How did Nerd Squad go from being a group text name to a blossoming production company settling in the heart of the entertainment industry, merely months after its inception? The answer is passion, unwavering commitment and dreams.
And for them, it is only the beginning.
The members of Nerd Squad Entertainment, a brand-new production company based in Los Angeles, are all Tufts alumni who have joined the impressive ranks of Jumbos in Hollywood. In the midst of post-grad life, they are discovering how supportive the alumni community is proving to be. For each of them, it has been a humbling and encouraging experience.
Nerd Squad’s three founding members are Tyler Beardsley (LA ’16), who majored in computer science and drama, Artoun Nazareth (LA ’16), who majored in cognitive and brain sciences and drama, and Dorian Keyes (LA ’16), a computer science major.
That’s right: these filmmakers are all scientists.
Like many in the Tufts community, this trio spent four years tapping into the duality of their passions: technology and the arts.
Each of them were extremely involved in the latter with classes, TUTV, virtually every group under 3Ps and a plethora of department shows. Their plans to pursue the arts became more concrete during their senior year.
“It’s kind of a weird relationship that Dorian, Artoun and I had,” begins Beardsley. “It started in an unlikely place.”
Balch Arena Theater was not the primary incubator for this bond; instead, it was a game design class taken in the spring of their junior year. They knew this newly-formed team was something special, quickly extending to their more creative pursuits.
“Last summer, Tyler and I knew we wanted to go to LA, we knew we wanted to get into film and we knew that we would try to make films,” Nazareth recalled.
With that, they decided to team up for their Drama thesis to produce, write and star in a TV pilot episode for a series called “Startup” (2016).
Meanwhile, Keyes was closing in on signing a contract with Microsoft.
“Throughout all of fall semester, Tyler and I furiously tried to get Dorian on board for all of this, and he kind of hot-footed us for a while,” Nazareth said, while laughing.
Their persistence, however, paid off.
“I specifically remember the moment when we found out Dorian was going to join us,” Beardsley reminisced. “The three of us were going to watch “The Hateful Eight” (2016), I was eating my chocolate raisins and all of a sudden he just went, ‘Eff it, I’m going to LA.’”
Keyes joined their production of “Startup” without looking back. In many ways, “Startup” was inspired by their collective experience in the computer science field. It follows the hijinks of 3 college seniors getting ready to graduate. As they try to get their app to go viral, some unexpected challenges arise.
Nerd Squad has moved on from “Startup” and is developing new material, but they maintain that the show was incredibly valuable to their journey.
“We learned a lot about collaborating and what it was like to make a project of that scale,” Beardsley described.
They used “Startup” as a launchpad for Nerd Squad Entertainment, and released a GoFundMe page they hoped could cover some of the initial costs of starting a production company.
In a few short weeks, they raised over $3000.
“We were floored by all the support,” Keyes recalled. “We had all agreed we’d never get it. We didn’t have the money for all the lighting, camera[s] and equipment we needed, so this was huge.”
Knowing that countless members of their family, friends and the Tufts community at large believed in them was the perfect send off before the road trip to LA. Once they were settled in, they promptly began creating content to grow their platform. Nerd Squad’s current home is YouTube.
Next, they started producing “Monday Morning Strips.”
“It was a combination of coincidentally being able to release our first video on a Monday and liking the theme of wanting to give people something to look forward to on a crappy Monday,” Keyes described. “They’re these weird videos that can give you a quick chuckle.”
They currently have 15 “Strips” on their YouTube channel.
While establishing these videos as a consistent form of content, they welcomed a new member of Nerd Squad, who helps their creative and production process immensely. Christina Moore, a 2015 graduate who majored in English and drama and minored in economics, was a close friend. She too decided to make the daunting move to LA after visiting it and falling in love with the city (she says while singing “it’s the greatest city in the world” — take that Hamilton).
She recalls offering input in the early stages of Nerd Squad while still living in Boston, and is excited about having officially joined.
“It came to be that we would think of projects with Christina in mind and it was impossible to do it without her help,” Keyes said.
“I love the production of creative projects,” Moore said. “I love acting, but as a hobby. Being in this collaborative is the best because I get to just have fun and not worry about it having to make it and pay my bills.”
Moore highlights an all-too-familiar truth for those pursuing careers in the entertainment industry. All four of them pay the bills with day jobs outside of Nerd Squad. They take on a wide array of roles; Moore, for example, works in sales at Variety Insight — Variety Magazine’s research and data division — giving her a chance to network and stay informed in the business.
Beardsley and Keyes work as a school teacher/sports coach and SAT/ACT tutor respectively, while Nazareth works in Escape Room LA, which for him is like immersive theater.
“As for my second job, I also make sandwiches for the bourgeoisie of Hollywood,” Nazareth said.
They balance work with the goal of bringing Nerd Squad to the next level.
“This is a crucial moment at Nerd Squad, where we’re looking to have a couple meetings in the next month to talk about how we want to formulate the pitch and production process for larger projects,” Beardsley said.
“Trump: An Anti-American Musical (A Hamilton Parody)” is a perfect example of this effort. This extensive production has already reached over 2,000 views since its release last week.
Everyone contributed their unique strengths to make a video filled with intricate lyrics and characterization. Keyes wrote, directed and edited the video, but the process was extremely collaborative.
“We’re pretty good about respecting each other’s opinions, ” Beardsley said.
Since the beginning, the four have made Nerd Squad a priority because they see it as something that can help their personal goals as well.
“Any individual progress we made, Nerd Squad would be a larger base we can prop it on,” Beardsley said.
The agency they have over their own opportunities is deeply satisfying to them. At Tufts, they were used to a range of performance material to engage with, a “super high art environment” as Keyes described it.
“To go from there to LA where you’re struggling to get these jobs against hundreds of other actors makes it important to have this company and our own creative outlet, making things we want to see,” Keyes said.
Keyes was not alone in these sentiments as others in the group felt a bond over this commonality.
“The idea was that whenever we aren’t working on something individually, we’ll always be Nerd Squad,” Beardsley added.
One of the most challenging, but altogether rewarding challenges they have faced since moving to LA is finding the best way to balance everything.
“It’s not a mindless thing, finding that balance,” Keyes said. “We have to really work at it, between being a housemate, a close friend and a colleague to each other.”
In the background of all their own developing skills is a deep-felt gratitude for the Tufts alumni community as a whole, as it has made their post-grad experience immensely positive.
“There’s so many Jumbos in LA doing film and entertainment work,” Moore points out. “The best thing you can have is a ground-floor community of people with the similar interests. Starting out with this made the move a lot easier.”
Nerd Squad connected with Jumbos Amiro Mo (LA ’14) and current Tufts Senior Eli Lloyd, both of whom started movie groups in LA. That, along with an extensive alumni network, has proven to be key to their experience thus far. In such a sprawling city, a sense of community is a must-have.
“While we want to reach as wide of a global audience as possible, we know who our base audience and subscribers are,” Keyes said. “We wouldn’t have come out here if we hadn’t found our roots in the Tufts community.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed alumnus Amiro Mo (LA ’14) as Amir Mo. The Daily regrets this error.