1 Way Teresa Lee Discovered Hidden Talent for 'Mr. Student Body'

Photo Source: Courtesy of Mr. Student Body Production

Young President Bartlett wannabes found their project in Ryan Hunter’s “Mr. Student Body,” a “West Wing”-esque 10-minute short set in a high school. Scheduled to air in October on the Poykpak YouTube Channel, “Mr. Student Body” is part of a bigger project for New Form, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s new digital initiative with Discovery Studios. Producer Teresa Lee says, “Right now we’re just trying to focus on getting the best possible short film out there and treating this like the project in and of itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to become something bigger.” Having used Backstage to cast, Lee offers some advice to subscribers: “Always go for things, because you never who is involved or if it’s going to lead to something. Even if you don’t get something, someone might see you and think of you for something else.”

The short, starring Nicholas Barasch, Jenn Lyon, Emma Meyerson, and Zack Palomo, is a comedy revolving around the politics of student government. Lee and the creative team wanted to treat the situation as seriously as possible to create the comedic element of the short. “So the characters aren’t self-aware and [are] acting as if this is actually the United States government and a mascot getting kidnapped is equal to an act of terrorism,” says Lee. “I think that also adds to the comedy when you see a 15-year-old student body president acting like he’s very self-important and treating it like it’s the biggest job he’s ever had, because it is.” Mastering the pacing of the dialogue also played heavily into casting. “There were good actors that couldn’t get that ‘West Wing’ pacing down and we really wanted that, to have Aaron Sorkin-like dialogue.”

An acting and producing veteran of Upright Citizens Brigade, Lee says she typically has at least five actors in mind when she’s casting something. However, this project was a little different because they were looking for teenagers. One challenge was the feeling that they were starting from scratch because Lee didn’t have a catalog of teenage actors in her head. “It would be kind of weird if I did,” she laughs. “What is great about Backstage is stumbling upon hidden talent. Finding someone you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to see.”

By listing only the three main roles, Lee was able to filter talent from that pool into other roles. “We filled out the world with a lot of committee members, his advisors, people who were around the school, minor characters, but all very important.” Besides a few token adult characters, like the principal and vice principal, all the roles were for teens—and authenticity in casting that world mattered. “We didn’t want it to feel like a CW show where you have people in their late 20s acting like they’re 16,” Lee says. So they aimed for real high school students and ended up casting all three leads with actual high school actors.