Web Series Wednesday: Academy

Academy

Directed by: James Lundie
Written by: Steven Carnuccio
Produced by: Anthony Kassis, Steven Carnuccio and Rachel Lauren Baker
Starring: Scott Broadfoot, Steven Carnuccio, Lauren Lofberg and Lachlan Edmonds-Munro
Production Companies: Dark Horse Initiative and Undisputed Films
Digital Platform: www.darkhorseinitiative.com/academy

Article by Steven Carnuccio

I graduated from the University of New South Wales back in 2014 with a degree in Arts – Film and Media. As soon as I finished my course, I pretty much hit the ground running, writing and producing my first television pilot, Sidewalks. The experience of putting together a cast and crew, and getting something made, was one like no other. I often look back on that production and note how lucky I was to get to swim with such a talented bunch of individuals my first time in the water, so to speak. I took so much away from it, including some friends that I know will last a lifetime, and have grown a lot in the time between that production and my latest, Academy.

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A couple of years ago, I was told I needed to put on so much muscle for an upcoming film role. I had never really set foot in a gym, nor did I know the first thing about strength training. So, I asked a buddy of mine, whom I had known since primary school, and he referred me to a guy who he claimed to be “The best at what he does!” Next thing I know, I’m sitting across a desk from two-time State Boxing Champion, Anthony Kassis, and signing up to his personal training studio, Platinum Training Academy. It became very clear to me early on that this gym wasn’t like others. The trainers, the support and just the overall mentality of the place was so different to your typical “pay, train and go” gym. This place was something special. A family.

I’ll never forget my first training session. I walked in and Anthony had not yet arrived. However, his brother, Alex, and their friend, Niccolo, were sitting in the office. They invited me in to sit down and wait for Anthony while they chilled in a corner, browsing Youtube videos, laughing amongst themselves and bickering. It was like watching two toddlers play in a ball pit with the occasional spat. I remember thinking, “Who are these idiots?” I would soon come to realise they were the PTs working for Anthony. When he arrived, I began my session and suffice to say, I could barely lift the barbell. I was so out of shape! Almost three years later, and I’m now a triple digit lifter.

Steven Carnuccio and Shanae Brown.

In my time at the gym, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the team very well. From their newly recruited PT, Katherine; to Anthony’s girlfriend and barista, Jessica; to the squabbling married couple I met in the office my first day; and of course, my PT and now one of my closest friends, Anthony himself; I cannot express enough how grateful I am to all of them for the constant support and guidance they have given me throughout my time with them. Not to mention the laughs! Which brings us to Academy, a nine-part web series inspired by the team at Platinum Training Academy.

I first approached Anthony about a series roughly eighteen months ago now. Needless to say he was a little hesitant at first. So, I went away and developed a treatment for him to look over. More than anything I needed him to be comfortable with my vision and the spotlight it would shine on him and his team. After he read what I had written, he immediately signed off on it. He actually couldn’t believe how well I had managed to put his team’s personalities to paper. From then, I immediately began writing the scripts and putting together a cast and crew.

Steven Carnuccio, Scott Broadfoot and Lachlan Edmonds-Munro.

I was very fortunate to have my close friend, Rachel Lauren Baker, by my side producing the series. I had met Rachel back when we filmed Sidewalks, where she had been cast as my sister in the pilot. I think we’ve pretty much maintained that relationship to the present. Academy is actually the first series we have produced together under our production label, Dark Horse Initiative. I like to think of Rachel as a Producer with a heart. She can be tenacious and blunt when she wants to be, but is never without good intentions and always wants the best for everybody. It’s rare to find someone who has a good balance of those two sides.

Rachel had introduced me to a friend of hers, James Lundie, who had expressed interest in working with us. After meeting James, it was clear he had the energy that was needed to take this series to where it needed to be, and subsequently signed on as our Director and Editor. Before I knew it, the crew started to piece together rather quickly. Dani Sitto came on board as DOP, and all I can say is that as far as this series was concerned, him and his, Camera Assistant, Adam McPhilbin, were the perfect fit. Their unique ability to capture comedy was undeniable, not to mention Dani’s never-ending pranks on set. He was always good for a laugh. I must also mention our Sound Recordist, Shane Nichols; First ADs, Alyssa Stevenson and Robert Jeffrey; Continuity, Sarah Brown; Hair and Makeup Artists, Amy-Jane Facer and Maria Kavalieros; and Composer, Ryan Sorensen. They were all amazing to work with!

Steven Carnuccio and Scott Broadfoot.

When it came to casting, it was a tough road. I knew we needed the right people to play these characters and do them justice. I chose to take on the role of Zac Hastings, the character inspired by Alex. I suppose for me, while I knew I would have a blast playing the role, this was a way that allowed me to give back to Alex and, in my own way, show him how much admiration I have for him as a person. Since day one of me signing up to the gym, I’ve watched Alex grow so much and the guy just has so many layers. As an actor, that’s exactly the type of character I’m drawn to because there are just so many places you can take them.

I cast Scott Broadfoot as Aaron Hastings, the character based on Anthony. For me, this role was crucial to the series being a success, and who do you get to play someone who holds your deepest respect? Someone else who holds your deepest respect. I had also met Scott back when we filmed Sidewalks, and since then we had kept in touch and were looking for a project to do together. Having the chance to play brothers was something we just couldn’t pass up.

Steven Carnuccio and Lachlan Edmonds-Munro.

Lauren Lofberg was cast as Julia Dalton, the character centred on Jessica. During her audition, all I can remember was thinking how much she sounded like Jess, and how similar some of their mannerisms were. Aside from that, Lauren really is an amazing actress and I do have to commend her on the effort she put into the role. Prior to filming, Lauren participated in a training session with myself, Anthony and Jess. While it was a totally new experience for her, she tackled it with nothing but enthusiasm.

When it came to Luca Gerardo, the character inspired by Niccolo, I took a bit of a risk. A few months earlier, I had Lachlan Edmonds-Munro come in to audition for another film I was casting at the time. Honestly, I just couldn’t stop laughing at the guy. He was hilarious, and to my surprise, I was told he rarely does comedy. All I could think was, “He’s an untapped mine of comedy gold!” I decided to throw him the role without even knowing if he could really pull off an Italian accent. I was so nervous at our first read-through. “What if he doesn’t pull it off?”, I kept asking myself. Needless to say, he smashed it! He’s had us in stitches ever since.

Scott Broadfoot and Ryan Sobolski.

From there, Rachel agreed to take on the role of Hannah Hendricks, based on Katherine, and the rest of the cast soon came together in fictional roles; including Anzjuli Venter as Bradley Turner, Steven Sheikhossen as Colt Ravina, Tim Mason Scott as Sean Khouri; Cynthia Ng as Kate Madison; Corinne Sennitt as Joan Hastings, Sam A’Gallon as Zane Bettar, and one of my incredibly talented close friends, Shanae Brown, as Penny Nickel. Shanae is someone I take with me in any project that I produce. There is very little she can’t do in the way of performing, and is a perfect example of the type of person you want by your side on this journey.

There was, however, one role that we had trouble filling, until Rachel and I remembered an actor by the name of Ryan Sobolski who had auditioned for us not long before for another production. To this day, I have not told anyone this, but the character of Matt Christo, is loosely based on a past version of myself. So, it was always kind of strange searching for an actor to play me, but as soon as Ryan’s name popped up, it was a no-brainer! This guy is going places and to have him play me on screen was nothing short of an honour.

All up, it took us sixteen days to film the series across three and a half months. It was a long process, mainly because we were required to work around the gym’s hours of operation, not to mention the fact that we were determined to get everything just right. There were mornings when we would arrive to set all exhausted from our week, and James would burst in full of life keen to get going. It really helped having that kind of vibrancy on set, especially when filming a comedy. It definitely got us all pumped and excited. While there was a lot of back and forth between James and I to get this thing right, it was all in good spirit and I think the collaboration paid off in the end. More than anything, true credit goes to him for the edit. He really did an exceptional job there!

Lauren Lofberg and Scott Broadfoot.

One of my favourite things was when members of the PTA team would drop by set. James and Rachel always took it with a grain of salt when I told them that a lot of the content in the scripts was based on actual events and dialogue. There is a scene where Lachlan and I are punching each other in the abs. At one point Alex and Niccolo dropped by and mentioned to James that they actually did that after every workout. James was like, “Huh?!” I think by the end of it all, they had surrendered to the fact that nothing at this gym was too outrageous!

Beyond it’s humour, Academy is a series with several very important messages, none more so than following your dreams and achieving your goals. It’s about being the best version of yourself and learning to appreciate the support given by those around you, as well as the importance of family. These are things that have been shown to me throughout my time at Platinum Training Academy. Now, I can only hope to communicate them and spread these messages to a wider audience through the series.

Academy premiered in September last year at the Ritchie Theatre in Kensington. The team and I were overwhelmed by the turnout and humbled by the incredibly positive feedback we received. Anthony and his team were impressed by the series as well, so much so that they are asking for a season two! This was just the icing on the cake.

The thing that has impressed me most about the series is the impact it has had on everyone involved. A couple of our cast members have even taken up training since completing the series. Lauren has begun going to the gym regularly, and Anzjuli has taken up a keen interest in boxing, just to name a couple. Besides that, the team have really banded together and there is no doubt that lasting friendships have been formed. That, for me, is more a reward than anything else we could have hoped to achieve. We’ve worked hard, and we’ve played harder. Now we invite everyone else to join us and do the same by watching and enjoying our creation.

You can watch the full season of Academy here.

Like Academy on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/academyseries. Follow Academy on Instagram at @academyseries

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