Every city has its quirks, those things that make it unique. HelLA (pronounced: Hell-Lay), a new series by Los Angeles native and filmmaker Rory Uphold, captures those awkward, yet charming, “only in L.A.” moments with self-deprecating humor and charm.
“I was born and raised in L.A. and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but at the same time I realize it’s completely ridiculous,” Uphold said. “It’s the best/worst place in the world and this is my love/hate letter to the city.”
The brief, two-minute episodes depict Uphold’s character (Uphold plays a fictionalized version of herself) navigating life in the city as she finds herself in hilariously awkward situations, like shopping next to a supermodel and trying to offer food to a homeless man who is a gluten-free vegan. Uphold’s show captures situations that other Angelenos might find themselves in, in a fresh and relatable way.
“I want to show little snapshots of those funny ‘f— my life’ moments that people could relate to,” Uphold said. “I really like self-deprecating humor because most people can relate and have been in similar situations before, so I was going for something like that.”
Since the first episode “Shopping in LA …” premiered this month, the series has received an enthusiastic web response. The inaugural episode became a viral hit on reddit, a social network platform focused on entertainment and news, reaching over 100,000 views in one day and prompting a lively debate on body image. After the second episode, “Dinner in West Hollywood …” garnered half a million page views, famed comedy video website Funny or Die called Uphold and asked to set up a channel for the program.
Uphold previously wrote, directed, produced and starred in Safety, a dark comedy about a one-night stand starring Ben York Jones, the co-writer of the award-winning Sundance darling Like Crazy. Safety was well-received on the festival circuit and went on to win several awards, including the prize for best screenplay at the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival. The success of her short film gave Uphold the confidence to create HelLA.
“I grew up in Los Angeles so I didn’t know anything different,” Uphold said. “I had these crazy experiences and I started writing them down.”
Sifting through pages of notes to construct the episodes, Uphold later narrowed down the stories based on which anecdotes were the funniest and the availability of the cast and locations. All of the episodes were shot in one week and edited in the following week. So far, Uphold has created 10 episodes and plans to release between 12 and 14 episodes.
Uphold enjoys creating web-based content because of the cheap production cost and potential to reach a wide audience.
“I think it’s easier to ask people to watch a short video than a long one and it’s a nice way to get my specific brand of humor out,” Uphold said. “I think if you can get someone to laugh in 30 seconds, they’ll stick around.”
Uphold draws inspiration from a variety of comedians. Some of her favorites include Larry David, Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling.
“I really love Louis [C.K.]. Mindy Kaling is hilarious, I really like The Mindy Project,” Uphold said. “She’s a new voice in comedy and having diversity is pretty awesome.”
Uphold grew up in Lake Tahoe, Calif. and Hermosa Beach, Calif., splitting time between the beach and dance classes. She credits her upbringing in Los Angeles with allowing her many opportunities for creativity and providing her with many stories to tell, some of which appear in HelLA.
Prior to creating her web series, Uphold also acted and had a music career, even releasing an EP, Catch Me if You Can. She took her music on the road for a while, and opened for notable acts such as E-40 and Colby O’Donis. Her songs have been featured in films such as The Anniversary at Shallow Creek and The Victim. Uphold also spent time in 2008 touring the west coast, promoting the importance of education.
Despite her budding career as a singer, Uphold decided she no longer wanted to make pop music and began to pursue filmmaking and focus on creating her own content, which eventually led to HelLA.
“Songwriting and filmmaking are similar to me because they are storytelling using different mediums,” Uphold said. “I like to focus on telling the best story. You can market something and push it out, but at the end of the day it has to be compelling.”
As far as the future goes, Uphold will be busy. She recently filmed a pilot and is setting up a Kickstarter account to finance HelLA’s second season, in addition to acting in other projects, including a science-fiction movie called The Circle.
New episodes of HelLA premiere every Tuesday at OnlyinHelLA.com