A Chat With the Creators of UMass' Mockumentary Series 'Boys to Men'

Here at UMass, everyone has their own thing. There are people who play sports and there are people who go the more artistic route. For Alex Hagani, Jill Webb and Alexa Rockwell, they began their journey freshman year by creating "Boys to Men," a mockumentary series based on their college experiences. 

Her Campus UMass Amherst: Why did you guys decide to make the mockumentary?

Alex Hagani: Back in 2014, I was coming to school and knew I wanted to make something that people could join in on. And looking at our opportunities, we only had UVC – 19 with low-budgeted equipment. Mockumentary was the way we could create something that didn’t have to look too artistic. I met Alexa and Jill through our Communication RAP (Residential Academic Program) freshman year in Cance, and one of the first conversations I had with them was about writing comedy. From the first two weeks of school, I started writing a story of how this series could be based on the people that were surrounding us in our dorms. The characters became based on our friends, and followed two roommates—me from New York City and my 23-year-old roommate from Isreal. Within the first month of school, we got into so much trouble—we got arrested and written up. As I was getting close to finishing the story board, he got kicked out of the dorm, so I made it the ending to the show. I showed the storyboard to Alexa and Jill, and asked them to become involved in the project. I was too scared to write dialogue and they killed it. Two weeks later during winter break, I got an email with an attachment to a script, and then the idea came to life.

Jill Webb: With the resources, it was a good idea to make a mockumentary because we really did play up everything around us. Every situation in the show is played up on us. We use "what’s funny about college?" and that becomes our show.

Alexa Rockwell: I knew coming into school I loved comedy, but I didn’t know if there was an outlet for that here, and when I met Alex and learned what he wanted to do with the show I thought it was the perfect opportunity. We were very inspired by "The Office," "Parks and Rec," and "Trailer Park Boys." It’s a good way to tell a story.

HC: What have been some of the biggest challenges you guys have faced?

JW: Definitely the fact that we opened it up to everyone that wanted to help, which was awesome but we didn’t want to be mean and it was hard to get stuff done. Some people’s schedules didn’t work with ours so it was hard to film at times. Now we have a solid cast and crew that are really involved.

AH: When we started, we needed an abundance of people to work on this. Now looking back on it, it was awesome to have everyone be a part of it at first but we had a crew of three people for the last episode. It was so much more efficient to know what our worths were.

AR: Scheduling was really hard because everyone’s doing their own thing with classes and clubs. Freshman year, we got a lot of people on our floor to be a part of it. We still love those characters but it’s just hard to find time when everyone’s available.

JW: We don’t go to a film school, so we really had to find a certain niche of people to come and help us because our film program is not as big.

AR: There were people that doubted us. People have doubted us and we've said, “Alright, let’s see about that.” I could tell Alex was so dedicated and into it.

AH: At some point I sat down with Alexa and Jill, because we realized this would be the top and we would work down. No matter what, we would believe in it and that it would work out. People would follow our lead and our dedication to making it work these past two and half years, and it has driven us—even in times when we figured we couldn’t get sh*t done. There have been people that have doubted us and said “Fourth 8-minute episode? You can’t do that." We always found a way to keep ourselves together and inspire our cast and crew to get it done, too.

HC: Are the characters on the show based on real people?

AR: Some of them are and some of them aren't. I think originally yes, they are the same names and bits and pieces of everyone in the characters. Jill and I on the show, we’re super exaggerated.

JW: When we wrote these characters, we wrote them as annoying girls.

AH: We wanted to pick out all the different tropes you see in college.

AR: I think within our characters, we’re showing the different types of people you could see. They’re not necessarily who we are.

JW: Alex’s character is like the every man character. His is very relatable and calm. He’s like Jim on "The Office." He’s out there viewing everyone as crazy.

AH: This newest episode did it the best. You see this kid is actually struggling with what he wants to do and his girlfriend is about to leave him. But there is still that world with college where the craziness happens. We never meant to put it in this direction where you have this straight man character and these crazy ones.

AR: I've looked back on the first episode and thought, "Oh, this is different."

JW: We always look at it and think, "Oh, this is totally different."

AH: That’s the most rewarding part, just looking back on it.

JW: Even a paper you wrote freshman year and now the stuff you’re writing junior year, you grow so much and that’s why it’s so important to keep progressing at it.

AR: It’s like a selfie you took in seventh grade.  

HC: What’s the next step for you guys?

AR: Broadway, baby. We have ideas. Next semester, Alex and I are both studying abroad, so there won’t be a new episode.

AH: We’ll be taking a break until August. But we want to do two more. We want to do one that has no relation to the story, one that is framed through a student-run TV channel. We do want to hit on things that we’re seeing in the world. We’ve established ourselves as a web series and we want to say something. And our final one, we want to have all the characters in it and have a big closing.

AR: It’s also so cool that we’re doing it as we’re going through college. Because this is like a big scrapbook of our college experience. I could probably show my kids this.

AH: That’s one thing, every single person that has worked on it can go back and watch it and go, "Whoa."

AR: You can say, "That’s where I filmed when I used to have class there."

AH: We’re filming it in the actual settings.

JW: Especially because we’re using our friends and our settings, it’s so close to us. Because we’re trying to give this portrayal of our college experience, we can look back on it, too.  

HC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to make films?

AH: Just do it.

JW: The whole idea of it is just so overwhelming that I think it’s a mental block and you really just have to be like "Whatever, I can do this." If something doesn’t work out, you find a different way. We’ve had so many obstacles that we’ve had to go around.

AR: A lot of college students are very overwhelmed, and you can’t be lazy about it. It has to be something you’re passionate about. Try to find people who are similar to you and have the same interests and time. It’s hard to do alone. Just try it.

AH: It’s very hard for us to say "just do it," because we have just done it. I look back on these past two and half years and I’m so lucky to have met these guys and to have it come together. But you really need to just trust yourself. If you are passionate about something, just go do it because there’s only a small amount of time we’re in this confined bubble, a supportive bubble of college where you can experiment and try things out and find your voice. But at the end of the day, it’s the most rewarding experience for us to look back. We hope to inspire other people to do their things, too.

AR: Let yourself make mistakes and let yourself learn. Because that is how you get better at it. There’s going to be obstacles in your way and that’s how you really learn.

JW: I feel like the main thing that people always forget about is that we’re doing this because we love it. You should be having fun with it, you shouldn’t get too stressed about it, even though a lot of things and aspects can be overwhelming, you just have to find a way to be like "I did this for a reason, I’m doing it because I want to just be creative and do my thing."

AH: You guys taught me not to take it so seriously. I can have my idea of what I want it to look like, but we’re still working with 20 people. To get everyone on the same page, to know that you can work together; that makes it so much easier.

"Boys to Men" Facebook page

"Boys to Men" Vimeo page (all full episodes)

Instagram: @umassboystomen

Photos courtesy of Alex Hagani, Nick Vigneau, Jill Webb and Zack Trembowicz