Plenty of young people dream of Hollywood glamour, of bringing their dreams to life on the big screen–and though Max Prio, Ryan Reede and Derek Switaj may not be winning any Oscars any time soon, their work this year has put them a cut above their peers who are still in the daydreaming phase. They’re the producers of Mod of Cards–a BC-themed parody of the Netflix series House of Cards, made possible by Exposure Productions and Hollywood Eagles–and they sat down with me this month to talk about how what started as a joke turned into a six-episode phenomenon that’s sweeping the Heights.
Left to right: Ryan Reede, Derek Switaj, Max Prio
Let’s start with your early experience–how did you all get into filmmaking?
Ryan Reede: My experience with filmmaking probably comes from my dad, who made films when he was in college and high school, and I happened upon them when we were moving in middle school—he had a bunch of Super 8 tapes that he transferred to DVD, and they were hilarious. Then I got a camera, and I don’t know, living in LA, everyone likes making movies. It was fun. My high school had a really awesome film department, so that was awesome too.
Max Prio: I got into film because my dad is a freelance director… I learned everything I know working on set with him. I ended up in the film department, taking classes here and there, so that kind of spread into all of my extracurriculars here at school… film started to really take over most of my time. I won a contest sophomore year hosted by Hyundai, and they gave me $10,000 to produce a commercial about BC’s fan loyalty, so that’s when me and Ryan got involved together. After that contest, we had the idea of starting our own production company… that’s when me and Ryan started doing most of our stuff together.
Derek Switaj: My film experience is not nearly as much as these guys. When I was younger, I used to shoot highlight videos for my dad’s hockey camps, and I used to do video editing for the hockey team at my high school and started our Broadcast Club. I always loved entertainment stuff, I did theatre all through middle and high school too, so I loved acting. I got into film, actually, through my other passion of entrepreneurship… I worked a couple startups and internships the last couple summers, and two summers ago I worked at a startup that had a James Bond theme, and I was doing marketing, so I watched all the James Bond movies to come up with inspiration, and after watching all those movies I had an idea for a movie… so I started outlining my idea, like forty pages of outline, and started learning how to write scripts, and the rest is history—that’s how I got into screenwriting.
So let’s talk a little about origins of Mod of Cards—how did you get the idea for the project, and how did it get off the ground?
DS: The original, joking start of it was actually back when House of Cards Season 2 came out. I was writing scripts at the time… so my roommates were joking, “You should write a House of Cards thing at BC!” We started shooting the s—t about what the plot would be, the name Mod of Cards was thrown out there, but then it was totally dropped and forgotten for a while. Then I went out to LA to work at a startup this summer… and several different people told me at different points, “If you really want to be a writer, you should go direct. If you want to prove that your writing can really tell a story—nowadays in college, you have all of the equipment and people and time and resources to make something, even if it doesn’t look great, you’re making something, you’re proving your writing can tell a story.” So I started to think about what that could look like, and the Mod of Cards idea was the first one to pop back into my head… one night I went to bed at like 11:00 PM and it just hit me, and I told Ryan—
RR: We were living together.
DS: Yeah, we were living together at that time in LA, and I was up until like 4:00 AM, and the next thing you knew there was a 10-page outline for Mod of Cards, the series… it all just kinda hit me. I did the first two scripts in the month of July, got them to Ryan, tried to convince Ryan to read them…
RR: (laughs) I was not into it.
DS: I’d seen that he did really good film work, and I was like, “Ryan, you need to read these, we could make these!” And he was like, “Okay, sure, whatever.” And then eventually he did read them, and I got a text from him saying, “This is actually pretty cool, we should talk about this…” and then he was like, we need to talk to Max, because I think the three of this could make this. So we came back to campus in September, we sat down at that table right over there (points to another table) and then an hour later we were like, “Alright, we’re gonna make this.”
MP: From [Derek’s] mind it kind of went to Ryan, and then they tried to convince me.
RR: Max and I had always wanted a cool, creative project to work on for Exposure Productions to put our name out there as a capable production company that isn’t so one-dimensional, so maybe [Mod of Cards] was a little bigger than we needed it to be, but at this point, we’re having a blast. We’re obviously not gonna stop. I don’t know, it’s pretty awesome. It’s actually pretty fun, and you learn so much.
Tell me about your experience working on Mod of Cards. What have been the best/proudest/funniest/most embarrassing parts of the process?
MP: Pretty much after every set, we wonder why we don’t just leave the camera running 24/7, because of Derek’s dance moves… or absurdity. And a lot of our actors—a lot of them are theatre majors—
DS: They’ll start breaking out into song and dance, they’ll start doing silly voices, they’ll start doing their lines in different character voices.
MP: They wanted to do the show in an Irish accent.
DS: Part of it for me, too, is it’s fun building a family out of this… I want people to be having fun, feeling that this is a family to turn to. If we didn’t have that feel, people wouldn’t want to do it—if we didn’t have some fun in between the takes.
MP: One of the scariest things about doing this show was convincing people that it was going to be legitimate… that the show was going to be good, that it was going to look good on their portfolios, something they’d be proud of doing. The hardest part is making sure everyone’s committed throughout the entire series.
RR: We’re over the hump now. Everyone’s here to stay. If you want to look at this from like, a scale perspective, each episode has about 30 scenes… each scene has about six shots, each shot could have two or three angles, and then each angle has about six or seven takes.
DS: Our record is 23 takes.
RR: If you wanna do some math and expand that out, it’s a lot of time. (laughs) A lot of everything: time, data, time, data and time…
RR: And editing, which is time.
DS: You know what, though, Max and Ryan came in with the most skill in their given trade… working with these guys, I’ve gotten to learn so much about the technical side of cameras and lenses. When you edit something for 72 hours straight with each other, you get to learn everything, you get to go crazy together… This is the first time that my writing has gotten to be brought to life. It’s all been a really awesome learning experience. I feel blessed to be a part of it. Not even lucky—blessed.
RR: Hashtag blessed.
So what can we expect from you guys in the future? Any upcoming projects or plans?
RR: Spoiler alert—Frank’s behind it all.
MP: Should we tell her about the contest?
DS: So next year—part of the goal of this was to create a sustainable initiative… so that every year, students could do a new show. So rather than a Mod of Cards season 2, you do, like, Game of Gasson (a Game of Thrones parody), or you could do Maroon is the New Gold (an Orange is the New Black parody). What we’re going to do pretty soon is have submissions for next year’s show. But we want to set the bar high because we want high-caliber scripts to come through, so part of the submission will be Act I of a movie, or the pilot episode of a television series, and then the season or film outline… We’ll announce that soon and have a submission form for that, then the beginning of April is when the submission deadline will be, so that hopefully we can maybe have that decided by ArtsFest what next year’s show will be… We want to give people the chance to write for next year!
Stay tuned for Episode 2 of Mod of Cards, which drops this Sunday, February 8. And if you know a person who rocks and deserves to be featured, shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!