“Young Adulterated” — a television series created by Stephen Gemmiti ’14 — has been nominated for the 2015 College Television Awards. One of three finalists out of hundreds of submissions in the “Best Series” category, the 10-episode series follows the colliding lives of five college students as they each try to navigate an explosive junior year. Gemmiti and some of the series’ HWS cast and crew will attend the 36th annual awards ceremony in Los Angeles this April. The series’ entire cast is comprised of HWS students including Tripp Aquadro ‘14, Walker Ward ‘16, Chatham Anastasi ‘16, Molly Naef ‘16, and Emily Jaeckel ‘15, among others.
The concept for the show arose during Gemmiti’s junior year in a screenwriting course with Professor of English Grant Holly. While working on a different project, Gemmiti “was inspired by looking around campus and feeling as though my experiences and those of my peers weren’t being well-represented in popular culture.”
As Gemmiti considered contemporary media culture, particularly on television, he noticed the trend “toward dark and gritty treatment of material was widening–with the exception of college-oriented programming,” he says. “College is still represented as this caricature of itself. The iconography we associate with that time in our lives often fails to align with reality and I feel like that is a misstep responsible for many failed expectations.”
Considering the gap between the portrayal of the college experience and the actual lived college experience, Gemmiti saw “a perfect moment to write something more mature and even on the smallest scale, relatable.”
“Steve produced the script for 10 episodes in the course, which is a tremendous amount of work and was a great sign about his abilities and his future,” Holly says. “Then he decided to do an honors project and film it, which meant getting a camera and learning how to use it, learning about lighting and sound and editing. Each one of those is a career, and he did it all.”
“Steve was in my Media & Society 100 class, and it was clear from that moment that he had outstanding technical skills,” says Les Friedman, professor of Media & Society, Gemmiti’s Honors adviser and faculty adviser for “Young Adulterated.” “Working with Steve, I think I learned as much as he did. He bought his own equipment, devoted untold hours, assembled a massive group of people — to do this project is an unbelievable feat.”
Gemmiti — who developed, wrote, filmed and edited the series as his Honors project, and continued the process after he graduated — finished a rough-cut of the pilot for a screening at the Smith Opera House in April of 2014.
“With over 800 people in attendance, we nearly filled the place,” he says, which was “great for the cast and crew, but the cut was rushed and deviated from the initial vision. I felt the need to bring the story back to basics and draw upon that relatability I knew was there.”
The series was shot during Gemmiti’s senior year on the HWS campus and in the greater Geneva community including locations at Halsey’s Restaurant and Pedulla’s Liquor. After graduation, Gemmiti hoped to return to continue shooting, but when that fell through, he “sat down and really looked at what had been filmed. Up through May and June, I was looking at it through one perspective: what was on the page. But there was great material still in the can which I felt could be repurposed and reintegrated to make a stronger cut of the first episodes.”
Examining the rough-cut alongside the rest of the footage, Gemmiti considered: “Is this my strongest work? Are these the best shots? Is this the best version of the show? Does it really capture the essence of what I was trying to do?” After answering those questions honestly, Gemmiti felt there was work left to be done.
The subsequent months of editing, he says, “really took me by surprise. Through that process I grew even closer to my story and more importantly, to my characters. The result really humanized the narrative and made it much more emotional; truer to the original vision for the project.”
Gemmiti says he now has a version that really plays well, a version he “can sit down comfortably and watch.”
“There are so many junctures for things to go wrong,” he says. “Letting go of expectations and really trying to show something honest and true makes getting to the end — and seeing what a difference editing can make — incredibly satisfying.” Even more so after finding out that the series had clinched a nomination a month and a half after its submission to the Television Academy in January.
As he edited and recut the first episodes for his submission for the College Television Awards, Gemmiti “knew it was going to be tough. There were a lot of sleepless nights because I knew such recognition would elevate us to a whole new level if we were nominated.”
And now that’s happened. “The thought of being out there in L.A. on stage and seeing the work of my cast recognized is intoxicating” Gemmiti says. “It’s a great opportunity to give back to those who dedicated themselves to the series.”
The College Television Awards, formerly known as the Student Television Awards, was started in 1978 to recognize excellence in student work. Since then, the ceremony has grown to a nationwide competition that awards more than 65 trophies in 13 different categories. Designed to emulate the Primetime Emmy judging process, entries are reviewed by active Television Academy members. Submissions undergo a three-round judging process, culminating in a Blue Ribbon panel that awards first, second and third prizes. Winners in all categories receive cash awards and are flown out to Los Angeles by the Academy’s partner airline, United Airlines.
“We’re very proud of the fact that HWS is represented at this event,” says Holly, noting that the submission pool includes colleges and universities like “University of Southern California, University of California Los Angeles, New York University — places that have huge film and TV programs. It goes to show that our Media & Society program is consistently terrific and Steve is a wonderful ambassador. He’s a good storyteller, his characters are great; he gets beyond conventionality, carries it into the editing room and puts it together in a really interesting way. When you have talent, which is then joined with relentlessly hard work, that’s a good combination.”
“One of the things they always say about talent is you can’t teach it,” says Marilyn Jimenez, associate professor of Africana studies and media & society, and chair of the Media & Society Program, who taught two film editing courses Gemmiti took early in his academic career at HWS. “You can provide the opportunity for that talent to be exercised. This is particularly something we in the Media & Society program believe in and try to nurture in our students, and what we hope to have afforded Steve. His work was always outstanding. He has a tremendous visual eye but he also has a native storytelling ability. When he has a project that he’s working on, he works tremendous amounts of hours and is very detailed. The combination of talent and his approach to a project produces great work. Obviously this is a very important recognition for Steve and we hope it leads to more accolades and opportunities.”
Looking back on the project, Gemmiti says, “I am so thankful for the opportunity and the involvement of the Colleges. HWS afforded me the opportunity to film on campus and without that initial vote of confidence, the series as we know it wouldn’t exist today.” In addition, Gemmiti noted that “Alumni support throughout all this has been remarkable and seeing how selflessly students, staff, and faculty on campus gave their talents and resources to this project is something I’m extremely humbled by and proud of.” Above all, Gemmiti concluded that “there’s something special about seeing students with roots in Theater, Media & Society, and Dance — the three corners of the arts — come together behind a singular piece of work. In that sense, it’s very much the product of a greater community.”
Gemmiti graduated with Honors in Media & Society and a minor in Computer Science. On campus, he was a member of the Hobart rowing team, served as public relations officer for the media club, and earned the Dean’s Citizenship Award. He completed a summer internship working on the set of “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a film directed by Derek Cianfrance and starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper that debuted in the spring of 2013. He was also a member of the HWS team that competed in the 2012 Lake Placid Film Forum, where they completed a film in 24-hours.
The 36th College Television Awards will take place on Thursday, April 23 and will be live-streamed on the official Emmy website. Members of the HWS community who would like to attend the ceremony in California may contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Further information about the series including links to the College Emmy-nominated episodes can be found at www.youngadulterated.com.