When I saw Rory Uphold’s new series “Only in HelLA” I wanted to talk to her for two reasons. One: the show is hilarious in a way that people in LA get in a very specific way, but still has universal appeal. Two: she writes, directs, and stars in the project and those of us who’ve been through that have gotta stick together!
Brea Grant: Why did you want to write, direct, and star in “Only in HelLA?” Did you ever think about delegating any of those positions?
Rory Uphold: Writing/Directing/Producing was something I did out of necessity. I wanted to be a part of interesting stories and I wanted to be able to act in things I was interested in. I’m white, blonde, and blue eyed, and when I used to get sent out for things it was for the cheerleader or the hooker, none of which I’d book. I had a lot of people asking me about “who is Rory”, what’s my “type”, and lots of suggestions on how to change “my look”. Instead of becoming a brunette, my reaction was to create. I made “Safety”, my first short film, and started working on “HelLA“.
Brea: How did you prepare yourself to run a set?
Rory: By assembling the best team possible and by being as organized and as prepared as possible so that when something inevitably goes array, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a balance between getting what you need but also enjoying what you’re doing. I want to work with people who love what they do. Thankfully, everyone involved in HelLA is awesome.
Brea: Do you know anything now that you wish you had known during production?
Rory: We shot multiple episodes in one day, and in an upcoming episode I’m getting acupuncture to relax after a hellish commute on the 405. We used my actual acupuncturist, Kathleen Lowry, and she was really putting needles in me. By the time we wrapped that episode and moved on to the next one, I was pretty out of it. It wasn’t until I got into the editing room that I realized just how out of it I had been… Note to self: do not plan on acting/directing after acupuncture!
Brea: You worked with an all female team of producers– can you tell us a little bit about how everyone came together?
Rory: I was independently friends with both of them before we ever worked together. This might be a controversial thing to say, but I’ve often found that women in this business are ten times worse to other women than guys are. Why? Why are girls so competitive? It’s brutal.. So I’m wary of who I work with and who I surround myself with. I really liked both of them as people, and as I got to know each of them better I realized that we all shared the same mentality of helping one another. We’re happy for one another’s successes. Jessica just made it on the Black List’s Top List with “Matt Goes to Rehab” and Joey just wrapped her first short “Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel”. I’m not involved in either of those projects but I’ve still given them notes and ideas, just like they have with me and my projects.
Brea: What do you think is different about being a woman in LA vs. being a man?
Rory: In LA or in the industry? I’m going to assume that by LA you mean hollywood/the industry…. I think being a woman in “Hollywood” vs being a man is actually quite different. Look at what Allison Jones said TODAY about casting in comedy.. I’m paraphrasing, but roughly that It’s easier to cast an unattractive funny male than it is to cast an unattractive funny female. There you go.
Brea: The first episode of “Only in HelLA” ignited an intense discussion about women’s bodies on Reddit, with a number of commenters arguing their preferences for your body vs. Victoria’s Secret model Heather Marks’ body. How did you feel about the comparisons in the comments?
Rory: Five years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to read the comments and not been hurt. There were some extremely mean things said about Heather and myself, and I know it would have really done a number on me and my confidence. But I’ve been through this before and I’ve had terrible things written about me and I’m at a point now where I honestly don’t care. It’s part of the reason why I started creating my own content, and telling my own stories, because there’s a power and an ownership that comes from that. All of a sudden it’s not about what I look like, it’s about what I’ve created. I do, however, want to say that Heather is one of my best friends and someone I’ve known for a while now. She’s an incredible friend who just so happens to be in that .01% of the population that was born to be a model. Is that not okay? I mean, the notion that’s she’s somehow starved herself into that body, is flat out inaccurate. And the notion that I’m somehow and an obese hobbit, also inaccurate. Although, the hobbit comment really made me LOL….
To me, the joke was that Heather Marks and I walk out in the same dress… that while she may be the .01% of women who are born with legs longer than most of my body, it’s not an uncommon phenomenon in LA. And it’s not! It’s a video about “HelLA,” the hell in LA, not about Rory v. Heather.
Brea: The first episode appearing on Reddit contributed to it’s viral status, how did you feel about the response it got there?
Rory: Positive. Ultimately, I think conversation is important because it’s the first step toward change. And if this video helped to shine a light on some the judgments that we, as a society, have about women and beauty, that’s great. I’m just glad that my video was seen by that many people. There’s no way that I could have reached 600K people and reddit helped me do that. I’m grateful.
Brea: You started out as a musician. How would you compare making films to making music? Do you feel like working in music prepared you for working in film?
Rory: Personally, I feel like they’re really similar. There’s the writing part, the shooting/recording part, and then the editing/mixing and mastering part. To me, it’s very fluid. I see things in term of story and what’s the best way to tell that story. Some experiences are better expressed as song, and some are feature film sized. They’re both storytelling, just different mediums…. My experience in music has 100% influenced how I’ve gone about filmmaking. Nobody taught me how to write songs, I taught myself because I didn’t want to sing something that someone else wrote. Being able to do that gave me confidence to throw myself into anything and trust that I’d figure it out, to learn by doing. Recording taught me a lot about editing. Protools and Final Cut are oddly similar and thinking in terms of rhythm and timing has really informed how I edit things. I also got used to hearing and taking criticism, both constructive and not. It was a pretty brutal time for me, but my experiences in music are the reason I’m able to tune out all of the negativity, and for that I am grateful.
Brea: The tone of your short film “Safety” and the tone of “Only in HelLA” are very different, is there one that you would say is more your style?
Rory: You watched Safety? That’s awesome… I’m really proud of that short. Actually I feel like they both represent me equally in each medium. I feel like “Safety” is representative of the movies I’m interested in making, somewhere between comedy and drama, and HelLA represents what I’d make if I were given the opportunity to work in TV. It’s the mediums that are different, not my style, if that makes sense… I’m working on my second short “Our Secret” which I could see being made into a feature, it’s in the same tone as Safety. But I also have other web/TV ideas.
Brea: You’ve already branched out to merchandising, designing a line of HelLA hats yourself. What are your plans for the clothing line?
Rory: I made the clothes because I thought it was a fun and funny idea and because I’d wear it… I plan on using it for cross-promotion and to help fund the series. I also have a suuuuper cool shirt coming out during our Kickstarter campaign that’s exclusively for donors.
New episodes of “Only in HelLA” premiere every Tuesday atwww.