Chin Up! is an online mockumentary about Lara Adine Lipschitz’s life as an actress in Johannesburg. Episode 1 of the web series was recorded on Lara’s phone, by Episode 5 it has already grown into a humorous behind-the-scenes glimpse at what the industry is really like, and Lara’s nowhere near finished just yet. We asked her to let us know more:
What is your background, and how has it led you to creating Chin Up!?
I grew up in front of the camera presenting on YoTV, but I always knew I wanted to act. Once I finished school I went on to study Drama at Wits focusing on performance and learning about film and television, I also dabbled in creative writing and directing. That’s what was so great about Wits, is that it introduced me to many facets of the entertainment industry and especially highlighted the importance of making your own work as an artist. I have always loved working on my own projects because it’s just so much more rewarding.
I started auditioning when I was 9 years old. I have been to more auditions than I can remember and each one is filled with so many awkward and uncomfortable moments. My sister encouraged me to start a blog about all the different experiences I have at auditions or conversations with my agent, so I did. I soon realized it was great material for a video blog or web series or even TV series. So after a bit of procrastination and a few failed attempts I sat down with my fellow actor friend, Glen Biderman-Pam, and started writing up episode 1.
Please introduce the team behind this web series. Who does what, and how did you come together to work on this project?
The crew has changed and grown since the first episodes with a few people remaining constant such as Devin Toselli, who is not only my brilliant Director of Photography, but also my bloody brilliant boyfriend. Glen Biderman-Pam directed the first episode and has since become so popular acting all over the globe that I had to release him from my grasp. Richard Aaron edited the first 4 episodes before he too went travelling. We are now working with a wonderful editor, Tanille Retief, who went to AFDA with Devin and that’s the connection there.
The first episode I didn’t even think about sound so we managed to record it on my phone, but in later episodes we have been working with a young sound guy, Justin Shepperson, also a friend of Devin’s. Danny Brocklebank joined the team to help mix and edit the sound to make it actually sound good, finally! James Cuningham, who I met while studying at Wits, directed the last 2 and acted in episode 3 as my father. James has become a dear friend of mine who has always supported and believed in me. He is just awesome.
What inspired you to start a web series?
I got tired of waiting around for something to happen, for someone to cast me in something, for someone to pick me. I wanted to put myself out there and create something that I would enjoy watching. I wanted to be proactive and take my career into my own hands and just cast myself, damn it! I needed to be creative and productive. It was purely selfish really. And then of course, my personal inspiration is Lena Dunham, for obvious reasons. I love her and really admire all that she has achieved. I could talk about her and her show in a whole separate interview.
How did you choose the specific genre and come up with the storyline? What inspires you to produce a new episode?
I have always loved behind-the-scenes stories. I love seeing the truth behind the glamour of the entertainment industry in particular. I wanted to do a mocumentary type show about my life as an actress in Johannesburg and just reveal what most of us actually go through, and how ridiculous it is!
In terms of coming up with ideas for each episode, I really just have to remember one of the many situations I have been in and write it down. Then on the day we improvise around the script and elaborate to create a slightly different scenario. I cast people I want to work with and who are eager to be a part of it. It’s been so amazing to have some of South Africa’s best comedic actors, like Bevan Cullinan, Bryan Van Niekerk and Jason Goliath, on board.
I have an endless supply of material as long as I keep going to castings, visiting my agent, working in a play or commercial etc. I think it’s just a matter of being aware of how funny people are and remembering to write it down. I have always loved honest and truthful characters who are just dealing with life in the best way possible.
How did you choose the name for the series?
It was originally called Rock Bottom, but I just felt it was way too negative. I wanted something more hopeful. At the end of Episode 1 my agent, played by Glen at the time, tells me to keep my chin up and I just thought that was perfect. That’s what being an actor is about, that’s what being a human is about! Trying to stay positive even when people are rejecting you or things aren’t going your way.
What do you do when you’re not working on Chin Up!?
I audition for as much as possible. I have just been cast in a show, which starts rehearsals at the end of June so I will be really busy with that until September. It’s called Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler. It will be on at the UJ Theatre and then the Baxter Theatre before touring into Africa for a few weeks. I’m excited to be a part of something and gather more experiences to document and turn into my next season. Other than that I do voice overs, yoga, singing lessons and dance classes.
What has the response been like thus far?
It’s been really positive. It feels like people respect and appreciate someone being proactive. Some producers and directors have shown interest in the show, which is exciting. People have given some great feedback, which I try take into consideration. I think you can see the improvements technically from the first 2 episodes to the last 2. I would like it to be seen by more people, sometimes it feels like I have to force feed it to people. I’m just like, “look I made this thing, with these people, we all worked really hard, just watch it! I’m not asking you to buy anything!”
How have you managed to produce 5 episodes with no budget?
Well Devin uses his own camera gear, which helps! He is also a genius in terms of lighting. We use as much natural light as possible and reflector boards. We have to rent some basic sound gear, but we keep it as simple as possible. So we do spend a bit, but you gotta pay to play! I’m hoping I’ll be able to pay everyone back for their time and contributions one day!
In terms of locations we use people house’s, our flat, the park down the road, my dentist let me use his office in Episode 3 just because he is awesome! (My dad isn’t a dentist by the way.) The Common Room in Parkhurst let me use their space for Episode 4 because they are cool too. Wardrobe is all my own, Mr Price should totally sponsor me though, ‘cos I’m mostly wearing clothes from them! (Hint hint!) In fact any sponsor would be much appreciated.
How do you see this series growing?
I see my character actually becoming successful and start landing some great roles. I also see a love interest develop between my character and a new guy that moves into her building, played by Stiaan Smith.
I’m going to have to take a short break from it while I’m busy with that play, which gives me time to think about the direction I want to go in. I could make it better suited to the web, i.e. make it shorter, weekly episodes, or I could write for television and approach broadcasters. Or both. I think there is a lot of potential for the series. I’ll keep you posted.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I intend to keep making my own work, short films and eventually even features. I also hope to do lots more theatre. So I will be busy.
I have always envied musicians, because they can join a band and make music and perform. As an actor you are alone, its not so easy to get a band or a team together to create work just for the fun of it. I feel so flippen lucky and happy to have gathered a team of like-minded people to help me create this show. I’d like to thank everyone who has helped me so far. Anyone who has produced anything will know how bloody difficult it is to get it off the ground, so a huge thank you to Devin Toselli, Glen Biderman-Pam, Bryan Van Niekerk, Jason Goliath, Bevan Cullinan, James Cuningham, all the actors who have been eager to play, Richard Aaron, Tanille Retief, my parents, Leigh and Patrick Toselli, And a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and the series so far! – Lara
Stay updated at www.youtube.com/LaraBowTV