As a young cast member of the hit Australian kids’ TV series Round The Twist, actor-turned filmmaker Joelene Crnogorac got an early education on how demanding – and how notoriously cynical – the entertainment industry is. As an adult, Crnogorac has taken that education and transferred the lessons she’s learned from it into a bustling creative career behind the camera.

The best proof of that effort is the new comedy series All The Way To The Top, a fearlessly funny and proudly female ensemble piece that’s been called “Sex And The City meets Entourage…only the poverty version”. Created by Crnogorac and adapted from a one-act stage play she penned in 2007, All The Way To The Top examines the lives of four would-be stars who want their own respective pieces of the Hollywood pie.

The series’ first six episodes (all available on YouTube, link below) co-star Maddie McCormick as Tinseltown transplant/Melissa Joan Hart superfan Claire St. Claire, plus Kelly Frye as the ambitious young TV star Josie Jones. Ex-child star turned customer service rep Edie Lawson (Michelle Lukes) desperately vies to get back on Hollywood’s radar, while the coarse and no-nonsense Deidre Vesnic (Allie Leonard) favors the grunt work of acting over the glamour of the red carpet.

ATWTTT‘s hilarious quartet of characters, and its unmistakably brash humor, are reminiscent of those found in other female-led shows like Fleabag and Broad City, plus the blockbuster comedy feature film Bridesmaids. Yet as Crnogorac and series co-star Kelly Frye tell Snobby Robot, ATWTTT spotlights more than the lives of four women dealing with the unpredictability of show business. As a majority female-produced web series, ATWTTT is another project that’s working to level the playing field for women in an industry that’s perennially struggled to accomplish gender equality.

ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP creator/writer/director Joelene Crnogorac.

ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP creator/writer/director Joelene Crnogorac.

SR: How did you come up with the idea for this show, Joelene? What inspired you to create it?

Joelene Crnogorac (series creator): All the Way to the Top originally started out as a one-act play. I first wrote it back in 2007, when I was in my 20’s and pursuing my acting career in Australia. Like any actor, I was getting exasperated by the constant hustle and the knock-backs, and really craved some creative control.

There was a one-act play festival called “Short & Sweet” that was looking for submissions, and it was the perfect motivation for me to put pen to paper and write All the Way to the Top. Nothing like a deadline to help get the creative juices flowing! So that’s where it all started.

I wanted to put a comedic spin on all the absurd things actors get asked to do in auditions, and I wanted to work with my friends. So ATWTTT as a female comedy/one-act play was born. Since then it’s just continued to grow and evolve over the years. It’s always been such a joy of a project and it has always attracted the best, funniest, nicest group of female actors. We’ve always had such an enthusiastic response to the material that it seemed foolish not to pursue it further, which brings us to now.

Kelly and I both have friends who have had great success going the web series route – and that seemed like an achievable way to continue the story of these characters, to have control over the brand of comedy I like to write, and for it to be seen by a larger audience without waiting for someone to give us permission.

Allie Leonard plays the coarse, no-nonsense actor Deidre Vesnic in ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP.

Allie Leonard plays the coarse, no-nonsense actor Deidre Vesnic in ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP.

SR: All The Way To The Top is based on your own experiences in making the transition from child actor to adult performer, as well as your years working in the entertainment business. Joelene, how did all those memories influence (if at all) the show’s concept and characters?

JC: This business of TV & filmmaking is quite the circus, and I say that fondly. It’s intense periods of work with creative and colorful characters that become like family, but like any creative endeavor, it’s a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows.

I started out as a 13 year-old child actor in the very popular Australian kids show called Round the Twist, and it was such a positive experience for me. From that point on, I really fell in love with storytelling. I mean, acting and filmmaking is exhilarating and intoxicating. Who else gets to tell stories about stinky fart muffins, being in love with a merman, or saving the world from an evil doctor with ancient oceanic power, and get paid for it?

It’s a wild, absurd, unique ride, and one that gets progressively more competitive. So I guess all of it – the whole complete package of highs and lows, of friendship and of rivalry, of the absurd and of the mundane – has informed my outlook and influenced the show’s concept and characters.

Kelly Frye plays the ambitious and beautiful TV star Josie Jones on ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP.

Kelly Frye plays the ambitious and beautiful TV star Josie Jones on ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP.

SR: Joelene, were the characters in ATWTTT based on any actors you knew of or worked with? If so, do they represent comedic exaggerations of those actors?

JC: Well, to be honest, there’s little bits of myself in all of the characters, but Edie (played by Lukes) is the character I identify with the most and is the one that mostly stems from my personal experience, but yes, absolutely, all the other characters have been inspired by actors I know and I have worked with (who shall remain nameless!) Of course, there are plenty of comedic embellishments and exaggerations, but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) the essence of those characters and their behavior are based in truth.

SR: Joelene, how has doing this show helped you to deal with all the ups and downs you’ve experienced as an actor and filmmaker?

JC: As an actor, you tend to have such little control over the whole process – from getting cast, to the final edit, and everything in between! There is constant surrendering, which is a lesson in itself, but there is a great feeling of empowerment to be making my own content and in control of the narrative. Working with my friends and collaborators of my choosing, driving the story telling process from beginning to end – it is a really affirming, empowering experience.

SR: Before it became a web series, this show debuted as a one act play in late 2007 in your native Australia. Then it resurfaced in 2016 and 2017 (winning several awards). Joelene, what ultimately led you to turn this project from a stage play to a web series, were there any challenges you encountered in the process, and how were you able to effectively redevelop it as a web series?

JC: The current cast and I all genuinely love the material, love each other as friends, and love working together. We all wanted a longer life for this material beyond a one-act play. So it was a no-brainer, really, to develop the project into a web series. I’ve lived with this material for so long, and it’s had many incarnations from one-act play, to short film, to pilot script and now to web series.

All the hard work had been done when I wrote the TV pilot script, so when we decided the web series route was the best (and) most achievable option for us, it was a relatively easy transition. I just cherry-picked the best moments from the pilot script and finessed them a little, but the leg work and all the character development had already been done.

Michelle Lukes co-stars as ex-child star turned customer service rep Edie Lawson in ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP.

Michelle Lukes co-stars as ex-child star turned customer service rep Edie Lawson in ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP.

SR: Besides its predominantly female cast, the production of All The Way To The Top is helmed by a predominantly female crew. Kelly, talk about your work with them on this show, and how projects like this can give female filmmakers and actors alike equal opportunities that the mainstream Hollywood industry struggles to provide.

Kelly Frye (co-star, “Josie Jones”, ATWTTT): You know the 10,000 hour rule? If we aren’t given the opportunities to get our 10,000 hours, then how are we supposed to become masters of our craft? I think it’s really important to find opportunities to empower women in front of and behind the camera. Thankfully there’s a major shift in our industry as a whole to help give women the chances we haven’t had in the past, and we’re very happy that we were able to do our part with a fantastic group of women.

SR: The humor found in All The Way To The Top is unashamedly brash and crass, like the great female-led comedies you’ve been inspired by (Bridesmaids, Fleabag, Broad City, etc.) Joelene, describe how those movies and TV shows have influenced both your work on ATWTTT and your work in a creative sense.

JC: The shows you mentioned, plus I’m Sorry, Catastrophe, Veep have been such a breath of fresh air for their authentic, complicated, hilarious female characters. I completely identify with those women and with the humor and the language they present, as it really speaks to who I am and my comedic DNA. So do all my female friends! It baffles me that there is still a general sense of surprise that women can be crass and funny at the same time. It’s real life! So with ATWTTT, I just really wanted to make something that was authentic and true to myself and my brand of humor.

SR: At the same time, there doesn’t seem to be enough female-produced, female-led comedy content available to audiences. Kelly, discuss how shows like All The Way To The Top are filling that gap, and how this show (in particular) is reaching audiences who want to see more of this style of comedy.

KF: Clearly there’s a desire for this sort of content, so we’re bringing the female version of Entourage to the people! If a show about guys in the business was a huge hit, why can’t a show about women in the business also be a big hit?

We have a few more storylines that create conflict, too: aging in Hollywood as a woman, wanting to have children while a career is just taking off, balancing pregnancy and children while balancing a career in Hollywood, the #MeToo movement, the very clear shift in casting from sex object to mom (which seems to happen overnight), how being in a relationship publicly can effect your appeal to audiences or boost it depending on who the significant other is, weight gain/loss constantly under scrutiny, (and) getting work done since this is a visual medium but making sure it’s not too much.

Maddie McCormick plays aspiring starlet/Melissa Joan Hart superfan Claire St. Claire in ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP

Maddie McCormick plays aspiring starlet/Melissa Joan Hart superfan Claire St. Claire in ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP

There is so much pressure on women in this industry to fit a certain type and there’s more pressure on women to perform perfectly.

Even as a producer or director, we’re finally given the opportunity and if you mess it up, it’s headline news. When a man screws up as a first time director, people note the potential and are excited to see what the director does next. When a woman screws up as a first time director, there’s an air of “see?”

We’ve got to create opportunities for women to get their 10,000 hours as directors, producers, DP’s (directors of photography), actors with full (and) complicated storylines, and every other position in between. How are you supposed to succeed fully in any of these arenas unless you have the practice and the ability to fly without fear of falling?

SR: Given that people are already stuck at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and that they’re looking for more viewing options besides regular TV/movies/streaming, how does All The Way To The Top stand out from what’s already out there and what audiences do you hope to reach with this show?

KF: I haven’t seen too many shows out there currently about the business and the behind the scenes of the business. I figured it would, at the very least, give a good chuckle to friends in the business. I’ve had numerous dinner parties where people end up recounting their most embarrassing audition story, we all have them, and it’s fun to see them play out in ATWTTT.

SR: Joelene, what are your hopes for the show’s success? Are there plans for a second season?

JC: We hope it gets seen by as many people as possible. We would love for it to get picked up by a network or streaming platform like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon and grow it into a 30-minute episodic comedy series.

NOTE: Crnogorac says that All The Way To The Top is not currently closed-captioned or subtitled.

Find out more about All The Way To The Top on its official web page:

Watch all six episodes of All The Way To The Top on the show’s YouTube channel: