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'Saratopia' Explores Witty, Charming Sarasota

HuB Studios is out to make funny, viral videos to help market Sarasota. The studio has made two 'webisodes.'

If only parking meters could talk. Maybe they would say something like, "Slow down, snowbird!"

Those electronic machines don't talk, and nobody says that s--- in Sarasota. But maybe at least one of those will happen, now that HuB Studios explored both of those worlds in its first two webisodes of Saratopia, found on YouTube and Saratopia.com

, founder of HuB and co-creator of Saratopia, found inspiration in the Fred Arimsen series Portlandia where the Saturday Night Live cast member pokes fun of Portland, Oregon in a light hearted way.

"All of us are really big fans of Portlandia and we thought what a great concept to talk about a city in your own peculiar way and make fun of yourself," Swier told Patch. "And at the same time, it actually does a good job of promoting the city. 

"After watching Portlandia a few times, I thought I wouldn't mind going there to Portland." 

The team, which includes co-creator Lucas Colavecchio, has completed four webisodes so far, released two of those, and are working on another set. Anyone interested in pitching a storyline or starring in one can e-mail rich@hubstudios.com.

Swier hopes that folks can find humor in Sarasota's bright and dull spots while making sure Saratopia attracts people to visit the city.

Parking and Poking Fun

So why not start with an episode about something that businesses say is driving people away? Electronic parking meters. 

In the first episode, Pay For Parking (Not Suitable For Work for a use of 'BS'), Joey Panek (The Art Whisperer, Sarasota Elf) approaches an electronic meter in front of and it begins to talk:

"Welcome to Downtown Sarasota. Please enter your parking space number."

After a few steps, the meter takes control.

"Please select one of the following Republican presidential candidates. Press 1 for Newt Gingrich or press 2 for Mitt Romney."

Panek decides to placate the machine and choose Gingrich. The machine is having none of it.

Really? Newt Gingrich? Really? Is it because Mit Romney's a Mormon? Why else would someone choose Gingrich? Unless of course, you believe in open marriage.

There's a political context to the parking meters, not necessarily about the meters themselves, but Swier wanted to keep up with topics that are fresh, but maintain relevancy. The episode was released on the same day as the

"That was more of luck than anything," Swier said. "Parking's been an issue for a year now; we know it had some steam."

Filming the episodes is just as interesting, Panek said. Either people duck from the cameras "like they're shot by a beam" or they come up to Panek, staring at him talking to a meter.

"In the middle of doing lines, people go up and say, 'no, no, no, you should say how the meters do this or meters do that,'" Panek said. "We were getting suggestions while we're shooting."

The episodes become less political by the fourth episode Swier said.

In the second episode, S--- Nobody Says in Sarasota, it was both a challenge and an opportunity to make fun of every little part of Sarasota.

Nobody is safe: , Unconditional Surrender statue, Five Points, SNN6, Ticket, , and even snowbirds.

A couple of samples of things nobody says in Sarasota:

I met the most amazing man last night at Memories Lounge 

• I can't find my season passes to the Opera

• Know what we need this weekend? A gala.

"It's a love-hate relationship that people have with it. I'm definetely in that category," Swier said. "I'm passionate about [Sarasota]. It's frustrating, but we're exciting that people are connecting with it."

What the videos do is create a viral ad for the city exposing to people to other elements of Sarasota — something a magazine ad about the beach can't do online, he said.

"We're trying to create smart, funny, viral videos about Sarasota," he said. So far it's working. Each episode has about 2,500 views, and a Miami newspaper has called Swier, too about doing a story.

Backlash

It doesn't mean HuB lacks critics.

"I had one e-mail from a guy who said I'm non-humorous, juvenile and should get a life," Swier said.

HuB has also received calls from businesses upset being poked fun of, too, Panek said.

"The things that people have gotten mad about actually are things that everyone in the city talks about," he said. "People just haven't said it out loud in public."

He does regret a public apology on the YouTube comments of S--- Nobody Says In Sarasota that apologizes to SNN6. The line was "You didn't see that on SNN last night?"

Panek believes if you apologize to one, you should apologize to all, and it could be compromising.

"I'm kind of disappointed that SNN6 took it personally, and think feathers will get ruffled in the beginning, but ultimately in the end, Sarasota is going to embrace it," he said.

"I kind of want to do an episode where people are cancelling dinner plans with me after they see an episode," he added.

The videos should be looked at like a Saturday Night Live skit where no one is safe, everyone's part of the joke and can laugh at themselves, he said, but if you're going to crtique, be constructive.

"People take shots at HuB quite a bit, and they do it quite a bit in a blog post, but we make fun of ourselves as much as we make fun of everyone else," Panek said, adding that the firm is quite involved in the community doing marketing, donations and contributing creative content.

"It's totally because we love Sarasota," Panek said. "... We're getting people to spend money, help market the city and don't think people get that and sometimes I think we don't either."

And there's a response video comparing the intro of Saratopia to Portlandia questioning the originality, but Swier said the person missed the point — and the shout-out to Portlandia in the first episode.

"I think all art comes from some sort of inspiration," Swier said. "I think the only originality in the world comes from God and science."

The creators have intentionally stopped watching Portlandia now to avoid unintentionally borrowing a concept, Panek said.

Cameos and Credits

Swier hopes the smart and funny can expand to cameos, hoping to nab some celebrities in town for the  or celebrities who live in the area.

"We're trying to get Dick Vitale. We have this really cool idea for a show with him,"Swier said about the Lakewood Ranch resident. "With March Madness coming up he might be available."

Swier has a back-up plan though. 

"Even B-roll or B-actors would be hilarious," he said.

Want to be in an episode of Saratopia or have a script pitch? E-mail hubsarasota@gmail.com. Subscribe to episodes by signing up at saratopia.com. Subscribers get a 24-hour advance look at each new episode.

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