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June 19, 2012

New Web series for nerds and geeks

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And so today we consider a great philosophical question: Are you a nerd or a geek? Or, are you perhaps a nerd and a geek? Or maybe you’re a nerd with geeky tendencies or a geek with nerdy tendencies?

This momentous issue is the subject of Nerd vs. Geek, a proposed Web series described by its creators as “an ensemble comedy about every single brand of nerd and how people who have awkward personalities often clash with each other and the world.”

The series is the brainchild of Stephanie Yuhas, 30, and Matt Conant, 32, who are the driving force behind the Project Twenty1 Film and Animation Festival as well as efforts to help turn Norristown into a thriving community for young artists. Their series will be like a TV sitcom, with new seven-minute episodes appearing every month, maybe even twice a month. They want to produce at least 12 episodes and as many as 20.

“Being a nerd or geek is suddenly very popular,” said Yuhas, the series’ writer and producer. “Nerds and geeks have come out of the closet.”

TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory have popularized nerddom and geekiness, but in a way that relies on broad stereotypes such as taped eyeglasses and the inability to land a date, Yuhas said.

“There will be no corporate overlord. It will be made with an Internet audience in mind,” Conant said of the series. “So it’s not going to be watered down or dumbed down. It will come direct from our warped brains to you.”

The downside of all this independence and autonomy is that Yuhas and Conant are scrambling to raise money for the project. They need about $16,000, with a deadline of Sunday. So far, they have about $1,500 in pledges. If they don’t reach their goal, the project won’t happen. Says Yuhas: “It’s all or nothing.”

To raise the money, they are employing Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website for artists and other creatives. Kickstarter is used to enlist donations for films, music, comics, video games, and journalism projects. Yuhas refers to it as “a cutting-edge home-shopping network.” It is becoming indispensable for young, usually penurious artists in an era when, in the words of Yuhas, “you have to be your own producer, distributor, and marketer so you can reach your audience.”

In addition to offering traditional rewards such as T-shirts, DVDs, and signed posters, Cinevore Studios, which is producing the show, is “unlocking” new characters and content as fund-raising goals are reached, much like bonuses in a video game.

The series revolves around three people who find one another through a Craigslist forum. The character played by Conant has posted an ad seeking housemates. He’s a self-confessed introverted geek looking for similar folks who share his passion for video games. The drama pivots on the fact that he doesn’t get what he expects.

The character played by Stephanie is a brainiac who belongs to a local Mensa chapter tailored to Generation X and suitably titled Mensa-X, which gives rise to plenty of double entendres. The third housemate is a theater geek in a touring company. Each character has his or her circle of equally quirky friends and divergent ideas about what’s socially appropriate.

Nerd vs. Geek will touch on every aspect of nerd/geek culture, including video games, comic books, math, science (fact and fiction), cartoons, board games, theater, TV, and film, its creators say. Cinevore Studios, a boutique production company based in Norristown, is the outlet Yuhas and Conant fashioned for their own projects and passions. Since 2006, through the Project Twenty1 festival, they have been nurturing and encouraging other Philadelphia artists, many of whom, having seen the chemistry between the pair, urged them to make and show their own stuff.

One of their first attempts was a 2011 Web series called The OverAnalyzers, in which five characters, including Yuhas and Conant, portrayed scientists who “overanalyze pop-culture absurdities.” The show was a hit locally and caused a clamor for Yuhas, a histrionic Hungarian who tends to be a ham, and Conant, who has a straight man’s deadpan humor, to do more.

For Nerd vs. Geek, Yuhas and Conant recruited some of the top talent they’ve met over the years through Project Twenty1. Their goal is to achieve high production values.

The duo tend to use the terms geek and nerd loosely and interchangeably. Yuhas believes the Internet has had a liberating effect on geeks and nerds.

“The real purpose of this series,” Conant says, “is not to stereotype or sensationalize nerds and geeks but to show the often unseen inner struggles of intelligent introverts.”

Some people have formulated strict definitions, but Conant subscribes to the view that “everyone geeks out about something.”

Speaking broadly, nerds tend to be socially awkward, whereas a geek is exceptionally knowledgeable and obsessed about something, an enthusiastic expert in esoterica. Geeks tend to be authorities on technology and conversant with pop culture.

Conant views himself as a geek. He loves fixing gadgets and dissects movies endlessly. He’s a sci-fi fan who for a time was enraptured with Dungeons Dragons, a phase he admits to somewhat sheepishly.

Yuhas considers herself a nerd. She was a “huge bookworm” and “math-and-science type,” the know-it-all smart girl in class who risked getting beaten up for raising her hand so often.

In the end, the series, if the money comes in and it gets made, will serve several purposes. First, it will showcase the talents of Yuhas and Conant. Second, it will broaden people’s understanding of the wonderful variety of geeks and nerds (says Yuhas: “People are tired of the narrow stereotypes. At the end of the day, what does it mean? Can’t we all get along?”) And finally, they hope it will stimulate the creative economy in the Philadelphia area, helping struggling freelancers and small business owners.

“We want to show that Philadelphians are smart, though perhaps socially awkward,” Yuhas says. “We want to show nerds trying to make the world a better place.”

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