Los Angeles, California. It’s a place known the world over for its sunshine, its beaches, its shopping, and of course, its stars. Yet, while millions of visitors take full advantage of all the great things that the city has to offer, they soon realize what those who already call Los Angeles home have known for a long time – it’s not always as glamorous and fun as it appears.
Nonetheless, as season 2 of the critically acclaimed comedy series HelLA proves, the odd quirks and inconveniences of living in one of America’s biggest and most influential cities can provide plenty of awkward and hilarious moments. Created, written by and starring Rory Uphold, this season of HelLA (now streaming via the links below) features a brand new set of 8 true-to-life comic vignettes that anyone who’s ever lived in, or visited, the City of Angels can easily identify with – and laugh at.
Season 2 of HelLA also features an impressive lineup of guest stars. Among them: Kevin McHale (GLEE), Youtube star Mystery Guitar Man, Alex Anfanger (BIG TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, FL., NEXT TIME ON LONNY), Nikki DeLoach (from the MTV comedy series AWKWARD), popular Instagram animal personality Tunameltsmyheart, and Sophia Bush (ONE TREE HILL, CHICAGO PD), who, in a memorable episode, ends up experiencing an embarrassing cosmetics mishap before attending a major awards show.
Another episode stars Amanda Schull (Syfy’s 12 MONKEYS, USA’s SUITS, plus the 1999 ballet drama CENTER STAGE) as a dermatologist who gives Uphold some very unexpected – and awkward – news after her routine checkup. In addition, Chris Lowell (VERONICA MARS, THE HELP), comedian/writer Akilah Hughes (Fusion TV, HelloGiggles) and Australian pop singer/songwriter Betty Who appear in a special New York-based episode that features Uphold’s peculiar attempts to navigate the finer points of eating out in the Big Apple. (More on that ahead.)
Through producing, writing and starring in 2 seasons of HelLA, plus her other major web series project THIS IS WHY WE’RE SINGLE (produced as part of the popular millennial multimedia web site Elite Daily’s Artist Residency Program) Uphold has continued to improve and develop her talents as a filmmaker.
With the experience she’s gained on both sides of the camera, Uphold has also dedicated herself to learning more about just what it takes to create great content for online audiences.
“I’ve shot over a feature film’s worth of material in the last year and half, which is pretty incredible training. I’m self taught, so the more I work, the better I get,” Uphold says. “Part of that is technical, and the other part is just confidence. I’d say editing help makes me a better director, and in turn a better writer.” Yet, Uphold adds, the time she spent making HelLA has made the greatest impact on her efforts as a filmmaker.
“I think I’ve always had a pretty good grasp on the vision and tone of what I want to create but HelLA, and the work I’ve gotten from HelLA, has really helped define my voice,” she says. “I’m really comfortable on a set; I know what I want and how I’m going to get it. That kind of confidence is something that comes from experience, and HelLA has given me that.”
Making HelLA requires not just a commitment to making great content for viewers, but also a continued effort to make an impact on viewers through great content. For Uphold, that entails reaching out to fans of her series through social media, as well as through merchandise made available for online purchase (see link below).
As she explains, the series’ Facebook and Twitter presences are crucial to keeping HelLA in the consciousness of its viewers. “HelLA is a series, but it’s also a brand,” adds Uphold. “We have hats and shirts, and an active Twitter account with daily snarks and remarks (see link below). I can’t put out a video every day, but I do make an effort to contribute something to the brand every day.”
While each episode of HelLA is relatively short (running anywhere from 30 seconds to over 2 minutes), the production process, as well as the overall success of each shoot, depends squarely on both the talent involved, as well as the story concepts that Uphold develops for the series.
“It (the production process) varies from episode to episode. If I know who I want to work with, I try to write 3-4 episode ideas, and then pitch them to see what they like best and then I go from there,” Uphold explains. “I do the same when I’m writing without talent in mind, and then I think about all of the people and I know, and I start sending out text messages. That’s literally how I cast.”
Of course, trying to work around the already busy schedules of cast and crew alike is a major challenge for any filmmaker, and it was no different for Uphold while filming each episode of HelLA. However, Uphold says, working with the same talented behind-the-scenes team throughout every shoot makes an important difference for her crew and the actors she works with, both on-set and off.
“Once I lock in the the talent, I check with my crew to see who is available. I work with the same people all of the time, because sets are like weird families, and I try to keep it consistent,” responds Uphold. “All of the shoots are about 2-4 hours long, pretty loose, and (hopefully) fun. Then I edit with my friend/editor Matt (MacDonald) and we’ll knock out an episode or two a day.“
Even though the actors Uphold works with vary from episode to episode, the process of getting each episode of HelLA filmed, and her commitment to making all involved in its production as comfortable and relaxed as possible while on the set, remains as constant as when she first began producing and starring in the series.
“We start walking through things and then setting up. I have a shot list and I generally know what I want, but it’s collaborative,” she says. “Once the actors arrive, I do the same thing, walk through/get them feeling settled. It’s a little odd to be acting and directing at the same time, but I’m so used to it now that it’s weirder for me to be on set and only act.”
Uphold also uses her experience as an actor/filmmaker to bring out the best in her fellow actors during filming.
“I think being in the scene with actors is a really great way to get the kind of performances I want, so I definitely feed people certain lines, or push them for things during a scene,” explains Uphold. “And then, I like to let actors improvise if they are comfortable with it. I want that natural/grounded feeling, and I feel like improv helps with that. Again, my shoots are really fast so I generally do about 1-5 takes and then move on.”
As mentioned earlier, Season 2 of HelLA features a bi-coastal episode that’s as far removed – both culturally and in setting – as the typical SoCal based skits that viewers of Uphold’s series have already become accustomed to. Taking place in New York, and filmed on a day that was decidedly gloomier than the almost-constant sunny days people enjoy in Los Angeles, this episode came as a result of Uphold’s regular travel between the two cities, and because of some very happy coincidences.
“My friend Chris (Lowell) and I wanted to work together, but his schedule was crazy and I was going back and forth to New York a lot, so it made the most sense to shoot in New York. I’d loved the idea of an L.A. vs N.Y. episode, so we just went for it,” remembers Uphold.
“Plus, my producer Courtney (Rackley, co-star of the comedy series FIRSTS, previously covered on this blog) happened to be in New York at the same time, so it was great because I had part of the L.A. team out there with me,” Uphold adds. “I asked Akilah (Hughes) if she would be in it, and once she said yes, I got to work.”
Thanks to her existing partnership with Elite Daily, Uphold had no trouble securing a restaurant that would serve as the primary setting for her comical attempts to understand the proper etiquette required with eating out in New York.
Her connections to the local film industry there also played a key role in getting this episode of HelLA from script to screen, as did her convincing the third crucial member of her guest cast to join at the eleventh hour.
“I knew enough filmmakers from festivals out in New York that it was pretty easy to crew up,” says Uphold. “The day before I flew out to New York, I was texting with Betty (Who) and sort of just convinced her to join the cast last minute, which is crazy because she was such a natural, and the chemistry between her and Chris was so perfect.”
However, as Uphold recalls, the process of making this rare excursion to the East Coast for this episode of HelLA didn’t come without its difficulties. “It was crazy shooting in New York, because I didn’t have a car. Courtney and I were carrying equipment up and down the three flights of stairs to my AirBnB,” says Uphold.
Yet, once production finally wrapped, the end result was just as rewarding as the trip itself for Uphold, cast and crew alike. “It was such an incredible and fun experience. I’m so glad we made that video,” Uphold adds. “It was fun to shoot in a new city and despite the rain, and the fact that it came together in about 48 hours, the actual shoot was a blast.”
That professionalism was also on full display during filming of another memorable episode of HelLA, which co-starred Amanda Schull in a hilarious performance as Uphold’s dermatologist. Thanks to their longtime working relationship and friendship, production of that episode ran just as smoothly and efficiently as the others Uphold worked on throughout seasons 1 and 2 of her series.
“We shot that (the episode featuring Schull as Uphold’s dermatologist) in an hour. Not lying, one hour. Talk about stressful, but oddly enough, it was so much fun,” recalls Uphold. “Amanda is a pro and we’ve known each other for a long time, so there’s a short hand there that made the whole process pretty painless. Actually, every episode has some sort of story like this. They’re all my favorite!”
Thanks to the tremendous talents and efforts of Uphold, plus her cast and crew, each episode of HelLA perfectly demonstrates that just as life in Los Angeles can be hectic and unpredictable, it’s those otherwise ridiculous, as well as annoying, parts of living in one of America’s most glamorous cities that are ripe for comedic parody.
It’s also a primary example of the continuing effectiveness and memorable staying power of short-form comedy for online audiences, plus of the classic “slice of life” style humor found in shows like SEINFELD and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, among others; comedy that manages to find the funny in the otherwise mundane.
From her extensive experience writing, producing, directing and acting in HelLA, Uphold encourages those who’ve yet to make their own mark as filmmakers to take full advantage of the potential that web series provide – not just for exposure of their skills and content, but also for development of their talents. “Just do it. You’ll learn so much,” she says. “Try to be as practical and strategic as possible but just get out there and start. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, you know?”
Note: Regarding closed-captioning of HelLA, Uphold says: “All of the Youtube videos are closed captioned. Facebook has issues. I’ve tried for hours to get closed captioning and it’s never worked, and they don’t have anyone to contact. It’s been frustrating. So if anyone reading this wants to help me, I would love to add closed-captioning to Facebook.”
ON THE WEB: www.OnlyInHelLA.com
To buy HelLA apparel, including t-shirts and hats from the series, visit: