The Acting Office: Andrew Otchere turned his University of Michigan studies into the comedy "Becoming BFA: The Showcase Showdown"


Headshot of Andrew Otchere

Andrew Otchere photo via IMDB.

Sometimes the most challenging part of a creative project is figuring out the best means of communicating a story to an audience. 

In the case of Becoming BFA: The Showcase Showdown, creator Andrew Otchere—who graduated from the University of Michigan last spring with a degree in acting—initially thought he and a handful of student collaborators would be writing a television pilot when they gathered during their junior year.

“Then, as we talked about the concept, one aspect that became most important to me was that I really wanted to create something that would build a stronger community within my class of actors,” said Otchere, who just recently moved to Los Angeles (where he’s auditioning and writing). “I wanted to make sure that everybody was included. … By our senior year, there were about 18 of us … so it became a little too much to just be a pilot episode. There would be too many characters.”

So this would-be pilot episode became a short film that ran nearly 40 minutes. 

But that wasn’t the final word on the project’s format, either. As Otchere submitted BFA to film festivals—it landed a screening at the Laughs After Dark Comedy Festival in Las Vegas—he started getting feedback that pointed him in a different direction entirely.

“One of the best pieces of advice I got was about how we are currently in the height of the digital age, where TikTok and short-form video has taken control,” Otchere said. “And being a story that focuses on the Gen Z perspective, which the target audience is also in … it only made sense to make episodes that are shorter, so we could put it out on TikTok, or create a mini web series of it. So that inspired me to cut [the film] up into nine five-minute episodes. And since it took form as a web series, it just felt like it was received so much better. People were excited for new episodes and gave a lot of feedback.”

The seed for making Becoming BFA—which focuses on students preparing for their Senior Showcase, when they get to perform in front of entertainment industry professionals—took root in Otchere’s freshman year (2019-20), when he and his fellow student actors joked about feeling like they were living in a reality show.

“There’s about 20 people in each acting class, and we spend the majority of our academic four years together,” said Otchere, who grew up in the D.C. area before coming to Michigan. “We take the same core classes together. So you build bonds with people. You get to know people on a very intimate and personal level. … The reason why I thought it was the perfect incubator for a television show or reality show or mockumentary was just the theatrics around it. You have a group of young, ambitious artists who are starting their careers. … A lot of them have very big aspirations and a naturally competitive nature. The mix of that competitive nature and the personal bonds and relationships made it really interesting to me.”

Of course, the pandemic shut down the world during the second semester of Otchere’s freshman year, and like most people, he did a lot of soul-searching. 

“Ultimately, it made me realize that you have to take agency and autonomy over your creative processes,” said Otchere. “For me, the pandemic was a wake-up call that I’m no longer OK with sitting around as an actor, waiting for somebody to give me a call. … If I’m serious about creating a successful career as an artist, I have to start creating opportunities for myself and finding ways that I can sustain myself.”

During his junior year, Otchere acted in a Detroit-based film project, and that, paired with lots of self-directed research about filmmaking—and an initial, unrelated original short film project called Branch Out—moved him closer to making Becoming BFA. He applied for and received U-M grants from EXCELerator, SMTD Wellness, and others, and he also launched a successful IndieGoGo fundraising campaign. 

Filming on BFA wrapped at the end of Otchere’s last semester at U-M, and while postproduction presented challenges, Otchere had already poured a significant part of the film’s $15k budget into having an experienced crew on set.

“In order to produce this film at the level that I wanted it to be, that I felt did justice to the script that we had spent so long working on, I wanted the production quality to look good,” Otchere said. “Having professional-quality filmmakers involved was probably the biggest cost. We also included a sound crew that was based in Detroit because we wanted professional-level sound quality as a way for our film to be taken seriously and not undermined as a student project. And then, the color correction process and editing process—we actually collaborated with a production company in New York City because, again, I really wanted this to look and feel professional.”

While the whole series isn’t currently available online—Otchere is now submitting BFA to festivals as a web series—those interested in seeing clips can find them on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

Has Otchere’s experience as a filmmaker lured him away from acting? Not necessarily. But it has expanded his sense of what he can do, creatively.

“Honestly, I oftentimes felt limited by the opportunities that were available, specifically in the theatrical landscape, especially for a black performer who doesn’t always present in the most masculine way,” Otchere said. “I fell in love with filmmaking because it was so open-ended. I had the opportunity to write stories that I saw myself in. … The stories were only bound by my imagination. That’s what got me excited about filmmaking.”

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.