The Holiest One (Aus)
We’ve all experienced it. A moment, an experience or even a phase that has played catalyst to our self-discovery or realisation of who we are, or who we want to be.
The following web series from this year’s Melbourne Webfest selection paint a picture of improvement and discovery of one’s self for eventual happiness in a very non-Tony Robins-esque way.
The Holiest One (AUS), Shangri-LA (USA), The Big Spaghetti (AUS) and Feedback (AUS) are all a blend of heart-warming characters, lost souls and your next-door neighbours. So, let the following serve as either inspiration or a precaution on what you should or shouldn’t do.
It’s easy to be taken advantage of when you’re in a vulnerable position in your life when the snake oil merchant comes knocking on your door, as highlighted by The Holiest One.
The story revolves around protagonist Sofia, who begins setting up a North American branch of a cult she has joined known as The Congregation. Of course, the cult is more than happy to take advantage of her.
“I’ve always been fascinated by our biological need to belong, to be a part of a tribe and shed one’s individuality in favour of conformity… Are we prayed upon like in the animal kingdom when we are at our most vulnerable? What would that look like? What would it feel like to be ‘accepted’ into the fold? To experience ‘love bombing’ especially after a personal loss?” says Actress, Writer, Director, and Producer of the series Sarah Nicolazzo.
“We were curious, especially Sarah as an actress, to magnify and unpack what makes someone susceptible to a situation like this. So, therefore, why not approach the series using the cult as the backdrop and vehicle to tell Sofia’s story,” adds Writer, Director, Producer Phil Speers.
The themes that revolve around religions and cults can often tread a fine line when brought up in casual conversation, due to fear of offence. These same themes, however, harmoniously compliment The Holiest One in terms of further highlighting Sofia’s plight and her need to belong.
“We always knew we didn’t want to make this a show about mocking religions, that was one of the main reasons we focused on a fictional group and never directly reference other religions… It was always the tragedy of her personal journey that fascinated us,” says Speers.
“I think many people today have their own stories about being drawn into groups that could be considered quite strict and dogmatic, whether that be in a religious, political, fitness, diet and even acting related sense,” adds Nicolazzo.
“So, it’s not that we wanted to tread carefully with this territory, it’s more we wanted to focus on the personal plight, motivations, and relationships behind the beliefs, things that affect people universally.”
Shangri-LA delves into another aspect of community and belonging, but with more personal freedom than being a member of a cult. The series centres around homeless, yet positively cheerful, characters who are trying to ‘make it’ in Los Angeles.
“Our vision for Shangri-LA is to create an ongoing story that showcases both the promise and brutality of Los Angeles while exploring the human journey to realize one’s dreams. With Shangri-LA, we really wanted to tell the story of the ‘other’ side of Hollywood, the often overlooked culture of people trying to ‘make it’ in the entertainment industry while surviving on the streets of L.A,” Director and Co-Creator Drew Rosas says.
“I have always felt that money plays too much influence on how people shape their lives. This project explores the human bargain of trading material wealth for independence, a balance in life which everyone must align for themselves, whether by choice or necessity.”
The web series offers a refreshing perspective of characters that belong to the homeless community, who seem to be well on the way to finding inner-peace and enlightenment before the rest of society.
“We didn’t want to make homelessness the only thing that defines our characters. We gave each character unique dreams and ambitions and a drive to make their way by their own nuanced and idiosyncratic means,” says Rosas.
Perhaps a key to happiness is experiencing a period of self-realisation and discovery, which is what The Big Spaghetti dishes up to its viewers. The series emphasises the emotional plights and development its characters endure.
It begins with the end of a relationship, then taking viewers on a very surreal journey of finding happiness and learning about yourself along the way.
“The story of a woman who gets out of a mopey funk by transforming into somebody else really came first. And then realising that the themes were about self-discovery or being true to your authentic self (which sounds way too wanky when it’s said plainly, but that’s what sits underneath it all) that came after we’d hatched the shape of the story,” Director and Co-Writer Zoe Pepper says.
“The characters in The Big Spaghetti were born out of an extended improvisation that was part of a development for a theatre show. That show is now The Irresistible, which is played at Dark Mofo this year.”
While a relationship that reaches its shelf-life sets off the motion of events in The Big Spaghetti, it later evolves into more. It becomes a case study which most viewers can relate to when they’ve had moments of wanting to improve themselves, as a method to deal with loss.
“That was a big part of the improvisation that generated the characters of Melissa and Gabby, in that they discovered that they’d both been dating the same guy. And whilst that remained the catalyst for the story, I think we ended up in a more interesting place, dealing with a different kind of love loss,” says Pepper.
As individuals, we are too often affected by the critique from others, which perhaps is something that holds us back from finding true happiness. Feedback focuses on two housemates whose pressures derives from the social groups they interact with, and their expectations to have careers pursuing what they love.
“The initial episode outlines were much more like a traditional roommate sitcom that happened to be about a writer and a musician, but as we dug deeper, the show became increasingly character-based, and reflective of our insecurities as writers, and as young men,” says Co-Writer, Director, and Editor Dylan Murphy.
“The shows subject matter allowed us to really hone in on and exorcise the things we didn’t like about ourselves and our practice, as well as exploring the different cultural microcosms that exist in present-day Melbourne.”
Feedback reflects an accurate image of starting out as a young creative in a city full of even more young creatives. Its relatability can serve as a lesson – despite the setbacks we face or the criticisms we receive, they can be overcome by turning to our own personal communities such as friends or like in the series, your housemate.
“It was important to us that everything the characters went through felt genuine and rooted in reality – despite often being portrayed with a slightly magical lens – and as the characters are all amalgams of ourselves and the kinds of people we surround ourselves with, the process of following the direction the characters took us in meant that the show would often intentionally and unintentionally mirror life,” Murphy says.