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Reading the 'Miranda Rights'

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ACTION:Audience members watch as camera operators, stage hands, actors and directors prepare to tape a scene for the Indiana Wesleyan University Studio Production class’s sitcom “Miranda Rights” on April 5.
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BETWEEN THE SCENES:Cast members, including Sasha Hasulube in the title role of Miranda, at left, laugh between scenes during taping for the Studio Production class’s sitcom “Miranda Rights” on April 5.

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

Students at Indiana Wesleyan University are seeing their script come to life on stage in front of a live studio audience.

Led by Media Communications Professor Randall King, students who take Studio Production spend their semester working on a single script that will become a complete pilot episode of a TV series.

Only offered every two to three years, the class allows students to write, design and produce a television show as a finished product ready to be picked up by a production company, according to King.

At the start of the semester, students vote on the genre they’ll work on. Though it was the toughest option, sitcom received an overwhelming vote and the brainstorming began.

King said the genre has only been chosen three times since the class began, and each time it’s gotten better. He said the last sitcom designed by IWU students, “Kashed In,” won an award for Best Video Comedy in 2015 from College Broadcasters Inc.

This year, students created a sitcom called “Miranda Rights,” based on a woman arrested under mysterious circumstances and is sentenced to a low security, white collar prison where she meets a series of friends and enemies.

Kayla Ructi, a sophomore media communications major, was on the writing team along with Hunter George, a junior in the communications program, and Silas Weghorst, a freshman in the program.

Ructi said they created the characters based off prison stereotypes familiar to them, each character with their own twist. However, having no experience in prison meant they had to conduct research to discover what the set might look like, and if the design of the show would be feasible.

Ructi said the design team did extensive research and set the rules for what was allowed in their fictional prison based on their findings.

“Having designed a low security prison for the set gave us a lot of freedom with the script and the interactions these characters would be having,” George said.

Weghorst said the team had an opportunity to go to Los Angeles, California and meet Writer Dean Batali, who completed work on “That 70s Show” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

“We gave him a copy of our script and he actually made notes and gave it back to us,” Weghorst said. “Although we didn’t get line by line notes, he sent us an email back with comments about general concepts we should have and how we should end each scene.”

Through their learning experience in piecing together a television pilot, Weghorst said challenges made themselves known as their shooting day drew closer.

“About three weeks towards the end we were in a panic,” he said. “We were trying to get rehearsals done, the sets was only half way to three-quarts done. So the last few weeks was a huge push and everything fell into place at the last minute.”

Through their hours of writing jokes, reading scripts, and seeing their characters come to life in ways they never imagined in auditions, the team said their favorite night was when they filmed it live.

“My favorite thing was going from writing a script and thinking ‘Oh, this would be so funny,’ to actually seeing it on a set with actors and costumes and props,” Ructi said. “Then we put it on screen and see people laugh to it … You’re like ‘Oh I wrote that joke and everybody’s laughing at it,’ that was the coolest thing– seeing it come to life and seeing people enjoy it.”

George said that day of the shoot made their script finally feel real.

“It gave us a great sense of professionalism,” he said. “The audience gave our actors so much energy too. When the jokes hit, they hit really hard and it was super satisfying.”

The team said the project revealed that a task as large as writing, designing, filming and editing an episode of a TV series seemed a lot smaller when you worked well with a group of people.

“There are a hundred little things that need to get done, and some pieces only one person can do, while others can take on five things,” Ructi said. “You have to know every piece of the puzzle and know that someone is on top of it. That was something I think we learned the hard way a little bit, but it was also an important lesson that ties back into teamwork and communication.”

The finished pilot episode of “Miranda Rights” will premiere free of charge in the Globe Theater at IWU on Thursday at 5 p.m. King said it may air on WIWU TV in May, and it will also be available on YouTube later this year.