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Freshman to star in reality show

Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, September 21, 2005

He walks the Notre Dame campus just like any other student, proudly sports his Notre Dame apparel and plays interhall soccer for Morrissey. But, unlike other students, he carries around a video camera and is soon to be a small-screen star.

Conor Kelly is one of six college freshmen participating in a new online reality show for AOL’s RED service for teenagers. Project Freshman features short episodes filmed by each freshman documenting college life, including Real World-style film confessionals.

Kelly was one of “about two dozen” incoming freshmen to receive an e-mail from Notre Dame’s Office of News and Information this summer offering him the chance to apply for the spot, assistant director of admissions Bob Mundy said.

Although he said it’s never been his “lifelong dream” to be in a reality show, Kelly was very interested in the opportunity and sent in the required online application and video.

“It’s a different type of reality show,” Kelly said. “It’s not TV, where they make up situations for you. I was really thrilled about the opportunity. Basically, I get paid to do everything I was going to do here.”

Kelly receives $200 a week for 16 weeks to shoot about an hour and a half of footage based on a list of topics given to him by his producer.

“I talk to my producer about what’s going on here for me, and then whatever we’ve talked about, he types up a list,” said Kelly, who was asked last weekend to get footage of himself getting ready for the football game, then cheering and doing pushups. He said he is often asked for sound bytes and study footage.

“What it really entails is for me to talk to the camera,” Kelly said. “That’s the crux of it for us.”

Although the program’s press release describes Project Freshman as “the Real World meets Laguna Beach,” Kelly isn’t given the carte blanche that members of those shows seem to enjoy. He had to sign a contract with AOL RED before he was accepted for the project.

The contract’s restrictions are extensive and designed to make sure content is appropriate for AOL RED’s five million teen members. Kelly is not allowed to tape illegal activity, sexual situations or strong expletives, for example. Any references to entertainment must be suitable for teens ages 13 to 15, the contract read, which means no R-rated movies or music with a Parental Advisory Warning.

When it comes to profanity, Kelly has a little leeway. The contract distinguishes between usages of expletives and gives specific examples. Acceptable usages of moderate expletives are “My school has a kick-ass hockey team” and “That test was a bitch.” Unacceptable usages are “She has a great ass” and “Get over here, bitch.”

The University has general media guidelines Kelly must follow, such as asking rectors permission before filming inside their respective dorms and not filming in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart without prior consent.

Kelly said he found it somewhat difficult at first to find students willing to be part of his filming.

“The first time, I made a sign that said, ‘Freshmen, if you want to be a star, come talk to me,'” Kelly said. “People were like, ‘Here’s this creepy guy with a camera. That’s super.'”

But he refined his techniques to something a little less “sketchtastic.” His second sign read, “I’m working for AOL doing a documentary and I need to interview freshmen. Please help me.”

He still gets a lot of questions about the project. Usually, Kelly said, “the response is divided 50-50.”

“People either think it’s the coolest thing in the world and want to be a part of it … Others say, ‘Why would you ever do that? Don’t put me on this thing,'” he said.

The freshman most affected by Kelly’s filming is probably his roommate in Morrissey, Phil Kirchner. But he doesn’t mind.

“He told me about it before [school started],” Kirchner said. “It didn’t seem like I had to do much … He’s not overbearing with it or anything. It’s not him sneaking up on me with a camera.”

Kirchner said his parents were more “hesitant” about Project Freshman than he was.

“But it’s really not that big a deal to me, honestly,” he said.

Assistant director for News and Information Shannon Chapla said getting Notre Dame’s involvement was a high priority for production company 2C Media, which pitched the project to the University early last summer.

“They really wanted Notre Dame in the mix,” Chapla said.

So much that Notre Dame was allowed to give 2C Media input on choosing the other schools involved in the show, to help the University feel “comfortable” with the project, Chapla said.

“We didn’t make recommendations,” Chapla said. “There was a pool, a large group of colleges … We said, ‘Here are some of the ones we wanted to be in the mix.'”

The other five participating schools are Dallas Baptist University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Marshall University and the University of Florida-Gainesville.

Chapla said the University saw the project “as something nobody had ever done before.”

“This is a brand new venture,” she said. “We kind of looked at it like we were taking a chance … but a good opportunity, because in the coming years, you’re probably going to see a lot more of this.”

Notre Dame’s involvement in Project Freshman was approved by the Office of News and Information and vice president of Public Affairs Hilary Crkovich – “[University President Father John] Jenkins personally signed off on it,” Chapla said – then went to the University General Counsel, which drafted a contract with AOL and 2C Media.

“I think it will look very good for the University, because Conor’s a good kid. He lives and breathes Notre Dame,” Chapla said. “But we’re not doing this for publicity at all.”

Mundy said he thought the show would “have a positive impact” on admissions.

“The First Year experience at Notre Dame is almost always exceptionally positive for reasons that resonate with our prospective students and their families,” Mundy said. “We think that this could be a wonderful way to share the ‘initiation’ into the ND family.”

Chapla said the first installment of Project Freshman will be available to AOL subscribers Friday.