The trailer of James Franco's new web-series "Undergrads" sent waves of anger through the USC community following its release last week, but the show's production company says the aim was never to attack USC.
Vince Jolivette, Franco's producing partner and the show's executive producer, said the production company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, "had no idea that [the trailer] would have this type of backlash" and that the show's intention didn't come through in the trailer, which has been removed from Franco's website.
"The show is intended to be a narrative, slice-of-life look at undergraduate life," Jolivette said. "It's not a reality show and it's not just about USC."
Though the trailer depicted the bacchanalian revelry of a group of USC students in the Greek system, Jolivette and cast member Evan Paley, 23, who graduated from USC last May, said the trailer was a misrepresentation of the show's scope and purpose.
"[Franco] didn't mastermind something to trash USC, though the trailer may have been cut that way," said Paley, who was shown in the trailer chugging vodka from a bottle and chasing with high-fives.
The show, which debuts next Thursday on Franco's website, will include footage from schools all over the country and doesn't just focus on partying, but the overall college experience, Jolivette said.
"We felt that as entertainers that [the trailer] might hook in audiences better than footage of someone studying, which we have a lot of," Jolivette said. "We never mention the name of the college because we didn't want a backlash like the one we got [from USC].”
The trailer's focus on the USC party scene, whether it was intended or not, did not go unnoticed by the USC community. The administration and many students have come out against the series, citing it as an unfair representation of the university.
"The scenes in the series trailer could have been filmed on many college campuses," Michael L. Jackson, vice president for Student Affairs, said in a statement released Thursday. “More accurately representative of USC are the students who provide hundreds of hours in community service, who rank among the country’s most academically and artistically gifted, and who value diversity in cultures, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds among their peers.”
Though the administration’s reaction is somewhat expected—they haven't hesitated to punish fraternities and sororities following other public instances of lewd behavior—many students have also expressed discontent with the trailer.
"[Franco's] careless attempt to entertain the masses belittles the hard work and dedication of USC students, the majority of which are not even remotely captured in Franco's vision," said undeclared sophomore Aria Mahboubi. "He selectively crafts his documentary to achieve his very specific purpose of controversial entertainment, but USC's real story is left sitting on the cutting room floor."
This 'real story' includes the challenging academics the university has worked hard to enhance in recent years, and the diversity present on campus, Mahboubi said.
The mean GPA of admitted freshman and percentage of international students has steadily increased over the past several years, and acceptance has become more competitive, according to USC Office of Admission records.
And USC is among the nation’s most diverse universities, according to U.S. News and World Report rankings.
To Paley, however, the partying scenes shown in the trailer are nothing to be ashamed of and are just as important to USC's identity as their climbing academic rank.
"One of the things that makes USC USC is its incredible social environment," Paley said. "At USC, we work hard and play hard."
The "Undergrads" trailer completes a trifecta of viral internet content in the past year that have helped brand USC with the "party school" stereotype recent university presidents have tried to eradicate. An email crassly describing women circulated by fraternity members and a rooftop sexual encounter caught on camera in broad daylight were the previous two.
*Disclaimer: Phoebe Unterman, the journalist assigned to this story, is a USC student.