Oral History: Behind the Scenes of Braintrust Productions

Nicky G. Bum Squad. Oh We Rollin. The following article is an oral history of the Braintrust Productions (a.k.a. Wootton XC videos) and their impact on all those involved over the memorable span of three years and six films.  Each section (with the exception of the conclusion) contains a YouTube link to the corresponding video.  Enjoy!

 

The rise of Braintrust Productions came from humble beginnings. In the fall of 2016, the first-ever Wootton XC video, a music video parody of Downtown by Macklemore titled Roundtown, was presented at the end-of-year banquet. It was the start of something even its creators could never have anticipated.

John Riker, Braintrust Member: “The roots of the video went back to when I was in seventh grade and I made a Star Wars-type video for my Contemporary Communications class. Through that I saw what movies could do and I had some experience making movies with my family, but nothing on the scale that it became. At the end of freshman year, I saw a music video by Amir Van Gieson’s older brother that was a parody of a song called “Versace” that they called “Cross Country”. I just thought it was something that we could build upon but also something that would be fun with the team. I didn’t even think of putting it in the banquet, I just wanted to do it with friends. It was very primitive, I planned it all out every night for a couple months, it definitely wasn’t the developmental process we have now. I thought of a bunch of people who might be open to doing it, and then I got them aboard.

Joe Pohoryles, Braintrust Member: I was down to do it from the start. I had a failed YouTube channel in seventh grade – it’s no longer there so you can’t find it – and TV studio also, so I had made videos for various reasons since middle school so having the opportunity to make one was another thing.

Connor Lawrence, Actor: I was like, “why not, let’s do it.” I was all aboard. I thought back to my freshman year, when a couple of guys did a parody of “Versace” by Drake. I thought back to that and I was like, oh, it’s gonna be like that, it’ll be cool to do that again.

Sage Kumar, Actress: “I didn’t really have any trepidations. I’ve known John for a while from AP NSL, so I was excited and ready for a fun time. I didn’t have super high expectations and I didn’t know what the movies would snowball into. I was just looking to have a good time with friends and make a nerdy running video.”

Connor: I remember it being pretty easy [filming the video]. John had it already planned out and just told me what to do.

John: I planned it out pretty closely and thought it went pretty well. I had to get all these clips from race footage or people at Churchill over the next couple months, so it took a long time to edit. When I finished, I thought it was pretty decent, but compared to what we have now…

Sage: Seeing it at the banquet, especially in retrospect with the quality of the videos I’ve seen since, it was rough, in one word. It was also really funny, just given the content and the singing and all of it. I definitely laughed very hard, maybe even cried a bit.

Connor: I’m not gonna lie, it was really funny but it was kind of embarrassing. I was like, “oh man, I’m such a bad singer.” But it was fun to make fun of myself and I knew everyone else was getting a kick out of it. I thought it was really funny.

Kevin Cho, Braintrust Member: I was indubitably geeked. When I saw it, I was like, “oh, this is legit, alright, Roundtown.” Then the “Downtown” beat started playing, and if I remember correctly, it was Connor Lawrence saying the first words of the song across the stadium and I heard the audio quality and I was like, “oh, we’re in for one.” I was so geeked, I couldn’t stop laughing, I enjoyed it a lot. I saw Nicky G and Sage on the bridge and I couldn’t distinguish between their voices. That just sent it over the top. A lot of the parts of the song were mad off beat, but it was hilarious and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was the best thing ever. The ninth grade cross country banquet had nothing like it. If we’re here for a bunch of hours, we might as well have some fun.

Matthew Klein, Actor: I would describe it as avant-garde – exceptional in a unique way.

Joe: I hadn’t even seen it yet, and it was so offbeat. The Nicky G and Sage part that really sent me. I was cringing the whole time, but that was mainly because I was in it. At the end of the day, everyone else was laughing whether with it or at it, so I think it did its job and entertained the team. My sister still sings the lyrics to me around the house.

John: I remember Benjamin’s dad coming up to me after the banquet and saying, “you and Joe, that was the whitest thing I’ve ever seen” and I said, “uh, thanks.” 

Sage: After “Roundtown”, at a Churchill dual [track] meet, people came up and recognized me, like “oh, you’re that girl from “Roundtown”!” I was like “no, that wasn’t me!” That was sort of funny.

Kevin: It was gripping, it was hilarious. The spirit that it captures is the aspect of these hard working runners, they put on that face for race, but when it comes to a music video, it’s fun and we’re hilarious. I think that’s what took people off guard. You can peer deeper into a team with stuff like that. That was something in all our videos.

JR Dedicatoria: My freshman year I didn’t do track or anything, so I wasn’t aware of the videos. Sophomore year for cross country I saw “Roundtown” and I thought it was pretty creative. I think I started talking to Meehir [Bhalla] and Tim [Jiang] because of it and they got me interested in track, so I started doing track that year.

John: It set the precedent of a video project and the theme of having fun together as a team and highlighting the camaraderie of the environment. Also, writing the lyrics later helped with “Oh We Rollin”. We could see what worked and what didn’t. 

Kevin: In Korea there’s this story about the first missionary in Korea on a boat. He landed from a boat, and they immediately started shooting arrows at him. They knew he was gonna die, so he started throwing Bibles out of the boat. Then one man picked up a Bible and he plastered the scriptures all over his home and it became the first church in Korea. In that same way that the man spread the seeds of Christianity, I think “Roundtown” was that martyr that died for the sake of the future.

Joe: It was something people enjoyed and wanted more of. If we had shown this video and people were just checking their watches, who knows if we would’ve done anything beyond this.

 

The idea for a team video translated to spring track. Joe Pohoryles teamed up with John to create The Rise, The Fall, and The Return of Nicky G, a sports documentary styled after ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.

Joe: I don’t think I had the specific thought [of making another video]. In fact, with some of the faces that were made to me while watching the first video and the comments I received, I’m sure at the time I thought, “this is terrible.” So I didn’t think this opens an opportunity, but when I thought of the idea for Nicky G, I thought back to “Roundtown” and thought, “maybe I can do this next time.”

John: I was on a road run when I heard the idea and I thought it could be a minute thing, but Joe said we could do it like a full thing. Once things started to fall into place, I was like, “oh, this could be pretty good.”

Joe: The 30 for 30 series on its own [was an inspiration], I had watched a lot of those documentaries and found them really interesting. More specifically, the CollegeHumor YouTube channel made two 30 for 30 spoofs, about Angels in the Outfield and Rocky IV, that portrayed these fictional events as if they were real. They brought on real sports commentators to come on and point out stuff and poking fun at it. It was pretty funny to see it taken seriously and as a monumental sports event. I was like, “what could we make into something bigger than it is and into a 30 for 30?” Well, everyone had been talking about Nicky G and his run at Coyote and when he broke his collarbone. Nick’s personality fit something we could build off of.

Nick Gracyalny, Actor: One of you guys [John or Joe] asked me to film something, and I forget what I said, but it was something that I didn’t know about it. Then James Barberis told me “hey, I watched your movie” and I was like “what, I have a movie?” And this is at a soccer game, too. I was like “oh, how long is it?” and he was like “nine minutes” and I was like “WHAT? Nine minutes of me?” I was so hyped to hear about it, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was about. I asked him what it was called and he told me the title and then I was super pumped. I knew it was something, but I didn’t know it was about me. I was only a sophomore at the time, so it was a big scare.

Joe: I remembered Omar’s speech from the cross country banquet, and I don’t remember what he said, but he spoke with such strong emotion and eloquence that it was like, “this guy could run for president and I’d vote for him.” I remember he had such a strong speaking voice and I thought he should be the one to narrate the video.

John: This goes back to the production quality, but Omar and I went to the boys’ locker room during lunch, I showed him the script, which he hadn’t seen before, and he just did one run through and it was so perfect that it was the one that we used. The one joke about shirtless female teammates, and I had to cut that a little bit because he laughed the first time he saw it. His voice was so authoritative, kind of Morgan Freeman-esque. He was a source of credibility and he enjoyed it, too.

Joe: I remember we were writing different things to say, and Matthew and Emma’s relationship was good for an inside joke, so I used that. At first, I was like, “Matthew Klein, everyone knows he’s dating Emma, so that would be something to talk up Nick, like, “oh, I’d let my girlfriend cheat with Nicky G.” But then I was like, “wait, what if he would cheat on his girlfriend with Nicky G.” 

Matthew: I’m an actor, so for me it was just about making sure the line got across. I don’t think I really ever thought about my presentation or anything. It was always about the film, always about the fans.

Nicky G: I was there filming for the interview, and I was like “oh, this is going to be the funniest video ever.” I laughed so hard.

Joe: My favorite part of the video was something we didn’t even write a script for. We just took him to the track and hit the record button and had him talk about the collarbone injury. It was just so authentically Nick, just talking, he portrayed himself and was one of the funniest scenes. We didn’t write it at all, it was purely him, which goes to show how great he was of a fit for this type of a video.

John: I think the format of the video made it work as a longer-length video. This was cut-to-cut-to-cut, people were willing to come in and do their lines. It was easy to edit, it wasn’t something we had to emphasize. Once we put a lot of the music in, the 30 for 30 theme and Rudy music, that helped cover up for any deficiencies. The characters, especially Nicky G, really carried the show.

Joe: Part of the format that benefitted us was that a lot was that people were talking directly to the camera, so we had lots of opportunities to write different types of jokes and material. It was a really good format to use for our first one because it was pretty clear cut. It was displayed in a clear timeline and I think that because it was so structurally set, it was simple enough for us to make our first longer video.

John: We had a premiere with all the guys in the grade because we were pretty close. We had it at Nick’s house and we had all the guys sitting on the couch, with Joe on the webcam viewing the reaction. We played it and they were jumping on every joke. I thought it was pretty good already, but this was really top-notch and did the subject justice.

Nicky G: I was super nervous about it at the banquet. And then after the video ended, I was dripping in sweat. I thought it was funny.

Matthew: I’m partial to Nicky G, I think it’s probably my favorite because it felt like really spot on, really nailed it. You kind of needed to get the jokes a little bit, but for those who did get it, I felt it was really good.

John: If we had done any sequel, this would’ve been the most tantalizing. There was the Rise, Fall and Return of Nicky G, but then the next two years of his high school experience were even crazier. He goes from the shortest kid on the team to the tallest and wins the County B Championships for the high jump. He definitely didn’t disappoint after his movie, but he was a big part of the videos after that.

Nicky G: Junior year, every single race I ran people would be like “oh, there’s Nicky G” and I’d be like “woah, people know me.” At counties, people were coming up to meet me. Three months ago, this neighbor moved in, and there’s one girl who is seven and another girl who is seventh grade, and somehow this seven-year-old was like “we’re moving next to Nicky G?” When my mom told me, I was like “what?” I still don’t know how she knew about it. She’s like seven.

Joe: The summer after the Nicky G video, I was working as a junior counselor at Sandy Hill [in northeast Maryland]. Essentially, there was another counselor there and he saw my name tag and that I was from Rockville. And he asked which school I went to and I said Wootton. I didn’t mention cross country or track, anything, other than the fact I went there. And the first question he asks me is, “do you know Nicky G?”

Nicky G: “I was trying to think of what to write [my college essay] and trying to think what to put into it, and I could just incorporate Crohn’s disease and say how it didn’t stop me and boom, here’s the proof, all my friends made a video [about it]. I basically explained the whole plot, like “after my freshman year I broke my collarbone” and stuff happened from here. Got me into VT!”

 

The biggest hit was yet to come. The creative team added a third member, Kevin Cho, who brought technical and musical experience to the table along with an idea for an original song and rap video, later titled Oh We Rollin.

Joe: We were at Concord Summer Camp, me, Meehir, Tim, and Mitchell, and the four of us were doing core. We were doing this exercise called V-ups and if you have a strong core and are stable enough, it’s a good exercise. We were kind of joking around because it was camp, and instead of crisp reps, we were rocking back and forth and trying to stabilize. Seeing each other rocking back and forth was obviously very funny and Mitchell Fanger made the comment, “oh we rollin!” There was no going back after that and it became an inside joke thing. It was on the back of our shirts and it became a mantra. It literally just stemmed from us joking around during a core exercise.

Kevin: I had seen “Roundtown” and that was around the time I started making beats on my computer, so I started making music and also shot videos and consequently watched a lot of rap videos growing up. I thought it would be fun to go back and master the cross country music video and give the people another hit, but this time in full glory, on beat with glowing 808s. I didn’t want us to make a parody. I was cool with a parody, but I wanted us to have something our own and original.

John: Kevin had the idea, and in late August I got to work on writing the lyrics. I got down the chorus. Kevin sent me the first beat and it matched up really well, but Kevin wanted to spend some more time on a good one. And then he sent me another one with a lot of things going on at once, but I loved the first one. We rolled with that beat and didn’t look back.

Joe: You can’t make too much of a judgment looking at the lyrics on their own, but then getting the beat behind it and going through it, I was like, “wow, I’m not even good, but it sounded much better than it really should have coming out of my mouth.” It fit well and like something I could really get behind.

Kevin: When I went to Tim’s house [to record the song], it was a scheduling miracle that everyone would be able to make it in the evening. I came just to record and press play because I had the music software. We recorded the chorus first and I was like, “this is hype, this is funny, and this is going well.” I was surprised and it was really fun, just a bunch of friends recording a rap song. Then the whole night we were waiting for Mitchell because we needed to have the dude who actually said “oh we rollin.” When we realized he wasn’t going to show up, I knew I could rap a little bit because I listen to hip hop and sing in the shower or whatever. Then the eyes started turning towards me and John was like, “Kevin, you’re at bat.” I remember I just took that joint two or three takes and people were like, “oh this is hot.” In retrospect, I’m happy that things happened the way it did.

John: Similar to how Omar gave credibility to Nicky G, Kevin’s verse made it more legit. It was something that gave it the wow factor.

Joe: Ours weren’t terrible, but his was good.

Nicky G: I remember I went to Tim’s house for [Oh We Rollin] and then I was like “wait, what, I’m singing? I thought I was just helping” but it turned out fine.

John: We pushed [filming] back late, all the way to November. We had the song, and it was really good, but we need the video. It all boiled down to this one day where it seemed like everybody could come. I generally thought some things out. I knew I wanted to be on a parking lot with a bunch of people and some little parts like the Patriot mascot I had in mind. But when we got there, from my perspective everything went wild. We hadn’t really talked about anything beforehand and a lot of it was adapted. We’d get a little bit here, a little bit there, it felt very disjointed. 

Joe: Everything was very on the spot. Let’s do this, let’s try this for this scene. It was all in the moment, not planned.

Kevin: I remember feeling discouraged because everyone was late and was trickling in, and we had limited time to get the shots in. It was near sunset and people had to go. Everything was in disarray, and I was like, “okay, how are we gonna get these shots in.” 

John: I remember coming away from that thinking, “we had no margin for error, that had to be our shoot, I don’t know how we’re gonna cover it up.” Nicky G had set such a high bar and I didn’t know if we could reach it. “Oh We Rollin” was a great song, but I think I kind of overestimated how much the video component would matter. We were able to add in a bunch of secondary video and Kevin’s camerawork, that stuff you don’t really see when you’re filming but looks really good later. It felt like the overall mood was, “oh man, it’s gonna take a miracle to pull this off.

John: Momentum shifted with the individual raps, that helped a lot. The emphasis was on getting places around the school that were running related. It was where Kevin was valuable with camera angles that gave the video energy and a dynamic feel. After that, I was like, “we might be able to pull this off.” We had all the clips, and it was just in Kevin’s court to finish in the last two days [before the banquet].

Kevin: I knew people would like it, but I had no idea that it would have reach outside of the school. The virality, it’s at 4,000 views right now. It’s ridiculous. “Oh We Rollin” keeps stacking.

Justin Wang, Actor: The first one [I saw] was “Oh We Rollin”. I didn’t expect it, I didn’t expect a cross country team to rap music videos. I thought it was really funny.

Sharwin Vyapuri, Northwest Athlete: “Oh We Rollin” was very catchy and it was a really funny video. Me and a couple of other guys on the track team had it stuck in our heads for a few days.

John: The thing that surprises me the most was not just that it was well-received, but that people keep going back. [Then-freshman] Peyton Eppard made a ten-hour video compilation of it. And team events and houses, people would have it on loop and would be singing it. Going into hallways and at meets, people from our team and other teams singing the lyrics.

Sage: It’s a bop, just a good song. This could make it on the charts! That was the start of something new, something changed.

Joe: I was surprised it got as popular as it did. I think the reason it did was it was an original song, so it was something that wasn’t a parody or anything, it was our own creation. It’s a song, which is catchier and easier to latch onto, a shorter video that people are more willing to click on YouTube. I think a combination of those things made it as popular as it was.

JR: “Oh We Rollin” honestly should be the Wootton theme song, it’s so well known throughout the county. It’s so well written and the beat was really good. I heard it on the morning announcements, I heard kids humming it in the hallway. It’s so funny because Nick usually drives, but once he rode the bus and all these freshmen and sophomores wanted to talk to him and said, “hey, Oh We Rollin!” and he was like, “is that all you have to talk to me about?” Nick is known from his own video and “Oh We Rollin” and that’s how he’s known around the county.

John: It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I went on a canal run with guys from Whitman and Churchill before the Nike Cross Regional that November and they were like, “we saw the video and we’re working on our own music video now.” Those didn’t materialize, but I could tell they were excited. What did materialize, unfortunately, was the Blair diss track [to the tune of Jingle Bells] that came out right around Christmas. A stark contrast in quality. When they have a diss track that calls you out by name, I think that’s a true measure of fame within the MoCo running community and validation that you did something worth dissing.” It only stayed up for a week.

Kevin: That was sooo funny.

Samantha Damonte, Actress: So I was a junior counselor at Sandy Hill in Northeast Maryland last summer, but the girl who came up to me lives in Ellicott City. I was like singing the song randomly and she joined in and started singing along, and I stopped and was like “where did she hear that” and she was like “oh, my friends all watched it on YouTube, we listen to it all the time.” And I was like “how, how is that possible?” 

Joe: I was approached at senior year regionals, almost a year after “Oh We Rollin” came out. I’m standing after regionals, getting my stuff together in my bag. Walking right up to me is a pack of guys from Wheaton High School’s cross country team, I guess they recognized me from the video. One of them is like, “oh, you’re from that Wootton music video, right?” and I’m like, “uh, yeah.” He’s like, “do you mind explaining this” and he plays the line “never cut corners even if the course is Wheaton.” And they’re like, “you got something to say?” So I explained to them that it’s Wheaton Regional Park, Blair’s home course, and I explained the whole serial killer thing and that it was a bad course and they were like, “ohh, cool, great video!” They weren’t mad at first, they were just wondering what was up, and then they were like “ohhh.” So even a year later, we had people talking about it.

 

With the unexpected success of Oh We Rollin, the group now known as Braintrust Productions had raised the bar and were now looking to expand their cinematic reach.

Joe: By that point, for sure [it had become a tradition]. At this point we almost had to follow it up. After the success “Oh We Rollin” had received, people were like, “what’s next?” And I was like, “let’s keep going.”

Kevin: [Bum Squad] was the first time where our planning followed people’s anticipation and not the other way around. We always had that first step on people until that point. The idea had always preceded people, but people now were asking us and we had to ask ourselves, “what’s next”

Joe: [Choosing the Bum Squad] was a combination of the character because they’re all very funny and charismatic guys, but I think parallel with how Braintrust wasn’t a thing at the beginning but over time became something an actual thing, the Bum Squad wasn’t a thing early on. They were there, they existed, but they didn’t have their own brand, for lack of a better term. They became more official over time, and observing that, I was like, “we gotta make a video about these guys, whatever the premise is.”

Kevin: Yes, [I was hesitant to let the Bum Squad lifestyle be exposed]. Going into that season, I kind of knew this was next up because of the growing presence and the jokes people were making. Avery [Tarwater] made a joke about it in the cross country talent show [the previous season]. There were way too many funny characters to exploit, it was an all-star cast. That joint was crazy. I knew it was going to happen, it was only a matter of time. So when I heard the idea of Bum Squad and that it would figure us and our daily habits, I was like, “shoot, we’re getting exposed.” But at the end, I was like, “yeah, it gotta happen, give the people what they want, it’s too funny to pass up.” Look what it has become.

JR: For Bum Squad specifically, I was kind of hesitant. I’m sure Coach knew about our bumminess, our sussness, I wasn’t sure if the rest of the team knew or if I wanted them to know. So I was a bit hesitant, but when the majority of our squad agreed to do it, I was like, “you know what, I’ll go ahead and do it.

John: Bum Squad was a rich idea with a lot of potential for humor, but one of the big influences for the movie was [Jordan Peele’s] Get Out. I had just seen that movie a couple weeks before, and I thought, “since they’re kind of against the rules, what if someone looks into them” and then Matthew Klein is the perfect person for that. He was larger than life.

Joe: Remembering the way he delivered his lines in Nicky G sold us on bringing Matthew in for a future role, along with his real-life personality. Those two combined to bring him up to the starring role in that video.

Matthew: Oh my gosh, I felt honored. It felt as if an honor had been bestowed upon me, like I had delivered that line in the previous year so well that I should deliver even more lines. Getting the opportunity to star in a production with all of my friends and teammates was great.

John: I did feel pressure, but not any from Oh We Rollin. After Roundtown, doing that for the banquet, we knew people would be expecting stuff. But the size of the project, and how we would have to film it, and having people need to act out things where we never had that before, that was daunting. Especially practice scenes, that was hard, but it paved the way for Keeping Up With Kross Kountry and 21 Wootton Parkway.

Joe: Just all of the writing sessions, more than any video, I was on a roll. I think that one was where for the three of us, getting the script together was the most fluid and set thing because we had so much to work with. It was so easy to put it all together.

Kevin: We used the things that were happening in real time. It was funny to imagine things from reality and then make it spiral out of control. We had a lot of fun with that. That plot was the most fluid thing to be written.

John: It was a relatively simple structure, with one instance of bum behavior, a second instance, kind of digging a deeper and deeper hole. At one of our brainstorming sessions, we were like, what if we have it turn really quickly and get really dark because that would be funny if the Bums are a secret society. Then we had the idea, “what if he joins the Bum Squad at the end” and it was too perfect. He’s such a good actor that he could play both sides.

Kevin: [The eating scene] was the first scene we filmed. That confirmed what I already knew. This was a hit. 

Matthew: I expected that working with the junior boys would be somewhat of a pain in the ass, and those expectations were met. I also expected it would be a lot of fun, and I had a great time. I recall being impatient, but I also recall laughing a lot and having a good time making the video. I had high expectations and I would say they were met.

JR: For Bum Squad, all the Bums had a pretty equivalent role. I thought it was cool working with my closest friends. It gave the actors more time to talk to the directors and work on the film together, so I thought that was pretty cool.

Sage: My favorite funny moment was probably the opening scene of the Bum Squad with the faceoff between Nicky G and Matthew. There’s no words exchanged, but the sound effects and the atmosphere, that was really well done. It was really simplistic, yet hilarious.

John: The banquet was a little hard because it was buffering at the beginning and I was like, “oh no,” we’d worked so hard and it was so good, that I didn’t want it to stop in the middle of a joke. But I think looking back, you don’t really remember any of that stuff. Other than Coach Redmond’s squat playing three times.

Kevin: Coach’s part got replayed like three times [due to buffering].

Joe: It all worked out in the end.

Matthew: Seeing myself on screen is frightening. Seeing myself on screen with my whole team is always even more exciting. My parents were there. I’m someone who wants to just make people laugh and it was such a well-made video that it did what it was supposed to do. I was certainly nervous with the first film with that line, but it was met with positivity, so I enjoyed it and was not stressed out. It was good fun.

JR: After the junior track banquet, Coach was like, “I hope you guys don’t do this to this extent.” And we were like, “oh no, of course not.”

Kevin: I was nervous about asking her for a summer training plan that year because I know Nick had already gotten the Bum Squad email back [asking whether he’d actually do the training]. That was pretty funny.

JR: End of junior year, there’s a bunch of rising juniors and they’re like, “oh, can we join Bum Squad?” and I said, “sure, just get slower.” This year, this freshman Josh Freedman came up to me and Tai in the hallway and said, “can I actually be in Bum Squad for your last year.” And then he didn’t do track, which was the ultimate Bum move. So he was like, “am I in the squad now” and we were like, “yeah.”

Matthew: My RA came up to me and told me “oh, I heard you’re a movie star.” And I was like “ha ha, what?” And he was like, “yeah, you were in this film about bums, a bum squad, with track people.” First of all, my RA was from the U.S. Virgin Islands, so how he found out about this I still don’t know. Like, “who on Earth told you this?” I guess I should take it as a compliment because I was recognized from 1,000 miles away. The movies have an international following.

Kevin: In any artist’s catalog, there’s the mainstream album with more pop value and charting value, and there’s sometimes the quieter album that doesn’t chart as well, but the artist still feels more proud of making this more introspective album. I think [Bum Squad] parallels to that in that I think the mainstream value, “Oh We Rollin” had more click value. I was like, “this is our new standard.” It didn’t take away when it didn’t have as many views, it only made sense.

 

For their final cross country season, Braintrust aimed to close their cross country careers with a bang.

Joe: “I remember we were trying to figure out what to do and we were aiming to reach different types of genres for each video. One that we hadn’t touched upon yet was reality TV, so I singled in on that. We hadn’t tried that before.

Kevin: It didn’t make sense as much as Bum Squad, but again, what would? We took it in stride, and that season was really busy for us too. It was like, “alright, let’s materialize that as soon as possible.” I think it was good.

John: The genre lended itself to being more of an as-things-happen, rather than an actual plot. It wasn’t as hard to do or think about, especially because we had college apps. It fit well for the time period, but it was still very funny and this was one where the acting performances went a long way.

Joe: For the postseason skit, we could do impressions of the coaches. Sage and I were assigned as partners, and we opted for the coach impressions. We were like, “well, we could just have Sage be Coach Redmond and Joe be Coach Buxton, but it would be funny the other way around,” so we went with that. We went the whole nine yards with the costume, I borrowed a wig from Sage’s friend, the exact same color. It went really well, and it won the competition of all the people. That impression, having that precedent, helped later.

Nicky G: I love Joe’s impersonation of Kellie.

Sage: I think for freshman and sophomore year, I wasn’t super close to everyone because it was mostly guys. Junior and senior year, the films that we did, it was really fun, the back and forth between everyone after lines. Especially senior year, a lot of my close friends like Dimagi and Zach were in them too. It’s gotten progressively more fun.

Kevin: I think we could’ve done a better job stylizing it and looking into great reality TV shows and putting those in it. But to be honest, we didn’t have enough time. Between the three of us, to make it happen with college applications and people being busy, it was hard. It happened as it needed to happen, and our seven-hour editing session where we knocked it all out, that helped with [21 Wootton Parkway].

Joe: If there was any one of the videos I could redo if we had the opportunity, that is the one I’d choose. It had some good things in there and the spag din scene was great, but I’m not sure if it really fit the reality TV style as well as we could have. It was still good and entertaining and it didn’t disappoint.

 

At last, there was one project left for the Braintrust. This one would be the most ambitious one yet.

Joe: I did not want to do a sequel at all of anything. I knew we were very proud of the Bum Squad idea and it turned out very well, but I didn’t think it needed to be added to and I didn’t want them to be pitted against each other. I wanted to bring something fresh for our last video.

John: This one, it took a really long time to come up with an idea because 1) it was our last one and 2) we had used a lot of stuff, like the Bum Squad and different things with cross country and 3) needing a whole new genre. The first one that popped up was Joe’s Track Jeopardy idea, and then I just sat down and came up with a bunch of ideas. There were some I didn’t think too much about, but ultimately it came down to an action one based of 21 Jump Street and we toyed around with some type of heist, which could’ve also reached our goal of incorporating sprinting. We wanted something light and summery, but also something with a sense of finality. The biggest appeal of the 21 Jump Street idea is that a lot of the plot could be driven by the character dynamic between Kayla and JR, kind of like a buddy cop film. We had some action stuff before, but this genre of fights, it would be a big undertaking but fun to watch.

Kevin: We had deliberated since Valentine’s Day and sifting through ideas and nothing really jumped out at first like the other ones had. This one was up in the air between like, five different things. The beautiful thing was that we spent enough time with it so that as we went along, we built on an idea that wasn’t the clear outstanding idea and developed it ground up. Even if it was unclear at the beginning, it turned out to be the best it could be.

Joe: We knew we wanted a sprinter to be one of the leads. We picked JR to be [the other] lead because he had been a star in other things and fit the buddy-cop complex as the funny guy. Once we pegged him as one of the two people, we knew we wanted a sprinter and I knew Kayla very well and she was willing to do it and would give the amount of effort needed to thrive in the role. It ended up being a really good fit after assessing those roles and figuring out how to have them portrayed.

JR: When Kevin informed me about the basic plot, I was really excited. I was expecting another action film similar to Bum Squad, but I liked the fight scenes and the camera work – it was much better this year. My expectations were that it would be like Bum Squad and it was better than Bum Squad, so it surpassed my expectations.

Kayla Hill, Actress: I remember before our senior season I had talked to Joe about it, and I was like, “if you don’t include sprinters, I’m actually gonna be made at you.” Then when he texted me that they would choose me to do it, I was obviously very excited. It wasn’t a big deal that [sprinters] hadn’t been included because it was kind of [distance’s] thing, but for me to be the person and I knew it would be a fun experience because it was always something I wanted to be a part of.

John: One of the biggest things going into this video was handing off to the next generation. I thought it was cool to include the freshmen because this is something they can look back on seniors and see what it was like back then. I knew some of the freshmen and knew that some were pretty good actors and had the sense of innocence and we could incorporate some of the outrageousness for the plot that was in Bum Squad.

Joe: Including them set it up for future videos, because now that they’ve been a part of it, their grade is the most collectively interested in continuing it. They had missed everything before that having it come out live, but there’s that want to experience that on their own, their own time.

Justin: [Being a villain] wasn’t something I’d normally see myself as doing, so it was interesting to act as a role that I wouldn’t think of myself as. It was fun getting to act creepy and evil.

John: We started production in mid-May and we went right up to the banquet. For me, it was super stressful. I was more worried about getting in all the shoots the last two weeks than actual track and field. It was so hard trying to figure out how to schedule everybody and how to do it well with good quality.

Joe: Because of our previous projects, we were able to handle this time doing a project of this scale. In a way, this was difficult, but that had to do with the time constraints and the cast being less willing to participate in some instances. We were obviously able to pull it off well, but we wouldn’t have been able to pull it off in any previous year, at least as well.

Kevin: I knew what I was stepping into, it would be a longer project. It didn’t scare me. The filming was all over the place because there were so many shots we had to get in. We had to meet at the RIO parking lot at 9:30, that was one of the more obscure shooting places and times that we did. There were a lot of unexpected curveballs, but in the end it was more fulfilling, all the vast ground we covered, in this one.

John: I knew Kevin wasn’t going to be able to be there, and he was the camera whiz, but I knew a little bit about using cameras. Between Joe and I, I knew it would have to be the biggest display of teamwork we’d ever had, track or cross country or filming. We’d have to be on the same page and get it good enough quality to sell this movie, because this scene’s gonna make or break it. 

Joe: It was very surreal, mainly because it was my house and there were all these people. We did our best to coordinate what we wanted, but there was still deliberation and we were trying to get everything in and right. To the actors’ credit, they were all very cooperative and very patient, so I’m thankful for that.

John: Everything went as well as it could’ve. People were generous with their time and were willing to do whatever they needed to do, even if it was getting punched by Keith 10 times.

Justin: I had a good time. It was with a bunch of kids on the team, and we didn’t have a spaghetti dinner the whole [track] season, so I thought it was nice, even a fake spaghetti dinner. It was nice to see a lot of people outside of practice and it was fun to be goofy with everyone and pretend to die and do silly things.

JR: [Learning fight moves] was pretty cool. Honestly, it was basic choreography but it was pretty good with the sound effects and getting people on the same page for different actions, different facial expressions. I thought it would be more difficult than it was, but it was pretty cool seeing the end result.

Kayla: [The fighting] was obviously the most fun part of filming, putting everything together and seeing how it turned out. When you edit it and put it all together, it looks so much better, but filming it… I can’t even put it into words. Watching Keith punch Aidan over and over again, it was so funny. I had a really good time.

Kayla: When [Joe, John, and Kevin] were editing it and watching Kevin put everything together, I didn’t realize how much time it took, changing the audio and stuff. It impressed me so much that a group of kids that I go to school with can make something so high quality.

Joe: That was the most deadline-type editing process.

Kevin: We edited until 2:30 AM on graduation night. The day we graduated high school.

Joe: And then we went the next morning at 10 AM, went until 3 PM at John’s house right up until the buzzer. We were going for so long, so many consecutive hours. It was a very interesting time. So many hours. We spent a day and a half on editing. Insane.

John: It showed how much passion we had for it, we couldn’t stop ourselves even until 2:30 AM. That doesn’t happen if it feels like an obligation you have to do.

Kevin: But once you show it at the banquet, that’s all we remember.

Kayla: I usually, when I see myself on screen, am embarrassed, but knowing how much work went into it, I was super excited. I told my dad, “oh, I have a surprise at banquet for you, you’ll be so excited.” Everyone else, all of the sprinters on the team, were so excited for me because it was the first time a sprinter was really involved in it. I was excited to see how everything turned out because I knew everything took a while, so seeing it all together was amazing.

JR: Three or four days after 21 Wootton Parkway aired on YouTube, I was at the mall or the movies and a bunch of Asian kids came up to me and they were a year or two younger. They were like, “oh, are you the Wootton guy?” and I was like, “yeah, I go to Wootton.” And they’re like, “we saw your video, it’s so funny,” and I was like “thanks, which one?” They had just seen Bum Squad actually, so I had to inform them that we had two videos with me in it. They went to WJ, and they’re like, “we have a little squad, but we never tell our coaches.” Around the school, there are a bunch of freshmen and sophomores that know me. On Instagram I got 30 or 40 freshman followers all of a sudden and I was like, “dang, okay.” In the hallway, some random freshman was like, “hey, Bum Squad!” and I was like, “is this something to be proud of”, but yeah, it’s legendary. 

 

Three years and six films later, the Wootton XC videos have become ingrained in the culture and history of the Wootton cross country and track teams. The experiences working on and watching the films have been some that those involved will never forget.

Joe: This started out as little videos for the team, and the target audience has been for the team. I never thought it would resonate with other teams. Even Oh We Rollin, that was the most popular video outside of the Wootton circle, I figured it wouldn’t resonate with other people. It’s much wider than I ever imagined it could. It’s crazy that it’s making such an impact, and I never imagined it.

Samantha: Everytime we watched them at banquet, I was in tears from laughing. I just wanted to be a part of it, because it’s a way to document our time on the team but in a funny way, and one that people in Ellicott City can see also.

Kevin: I don’t know the names of any of the guys that I run with [in meets], but the fact that they can be watching the videos that we make and enjoy them and feel a sense of team spirit or camaraderie, that is crazy to me. It’s about bringing out people’s strong emotions and reactions.

Sharwin: I first found the Wootton XC videos when I was looking for my regionals race on Google. I was trying to get to Milesplit Maryland but stumbled upon Wootton XC instead. Then I was just scrolling through and I found all the funny videos and they were so creative and well made. I liked them a lot.

Matthew: It gave me one extra thing to look back very fondly on from my experience because I got to work with tons of people. You know I got to work with some of my close friends, I got to work with some people that I didn’t know very well that I got to know a lot better. I think more than anything, it was just fun, a fun experience.

Connor: The movies have definitely impacted my high school experience, because I remember looking towards the end of the season, we’d be like, “what is the new video going to be.” Even after high school, we would hear about new videos and watch them. I remember watching the Keeping Up with Kross Kountry and absolutely dying, it was so funny. It was a really cool, positive part of my high school experience.

Sage: People especially this year, now that it’s become a yearly thing, people will be like “cross country’s so fun, you’re making all these videos” and “I don’t know anything about running, but I love watching them.” I don’t make them, I say like ten seconds of dialogue, but it’s still funny. For running, it’s always something to look forward to at the end of the season.

Kayla: “[The movies] just always gave me something to look forward to at the end of the season. I know that once the season starts winding down, it’s just the varsity kids. I’m always excited for banquet, knowing there’s a new movie this year and being excited for what’s put together. It wraps stuff together in a good way and something to always remember the season by.

John: My dad knows the kids on the team by their lines in the Nicky G movie and not by their actual names.

Sage: I’m sure for everyone it’s pretty nostalgic, you get to look back at what was happening every season. And it’s not just watching all the awesome running videos from Mrs. Bock, but also seeing all these parts of the team and all these individuals that spice up the year is really special. And you also get to see people change a lot, like their appearance and mannerisms. It’s nice to reflect.

Joe: In one sense, we don’t have to rewatch them because we know them so well already, but at the same time I think it is nice to rewatch them every once in a while because we watch scenes that everyone else sees but they conjure up memories of the production that you don’t see [on the screen]. Like, “oh, I remember that Tai was reluctant to sit on that swing.” I wouldn’t say the content of the videos is the reason, but it allows us to tap back to the memories of what we can’t see on the screen.

Nicky G: My mom still watches it all the time. Every once in awhile I hear the opening sounds [of the 30 for 30 theme] coming from her phone, the “DUH-DUH, DUH-DUH-NUH-NUH” and I’m like “oh, no.”

One of the most surprising aspects of the films is the diversity in favorites. Of those interviewed for this article, four interviewees chose 21 Wootton Parkway, three chose Oh We Rollin, three chose Bum Squad, and one chose Nicky G. 

Joe: Some people favor different types of genres or maybe think some are too personal, that you have to know the guys to love it. Either way, it’s good that each of them can resonate well with at least a type of person, whether they’re on the team or not. That’s an important reason behind doing all the types of videos, that we’re offering something new and more options for people to get behind.

The videos have left their stamp on Wootton XC, and on the people themselves.

Kevin: At the core of it, it’s just us having fun and doing the absolute most. Who the hell makes a beat and raps about cross country, and then doesn’t stop there, getting the visuals and the race footage, we get the Joopins on. There’s just something about it that cannot be replicated, even if you tried, it just came so in stride and so natural to us and so uniquely to us, so that at the heart of it, it’s Wootton cross country. It’s definitely the byproduct of Wootton Cross Country. Watching the films and reading this film anthology, the reader and viewer should realize and recognize that Wootton XC has such a unique culture.

Justin: It’s definitely [something I’d want to continue]. It makes the season more fun. It’s funny and enjoyable for everyone on the team and a good way to end the banquet and the season. It’s kind of a tradition now, so it would be kind of sad if it just stopped after having videos for the past couple years. They’re always really good and fun to watch.

Joe: I think the fact is that at the end of the day, these videos aren’t really that deep. It’s just us putting on a good quality video for the enjoyment of the team and at the same time, the fact that something that simple, not to say that it had this massive impact or anything, but the fact that it turned into what it became and the different directions it spread from what it started as, the fact that we made this possible is one of the biggest takeaways. That something that simple can resonate in a much bigger sense for other people. It was also really fun working, not only with entertaining the team, but entertaining ourselves. It was so much fun to do.

John: I think in society, a lot of it is stick to the path and the status quo. I think what has been so tantalizing about these videos is the “can” or the potential of what we could do. As we did each video, we were pushing the limits but then being able to sit back and see. Also, a big part of it is richness, so many things that were a part of it. You might think it’s just a video, a pretty straightforward thing, but it encompasses so much and means so much to so many people and definitely a lot to me. This is something I’m going to look back on as a cool time capsule back to a golden era. Not just the highlights, but the ins and outs and the laughs, it’ll endure over time.

 

 

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