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NOVEMBER 18, 2009

WEB SERIES PROVES FILMMAKER ISN'T OUT OF HIS LEAGUE

Jason Baumgardner said his dad, Karl, always seemed to have a video camera around when he was a kid, so picking one up to see what he could film was sort of natural. There was a lot of forgettable footage in those formative years.

To view six episodes of "The League" Web series, go to youtube.com/watchtheleague.

There was one of "Ten Little Indians" that he and a friend put together that a teacher thought was good and he thought embarrassing. There was the assignment at Crockett Middle School where the class had to make a video commercial for a product no one would want.

It was for Ronco's Guillotine, including the "wait, there's more" line.


Well, that was then, and this, nearly 20 years later, is now. Baumgarder is 31 and pursuing a love of the independent film industry in Dallas. An idea that has floated in his head for some time is now well off the ground.

It's called "The League," and so far it's a six-episode entry into the expanding world of the Web series.

"I've been pleasantly surprised is the best way I can put it," said Baumgardner. "From beginning to end, my entire goal was to get it done and get it out there so people might enjoy it. It's been fun. And that a lot of people have liked it has been pretty rewarding."


"The League" is based on main character Ben Porter, an accountant who excels at fantasy football with his buddies. He's also a new father, and he and his wife have serious money problems. He has a chance encounter with a very wealthy man who plays in a high-stakes fantasy league.


The man eventually offers him $2,000 to help him out, or Porter can tear up the check and run the man's fantasy league with a chance to win $1 million. Meanwhile, Porter and his family are threatened by another player if he decides to play. It's risk vs. reward.


They say write what you know, and Baumgardner, a 1996 Amarillo High graduate, knows fantasy football. He played it when he was at Texas Tech, and there's an homage in the early episodes to his old league there, the 23rd Street Fantasy Football League.


"I guess it's also write what you enjoy, especially if it's a huge project," he said. "If you didn't, you could get burned out pretty quickly."


Baumgardner has basically Spielberged the project. He wrote, directed and financed the film. He cast 12 actors, all of them from Dallas. He shot the first six episodes over a long weekend in late July and called in as many favors as possible to keep costs down.

And here's the bottom line - it's pretty good. Surprisingly good, and better, I'm sure, than "Ten Little Indians." The camera angles show creativity and thought. The acting is solid, and the writing and plot are sharp.


Baumgardner is a 2001 computer science graduate, but film is his love. He went to Los Angeles in 2003 and got a job as an extra in four episodes of the HBO series "Deadwood."


He moved to Dallas in 2004 with the intention of making it in the independent film industry. He got an internship with AMS Films and has written for video game trailers and other small companies. It's where he met his wife Catherine, then a local actress, and cast her in "The League." She works cheap.


In ironies of ironies, FX also came out with its own series this fall also called "The League," which also has fantasy football as a plot device. But that's where the similarities end.


What Baumgardner needs is more financing. His project actually calls for 18 episodes, and he only had enough funding for the first six, which are between six and nine minutes each.


The last episode ends with Baumgardner's wife, in character, shooting some poor guy in an open field. He's trying to get more financing to finish, but as his dad, an Amarillo attorney says, the series is hanging out there like Who Shot J.R.?


"We got a pretty good fan base out there, and as each episode was coming out, to hear them say they can't wait for the next one is pretty exciting," Baumgardner said. "It makes me want to write the rest of the series, get the financing and shoot the rest in the spring. We'll see."


Jon Mark Beilue's column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com

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