'Internet Famous': Pittsburgh-based Web series aims to be raunchy yet heartfelt

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Andy Warhol made the phrase "15 minutes of fame" part of popular culture. "Internet Famous" -- a new locally produced Web comedy -- revolves around another Pittsburgher named Andy, who doesn't want his 15 minutes.

Trent Wolfred plays Andy, an aspiring writer and filmmaker who's having a string of bad luck. He's just been dumped by his girlfriend, and he's unemployed. His life is about to get worse. He gets a newspaper job he hates. And one night while he's in the middle of a drunken rant about blogging, viral fame and art, his roommate Dave (Matthew Robison) makes a video of him and puts it online. It goes viral, and "Angry Andy" is soon an unwilling Internet star.

His life is further complicated by his circle of friends, including a lesbian couple whose relationship is on the rocks, and Kim, a young black woman he starts a relationship with.

The seven-episode series premieres Wednesday online and at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, which will screen all seven episodes starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased online at the Internet Famous site, internetfamousshow.com, or at the door. Admission includes a reception with the "Internet Famous" cast and creators. New webisodes will post Wednesdays on YouTube and on the Internet Famous site.

The series was created, written and directed by Chris Lee and Tom Williams, a Pittsburgh-based writer and filmmaker. The Milford, Conn., native started as a journalism major at the University of Kentucky and moved to Pittsburgh to take classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. He lives in Bloomfield, supporting himself with production work and part-time jobs. Mr. Lee, originally of Vienna, W. Va., is a writer, musician and artist. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a master's degree in creative writing and began to study screenwriting. He lives in Milwaukee and is working on a horror movie script and short stories.

Mr. Lee and Mr. Williams met in 2009 while both were in school here. "We had the same sense of humor and wanted to write comedy," Mr. Williams said.

They began developing characters and a story for "Internet Famous" and by 2011 had a full-length feature script. They shopped it around to other producers, who liked it but said it was too indie and low budget. "Everyone kept saying you guys should do this yourself and that it actually works better episodically," Mr. Williams said. "We decided since the whole thing is about the Internet, we might as well do it as a Web series."

They reworked the script into a series, and last May they raised $8,500 through a Kickstarter campaign. They filmed the series over the summer.

The cast is local. Mr. Wolfred is house manager at Pittsburgh Public Theater. He was part of the cast of the comedy "Something to be Desired," one of the earliest Web series, which was also made in Pittsburgh, and has done film, commercial and voiceover work. Mr. Robison, who went to Point Park University and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, has done short films, video and stage work locally. Other Pittsburgh-based actors -- Cori Shetter, Lish Danielle, Elyse Alberts and Richard Eckman -- round out the cast.

"Internet Famous" is set in Pittsburgh, with scenes shot in familiar locations, including Remedy in Lawrenceville, where the idea for the series was hatched ("We felt we had to put that in there," Mr. Williams said), along with the South Side's Club Cafe and the Ethiopian restaurant Tana in East Liberty. The office scenes were shot at Catapult PGH, a co-working space in Lawrenceville.

The series soundtrack is homegrown as well, using work by local bands: The opening theme is The Harlan Twins' "Quiet Little." Other bands featured include Neighbours, Andre Costello and the Cool Minors and Nic Lawless & His Young Criminals.

In a culture where many are willing to live their lives online, Mr. Williams and Mr. Lee found comic fodder with a character who's appalled by the idea, at least at first.

"You see people not making it on talent, just making it because they're willing to act the fool on the Internet," Mr. Williams said. "That kind of took off with Andy."

But the series creators found something unique in viral videos that brought a similar quality to their series. "All of the viral videos I can think of seem to be clips that someone recorded because whatever was going on nearby just happened to be funny, sad, cute or weird or whatever," Mr. Lee said. "There often is a lot of substance in a lot of the videos and clips that do go viral. There has to be something there that touches a lot of people in some way, otherwise the video wouldn't be shared over and over."

"Internet Famous" is not for younger viewers, or adults who might be offended by crude language and sexual content, much of which centers around Dave, Andy's sex-obsessed roommate.

Mr. Williams admires director Kevin Smith's films, and says they were going for a similar kind of raunchy yet redeemable humor. "Being dirty for the sake of being dirty -- that's not really funny," he said. "That was the conscious effort -- we wanted to make it as filthy as a Kevin Smith film but also with heart and with people you actually care about."

“It’s not going to be for everyone, but we didn’t set out to make a comedy that is for everyone,” Mr. Lee said. “Instead, we wanted to make the kind of comedy that we like, and sometimes that kind of comedy does get raunchy and raw. The jokes are going to get you into the show and get you laughing, but it’s the characters and the desire to know what happens to them that will draw you through the episodes.”

The comedy isn't the only thing that pushes the envelope, Mr. Lee said. "We have a sitcom-type show that features openly gay characters and explores cross-racial relationships. I'm most proud of the fact that we never shied away from having our characters deal with real problems in their relationships that reflect real things going on in the world."

The series is tightly written and scripted, although the directors gave Mr. Wolfred some leeway in terms of improv during his rant scene. The scene was "the crux the whole series revolves on," Mr. Williams said. "It had to be good. We shot it many times over and over. To his credit, he delivered, take after take."

The end of "Internet Famous" leaves the door open for a sequel. "We would definitely like to do a season two," he said. "We already have it mapped out. We'd like to leave it somewhat open so that we could come back to it."

Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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