By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Club swimming is a strange world when you think about it: you compete in Spandex in a chlorinated concrete arena where you literally can’t breathe alongside girls and guys of different ages and backgrounds from your geographic area, all just for the love of the water. Sound weirdly familiar? Sound like your life as a club swimmer? Well, starting next week, there’ll be a new web show about that strange and wonderful experience. A “mockumentary” about a club swim team. A comedic look at the lives of club swimmers.
It’s the first true scripted swimming web show, I think, ever. Why has no one thought of this incredible idea before? Because it takes lots of work. Producing a scripted show is more than just writing out jokes and recording some people belly flopping into the pool in Speedos. You must get actors, actresses, cameras, microphones, lighting, set designers, and boxes upon boxes of food for the crew (who probably work for free) and coordinate 50 people in one place, at one time.
If this sounds difficult, have no fear: A group of collegiate swimmers and film enthusiasts from Asbury University have gotten together to start “Club Swim” – it’s like “The Office” but for club swimmers. It takes a humorous look at the behind-the-scenes workings of a club swim program. Daniel Bowman, a swimmer himself at Asbury, is the show's creator.
“There isn’t a lot of scripted media in swimming,” Bowman told me over the phone. “I see it as a need. I just want to be able to fill that.”
The first episode begins with a group of club swimmers returning from what appears to be a long, substantial break. They hug and embrace and laugh and greet each other as if they haven’t seen each other for years. They talk about how their respective breaks were. How they missed each other. And then the camera cuts to a swimmer confessional who stares into the camera and says, morosely: “Five days off a year is not enough.”
“You can get immersed in this other world,” Bowman says, himself a lifelong swimmer and senior national championship qualifier. “There’s something unique about swimming. You have guys and girls teams competing together. There isn’t a distinction like there is in soccer or basketball or other sports.”
It’s a show for anyone who has sat through long, confusing pre-practice meetings, or anyone who had to deal with allthe strange and wonderful personalities that sometimes sprinkle our club swimming lives. Like the overzealous achiever, the hopeless and misguided swimmer, the constant slacker, or the coach who desperately tries to keep his team focused…
“At the end of the day, that’s what people will remember,” Bowman says. “When I talk with former swimmers, they remember times and training hard and swim sets and swim meets, but we really remember the experiences and the people we got to know, and who built up and encouraged each other.”
“Club Swim” is the first of its kind, and it’ll be interesting not only to watch the show premiere next week, but if it grows into something bigger. Right now, the difficulty comes from attempting to find that correct balance of “swimmer jokes” and more mainstream jokes.
“We try to start off with something that’s funny to swimmers specifically, and then as we go through the writing process, we say, ‘How can we package this to be palatable to people who haven’t swam?’” Bowman says. “We have jokes about chlorine destroying hair. You don’t have to be a swimmer to appreciate that.”
Another difficulty with shooting a show about swimming arises from using a pool as a setting. Audio in an aquatic setting is a major obstacle. (Imagine those huge whirling fans in every pool, and how distracting that audio would be.) There are also time scheduling problems: pools are usually booked all day, every day. Not to mention the potential of getting equipment wet and the logistics of space, fitting 50 people, cameras, lighting, and equipment onto a pool deck.
“Logistically, it’s really hard to shoot [at a pool],” Bowman says. “We don’t have a large amount of control over the area. You’ve got the gutters and people coming in and out and huge generators making noise, and the time to shoot quality product in the pool area, it takes three times as long as a classroom or a meeting room or going to someone’s house and having a game night.”
That’s why you’ll see a majority of “Club Swim’s” plots take place away from the pool – in the meeting rooms, at a swimmer’s house, etc.. Maybe if they had a bigger, more sizable budget (the producers fundraised to raise money to purchase food for the crew earlier this year, a crew which is all volunteers), they could shoot more pool time. But for now, “Club Swim” to me resembles “The Office” but for swimmers. It’s silly. It’s fun. And it’s even more impressive because it’s a 50-person operation done entirely on their own volunteer efforts, filmed mostly on Saturday nights, created by a collegiate swimmer, tailored for swimmers.
What excites me is that this is not just another post-race interview, documentary, or news program. This is scripted. And “scripted” means it’s made-up, fictional, fun, original, silly and satirical. It’s a show targeted for all people, not just swimmers. But like any mention of swimming on any mainstream TV show, swimmers will be excited by all those inside swim jokes. The show’s creators have also mentioned their desire to lure a “swim celebrity” like Missy Franklin, Matt Grevers, or Rowdy Gaines for a cameo appearance.
“Any Olympian who is in the area would have a really fun time on set.”
If anything, the past year has proven there is an audience for fun swim videos. “Call Me Maybe,” with its millions upon millions of views, proved that. All these incredible “Harlem Shake” videos proved that. Maybe “Club Swim” will prove that swimming can transition from reality-based and documentary-based to scripted and fictional.
I asked Daniel what’s been the most rewarding part of this journey so far. He said: “It’s the same exact thing that’s drawn me to swimming. The community. It’s really neat how swimming brings totally different people from different backgrounds and personalities, all working for the same thing. Film does the same thing. You work towards a common goal that’s funny and entertaining to watch.”
You can catch the great trailer for “Club Swim” on their website, clubswimshow.com. The pilot debuts next week, February 27th.
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.