One morning, private investigator Jimmy Fortune, the main character in the groundbreaking web series Fortune, receives a desperate phone call from his former best friend, Daniel Tait—Tait’s wife has been kidnapped.
Over the course of the series’ six episodes, you learn the truth about Fortune’s and Tait’s pasts, and, if you’re an English language learner (ELL), a bit about present perfect tense.
Fortune is the brainchild of Scott Granville ’01 and his company Chasing Time English, which produces original drama series for ELLs. The company’s roots were planted years ago, when Granville, a standout soccer player from New Zealand, came to Monmouth University to major in English.
“Monmouth fit the bill in terms of the size that I was looking for,” says Granville of his decision to come to New Jersey. “And, since most people in New Zealand live close to the water, being near the shore was a massive draw for me.”
Granville says he felt welcome at Monmouth—there were other international students on campus, and the Global Education Office helped him feel included with activities like Thanksgiving dinners. But Granville also had opportunities to go beyond his comfort zone, like the feature writing class that pushed him to write—something he had always wanted to pursue.
“Pursuing your interests is an important part of growing as a person,” says Granville. “If you engage with activities outside your comfort zone, you learn, even in failure, more about yourself, and that should always be looked at as a positive.”
Granville was also interested in filmmaking, but, as with writing, always found himself otherwise occupied. But when he returned to New Zealand and reconnected with high school friend Ben Woollen, who was producing a low-budget feature, the two decided to join forces to create Chasing Time Productions.
While their films received some acclaim, they were having trouble monetizing their creativity. So Granville and Woollen decided to tackle a niche they felt didn’t exist—providing original, quality narrative dramas for ELLs through Chasing Time English. Granville had worked in language education in South Korea and New Zealand for several years after graduating from Monmouth, and he knew the challenges of finding engaging content for ELLs. He says popular shows like Friends are useful but not designed for teach- ing English, and videos that do provide a strong language focus don’t connect with viewers.
But Chasing Time English productions are created with the help of teachers to fit into a tailored syllabus. Each episode includes teaching materials and is written with the audience’s desire for entertainment in mind. “We want to give our audience a story they can enjoy so the learning materials aren’t such a chore,” says Granville. “We’re not saying this is going to teach you English comprehensively. But you’ll learn a lot about the use of the language. We’ve found that to be a good strategy.”
Chasing Time English was recently nominated for a PIEoneer Award, which recognizes achievements in international education. Now that they’re receiving global recognition, Granville hopes to have a global impact. One of the organization’s goals from the be- ginning has been to provide accessible learning opportunities to people anywhere in the world regardless of socioeconomic back- ground. Chasing Time English has made price points affordable, and wherever possible, works with nonprofits (currently in New Zealand, India, and Central Africa) that can provide materials to learners who can’t access them otherwise.
“It’s exciting to be able to provide something that has tangible benefits for learning a language,” says Granville. “The creation of an original idea from the ground up and the recognition for the team’s hard work have been hugely rewarding.”