TUTV rolls out new series ‘High Spirits’

"High Spirits" follows Katie, the ghost and Peter with its humorous take on the afterlife. Amy Himebaugh via TUTV

There’s a new ghost on campus, and it looks like he’s a lady killer – at least, that’s what it seems like so far. Tufts University Television’s (TUTV) new series “High Spirits” (2015) officially launched on Monday with the release of its first episode, simply entitled “High Spirits Episode 1,” on the student organization’s YouTube channel. The season opener introduces the show’s three main characters: Peter (sophomore Niall Cunningham), the ghost (senior Artoun Nazareth) and Katie (senior Michele Herzog).

The nearly six-minute-long first episode moves quickly, establishing the primary players and the central conflict. Not all is well between Peter and the ghost; the roommates are in the midst of a disagreement about the previous night’s sequence of events. Both characters tell their versions of what happened: Peter recalls bringing home a girl, Katie, who, he claims, “could have been the one,” only to have his ethereal roommate woo her away from him. As the ghost tells it, Peter arrived home after a few too many drinks, basically carried back on the shoulders of the very same girl, who then throws herself at the ghost. As soon becomes clear, however, neither Peter nor the ghost really knows the full story.

And, at this point in the series, neither does the viewer. This changes in the installment’s final minutes, as the show runners allow just enough of a peek into Katie’s memory of the night to put their audience on tenterhooks. “Episode 1” ends with the revelation that Katie had planned to meet Peter, go home with him and then — shockingly — get frisky with the ghost.

It is at the end of the episode that the writing team — headed by junior Eli Lloyd along with Amy Himebaugh, a sophomore, and senior Andy De Leon (who also directed) — get an opportunity to flaunt their skills. Just as the episode opens with Peter pining about “the one,” Katie closes it with the line, “I may have found the one.” Forget the supernatural side of “High Spirits;” these parallels are enough to send chills down the viewer’s spine.

“There’s a lot more cool ghost stuff coming up,” Nazareth said about his character’s development.

Nazareth’s statement can be applied equally to his character’s role in the series as well as the technical feats the production team achieved in creating the illusion that he is, in fact, a ghost. As far as the first two episodes are concerned, Nazareth’s claim rings true. One sequence in the first episode is particularly impressive; the ghost appears in several different places within seconds, yet the scene appears to be filmed in a single take. In addition to the camera work, the light and sound engineering add to the series’ production quality — certainly more so than the corny, albeit lovable, effects in “Ghostbusters” (1984), an inspiration for “High Spirits.”

Each individual appearance by the ghost in this sequence required four takes. The technique junior Ben Taylor, the show’s cinematographer, used to create the illusion that the ghost teleports from place to place is one he had actually used earlier to achieve a different effect in TUTV’s “Jules and Monty” (2014).

“I don’t think we could have done it [in ‘High Spirits’] without having the past experience on ‘Jules and Monty,’” Taylor said.

High quality, professional equipment from the Experimental College (ExCollege) also helped the production team tackle the challenges of creating the supernatural affects the “High Spirits” scripts call for.

“I think it was worth using it because it just adds this base level of quality,” Taylor said of the ExCollege resources. “We could do so much more in the editing room because it was such high resolution.”

On top of the technical hurdles TUTV tackled in taking on the series, the crew behind “High Spirits” further challenged themselves to film the whole show, around 30 minutes of content, normally an eight-week project, in just four weeks.

“We were doing 30-hour weekends,” said Himebaugh. “Despite the tight schedule, we ended up with a product that … we are happy with.”

“The shoot schedule was crazy,” Nazareth said. “The crew was awesome. Without them you can’t have anything, and they just made it so much better.”

“High Spirits” has been in the works since last September when the writing team started drafting the scripts. The process evolved from script writing to storyboarding and pre-production — deciding the artistic direction of the series — in January to production in March and April. Post-production, during which the various shots taken during filming are assembled into a coherent whole, took place over the summer.

The 30 minutes comprising the finished product of “High Spirits” were a significant undertaking for the cast and crew, some of whom were working in film for the first time.

“Acting on camera, I kept being told by Andy, the director, that I had to keep toning it down,” Nazareth, who appeared in more minor rolls in “Jules and Monty” and “Wave Jacked” (2015), said. “You can’t really make big gestures, especially when your head is the only thing in the shot.”

In an attempt to capture the vast amount of work that goes into creating “High Spirits,” Taylor is launching a blog that chronicles the contributions of those both in front of and behind the camera.

“I think I’m starting this blog to gush in an organized way about the show,” Taylor said.

With the exception of the first episode, the blog posts are slated to coincide with the release of each of “High Spirits” installment.

With production wrapped on this series, work is already underway on TUTV’s next offering, “Pantheon University” (2016). “Pantheon” is a collaboration with Neat-o Productions, the crew behind “Jules and Monty” and “Wave Jacked.” It will be released in the spring semester.

“We are always looking for people to come in and pitch stuff to us,” Himebaugh said about TUTV’s next steps.

The film landscape on campus is slated to change in significant ways with the arrival of the new Film and Media Studies major, which is likely to increase the volume and scale of the cinematic content produced at Tufts. TUTV is conscious of this fact, as they think about how their group will continue develop over the coming years. With wheels currently turning on several other projects that are too early in the creative process to discuss, TUTV seems to have positioned itself well to adapt and grow in Tufts’ evolving film scene.

New episodes of “High Spirits” appear Mondays and Wednesdays on TUTV’s YouTube Channel. The first episode was released on Monday, Sept. 7. The series will comprise a total of six episodes.