In the first episode of the online comedy series Turf Valley, a couple of suburban dads, after waving good-bye to the morning school bus, turn their attention to a very tall, very athletic-looking neighbor.
“That guy’s definitely played some ball,” one says to the other. “You don’t let hands like that slip through your fingers.” Their gawking soon escalates from awkward to embarrassing.
“One of my neighbors played football at the University of Maryland,” says Rodgers, who really does live in the Ellicott City, Maryland, neighborhood of Turf Valley. “He was like 6-foot-5 and super fit. We were all a little jealous in a fun way, so that became the basis for the pilot episode.”
Rodgers, who grew up in Baltimore County, co-wrote the series with Tom Ventimiglia, who teaches screenwriting at the Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA).
A New Season
The two are now working on a second season of the series, which has been praised for its non-toxic depictions of at-home dads and has won a fistful of awards, including Best Web Series at WorldFest Houston and the Independent Shorts Awards.
“The show isn’t about how incompetent fathers are, or how weird it is for a dad to be the primary caregiver,” writes Shannon Carpenter, author of The Ultimate Stay-at-Home Dad (2021). “It’s just about three dudes making life work for their family.”
Rodgers and Ventimiglia were invited to HomeDadCon, an annual convention for at-home dads, held in September in Milwaukee. “We brought one of our actors and shot a little piece of an episode at the convention,” Rodgers said.
Each Turf Valley episode—shot, edited, and acted by professionals—is between six and 10 well-paced minutes. The cast includes Charles Mann, who played defensive end for the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers before turning to acting.
Rodgers discovered the joy of filmmaking as a student at Duke University and earned a master’s degree in fine art at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Close to Home
As a screenwriter and director in Hollywood, his credits include Racing for Time, a television movie starring Charles Dutton and Tiffany Haddish; The Response, a 30-minute film that was short-listed for an Academy Award; and At Middleton, a feature romance starring Vera Farmiga, Andy Garcia, and Nicholas Braun.
He joined Hopkins and moved to Maryland in 2018.
Rodgers says his screenwriting classes at Hopkins are “more of a sharing sort of dynamic” because his students are so engaged and hard-working. “The most satisfying thing, I think, is helping young artists discover their voices,” he says.
He started Turf Valley in 2020 as a pandemic project. Working from home like many others at the time, Rodgers found inspiration right outside his Turf Valley window.
“I was just charmed by the fact that I got to walk my kids to a bus stop, and the dads would hang out after we dropped our kids off,” he says. “That was the original launching pad. We would have these interesting conversations after the kids were gone.”
Since then, Turf Valley has grown into a sustainable creative endeavor with a growing audience. It’s funded primarily by product placements of local businesses, and gives students from Hopkins and BSA the opportunity to learn about filmmaking by shadowing professionals as paid interns.
Rodgers says his ultimate goal is to secure more national sponsors, boost the budget, and make a distribution deal with a streaming service.