On April 29, actor Brett Schultz had recovered from COVID-19 and was stuck in his parent’s home in Toccoa.
The Liberty University graduate decided to shoot a faux reality show based on life in quarantine calling it, of course, “Quarantined.” The video features Schultz waking up at 1:30 p.m. and being annoyed that his mom said, “Good morning.” He returns to his bedroom in a huff.
His mom has a plan. “Brett needs a cookie,” she said. “Peanut butter cookies.”
He is instantly allayed. But Brett isn’t six. He’s 26.
Schultz placed the video on TikTok just to see what would happen. And it hit — big. During seven-plus weeks, it has been seen a whopping 17.8 million times as of June 22, with another 5 million on other platforms.
“I got so lucky with this,” Schultz admitted in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “I’ve never seen ‘Big Brother,’ but I know the concepts. This is loosely based on that.”
Viewers liked his choice of music he culled from various online sources. He uses ominous sounds when he is annoyed by his mom, but when he gets the cookies, the music turns instantly chipper, a construct used frequently in reality TV.
Schultz has since added six more episodes. None have been quite as big of a hit as the first one, but episode 5 featuring his dad unable to recall any of Schultz’s friend’s names has drawn 2.5 million views.
“It got more stressful having to figure out a different joke for each episode,” Schultz said. “I can’t just repeat the joke.”
His parents, who star in each of the videos, are not actors or camera experts. He said they had to do a lot of takes.
“I’d be working with my dad when to zoom in,” Schultz said. “He gets a little frustrated. But at the end of the day, they love the attention.”
Why he even ended up in the North Georgia mountains was happenstance. He flew to a friend’s wedding in Nashville from his residence in New York City in March, unaware he had contracted COVID-19.
He had recovered from colon cancer at age 12 after three months of chemo. Fortunately, the coronavirus did not torture him badly. He had a modest fever for a couple of days and a lingering sore throat. That was it.
But he said finding a place to stay in quarantine was a bit of a challenge since his friends in Nashville, he jokingly said, “treated me like I had leprosy.” Good news: plenty of Airbnb homes were suddenly available and Schultz’s aunt paid for one for him to recuperate for two weeks.
Once fully recovered and no longer contagious, he drove to his parent’s home by a lake deep in the woods in Toccoa. (A black bear makes a cameo in one of his episodes.)
While quarantined, he came up with the reality show idea. He weighed his options on where to place the video.
“I was already making sketch videos and posting them on Instagram,” he said. “But I thought I might be able to get my videos seen quicker on TikTok, given the algorithm.”
He said the algorithm is a mystery but he figures the video is sent to a few random people and if they like it and recommend it to others, it could go viral. “Quality content will get recognized,” he said.
That first video opened with about 10,000 views after two hours, a promising start. But he said videos sometimes just peter out for no reason. That didn’t happen this time.
In fact, the popularity of his videos helped him get signed by the People Store talent agency in Atlanta.
He is planning to move out of New York City and try his hand at acting in Atlanta.
“I would love to get into TV comedy,” he said. “I really picture myself writing and starring in my own TV show, much like Ramy Youseff [on Amazon Prime] or Aziz Ansari [on Netflix]. That would be my ultimate dream. For now, I need to build my social media following.”
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