The Actress Diaries was one of the more interesting web series to crop up this year, managing to strike an odd balance by being “instantly familiar and yet totally original”. There was an authenticity to the show that kept me coming back for each new episode as it aired.
As the first series concluded I sent my thoughts (in the form of questions of course) to the show’s very busy writer/co-lead Lisa Kimberly Hughes. These are those stunning thoughts.
The Actress Diaries is a series about two young, aspiring actresses who work as waitresses to pay the bills. What was your inspiration for the series?
Life. Every day, battling to make a career on the side of what pays the bills. There is often more drama in a restaurant, than an acting class.
Before the series that we know and love was released, an hour long pilot was made featuring a largely different cast with a more TV style narrative. Why did you shelve the pilot?
It wasn’t at the level of quality that I had hoped to represent the idea. The web series is simply an adaptation of the premise I wish to pitch for network TV.
How different was the writing process for you when you changed to a shorter format?
That’s a hard one to answer, for the format changed the story, particularly for the first season. I made the decision to use the web series as an opportunity to introduce the two main characters and the style of humor, but did not delve into a strong storyline. This is something I will execute in season two. Season one was definitely a novelty piece.
Will you be releasing the entire pilot for fans to watch?
Following the release of season two, I will likely release a freshly edited version of the original pilot.
Have you worked on any other shows or productions of this size before The Actress Diaries?
No. To be honest, I haven’t worked on much at all. I noticed there was a serious lack of comedy projects in Vancouver, so I felt obliged to make my own.
What was the casting process like for The Actress Diaries?
A number of the key characters were written with people in mind. I work with a wonderful acting teacher in Vancouver, Shea Hampton, and her huge class roster is full of some very talented individuals. I was blown away when those actors were so eager to get involved. The rest of the cast was settled over five days of auditions.
Did you know Kate, your co-star and producer, before you began working on the show, or did you meet her through work?
I meet the beautiful Kate working in a restaurant together. We wanted to collaborate on some comedy sketches and then one day it dawned on me to write her in as my co-star. It was what the pilot was missing. She is now one of my best friends.
The restaurant that you filmed in was a great location – how did you snag such a nice set?
The love of my life was working there as Sous Chef. They were very kind to have us. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t use the original restaurant from the pilot, as it was stunning. It’s currently boarded up.
How long did the series take to complete – from writing to shooting and editing?
About 9 months all up.
What was the shooting process like? A hectic few days, or a little here and there over a longer period?
We filmed once a week for 5 weeks and filmed the entire season at once.
Which was easier to produce, the pilot or the actual series?
It definitely gets easier each time. You learn so much. Also, as you gather momentum, you find more clarity in your vision.
With quite a small core cast and few locations, do you feel like you did enough to mix things up and keep episodes feeling fresh? I would have loved more of an incremental reveal of the restaurant location and the backstories there.
As I previously mentioned, the first season was to test the waters and explore the two main characters, more so than to start an epic story. I can see definite weaknesses in the first season. Season two will certainly delve more into backstories, more locations, more relationships and a completely fresh format.
What was the most important lesson you learned through the production process?
Personally, it was to learn to delegate. I hold the position of show runner, which left my acting performance to be the last consideration of each production day. I certainly need a production assistant next time around, not just a first AD, to allow me to offer focus where needed.
Is there anything you’d do differently a second time around?
Delay production a couple of extra weeks to allow more financial freedom, so I didn’t have run to work before or after a 12hr filming day. Just slow down haha! Don’t worry I’ve been like this since I started walking at 8 months.
Are there plans for a series 2?
You bet there is! Filming this summer. Script should be finalized by end of April and then we head into preproduction.
Have you considered crowdfunding through Kickstarter or Indiegogo to secure funds on future projects?
Yes, I’m definitely considering this for Season 2 to aid a bigger and better production. I hate having to ask some many favors, when doing it on my own. The Vancouver film community are just such a generous and giving group of artists. A little help would be wonderful.
How have you gone about building a fan-base for your series and promoting it?
To be honest, this again, is something I am mainly responsible for. It tends to suffer when I’m inundated with other work.
You’ve uploaded your series exclusively to YouTube – what was the reasoning behind this decision?
Youtube is the largest free media platform on the internet, so of course its a go to. I wouldn’t be opposed to expansion on other online entertainment sites.
You’re closing in now on 10,000 views across your series/behind the scenes content. How successful has the series been in your eyes?
It has been a good start to get on the board. But it’s hardly what I know I’m capable of. I won’t discount the learning experience that season one was, but I’ve never been so motivated about anything in my life, as I am about what I have planned for season 2.
What other projects have you got lined up, or are you working on now?
Not a lot, as I have been away from Vancouver, working online for most of the winter. Once I get back to Vancouver, I certainly plan to get my hands dirty. I have been working on my comedy writing with my Second City teacher online, as I plan to apply for several comedy writing scholarships in the US this coming summer.
Any chance we’ll see more future collaborations between you and Kate?
I think Kate and I will be working together for years to come. You don’t just find people like Kate.