Who hasn’t experienced an awkward moment while standing in an elevator? A bad smell, a heavy silence, a couple kissing as if you weren’t there… Uplift (AUS) portrays a woman, who, whenever she enters the lift in her building, encounters strange and surprising situations.
Melbourne Webfest spoke with Harlene Hercules, creator and lead actress, and Catherine Hall, writer and producer of the 2020 Student Selection series, about the making and filming of the Instagram web series.
How did you come up with that idea? Did one (or more) of these situations happened to you?
Harlene Hercules: I had moved into a new inner-city apartment and was using a lift every day as I lived on the top floor. The lift had a mirror in it and I couldn’t resist – so I took a selfie. In fact, it was the first selfie I had ever taken. So after that, when I’d step into the lift – I’d take a selfie but not your traditional ones. I experimented with quirky poses and silly sayings. Over time it became a bit of an obsession. I have always been fascinated by plays or films that are set in one location or in one particular space. I like the challenge of creating something in restricted parameters. I wrote a few synopses of scenes that could happen in a lift from the normal to the absurd. I think we have all experienced a fart in a lift (either doing it or smelling it) but none of the scenes has actually happened in my life…I WISH!
What audience were you trying to reach and why?
Catherine Hall: We think Uplift resonates with fans of sketch comedy. There’s not one huge overarching narrative at the centre of the show; it’s written to be bite-sized, and for the viewer to jump in at any episode and get the joke. Because of these factors, we were looking to reach people who consume memes and sketches on platforms like Instagram.
Why did you choose this specific format to convey your story?
CH: We had a hunch that Instagram would be our best landing place for little bites of comedy. The confinements of our chosen format also seemed really well suited to the show’s content – the stories are all about constriction, about being trapped in a tiny space. It was quite a deliberate decision to keep episodes short enough that they could just appear on our feed, instead of going into IGTV territory. Giving ourselves the hard limit of 60 seconds forced us to stick to snappy pacing and to not overcomplicate the beats in each story.
What is your best memory on set? What was the best episode to shoot?
CH: An episode called Flash Mob (directed by Natalia Chernaya) was a bit of a favourite with cast and crew. Natalia managed to take our tiny set and turn it into such a flashy, fun production. It was definitely the only time the direction “eye-fuck the camera” was given on the Uplift set.
HH: I enjoyed filming every scene so I don’t have a favourite episode, but what I did enjoy was to witness the enthusiasm the other actors brought to the scenes.
I am curious about the filming process, did you actually shoot the scenes in an elevator? How did the filming go?
CH: We’re pretty chuffed when people ask if it was a real lift, because it wasn’t! It was a combination of painted wooden flats and careful framing from our DOPs. The doors were also just wooden panels with a bit of DIY magic, and coordinating two people on set to manually slide them open or closed at exactly the same time was responsible for approximately one billion outtakes. We filmed 20 episodes in five days, so shooting was a mad flurry of herding actors in and out, swapping directors and reminding everyone not to buy into the magic too much and lean on the lift walls, or we’d end up with some very squished sound recordists.
What was your greatest challenge creating the series?
CH: We’re pretty proud of what we created on a very small budget. It was tough, but it forced us to think creatively about how to show different worlds inside the lift. We were also extraordinarily lucky with the talents who generously gave us their time, and we felt that was an indication that we were onto something good – people liked the scripts and wanted to come and be part of it.