote, and it completely changed … It was definitely a really big collaborative effort.”
The TUTV Collaboration
Like all collaborative efforts, the project relied on a large group of enthusiastic individuals. After shooting a few episodes, Browder and Rosini decided to enlist the help of friends from the drama department to act, and asked TUTV to help with cameras, lights, crew and production.
“At some point in the process, we realized we had a script that could actually be made into something.” Browder said. “There are so many amazing resources on campus – we shouldn’t really try and do it ourselves.”
The pair brought the script to Andy De Leon, the executive head of scripts at TUTV. He liked it and shared Browder and Rosini’s work with the other members of TUTV, who were enthusiastic to work on the project.
“I think it’s … TUTV’s biggest production in a while,” Ben Taylor, a freshman and director of photography for the production, said. “I think it’s really exciting that we had a lot of the whole TUTV crew out there, and this is sort of our flagship for showing that TUTV is back and that it’s a thing in a really real way … It’s really become a whole ‘Jules and Monty’ family.”
A lot of the drama students who were a part of the piece had not worked in film before, so acting in front of the camera was a new experience. Taylor, who works double-duty as an editor and camera operator, spoke about the merits of acting in both theater and film. Some elements of filming, like shooting scenes out of sequence, the presence of the camera and changing locations, can sometimes be uncomfortable for theater actors, he said.
“They were getting used to shooting out of order, with a large crew and a camera in front of their face,” Taylor said. “A lot of them hadn’t had that experience, but it was actually really great because they picked it up so quickly. I think the acting is one of the strongest parts of the series.”
A New Spin
As creators and writers of the series, Browder and Rosini took a number of creative liberties with Shakespeare’s play. Instead of rivaling families, Monty and Jules are associated with dueling fraternities, called Kappa Alpha Psi and Mu Tau Gamma – names that creatively reference the original Capulet and Montague families. Instead of living in Verona, Italy, they attend Verona University.
The star-crossed lovers meet through a communications course, which involves keeping a video blog, or vlog. The series’ narrator initially speaks into a webcam, but also uses found-footage style film when the actors pretend to forget to turn off their cameras.
“What’s really interesting about the series is that the camera is always a part of the scene,” Taylor said. “That’s presented some really interesting challenges, as well as opportunities. There are a lot of times where we have to figure out … how the camera is going to fit into the scene and simultaneously provide an aesthetically pleasing image. There are a lot of video effects that go into the show, but not a lot that you will see.”
One of the biggest questions of the project was how to incorporate the camera into every scene in a way that made sense with the story. Actors often hold the camera – or sometimes characters will accidentally bump into it, shifting its focus. Some scenes contain three to seven cuts, but those involved edited the material together to look like it is a single take.12