UT Students, Alum Partner with James Franco on Reality Show [Watch]

Four UT film students are now on the other side of the camera for James Franco’s new reality show, Undergrads: South.

Actor Franco—of 127 Hours and Freaks & Geeks fame—drew criticism in January for the first edition of Undergrads, his online reality show about college life. Filmed at the University of Southern California, the show portrayed students partying and drinking.

The Austin edition, which premieres tonight on Franco’s website, promises to be very different. Instead of following hard-partying students, Undergrads: South turns the lens on four Radio-Television-Film students as each makes his or her own films. It’s a meta-film about making films.

The students were selected based on their reputations and their diverse backgrounds and artistic styles.

“I thought it was a joke,” says David Bukstein. “I got a Facebook message that said something like, ‘We’ve heard about you and we want you to be on this show from James Franco.’ I went to meet them, and an hour later I was on the show.'”

“It was a little odd at first because you’re used to being on the other side of the camera,” says senior Ali Haji, who made a short film about student a capella group the Ransom Notes. “I worried about messing up or acting unprofessional. But then you realize, that’s what this show is about—undergrads learning by messing up.”

Director Joy Gohring, a UT alum who now has her own production company in Hollywood, flew between Austin and Los Angeles during filming, which lasted from September to March. Haji says that working with editors and directors in LA and Austin was an invaluable experience for an aspiring filmmaker.

“Teamwork, respecting other people’s deadlines, working with multiple teams—those are some of the things this project exposed me to,” he says.

Haji and the three other students in the show—Morgan Young, David Bukstein, and Bao Truong—also appeared on a SXSW panel with Franco and Gohring. “That was an incredible experience,” Haji says. “To have our film premiere at SXSW and get to talk about it for a crowd was just amazing.”

After commencement in May, Haji is moving to New York City. He just had an interview with Killer Films, the indie production company behind Boys Don’t Cry and Velvet Goldmine, and “things are looking promising.”


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