Creator of HBCU web series hails from Annapolis
Andrea Blackstone | 2/13/2015, 6:05 a.m.
Christian Smooth is a 24-year-old Annapolis resident who has thrown his hat into the independent filmmaking ring. When he is able to coordinate schedules of volunteer actors, Smooth shoots episodes of his original web series called "The Student Body," based on life at a fictional Historically Black College (HBCU) in Baltimore, called Nagrom State University.
The Morgan State University alumnus graduated in 2013 with a degree screenwriting and animation. Creation of "The Student Body" was sparked by Smooth's observant nature during his college years.
“When I was a student at Morgan, I would see the same people every day, at the same place, at the same time. It sounds odd, but I would think about the day-to-day life of my fellow students. The anthology concept for the show was a natural fit. It allowed me to break free and tell stories about whoever and whatever I wanted,” Smooth said.
“Researching life and observing students, faculty and employees at Morgan inspired me to create the series about HBCUs.”
Actors who appear in the web series consist of Smooth's friends and extras who are referred by local casting directors and modeling agencies. Smooth shoots the web series with a Cannon DSLR camera. Chris Allen, Smooth's director of photography, shot the first two episodes. The creator currently completes everything on a shoestring budget. Web series scenes have been shot at Morgan State University, the Stanton Community Center, Wiley H. Bates High School and Bowie Town Center.
“I choose my locations based on what I have access to, or where I think I can get some interesting shots,” Smooth said.
Both young and old are interested in the messages that the filmmaker inserts in episodes. Even so, Smooth avoids preaching. He wants viewers to interpret messages for themselves. Word of mouth advertising drives traffic to Smooth's YouTube channel. Web television is an emerging medium that allows a new generation of filmmakers to gain exposure of their work.
“Social media really gets people to watch and share my shows,” Smooth said.
Smooth used his web series as his senior project in 2012-2013. His college team fell apart when he was in dire need of participation to get it off of the ground.
“When my team dropped out I had two problems. The first being we were set to premiere the first episode March 14, 2013. My professor didn’t think I could make the deadline at such a short notice. I had a little less than a month to put it together,” Smooth said.
The filmmaker said that the experience was the best thing that could have happened to him. Smooth earned an A in his Senior Studio II class, regained complete control of "The Student Body" and gained more confidence in his abilities. Today, he collaborates with other creative Marylanders while polishing his skills. Smooth is searching for film festivals where he can submit a documentary or his web series. He also captures events, daily life and pop culture in Annapolis.
“I put on my director’s hat and never looked back. I realized I can become a filmmaker and not just a writer. It’s a lesson that I’m happy I learned, because it prepared me for what may lay ahead in my career,” Smooth said.
An online publication, HBCU Digest, named Smooth's web series one of the top five produced by students, faculty and alumni in 2013. BuzzFeed, a website featuring breaking buzz and social content, ultimately stumbled upon Smooth's work. A user in their community named "The Student Body" as one of 10 must-watch black web series in 2014.
“’The Student Body’ is a passion project and it’s a project that I hope will land me a job in the film making industry. I would like to work as a showrunner for TV,” Smooth said.
Smooth is also an author and the founder/ president of Smooth House Productions. The company offers video production services for artists and business owners. To watch espisodes of “The Student Body” visit https://www.youtube.com/user/TheSmoothHouse.