Original cast of BYUtv’s ‘Studio C’ asked fans to fund new work. Here’s what $1 million bought. – Salt Lake Tribune

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Fan reaction to the first season of “Freelancers” — an online comedy about friends starting a video production company with virtually no money — delighted the actors who made it on a real-life shoestring budget.

Season 1′s eight episodes racked up 7 million views after it debuted on YouTube in March 2019, featuring alums from BYUtv’s popular sketch-comedy show, “Studio C,” who had gone on to create JK! Studios.

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the group was making videos from home, members received “so many comments” asking for more “Freelancers” episodes, said Executive Producer Natalie Madsen.

While Season 2 debuted this month, and a new episode is being released each week until mid-December, the group did more than just pick up the project again.

JK! Studios raised more than $1 million in funding, after partnering last year with Provo-based Angel Studios to crowdfund for the second season. “This is the first time we really reached out to our fan base and said, ‘Hey, do you want to invest in the show and help us make it?’ and they did,” Madsen said.

“If anything goes on the internet and it gets a good amount of views, it’s always a surprise, because there’s just so much to watch,” Madsen said. “[So] to have people get excited about something you make really is so humbling and exciting.”

Thanks to the much larger budget, she said, Season 2 features longer episodes (18 to 25 minutes each, compared to Season 1′s nine to 20 minutes each), better production quality, more characters and even a musical episode coming up in December.

“We just really wanted to level up in all ways,” Madsen said. “And I really think we did.”

The shift in Season 2

The group’s “Studio C” sketches soared online; at the time the actors left to start JK! Studios, the show’s YouTube channel had nearly 2 million subscribers and more than a billion total views. One sketch alone — featuring Matthew Meese, who plays cameraman Ryan on “Freelancers” — had been viewed more than 62 million times.

But JK! Studios now hopes its audience will move away from YouTube and download the Angel Studios app to see its new work.

Angel Studios was previously known as VidAngel, which was sued by Hollywood’s studios for its practice of filtering nudity, violence and profanity from movies. The legal battle, which ended last year, resulted in VidAngel agreeing to pay Disney and Warner Bros. $9.9 million in installments over the next 14 years.

JK! Studios, which launched in January 2019, focuses on making family-friendly comedy. Before the first episode of “Freelancers” Season 2, which is available on YouTube, Madsen assures fans, “we love our YouTube community,” and says the team “wanted to put episode one on YouTube.”

Then she cautions: “But you can’t always count on full episodes being on YouTube.”

She and Stacey Harkey, who plays sound mixer Micah on “Freelancers,” then urge fans to download Angel Studios’ app to see full episodes as early as possible, as well as fan experiences, merchandise and other extras. (Season 1 is available both on the app and on YouTube.)

Comedy for everyone

“Freelancers” was created by former “Studio C” cast member Mallory Everton and is co-produced by JK! Studios.

“It’s very meta, because we’re all best friends trying to make [videos],” Madsen said. “In a very roundabout way, it’s definitely based on us and how we work together.”

The show follows editor Devin (played by Everton), cameraman Ryan, sound mixer Micah, producer Arizona (Whitney Call) and director Owen (Stephen Meek) as they try to get their video production company off the ground.

In Season 1, they stumble from one bungled gig to the next, dealing with everything from nosy neighbors and former bosses to a psychic medium’s curse and Arizona’s short-lived relationship with a chainsaw killer (seriously, it’s a thing).

The show’s comedy is grounded in the struggles of video production (difficult clients, the power going out while they’re on deadline), but never becomes so niche-specific that the average viewer can’t appreciate it.

“Freelancers” also draws heavily from common life experiences. For instance, anyone who’s ever dealt with the ups and downs of dating apps will appreciate episodes four and five of Season 1.

And true to JK! Studios’ brand, the show is completely clean. “Our brand of comedy is, we want to be inclusive, we want to be welcoming,” Madsen said. “It’s so exciting to us to think that a 10-year-old and his grandma can both be laughing at the same show.”

The show’s future will depend on how the current season goes, Madsen said, but they’d like to keep making “Freelancers.”

For the moment, though, “My hope and dream is that over Thanksgiving, over Christmas, families cuddle up together and binge watch the [show] and laugh a lot,” she said. “Because it’s so weird and so funny, and I’m super proud of it.”

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