@SummerBreak: Inside the Social Media Reality Series Starring L.A. High School Students
Maddie Cordoba Trevis (left) snaps a photo of Connor (right, skating) and Zaq on the half-pipe at Brooklyn Projects, a skate shop in L.A.
Trevis is sweating. It's in the 90s at Brooklyn Projects, a skate shop on Melrose with a half pipe behind the store. Though Trevis isn't much of a skater, he's suffering the heat to watch his two friends, Zaq and Connor, as his best friend Ray shops inside for a new shirt.
As his friends skate, Trevis tweets a photo of the two on the pipe. The photo goes out to Trevis' almost 2,000 followers. He's a popular Santa Monica High School graduate who was point guard of his high school basketball team and president of his student body, so it's not unusual that he'd have a lot of followers. What is unusual is that his tweet has to get approved before it ever sees the light of day.
Connor and Zaq, drenched in sweat, get off the half pipe and prepare to leave. They sit and chat with Trevis for a bit. He tells them he tweeted a photo of them, and they eagerly go to check it out on their own phones.
They don't go back inside to meet up with Ray yet, though. They can't. The film crew's not ready to shoot their exit.
Trevis, Ray, Zaq and Connor are not just regular L.A. teenagers. They are four of the principal cast members on @SummerBreak, a new summer reality TV show, though that's technically inaccurate. There's no TV channel airing @SummerBreak.
@SummerBreak is the first major series to unfold on a combination of online video and social media. Designed with the mobile experience in mind, the series is a collaboration between the Chernin Group -- the production company run by Peter Chernin, the former No. 2 at Newscorp -- and AT&T.
Executive producer Billy Parks first came up with the idea of having viewers take part in a full social experience -- which made it perfect for teenagers.
"Obviously, with Millenials, this is the way they're talking," Parks says. "It felt really organic to who they are." Though the production team flirted with the idea of doing a scripted series, reality felt fresher, and cast the show with high school students who just graduated or are on the cusp of graduating.
On this particular day of shooting, Trevis and Connor had gone to breakfast before joining Ray and Zaq for shopping and skating. While the guys ate and talked, an on-site production team member transcribed every word, conferring with producers after the guys moved on -- and the cameras moved on with them. That morning's conversation, apparently about the guys' ex-girlfriend troubles, wasn't as good as the previous night's conversation between Connor and Zaq. After a brief discussion, producers decide that night's episode will be of last night's conversation, which dealt with Connor's romantic past, present and future.
The cast members themselves are clueless as to what will appear in each day's episode -- and how much they'll appear. Though the producers choose snippets of the kids' lives to shoot, not every segment makes it in, and if they do, it won't necessarily be in chronological order. That morning's breakfast -- and all the footage of the guys shopping -- has yet to be used in an episode of @SummerBreak, and might never see the light of day.
Originally, episodes were set to be approximately one minute long and posted six days a week, with no episode on Saturday. The rest of the show would play out on Twitter and Instagram, where each member of the cast regularly posts updates on their lives and interacts with viewers. However, viewers clamored for more in the form of longer episodes -- and they got it. Now, daily episodes are three to four minutes each Monday through Thursday, with Sunday episodes being longer anchor episodes that tell more story.
The social media aspect is still huge, though. Cast members use programs like HootSuite to post to their social media accounts, and a team hired by the producers works 20 hours a day to approve these messages. Not all the cast members are super engaged, but some -- especially Ray, the son of former champion boxer Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, and Clara, a female cast member headed to culinary school -- take the time to respond to fans constantly. It's all part of a greater theme of engagement -- a word Parks and the cast use constantly.
So far, the cast has proven pretty engaging. The core cast is made up of eight L.A. kids -- six who just graduated high school, two headed into their senior year. Three girls, five guys. Four Santa Monica High School students, four Pacific Palisades Charter School students. Zaq, Ray, Trevis and Kostas are from the Samohi half, while Clara, Lena, Alex and Connor are Pali kids. Nia, the original ninth cast member, is also a Pali girl, but she's not with the show anymore.
Up next: How the show is like Laguna Beach and The Hills