Tim Nguyen on YouTube mockumentary “Lathrop”

As one of the smallest and most tightly-knit Houses on campus, Lathrop has earned a reputation of not existing. As a resident myself, I’ve become used to comments like, “Wow, I’ve never met anyone from Lathrop before!” when meeting Vassar students from other Houses. If anything, though, being forgotten has given residents experiences to bond over and contributed to the unique culture that makes the House so special.

In Lathrop, September marks the return of Tim Nguyen ’23’s original series “Lathrop.” The show, inspired by the comedic mockumentary “The Office,” follows a core cast of Lathrop residents (mostly current sophomores) through daily life. It is as funny and offbeat as its inspiration and all-over-the-place in the best possible way.

“Lathrop” episodes are bite-sized, ranging in length from seven to 14 minutes. The pilot was released on YouTube on Sept. 26, 2019, and it is currently the series’ most-watched episode at 498 views. The show has become a fixture within the Lathrop community, and Nguyen can often be spotted shooting scenes on the quad or throughout the dorm. While the show focuses on a main group of characters, brief cameos and guest appearances are common; Nguyen will often walk up to Lathrop residents to ask something along the lines of, “Hey, wanna be in an episode?”

After making a cameo in the season finale’s cold open (try to spot me!), I was excited for the show’s return this fall. I was also curious to learn more about “Lathrop’s” origin story; I’ve watched every episode, but realized I know relatively little about the work Nguyen puts into creating the series. 

Following back and forth texting trying to schedule an interview with Nguyen, we finally found a time (a little after 8:30 p.m.) and a place (Lathrop’s MPR) to meet. As I step into the newly reopened but still empty MPR, where much of the show takes place, the space feels like a shell of its former self. The silence reminds me of how alive this room felt last year, full of friends working and laughing. Minutes later, however, Nguyen bursts through the door, bringing a bit of the room’s old energy with him as he strides over to my table. He is both eager and reflective as he outlines the process behind the product; he is clearly passionate about the little world he has created with “Lathrop.”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Miscellany News: For those who haven’t seen the show, can you give a little background on “Lathrop” and how it started?

Tim Nguyen: I’ve always wanted to make a little sitcom show. I’ve been filming since sixth grade and I started watching “The Office” very late and I really liked the format of it. I thought it was really funny, very unique, and I wanted to try something like that. So one day I said, “Why don’t we just make a parody in Lathrop?!” We filmed the whole first episode in one day, and we put that up on YouTube and people liked it, so we continued it—and the rest is history.

The Misc: How much of the show is influenced by “The Office?” I know it was your starting-off point, but have you referenced the show throughout?

Tim Nguyen: I think the biggest thing we stole from it was definitely the zoom-ins. We try to create our own stories and I let people improvise their lines. There isn’t really a script; it’s more like, “This is what’s happening in this scene, so have fun with it and do what you want.” But now this year, I’m trying to make “Lathrop” my own original thing.

The Misc: So you said there aren’t scripts, but what is the creative process for storyboarding or coming up with ideas like?

Tim Nguyen: I usually have one or two people with me and we write out how many scenes we want—we usually go for an estimated length. And we write detailed bullet points so that we’re not, you know, totally unprepared the day of the shoot. But we want there to be flexibility and creativity from the actors because I think they can come up with some pretty funny stuff, which you can see in the show.

The Misc: How many takes of one scene do you normally film?

Tim Nguyen: [Laughing] It really depends on the person. Sometimes I do many takes because the scene is so funny that I want people to try different things. Sometimes it’s genuinely like they mess up, so we’ll do the scene again and again. And sometimes it’s one perfect take and I’m like, that’s perfect. [This process takes] maybe four to five hours, not too bad. And the editing—five or six hours. That’s definitely the longest process, but it’s my favorite process, so it doesn’t feel like too long at all.

The Misc: Why is it your favorite process? What do you like most about editing?

Tim Nguyen: I think what I love about editing is watching everything come together and seeing this final product. It’s like finishing up the icing on the cake. You get to see it in its full glory.

The Misc: How has COVID, specifically with social distancing and masks, affected the show this season?

Tim Nguyen: During quarantine, I envisioned a maskless show; I don’t know why, I just had that optimism. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so we have to shoot with masks. I like the challenge though, because it’s not fun to do audio for things like that. The situation also teaches you aspects of film that you wouldn’t normally do when you don’t have obstacles like that. For [episode one of season two], we did a lot of voice-overs, which I never usually do. And it kind of made the episode come out better than I expected, because you now understand everything that the characters are saying. As for the distancing, you can be a little creative with the shots there, and I don’t think that’s too much of a problem. And we address COVID in the episode, so it’s not too much of a big deal.

The Misc: This is a broad/vague question, but what inspires you?

Tim Nguyen: [Starts laughing] What inspires me? OK, this is kind of a long story. Last summer, I watched this show called “Community” and there’s this actor in it named Donald Glover. I didn’t know he was in it, and I thought he was probably the best character on the show. Back in sophomore year of high school, I didn’t know any music; I didn’t really listen to a lot of genres and Childish Gambino was the first person to really open my eyes to the world of music. After realizing that he’s Donald Glover and seeing him in the show, I looked him up and discovered that he’s also written a TV show, won awards for that and he started out as a comic. I think doing all these different things is inspiring; you don’t have to be the best at anything, but being good at a lot of things, I think, is really cool and it’s something that I strive to do.

The Misc: What’s in store for season two, without spoiling anything?

Tim Nguyen: [Laughing] Oooh, this is like an interview!

The Misc: It is an interview! 

Tim Nguyen: Oh, wow! OK, there’s a lot of romance, deception, murder—maybe not murder. But definitely more in-depth characters. We’re planning on releasing eight episodes, one per month. Get ready for more, I don’t know, action, adventure. There’s going to be a lot more going on that we’re excited to film.

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