By Kevin Frazzini
The Texas Legislative Council launched a new employee-orientation program last year with the goal of introducing new hires to the council’s divisions and explaining the role each plays in achieving the council’s mission.
Mark Kuster thought a video would be an entertaining way to explain how the legal division, where he works, prepares bill drafts.
But what kind of video? By the time division representatives met to discuss ideas, Kuster had a plan.
“The idea of doing a parody of the ‘I’m Just a Bill’ Schoolhouse Rock! video just kind of popped into my head,” says Kuster, a council attorney. “I thought of a request folder telling his story of working his way through the legislative council process hoping to one day become a filed bill.”
A bill request, of course, is how a bill starts. It’s assigned to a drafter, an attorney who follows it through the legislative process.
“As I thought about it, I realized that the process that a bill request follows through the legislative council kind of parallels the process the bill follows as it works its way through the legislature,” he says.
The result is the video “I’m a Request."
Kuster not only wrote and produced the video, but also took a star turn as “the request,” the lead character. We caught up with him by email recently for a behind-the-scenes update.
How long did it take to make the video and was it expensive?
Writing the song and the narration took about a day. I wrote most of it while I was on a long hike with my family. I had my phone with me, and as I was walking I would think of lines for the song and would dictate them to the Notes app on my phone. When I got home I went through all of the notes and edited the final lyrics and narration. Next, I spent a few hours creating a storyboard for the video, scouting filming locations around our office and the capitol extension, and making the request costume.
The actual filming and sound recording took about a day and a half. Andy Smith, our videographer, sound engineer and editor, spent a number of hours editing the video, synchronizing the sound and creating the animation.
We only had one microphone, so we could only record one person’s voice during filming. We had to record the request’s singing and speaking parts later and sync them to the video. We were able to create the video using our very talented in-house media group, so except for the $6 I spent on felt for the costume we did not spend any money to produce the video.
Who produced it?
I was the director, producer and costume designer for the video. I guess you could say it was my vanity project. As producer, I selected myself for the role of the request, well, because no one else wanted to do it. Since I couldn’t ask someone else to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself, I had to take on the role even though my acting and vocal skills are severely limited.
Any of the actors thinking about giving up their day job?
I don't think any of the actors will be leaving the council to try their luck in Hollywood. I tried to meet with a few agents while in Los Angeles last summer for the Legislative Summit, but the closest I was able to get to anything in Hollywood was the party on the Paramount Pictures lot.
How has the video been used?
So far we have used it in our new employee training classes that we had in November and December. We are looking at other ways to use the video and other videos that the agency has created in the recruiting process.
What’s been the reaction so far?
People seem to enjoy the video. For those old enough to remember "Schoolhouse Rock!" it brings back fond memories of our collective past. Attorneys can seem intimidating, so it’s good if we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Will we see you on the red carpet sometime soon?
I am currently available for any Broadway gig. Please speak to my agent.
The individuals with speaking parts in the video include Mike Marshall, director of the legal division; Kuster as the request; Adam Moses, attorney in the legal division, as the boy; and Shalyn Bridges, paralegal in the legal division, as the clerk at the end of the video. Playing the nonspeaking parts were attorneys Jeff Guidry, John Garza, Sherry Shivers and Grant McLaughlin, editors Claire Townes and Melanie Westerberg, paralegal Thomas Kelly, administrative assistants Heather Strain and Lisa Tovar, receptionist Danielle Hamilton and messenger Jeffrey Seely.
Attorney Danae Bush drew the cartoon request image.
Except for Moses, who had some previous experience performing in school plays and musicals, no one in the video had any acting experience.
Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.