Echo Chamber merges reality and fiction

The Echo Chamber cast and crew film a scene at Ali Baba’s on Craig Street. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor) The Echo Chamber cast and crew film a scene at Ali Baba’s on Craig Street. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor)

As many “tropers” will tell you, the best way to make a story compelling is not by telling, but by showing. In 2011, Fast Eddie, the mysterious administrator of tvtropes.org, sent out a call to find someone to demonstrate, categorize, and explain the tropes — or literary and rhetorical conventions — that are seen in television shows, movies, literature, and comics. With tropers auditioning from around the world, Carnegie Mellon creative writing alumnus Tom Pike came up with a unique direction and won the trope-of-the-week contest.

“I imagined what [Fast Eddie] originally had in mind was a vlog,” Pike said. “You know, something more like a critic making funny points about a trope every week and being entertaining by just talking to the camera.”

Instead, Pike decided to make the vlogs into episodes, in which he would demonstrate a trope through a story of someone trying to demonstrate a trope. “It was an idea I’d had floating around in my head,” Pike said. “I can make it a story about someone who is trying to do that and failing miserably.”

Pike named his show Echo Chamber, which plays on the idea of repeated thoughts and actions. Pike and senior dramaturgy major Dana Shaw play the lead characters. Zachary Wallnau, another Carnegie Mellon alumnus, plays the laughable and not-all-there cameraman.

Explaining Echo Chamber can be a bit confusing, but here’s a quick rundown: Pike created Echo Chamber, and his character within the video also created Echo Chamber in the fictional world where the character now makes videos about trying to make videos.

Like many recent television shows — think Community — it self-references things that happen inside the show and also in the personal lives of the actors. In the episode titled, “Unresolved Sexual Tension,” Pike warns Shaw that “the moment we start blurring the line between fiction and reality, all of a sudden there’s a whole bunch of tropes we can’t do ’cause there’s unintended implications. We’re trying to make a web show about the tropes, not live them.”

For the cast, this is a very true reality. “On another level, we are having these meta-characters doing meta-things that reflect our lives,” Shaw said. “There are things where we can’t remember what happened first in the show and first in real life.”

“One example is ‘The Terrible Interview’ montage,” Pike said. “It merges reality and fiction. The plot of the second season involves an introduction of a rival show that attempts to steal one of the crew members away from Echo Chamber. It actually wound up happening a couple of times.”

The show, which is filmed on the Carnegie Mellon campus, has received positive reviews from other tropers and has gained a significant following. “I believe that this [show] has allowed us to demonstrate that we know how to deliver what a client wants,” Shaw said. “It’s gotten us the chance to be seen by people in the business.”

In an interview with io9.com, Fast Eddie commented on the role tropes play in storytelling: “To capture people’s attention, you want to bring them in using a familiar platform like these tropes. Once you get them there, that’s where you have the opportunity to extend your viewpoint and offer up what you’re trying to say. But first you need to get their attention with something familiar, so they’re not struggling to figure out what’s going on.”

That is exactly what Echo Chamber is trying to do: explain the intricacies behind stories. You can watch the first season on YouTube under the name “tvtropesorg.” A second season of Echo Chamber is scheduled to premiere this April.