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South Florida group puts out ‘Artistically Challenged’ Instagram video series

 

cclark@MiamiHerald.com

Miami native and former Key West High School valedictorian Jeremy Boros went to college in New York for acting, and now he is getting his 15 seconds of fame.

While walking in Manhattan, he was recognized by a random guy in his 30s who said: “Hey, aren’t you the guy from Instagram?”

Boros, 24, is the lead actor, as well as co-writer and co-producer, of a Web series called Artistically Challenged. Created specifically for Instagram’s year-old video-sharing platform, it’s an adventure comedy about a young artist living in the Big Apple who struggles with failure. His life changes following a tiny fib about a $20 painting purchased on the street from a teenager, who also was hustling his mother’s Pepto-Bismol and laundry detergent. It leads to overnight stardom — and big trouble — in the snooty art world.

It’s also a pioneering series. Each of the 32 episodes in Season One is exactly 15 seconds long. That’s the maximum length allowed for videos by Instagram — which began as an online, mobile, photo-sharing service that became so popular it was gobbled up by Facebook for $1 billion.

“It was an experiment with us,” said Boros, who created Artistically Challenged with fellow New York University alumni Aleks Arcabascio and Samuel Delmara. “Up until the editing process, we didn’t know if it would work.”

The trio already had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to do a series for Vine, another video-sharing service with a maximum video length of only six seconds.

While a 15-second format also presented huge challenges, Boros, Arcabascio and Delmara were able to create entertaining episodes with a beginning, middle and abrupt cliffhanger endings that leave the viewer laughing and wanting to know what happens next.

Boros chuckled as he explained that the inspiration for Artistically Challenged came partly from an art quiz that was going around the Internet. A person chooses whether a painting is “Modern Art” or “Toddler Art.” “We all took it and got something like 70 percent wrong,” Boros said.

The trio wanted a visual subject with interesting characters for the series. They agreed that a parody of the high-end art world of New York would fit the bill.

July 1, the first seven episodes were released. Beginning July 7, one new episode was posted daily, until the season finale on July 31.

It’s not the first such series on Instagram. In May, a series about satellite radio interns called The Halls was posted on the official Instagram account of XM’s The Ron & Fez Show.

Two months earlier than The Halls, a 22-minute episode of the animated TV series Rick and Morty, which airs on the Cartoon Network , was cut into 109 bite-size chunks so the whole thing could be squeezed onto Instagram.

But The Halls is amateurish in storyline and production compared to Artistically Challenged. The Rick and Morty program was not created to be watched in short chunks of 15 seconds, and it shows.

At the start, plenty of critics panned the concept of Artistically Challenged. But in one reply to critical comments, Arcabascio wrote: “Keep an open mind. If you enjoy it, you’ve got a new show to make you laugh every time you are bored on an escalator.”

Now, the trio is mostly being praised for a well-produced, well-acted and funny series that was shot over two weeks on a budget of $3,000. “We each kicked in $1,000,” Boros said.

“Somebody thought we were a secret advertisement for Instagram, but we’re not,” Arcabascio added. “We’ve not heard from them directly.”

An Instagram spokesperson declined to comment about this use of its video-sharing platform, saying the company prefers to keep the focus on the “story community.” But the spokesperson did say that the 15-second limit was created because “Instagram is about capturing moments. We believe the constraints in place help create compelling and simple videos for everyone to consume in a mobile setting.”

Artistically Challenged is compelling, and it’s definitely not a simple video. Boros and his friends say it was quite the production. The series featured about 15 core characters and 15 extras. Most auditioned, but none got paid.

It was shot with a volunteer crew using mostly borrowed camera equipment at more than 20 locations around New York City, including a Soho art gallery, a marina, a pizza parlor, a dentist’s office and a jail cell in a once-abandoned Manhattan post office.

“I watched the first couple of episodes and wondered: ‘What on earth was this silly thing?’ ” said Jill Dillingham, who taught chorus and drama to Boros at a Keys middle school and now owns the Amelia Musical Playhouse.

But the episodes were intriguing, leading Dillingham and several of her front-of-the-house employees gathered in the box office to binge-watch the entire series — which takes less than eight minutes.

“It was not goofy,” Dillingham said. “Each [episode] had its own punch, its own laugh. They created characters and really moved the plot along. I was amazed how slick it was, how professional. But I’m not surprised. Jeremy had a very, very smart, mature sense of humor at a young age.”

The series begins with Boros’ character, Nick the young artist, sitting in a jail cell with a bandage on his head and drawing a transvestite while opera music plays in the background. It ends with Nick on the phone, getting hung up on after saying he can’t post bail.

The trio couldn’t find an affordable jail cell to use for filming and were considering building one in the basement of Boros’ apartment building, but at the 11th hour they learned about a holding cell that NBC built in the abandoned post office for its show The Blacklist.

“It was like a creepy mental hospital,” Boros said. They paid $200 for the use of the cell, the only location that cost them anything.

After a slew of rejections from several galleries, the trio got permission to film at the prestigious Martin Lawrence Gallery SoHo on West Broadway. While they were setting up the cameras, lights and characters, Arcabascio said they wanted to get a little more color in the shot and asked the gallery manager if was possible to move artwork into the background.

“He said to follow him into the back room,” Arcabascio said. “There was one we picked with some yellow and red, abstract, and great to have in the shot because it was bright and colorful but not distracting.”

Turns out it was a Picasso worth about $300,000. “Clearly, I said I would pick a cheaper one,” Arcabascio said. “But the gallery manager plucked it right off the wall and brought it onto our set and put it up. . . We were blown away by that generosity.”

The series has a slew of memorable characters, including a deranged art collector who lives on a yacht and looks like he could be an old pirate. There’s also a female gallery owner with henchmen and an angelic-looking blond who kidnaps Nick, ties him with rope and forces him to swallow a drink laced with a hallucinogenic.

While the series can be watched on the Internet, Delmara said a lot of effort went into making the series look good where it will be viewed most, on a phone, with a square format.

“A lot of critics say it’s not the future of storytelling, and it’s probably not,” Delmara said. “But we never wanted to make that claim. It’s one of many ways to tell a story.”

Both Arabascio and Delmara said Boros was able to completely capture the character of Nick, who was almost tragically driven to be an artist and became blinded to logic.

“Jeremy was a great comedic actor, believable even as a child,” Dillingham said. “He was one kid I knew would do something in entertainment. He always wanted to play ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ He could do improv when he was in sixth grade.”

Boros moved to Key West in 1999, at age 10, after his parents divorced. He was having a difficult time making friends, so he would come home and watch his favorite movie, Hook, played by his favorite actor, Dustin Hoffman. Boros said he figured that a great way to make friends and play his dream role was to direct a play based on Hook. He wrote a script with his “fourth-grade vocabulary” and even wrote to Columbia Pictures to try to get the rights.

Boros spent nine years with Keys Kids, during which he played sloppy Oscar in a production of The Odd Couple, the evil Captain Hook in the musical Peter Pan, Elvis in the ’50s musical Ducktails & Bobbysox and Dandy Dan in Bugsy Malone.

While Boros pays most of his current bills with tips earned as a waiter, he has compiled a long acting, writing and production résumé since high school. It includes credits in the award-winning short film Suriname Gold (2014) and Esau (2012). He currently is working on several projects, including a feature film about Cuban emigrants with a Key West production company.

“He can sing, too,” Dillingham said. “The sky really is the limit for this kid, although he really isn’t a kid anymore.”

Boros said he is planning a “life change,” and is moving to Los Angeles to seek more film and TV projects. He also wants to get back in touch with nature, with more sunshine and space. “All the things I miss about Florida,” he said. And he hopes to make a decent living — and maybe one day work on a project with Dustin Hoffman.

But he also hopes his future projects will include a Season Two of Artistically Challenged, even though it’s not a moneymaking format. Said Boros: “We had so much fun making the first season.”

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